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Extra Crunch roundup: Guest posts wanted, ‘mango’ seed rounds, Expensify’s tech stack

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Prospective contributors regularly ask us about which topics Extra Crunch subscribers would like to hear more about, and the answer is always the same:

  • Actionable advice that is backed up by data and/or experience.
  • Strategic insights that go beyond best practices and offer specific recommendations readers can try out for themselves.
  • Industry analysis that paints a clear picture of the companies, products and services that characterize individual tech sectors.

Our submission guidelines haven’t changed, but Managing Editor Eric Eldon and I wrote a short post that identifies the topics we’re prioritizing at the moment:

  • How-to articles for early-stage founders.
  • Market analysis of different tech sectors.
  • Growth marketing strategies.
  • Alternative fundraising.
  • Quality of life (personal health, sustainability, proptech, transportation).

If you’re a skillful entrepreneur, founder or investor who’s interested in helping someone else build their business, please read our latest guidelines, then send your ideas to guestcolumns@techcrunch.com.

Thanks for reading; I hope you have a great weekend.

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch
@yourprotagonist


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Opting for a debt round can take you from Series A startup to Series B unicorn

Image of a tree in a field, with half barren to represent debt and half flush with cash to represent success.

Image Credits: olegkalina (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Debt is a tool, and like any other — be it a hammer or handsaw — it’s extremely valuable when used skillfully but can cause a lot of pain when mismanaged. This is a story about how it can go right.

Mario Ciabarra, the founder and CEO of Quantum Metric, breaks down how his company was on a “tremendous growth curve” — and then the pandemic hit.

“As the weeks following the initial shelter-in-place orders ticked by, the rush toward digital grew exponentially, and opportunities to secure new customers started piling up,” Ciabarra writes. “A solution to our money problems, perhaps? Not so fast — it was a classic case of needing to spend in order to make.”

If companies want to preserve equity, debt can be an advantageous choice. Here’s how Quantum Metric did it.

4 proven approaches to CX strategy that make customers feel loved

CX is the hottest acronym in business

Image Credits: mucahiddin / Getty Images

People have been working to optimize customer experiences (CX) since we began selling things to each other.

A famous San Francisco bakery has an exhaust fan at street level; each morning, its neighbors awake to the scent of orange-cinnamon morning buns wafting down the block. Similarly, savvy hairstylists know to greet returning customers by asking if they want a repeat or something new.

Online, CX may encompass anything from recommending the right shoes to AI that knows when to send a frustrated traveler an upgrade for a delayed flight.

In light of Qualtrics’ spinout and IPO and Sprinklr’s recent S-1, Rebecca Liu-Doyle, principal at Insight Partners, describes four key attributes shared by “companies that have upped their CX game.”

Twitter’s acquisition strategy: Eat the public conversation

woman talking with megaphone

Image Credits: We Are (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

What is a microblogging service doing buying a social podcasting company and a newsletter tool while also building a live broadcasting sub-app? Is there even a strategy at all?

See also  $35B face data lawsuit against Facebook will proceed

Yes. Twitter is trying to revitalize itself by adding more contexts for discourse to its repertoire. The result, if everything goes right, will be an influence superapp that hasn’t existed anywhere before. The alternative is nothing less than the destruction of Twitter into a link-forwarding service.

Let’s talk about how Twitter is trying to eat the public conversation.

Reading the IPO market’s tea leaves

Although it was a truncated holiday week here in the United States, there was a bushel of IPO news. We sorted through the updates and came up with a series of sentiment calls regarding these public offerings.

Earlier this week, we took a look at:

  • Marqeta‘s first IPO price range (fintech).
  • 1st Dibs‘ first IPO price range (e-commerce).
  • Zeta Global‘s IPO pricing (martech).
  • The start of SoFi trading post-SPAC (fintech).
  • The latest from BarkBox (e-commerce).

How Expensify hacked its way to a robust, scalable tech stack

Image Credits: Nigel Sussman

Part 4 of Expensify’s EC-1 digs into the company’s engineering and technology, with Anna Heim noting that the group of P2P pirates/hackers set out to build an expense management app by sticking to their gut and making their own rules.

They asked questions few considered, like: Why have lots of employees when you can find a way to get work done and reach impressive profitability with a few? Why work from an office in San Francisco when the internet lets you work from anywhere, even a sailboat in the Caribbean?

It makes sense in a way: If you’re a pirate, to hell with the rules, right?

With that in mind, one could assume Expensify decided to ask itself: Why not build our own totally custom tech stack?

Indeed, Expensify has made several tech decisions that were met with disbelief, but its belief in its own choices has paid off over the years, and the company is ready to IPO any day now.

How much of a tech advantage Expensify enjoys owing to such choices is an open question, but one thing is clear: These choices are key to understanding Expensify and its roadmap. Let’s take a look.

Etsy asks, ‘How do you do, fellow kids?’ with $1.6B Depop purchase

GettyImages 969952548

Image Credits: Getty Images

The news this week that e-commerce marketplace Etsy will buy Depop, a startup that provides a secondhand e-commerce marketplace, for more than $1.6 billion may not have made a large impact on the acquiring company’s share price thus far, but it provides a fascinating look into what brands may be willing to pay for access to the Gen Z market.

Etsy is buying Gen Z love. Think about it — Gen Z is probably not the first demographic that comes to mind when you consider Etsy, so you can see why the deal may pencil out in the larger company’s mind.

See also  India’s Glance tops 100 million daily active users in 21 months

But it isn’t cheap. The lesson from the Etsy-Depop deal appears to be that large e-commerce players are willing to splash out for youth-approved marketplaces. That’s good news for yet-private companies that are popular with the budding generation.

Confluent’s IPO brings a high-growth, high-burn SaaS model to the public markets

Image Credits: Andriy Onufriyenko / Getty Images

Confluent became the latest company to announce its intent to take the IPO route, officially filing its S-1 paperwork this week.

The company, which has raised over $455 million since it launched in 2014, was most recently valued at just over $4.5 billion when it raised $250 million last April.

What does Confluent do? It built a streaming data platform on top of the open-source Apache Kafka project. In addition to its open-source roots, Confluent has a free tier of its commercial cloud offering to complement its paid products, helping generate top-of-funnel inflows that it converts to sales.

What we can see in Confluent is nearly an old-school, high-burn SaaS business. It has taken on oodles of capital and used it in an increasingly expensive sales model.

How to win consulting, board and deal roles with PE and VC funds

Jumping to the highest level - goldfish jumping in a bigger bowl - aspiration and achievement concept. This is a 3d render illustration

Image Credits: Orla (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Would you like to work with private equity and venture capital funds?

There are relatively few jobs directly inside private equity and venture capital funds, and those jobs are highly competitive.

However, there are many other ways you can work and earn money within the industry — as a consultant, an interim executive, a board member, a deal executive partnering to buy a company, an executive in residence or as an entrepreneur in residence.

Let’s take a look at the different ways you can work with the investment community.

The existential cost of decelerated growth

Even among the most valuable tech shops, shareholder return is concentrated in share price appreciation, and buybacks, which is the same thing to a degree.

Slowly growing tech companies worth single-digit billions can’t play the buyback game to the same degree as the majors. And they are growing more slowly, so even a similar buyback program in relative scale would excite less.

Grow or die, in other words. Or at least grow or come under heavy fire from external investors who want to oust the founder-CEO and “reform” the company. But if you can grow quickly, welcome to the land of milk and honey.

Even among the most valuable tech shops, shareholder return is concentrated in share price appreciation, and buybacks, which is the same thing to a degree.

Slowly growing tech companies worth single-digit billions can’t play the buyback game to the same degree as the majors. And they are growing more slowly, so even a similar buyback program in relative scale would excite less.

See also  Daily Crunch: Discord raises $100M

Grow or die, in other words. Or at least grow or come under heavy fire from external investors who want to oust the founder-CEO and “reform” the company. But if you can grow quickly, welcome to the land of milk and honey.

Hormonal health is a massive opportunity: Where are the unicorns?

uterus un paper work.Pink backgroundArt concept of female reproductive health

Image Credits: Carol Yepes (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

There is a growing group of entrepreneurs who are betting that hormonal health is the key wedge into the digital health boom.

Hormones are fluctuating, ever-evolving, and diverse — but these founders say they’re also key to solving many health conditions that disproportionately impact women, from diabetes to infertility to mental health challenges.

Many believe it’s that complexity that underscores the opportunity. Hormonal health sits at the center of conversations around personalized medicine and women’s health: By 2025, women’s health could be a $50 billion industry, and by 2026, digital health more broadly is estimated to hit $221 billion.

Still, as funding for women’s health startups drops and stigma continues to impact where venture dollars go, it’s unclear whether the sector will remain in its infancy or hit a true inflection point.

3 lessons we learned after raising $6.3M from 50 investors

Image of businesspeople climbing ladders up an arrow toward three increasingly tall piles of cash.

Image Credits: sorbetto (opens in a new window)/ Getty Images

Two years ago, founders of calendar assistant platform Reclaim were looking for a “mango” seed round — a boodle of cash large enough to help them transition from the prototype phase to staffing up for a public launch.

Although the team received offers, co-founder Henry Shapiro says the few that materialized were poor options, partially because Reclaim was still pre-product.

“So one summer morning, my co-founder and I sat down in his garage — where we’d been prototyping, pitching and iterating for the past year — and realized that as hard as it was, we would have to walk away entirely and do a full reset on our fundraising strategy,” he writes.

Shapiro shares what he learned from embracing failure and offers three conclusions “every founder should consider before they decide to go out and pitch investors.”

For SaaS startups, differentiation is an iterative process

For SaaS success, differentiation is crucial

Image Credits: Kevin Schafer / Getty Images

Although software as a service has been thriving as a sector for years, it has gone into overdrive in the past year as businesses responded to the pandemic by speeding up the migration of important functions to the cloud, ActiveCampaign founder and CEO Jason VandeBoom writes in a guest column.

“We’ve all seen the news of SaaS startups raising large funding rounds, with deal sizes and valuations steadily climbing. But as tech industry watchers know only too well, large funding rounds and valuations are not foolproof indicators of sustainable growth and longevity.”

VandeBoom notes that to scale sustainably, SaaS startups need to “stand apart from the herd at every phase of development. Failure to do so means a poor outcome for founders and investors.”

“As a founder who pivoted from on-premise to SaaS back in 2016, I have focused on scaling my company (most recently crossing 145,000 customers) and in the process, learned quite a bit about making a mark,” VandeBoom writes. “Here is some advice on differentiation at the various stages in the life of a SaaS startup.”

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Google December Product Reviews Update Affects More Than English Language Sites? via @sejournal, @martinibuster

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Google’s Product Reviews update was announced to be rolling out to the English language. No mention was made as to if or when it would roll out to other languages. Mueller answered a question as to whether it is rolling out to other languages.

Google December 2021 Product Reviews Update

On December 1, 2021, Google announced on Twitter that a Product Review update would be rolling out that would focus on English language web pages.

The focus of the update was for improving the quality of reviews shown in Google search, specifically targeting review sites.

A Googler tweeted a description of the kinds of sites that would be targeted for demotion in the search rankings:

“Mainly relevant to sites that post articles reviewing products.

Think of sites like “best TVs under $200″.com.

Goal is to improve the quality and usefulness of reviews we show users.”

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Google also published a blog post with more guidance on the product review update that introduced two new best practices that Google’s algorithm would be looking for.

The first best practice was a requirement of evidence that a product was actually handled and reviewed.

The second best practice was to provide links to more than one place that a user could purchase the product.

The Twitter announcement stated that it was rolling out to English language websites. The blog post did not mention what languages it was rolling out to nor did the blog post specify that the product review update was limited to the English language.

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Google’s Mueller Thinking About Product Reviews Update

Screenshot of Google's John Mueller trying to recall if December Product Review Update affects more than the English language

Screenshot of Google's John Mueller trying to recall if December Product Review Update affects more than the English language

Product Review Update Targets More Languages?

The person asking the question was rightly under the impression that the product review update only affected English language search results.

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But he asserted that he was seeing search volatility in the German language that appears to be related to Google’s December 2021 Product Review Update.

This is his question:

“I was seeing some movements in German search as well.

So I was wondering if there could also be an effect on websites in other languages by this product reviews update… because we had lots of movement and volatility in the last weeks.

…My question is, is it possible that the product reviews update affects other sites as well?”

John Mueller answered:

“I don’t know… like other languages?

My assumption was this was global and and across all languages.

But I don’t know what we announced in the blog post specifically.

But usually we try to push the engineering team to make a decision on that so that we can document it properly in the blog post.

I don’t know if that happened with the product reviews update. I don’t recall the complete blog post.

But it’s… from my point of view it seems like something that we could be doing in multiple languages and wouldn’t be tied to English.

And even if it were English initially, it feels like something that is relevant across the board, and we should try to find ways to roll that out to other languages over time as well.

So I’m not particularly surprised that you see changes in Germany.

But I also don’t know what we actually announced with regards to the locations and languages that are involved.”

Does Product Reviews Update Affect More Languages?

While the tweeted announcement specified that the product reviews update was limited to the English language the official blog post did not mention any such limitations.

See also  India’s Glance tops 100 million daily active users in 21 months

Google’s John Mueller offered his opinion that the product reviews update is something that Google could do in multiple languages.

One must wonder if the tweet was meant to communicate that the update was rolling out first in English and subsequently to other languages.

It’s unclear if the product reviews update was rolled out globally to more languages. Hopefully Google will clarify this soon.

Citations

Google Blog Post About Product Reviews Update

Product reviews update and your site

Google’s New Product Reviews Guidelines

Write high quality product reviews

John Mueller Discusses If Product Reviews Update Is Global

Watch Mueller answer the question at the 14:00 Minute Mark

[embedded content]

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Survey says: Amazon, Google more trusted with your personal data than Apple is

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survey-says:-amazon,-google-more-trusted-with-your-personal-data-than-apple-is-–-phonearena
 

MacRumors reveals that more people feel better with their personal data in the hands of Amazon and Google than Apple’s. Companies that the public really doesn’t trust when it comes to their personal data include Facebook, TikTok, and Instagram.

The survey asked over 1,000 internet users in the U.S. how much they trusted certain companies such as Facebook, TikTok, Instagram, WhatsApp, YouTube, Google, Microsoft, Apple, and Amazon to handle their user data and browsing activity responsibly.

Amazon and Google are considered by survey respondents to be more trustworthy than Apple

Those surveyed were asked whether they trusted these firms with their personal data “a great deal,” “a good amount,” “not much,” or “not at all.” Respondents could also answer that they had no opinion about a particular company. 18% of those polled said that they trust Apple “a great deal” which topped the 14% received by Google and Amazon.

However, 39% said that they trust Amazon  by “a good amount” with Google picking up 34% of the votes in that same category. Only 26% of those answering said that they trust Apple by “a good amount.” The first two responses, “a great deal” and “a good amount,” are considered positive replies for a company. “Not much” and “not at all” are considered negative responses.

By adding up the scores in the positive categories,

Apple tallied a score of 44% (18% said it trusted Apple with its personal data “a great deal” while 26% said it trusted Apple “a good amount”). But that placed the tech giant third after Amazon’s 53% and Google’s 48%. After Apple, Microsoft finished fourth with 43%, YouTube (which is owned by Google) was fifth with 35%, and Facebook was sixth at 20%.

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Rounding out the remainder of the nine firms in the survey, Instagram placed seventh with a positive score of 19%, WhatsApp was eighth with a score of 15%, and TikTok was last at 12%.

Looking at the scoring for the two negative responses (“not much,” or “not at all”), Facebook had a combined negative score of 72% making it the least trusted company in the survey. TikTok was next at 63% with Instagram following at 60%. WhatsApp and YouTube were both in the middle of the pact at 53% followed next by Google and Microsoft at 47% and 42% respectively. Apple and Amazon each had the lowest combined negative scores at 40% each.

74% of those surveyed called targeted online ads invasive

The survey also found that a whopping 82% of respondents found targeted online ads annoying and 74% called them invasive. Just 27% found such ads helpful. This response doesn’t exactly track the 62% of iOS users who have used Apple’s App Tracking Transparency feature to opt-out of being tracked while browsing websites and using apps. The tracking allows third-party firms to send users targeted ads online which is something that they cannot do to users who have opted out.

The 38% of iOS users who decided not to opt out of being tracked might have done so because they find it convenient to receive targeted ads about a certain product that they looked up online. But is ATT actually doing anything?

Marketing strategy consultant Eric Seufert said last summer, “Anyone opting out of tracking right now is basically having the same level of data collected as they were before. Apple hasn’t actually deterred the behavior that they have called out as being so reprehensible, so they are kind of complicit in it happening.”

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The Financial Times says that iPhone users are being lumped together by certain behaviors instead of unique ID numbers in order to send targeted ads. Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg says that the company is working to rebuild its ad infrastructure “using more aggregate or anonymized data.”

Aggregated data is a collection of individual data that is used to create high-level data. Anonymized data is data that removes any information that can be used to identify the people in a group.

When consumers were asked how often do they think that their phones or other tech devices are listening in to them in ways that they didn’t agree to, 72% answered “very often” or “somewhat often.” 28% responded by saying “rarely” or “never.”

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Google’s John Mueller on Brand Mentions via @sejournal, @martinibuster

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Google’s John Mueller was asked if “brand mentions” helped with SEO and rankings. John Mueller explained, in detail, how brand mentions are not anything used at Google.

What’s A Brand Mention?

A brand mention is when one website mentions another website. There is an idea in the SEO community that when a website mentions another website’s domain name or URL that Google will see this and count it the same as a link.

Brand Mentions are also known as an implied link. Much was written about this ten years ago after a Google patent that mentions “implied links” surfaced.

There has never been a solid review of why the idea of “brand mentions” has nothing to do with this patent, but I’ll provide a shortened version later in this article.

John Mueller Discussing Brand Mentions

John Mueller Brand Mentions

John Mueller Brand Mentions

Do Brand Mentions Help With Rankings?

The person asking the question wanted to know about brand mentions for the purpose of ranking. The person asking the question has good reason to ask it because the idea of “brand mentions” has never been definitively reviewed.

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The person asked the question:

“Do brand mentions without a link help with SEO rankings?”

Google Does Not Use Brand Mentions

Google’s John Mueller answered that Google does not use the “brand mentions” for any link related purpose.

Mueller explained:

“From my point of view, I don’t think we use those at all for things like PageRank or understanding the link graph of a website.

And just a plain mention is sometimes kind of tricky to figure out anyway.”

That part about it being tricky is interesting.

He didn’t elaborate on why it’s tricky until later in the video where he says it’s hard to understand the subjective context of a website mentioning another website.

Brand Mentions Are Useful For Building Awareness

Mueller next says that brand mentions may be useful for helping to get the word out about a site, which is about building popularity.

Mueller continued:

“But it can be something that makes people aware of your brand, and from that point of view, could be something where indirectly you might have some kind of an effect from that in that they search for your brand and then …obviously, if they’re searching for your brand then hopefully they find you right away and then they can go to your website.

And if they like what they see there, then again, they can go off and recommend that to other people as well.”

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“Brand Mentions” Are Problematic

Later on at the 58 minute mark another person brings the topic back up and asks how Google could handle spam sites that are mentioning a brand in a negative way.

The person said that one can disavow links but one cannot disavow a “brand mention.”

Mueller agreed and said that’s one of things that makes brand mentions difficult to use for ranking purposes.

John Mueller explained:

“Kind of understanding the almost the subjective context of the mention is really hard.

Is it like a positive mention or a negative mention?

Is it a sarcastic positive mention or a sarcastic negative mention? How can you even tell?

And all of that, together with the fact that there are lots of spammy sites out there and sometimes they just spin content, sometimes they’re malicious with regards to the content that they create…

All of that, I think, makes it really hard to say we can just use that as the same as a link.

…It’s just, I think, too confusing to use as a clear signal.”

Where “Brand Mentions” Come From

The idea of “brand mentions” has bounced around for over ten years.

There were no research papers or patents to support it. “Brand mentions” is literally an idea that someone invented out of thin air.

However the “brand mention” idea took off in 2012 when a patent surfaced that seemed to confirm the idea of brand mentions.

There’s a whole long story to this so I’m just going to condense it.

There’s a patent from 2012 that was misinterpreted in several different ways because most people at the time, myself included, did not read the entire patent from beginning to end.

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The patent itself is about ranking web pages.

The structure of most Google patents consist of introductory paragraphs that discuss what the patent is about and those paragraphs are followed by pages of in-depth description of the details.

The introductory paragraphs that explain what it’s about states:

“Methods, systems, and apparatus, including computer programs… for ranking search results.”

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Pretty much nobody read that beginning part of the patent.

Everyone focused on a single paragraph in the middle of the patent (page 9 out of 16 pages).

In that paragraph there is a mention of something called “implied links.”

The word “implied” is only mentioned four times in the entire patent and all four times are contained within that single paragraph.

So when this patent was discovered, the SEO industry focused on that single paragraph as proof that Google uses brand mentions.

In order to understand what an “implied link” is, you have to scroll all the way back up to the opening paragraphs where the Google patent authors describe something called a “reference query” that is not a link but is nevertheless used for ranking purposes just like a link.

What Is A Reference Query?

A reference query is a search query that contains a reference to a URL or a domain name.

The patent states:

“A reference query for a particular group of resources can be a previously submitted search query that has been categorized as referring to a resource in the particular group of resources.”

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Elsewhere the patent provides a more specific explanation:

“A query can be classified as referring to a particular resource if the query includes a term that is recognized by the system as referring to the particular resource.

…search queries including the term “example.com” can be classified as referring to that home page.”

The summary of the patent, which comes at the beginning of the document, states that it’s about establishing which links to a website are independent and also counting reference queries and with that information creating a “modification factor” which is used to rank web pages.

“…determining, for each of the plurality of groups of resources, a respective count of reference queries; determining, for each of the plurality of groups of resources, a respective group-specific modification factor, wherein the group-specific modification factor for each group is based on the count of independent links and the count of reference queries for the group;”

The entire patent largely rests on those two very important factors, a count of independent inbound links and the count of reference queries. The phrases reference query and reference queries are used 39 times in the patent.

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As noted above, the reference query is used for ranking purposes like a link, but it’s not a link.

The patent states:

“An implied link is a reference to a target resource…”

It’s clear that in this patent, when it mentions the implied link, it’s talking about reference queries, which as explained above simply means when people search using keywords and the domain name of a website.

Idea of Brand Mentions Is False

The whole idea of “brand mentions” became a part of SEO belief systems because of how that patent was misinterpreted.

But now you have the facts and know why “brand mentions” is not real thing.

Plus John Mueller confirmed it.

“Brand mentions” is something completely random that someone in the SEO community invented out of thin air.

Citations

Ranking Search Results Patent

Watch John Mueller discuss “brand mentions” at 44:10 Minute Mark and the brand Mentions second part begins at the 58:12 minute mark

[embedded content]

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