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Extra Crunch roundup: Fintech stays hot, Brex doubles, and startup IRR is up all over

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Tech companies in Silicon Valley, the geography, have had an incredible year. But one indicator points to longer-term changes. The internal rate of return (IRR) for companies in other startup hub cities has been even better. A big new analysis by AngelList showed aggregate IRR of 19.4% per year on syndicated deals elsewhere versus 17.5% locally. A separate measure, of total value of paid-in investment, revealed 1.67x returns for other hubs versus 1.60x in the main Silicon Valley and Bay Area tech cities.

The data is based on a sample of 2,500 companies that have used AngelList to syndicate deals from 2013 through 2020. Which is just one snapshot, but a relevant one given how hard it can be to produce accurate early-stage startup market analysis at this scale. I believe we’ll see more and more data confirming the trends in the coming years, especially as more of the startup world acclimates to remote-first and distributed offices. You can increasingly do a startup from anywhere and make it a success. Not that Silicon Valley is lacking optimism, as you’ll see in a number of the other stories in the roundup below!

Eric Eldon
Managing Editor, Extra Crunch

(Subbing in for Walter today as he’s enjoying a well-deserved break and definitely not still checking the site.)

Optimism reigns at consumer trading services as fintech VC spikes and Robinhood IPO looms

With the Coinbase direct listing behind us and the Robinhood IPO ahead, it’s a heady time for consumer-focused trading apps.

Mix in the impending SPAC-led debut of eToro, general bullishness in the cryptocurrency space, record highs for some equities markets, and recent rounds from Public.com, M1 Finance and U.K.-based Freetrade, and you could be excused for expecting the boom in consumer asset trading to keep going up and to the right.

But will it? There are data in both directions.

After going public, once-hot startups are riding a valuation roller coaster

A short meditation on value, or, more precisely, how assets are valued in today’s markets.

Long story short: This is why I only buy index funds. No one knows what anything (interesting) is worth.

Should you give an anchor investor a stake in your fund’s management company?

Image of a red anchor resting on pile of money.

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

Raising capital for a new fund is always hard.

But should you give preferential economics or other benefits to a seed anchor investor who makes a material commitment to the fund? Let’s break down the pros and cons.

2021 should be a banner year for biotech startups that make smart choices early

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Last year was a record 12 months for venture-backed biotech and pharma companies, with deal activity rising to $28.5 billion from $17.8 billion in 2019.

As vaccines roll out, drug development pipelines return to normal, and next-generation therapies continue to hold investor interest, 2021 is on pace to be another blockbuster year.

But founder missteps early in the fundraising journey can result in severe consequences.

In this exciting moment, when younger founders will likely receive more attention, capital and control than ever, it’s crucial to avoid certain pitfalls.

Two investors weigh in: Is your SPAC just a PIPE dream?

A picture of a Dandelion in the wind, with a background of cool blue colours, blurred from the narrow pane of focus. Composition made in photoshop. (A picture of a Dandelion in the wind, with a background of cool blue colours, blurred from the narrow

Image Credits: Maxime Robeyns/EyeEm (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

The fundamental thing to remember about the SPAC process is that the result is a publicly traded company open to the regulatory environment of the SEC and the scrutiny of public shareholders.

In today’s fast-paced IPO world, going public can seem like simply a marker of success, a box to check.

But are you ready to be a public company?

There is no cybersecurity skills gap, but CISOs must think creatively

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Image Credits: Westend61 (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Those of us who read a lot of tech and business publications have heard for years about the cybersecurity skills gap. Studies often claim that millions of jobs are going unfilled because there aren’t enough qualified candidates available for hire.

Don’t buy it.

The basic laws of supply and demand mean there will always be people in the workforce willing to move into well-paid security jobs. The problem is not that these folks don’t exist. It’s that CIOs or CISOs typically look right past them if their resumes don’t have a very specific list of qualifications.

In many cases, hiring managers expect applicants to be fully trained on all the technologies their organization currently uses. That not only makes it harder to find qualified candidates, but it also reduces the diversity of experience within security teams — which, ultimately, may weaken the company’s security capabilities and its talent pool.

To be frank, we do not know how to value Honest Company

We do not know how to value Honest Company.

It’s outside our normal remit, but that the company is getting out the door at what appears to be a workable price gain to its final private round implies that investors earlier in its cap table are set to do just fine in its debut. Snowflake it is not, but at its current IPO price interval, it is hard to not call Honest a success of sorts — though we also anticipate that its investors had higher hopes.

Returning to our question, do we expect the company to reprice higher? No, but if it did, The Exchange crew would not fall over in shock.

How Brex more than doubled its valuation in a year

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Image Credits: TechCrunch

Brex, a fintech company that provides corporate cards and spend-management software to businesses, announced Monday that it closed a $425 million Series D round of capital at a valuation of around $7.4 billion.

The new capital came less than a year after Brex raised $150 million at a $2.9 billion pre-money valuation.

So, how did the company manage to so rapidly boost its valuation and raise its largest round to date?

TechCrunch spoke with Brex CEO Henrique Dubugras after his company’s news broke. We dug into the how and why of its new investment and riffed on what going remote-first has done for the company, as well as its ability to attract culture-aligned and more diverse talent.

Founders who don’t properly vet VCs set up both parties for failure

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There’s a disconnect between reality and the added value investors are promising entrepreneurs. Three in five founders who were promised added value by their VCs felt duped by their negative experience.

While this feels like a letdown by investors, in reality, it shows fault on both sides. Due diligence isn’t a one-way street, and founders must do their homework to make sure they’re not jumping into deals with VCs who are only paying lip service to their value-add.

Looking into an investor’s past, reputation and connections isn’t about finding the perfect VC, it’s about knowing what shaking certain hands will entail — and either being ready for it or walking away.

Fifth Wall’s Brendan Wallace and Hippo’s Assaf Wand discuss proptech’s biggest opportunities

Image Credits: Jeff Newton / Hippo

What is the biggest opportunity for proptech founders? How should they think about competition, strategic investment versus top-tier VC firms and how to build their board? What about navigating regulation?

We sat down with Brendan Wallace, co-founder and general manager of Fifth Wall, and Hippo CEO Assaf Wand for an episode of Extra Crunch Live to discuss all of the above.

SaaS subscriptions may be short-serving your customers

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

Software as a service (SaaS) has perhaps become a bit too interchangeable with subscription models.

Every software company now looks to sell by subscription ASAP, but the model itself might not fit all industries or, more importantly, align with customer needs, especially early on.

What can the OKR software sector tell us about startup growth more generally?

In the never-ending stream of venture capital funding rounds, from time to time, a group of startups working on the same problem will raise money nearly in unison. So it was with OKR-focused startups toward the start of 2020.

How were so many OKR-focused tech upstarts able to raise capital at the same time? And was there really space in the market for so many different startups building software to help other companies manage their goal-setting? OKRs, or “objectives and key results,” a corporate planning method, are no longer a niche concept. But surely, over time, there would be M&A in the group, right?

Internal rates of return in emerging US tech hubs are starting to overtake Silicon Valley

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Tech innovation is becoming more widely distributed across the United States.

Among the five startups launched in 2020 that raised the most financing, four were based outside the Bay Area. The number of syndicated deals on AngelList in emerging markets from Austin to Seattle to Pittsburgh has increased 144% over the last five years.

And the number of startups in these emerging markets is growing fast — and increasingly getting a bigger piece of the VC pie.

Fund managers can leverage ESG-related data to generate insights

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

Almost two centuries ago, gold prospectors in California set off one of the greatest rushes for wealth in history. Proponents of socially conscious investing claim fund managers will start a similar stampede when they discover that environmental, social and governance (ESG) insights can yield treasure in the form of alternative data that promise big payoffs — if only they knew how to mine it.

ESG data is everywhere. Learning how to understand it promises big payoffs.

 

Dear Sophie: What’s the latest on DACA?

lone figure at entrance to maze hedge that has an American flag at the center

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Dear Sophie,

My company is looking to hire a very talented data infrastructure engineer who is undocumented. She has never applied for DACA before.

What is the latest on DACA? What can we do to support her?

—Multicultural in Milpitas

Zomato juice: Indian unicorn’s proposed IPO could drive regional startup liquidity

The IPO parade continued this week as India-based food-delivery unicorn Zomato filed to go public. 

The Zomato IPO is incredibly important. As our own Manish Singh reported when the company’s numbers became public, a “successful listing [could be] poised to encourage nearly a dozen other unicorn Indian startups to accelerate their efforts to tap the public markets.”

So, Zomato’s debut is not only notable because its impending listing gives us a look into its economics, but because it could lead to a liquidity rush in the country if its flotation goes well.

Investment in construction automation is essential to rebuilding US infrastructure

Well bought construction workers building house

Image Credits: Donald Iain Smith (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

With the United States moving all-in on massive infrastructure investment, much of the discussion has focused on jobs and building new green industries for the 21st century.

While the Biden administration’s plan will certainly expand the workforce, it also provides a massive opportunity for the adoption of automation technologies within the construction industry.

Despite the common narrative of automating away human jobs, the two are not nearly as much in conflict, especially with new investments creating space for new roles and work.

In fact, one of the greatest problems facing the construction industry remains a lack of labor, making automation a necessity for moving forward with these ambitious projects.

How to fundraise over Zoom more effectively

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

Even though in-person drinks and coffee walks are on the horizon, virtual fundraising isn’t going away.

Now, it’s imperative to ensure your virtual pitch is as effective as your IRL one.

Not only is it more efficient — no expensive trips to San Francisco or trouble fitting investor meetings into one day — virtual fundraising helps democratize access to venture capital.

Hacking my way into analytics: A creative’s journey to design with data

Abstract Particle connection network background

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

There’s a growing need for basic data literacy in the tech industry, and it’s only getting more taxing by the year.

Words like “data-driven,” “data-informed” and “data-powered” increasingly litter every tech organization’s product briefs. But where does this data come from?

Who has access to it? How might I start digging into it myself? How might I leverage this data in my day-to-day design once I get my hands on it?

Fintech startups set VC records as the 2021 fundraising market continues to impress

The first three months of the year were the most valuable period for fintech investing, ever.

Where did the fintech venture capital market push the most money in Q1, and why? Let’s dig in.

Healthcare is the next wave of data liberation

Image of a balloon carrying away a brain.

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

Why can we see all our bank, credit card and brokerage data on our phones instantaneously in one app, yet walk into a doctor’s office blind to our healthcare records, diagnoses and prescriptions?

Our health status should be as accessible as our checking account balance.

The liberation of healthcare data is beginning to happen, and it will have a profound impact on society — it will save and extend lives.

What private tech companies should consider before going public via a SPAC

Image of intertwining arrows on a chalkboard to represent decision-making.

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

The red-hot market for special purpose acquisition companies, or SPACs, has “screeched to a halt.”

As the SPAC market grew in the past six months, it seemed that everyone was getting into the game. But shareholder lawsuits, huge value fluctuations and warnings from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission have all thrown the brakes on the SPAC market, at least temporarily.

So what do privately held tech companies that are considering going public need to know about the SPAC process and market?

The era of the European insurtech IPO will soon be upon us

Detail of Euro note showing European continent

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

Once the uncool sibling of a flourishing fintech sector, insurtech is now one of the hottest areas of a buoyant venture market. Zego’s $150 million round at unicorn valuation in March, a rumored giant incoming round for WeFox, and a slew of IPOs and SPACs in the U.S. are all testament to this.

It’s not difficult to see why. The insurance market is enormous, but the sector has suffered from notoriously poor customer experience, and major incumbents have been slow to adapt. Fintech has set a precedent for the explosive growth that can be achieved with superior customer experience underpinned by modern technology. And the pandemic has cast the spotlight on high-potential categories, including health, mobility and cybersecurity.

This has begun to brew a perfect storm of conditions for big European insurtech exits.

The health data transparency movement is birthing a new generation of startups

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

The recent movement toward data transparency is bringing about a new era of innovation and startups.

Those who follow the space closely may have noticed that there are twin struggles taking place: a push for more transparency on provider and payer data, including anonymous patient data, and another for strict privacy protection for personal patient data.

What’s the main difference, and how can startups solve these problems?

 

 

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Brazil’s Divibank raises millions to become the Clearbanc of LatAm

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Divibank, a financing platform offering LatAm businesses access to growth capital, has closed on a $3.6 million round of seed funding led by San Francisco-based Better Tomorrow Ventures (BTV).

São Paulo-based Divibank was founded in March 2020, right as the COVID-pandemic was starting. The company has built a data-driven financing platform aimed at giving businesses access to non-dilutive capital to finance their growth via revenue-share financing.

“We are changing the way entrepreneurs scale their online businesses by providing quick and affordable capital to startups and SMEs in Latin America,” said co-founder and CEO Jaime Taboada. In particular, Divibank is targeting e-commerce and SaaS companies although it also counts edtechs, fintechs and marketplaces among its clients.

The company is now also offering marketing analytics software for its clients so they can “get more value out of the capital they receive.”

A slew of other investors participated in the round, including existing backer MAYA Capital and new investors such as Village Global, Clocktower Ventures, Magma Partners, Gilgamesh Ventures, Rally Cap Ventures and Alumni Ventures Group. A group of high-profile angel investors also put money in the round, including Rappi founder and president Sebastian Mejia, Tayo Oviosu (founder/CEO of Paga, who participated via Kairos Angels), Ramp founder and CTO Karim Atiyeh and Bread founders Josh Abramowitz and Daniel Simon.

In just over a year’s time, Divibank has seen some impressive growth (albeit from a small base). In the past six months alone, the company said it has signed on over 50 new clients; seen its total loan issuance volume increase by 7x; revenues climb by 5x; customer base increase by 11x and employee base by 4x. Customers include Dr. Jones, CapaCard and Foodz, among others.

“Traditional banks and financial institutions do not know how to evaluate internet businesses, so they generally do not offer loans to these companies. If they do, it is generally a long and tedious process at a very high cost,” Taboada said. “With our revenue-share offering, the entrepreneur does not have to pledge his home, drown in credit card debts or even give up his equity to invest in marketing and growth.”

For now, Divibank is focused on Brazil, considering the country is huge and has more than 11 million SMEs “with many growth opportunities to explore,” according to Taboada. It’s looking to expand to the rest of LatAm and other emerging markets in the future, but no timeline has yet been set.

As in many other sectors, the COVID-19 pandemic served as a tailwind to Divibank’s business, considering it accelerated the digitalization of everything globally.

“We founded Divibank the same week as the lockdown started in Brazil, and we saw many industries that didn’t traditionally advertise online migrate to Google and Facebook Ads rapidly,” Taboada told TechCrunch. “This obviously helped our thesis a lot, as many of our clients had actually recently went from only selling offline to selling mostly online. And there’s no better way to attract new clients online than with digital ads.”

Divibank will use its new capital to accelerate its product roadmap, scale its go-to-market strategy and ramp up hiring. Specifically, it will invest more aggressively in engineering/tech, sales, marketing, credit risk and operations. Today the team consists of eight employees in Brazil, and that number will likely grow to more than 25 or 30 in the coming 12 months, according to Taboada.

The startup is also developing what it describes as “value additive” software, aimed at helping clients better manage their digital ads campaigns and “optimize their investment returns.”

Looking ahead, Divibank is working on a few additional financial products for its clients, targeting the more than $205 billion e-commerce and SaaS markets in Latin America with offerings such as inventory financing and recurring revenue securitizations. Specifically, it plans to continue developing its banking tech platform by “automating the whole credit process,” developing its analytics platform and building its data science/ML capabilities to improve its credit model.

Jake Gibson, general partner at Better Tomorrow Ventures, noted that his firm is also an investor in Clearbanc, which also provided non-dilutive financing for founders. The company’s “20-minute term sheet” product, perhaps its most well-known in tech, allowed e-commerce companies to raise non-dilutive marketing growth capital between $10,000 to $10 million based on its revenue and ad spend.

“We are very bullish on the idea that not every company should be funded with venture dollars, and that lack of funding options can keep too many would-be entrepreneurs out of the market,” he said. “Combine that with the growth of e-commerce in Brazil and LatAm, and expected acceleration fueled by COVID, and the opportunity to build something meaningful seemed obvious.”

Also, since there aren’t a lot of similar offerings in the region, Better Tomorrow views the space that Divibank is addressing as a “massive untapped market.”

Besides Clearbanc, Divibank is also similar to another U.S.-based fintech, Pipe, in that both companies aim to help clients with SaaS, subscription and other recurring revenue models with new types of financings that can help them grow without dilution.

“Like the e-commerce market, we see the SaaS, and the recurring revenues markets in general, growing rapidly,” Taboada said.

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Orbite offers a five-star ‘space camp’ for would-be space travelers

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As private companies like Axiom Space, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic and SpaceX prepare to ferry private customers to the stars, a whole new market is opening up to train affluent would-be travelers for their future missions. Case in point: space training company Orbite, whose goal is to combine aeronautics and five-star hospitality in its inaugural astronaut training program.

“We’re going to have hundreds, if not thousands of people this decade of the 2020s, who will go to space, but you just don’t get off the couch and strap into a rocket […] you actually have to get mentally prepared, physically prepared, and also spiritually prepared for this out of out of this world journey,” co-founder Jason Andrews told TechCrunch. “And that’s really our role.”

Orbite (the French word for ‘orbit,’ pronounced or-beet) was founded by space and hospitality industry veterans Andrews and Nicolas Gaume. Andrews is an aerospace entrepreneur that founded Spaceflight and BlackSky, while Gaume, a software and game development entrepreneur, sits on the board of his family’s resort and hotel business Groupe Gaume. Last year, Gaume’s business Space Cargo Unlimited shipped a dozen bottles of wine to the International Space Station. They were later retrieved. (When asked how the wine tasted, Gaume told TechCrunch, “It’s a unique product.”)

The program will be led by Brienna Rommes, who previously worked as the director of space training and research at the National Aerospace Training and Research Center. Rommes has trained over 600 people to prepare for spaceflight, including Sir Richard Branson, Orbite said.

Led by Rommes, the program aim to prepare travelers that are determined to reach space, but Andrews also said Orbite can help customers “try before they buy” – give people a taste of spaceflight for those who are unsure whether they’d actually want to board a launch vehicle. This seems to be their main value proposition, by providing a general overview to space travel across different companies, because they’ll also be competing to a degree with the native (and mandatory) training programs of individual private launch companies that are purpose-built to prepare customers for their flight.

Costs remain prohibitively high for the average spacefarer: it’s been reported that a ticket on Axiom’s inaugural commercial launch to the International Space Station costs upwards of $55 million. Orbite’s premium training program comes in at $29,500 per person for the three-day, four-night stay.

In acknowledgement on the premium price tag, the four training program sessions scheduled through the remainder of 2021 will be held at luxury resorts: the Four Seasons Resort in Orlando, Florida, and Hôtel La Co(o)rniche in Pyla-sur-Mer, France. The latter hotel is owned by Groupe Gaume.

Would-be space travelers will be able to experience up to 5 Gs by taking a ride on a high-performance aircraft as well as simulated zero-gravity. To prepare customers mentally and even spiritually, the training program itinerary includes meditation training, a workshop on stress and anxiety management, and individual coaching with staff “to explore personal goals for space, thoughts and asses possible flight options,” the company said. The itinerary also includes virtual reality mission experiences and a ‘Michelin star’ space food tasting.

“We really want to make sure we bridge the gap with more of a sensorial, psychological, even spiritual preparation for the trip,” Gaume said.

The company’s long-term vision is building and operating many training facilities around the world. The first facility will open in 2023 or 2024, though Andrews and Gaume are not yet sharing where it will be located. They did say that the dedicated training facility will offer a range of packages, with some as short as single-day experiences. They will also offer accommodation and hospitality, potentially for the long term – weeks or even months, depending on if we reach a stage in human space travel where we’re sending private citizens to the Moon or even Mars.

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Treasury Prime raises $20M to scale its banking-as-a-service biz

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This morning Treasury Prime, a banking-as-a-service startup that delivers its product via APIs, announced that it has closed a $20 million Series B. The capital comes around a year since the startup announced its Series A, and around 1.5 years since it raised its preceding round.

For Treasury Prime, the new capital was an internal affair, with prior investors stepping up to lead its new round of funding. Deciens Capital and QED Investors co-led the round, with Susa Ventures and SaaStr Fund also putting cash into the transaction.

As is increasingly common among insider-led fundraises in recent years, the startup in question was not in dire need of new funding before the new investment came together. In fact, Treasury Prime CEO Chris Dean told TechCrunch that his firm is “super capital efficient” in an interview, adding that it had not tucked into its Series A capital until January of this year.

So, why raise more funds now? To invest aggressively in its business. That plan is cliche for a startup raising new funding, but in the case of Treasury Prime the move isn’t in anticipation of future demand. Dean told TechCrunch that his startups had run into a bottleneck in which it could only take on so much new customer volume. That’s no good for a startup in a competitive sector, so picking up its spend in early 2021 and raising new capital in mid-2021 makes sense as it could help it hire, and absorb more demand, more quickly.

And for Treasury Prime’s preceding backers, the chance to put more capital into a startup that was dealing with more demand than capacity likely wasn’t too hard a choice.  Dean added that to make sure the round’s price was market-reasonable, he pitched around 10 venture capital firms, got three term sheets, and then went with his preceding investor group; if any VC reading this is irked by the move, this is the founder equivalent of private-market investors asking founders to come back to them after they find a lead.

But with the banking-as-a-service market growing, thanks to entrants like Stripe showing up in recent quarters, how does Treasury Prime expect to stay towards the front of its fintech niche? Per Dean, by bringing together banks that want fintech deal volume, and fintechs who need both technology and eventual banking partners. By courting both sides of its market, Treasury Prime hopes to be well-situated for long-term growth.

And its CEO is bullish on the scale of his market.

If you imagine the banking-as-a-service market as merely neobanks, he explained, it’s not that big. But his startup expects the number of companies that want to offer their customers the sort banking capabilities that Treasury Prime and some competitors can offer will be broad. How broad? The best way I can summarize the company’s argument is that, a bit like how vertical SaaS has proven that building software for particular industries can be big business, Treasury Prime expects that banking tools will also be built for similar business categories. Vertical banking, perhaps, integrated into other services.

And it wants to be there, offering the back-end tech, and access to banks that the companies building those services will need.

Fintech is a big and expensive market, and Treasury Prime isn’t busy raising nine-figure rounds — yet, at least. According to PitchBook data, Treasury Prime was valued at just over $40 million at the time of its Series A; the company’s new valuation was presumably higher, though how much is not yet clear.

Let’s see how far it can get with $20 million more as it sheds some of its frugal DNA and looks to burn a little faster.

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