5 years after its Oculus investment, a16z leads a new VR startup’s $68M Series A

Sandbox’s magic happens in a largely empty room. The gear mounted onto the walls (VR headsets, PC backpacks and tracked toy assault rifles) gives more than a little indication that there’s more afoot, but nothing really clicks until your team is strapped in and the headsets shove you into a fast-paced wave shooter.

The startup, which has seven locations in Asia and North America, has taken plenty of people through the sweat-inducing experience, including quite a few high-profile investors who are ready to buy into Sandbox’s vision for VR.

Sandbox VR just closed a $68 million Series A round led by Andreessen Horowitz, with further participation from Floodgate, Stanford University, TriplePoint Capital, CRCM, Shrug Capital and Alibaba, as reported by Business Insider.

Andreessen Horowitz’s investment in Sandbox VR comes more than five years after the firm made a big bet on Oculus VR. At the time, Oculus helped stroke enthusiasm behind the idea that regular consumers would soon be strapping into their own VR gear. While the company has seen some major progress toward that vision beneath Facebook, it still hasn’t entirely kept pace with the white-hot expectations that some investors had set toward that vision.

In 2019, Andreessen Horowitz’s Andrew Chen still sees plenty of opportunity in the home, but is excited about what can be enabled when VR can break free of some of its constraints.

“I think we’ve run the experiment that in-home needs to actually have a kind of different form factor, you want the hardware to be more like $200 or the same as a console,” Chen tells TechCrunch. “I think we’re going to see location-based VR split off and be its own form factor with larger spaces that are intrinsically multi-social with real people there and premium hardware like motion capture and haptic vests.”

The Hong Kong-founded company is hardly the first VR startup to bet on premium experiences in retail locations; startups like The Void have also raised significant capital with high-profile partners like Disney thrusting them into highly trafficked locations, but Sandbox’s investors see the company’s strengths in its scalability.

“We tried everything, what we really liked about [Sandbox] was that really though about archetyping this as modest-sized rooms that you could really put anywhere,” Chen said. “So it’s this really scalable thing that you could imagine putting inside of a mall or a boutique retail location. You could scale a single location to having 10 or 20 rooms the way a movie theater might have 12 screens.”

Sandbox’s $68 million round comes in the midst of a general market cool-down around VR, but as more and more investors look to adjacent technologies like augmented reality, the startup’s backers see its strengths in terms of the bond with users. For Mike Maples, a partner at Floodgate, the investment represents his first in the virtual reality space.

“A lot of AR startups are getting more attention because people say, AR can be on all the phones and it has broader distribution,” Maples said. “When I experienced this product I felt like people are going to say, ‘This product rocks my world.’” 

You can read more about how Sandbox VR linked up with its investors in this Medium post from the company’s chief product officer (hint: the story involves In-N-Out).

Wellness startup Hims enters the unicorn club with $100M investment

Hims, known by many for its phallic New York subway advertisements, has raised an additional $100 million in venture capital funding on a pre-money valuation of $1 billion. The round was first reported by Recode and confirmed to TechCrunch by sources with knowledge of the deal.

A growth-stage investor has led the round, which is ongoing, with participation from existing investors. Our source declined to name the lead investor but did say it was a “super big fund” that isn’t SoftBank and that hasn’t previously invested in Hims.

Hims officially launched just over one year ago and has raised $197 million already, as well as incorporated a women’s wellness brand, Hers, to go alongside its flagship men’s wellness brand. The business sells sexual wellness products, skin care and hair loss treatments directly to consumers. In addition to erectile dysfunction medication, it offers the birth control pill to customers with prescriptions and Addyi, the only FDA-approved medication for women with hypoactive sexual desire disorder.

According to Recode, Hims spent months negotiating with investors, “with some of them balking at the valuation.” Meanwhile, our source says Hims passed on several viable terms sheets and had plenty of IVP — which led its last round — money in the bank ahead of their latest infusion.

$1 billion, a 2x increase from its previous valuation, is a hefty price tag for such an early-stage digital health startup. Then again, most valuations for venture-backed businesses are foolish.

San Francisco-based Hims is also backed by Forerunner Ventures, Founders Fund, Redpoint Ventures, SV Angel, 8VC, Maverick Capital and more.