Behind the fall of Quixey - Axios
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Behind the fall of Quixey

Earlier this month came reports that mobile search startup Quixey was in the process of shutting down, after blowing through over $130 million in VC funding from investors like Alibaba and Eric Schmidt's Innovation Endeavors. What wasn't reported, however, was the key role that Alibaba played in the Silicon Valley-based company's ultimate demise. For those unfamiliar with Quixey, it was focused on the deep linking of apps, an effort to make it as easy to link within apps as it is today among different Web sites.

Neither the Quixey nor its backers are publicly discussing what went wrong, but Axios has put together a timeline after speaking with multiple sources:

October 2013: Quixey raises $50 million in Series C funding at around a $130 million pre-money valuation, led by Alibaba. Existing investors like Atlantic Bridge Capital and U.S. Venture Partners also participated. Several months later, Quixey signed a separate $100 million commercial contract with Alibaba (which could have grown larger depending on implementation with Alibaba partners).

September 2014: Alibaba goes public, in the largest tech IPO of all time. Changes to the corporate structure mean that Quixey is now working with different people (Alibaba's Joe Tsai, for example, is no longer directly involved), and quarterly road-maps are soon supplemented by weekly deliverables (sometimes sent directly to Quixey engineers from Alibaba engineers, as the latter company's various fiefdoms become more pronounced). Quixey finds the changes disruptive and doesn't believe Alibaba is holding up its end of the monetization bargain.

March 2015: Quixey raises $60 million in Series C-1 funding at a reported pre-money valuation of $540 million. Alibaba again is the lead investor, bringing its total investment in the company to around $80 million. Other new shareholders include Goldman Sachs and SoftBank.

April 2016: Quixey founder Tomer Kagen is replaced as CEO by serial chief executive Mark Lazar (LoopNet, etc), but remains on the board of directors. It appears that Quixey's displeasure with Alibaba is now mutual, particularly as the burn rate continues to soar and the tech is behind schedule.

Summer 2016: Quixey believes it is owed around $37 million from Alibaba on the commercial contract. Alibaba, on the other hand, doesn't believe terms of the agreement have been met.

The two sides reach a private settlement whereby Alibaba pays Quixey $10 million in cash and agrees to provide a $30 million secured loan (the latter of which gets reported, but without specific mention of Alibaba). The loan terms include 18-month repayment, a 2.2x liquidation preference and effectively gives Alibaba veto power over future equity investments into Quixey. Alibaba also switched up its board representative, replacing chief strategy officer Zeng Ming with a U.S.-based investment officer named Peter Stern.

November 2016: Mark Lazar is fired as Quixey CEO, and replaced by John Foster (ex-CEO of Zed USA). The company also begins fundraising again.

February 2017: Insiders, led by Atlantic Bridge Capital, agree to effectively recap the company with around $10 million of new equity. It's not enough to repay the Alibaba loan (due in November), but Quixey hopes it will provide enough runway to secure a big new customer contract (it was in early talks with Lenovo) or a new outside investor. Internal belief is that the much-delayed tech is finally ready for prime-time.

Negotiations on the new round had begun several months earlier but, in the end, Alibaba refuses to allow the new investment. Soon after, layoffs are announced and Quixey hires an outside firm to help find a buyer for Quixey's IP.

March 2017: In a statement, Alibaba says: "Unfortunately, the development of the company did not meet expectations and the board made a decision to end the business." It declined to elaborate further, and no other company investors nor employees would go on the record.


  • Debt can be a very dangerous game for VC-backed startups, as we discussed last week with Modcloth. Just because the check clears like equity doesn't mean the cash is equal, and taking a large amount of secured debt can make it prohibitively difficult to solicit a new outside equity investor.
  • Commercial partnerships with strategic investors may feel like aligned interests, but they just aren't if one company is worth $265 billion and the startup is still seeking unicorn status. This goes double if there are inherent cultural differences, such as with a seat-of-your-pants Silicon Valley company and a much more disciplined Chinese conglomerate where deadlines are sacrosanct.

Roy Moore refuses to concede

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore looks at election returns. Photo: Brynn Anderson / AP

Republican candidate Roy Moore said late Tuesday night that the election for Alabama's U.S. Senate seat wasn't over.

"God is always in control. Part of the problem with this campaign is we've been painted in an unfavorable and unfaithful light. We've been put in a hole, if you will...what we've got to do is wait on God, and let this process play out...The votes are still coming in and we're looking at that." However, Alabama's Secretary of State told CNN the people of Alabama had spoken, and Doug Jones was the winner.

Go deeper: How Alabama elected Doug Jones.


Winners & losers from the Alabama special election

Photo: John Bazemore / AP

A Democrat will serve as an Alabama Senator for the first time in two decades after Republican Roy Moore's campaign collapsed following allegations of child sexual abuse.

Why it matters: This is a big, unexpected win for Democrats, and follows another key victory in the Virginia governor's race. It's bad news for the Steve Bannon brand of conservatism and President Trump, who went all in for Moore in the closing weeks.


  • Doug Jones, who had never run for public office before, and won as a Democrat in a red state.
  • Democrats​ now have another important notch on their belt, and will close the gap in the Senate to 51-49.
  • #MeToo: Many voters believed Moore's accusers, and the accusations brought down his campaign.
  • Mainstream Republicans: Moore's baggage would have presented plenty of problems for the GOP down the road, even if they are losing a vote in the Senate.


  • Roy Moore: He did the unthinkable, and lost to a Democrat in a statewide Alabama race.
  • Steve Bannon: He was the one promoting Moore from the beginning, over fierce objections within his own party.
  • The Republican Party: The RNC and the president backed an accused sexual predator, and lost. They're also now down a Senate seat.
  • President Trump: He decided to throw his full-throated support behind Moore, and in so doing made his second incorrect bet on the Alabama race. Not to mention, he was the one who appointed Jeff Sessions as Attorney General — considering it a safe seat.

Trump, Biden, Clinton react to Doug Jones' victory over Roy Moore

Democrat Doug Jones pulled out a victory over Republican Roy Moore on Tuesday night, after a race that was turned on its head by allegations of child sexual abuse against Moore. Moore was the second Alabama Republican endorsed by President Trump to lose, after he Moore defeated Trump-backed Luther Strange in the primary. Trump congratulated Jones on "a hard fought victory."


Both Trump-endorsed candidates lose in Alabama

Trump told voters to elect Roy Moore. Photo: AP

President Trump has now twice endorsed the losing candidate in Alabama. He backed Luther Strange in the Republican primary, and threw his weight behind Roy Moore for the general election. Moore was defeated by Democrat Doug Jones tonight.

The big picture: Trump won Alabama by almost 20 points in the 2016 election, but Alabama voters rejected his favored candidates in the Senate race. The same thing happened on Nov. 8 in Virginia, when voters elected Democrat Ralph Northam over Trump-backed Republican Ed Gillespie by a 9-point margin.


FBI agents on Russia probe called Trump an "idiot"

Photo: AP

Two FBI agents who were assigned to investigate alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin exchanged text messages in which they referred to President Trump as an "idiot," Politico reports, citing copies of the messages provided to Congress by the Justice Dept.

The backdrop: Special Counsel Robert Mueller fired one of the agents, Peter Strzok, from the investigation in late July, "immediately" after he learned of the text exchange, the Justice Dept. told Congress. Lisa Page, the other agent in question, had already left Mueller's team by that point.


In tax plan negotiations, corporate rate currently sits at 21%

Rubio. Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

The corporate tax rate currently stands at 21%, according to three sources familiar, as lawmakers work to finalize the tax bill they hope to vote on by next week.

  • Why it matters: Both the House and Senate passed bills that would cut the top corporate rate to 20%, but hours after the Senate bill passed, President Trump said he would accept a 22% rate.
  • Sen. Marco Rubio tweeted on Tuesday, likely referring to reports that the individual rate is being lowered to 37%: "20.94% Corp. rate to pay for tax cut for working family making $40k was anti-growth but 21% to cut tax for couples making $1million is fine?" Rubio had wanted to raise the corporate tax to pay for a more generous child tax credit, but was shut down.

Charming Charlie becomes 20th major retailer to file for bankruptcy this year

Charming Charlie, the Houston-based jewelry and accessories retailer, announced Tuesday that it reached an agreement with lenders and equity sponsors to clear the way for its filing of Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

What went wrong: Charming Charlie's bread-and-butter, affordable jewlery, is an ideal product for online sellers, given that it can be warehoused and shipped cheaply. What's more, even as business migrated online, Charming Charlie overextended itself, opening 79 stores between 2013 and 2015.

Why it matters: It's the twentieth major retailer to have filed for bankruptcy protection in 2017.

Charming Charlie burst onto the retail scene in 2004, with stores uniquely organized by color, and offering products at prices between high-end jewlery stores and discount shops like Claire's, which is aimed at the teenage market.


Tillerson says he'd meet with North Korea without preconditions

Photo: Susan Walsh / AP

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Tuesday that the U.S. was dropping the precondition that North Korea give up its nuclear weapons before sitting down together, according to CNN.

"We are ready to have the first meeting with precondition...Let's just meet, and we can talk about the weather if you want. Talk about whether it's going to be a square table or a round table, if that's what you are excited about. But can we at least sit down and see each other face to face, and then we can begin to lay out a map, a road map of what we might be willing to work towards."

Why it matters: Tillerson said demanding North Korea denuclearize is "unworkable," and that Trump agrees it isn't plausible. Tillerson did demand, however, that North Korea "ensure a period of quiet during talks," per CNN.

  • The White House released a statement in regards to Sec. Tillerson's comments, saying: "The President's views on North Korea have not changed. North Korea is acting in an unsafe way not only toward Japan, China, and South Korea, but the entire world. North Korea's actions are not good for anyone and certainly not good for North Korea."

Washington Post reporters barred from Moore's election night party

Photo: Brynn Anderson / AP

The Moore campaign has revoked press credentials from reporters for the Washington Post and asked them to leave an election party tonight in Alabama. The campaign also reportedly notified the Post on Monday that its reporters' credentials were denied. It was the Post that broke the story of the first sexual misconduct allegations against Moore.


Trump's lawyer says Mueller is done interviewing White House staff

Photo: Andrew Harnik / AP

Ty Cobb, President Trump's White House lawyer, says "all the White House interviews are over” in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe, NBC reports.

  • The big picture: Trump's team has repeatedly tried to take the president out of the spotlight of Mueller's investigation and stated that the probe will wrap up this year.
  • The backdrop: Jay Sekulow, one of Trump's private lawyers, told Axios' Mike Allen that he believes a second special counsel is needed, to investigate potential conflicts of interest in the FBI and Department of Justice.