The Slack Public Listing's Surprise Winners: Other Startup CEOs - Forbes

The Slack Public Listing's Surprise Winners: Other Startup CEOs - Forbes

The Slack Public Listing's Surprise Winners: Other Startup CEOs - Forbes

Posted: 20 Jun 2019 03:28 AM PDT

Even by Silicon Valley standards, Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield is a master of fundraising. The cofounder of tech's buzziest office-messaging app raised so much—$1.27 billion over the last decade—that when Slack goes public Thursday, Butterfield is using a rare direct listing, a process that won't actually raise new capital. Instead, the Slack direct listing will make investors' and employees' stakes more liquid without diluting those shares, which would happen in a traditional IPO.

That's good news for Slack's early investors, a who's who of software and social media founders set to score major payouts when their early stakes transform into publicly tradable shares through the listing, which was expected to value the San Francisco-based company at a reported $16 billion (UPDATE: On its first day of trading, Slack shares opened at $38.50, 48% higher than its expected price, giving it a market cap of about $20.63 billion.) The 46-year-old Butterfield, who once called it "irresponsible" not to take investment when the dollars came cheap, lived up to those words when he, cofounder Cal Henderson and two former Flickr colleagues went to raise money in 2009 for the app's earlier iteration, the fledgling gaming company Tiny Speck. 

Years before the two founders hit up powerhouse venture capital firms like SoftBank, they tapped influential friends, mostly tech founders: LinkedIn's Jeff Weiner; Stripe's Patrick and John Collison; Squarespace's Anthony Casalena; Twitter's Biz Stone; Yammer's David Sacks; and Jeremy Stoppelman of Yelp. They all took stakes in seed or early rounds that are worth an estimated 16 to 1,600 times their original bet. 

Slack is far from alone in courting other founders as backers. From Airbnb to Uber, Postmates and Pinterest to Stripe, high-valued tech companies are likely to have an overlapping, but ever-changing, group of their unicorn CEO peers as personal investors. The checks, often between $25,000 and $100,000, are votes of confidence and solidarity—mixed with some wealth management and "FOMO protection." But they also speak to a broader trend in Silicon Valley of the increased power of the entrepreneur. And their relatively small networks of the same people illustrate how Silicon Valley continues to enrich a select group of successful leaders—a wealth effect that both accounts for the region's enduring hold on startup formation and the homogenous nature of its founders, who are still usually white men. 

Social Network Stars Cash In

At a first-day market cap of $16 billion, Slack would give LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, Twitter cofounder Biz Stone, Path cofounder Dave Morin and other early investors returns of 1600 times their initial capital. Each $25,000 they invested would now be worth about $40 million.

 "It's Silicon Valley's greatest strength and Achilles heel," says Margaret O'Mara, a professor at the University of Washington who has studied the modern history of Silicon Valley. "You have people who are winners from the previous generation picking winners from the next. And by their mentorship, they give these companies a leg up. The virtuous cycle, or vicious cycle, depending on how you look at it, goes again and again."

Slack's angel investing story dates back to before Butterfield and Henderson abandoned their game-making plans to build an enterprise software tool. In their first round of funding, led by Accel and including Andreessen Horowitz a decade ago, Weiner, Stone and ex-Facebook executive and Path founder Dave Morin invested at a valuation of just about $10 million. Casalena, Stoppelman and the Collison brothers joined in Slack's Series C led by Social Capital. By then Slack was worth $220 million post-investment. Sacks, who later led Zenefits and is now a full-time venture capitalist, invested in an additional round that valued the company at $1.1 billion later that year.

At a market capitalization of $16 billion, Weiner, Stone, Morin and others would be set to enjoy returns of 1,600 times their initial capital. At just a $25,000 check, each would be sitting on shares worth about $40 million. Casalena, Stoppelman, and the Collisons would be on pace for returns of 73 times their money—or $1.8 million for each $25,000 they may have invested. And even investments made at Slack's $1 billion round would be good for winning returns worth 16 times the stake. 

Slack could have a valuation of $16 billion when it starts trading Thursday, according to the Wall Street Journal. That's more than twice its valuation as of its last funding round in 2018. And while Slack isn't issuing any new shares or raising money from the listing, its holders like Butterfield and its investors could benefit from a first-day pop further boosting its stock, as happened in recent months with the IPOs of enterprise software companies Zoom (up 81% in its first day), PagerDuty (up nearly 60%) and most recently CrowdStrike up (70%). Butterfield's approximate 7% stake in Slack would be worth about $1.2 billion.

Part-Time Unicorn Pickers

Squarespace CEO Anthony Casalena, Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman, and Stripe founders Patrick and John Collison backed Slack in 2014 and would hold stakes worth 73 times their money at a $16 billion market capitalization—or $1.8 million for each $25,000 they put in.

Butterfield, through Slack, declined to comment. Weiner, Stone and Morin did not respond to requests for comment. Stoppelman, through Yelp, and Patrick and John Collison, through Stripe, declined to comment. A Squarespace representative confirmed Casalena's investment but declined to comment further.

CEOs endorsing the next generation of startups dates back to the 1970s in Silicon Valley, when Apple's founders took money from Intel's Mike Markkula alongside venture capital firm Sequoia. Sacks straddled several generations of investors in his career from "PayPal Mafia" member (he joined the payments company now valued at nearly $140 billion as COO in 1999) to CEO and founder of Yammer, the messaging platform bought by Microsoft, then to CEO of embattled startup Zenefits, before becoming a full-time venture capitalist at Craft Ventures. When Sacks backed Facebook, it had its share of angel investors—CEOs of now-forgotten hotshot tech companies like Digg, Buddy Media and Gigster—but it was more common for companies to raise money from founders who'd already exited their companies. Now, with tech companies staying private longer and secondary sales providing entrepreneurs with some liquidity along the way, more unicorn CEOs have money to invest.

Founders like when their investors have been through similar experiences, says Sacks. While startups still often take money from a venture capital firm when they can, many leave a minority of the total investment open to such individuals, hoping they'll offer a more sympathetic ear mixed with firsthand tactical chops. "It speaks to the rise of power of the entrepreneur relative to finance-background investors," Sacks says. 

Scott Belsky, chief product officer at Adobe and an investor in billion-dollar tech companies including Carta, Flexport, Pinterest, Uber and Warby Parker, agrees. When Belsky was working on his previous startup Behance, which Adobe eventually acquired in 2012, Garrett Camp, then the CEO of StumbleUpon, personally invested. When Camp started Uber, he returned the favor, offering Belsky a chance to invest. (Of course, both Sacks and Belsky stand to profit from the continuation of such a trend.)

The chance of a fat payout is nice, but investing in other startups also scratches a curiosity itch. Box CEO Aaron Levie, who is one of tech's most prolific active-CEO investors with more than 30 investments including Gusto, Instacart, Robinhood and Stripe, says he invests to broaden his perspective beyond the walls of Box, the enterprise company he took public in 2015. "When you spend 14 hours a day on something for 14 years, you get blinders on, and it's nice to be able to see what is also going on in the world," Levie says. As such, Levie prefers to invest in businesses that are often in areas of tech other than enterprise software and his day-to-day job at Box.

The downside of entrepreneur investing circles: They've tended to keep wealth circulating among Silicon Valley's unofficial leadership—white, privileged and male. There are early investor exceptions. Troy Carter, a former Spotify exec who founded entertainment management company Atom Factory and is African American, invested in Slack and Uber. Ann Miura-Ko of venture capital firm Floodgate, a Midas List honoree, invested early in ride-hailing app Lyft. But founders historically underrepresented in tech haven't had as many exits with which to fund the next generation, and the early investments in today's unicorns were made years ago. Next decade's angel winners are likely to look at least somewhat different from today's, boosted by the efforts of specialized investing groups such as #Angels and Portfolia. #Angels, which was cofounded by April Underwood, Slack's former product chief, has launched events and commissioned research on the imbalance, which the group calls "#TheGapTable." 

As such angel networks proliferate and more founders and CEOs from underrepresented backgrounds achieve financial success, angel investing could, coincidentally, provide a solution. Since angel investors don't have the rules or mandates about what they can invest in as do funds that answer to institutional backers, they can be more purposeful in investing in themes or underrepresented ideas and groups. Tina Sharkey's experience backs that up. When she started e-commerce company Brandless, she made a point of taking money from a range of female leaders, including Nextdoor cofounder Sarah Leary, #Angels investor and former Twitter executive Katie Stanton, Mindy Grossman of WW International and, more recently, tennis star Serena Williams. "It's an opportunity to have different types of power," says Sharkey, who has made more than a dozen angel investments herself.  

At Glossier, the beauty startup valued at $1.2 billion, CEO Emily Weiss says she's invests in entrepreneurs in other areas of tech like healthcare and enterprise software. More than half her angel investments are in female-led businesses. "Angel investing is my own small contribution to changing the ratio," she says.

Cover Photograph: Joel Saget/AFP/Getty Images

How to Build an Amazing Software Development Team for Your ISV Startup - DevPro Journal

Posted: 20 Jun 2019 01:16 AM PDT

Your ISV startup is ready to scale. You need more people to manage your growing customer base and more hands to do the work. But hiring and building a high-performing software development team can be stressful — according to research by CB Insights, about a quarter of startups fail because they don't have the right team in place.

The challenge isn't only related to the available talent pool — building an effective team also takes setting goals, finding the right people to help you reach them, and maintaining a work environment that helps your team achieve excellence. Here are some tips that can help you build a team that will put your growing business on the path to success:

Look for Experienced Employees with Valuable Skills

It may be tempting to head to college placement offices to find entry-level employees — who will accept entry-level salaries — but your ISV startup will benefit more from hiring developers that bring experience and skill to the table. Collaborating with seasoned developers may also result in a better application. Remember, you aren't hiring for a startup that's beginning to scale. You're hiring for what your company will become.

Build the Right Company Culture

Define the type of work environment that will allow your team to excel, and then look for employees who share your vision. If you plan to empower employees with Agile methods to take ownership of projects and make decisions, don't expect a manager with a top-down style to be a good fit. Hire and assign roles that will help you create an atmosphere that allows your team to thrive.

Establish a Work Schedule Everyone Can Live With

There are times when deadlines are looming and the pressure is on, but to ensure a quality product — and a happy team — make sure you keep to a schedule that gives your team enough hours to finish their work but also time for rest and rejuvenation. Also, it may be advantageous to allow your coders to work at times beyond the traditional 8 to 5 — studies show that some people are wired to do their best work at different times of the day. You may also be dealing with balancing schedules of remote workers in different time zones. Find the optimal balance for your unique situation.

Equip Your Team with the Right Tools

Automating routine tasks can give your team the ability to focus on complex problems. Make sure you work with your team to identify their needs and to select the tools for internal communication and collaboration, customer relationship management, security, release management and testing.

Invest in Your Team's Development

Support your employee's continued education and professional development by funding courses, industry conference passes, or association memberships. The investment you make in your team will ultimately show through in the work they produce.

Build Trust and Emotional Safety

The most effective teams have members who feel free to speak their minds. If they see a problem or a shortcoming, they know they are welcome to bring it to light, without fear of ridicule or retribution. Emotional safety increases your team's confidence level, strengthens relationships, and improves productivity. Give all of your employees opportunities to share their input, understand that you respect their views and know that you take them seriously.

Get Smart about What to Manage

You know data will help you make smarter decisions about pricing, marketing, software features, and other aspects of your business. Are you using data to manage your team? Savvy managers are using data about team members' personality traits and statistical models to help teams excel in the quality of their work and productivity.

A Final Thought: "Hire Slow, Fire Fast"

So, you evaluated job candidates as thoroughly as you could, weighed options carefully, checked references — did everything you could to ensure a good hire that would work well with your team. But unfortunately, once your new employee started work, you realized he or she wasn't going to work out. Once you've done all you can to help your new hire improve, but the situation didn't improve, it's probably best to take action as soon as possible.

As this Cost of a Bad Hire Calculator from Parker+Lynch can demonstrate, keeping an unproductive employee can hurt your business, costing, on average, 30 percent of their annual earnings. It may also cost you the loss of trust and productivity of other team members who must pick up the slack. Address problems quickly and continue to build the team that will take your company into the future. 

Isilon co-founder Sujal Patel building mysterious biotech startup, backed by Andreessen Horowitz - GeekWire

Posted: 20 Jun 2019 08:00 AM PDT

Sujal Patel
Sujal Patel. (GeekWire File Photo)

Sujal Patel has seen a world-changing trend coming before.

In 2001, in his mid-20s, he founded data storage technology company Isilon Systems in Seattle, correctly anticipating a massive increase in unstructured data in the world. He led the company as CEO, took it public as a billion-dollar business, and sold it to enterprise technology giant EMC in 2010 for $2.5 billion.

Now he sees another secular shift on the horizon — and he has identified a new opportunity along with it.

What's the potential of this new idea? "Big," he said. "Bigger than Isilon. … Much bigger than Isilon."

But many of the details are a mystery for now. Patel wasn't ready to talk in detail this week when GeekWire surprised him with a phone call out of the blue, asking about records that we recently unearthed, which list him as the CEO of a company called Ignite Biosciences.

According to the previously unreported SEC filing, Ignite raised $27 million from Silicon Valley venture capital powerhouse Andreessen Horowitz and other investors last year, yet somehow the company has been able to operate under the radar for three years without anyone noticing. Seattle-based Madrona Venture Group, where Patel is a strategic director, is also an investor.

When we asked what Ignite Biosciences does, Patel described it as a stealth mode biotech company. In other words, this had the potential to be a very short call. But he seemed amused by our sleuthing and played along with our efforts to get him to tell us as much as possible.

Here's what we learned from our phone call, public records, patent and trademark filings, and a little shoe leather.

Patel's co-founder is Parag Mallick, a Stanford associate professor with loads of experience working with biological data. His research focuses on the early detection of cancer. His lab is pursuing research in areas including how and why cells malfunction, the underlying biology of biomarkers that target cancer, and creating technology to study proteins.

Mallick runs ProteoWizard, an open source platform for studying proteomics data, and his lab created ImmunoGlobe, an online map that shows how immune cells interact. For his post-doctorate work at the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle, he studied how proteins could be used to diagnose cancer. He was director of clinical proteomics at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center from 2006 to 2009.

He is also a magician and performer who juggles giant knives and does card tricks.

Ignite has filed three patent applications with the World Intellectual Property Organization. On an application that lists Patel as an inventor, the company describes a data-driven method of identifying proteins based on their binding properties. The other two applications describe ways of analyzing proteins selecting substances that bind to peptides, small chains of amino acids. Both peptides and proteins are frequently employed as drugs.

Two of the applications also list Jarrett Egertson as an inventor. Egertson is a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Washington who previously studied under Mallick at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. His research has revolved around using data-driven methods to study proteins, peptides and other molecules.

A diagram from an Ignite Biosciences patent application shows a system that works in conjunction with the cloud and a user's device for testing of blood samples.

The patent applications focus largely on blood tests, with one noting for example, that the system could analyze blood samples "with the goal of monitoring individual health and early detection of health issues."

Ignite has also applied for trademarks in which it lists dozens of "goods and services" related to its business. Those are broadly defined, but there are a few specifics, including: "a device for molecular analysis of proteins"; "cloud hosting provider services for storing, analyzing and sharing biological information"; and "computer software for data collection, management, and analysis of genetic information."

While it's far from definitive, these clues — combined with the backgrounds of Patel and Mallick — suggest a system that uses advanced computational techniques and blood tests to detect cancer at an early stage.

Known as liquid biopsies, these tests are a red-hot area for the biotech industry. Last month, Thrive Early Detection, based in Cambridge, Mass., raised $110 million for a system that uses blood tests to find cancer based on DNA and protein measurements, based on a test licensed from Johns Hopkins University. Rival biotech startup Grail, based in San Francisco, has raised $1.5 billion to fund a similar effort, with investors including Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates. Grail's new CEO is Hans Bishop, former CEO of Seattle-based biotech standout Juno Therapeutics.

The company splits its operations between the Bay Area and Seattle and has been operating in stealth mode since 2016. Its Seattle address is listed in state corporations records, and on a recent fact-finding mission to the address, near the Amazon headquarters, we found a mostly empty office and a simple plaque bearing the company's name.

Outside the Ignite Biosciences office, a short distance from the Amazon campus. (GeekWire Photo)

Vijay S. Pande, a general partner at Ignite investor Andreessen Horowitz, is on the Ignite board. Pande is also an adjunct professor of bioengineering at Stanford and started a healthcare fund for Andreessen Horowitz in 2015. He is the founder of Folding@home, a computing project for protein folding that uses computing resources from volunteers around the world.

Pande has also written publicly about why people shouldn't be afraid of artificial intelligence and how humans can engineer biology.

Former Yahoo CTO Farzad Nazem is listed as a board director at Ignite in public documents. Since leaving Yahoo in 2007, Nazem has been active as an angel investor. He lists more than 30 health tech startup investments on his LinkedIn profile, including a number of biotechnology and precision medicine companies such as Adaptive Biotechnologies, Ginkgo Bioworks and uBiome. Nazem has also served as an advisor to several health technology startups.

Noosheen Hashemi, the founder and CEO of January, a personalized health startup, describes herself on LinkedIn as an Ignite Biosciences investor and advisor. Nazem and Hashemi are husband and wife.

How did Patel get into this in the first place? We told Patel that we were surprised to learn his next big venture was in life sciences. His degree from the University of Maryland is in computer science, and he worked at Seattle-based digital media company RealNetworks before founding Isilon.

Patel explained, "After Isilon, I spent a lot of time to think about what do I want to do that's big and impactful. Isilon was all about capitalizing on a major trend, a secular trend that was going on in the world, which is that there was this massive transition from text-based data to unstructured data and digital content, and that would have huge implications on storage architectures."

"The intersection of computer science and the life sciences creates an enormous opportunity that lots of people are talking about and recognizing," he said. "That's an important intersection that I think is going to pay really good dividends in the next 10 years."

In the years since EMC acquired Isilon, Patel has been an active investor and board member, backing Seattle startups like Amperity and Igneous, as well as a new company called Maka Autonomous Robotics Systems, which is led by Patel's Isilon co-founder Paul Mikesell.

Earlier this year, Patel joined Bay Area venture capital firm Defy Partners as part of its "sage" program. He's also a strategic director at Seattle-based Madrona Venture Group and sits on the board of Madrona-backed cloud startup Qumulo.

Matt McIlwain, Madrona managing director, said the firm invested in Ignite with the goal of "bringing our deep expertise in cloud and applied machine learning as well as company building to help Sujal, Parag and their team change the world through breakthroughs in proteomics."

McIlwain is also board chair of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and he said the firm has been making investments the "intersections of innovation," including investments in companies working biological and computer sciences. Other Madrona investments in health tech include clinical software startup, which makes cloud-based software for medical testing labs; SayKara, which makes AI assistant for physicians; Accolade, a personalized population health company led by Concur co-founder Rajeev Singh; and Envisagenics, a startup that's developing RNA therapeutics.

"Matt and Madrona were wonderful partners at Isilon and I am super excited to be working with them at Ignite," Patel said.

Ignite Biosciences appears to be shaping up as Patel's next big thing. But to a long list of questions — How many employees? How did he meet his co-founder? Are any former Isilon colleagues joining him? — Patel gave a laugh and the same answer: "I'll tell you when we come out of stealth mode."

And when will that happen?

Next year, he said. "Stay tuned."

Updated at 10:30 a.m. Thursday with details from Madrona Venture Group.

Slack IPO: Stock price up 50% as workplace software firm debuts on New York Stock Exchange under ticker symbol "WORK" - CBS News

Posted: 20 Jun 2019 06:58 AM PDT

  • The price of shares in the workplace software company Slack Technologies surged nearly 50% to close at $38.62 after the company's debut Thursday on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol "WORK."
  • The jump in share prices gave the San Francisco-based startup a market valuation of about $19.5 billion.
  • While Slack is growing, it has yet to turn a profit, losing $138 million last year on revenue of $400 million.
  • About three-quarters of U.S. companies with more than 10,000 employees reportedly use Slack.

Shares of the buzzy workplace software company Slack Technologies started trading publicly for the first time Thursday and their price immediately surged nearly 50% to $38.50. The money-losing startup had a stock market valuation of about $19.5 billion in its first moments as a public company. Shares closed Thursday at $38.62.

Slack's workplace software has developed a cult following in its five years of existence — "I'll slack you" is a common phrase today in certain types of workplaces — and many are betting that it will become the dominant form of workplace collaboration.

But Slack has nearly as many detractors as it does fans and now faces competition from deep-pocketed tech giants like Microsoft and Facebook.

Trending News

Going direct to the NYSE

Slack shares started trading around noon Thursday on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol "WORK." While Slack has yet to turn a profit, its balance sheet is strong enough that the company chose to list its shares directly on the New York Stock Exchange rather than pursue a traditional initial public offering.

A direct listing bypasses many of the steps in a traditional initial public offering, including securing commitments from investment banks, attracting potential investors through a "roadshow" and pricing the shares before they start trading. It also doesn't raise new funds for a company, making it only really viable for companies with plenty of cash on hand. Slack is only the second sizeable company to pursue a direct listing, following in the footsteps of Spotify last summer.

A direct listing "is viewed as a little bit riskier or more uncertain for a number of reasons, principally because you haven't had this roadshow process, so it's a bit harder to tell where the shares are going to open and at what price," said Adam Augusiak-Boro, a senior research associate at EquityZen.

What is Slack? What does it do?

At its core, Slack's software provides chat rooms divided into channels according to departments, projects or topics. Founder and CEO Stewart Butterfield has called it "a brand-new category of software," and often talks about using it to replace email. "Like email (or the Internet or electricity), Slack has very general and broad applicability. It is not aimed at any one specific purpose, but nearly anything that people do together at work," the company said in securities filings.

Slack is superior to email, the argument goes, because conversations within it allow for many participants and are public within a company, creating a permanent record of projects, processes or meetings. That makes it particularly useful for companies with a scattered workforce or particularly large companies. About three-quarters of companies with more than 10,000 employees use Slack, Marketplace reported recently.

"Slack has the potential to become one of the most significant enterprise software companies globally, reshaping how white-collar workers collaborate," GP Bullhound said in a report.

Choosing revenue growth over profit

Slack has been growing rapidly, taking in $400 million in revenue last year for a net loss of $138 million. It's one of the fastest-growing companies that has ever existed in the subscription-software space, according to technology analyst GP Bullhound. The company has about 95,000 paying customers today with many more free users.

Its success has attracted aggressive competition from Microsoft and Facebook, which could challenge Slack's dominance going forward. Microsoft Teams became a standalone product last year, while Workspace at Facebook has snagged some large clients, like and Nestle.

A new billionaire is minted (on paper, at least)

Butterfield, 46, owns 8.4% of the company, so Thursday's share price would value his stake at around $1.5 billion. He started Slack after selling an earlier startup called Flickr to Yahoo for more than $20 million in 2005.

Fortune recently wrote of him: "Butterfield ... has come a long way from the log cabin where he lived without electricity and running water for the first few years of his life. He was introduced to computers in the second grade but lost interest in the technology as he got older and went on to study philosophy in college. 'By the time I finished my master's degree I really had no idea of what I was going to do except for be an academic because, you know, the big five philosophy firms aren't always hiring,' Butterfield told Bloomberg last year."

Other major early owners in Slack who presumably sold at least some of their shares directly to the public Thursday include the venture capital firms Accel, with a 23.8% stake worth about $4.6 billion at the $38.62 price, and Andreesen Horowtiz, with a 13% stake worth nearly $2.6 billion.


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