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A look at how proptech startup Knotel went from a $1.6B valuation to filing for bankruptcy

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This week, flexible workspace operator (and one-time unicorn) Knotel announced it had filed for bankruptcy and that its assets were being acquired by investor and commercial real estate brokerage Newmark for a reported $70 million.

Knotel designed, built and ran custom headquarters for companies. It then managed the spaces with “flexible” terms. In March 2020, it was reportedly valued at $1.6 billion.

At first glance, one might think that the WeWork rival, which had raised about $560 million since its 2016 inception, was another casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

But New York-based Knotel was reportedly in trouble – facing a number of lawsuits and evictions – before the pandemic had even hit, according to multiple reports, such as this one in The Real Deal.

Jonathan Pasternak, a partner in the bankruptcy, restructuring and creditor rights group at New York-based Davidoff Hutcher & Citron, believes the company’s Chapter 11 filing was inevitable despite it reaching unicorn status after raising $400 million in Series C funding in August 2019.

“In addition to being grossly overvalued on the market, the company overextended itself with long term leases and lavish build-outs, leaving the company in significant debt while failing to ever turn a profit,” Pasternak wrote via email. “The pandemic exacerbated their vacancy situation, resulting in more than 35% vacancies in their 2.4 million square-foot NYC portfolio. The company overextended and likely ran out of cash.”

Newmark’s purchase of Knotel’s assets is an effort to recoup some of its investment, according to Pasternak.

Anytime a company that has raised more than half a billion dollars basically implodes, it’s worth taking a look at the roller coaster ride it was on before it got to that point.


2016

Virgin Mobile co-founder Amol Sarva and former VC Edward Shenderovich founded Knotel, essentially reversing the WeWork model. There’s hype around the company in its early days.

2017

Knotel raised a Series A round of $25 million in February from investors such as Peak State Ventures, Invest AG, Bloomberg Beta and 500 startups. It marketed its offering as “headquarters as a service” — or a flexible office space that could be customized for each tenant while also growing or shrinking as needed. 

2018

In April, Knotel announced the close of a $70 million Series B financing led by Newmark Knight Frank and The Sapir Organization. In August, the company told me that it was operating over 1 million square feet across 60 locations in New York, London, San Francisco and Berlin, and that it was on track to reach 2.5 million square feet and $100 million in revenue by year’s end. Revenue growth had increased by 300 percent year over year, according to the company. Customers and users and clients ranged from VC-backed startups Stash and HotelTonight to enterprise customers such as The Body Shop. 

“What they’re doing is different,” said Barry Gosin, CEO of Newmark Knight Frank, in a press release, at the time of the round. “It’s a new category the industry hasn’t seen and is rapidly adopting. We’ve watched their ascent from a distance and are now thrilled to join them on the journey. It marks a shift in how owners and tenants are coming together.”

2019

In August, Knotel announced the completion of a $400 million financing, led by Wafra, an investment arm of the Sovereign Wealth Fund of Kuwait. With the round, the company had achieved unicorn status and was being touted as a formidable WeWork competitor. At the time, Knotel said it operated more than 4 million square feet across more than 200 locations in New York, San Francisco, London, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Paris, Berlin, Toronto, Boston, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. 

In a statement at the time, CEO Sarva said: “Knotel is building the future of the workplace, and we are excited to welcome a group of investors who believe passionately in our product, vision and ability to execute. Wafra will help us continue our rapid global expansion and solidify our position as the leader in a fast-growing, trillion-dollar flexible office market.”

2020

In late March, Forbes reported that Knotel had laid off 30% of its workforce and furloughed another 20%, due to the impact of the coronavirus. At the time, it was valued at about $1.6 billion. 

The company had started the year with about 500 employees. By the third week of March, it had a headcount of 400. With the cuts, about 200 employees remained with the other 200 having either lost their jobs or on unpaid leave, according to Forbes. 

“Business as usual is over,” Amol Sarva, Knotel’s CEO and co-founder, said in a statement to Forbes. “Knotel has decided to take sharp action to prepare for the worst case — a long health and economic crisis.”

In the second quarter, Knotel’s revenue slipped by about 20% to about $59 million compared to the first quarter, reported Forbes. Multiple landlords had filed lawsuits against the company.

By July, Forbes had reported that Knotel was attempting to raise as much as $100 million, according to various sources “familiar with the matter.”

2021

Knotel filed for bankruptcy, agrees to sell assets to investor Newmark for a reported $70 million after being valued at $1.6 billion less than one year prior.

“Newmark’s commitment offers a path forward amidst this challenging climate,” CEO Sarva said in a statement. “We are optimistic that, through a successful restructuring, we can refocus on our mission of providing state-of-the-art, tailored flex space in key U.S. and international markets.”

To facilitate the transaction under Section 363 of the United States Bankruptcy Code, an affiliate of Newmark agreed to provide Knotel with about $20 million in cash as DIP financing to support Knotel through the bankruptcy process.

Just as the startup and VC world watched as WeWork lost a significant amount of value over the past two years, we’re paying attention to the demise of Knotel and wondering what this means for the flexible workspace sector. As much of the world continues to work from home and office buildings remain mostly vacant as this pandemic rages, our guess is that things will only get worse before they get better.

Lyron Foster is a Hawaii based African American Musician, Author, Actor, Blogger, Filmmaker, Philanthropist and Multinational Serial Tech Entrepreneur.

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EBay and Adevinta to sell UK sites Gumtree, Motors.co.uk and Shpock to get their $9.2B deal past regulators

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After inking a $9.2 billion deal to merge their classifieds businesses last year, eBay and Norway’s Adevinta have announced a deal to sell off three popular web properties in the UK to get the deal cleared by local regulators, the Competition Markets Authority. The companies plan to sell off Adevina-owned Shpock, and eBay-owned Gumtree and Motors.co.uk — three UK sites that let individuals sell used goods and find/offer services — with the transactions expected to be completed in time for eBay and Adevinta to complete their bigger deal in Q2 2021, pending final regulatory approvals.

“EBay and Adevinta remain excited about the proposed combination of Adevinta and eBay Classifieds Group and now target closing the transaction in Q2 2021, subject to final ratification of the remedies execution plan by the CMA and receipt of outstanding regulatory approval in Austria,” the companies said in a joint statement.

The companies have not yet said whether they plan to sell them in a single package or to independent buyers, but a spokesperson for Adevinta said that it’s likely that there will be another update in 4-6 weeks. She declined to give a price range for the properties.

But in the statement from the companies, eBay said that Gumtree and Motors, which form its UK classifieds business, account for less than 10% of its consolidated revenues ($10.3 billion last year); and Adevinta said that Shpock revenues make up less than 1% of its consolidated revenues (which were about $80 million in the last 12 months). Adevinta is the majority owner of Norwegian publisher Schibsted, among other businesses.

The CMA provisionally has said that it would support the deal if the sale of the three properties gets completed.

“The CMA considers that there are reasonable grounds for believing that the undertakings offered by Adevinta and eBay, or a modified version of them, might be accepted by the CMA under the Enterprise Act 2002,” it noted in a brief update (which was dated 2 March, 2020, although I think that was a typo).

The divestment decision comes as a result of the CMA last month announcing that the deal raised competition concerns as is.

“It is important that people have choice when it comes to selling items they no longer require or searching for a bargain online, and that they can enjoy competitive fees and services,” said CMA’s Joel Bamford, Senior Director of Mergers, in a statement. “There is a realistic chance that without this deal Gumtree and Shpock would have been direct competitors to eBay, which is by far the biggest player in this market. This is the latest in a series of merger probes by the CMA involving large digital companies, where we are thoroughly examining deals to ensure that competition is not restricted, and consumers’ interests are protected.”

Interestingly, one of those other deals also involves eBay, indirectly. Another asset that eBay sold off as part of its wider divestment efforts aiming to streamline its business was selling secondary ticket market company Stubhub to Viagogo in a $4 billion deal. That acquisition closed last year, but then the merger was investigated by the CMA, which last month ordered Viagogo to divest the company’s business outside of North America. It’s a crushing blow when you consider that events have fallen off a virtual cliff (literally and figuratively).

Turning back to Gumtree, Shpock and Motors.co.uk, even if those sites are a relatively small part of eBay and Adevinta’s wider business revenue-wise, collectively they form a very popular option for people looking to buy or sell used goods or hire people for service jobs in the UK. I’ve been a regular user of both in my time, to sell and buy items, and to advertise for/discover several excellent au pairs. Coincidentally, people also use them to resell tickets.

It’s notable that the CMA didn’t consider Facebook, or any others, big enough yet to be seen as viable competitors in that market. It will be worth watching to see how and if that changes though. With deals like last week’s $191 million fundraise for Wallapop, and Facebook’s persistent Marketplace efforts, it is clear that there is still business to be found in classified listings, both as a standalone enterprise, or as something that creates stickiness for users to hang around for other services and advertising alongside them.

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Microsoft’s Power Automate Desktop is now free for all Windows 10 users

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Microsoft today announced that it is making Power Automate Desktop, its enterprise-level tool for creating automated desktop-centric workflows, available to all Windows 10 users for free. Power Automate Desktop is what Microsoft calls its “attended Robotic Process Automation” solution, but you can think of it as a macro recorder on steroids. It comes with 370 prebuilt actions that help you build flows across different applications, but its real power is in letting you build your own scripts to automate repetitive and time-consuming tasks.

Power Automate Desktop originally launched last September. It’s based on Microsoft’s acquisition of Softomotive in early 2020, but Microsoft has since extended Softomotive’s technology and integrated it deeper into its own stack.

Users who want to give Power Automate Desktop a try can now download it from Microsoft, but in the coming weeks, it’ll become part of Microsoft’s Insider Builds for Windows 10 and then eventually become a built-in part of Windows 10, all the way down to the standard Windows Home version. Until now, a per-user license for Power Automate Desktop would set you back at least $15 per month.

“We’ve had this mission of wanting to go democratize development for everybody with the Power Platform,” Charles Lamanna, the CVP of Power Platform engineering at Microsoft, told me. “And that means, of course, making products which are accessible to anybody — and that’s what no-code/low-code is all about, whether it’s building applications with Power Apps or automating with Power Automate. But another big part of that is just, how do you also expand the imagination of a typical PC user to make them believe they can be a developer?”

This move, Lamanna believes, reduces the licensing friction and sends a message to Windows users that they can build bots and automate tasks, too. “The way we’ve designed it — and the experience we have, particularly around the recording abilities like a macro recorder — makes it so you don’t have to think about for loops or what is this app I’m clicking on or this text box — you can just record it and run it,” he said.

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Piano acquires analytics company AT Internet

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Piano is expanding its platform for digital publishers with the acquisition of AT Internet, a 25-year-old analytics company based in France.

Even if you don’t recognize Piano as a company, TechCrunch readers will probably be familiar with the product, since we use it to manage the reader experience of our Extra Crunch membership program.

Other customers include CNBC, The Wall Street Journal and the Associated Press, and Piano describes itself more broadly as a “digital business platform” with products around personalization, advertising and analytics, as well as subscriptions.

“Fundamentally, our job is to help big websites make more money,” said CEO Trevor Kaufman. “We view that not as a billing problem, but as a marketing problem.”

Kaufman described a “pretty siloed system” used by most publishers and other digital businesses, where data around ad revenue, subscriptions, content engagement and customer profiles is all stored separately. By integrating with AT Internet’s “user-centric, event-based data store,” he said Piano can provide a more comprehensive picture of “the full customer journey,” allowing businesses to personalize their marketing and messaging accordingly.

He also praised AT Internet for its focus on “data quality and privacy,” with the company helping clients comply with GDPR and CCPA regulations.

New York-based Piano says AT Internet’s chief executive Mathieu Llorens will continue in that role while becoming a “significant shareholder” in the combined organization. The acquisition price was not disclosed, but the transaction involves both cash and equity and was funded by Updata Partners, Rittenhouse Ventures and Sixth Street Partners.

“The merger of our two organizations is an exciting chapter in our company’s history and prominence in the web analytics industry,” Llorens said in a statement. “This next chapter with Piano will enable AT Internet to invest more resources in and drive expansion of our current products, as well as help more organizations leverage analytics values and segments to deliver personalized customer experiences.”

Kaufman added that Piano and AT Internet will both work to integrate their platforms while continuing offer standalone products, but “the line becomes blurrier and blurrier as we use the backend of AT Internet to power more and more stuff for Piano.”

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