Investors in LatAm get bitten by the hotel investment bug as Ayenda raises $8.7 million

Some of Latin America’s leading venture capital investors are now backing hotel chains.

In fact, Ayenda, the largest hotel chain in Colombia, has raised $8.7 million in a new round of funding, according to the company.

Led by Kaszek Ventures, the round will support the continued expansion of Ayenda’s chain of hotels in Colombia and beyond. The hotel operator already has 150 hotels operating under its flag in Colombia and has recently expanded to Peru, according to a statement.

Financing came from Kaszek Ventures and strategic investors like Irelandia Aviation, Kairos, Altabix and BWG Ventures.

The company, which was founded in 2018, now has more than 4,500 rooms under its brand in Colombia and has become the biggest hotel chain in the country.

Investments in brick and mortar chains by venture firms are far more common in emerging markets than they are in North America. The investment in Ayenda mirrors big bets that SoftBank Group has made in the Indian hotel chain Oyo and an investment made by Tencent, Sequoia China, Baidu Capital and Goldman Sachs, in LvYue Group late last year, amounting to “several hundred million dollars”, according to a company statement.

“We’re seeking to invest in companies that are redefining the big industries and we found Ayenda, a team that is changing the hotel’s industry in an unprecedented way for the region”, said Nicolas Berman, Kaszek Ventures partner.

Ayenda works with independent hotels through a franchise system to help them increase their occupancy and services. The hotels have to apply to be part of the chain and go through an up to 30-day inspection process before they’re approved to open for business.

“With a broad supply of hotels with the best cost-benefit relationship, guests can travel more frequently, accelerating the economy,” says Declan Ryan, managing partner at Irelandia Aviation.

The company hopes to have more than 1 million guests in 2020 in their hotels. Rooms list at $20 per-night, including amenities and an around the clock customer support team.

Oyo’s story may be a cautionary tale for companies looking at expanding via venture investment for hotel chains. The once high-flying company has been the subject of some scathing criticism. As we wrote:

The New York Times  published an in-depth report on Oyo, a tech-enabled budget hotel chain and rising star in the Indian tech community. The NYT wrote that Oyo offers unlicensed rooms and has bribed police officials to deter trouble, among other toxic practices.

Whether Oyo, backed by billions from the SoftBank  Vision Fund, will become India’s WeWork is the real cause for concern. India’s startup ecosystem is likely to face a number of barriers as it grows to compete with the likes of Silicon Valley.

Outdoor Voices founder Tyler Haney is stepping down as CEO as growth slows

Tyler Haney, the founder and chief executive of activewear label Outdoor Voices, has stepped down, the company confirmed for us this afternoon.

The Business of Fashion, which first reported the news, said the transition follows a previously unreported capital injection from Outdoor Voices’ investors at a lower valuation than previous rounds. It says the company tried raising new funding late last year but “had difficulty.”

We reached out to Haney directly earlier today, as well as board members from the venture firms that have backed the company, including General Catalyst and Forerunner Ventures.  In the meantime, the company sent us the following: “As we look to grow and to scale, Tyler Haney has transitioned from her role as Chief Executive of Outdoor Voices to a new position as Founder. We have raised another round of financing from our current investor group to support our growth and expansion moving forward. Tyler will remain a member of the Board of Directors and will assist with the search for a new CEO. Until we fill that role, Cliff Moskowitz will serve as the Company’s Interim CEO.”

Moskowitz comes from InterLuxe, an online auction platform for luxury homes and real estate properties where he has served as president for the last six years, according to his LinkedIn profile.

BoF cites executive turnover as an earlier indicator that not all was well within the company, suggesting that mismanagement was one factor that prompted Pamela Catlett — a former Nike and Under Armour exec — to leave the company months after joining as president last year.

Retail legend Mickey Drexler, formerly of J.Crew fame — who was named chairman of Outdoor Voices’ board in the summer of 2017 as part of a $9 million convertible debt round led by Drexler’s family office — also resigned his position last year, though he maintained a director’s seat.

Operational challenges aside, according to BoF, Outdoor Voices has had trouble replicating the kind of excitement that met its earliest offerings, including flattering, color-blocked athleisure wear, like leggings, sports bras, tees and tanks.

The company has since rolled out an exercise dress that has gained traction with some consumers, but newer offerings meant to extend the brand’s reach, including solidly colored hoodies and terrycloth jogging pants that are less distinguishable from other offerings in the market, have apparently failed to boost sales.

Indeed, according to the BoF report, the brand was losing up to $2 million per month last year on annual sales of around $40 million.

The BoF story doesn’t mention the company’s brick-and-mortar locations and how they factor into the company’s narrative. But certainly, as with a growing number of direct-to-consumer brands that have been encouraged by their backers to open real-world locations, they’ve become a major cost center for the outfit. Outdoor Voices now has 11 locations around the U.S., including in Austin, LA, Soho in New York, Boston, Nashville, Chicago and Washington, D.C.

Even with (at least) $64 million in funding that Outdoor Voices has raised from investors over the years, it’s also going head-to-head with very powerful, very entrenched and endurably popular brands, including Nike and Adidas. While Outdoor Voices is still in the fight, the shoe and apparel giants have vanquished plenty of upstarts over the years.

What happens next to Haney — a former track athlete from Boulder who first launched the business with a Parsons School of Design classmate — isn’t yet clear. Still, she isn’t going far, reportedly. BoF says she still owns 10% of Outdoor Voices and will remain engaged with the company in some capacity.

Featured above, left to right, Emily Weiss of Glossier and Tyler Haney of Outdoor Voices at a 2017 Disrupt event.

Do AI startups have worse economics than SaaS shops?

A few days ago, Andreessen Horowitz’s Martin Casado and Matt Bornstein published an interesting piece digging into the world of artificial intelligence (AI) startups, and, more specifically, how those companies perform as businesses. Core to the argument presented is that while founders and investors are wagering “that AI businesses will resemble traditional software companies,” the well-known venture firm is “not so sure.”

Given that TechCrunch cares a lot about startup business fundamentals, the notion that one oft-discussed and well-funded category of venture-backed startup might sport materially less attractive economics than we expected captured our attention.

The Andreessen Horowitz (a16z) perspective is straightforward, arguing that AI-focused companies have lesser gross margins than software companies due to cloud compute and human-input costs, endure issues stemming from “edge-cases” and enjoy less product differentiation from competing companies when compared to software concerns. Today, we’re drilling into the gross margin point, as it’s something inherently numerical that we can get other, informed market participants to weigh in on.

If a16z is correct about AI startups having slimmer gross margins than SaaS companies, they should — all other things held equal — be worth less per dollar of revenue generated; or in simpler terms, they should trade at a revenue multiple discount to SaaS companies, leaving the latter category of technology company still atop the valuation hierarchy.

This matters, given the amount of capital that AI-focused startups have raised.

Is a16z correct about AI gross margins? I wanted to find out. So this week I spoke to a number of investors from firms that have made AI-focused bets to get a handle on their views. Read the full a16z piece, mind. It’s interesting and worth your time.

Today we’re hearing from Rohit Sharma of True Ventures, Jeremy Kaufmann of Scale Venture Partners, Nick Washburn of Intel Capital and Ben Blume of Atomico. We’ll start with a digest of their responses to our questions, with their unedited notes at the end.

AI economics and optimism

We asked our group of venture investors (selected with the help of research from TechCrunch’s Arman Tabatabai) three questions. The first dealt with margins themselves, the second dealt with resulting valuations and, finally, we asked about their current optimism interval regarding AI-focused companies.