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Why SafeGraph Raised a $45M Series B

March 16, 2021
by
Auren Hoffman
SafeGraph is a fully remote data company, with over 70 employees across North America.
Read more about SafeGraph's Series B in TechCrunch, Insider, and Street Fight.

We raised a $45M Series B to get us one step closer towards making our vision (to democratize access to data) a reality. 

Raising a Series B allows us to grow faster and more quickly achieve our goal of being the destination for all data about physical places (geospatial points of interest).  But raising a Series B doesn’t change our mission at all -- SafeGraph is (and will always be) just a data company.  

Our only focus is data.  No software, analytics, visualization. Just data. Just facts.  

Now is a great time to build a data company.

SafeGraph’s Series B will help us continue to build our pure-play data business as demand for high-quality, accessible data grows.

Welcome Cathy Gao at Sapphire Ventures

We’re incredibly excited to work with Cathy Gao and the full Sapphire team.

Our Series B is led by Sapphire Ventures, and we’re incredibly excited to work with Cathy Gao, Nino Marakovic, and the full Sapphire team. Cathy brings a wealth of knowledge to the table that will be invaluable while navigating and discovering new markets of data buyers. And Sapphire has deep experience in investing in data businesses. Their team understands what it takes to build category-defining companies. 

Before entering the fundraise, we ranked Sapphire as the most desired long-term capital partner for SafeGraph.  We felt the firm had the best understanding of data businesses and also has an amazing history of backing mega-successes.  

We also want to thank the handful of other firms we met with during the process and the four firms that gave us very competitive term sheets.  All of these investors helped improve the SafeGraph business.  One of the great things about the fundraising process is the large number of extremely smart people you get to interact with in a very concentrated time.

Our Series B also includes investors from our previous round of funding -- thank you to Alex Rosen at Ridge Ventures, Mitch Kitamura at DNX Ventures, Will Snellings, Pete Briger, Dan Benton, Jack Dangermond, Jeff Epstein, Tod Sacerdoti, and Peter Thiel. They have been influential in our growth over the past four years, and we are excited to continue working with them.

We raised the funds on a $370 million valuation.  More importantly, we raised them from a great partner and we did it on super-clean terms. 

Meeting the growing market demand

A lot has happened at SafeGraph and in the world since our last round of funding. The geospatial industry has grown tremendously, with more businesses relying on location data to solve increasingly complex problems. With our laser-focus on places data, SafeGraph is just a piece of the larger geospatial puzzle, and we’re excited to see the continued growth in the industry led by our users and partners.

The use of geospatial data has increased rapidly over the past year among organizations and press outlets alike.

As a company, we’ve grown to over 70 employees (as of March 2021), more than doubled our year-over-year revenue, and built a highly-scalable data business. We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished, but we have big plans for the future and are excited to move into this next phase of growth.

As we’ve hired more employees, we’ve expanded across North America. From Toronto to Miami to San Diego and everything in between, SafeGraph is gaining notoriety as a top tech employer.

One of the most important metrics we measure is revenue per employee. As we’ve grown our team substantially in the past few years, this has been incredibly important. Our adherence to business efficiency ensured we didn’t need Series B funding to keep operating as we are today. But in order to meet the rapidly increasing demand for reliable and accurate places data, we elected to grow even faster.

Why even raise money?

Just six months ago, we were not even sure that we’d ever raise additional money.  SafeGraph is growing very quickly and we’re one of the most efficient high-growth tech companies (we burned just $3M in cash in the last 2 years).

Despite more than tripling our team, SafeGraph remains one of the most efficient high-growth tech companies by closely watching revenue per employee and other key metrics.

Most companies raise money because either (1) they need to; or (2) the money is too hard to say no to.  We did not want to raise money just because that is something expected of a fast-growing start-up.  We did not want to raise money just because now is a great time to raise capital.  If we raised more money, we wanted to do it because it would have a massive impact on the SafeGraph vision.

Raising money (selling equity) has a cost.  It takes a LOT of time to raise the money -- and that time is primarily borne by the CEO and a few other key personnel.  The opportunity cost of that time is massive. 

Raising money is also dilutive to shareholders -- some of the best companies could have had a much higher shareholder return if they raised less money.  Prior to the Series B, SafeGraph had raised less than $21M and most of that was in the bank.  We prized our efficiency and definitely did not need to raise more money.  We also prize our focus on shareholder value -- the price per share is more important for the long-term wealth creation of our shareholders than market-cap.  Our obsession with shareholder value and our belief in focus guided us in spinning out a separate eight-figure ARR business last year. 

But we did ultimately decide to make the conventional choice and raise a Series B.  We did that because we have a massive opportunity to democratize access to data (in the long term) and to have data about every physical place in the world (in the mid-term).  Extra capital will significantly accelerate growing our selection from 7 million places to 7 billion places -- from aggressively expanding internationally to adding more types of places to making more acquisitions.

And speaking of acquisitions … expect SafeGraph to be acquiring a few world-class companies this year -- both with the capital we have and the large pools of additional capital we also have access to.

Navigating the pandemic (that helped us grow)

Like most businesses, the event that had the greatest impact on us over the last year was the pandemic. COVID-19 greatly accelerated the adoption of geospatial analytics, particularly with places data, within every industry. Understanding deep structural information about physical places is even more important when there is an external event that accelerated the trajectory of change in the data. 

Like most companies, SafeGraph and its employees have adapted to a Zoom environment over the past year.

SafeGraph serves some of the most important companies and organizations in the world: from logistics, GIS, public health, financial services, retail, academia, and everything in between.  

Special thank you to the data scientists at our amazing customers including: Sysco, Esri, Goldman Sachs, Volta Charging, Verizon, Mapbox, Ares, Tripadvisor, Choice Hotels, Sheetz, Jefferies, Centers for Disease Control, US Foods, Axtria, Tate & Lyle, City of Los Angeles, Sandia Labs, Xcel Energy, Viant, AT&T, KeyBank, and many many more.

SafeGraph data powers numerous COVID-19 response applications, such as the US COVID Atlas.

We’ve been working tirelessly to deliver our data to those who need it in these challenging times. To that end, we created a community of over 7,000 data scientists who collaborate on geospatial projects, both related to and separate from COVID-19 response. Their work has led to over 300 academic papers (in the last 9 months) published citing SafeGraph data and inspired us to keep innovating and building truth sets for the physical world.

Finding our place in the geospatial ecosystem

Teaming up with other geospatial data science leaders, we launched Placekey, the standard identifier for a physical place. Placekey makes location data more accessible and usable for all.

We also learned a lot about how data scientists work with geospatial data and decided to tackle one of their main challenges: the join key. Data is the most powerful when it can be connected to other data, but that isn’t always easy to do. To empower our users, we helped develop the standard identifier for a physical place, Placekey. With Placekey, SafeGraph data is now easily joinable to a growing network of datasets, helping more people access location data.

Building our partner network and global footprint

Partnerships are key to our business, particularly as we focus on self-serve. We’re focused on places data -- and being really, really good at building it. But geospatial data is so much more than points of interest, building footprints, and foot traffic. 

Through our partnerships, we are able to expand access to SafeGraph data, providing it within platforms data scientists are already using for analysis.

We’ve been growing our partner network to include technology and services providers, like Snowflake and McKinsey. These partnerships help us integrate with key technologies our customers use and provide expert professional services when needed.

Four orders of magnitude in two years

We’re also going to increase the amount of data that is available to our customers by 100x in the next year.  And then we are going to 100x that the year after.  That’s right, we are increasing our coverage by two orders of magnitude a year!  (For you math geniuses, that’s four orders of magnitude in two years).

We are going to do this by:

  • Aggressively expanding internationally (we launch UK in a few weeks)
  • Working with other fantastic data partners
  • Acquiring companies
  • Increasing SafeGraph’s infrastructure

A team of passionate superstars

As of this writing (mid-March 2021) there are over 70 employees of SafeGraph.  We started 2020 with 22 employees -- so we’ve grown our team by over 3x in less than 15 months.  If the definition of being a “veteran” is that over half the team has been hired after you, then people that joined SafeGraph six months ago are now veterans.

While the company has grown rapidly, SafeGraph’s vision and values have remained remarkably consistent.

And we are hiring.  A lot.  For all roles.  Anywhere in the U.S. and Canada (and others soon).  

Come join us if:

  • You are passionate about SafeGraph’s mission to democratize access to data
  • At least 80% of people who have worked with you put you in the top 10% of the people they have worked with
  • You believe that life is too short to work with B-players

Looking ahead

In our blog that announced our Series A funding, we noted that we predict the past by focusing on veracity and truth. While many little things in our business have changed, the core things about SafeGraph remain consistent. We still focus on selling high-quality facts. Five years from now, you will be able to get data on every place in the world. And 100 years from now, SafeGraph will continue to democratize access to data and still just sell facts to innovators.

Auren Hoffman
Auren Hoffman
CEO of Safegraph
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SafeGraph is just a data company

That's it – that's all we do. We want to understand the physical world and power innovation through open access to geospatial data. We believe data should be an open platform, not a trade secret. Information should not be hoarded so that only a few can innovate.