Not all unicorns are wounded or dying. And no, this isn't about Uber

In an environment where many late-stage investors are marking down the value of their stakes in billion-dollar startups, Sprinklr, an enterprise software company that helps big companies manage their social-media presence, announced it raised a $105 million investment round at a valuation of $1.8 billion. Sprinklr says it was previously valued at $1.2 billion.

Currently, there are relatively few new unicorn companies being created. In the first quarter of 2016, just one new unicorn emerged in North America, according to CB Insights. The second quarter saw five. That may seem like plenty, but in the third quarter of 2015, 17 private companies surpassed $1 billion in valuation for the first time. Worldwide, CB Insights counts 168 unicorns, with a cumulative valuation of $600 billion.

Sprinklr's CEO, Ragy Thomas, said he raised that $105 million without a single PowerPoint presentation. In fact, he says, in his entire history of raising money for Sprinklr, he has done exactly one PowerPoint presentation for venture capitalists. "That was very early on," Thomas says. "The guy basically asked me to do a PowerPoint because his partners were in different offices, and so I had to do the slides." 

In general, says Thomas, he's never tried to shop investors in search of higher valuations for his company, which he refers to as "optimizing for valuation." Instead, he says he's always looking for the best long-term partners, and in that context, the PowerPoint became a filter. "My approach has been that after you know our story and our data, and then you still need a PowerPoint to understand it, we're not a good fit," says Thomas, who is pictured above.

His attitude is illustrated by the company's investment history. Even though the company has raised a total of $239 million, Sprinklr has only six outside investors. Battery Ventures was the sole investor in Sprinklr's A round. In the Series B, Intel Capital came in. Those same two investors took all of the Series C. Obviously, they believed in the company. And the way Thomas looks at it, why go elsewhere? "If we wanted to raise $25 million dollars, they'd write a check," he says. "All we could get if we went outside, to other investors, was a better valuation, and maybe not even that." Because the company was growing, he, as the founder, did not have to dilute himself.

Thomas said the fundraising process this time was "absolutely pleasant," which I guess is what happens when your company has $100 million in annual recurring revenue as of the third quarter of 2015, and has been growing "aggressively" since then. Sprinklr's revenue, says Thomas, is large enough that a valuation can be calculated based on the company's growth, using public companies as comparables. Sprinklr says it has more than 1,200 brands as customers, including half of the Fortune 50.

You can't get further from Sand Hill Road than this...

Like many other companies raising large late-stage rounds, Sprinklr didn't rely on the traditional Silicon Valley crowd to get this deal done. Instead, the round was led by Temasek, a fund owned by the government of Singapore; Wellington, a private investment management company; and EDBI, the corporate investment arm of the Singapore Economic Development Board.

In the case of both Temasek and Wellington, says Thomas, the appeal was "their commitment to double down and grow." Here, Thomas isn't referring to another round of private financing, but to the company's eventual initial public offering. While Thomas didn't say this directly, it's clear that he's looking for investors who not only support the company now, but want to become long-term holders of stock once Sprinklr goes public. "We're looking to get long-term public investors to anchor us through the next several years," he says.

EDBI is more of a strategic play. Sprinklr wants to compete in Asia; Singapore has declared its ambition to be the world's first "smart country." (That's technology, not test scores.) In that light, says Thomas, the investment from EDBI is "incredibly strategic."

Looking for those strategic partners, rather than relentlessly seeking the best valuation, is what made the entire fundraising process, as Thomas puts it, "painless." And, of course, PowerPoint-free.

Published on: Jul 21, 2016