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5 months after postponed IPO, AI-powered marketing bot developer Zeals secures $38M+

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Zeals is an equity-method affiliate of Freakout Holdings (TSE: 6094) and has developed AI-powered marketing bots for e-commerce companies and others. The company announced on Thursday that it has secured 5 billion yen (over $38 million US) in its latest round. Participating investors are the Japanese government-backed JIC Venture Growth Investments, Z Venture Capital, Japan Post Capital, and Salesforce Ventures. The sum includes debt financing from Mizuho nank and Mitsui UFJ Bank. Zeals was founded in April of 2014 with developing conversational robot software as its core business. In May of 2017, the company officially launched the Fanp chatbot management tool, but later pivoted to interactive advertising using chatbots. Prior to the latest round, they secured a seed round in January of 2015, a Series A round in May of 2017, a Series B round in January of 2018, an extended Series B round in April of 2019, and 1.8 billion yen in April of 2021. The latest round brought their funding sum up to date to over 7.65 billion yen (over $59 million US) including debt. Zeals’ solution allows users to purchase products while conversing with a chatbot, and has been introduced to approximately 400 companies with a total…

Image credit: Zeals

Zeals is an equity-method affiliate of Freakout Holdings (TSE: 6094) and has developed AI-powered marketing bots for e-commerce companies and others. The company announced on Thursday that it has secured 5 billion yen (over $38 million US) in its latest round. Participating investors are the Japanese government-backed JIC Venture Growth Investments, Z Venture Capital, Japan Post Capital, and Salesforce Ventures. The sum includes debt financing from Mizuho nank and Mitsui UFJ Bank.

Zeals was founded in April of 2014 with developing conversational robot software as its core business. In May of 2017, the company officially launched the Fanp chatbot management tool, but later pivoted to interactive advertising using chatbots. Prior to the latest round, they secured a seed round in January of 2015, a Series A round in May of 2017, a Series B round in January of 2018, an extended Series B round in April of 2019, and 1.8 billion yen in April of 2021. The latest round brought their funding sum up to date to over 7.65 billion yen (over $59 million US) including debt.

Zeals’ solution allows users to purchase products while conversing with a chatbot, and has been introduced to approximately 400 companies with a total of 4.3 million end users, which has contributed to analyzing 450 million conversation data sets (as of March of 2021). Leveraging the asset of these data sets, it enables user-oriented communication and supports clients’ marketing strategies.

Zeals’ IPO filing application to the Tokyo Stock Exchange Mothers was approved in November, however, the company soon postponed listing procedures due to deteriorating funding trends resulting from changes in U.S. monetary policy, IPO market trends, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The company said it would make a new decision on when to resume the procedures after assessing trends.

In his recent “Note” post, Masahiro Shimizu, founder and CEO of Zeals, revealed that the company’s team has tripled in size from before the COVID-19 pandemic to about 300 people, including about 100 engineers, 80% of whom are foreigners. The company plans to focus on product development, NLG (natural language generation) development, and global expansion, aiming to deliver chatbot-based commerce solutions to 100 million monthly active users by 2030.

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Japan’s Rapyuta Robotics secures $51M in series C round

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Tokyo-, Bangalore-, and Zurich-based Rapyuta Robotics announced last week that it has raised 6.415 billion yen in the latest round, which Crunchbase says appears to be a series C round. This round was led by Goldman Sachs with participation from other unnamed investors. This follows their Series B round (raising JPY 700 million=$5.6 million through Series B1 + Series B2) that closed in July of 2020. The latest round brought their estimated funding sum up to date to 8.9 billion yen (about $70 million). Spun off from ETH Zurich, Rapyuta Robotics was founded in 2014 in Tokyo by CEO Gajan Mohanarajah who earned a master’s degree at Tokyo Institute of Technology followed by Ph.D at ETH Zurich. The company has developed Raputa.io, a cloud-based robotics platform for integrated operation and management of various robots from multiple manufacturers, as well as Raputa PA-AMR (pick assist-autonomous mobile robot) for logistics operations. The company plans to use the funds from the latest round to invest in marketing, partner training, and research and development to strengthen promoting the cloud platform and to accelerate the development of the picking robot solution. In conjunction with the funding, the company launched a promotional campaign which allows logistics…

Rapyuta PA-AMR
Image credit: Rapyuta Robotics

Tokyo-, Bangalore-, and Zurich-based Rapyuta Robotics announced last week that it has raised 6.415 billion yen in the latest round, which Crunchbase says appears to be a series C round. This round was led by Goldman Sachs with participation from other unnamed investors. This follows their Series B round (raising JPY 700 million=$5.6 million through Series B1 + Series B2) that closed in July of 2020. The latest round brought their estimated funding sum up to date to 8.9 billion yen (about $70 million).

Spun off from ETH Zurich, Rapyuta Robotics was founded in 2014 in Tokyo by CEO Gajan Mohanarajah who earned a master’s degree at Tokyo Institute of Technology followed by Ph.D at ETH Zurich. The company has developed Raputa.io, a cloud-based robotics platform for integrated operation and management of various robots from multiple manufacturers, as well as Raputa PA-AMR (pick assist-autonomous mobile robot) for logistics operations.

The company plans to use the funds from the latest round to invest in marketing, partner training, and research and development to strengthen promoting the cloud platform and to accelerate the development of the picking robot solution. In conjunction with the funding, the company launched a promotional campaign which allows logistics businesses, including small and medium-sized warehouses, to use the picking robot on a testing basis to check productivity improvement for low pricing.

via PR Times

double jump.tokyo raises $23M to accelerate blockchain game development

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See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based double jump.tokyo, the Japanese startup developing blockchain games and NFT business, announced on Thursday that it has secured approximately 3 billion yen (about $23.1 million) to develop blockchain games and to strengthen human resources to develop games leveraging intellectual properties (IP). Investors participating in this round include: Access Ventures Amber Group Arriba Studio Circle Ventures Com2uS Group Dentsu Ventures Fenbushi Capital Infinity Ventures Crypto JAFCO Jump Crypto Next Web capital PKO Investments Polygon Ventures Protocol Labs Wemade Venture Capital Z Venture Capital The company is well known for its global smash-hit blockchain game title My Crypto Heroes. Since its launch back in April of 2018, the company has been promoting blockchain game development support programs, cross-sector projects with various domestic and international NFT-related businesses as well as leading discussions with regulatory authorities in Japan. In March, the company announced its investment in and business partnership with ForN, the company behind YGG Japan, the Japanese entity of the NFT (non-fungible token)-based global game guild DAO (decentralized autonomous organization) Yield Guild Games (YGG). Our readers may recall that the company successfully sold two street NFTs from Japanese comic title Eren the Southpaw for as much…

Hironobu Ueno, CEO of double.jump.tokyo

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based double jump.tokyo, the Japanese startup developing blockchain games and NFT business, announced on Thursday that it has secured approximately 3 billion yen (about $23.1 million) to develop blockchain games and to strengthen human resources to develop games leveraging intellectual properties (IP).

Investors participating in this round include:

  • Access Ventures
  • Amber Group
  • Arriba Studio
  • Circle Ventures
  • Com2uS Group
  • Dentsu Ventures
  • Fenbushi Capital
  • Infinity Ventures Crypto
  • JAFCO
  • Jump Crypto
  • Next Web capital
  • PKO Investments
  • Polygon Ventures
  • Protocol Labs
  • Wemade Venture Capital
  • Z Venture Capital

The company is well known for its global smash-hit blockchain game title My Crypto Heroes. Since its launch back in April of 2018, the company has been promoting blockchain game development support programs, cross-sector projects with various domestic and international NFT-related businesses as well as leading discussions with regulatory authorities in Japan.

In March, the company announced its investment in and business partnership with ForN, the company behind YGG Japan, the Japanese entity of the NFT (non-fungible token)-based global game guild DAO (decentralized autonomous organization) Yield Guild Games (YGG). Our readers may recall that the company successfully sold two street NFTs from Japanese comic title Eren the Southpaw for as much as 332,300 ASTR (approximately $64,000) last week.

Regarding the latest funding, their CEO Hironobu Ueno says in his company’s statement,

This funding is a manifestation of our investors’ appreciation and expectation for our steady accumulation of the large-scale achievement in blockchain games and IP-based NFT content since the dawn of time in this space.

To promote the joint development of IP-based blockchain games with major game companies, the funds will be used to invest in products, partners, and DAO projects, which help strengthen and grow our group in the upcoming mass adoption phase of the blockchain game market.

Japan’s Synspective raises $96M+ in series B, making constellation of 30 SAR minisats

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Synspective is building a constellation system for earth observation mini-satellites employing Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) and integrates SAR data with a variety of ground truth data. The Japanese startup announced today that it has secured 11.9 billion yen (over $96 million US) in a Series B round from investors as well as loans from Shoko Chukin Bank and Mitsubishi UFJ Bank. This follows the company’s Series A round back in July of 2019, and brought their sum of funding to date up to 22.8 billion yen (about $185 million US) . Participating investors in the latest round are as follows. Sompo Japan Insurance Mori Trust Nomura Sparx Investment Pavilion Capital Sparks Innovation for Future JAFCO Group (TSE: 8595) Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Investment SBI Group Nikon-SBI Innovation Fund Shinsei Corporate Investment Group Japan Post Capital aSTART Environmental Energy Investment Abies Ventures Mizuho Capital Of these, aSTART, Jafco Group, Abies Ventures, Mori and Last, and SBI Group (formerly as SBI Investment) have participated in previous rounds. Synspective was founded in February of 2018 by CEO Motoyuki Arai and co-founder/managing director Seiko Shirasaka (Shirasaka is a professor at System Design and Management, Keio University). Arai was previously working for an American accounting firm…

Synspective’s second SAR satellite launched on March 1, 2022 from the Onenui Station launch site on the Mahia Peninsula, New Zealand.
Image credit: Synspective

Synspective is building a constellation system for earth observation mini-satellites employing Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) and integrates SAR data with a variety of ground truth data.

The Japanese startup announced today that it has secured 11.9 billion yen (over $96 million US) in a Series B round from investors as well as loans from Shoko Chukin Bank and Mitsubishi UFJ Bank.

This follows the company’s Series A round back in July of 2019, and brought their sum of funding to date up to 22.8 billion yen (about $185 million US) . Participating investors in the latest round are as follows.

  • Sompo Japan Insurance
  • Mori Trust
  • Nomura Sparx Investment
  • Pavilion Capital
  • Sparks Innovation for Future
  • JAFCO Group (TSE: 8595)
  • Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Investment
  • SBI Group
  • Nikon-SBI Innovation Fund
  • Shinsei Corporate Investment Group
  • Japan Post Capital
  • aSTART
  • Environmental Energy Investment
  • Abies Ventures
  • Mizuho Capital

Of these, aSTART, Jafco Group, Abies Ventures, Mori and Last, and SBI Group (formerly as SBI Investment) have participated in previous rounds.

Synspective CEO Motoyuki Arai
Image credit: Masaru Ikeda

Synspective was founded in February of 2018 by CEO Motoyuki Arai and co-founder/managing director Seiko Shirasaka (Shirasaka is a professor at System Design and Management, Keio University). Arai was previously working for an American accounting firm while attending the University of Tokyo where he obtained a PhD for Technology Management for Innovation. Subsequently, he was involved in assisting Saudi Arabia to implement renewable energy systems as well as working with the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry to help Japanese companies expand into this region.

Synspective is building a constellation system for earth observation mini-satellites employing SAR and integrates SAR data with a variety of ground truth data. Using machine learning and other engineering techniques, the startup extracts meaning and context from the data to provide solutions to meet clients’ problems. In September of 2020, the conpany launched “Land Displacement Monitoring,” which enables millimeter-scale ground deformation monitoring over wide areas based on image analysis of SAR satellites.

The company says the latest funding allows them to further accelerate the construction of its constellation of 30 SAR satellites and its data analysis technology.

Startups in this vertical, particularly in Japan, include SAR satellite developers such as iQPS and Sigma-SAR. The former closed its Series B round in February with 4.9 billion yen (about $40 million US) in funding, which brought their cumulative sum of funding up to 8.25 billion yen (about $67 million US).

via PR Times

Japan Lead VC Radar – A glance of the most active lead VCs in 2021 (Infographic)

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This guest post is authored by Mark Bivens. Mark is a Silicon Valley native and former entrepreneur, having started three companies before “turning to the dark side of VC.” He is a venture capitalist that travels between Paris and Tokyo (aka the RudeVC). He is the Managing Partner of Shizen Capital (formerly known as Tachi.ai Ventures) in Japan. You can read more on his blog at http://rude.vc or follow him @markbivens. The Japanese translation of this article is available here. The infographic we published last month proved popular. Some of the most encouraging feedback we received came from abroad, where foreign investors in the venture asset class expressed appreciation for visibility into Japan’s most active VC Funds. Even domestically, it appears that many local startup founders in Japan find our VC sector here equally opaque, and hence applauded this new transparency. This collective feedback has inspired us to peel back one more layer of the onion: identifying Japan’s most active Lead VC funds. What defines a Lead VC? Quite simply, a Lead VC in a startup is the first venture capital fund to commit to a startup’s fundraising round. The Lead VC structures the investment round, establishes the terms and…

mark-bivens_portrait

This guest post is authored by Mark Bivens. Mark is a Silicon Valley native and former entrepreneur, having started three companies before “turning to the dark side of VC.”

He is a venture capitalist that travels between Paris and Tokyo (aka the RudeVC). He is the Managing Partner of Shizen Capital (formerly known as Tachi.ai Ventures) in Japan. You can read more on his blog at http://rude.vc or follow him @markbivens. The Japanese translation of this article is available here.


The infographic we published last month proved popular. Some of the most encouraging feedback we received came from abroad, where foreign investors in the venture asset class expressed appreciation for visibility into Japan’s most active VC Funds. Even domestically, it appears that many local startup founders in Japan find our VC sector here equally opaque, and hence applauded this new transparency.

This collective feedback has inspired us to peel back one more layer of the onion: identifying Japan’s most active Lead VC funds.

What defines a Lead VC?

Quite simply, a Lead VC in a startup is the first venture capital fund to commit to a startup’s fundraising round. The Lead VC structures the investment round, establishes the terms and valuation in a term sheet, and sets the schedule for transaction closing. In Western markets, the Lead VC often represents the largest check in the round, though not necessarily, and this is far less common in Japan.

Japan Lead VC Radar 2021

Accordingly, the Japan Lead VC Radar, 2021 edition depicted below, reflects the number of investments by led by Japan’s independent VC funds into domestic startups in 2021. In a future post I will elaborate on why we believe this is an important tool for Japan’s growing venture ecosystem. Feel free to contact us for any requested corrections.

Click to enlarge.

Japan VC Radar – A glance of the most active VCs in 2021 (Infographic)

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This guest post is authored by Mark Bivens. Mark is a Silicon Valley native and former entrepreneur, having started three companies before “turning to the dark side of VC.” He is a venture capitalist that travels between Paris and Tokyo (aka the RudeVC). He is the Managing Partner of Shizen Capital (formerly known as Tachi.ai Ventures) in Japan. You can read more on his blog at http://rude.vc or follow him @markbivens. The Japanese translation of this article is available here. We’ve mentioned this before: the venture ecosystem in Japan is on the rise! Now we have some supporting evidence. The Japan VC Radar indicates the most active VC funds in Japan last year. Based on data sourced from Startup DB or the funds directly, the Japan VC Radar depicts the number of new domestic investments in 2021 by Japan’s independent VC funds (note: please feel to contact us for any corrections).

mark-bivens_portrait

This guest post is authored by Mark Bivens. Mark is a Silicon Valley native and former entrepreneur, having started three companies before “turning to the dark side of VC.”

He is a venture capitalist that travels between Paris and Tokyo (aka the RudeVC). He is the Managing Partner of Shizen Capital (formerly known as Tachi.ai Ventures) in Japan. You can read more on his blog at http://rude.vc or follow him @markbivens. The Japanese translation of this article is available here.


We’ve mentioned this before: the venture ecosystem in Japan is on the rise! Now we have some supporting evidence. The Japan VC Radar indicates the most active VC funds in Japan last year.

Based on data sourced from Startup DB or the funds directly, the Japan VC Radar depicts the number of new domestic investments in 2021 by Japan’s independent VC funds (note: please feel to contact us for any corrections).

(Click to enlarge)

Misaky Tokyo secures $1M to bring innovative Japanese confectionery to more Americans

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See the original story in Japanese. Los Angeles-based Cashi Cake, the startup behind Misaky Tokyo and other D2C-focused Japanese confectionery brands, announced on Wednesday that it has secured 120 million yen (about $1 million) in the first tranche of its seed round. Participating investors include Chiba Dojo Fund, Coconala Skill Partners (CSP), Headline Asia in addition to angel investors including Hiromi Okuda and Shin Murakami. This follows two angel rounds when the startup received 60 million yen (about $600,000) in total from ISGS Investment Works, Jun Nishikawa, Kazuma Yamauchi, Kotaro Tamura, Yoichiro Hirano, Heart Catch and others. The latest tranche brought their total funding sum up to 180 million yen (about $1.6 million). The company will use the funds to expand confectionery manufacturing capacity as well as strengthening the development effort of a seaweed drink brand. Founded by Alyssa Miky in September of 2019, Cashi Cake uses a proprietary technology to process seaweed agar to develop high-end Japanese confectionery products. After serving the Academy Awards and Emmy Awards eve as a vendor, her company has collaborated with Kim Kardashian’s fragrance brand KKW and been featured in the Bon Appétit food magazine. The company has 310,000 followers on its Tiktok account.

Alissa Miky, Founder and CEO of Cashi Cake

See the original story in Japanese.

Los Angeles-based Cashi Cake, the startup behind Misaky Tokyo and other D2C-focused Japanese confectionery brands, announced on Wednesday that it has secured 120 million yen (about $1 million) in the first tranche of its seed round. Participating investors include Chiba Dojo Fund, Coconala Skill Partners (CSP), Headline Asia in addition to angel investors including Hiromi Okuda and Shin Murakami.

This follows two angel rounds when the startup received 60 million yen (about $600,000) in total from ISGS Investment Works, Jun Nishikawa, Kazuma Yamauchi, Kotaro Tamura, Yoichiro Hirano, Heart Catch and others. The latest tranche brought their total funding sum up to 180 million yen (about $1.6 million). The company will use the funds to expand confectionery manufacturing capacity as well as strengthening the development effort of a seaweed drink brand.

Founded by Alyssa Miky in September of 2019, Cashi Cake uses a proprietary technology to process seaweed agar to develop high-end Japanese confectionery products. After serving the Academy Awards and Emmy Awards eve as a vendor, her company has collaborated with Kim Kardashian’s fragrance brand KKW and been featured in the Bon Appétit food magazine. The company has 310,000 followers on its Tiktok account.

2022 predictions from insightful investors

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This guest post is authored by Mark Bivens. Mark is a Silicon Valley native and former entrepreneur, having started three companies before “turning to the dark side of VC.” He is a venture capitalist that travels between Paris and Tokyo (aka the RudeVC). He is the Managing Partner of Shizen Capital (formerly known as Tachi.ai Ventures) in Japan. You can read more on his blog at http://rude.vc or follow him @markbivens. The Japanese translation of this article is available here. Years ago I started publishing an annual list of technology predictions from global venture capitalists. By design, I deliberately prioritize VCs beyond the usual Silicon Valley household names, whose voices were not necessarily heard on the world stage. For this season’s set of predictions, I am again pleased to be able to give the floor to an all-female cast of investors, who in my opinion are poised to make a disproportionately positive impact on the venture ecosystem this year. May 2022 bring us further enlightenment. Happy new year ! –mark Yumiko Murakami — MPower Partners, Japan ESG investments, which showed record growth in 2021, will continue to gain momentum in 2022. At the same time, criticism of greenwashing will increase,…

mark-bivens_portraitThis guest post is authored by Mark Bivens. Mark is a Silicon Valley native and former entrepreneur, having started three companies before “turning to the dark side of VC.”

He is a venture capitalist that travels between Paris and Tokyo (aka the RudeVC). He is the Managing Partner of Shizen Capital (formerly known as Tachi.ai Ventures) in Japan. You can read more on his blog at http://rude.vc or follow him @markbivens. The Japanese translation of this article is available here.


Years ago I started publishing an annual list of technology predictions from global venture capitalists. By design, I deliberately prioritize VCs beyond the usual Silicon Valley household names, whose voices were not necessarily heard on the world stage.

For this season’s set of predictions, I am again pleased to be able to give the floor to an all-female cast of investors, who in my opinion are poised to make a disproportionately positive impact on the venture ecosystem this year.

May 2022 bring us further enlightenment. Happy new year !

–mark

Yumiko Murakami — MPower Partners, Japan

ESG investments, which showed record growth in 2021, will continue to gain momentum in 2022. At the same time, criticism of greenwashing will increase, and the quality of ESG investments will be questioned in 2022.

ESG has so far been focused on listed companies. This year, ESG will begin to be introduced to the private market in earnest.

Tonna Obaze — Harlem Capital, NYC, USA

I believe the world will continue its Web3 evolution with blockchain technology, cryptocurrency, & NFTs. However this year, the focus will not be awareness but more mass adoption. I’m excited to see new players emerge who make Web3 accessible for everyone — those who communicate concepts in plain language to help the “non expert” understand and those who build infrastructure to make onboarding seamless. Once upon a time, only few had access to computers and even fewer had them within their homes — Apple sought out to change that and make computers accessible to everyone. Time will tell who will step up and do the same for Web3.

Emiko Takeda — Monex Climate Impact, Japan

I personally expect a lot of interesting innovation in sustainable food. For instance, I see projects which transform empty sea urchins, traditionally a scourge of algae vital to sea life and a headache for fishermen, into highly-prized sea urchins for sushi based on an all-natural alimentation program. Another example is a project producing delicious plant-based cheese alternatives from sticky rice by employing koji malt often used in Japan for fermentation of miso and sake.

Abi Mohamed—Tech Nation, UK

2021 was a remarkable year for European startups, with a record $100B of capital invested, 100 new unicorns (Atomico Report 2021), but there was still a lack of investment in underrepresented founders, the biggest disparity was towards founders who self identifies as Black. We still saw incredible funding deals to UK Black founders, i.e. Marshmallow and AudioMob. My prediction for 2022 is that we will see more UK Black founders being funded by micro/solo funds, ex-founder turned angel investors or international institutional funds.

Mai Iida — D4V, Japan

2021 saw the rise in new content driven by individuals and communities (think NFTs, EdTech cohort programs, Japan’s “Oshikatsu” or fan activities in pop culture, etc). The diversification of opportunities has put creators in a strong position to pick and choose what is best for them. People are also revisiting their way of work and life, such as the “Great Resignation” in the US, choosing a career that suits their lifestyle best. In 2022 I look forward to seeing these two trends merging – we may see more people choosing novel ways of work, treating their hobbies just as seriously as their so-called “actual” jobs. This is an interesting and hot area for startups to contribute their innovative ideas.

Venture Capital: why AUM is the wrong metric

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This guest post is authored by Mark Bivens. Mark is a Silicon Valley native and former entrepreneur, having started three companies before “turning to the dark side of VC.” He is a venture capitalist that travels between Paris and Tokyo (aka the RudeVC). He is the Managing Partner of Shizen Capital (formerly known as Tachi.ai Ventures) in Japan. You can read more on his blog at http://rude.vc or follow him @markbivens. The Japanese translation of this article is available here. There’s an old dig that venture capitalists like to make about private equity professionals: private equity folks boast about the size of their ego in AUM, whereas VCs know that what really matters is their IRR. Now let’s define these three-letter words. First, I’m using the word ego as a euphemism here to be gender agnostic (albeit in reality it’s usually only men who tend to make this brag). AUM means assets under management (i.e. the total amount of money in the funds managed by the general partner team). IRR means internal rate of return (i.e. the cash returns distributed to a fund’s investors, annualized). Asset managers care about AUM because it directly translates into guaranteed revenue. Closed-end investment funds…

mark-bivens_portrait

This guest post is authored by Mark Bivens. Mark is a Silicon Valley native and former entrepreneur, having started three companies before “turning to the dark side of VC.”

He is a venture capitalist that travels between Paris and Tokyo (aka the RudeVC). He is the Managing Partner of Shizen Capital (formerly known as Tachi.ai Ventures) in Japan. You can read more on his blog at http://rude.vc or follow him @markbivens. The Japanese translation of this article is available here.

Image credit: Pixnio

There’s an old dig that venture capitalists like to make about private equity professionals: private equity folks boast about the size of their ego in AUM, whereas VCs know that what really matters is their IRR.

Now let’s define these three-letter words. First, I’m using the word ego as a euphemism here to be gender agnostic (albeit in reality it’s usually only men who tend to make this brag). AUM means assets under management (i.e. the total amount of money in the funds managed by the general partner team). IRR means internal rate of return (i.e. the cash returns distributed to a fund’s investors, annualized).

Asset managers care about AUM because it directly translates into guaranteed revenue. Closed-end investment funds typically follow a “2 and 20 model,” meaning annual management fees of 2% and a share of 20% of the capital gains generated by the fund (aka carried interest). The annual management fees are a direct function of AUM, i.e. 2% of total AUM each year. They are contractually established for the life of the fund, usually 10 years. The carried interest is a direct function of fund performance, i.e. 20% of the capital gains generated by the fund.

Accordingly, a large AUM directly translates into a significant guaranteed revenue stream for the entire life of the fund. A fund manager with $1 billion in AUM is probably receiving around $20 million per year in recurring revenue. A micro VC fund of say $10 million is receiving only $200k per year in recurring revenue via its management fees. 

Risk of misalignment

Since management fees are meant to cover the operations of the fund, excessively high management fees can translate into high salaries for the managing partners, luxurious offices, and lavish parties. Even if the fund’s financial performance is lackluster, a guaranteed annual revenue stream in the double-digit millions for several years makes for a fairly comfortable lifestyle. Do you see where a potential misalignment can emerge?

In contrast, a small VC fund can afford no such excesses. The managers of a small VC fund cannot become wealthy on management fees alone. They must perform. Only by generating significant capital gains on the funds they manage will they be able to generate wealth for themselves via the carried interest mechanism. IRR represents each fund’s financial performance.

For LP investors in private equity or VC funds who care about financial return, IRR is the metric that reflects their financial return, not AUM. So I submit that when a fund manager brags about their AUM, the appropriate rebuttal would be to ask their IRR.

Full disclosure: I too used to be guilty of the AUM flex. As a former GP in a fund that managed nearly $1 billion in AUM, I would often open my introduction at conferences by citing this figure. But over time, I learned that IRR represents my true KPI as a fund manager. IRR is the indicator of how well or how poorly I perform my job. It is not a mathematical anomaly that my best-performing funds have been those with smaller fund sizes, hence lower AUM.

In many ways actually, a propensity to chatter more about AUM than IRR is an indication of the stage of an ecosystem. When the venture market in a given region is still nascent, track records are limited, so the nearest metric people can look for is assets under management. However, once a fund manager has progressed beyond their first vintage, the more the relevant question to ask is, “So what is your IRR?”

Japan’s space debris remover Astroscale secures $109M, brings valuation to $295M

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Tokyo-based Astroscale Holdings, the Japanese startup offering space debris removal services, has secured approximately 12.4 billion yen (about $109 million) in a Series F round, which brought the startup’s valuation to 33.4 billion yen (about $295 million). This follows their series E round back in October of last year. Investors participating in the latest round are: DNCA Invest Beyound Global Leaders Environmental Energy Investment Siniphian AXA Life Insurance Innovation Engine OPS Seraphim Space Investment Trust Solaris ESG Master Fund Chiba Dojo Nomura Sparks Investment Prelude Structured Alternatives Master Fund Yamauchi-No.10 Family Office (the family office of Nindendo’s founder) Y’s Investment According to the company, the funding will enable the company’s global growth, including the development of technology for safe and cost-effective on-orbit services and the expansion of its own facilities for mass production in Japan, the UK and the US. Since its Series E round back in October of last year, the company’s workforce has grown by more than 60 percent, reaching about 250 employees globally. The company successfully launched and put into orbit the ELSA-d space debris removal satellite in March, and this month, followed by introducing its docking plate this month, which is designed to be pre-loaded onto…

ELSA-d
Image credit: Astroscale Holdings

Tokyo-based Astroscale Holdings, the Japanese startup offering space debris removal services, has secured approximately 12.4 billion yen (about $109 million) in a Series F round, which brought the startup’s valuation to 33.4 billion yen (about $295 million). This follows their series E round back in October of last year.

Investors participating in the latest round are:

  • DNCA Invest Beyound Global Leaders
  • Environmental Energy Investment
  • Siniphian
  • AXA Life Insurance
  • Innovation Engine
  • OPS
  • Seraphim Space Investment Trust
  • Solaris ESG Master Fund
  • Chiba Dojo
  • Nomura Sparks Investment
  • Prelude Structured Alternatives Master Fund
  • Yamauchi-No.10 Family Office (the family office of Nindendo’s founder)
  • Y’s Investment

According to the company, the funding will enable the company’s global growth, including the development of technology for safe and cost-effective on-orbit services and the expansion of its own facilities for mass production in Japan, the UK and the US.

Since its Series E round back in October of last year, the company’s workforce has grown by more than 60 percent, reaching about 250 employees globally.

The company successfully launched and put into orbit the ELSA-d space debris removal satellite in March, and this month, followed by introducing its docking plate this month, which is designed to be pre-loaded onto low-Earth orbit satellites, one of the main possible sources of space debris.