FreshRSS

🔒
❌ About FreshRSS
There are new available articles, click to refresh the page.
Before yesterdayYour RSS feeds

Harvestr gathers user feedback in one place

By Romain Dillet

Meet Harvestr, a software-as-a-service startup that wants to help product managers centralize customer feedback from various places. Product managers can then prioritize outstanding issues and feature requests. Finally, the platform helps you get back to your customers once changes have been implemented.

The company just raised a $650,000 funding round led by Bpifrance with various business angels also participating, such as 360Learning co-founders Nicolas Hernandez and Guillaume Alary as well as Station F director Roxanne Varza through the Atomico Angel Programme.

Harvestr integrates directly with Zendesk, Intercom, Salesforce, Freshdesk, Slack and Zapier. For instance, if a user opens a ticket on Zendesk and another user interacts with your support team through an Intercom chat widget, everything ends up in Harvestr.

Once you have everything in the system, Harvestr helps you prioritize tasks that seem more urgent or that are going to have a bigger impact.

When you start working on a feature or when you’re about to ship it, you can contact your users who originally reached out to talk to you about it.

Eventually, Harvestr should help you build a strong community of power users around your product. And there are many advantages in pursuing this strategy.

First, you reward your users by keeping them in the loop. It should lead to higher customer satisfaction and lower churn. Your most engaged customers could also become your best ambassadors to spread the word around.

Harvestr costs $49 per month for 5 seats and $99 per month for 20 seats. People working for 360Learning, HomeExchange, Dailymotion and other companies are currently using it.

Microsoft announces global Teams ad push as it combats Slack for the heart of enterprise comms

By Alex Wilhelm

The long-running contest between Microsoft and its Teams service and Slack’s eponymous application continued this morning, with Redmond announcing what it describes as its first “global” advertising push for its enterprise communication service.

Slack, a recent technology IPO, exploded in the back half of last decade, accreting huge revenues while burrowing into the tech stacks of the startup world. The former startup’s success continued as it increasingly targeted larger companies; it’s easier to stack revenue in enterprise-scale chunks than it is by onboarding upstarts.

Enterprise productivity software, of course, is a large percentage of Microsoft’s bread and butter. And as Slack rose — and Microsoft decided against buying the then-nascent rival — the larger company invested in its competing Teams service. Notably, today’s ad push is not the first advertising salvo between the two companies. Slack owns that record, having welcomed Microsoft to its niche in a print ad that isn’t aging particularly well.

Slack and Teams are competing through public usage announcements. Most recently, Teams announced that it has 20 million daily active users (DAUs); Slack’s most recent number is 12 million. Slack, however, has touted how active its DAUs are, implying that it isn’t entirely sure that Microsoft’s figures line up to its own. Still, the rising gap between their numbers is notable.

Microsoft’s new ad campaign is yet another chapter in the ongoing Slack vs. Teams. The ad push itself is only so important. What matters more is that Microsoft is choosing to expend some of its limited public attention bandwidth on Teams over other options.

Stock

While Teams is merely part of the greater Office 365 world that Microsoft has been building for some time, Slack’s product is its business. And since its direct listing, some air has come out of its shares.

Slack’s share price has fallen from the mid-$30s after it debuted to the low-$20s today. I’ve explored that repricing and found that, far from the public markets repudiating Slack’s equity, the company was merely mispriced in its early trading life. The company’s revenue multiple has come down since its first days as a public entity, but remains rich; investors are still pricing Slack like an outstanding company.

Ahead, Slack and Microsoft will continue to trade competing DAU figures. The question becomes how far Slack’s brand can carry it against Microsoft’s enterprise heft.

Zendesk launches Sell Marketplace to bring app store to CRM product

By Ron Miller

Zendesk acquired Base CRM in 2018 to give customers a CRM component to go with its core customer service software. After purchasing the company, it changed the name to Sell, and today the company announced the launch of the new Sell Marketplace.

Officially called The Zendesk Marketplace for Sell, it’s a place where companies can share components that extend the capabilities of the core Sell product. Companies like MailChimp, HubSpot and QuickBooks are available at launch.

App directory in Sell Marketplace. Screenshot: Zendesk

Matt Price, SVP and general manager at Zendesk, sees the marketplace as a way to extend Sell into a platform play, something he thinks could be a “game changer.” He likened it to the impact of app stores on mobile phones.

“It’s that platform that accelerated and really suddenly [transformed smart phones] from being just a product to [launching an] industry. And that’s what the marketplace is doing now, taking Sell from being a really great sales tool to being able to handle anything that you want to throw at it because it’s extensible through apps,” Price explained.

Price says that this ability to extend the product could manifest in several ways. For starters, customers can build private apps with a new application development framework. This enables them to customize Sell for their particular environment, such as connecting to an internal system or building functionality that’s unique to them.

In addition, ISVs can build custom apps, something Price points out they have been doing for some time on the Zendesk customer support side. “Interestingly Zendesk obviously has a very large community of independent developers, hundreds of them, who are [developing apps for] our support product, and now we have another product that they can support,” he said.

Finally, industry partners can add connections to their software. For instance, by installing Dropbox for Sell, it gives sales people a way to save documents to Dropbox and associate them with a deal in Sell.

Of course, what Zendesk is doing here with Sell Marketplace isn’t new. Salesforce introduced this kind of app store concept to the CRM world in 2006 when it launched AppExchange, but the Sell Marketplace still gives Sell users a way to extend the product to meet their unique needs, and that could prove to be a powerful addition.

DigitalOcean is laying off staff, sources say 30-50 affected

By Ingrid Lunden

After appointing a new CEO and CFO last summer, cloud infrastructure provider DigitalOcean is embarking on a wider reorganisation: the startup has announced a round of layoffs, with potentially between 30 and 50 people affected.

DigitalOcean has confirmed the news with the following statement:

“DigitalOcean recently announced a restructuring to better align its teams to its go-forward growth strategy. As part of this restructuring, some roles were, unfortunately, eliminated. DigitalOcean continues to be a high-growth business with $275M in [annual recurring revenues] and more than 500,000 customers globally. Under this new organizational structure, we are positioned to accelerate profitable growth by continuing to serve developers and entrepreneurs around the world.”

Before the confirmation was sent to us this morning, a number of footprints began to emerge last night, when the layoffs first hit, with people on Twitter talking about it, some announcing that they are looking for new opportunities, and some offering help to those impacted. Inbound tips that we received estimate the cuts at between 30 and 50 people. With around 500 employees (an estimate on PitchBook) that would work out to up to 10% of staff affected.

It’s not clear what is going on here — we’ll update as and when we hear more — but when Yancey Spruill and Bill Sorenson were respectively appointed CEO and CFO in July 2019 (Spruill replacing someone who was only in the role for a year), the incoming CEO put out a short statement that, in hindsight, hinted at a refocus of the business in the near future.

“My aspiration is for us to continue to provide everything you love about DO now, but to also enhance our offerings in a way that is meaningful, strategic and most helpful for you over time,” he said at the time.

The company provides a range of cloud infrastructure services to developers, including scalable compute services (“Droplets” in DigitalOcean terminology), managed Kubernetes clusters, object storage, managed database services, Cloud Firewalls, Load Balancers and more, with 12 datacenters globally. It says it works with more than 1 million developers across 195 countries. It’s also been expanding the services that it offers to developers, including more enhancements in its managed database services, and a free hosting option for continuous code testing in partnership with GitLab.

All the same, as my colleague Frederic pointed out when DigitalOcean appointed its latest CEO, while developers have generally been happy with the company, it isn’t as hyped as it once was, and is a smallish player nowadays.

And in an area of business where economies of scale are essential for making good margins on a business, it competes against some of the biggest leviathans in tech: Google (and its Google Cloud Platform), Amazon (which as AWS) and Microsoft (with Azure). That could mean that DigitalOcean is either trimming down as it talks investors for a new round; or to better conserve cash as it sizes up how best to compete against these bigger, deep-pocketed players; or perhaps to start thinking about another kind of exit.

In that context, it’s notable that the company not only appointed a new CFO last summer, but also a CEO with prior CFO experience. It’s been a while since DigitalOcean has raised capital. According to PitchBook, DigitalOcean last raised money in 2017, an undisclosed amount from Mighty Capital, Glean Capital, Viaduct Ventures, Black River Ventures, Hanaco Venture Capital, Torch Capital and EG Capital Advisors. Before that, it took out $130 million in debt, in 2016. Altogether it has raised $198 million and its last valuation was from a round in 2015, $683 million.

We’ll update this post as we learn more. Best wishes to those affected by the news.

Visa’s Plaid acquisition shows a shifting financial services landscape

By Ron Miller

When Visa bought Plaid this week for $5.3 billion, a figure that was twice its private valuation, it was a clear signal that traditional financial services companies are looking for ways to modernize their approach to business.

With Plaid, Visa picks up a modern set of developer APIs that work behind the scenes to facilitate the movement of money. Those APIs should help Visa create more streamlined experiences (both at home and inside other companies’ offerings), build on its existing strengths and allow it to do more than it could have before, alone.

But don’t take our word for it. To get under the hood of the Visa-Plaid deal and understand it from a number of perspectives, TechCrunch got in touch with analysts focused on the space and investors who had put money into the erstwhile startup.

Epsagon scores $16M Series A to monitor modern development environments

By Ron Miller

Epsagon, an Israeli startup that wants to help monitor modern development environments like serverless and containers, announced a $16 million Series A today.

U.S. Venture Partners (USVP), a new investor, led the round. Previous investors Lightspeed Venture Partners and StageOne Ventures also participated. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $20 million, according to the company.

CEO and co-founder Nitzan Shapira says that the company has been expanding its product offerings in the last year to cover not just its serverless roots, but also giving deeper insights into a number of forms of modern development.

“So we spoke around May when we launched our platform for microservices in the cloud products, and that includes containers, serverless and really any kind of workload to build microservices apps. Since then we have had a few several significant announcements,” Shapira told TechCrunch.

For starters, the company announced support or tracing and metrics for Kubernetes workloads including native Kubernetes along with managed Kubernetes services like AWS EKS and Google GKE. “A few months ago, we announced our Kubernetes integration. So, if you’re running any Kubernetes workload, you can integrate with Epsagon in one click, and from there you get all the metrics out of the box, then you can set up a tracing in a matter of minutes. So that opens up a very big number of use cases for us,” he said.

The company also announced support for AWS AppSync, a no-code programming tool on the Amazon cloud platform. “We are the only provider today to introduce tracing for AppSync and that’s [an area] where people really struggle with the monitoring and troubleshooting of it,” he said.

The company hopes to use the money from today’s investment to expand the product offering further with support for Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform in the coming year. He also wants to expand the automation of some tasks that have to be manually configured today.

“Our intention is to make the product as automated as possible, so the user will get an amazing experience in a matter of minutes including advanced monitoring, identifying different problems and troubleshooting,” he said

Shapira says the company has around 25 employees today, and plans to double headcount in the next year.

Cyral announces $11M Series A to help protect data in cloud

By Ron Miller

Cyral, an early-stage startup that helps protect data stored in cloud repositories, announced an $11 million Series A today. The company also revealed a previous undisclosed $4.1 million angel investment, making the total $15.1 million.

The Series A was led by Redpoint Ventures. A.Capital Ventures, Costanoa VC, Firebolt, SV Angel and Trifecta Capital also participated in on the round.

Cyral co-founder and CEO Manav Mital says the company’s product acts as a security layer on top of cloud data repositories — whether databases, data lakes, data warehouse or other data repository — helping identify issues like faulty configurations or anomalous activity.

Mital says that unlike most security data products of this ilk, Cyral doesn’t use an agent or watch points to try to detect signals that indicate something is happening to the data. Instead, he says that Cyral is a security layer attached directly to the data.

“The core innovation of Cyral is to put a layer of visibility attached right to the data endpoint, right to the interface where application services and users talk to the data endpoint, and in real time see the communication,” Mital explained.

As an example, he says that Cyral could detect that someone has suddenly started scanning rows of credit card data, or that someone was trying to connect to a database on an unencrypted connection. In each of these cases, Cyral would detect the problem, and depending on the configuration, send an alert to the customer’s security team to deal with the problem, or automatically shut down access to the database before informing the security team.

It’s still early days for Cyral, with 15 employees and a handful of early access customers. Mital says for this round he’s working on building a product to market that’s well-designed and easy to use.

He says that people get the problem he’s trying to solve. “We could walk into any company and they are all worried about this problem. So for us getting people interested has not been an issue. We just want to make sure we build an amazing product,” he said.

Cloudinary passes $60M ARR without VC money

By Alex Wilhelm

Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between.

Today we’re continuing our exploration of companies that have reached material scale, usually viewed through the lens of annual recurring revenue (ARR). We’ve looked at companies that have reached the $100 million ARR mark and a few that haven’t quite yet, but are on the way.

Today, a special entry. We’re looking at a company that isn’t yet at the $100 million ARR mark. It’s 60% of the way there, but with a twist. The company is bootstrapped. Yep, from pre-life as a consultancy that built a product to fit its own needs, Cloudinary is cruising toward nine-figure recurring revenue and an IPO under its own steam.

Google Cloud gets a premium support plan with 15-minute response times

By Frederic Lardinois

Google Cloud today announced the launch of its premium support plans for enterprise and mission-critical needs. This new plan brings Google’s support offerings for the Google Cloud Platform (GCP) in line with its premium G Suite support options.

“Premium Support has been designed to better meet the needs of our customers running modern cloud technology,” writes Google’s VP of Cloud Support, Atul Nanda. “And we’ve made investments to improve the customer experience, with an updated support model that is proactive, unified, centered around the customer, and flexible to meet the differing needs of their businesses.”

The premium plan, which Google will charge for based on your monthly GCP spent (with a minimum cost of what looks to be about $12,500 per month), promises a 15-minute response time for P1 cases. Those are situations when an application or infrastructure is unusable in production. Other features include training and new product reviews, as well as support for troubleshooting third-party systems.

Google stresses that the team that will answer a company’s calls will consist of “content-aware experts” that know your application stack and architecture. Like with similar premium plans from other vendors, enterprises will have a Technical Account manager who works through these issues with them. Companies with global operations can opt to have (and pay for) technical account managers available during business hours in multiple regions.

The idea here, however, is also to give GCP users more proactive support, which will soon include a site reliability engineering engagement, for example, that is meant to help customers “design a wrapper of supportability around the Google Cloud customer projects that have the highest sensitivity to downtime.” The Support team will also work with customers to get them ready for special events like Black Friday or other peak events in their industry. Over time, the company plans to add more features and additional support plans.

As with virtually all of Google’s recent cloud moves, today’s announcement is part of the company’s efforts to get more enterprises to move to its cloud. Earlier this week, for example, it launched support for IBM’s Power Systems architecture, as well as new infrastructure solutions for retailers. In addition, it also acquired no-code service AppSheet.

Kadena fulfills hybrid blockchain vision with launch of public chain

By Ron Miller

For the last few years blockchain startup Kadena, has been working on a vision of bringing blockchain to the enterprise. Today it announced the final piece of that vision with the launch of the Kadena public blockchain.

In earlier releases, the company offered the ability to build private blockchains on AWS or Azure. Company co-founder and CEO Will Martino says the public network brings together public and private chains in a hybrid vision for the first time.

“The big exciting thing is that the public chain is out, smart contracts are about to turn on, and that allows us to then go and hit the market with what we’re calling these hybrid applications. These are applications that run both on a private blockchain, but have public smart contracts that allow people on the public side to interact with the private chain,” Martino explained.

The smart contracts are a set of rules that must be met and validated for the private and public chains to interact. Only valid actors and actions as defined in the smart contract will be allowed to move between the two chains.

Overcoming scaling issues

One of the major challenges with building a chain like this has been scaling it to meet the needs of enterprise users. Martino says that his company has solved this problem and can scale from the 10 chains today to 10,000 or more in the future as the company grows. He further claims that his company is the only one one with a tractable roadmap capable of achieving this.

Martino says this could help push companies who have been dabbling in blockchain technology in the last couple of years to take a bigger leap. “This is a watershed moment for enterprises. Up until now, they’ve never had a platform that they could go and use on a public blockchain platform and know that it’s going to have the throughput they need if the product they deployed on that blockchain has legs and starts to take off.” Martino says this blockchain has that.

Kadena public blockchain in action.

Kadena has also developed an open source smart contract language called Pact that Martino says allows a lawyer with Excel-level programming understanding to write these contracts and place them on the chain.

“There are a lot of lawyers who are good with Excel, so you can actually hand the smart contracts to a lawyer and have them review them for compliance. And that’s a crazy idea but we think it’s fundamental because when you’re representing core business workflows that are sensitive, you need to be absolutely certain they are compliant.”

Show me the money

The company is making all of the basic pieces available for free. That includes the private chain development tools on AWS and Azure, the public chain released today along with the Pact smart contract language.

Martino says that there are a couple of ways for the business to make money. For starters, it’s building partnerships where it helps companies in various sectors from financial services to insurance and healthcare build viable hybrid applications on the Kadena blockchain. When they make money so will Kadena.

Secondly, they control a bushel of tokens on their public network, which have value, and if the vision comes to fruition, will have much more over time. They will be able to sell some of these tokens on the public market and make money. Right now he says the tokens have a value of between 20 cents and a dollar, but he expects that to increase as the network becomes more viable.

The blockchain has lost some of its luster as it has moved through the enterprise hype cycle in recent years, but if Kadena can succeed in building a fully decentralized, scalable blockchain, it could help push the technology deeper into the enterprise.

Former Docker CEO Steve Singh joins Madrona

By Ron Miller

Madrona Venture Group announced today that is has hired former Docker CEO Steve Singh as a managing director at the firm.

Singh stepped down as CEO of Docker last May and Seattle-based Madrona seems like logical landing spot. He is a long-time resident of Seattle, and has been working behind the scenes with Madrona for many years as a strategic director and angel investor, according to the firm.

Singh says that while there are a number of areas he’s interested in, he wants to concentrate on intelligent applications in the enterprise. “While there are a number of broad themes we are excited about, I am particularly passionate about the potential of intelligent applications to transform business and our lives. Next generation, cloud-native application companies such as Clari, HighSpot, and Amperity, have incredible opportunities to solve large scale business challenges and become multi-billion-dollar businesses,” he said in a statement.

He certainly has broad enterprise experience. Beyond Docker, he was chairman and CEO at Concur for more than 20 years, and oversaw the company’s sale to SAP in 2014 for a hefty $8.3 billion. In addition, he sits on a variety of boards including Clari, Talend, DocuSign and others.

Singh joins S. Somasegar, who was a former corporate vice president at Microsoft and Hope Cochran, who was a long time CFO and helped take a couple of companies public, as managing directors added at the firm in recent years.

Madrona is celebrating its 25th anniversary in business this year, and can boast that one of its earliest investments was a Series A for a little Seattle startup called Amazon.

Customer data platform ActionIQ raises $32M

By Anthony Ha

ActionIQ co-founder and CEO Tasso Argyros knows that there are plenty of companies promising to help businesses use their customer data to deliver personalized experiences — as he put it, “The space has gotten very, very hot over the last couple of years.”

But in the face of growing competition, ActionIQ (founded in 2014 and headquartered in New York) has attracted some impressive customers like The New York Times, Conde Nast, American Eagle Outfitters, Vera Bradley and Pandora Media, as well as high-profile investors like Sequoia Capital and Andreessen Horowitz.

Today, it’s announcing that it has raised $32 million in Series C funding.

“At this point, we believe we are four to five years ahead of the market,” Argyros told me. “[Customer data platforms are] very hot, you see people really jumping into it, but nobody really has a product.”

He attributed the rise of these platforms to the growth in customer acquisition costs: “Everybody’s switched their focus from ‘How do we acquire more customers?’ to ‘How do you grow lifetime value?'”

The key, Argyros said, is “delivering personalized experiences at scale.” So if you’re a business trying to understand which customers need to be convinced to stick around, which customers are ready to upgrade to a paid subscription and so on, you need a platform like ActionIQ: “What’s common about all these questions is that they’re all data questions.”

He described ActionIQ’s approach as “product-first,” creating self-serve tools for enterprises rather than relying on consulting or IT services, and he said the product is designed to “drive intelligent actions activated through any channel.”

Argyros contrasted this approach with the large marketing clouds, where he said that stitching together products from various acquisitions has led to “a huge data gap between what marketing clouds promise and what they can actually deliver.” And he said other customer data platforms are limited to bringing the data together — but “just putting customer data in one place, that doesn’t mean business can use the customer data to drive value.”

March Capital Partners led the round, with participation from Cisco Ventures, as well as previous investors Sequoia, Andreessen and FirstMark Capital. Meredith Finn, a partner at March, is joining ActionIQ’s board of directors.

“From my professional experience at Salesforce and Twitter, when it comes to building a relationship with your customers, data is everything,” Finn said in a statement. “ActionIQ took a data-first approach from day one in contrast to many vendors that are now scrambling to address their data gaps by duct taping data infrastructure to their existing point solutions. … The potential of such a platform is limitless, and spans well beyond traditional marketing channels to other areas of customer interactions including web and mobile app experiences, customer support, and sales.”

ActionIQ has now raised a total of $75 million in funding. And while the Series C isn’t significantly larger that the $30 million that ActionIQ raise din 2017, Argyros said the company didn’t need to raise a huge round this time around, because it’s already built out the core product.

“A lot of dollars were invested heavily in the product way before the demand was there,” he said. “The Series B was pretty significant because there was so much upfront product investment. … Most of these funds are going towards expanding the business in sales and marketing.”

The crypto rich find security in Anchorage

By Josh Constine

Not the city, the $57 million-funded cryptocurrency custodian startup. When someone wants to keep tens or hundreds of millions of dollars in Bitcoin, Ethereum, or other coins safe, they put them in Anchorage’s vault. And now they can trade straight from custody so they never have to worry about getting robbed mid-transaction.

With backing from Visa, Andreessen Horowitz, and Blockchain Capital, Anchorage has emerged as the darling of the cryptocurrency security startup scene. Today it’s flexing its muscle and war chest by announcing its first acquisition, crypto risk modeling company Merkle Data.

Anchorage Security

Anchorage founders

Anchorage has already integrated Merkle’s technology and team to power today’s launch of its new trading feature. It eliminates the need for big crypto owners to manually move assets in and out of custody to buy or sell, or to set up their own in-house trading. Instead of grabbing some undisclosed spread between the spot price and the price Anchorage quotes its clients, it charges a transparent per transaction fee of a tenth of a percent.

It’s stressful enough trading around digital fortunes. Anchorage gives institutions and token moguls peace of mind throughout the process while letting them stake and vote while their riches are in custody. Anchorage CEO Nathan McCauley tells me “Our clients want to be able to fund a bank account with USD and have it seamlessly converted into crypto, securely held in their custody accounts. Shockingly, that’s not yet the norm–but we’re changing that.”

Buy and sell safely

Founded in 2017 by leaders behind Docker and Square, Anchorage’s core business is its omnimetric security system that takes passwords that can be lost or stolen out of the equation. Instead, it uses humans and AI to review scans of your biometrics, nearby networks, and other data for identity confirmation. Then it requires consensus approval for transactions from a set of trusted managers you’ve whitelisted.

With Anchorage Trading, the startup promises efficient order routing, transparent pricing, and multi-venue liquidity from OTC desks, exchanges, and market makers. “Because trading and custody are directly integrated, we’re able to buy and sell crypto from custody, without having to make risky external transfers or deal with multiple accounts from different providers” says Bart Stephens, founder and managing partner of Blockchain Capital.

Trading isn’t Anchorage’s primary business, so it doesn’t have to squeeze clients on their transactions and can instead try to keep them happy for the long-term. That also sets up Anchorage to be foundational part of the cryptocurrency stack. It wouldn’t disclose the terms of the Merkle Data acquisition, but the Pantera Capital-backed company brings quantative analysts to Anchorage to keep its trading safe and smart.

“Unlike most traditional financial assets, crypto assets are bearer assets: in order to do anything with them, you need to hold the underlying private keys. This means crypto custodians like Anchorage must play a much larger role than custodians do in traditional finance” says McCauley. “Services like trading, settlement, posting collateral, lending, and all other financial activities surrounding the assets rely on the custodian’s involvement, and in our view are best performed by the custodian directly.”

Anchorage will be competing with Coinbase, which offers integrated custody and institutional brokerage through its agency-only OTC desk. Fidelity Digital Assets combines trading and brokerage, but for Bitcoin only. BitGo offers brokerage from custody through a partnership with Genesis Global Trading. But Anchorage hopes its experience handling huge sums, clear pricing, and credentials like membership in Facebook’s Libra Association will win it clients.

McCauley says the biggest threat to Anchorage isn’t competitors, thoguh, but hazy regulation. Anchorage is building a core piece of the blockchain economy’s infrastructure. But for the biggest financial institutions to be comfortable getting involved, lawmakers need to make it clear what’s legal.

Felix Capital closes $300M fund to double down on DTC, break into fintech and make late-stage deals

By Ingrid Lunden

To kick off 2020, one of Europe’s newer — and more successful — investment firms has closed a fresh, oversubscribed fund, one sign that VC in the region will continue to run strong in the year ahead after startups across Europe raised between $35 billion and $36 billion in 2019.

Felix Capital, the London VC founded by Frederic Court that was one of the earlier firms to identify and invest in the trend of direct-to-consumer businesses, has raised $300 million, money that it plans to use to continue investing in creative and consumer startups and platform plays as well as begin to tap into a newer area, fintech — specifically startups that are focused on consumer finance. 

Felix up to now has focused mostly on earlier-stage investments — it now has $600 million under management and 32 companies in its portfolio in eight countries — based across both Europe and the US. Court said in an interview that a portion of this fund will now also go into later, growth rounds, both for companies that Felix has been backing for some time as well as newer faces.

As with the focus of the investments, the make-up of the fund itself has a strong European current: the majority of the LPs are European, Court noted. Although Asia is something it would like to tackle more in the future both as a market for its current portfolio and as an investment opportunity, he added, the firm has yet to invest into the region or substantially raise money from it.

Felix made its debut in 2015, founded by Court after a strong run at Advent Capital where he was involved in a number of big exits. While Court had been a strong player in enterprise software, Felix was a step-change for him into more of a primary focus on consumer startups focused on fashion, lifestyle and creative pursuits.

That has over the years included investing in companies like the breakout high-fashion marketplace Farfetch (which he started to back when still at Advent and is now public), Gwyneth Paltrow’s GOOP, the jewellery startup Mejuri, trend-watching HighSnobiety, and fitness startup Peloton (which has also IPO’d).

It’s not an altogether easygoing, vanilla list of cool stuff. Peloton and GOOP have had been mightily doused in snarky and sharky sentiments; and sometimes it even seems as if the brands themselves own and cultivate that image. As the saying goes, there’s no such thing as bad press, I guess.

Although it wasn’t something especially articulated in startup land at the time of Felix’s launch, what the firm was honing in on was a rising category of direct-to-consumer startups, essentially all in the area of e-commerce and building brands and businesses that were bypassing traditional retailers and retail channels to develop primary relationships with consumers through newer digital channels such as social media, messaging and email (alongside their own DTC websites). 

This is not Felix’s sole focus, with investments into a range of platform businesses like corporate travel site TravelPerk, Amazon -backed food delivery juggernaut Deliveroo and Moonbug (a platform for children’s entertainment content); and increasingly later stage rounds (for example it was part of a $104 million round at TravelPerk; a $70 million round for marketplace-building service Mirakl; and $23 million for Mejuri.

Court’s track record prior to Felix, and the success of the current firm to date, are two likely reasons why this latest fund was oversubscribed, and why Court says it wants to further spread its wings into a wider range of areas and investment stages.

The interest in consumer finance is not such a large step away from these areas, when you consider that they are just the other side of the coin from e-commerce: saving money versus spending money.

“We see this as our prism of opportunity,” said Court. “Just as we had the intuition that there was a space for investors looking at [DTC]… we now think there is enough evidence that there is demand from consumers for new ways of dealing with money and personal finance.”

The firm has from the start operated with a board of advisors who also invest money through Felix while also holding down day jobs.

They include the likes of executives from eBay, Facebook, and more. David Marcus –who Court backed when he built payments company Zong and eventually sold it to eBay before he went on to become a major mover and shaker at Facebook and is now has the possibly Sisyphean task of building Calibra — is on the list, but that has not translated into Felix dabbling in cryptocurrency.

“We are watching cryptocurrency, but if you take a Felix stance on the area, it’s only had one amazing brand so far, bitcoin,” said Court. “The rest, for a consumer, is very difficult to understand and access. It’s still really early, but I’ve got no doubt that there will be some things emerging, particularly around the idea of ‘invisible money.'”

Google acquires AppSheet to bring no-code development to Google Cloud

By Ron Miller

Google announced today that it is buying AppSheet, an eight-year-old no-code mobile-application-building platform. The company had raised more than $17 million on a $60 million valuation, according to PitchBook data. The companies did not share the purchase price.

With AppSheet, Google gets a simple way for companies to build mobile apps without having to write a line of code. It works by pulling data from a spreadsheet, database or form, and using the field or column names as the basis for building an app.

It is integrated with Google Cloud already integrating with Google Sheets and Google Forms, but also works with other tools, including AWS DynamoDB, Salesforce, Office 365, Box and others. Google says it will continue to support these other platforms, even after the deal closes.

As Amit Zavery wrote in a blog post announcing the acquisition, it’s about giving everyone a chance to build mobile applications, even companies lacking traditional developer resources to build a mobile presence. “This acquisition helps enterprises empower millions of citizen developers to more easily create and extend applications without the need for professional coding skills,” he wrote.

In a story we hear repeatedly from startup founders, Praveen Seshadri, co-founder and CEO at AppSheet, sees an opportunity to expand his platform and market reach under Google in ways he couldn’t as an independent company.

“There is great potential to leverage and integrate more deeply with many of Google’s amazing assets like G Suite and Android to improve the functionality, scale, and performance of AppSheet. Moving forward, we expect to combine AppSheet’s core strengths with Google Cloud’s deep industry expertise in verticals like financial services, retail, and media  and entertainment,” he wrote.

Google sees this acquisition as extending its development philosophy with no-code working alongside workflow automation, application integration and API management.

No code tools like AppSheet are not going to replace sophisticated development environments, but they will give companies that might not otherwise have a mobile app the ability to put something decent out there.

InsightFinder gets a $2M seed to automate outage prevention

By Ron Miller

InsightFinder, a startup from North Carolina based on 15 years of academic research, wants to bring machine learning to system monitoring to automatically identify and fix common issues. Today, the company announced a $2 million seed round.

IDEA Fund Partners, a VC out of Durham, N.C.,​ led the round, with participation from ​Eight Roads Ventures​ and Acadia Woods Partners. The company was founded by North Carolina State University professor Helen Gu, who spent 15 years researching this problem before launching the startup in 2015.

Gu also announced that she had brought on former Distil Networks co-founder and CEO Rami Essaid to be chief operating officer. Essaid, who sold his company earlier this year, says his new company focuses on taking a proactive approach to application and infrastructure monitoring.

“We found that these problems happen to be repeatable, and the signals are there. We use artificial intelligence to predict and get out ahead of these issues,” he said. He adds that it’s about using technology to be proactive, and he says that today the software can prevent about half of the issues before they even become problems.

If you’re thinking that this sounds a lot like what Splunk, New Relic and Datadog are doing, you wouldn’t be wrong, but Essaid says that these products take a siloed look at one part of the company technology stack, whereas InsightFinder can act as a layer on top of these solutions to help companies reduce alert noise, track a problem when there are multiple alerts flashing and completely automate issue resolution when possible.

“It’s the only company that can actually take a lot of signals and use them to predict when something’s going to go bad. It doesn’t just help you reduce the alerts and help you find the problem faster, it actually takes all of that data and can crunch it using artificial intelligence to predict and prevent [problems], which nobody else right now is able to do,” Essaid said.

For now, the software is installed on-prem at its current set of customers, but the startup plans to create a SaaS version of the product in 2020 to make it accessible to more customers.

The company launched in 2015, and has been building out the product using a couple of National Science Foundation grants before this investment. Essaid says the product is in use today in 10 large companies (which he can’t name yet), but it doesn’t have any true go-to-market motion. The startup intends to use this investment to begin to develop that in 2020.

Daily Crunch: VMware completes Pivotal acquisition

By Anthony Ha

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

1. VMware completes $2.7 billion Pivotal acquisition

VMware is closing the year with a significant new weapon in its arsenal. (I restrained myself from using a “pivotal” pun here. You’re welcome.)

The acquisition — first announced in August — helps the company in its transformation from a pure virtual machine supplier into a cloud native vendor that can manage infrastructure wherever it lives. It fits alongside the acquisitions of Heptio and Bitnami, two other deals that closed this year.

2. Spotify to ‘pause’ running political ads, citing lack of proper review

The company told us that starting early next year, it will stop selling political ads: “At this point in time, we do not yet have the necessary level of robustness in our processes, systems and tools to responsibly validate and review this content.”

3. ‘The Mandalorian’ returns for Season 2 on Disney+ in fall 2020

The last episode of the first season of “The Mandalorian” went live on Disney+ on Friday, and showrunner Jon Favreau wasted very little time confirming when we can expect season two of the smash hit to land: next fall.

4. 2019 Africa Roundup: Jumia IPOs, China goes digital, Nigeria becomes fintech capital

The last 12 months served as a grande finale to 10 years that saw triple-digit increases in startup formation and VC on the continent. Here’s an overview of the 2019 market events that capped off a decade in African tech.

5. Maxar is selling space robotics company MDA for around $765 million

Maxar’s goal in selling the business is to help alleviate some of its considerable debt. The purchasing entity is a consortium of companies led by private investment firm Northern Private Capital, which will acquire the entirety of MDA’s Canadian operations — responsible for the development of the Canadarm and Canadarm2 robotic manipulators used on the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station, respectively.

6. Cloud gaming is the future of game monetization, not gameplay

Lucas Matney argues that as is so often the case with the next big thing in tech, cloud streaming is much more likely to become the next big feature of a more traditional platform, rather than the entire platform itself. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

7. This week’s TechCrunch podcasts

Equity took the week off, but we kept Original Content going with a review of Netflix’s new fantasy show “The Witcher.”

Seed investors favor enterprise over consumer for first time this decade

By Alex Wilhelm

Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between.

It’s the second to last day of 2019, meaning we’re very nearly out of time this year; our space for repretrospection is quickly coming to a close. Before we do run out of hours, however, I wanted to peek at some data that former Kleiner Perkins investor and Packagd founder Eric Feng recently compiled.

Feng dug into the changing ratio between enterprise-focused Seed deals and consumer-oriented Seed investments over the past decade or so, including 2019. The consumer-enterprise split, a loose divide that cleaves the startup world into two somewhat-neat buckets, has flipped. Feng’s data details a change in the majority, with startups selling to other companies raising more Seed deals than upstarts trying to build a customer base amongst folks like ourselves in 2019.

The change matters. As we continue to explore new unicorn creation (quick) and the pace of unicorn exits (comparatively slow), it’s also worth keeping an eye on the other end of the startup lifecycle. After all, what happens with Seed deals today will turn into changes to the unicorn market in years to come.

Let’s peek at a key chart from Feng, talk about Seed deal volume more generally, and close by positing a few reasons (only one of which is Snap’s IPO) as to why the market has changed as much as it has for the earliest stage of startup investing.

Changes

Feng’s piece, which you can read here, tracks the investment patterns of startup accelerator Y Combinator against its market. We care more about total deal volume, but I can’t recommend the dataset enough if you have the time.

Concerning the universe of Seed deals, here’s Feng’s key chart:

Chart via Eric Feng / Medium

As you can see, the chart shows that in the pre-2008 era, Seed deals were amply skewed towards consumer-focused Seed investments. A new normal was found after the 2008 crisis, with just a smidge under 75% of Seed deals focused on selling to the masses for nearly a decade.

In 2016, however, a new trend emerged: a gradual decline in consumer Seed deals and a shift towards enterprise investments.

This became more pronounced in 2017, sharper in 2018, and by 2019 fewer than half of Seed deals focused on consumers. Now, more than half are targeting other companies as their future customer base. (Y Combinator, as Feng notes, got there first, making a majority of investments into enterprise startups since 2010, with just a few outlying classes.)

This flip comes as Seed deals sit at the 5,000-per-quarter mark. As Crunchbase News published as Q3 2019 ended, global Seed volume is strong:

So, we’re seeing a healthy number of deals as the consumer-enterprise ratio changes. This means that the change to more enterprise deals as a portion of all Seed investments isn’t predicated on their number holding steady while Seed deals dried up. Instead, enterprise deals are taking a rising share while volume appears healthy.

Now we get to the fun stuff; why is this happening?

Blame SaaS

As with many trends long in the making, there is no single reason why Seed investors have changed up their investing patterns. Instead, there are likely a myriad that added up to the eventual change. I’m going to ping a number of Seed investors this week to get some more input for us to chew on, but there are some obvious candidates that we can discuss today.

In no particular order, here are a few:

  • Snap’s IPO: Snap went public in early 2017 at $17 per share. Its equity quickly spiked to into the high 20s. By July of that same year, Snap slipped under its IPO price. Its high-growth, high-spend model was under attack by both high costs and slim gross margins. Snap then went into a multi-year purgatory before returning to form — somewhat — in 2019. It’s not great for a category’s investment pace if one of its most prominent companies stumble very publicly, especially for Seed investors who make the riskiest bets in venture.

VMware completes $2.7 billion Pivotal acquisition

By Ron Miller

VMware is closing the year with a significant new component in its arsenal. Today it announced it has closed the $2.7 billion Pivotal acquisition it originally announced in August.

The acquisition gives VMware another component in its march to transform from a pure virtual machine company into a cloud native vendor that can manage infrastructure wherever it lives. It fits alongside other recent deals like buying Heptio and Bitnami, two other deals that closed this year.

They hope this all fits neatly into VMware Tanzu, which is designed to bring Kubernetes containers and VMware virtual machines together in a single management platform.

“VMware Tanzu is built upon our recognized infrastructure products and further expanded with the technologies that Pivotal, Heptio, Bitnami and many other VMware teams bring to this new portfolio of products and services,” Ray O’Farrell, executive vice president and general manager of the Modern Application Platforms Business Unit at VMware, wrote in a blog post announcing the deal had closed.

Craig McLuckie, who came over in the Heptio deal, and is now VP of R&D at VMware, told TechCrunch in November at KubeCon, that while the deal hadn’t closed at that point, he saw a future where Pivotal could help at a professional services level, as well.

“In the future when Pivotal is a part of this story, they won’t be just delivering technology, but also deep expertise to support application transformation initiatives,” he said.

Up until the closing, the company had been publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange, but as of today Pivotal becomes a wholly-owned subsidiary of VMware. It’s important to note that this transaction didn’t happen in a vacuum where two random companies came together.

In fact, VMware and Pivotal were part of the consortium of companies that Dell purchased when it acquired EMC in 2015 for $67 billion. While both were part of EMC and then Dell, each one operated separately and independently. At the time of the sale to Dell, Pivotal was considered a key piece, one that could stand strongly on its own.

Pivotal and VMware had another strong connection. Pivotal was originally created by a combination of EMC, VMware and GE (which owned a 10% stake for a time) to give these large organizations a separate company to undertake transformation initiatives.

It raised a hefty $1.7 billion before going public in 2018. A big chunk of that came in one heady day in 2016 when it announced $650 million in funding led by Ford’s $180 million investment.

The future looked bright at that point, but life as a public company was rough and after a catastrophic June earnings report, things began to fall apart. The stock dropped 42 percent in one day. As I wrote in an analysis of the deal:

The stock price plunged from a high of $21.44 on May 30th to a low of $8.30 on August 14th. The company’s market cap plunged in that same time period falling from $5.828 billion on May 30th to $2.257 billion on August 14th. That’s when VMware admitted it was thinking about buying the struggling company.

VMware came to the rescue and offered $15.00 a share, a substantial premium above that August low point. As of today, it’s part of VMware.

Revenue train kept rolling all year long for Salesforce

By Ron Miller

Salesforce turned 20 this year, and the most successful pure enterprise SaaS company ever showed no signs of slowing down. Consider that the company finished the year on an $18 billion run rate, rushing toward its 2022 revenue goal of $20 billion. Oh, and it also spent a tidy $15.7 billion to buy Tableau this year in the most high-profile and expensive acquisition it’s ever made.

Co-founder, chairman and CEO Marc Benioff published a book called Trailblazer about running a socially responsible company, and made the rounds promoting it. In fact, he even stopped by TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco in September, telling the audience that capitalism as we know it is dead. Still, the company announced it was building two more towers in Sydney and Dublin.

It also promoted Bret Taylor just last week, who could be in line as heir apparent to Benioff and co-CEO Keith Block whenever they decide to retire. The company closed the year with a bang with a $4.5 billion quarter. Salesforce, for the most part, has somehow been able to balance Benioff’s vision of responsible capitalism while building a company makes money in bunches, one that continues to grow and flourish, and that’s showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

All aboard the gravy train

The company just keeps churning out good quarters. Here’s what this year looked like:

❌