Sometimes change takes time – online grocery edition

Consumer behavior changes slowly. According to Svensk Dagligvaruhandel (reported by Breakit, in Swedish) online sales of groceries dropped 20 % last year in Sweden. That obviously seems like a people “changing back” behavior as the covid pandemic ended.

But as interesting is that only 4.5 % of total grocery sales in Sweden were online, especially as other sectors (media including streaming and games in particular) have gone online and/or digital to very high degrees. The quote about the unevenly, even after 20+ years of widely available Internet, distributed future seems very relevant.

Activity is good, but not enough

Sifted lists the ten most active accelerators/early-stage investors in Europe in 2022. While activity is a good thing, there is a big difference between an active, high conviction early-stage investor and an accelerator/high volume-lower activity investor. Especially at seed stage.

A seed-stage startup is often best served by a combination of 1-2 more active investors and a handful of smaller angel investors. A large of cap table where no-one has real skin in the game is not the ideal situation.

US is now Klarna’s biggest market or Long-term vision required

According to a tweet by Klarna co-founder and CEO Sebastian Siemakowski, the US is now Klarna’s biggest individual market ahead of Germany.

Klarna is one of the largest BNPL players globally, and having the US be its biggest market is a healthy sign that expansion is working.

It’s also a reminder that building startups take a very long time. Klarna was founded in 2005, launched in the US in 2015 and in 2023 the US becomes its largest market.

An oral history of the video games business

My first job was writing about computer games in the late 1990s. Therefore the podcast Gamecraft by Mitch Lasky and Blake Robbins is enjoyable listening. It is a deep-dive into the games industry starting in the early 1990s with shareware and iD Software. I’m only a bit into the first episode, but am already looking forward to all eight episodes.

Games been culturally important for a long time, but how three different business models (free-to-play and “pay $60 upfront” and “pay $12 per month”) can all exist and be successful is worth learning from (especially if you’re in a different business). Also how the different models have allowed the industry to grow significantly and use the sheer size of the smartphone platforms to go beyond the PC and the console market (the PS5 has “only” sold 30 million units since its release in November 2020, while Apple sells more than 200 million iPhones per year).

10 % cut is managing expenses, 20-30 % is going for profitability

The number of announced personell reductions at larger US tech firms continue, just in the last day or so with Coinbase cutting 20 % (after cutting 18 % in June 2022), Flexport also cutting 20 % and Carta cutting 10 %.

It is new proof points of the reset many companies are doing, and probably a combination of cutting personell to get better financial results (duh!) and not getting bad press (“as everyone is cutting”).

For high growth tech businesses that have had the focus on revenue growth, there is quite significant difference between a 10 % cut and a 20-30 % cut.

A 10 % cut is in reality mostly a slightly more conservative way of managing overall expenses, and not enough to drive significant improvement to profitability. Profit improvements need to come from relatively significant revenue and gross profit growth.

A 20-30 % cut of all personell has more significant profit impact and combined with other savings measures can take a company closer to profitability alone. Even if some gross profit growth is often needed to.

Game on!

Adam Schaub and Marcus Jacobs have started Seider, a Stockhom-based games studio, and raised capital from A16Z Games. Video and mobile games is one of the sectors where Stockholm and the wider Nordic ecosystem have real depth from multiple large successes (King, Supercell, Unity and many others). “Standing of the shoulder of giants” is a strength of any ecosystem, and with the giants in the games space I expect many interesting gaming companies to be built in Stockholm going forward.

Games in an area where generative AI can be helpful, e.g. for things like outdoor world generation and creation of graphical assets. It might not be quite as good as AAA-work by specialists, but it can be quite close and probably take costs down 90 % over time for AA/AAA or improve the graphical quality of smaller productions. Which both are very interesting.

Storytel 742 MSEK in Q4 revenue

Storytel, the audiobook subscription company, has had a bumpy ride on the stock market the last 2 years, especially in 2022 after founder Jonas Tellander left his role as CEO in February 2022.

Founder leaving, somewhat of a reset in the growth/profitability trade-off and crashing tech valuations is an unpleasant combination. Still, the company managed to stay above two million subscribers in Q4 of 2022, of which a little more than half in the Nordic countries.

Two things worth noting:

  1. Despite losing subscribers during 2022, Storytel has grown revenue as the average revenue per user has increased
  2. Gross profit for non-Nordic countries was 47.3 % in Q3, compared to 41 % in the Nordic countries and the 25 % gross margin Spotify had in that period (across both Premium and ad-supported).

Going public, and then private

After a startup has grown larger (hopefully $100 million in revenue), a good way for founders and early investors to exit is via a listing on a stock exchange of the company. The overall leaders in this aspect is the Nasdaq and New York Stock Exchange, who really are the only western stock exchanges for very large companies ($10 billion+ in market capitalization) to list.

But for smaller companies there are many local/national stock exchanges to list at, and the Stockholm Stock Exchange and the affiliated First North are two good places for this.

One interesting aspect is when a company is not doing great and gets an acquisition offer to sell all shares and leave the stock exchange. One such example in Stockholm is Readly, a digital magazine service. The company listed in 2021 and have had a tough time growing (ca 30 % growth and significant losses planned for another 1-2 years). Local major publisher Bonnier offered to buy out Readly (as they would likely get economies of scope and a better licensing situation as they are a major magazine publisher), and now we’re seeing at last one major mutual fund (Robur) being against selling.

The main challenge with Readly for me is that founders have left and early investors seem to be willing to sell. That is not unlike TradeDoubler many years ago when they had an offer from AOL, and Swedish mutual funds declined to sell. It will be interesting to see if the result will be the same.

Complexity is a killer

Fred Wilson (partner at USV and long-time blogger) had some good observations in his What will happen in 2023 blog post.

On the new fundraising environment (lower valuations and higher demands on startups to be funded) he writes:

“This new normal will lead to many flat rounds, down rounds, inside rounds, and rounds with a lot of structure on them. None of that is good, but the worst of those options is rounds with a lot of structure. I believe founders and CEOS and Boards should take the pain of a new valuation (flat, down, whatever) over structure.”

Structure (I interpret this as things like tougher terms in Shareholders agreement, additional approval rights, preferential options deals, additional board seats, aggressive preference rights etc) might feel better than a lower valuation initially for a founder, but I agree with Fred. If at all possible (enough money to execute the plan without excessive share dilution) it is better to go with a clean structure and a lower valuation than a complex structure and a slightly higher valuation.