Block Success Story
How CB Insights Helped Improve Block’s Corp Dev Strategy
Former Global Ecosystem Lead, CashApp (a Block brand)
My job is to know everything. Well, almost everything.
Having spent nearly two decades in mergers and acquisitions (M&A), corporate development, and as the current Global Ecosystem Lead for Growth and Development at Cash App, a Block brand, I need to stay on top of what’s happening now and next in our industry, on a global scale. That’s a challenge. Fintech rapidly innovates, and that’s why I need easy, scalable and replicable ways to be proactive and reactive to global trends.
Using CB Insights for Corporate Development
I helped build the Block corporate development team from zero. Our team increased Block’s M&A activity 10x over 4 years. How? We ramped up our process for understanding the marketplace and better identifying opportunities.
While we’re a relatively large company, many of our competitors in Fintech are larger. We quickly realized we needed strong data sources to stay on top of the constantly evolving market. However, our existing data resources didn’t have adequate information about the companies we were researching and the public databases didn’t have enough information either. We needed to go beyond just funding and financial data to really understand the market and the companies behind it.
That’s when we discovered CB Insights.
Corporate Development and M&A requires more than good data. Our job isn’t just to know that a specific company had taken six rounds of funding and who had invested, but also what that means in the context of the overall market and specifically for Cash App. The context CB Insights provided made that crucial connection for us, allowing us to connect the dots with data-driven strategies and plans for what to do next.
Keeping Tabs with Collections
We use CB Insights in almost every deal somewhere along the way — usually in the earlier phases of sourcing and narrowing down our prospects. When we are trying to finalize our decision, we use CB Insights to get information about the target companies we’re engaging.
CB Insights is built like a consumer app — not an enterprise app — and that’s a good thing. We’re used to Google and other smartphone apps, and the CB Insights interface works in a similar way.
CB Insights makes it easy to personalize your experience. At Block we have multiple businesses, and we separate prospective companies into different Collections based on initiative or business. Collections help us organize those companies in one place and share it across our teams to proactively monitor progress. We can also create Collections based on competitors to stay on top of what’s happening in our market and its impact on Block. Because of CB Insights, my team is more strategic and focused on what matters, not chasing data points or filling in spreadsheets.
More than just gaining insights into companies, we use CB Insights to generate new strategic ideas. Because the research is curated and organized for our use case, it’s better than a simple news story I might find online. We can see how the market is forming and identify trends, then start to form our own ideas on what to do next. That’s not something I’d expect from a platform like CB Insights.
How CB Insights Helped Us Through COVID-19
In March 2020, when the pandemic shutdowns first started, no one could predict the impact. Square makes most of our revenue from brick-and-mortar small businesses so we were concerned by what the pandemic would mean for our merchants — and our business. In the short term, we learned that American businesses are resilient. The fact that businesses responded by changing the way they worked led to some permanent changes.
We had to help our internal teams understand the impact of COVID-19 and what that would mean for our industry. We started a newsletter on current activities and future trends. CB Insights was really valuable for us in creating that newsletter.
Whenever we were examining a new trend, there was always something in CB Insights like a story or a Collection that we could use to prompt new ideas. We created weekly trend reports for the company, and it was easy to leap from an idea to a company on the app to see the latest activity. We could pull all the data from CB Insights in a way that wasn’t possible with the other platforms we use.
Staying on Top of Worldwide Trends
My mandate with Cash App is narrower than my previous roles in corporate development, where the entire company was my focus. Here, I’m focused on international consumer Fintech, and I need to understand what’s happening everywhere outside of the U.S.
My team essentially operates like a venture capital fund, and we need to know who’s rising, who’s making moves and the latest information about different businesses. As a team lead, I build Collections within CB Insights that look more like watch lists for my team.
CB Insights also has data on management and leadership teams that’s insightful. It lists board members and executives so we can develop a better understanding of our connections at a company. With CB Insights, we can see a broad range of potential connections that we can build on to create relationships at a new company — such as investors, board members and other connections whose relationships to the company might not be clear elsewhere. The platform gives us access to data about investors, board members and other connections whose relationship to the company might not be clear on LinkedIn.
Keeping Up With The Pace Of Fintech
Fintech is a fast-moving industry. If someone on the team calls me to discuss an exciting new region, I need to get up to speed quickly and stay abreast of the situation there.
These days you can be in the middle of conversations with one company and suddenly a similar company that you engaged a couple of months earlier has raised capital at twice your expected valuation. This kind of situation seems to happen all the time. Everything is competitive and it all moves fast.
And CB Insights is helpful in gaining a competitive edge. I can get up to speed on new markets and new companies in hours, not days, and then stay updated on what’s happening.
There’s a ton of new information and technology available, especially with crypto and Decentralized Finance (DeFi) becoming more commonplace. I love that more money and resources are going into Fintech, helping to democratize access to financial services around the world. It’s the most exciting thing happening in technology.
My job isn’t to know everything about our industry. No one can do that. But my job is to understand what’s relevant, and CB Insights helps me continually monitor and react to these concepts.
Global Ecosystem Lead, CashApp (a Block brand)
James Loftus was the former Global Ecosystem Lead at Cash App, one of Block’s building blocks. Previously, he led Block’s Corporate Development team. He started his career as a lawyer doing M&A for Shearman & Sterling in New York City for five years, before working in M&A at Google and corporate development at Yahoo.
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