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Untitled Ventures joins the scramble for Russian & Eastern European startups with a $118M warchest

By Mike Butcher

Sorry Mr. Putin, but there’s a race on for Russian and Eastern European founders. And right now, those awful capitalists in the corrupt West are starting to out-gun the opposition! But seriously… only the other day a $100 million fund aimed at Russian speaking entrepreneurs appeared, and others are proliferating.

Now, London-based Untitled Ventures plans to join their fray with a €100 million / $118M for its second fund to invest in “ambitious deep tech startups with eastern European founders.”

Untitled says it is aiming at entrepreneurs who are looking to relocate their business or have already HQ’ed in Western Europe and the USA. That’s alongside all the other existing Western VCs who are – in my experience – always ready and willing to listen to Russian and Eastern European founders, who are often known for their technical prowess.

Untitled is going to be aiming at B2B, AI, agritech, medtech, robotics, and data management startups with proven traction emerging from the Baltics, CEE, and CIS, or those already established in Western Europe

LPs in the fund include Vladimir Vedeenev, a founder of Global Network Management>. Untitled also claims to have Google, Telegram Messenger, Facebook, Twitch, DigitalOcean, IP-Only, CenturyLinks, Vodafone and TelecomItaly as partners.

Oskar Stachowiak, Untitled Ventures Managing Partner, said: “With over 10 unicorns, €1Bn venture funding in 2020 alone, and success stories like Veeam, Semrush, and Wrike, startups emerging from the fast-growing regions are the best choice to focus on early-stage investment for us. Thanks to the strong STEM focus in the education system and about one million high-skilled developers, we have an ample opportunity to find and support the rising stars in the region.”

Konstantin Siniushin, the Untitled Ventures MP said: “We believe in economic efficiency and at the same time we fulfill a social mission of bringing technological projects with a large scientific component from the economically unstable countries of the former USSR, such as, first of all, Belarus, Russia and Ukraine, but not only in terms of bringing sales to the world market and not only helping them to HQ in Europe so they can get next rounds of investments.”

He added: “We have a great experience accumulated earlier in the first portfolio of the first fund, not just structuring business in such European countries as, for example, Luxembourg, Germany, Great Britain, Portugal, Cyprus and Latvia, but also physically relocating startup teams so that they are perceived already as fully resident in Europe and globally.”

To be fair, it is still harder than it needs to be to create large startups from Eastern Europe, mainly because there is often very little local capital. However, that is changing, with the launch recently of CEE funds such as Vitosha Venture Partners and Launchub Ventures, and the breakout hit from Romania that was UIPath.

The Untitled Ventures team:
• Konstantin Siniushin, a serial tech entrepreneur
• Oskar Stachowiak, experienced fund manager
• Mary Glazkova, PR & Comms veteran
• Anton Antich, early stage investor and an ex VP of Veeam, a Swiss cloud data management company
acquired by Insight Venture Partners for $5bln
• Yulia Druzhnikova, experienced in taking tech companies international
• Mark Cowley, who has worked on private and listed investments within CEE/Russia for over 20 years

Untitled Ventures portfolio highlights – Fund I
Sizolution: AI-driven size prediction engine, based in Germany
Pure app – spontaneous and impersonal dating app, based in Portugal
Fixar Global –  efficient drones for commercial use-cases, based in Latvia,
E-contenta – based in Poland
SuitApp – AI based mix-and-match suggestions for fashion retail, based in Singapore
• Sarafan.tech, AI-driven recognition, based in the USA
Hello, baby – parental assistant, based in the USA
Voximplant – voice, video and messaging cloud communication platform, based in the USA (exited)

DNSFilter secures $30M Series A to step up fight against DNS-based threats

By Carly Page

DNSFilter, an artificial intelligence startup that provides DNS protection to enterprises, has secured $30 million in Series A funding from Insight Partners.

DNSFilter, as its name suggests, offers DNS-based web content filtering and threat protection. Unlike the majority of its competitors, which includes the likes of Palo Alto Networks and Webroot, the startup uses proprietary AI technology to continuously scan billions of domains daily, identifying anomalies and potential vectors for malware, ransomware, phishing, and fraud. 

“Most of our competitors either rent or lease a database from some third party,” Ken Carnesi, co-founder and CEO of DNSFilter tells TechCrunch. “We do that in-house, and it’s through artificial intelligence that’s scanning these pages in real-time.” 

The company, which counts the likes of Lenovo, Newegg, and Nvidia among its 14,000 customers, claims this industry-first technology catches threats an average of five days before competitors and is capable of identifying 76% of domain-based threats. By the end of 2021, DNSFilter says it will block more than 1.1 million threats daily.

DNSFilter has seen rapid growth over the past 12 months as a result of the mass shift to remote working and the increase in cyber threats and ransomware attacks that followed. The startup saw eightfold growth in customer activity, doubled its global headcount to just over 50 employees, and partnered with Canadian software house N-Able to push into the lucrative channel market.  

“DNSFilter’s rapid growth and efficient customer acquisition are a testament to the benefits and ease of use compared to incumbents,” Thomas Krane, principal at Insight Partners, who has been appointed as a director on DNSFilter’s board. “The traditional model of top-down, hardware-centric network security is disappearing in favor of solutions that readily plug in at the device level and can cater to highly distributed workforces”

Prior to this latest funding round, which was also backed by Arthur Ventures (the lead investor in DNSFilter’s seed round), CrowdStrike co-founder and former chief technology officer  Dmitri Alperovitch also joined DNSFilter’s board of directors. 

Carnesi said the addition of Alperovitch to the board will help the company get its technology into the hands of enterprise customers. “He’s helping us to shape the product to be a good fit for enterprise organizations, which is something that we’re doing as part of this round — shifting focus to be primarily mid-market and enterprise,” he said.

The company also recently added former CrowdStrike vice president Jen Ayers as its chief operating officer. “She used to manage their entire managed threat hunting team, so she’s definitely coming on for the security side of things as we build out our domain intelligence team further,” Carnesi said.

With its newly-raised funds, DNSFilter will further expand its headcount, with plans to add more than 80 new employees globally over the next 12 months.

“There’s a lot more that we can do for security via DNS, and we haven’t really started on that yet,” Carnesi said. “We plan to do things that people won’t believe were possible via DNS.”

The company, which acquired Web Shrinker in 2018, also expects there to be more acquisitions on the cards going forward. “There are some potential companies that we’d be looking to acquire to speed up our advancement in certain areas,” Carnesi said.

Employment Hero gets $140M AUD Series E led by Insight Partners, grows valuation to $800M AUD

By Catherine Shu

A photo of Employment Hero co-founders Ben Thompson and Dave Tong

Employment Hero co-founders Ben Thompson and Dave Tong. Image Credits: Employment Hero

Four months after announcing its last round, Employment Hero has closed another $140 million AUD (about $103 million USD) in funding. The Series E was led by Insight Partners, the venture capital firm known for its ScaleUp program to help tech companies accelerate their growth.

Employment Hero is an automated human resources, payroll and benefits platform for SMEs. Founded in Sydney in 2014, the company is now expanding into Southeast Asian and Western European markets. Its previous funding announcement was a $45 million AUD Series D announced in March, led by online job platform SEEK, at the company’s previous valuation of about $250 million AUD.

Now Employment Hero has bumped up its valuation $800 million in less than six months by reaching 133% year-on- recurring revenue growth. Co-founded by Ben Thompson, its chief executive officer, and chief technology officer Dave Tong, Employment Hero is used by 6,000 businesses, with a total of 250,000 employees. Over the past 12 months, the company says $14 billion in gross wages was processed through the platform.

“We always thought Insight Partners would be a great partner,” Thompson told TechCrunch. “We had been speaking with them for years, so when they asked if we would consider raising, we agreed it was definitely worth exploring. As it turned out all the stars were aligned, and we reached a deal that made sense and allowed us to keep scaling without having to switch back into capital-raising mode.”

Over the past year, Employment Hero grew its headcount by 65% to 325 full-time employees and now has a permanent remote-first work model. The new capital will be used to hire for its engineering teams and for the company’s continuing international expansion.

Employment Hero began entering new markets in October 2020, launching localized versions of the platform in New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Malaysia and Singapore.

Thompson said Employment Hero will continue focusing on Malaysia and Singapore until the end of this year, while looking at ways to cross-promote SEEK’s products and services in Asia. After that, it plans to localize Employment Hero for Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Hong Kong and Vietnam.

To localize the platform, Employment Hero starts with employment contracts, policies, leave rules and pay rules. Then it integrates with tax authorities and pension funds, before focusing on local benefits providers to get discounts on nondiscretionary expenses for users, like health insurance and mortgages.

During the pandemic, Thompson said Employment Hero’s teams shifted their focus to help companies adapt to a distributed workforce. Some of the services it launched include Global Teams, a professional employer organization (PEO) solution that pushes job openings to more than 1,700 career boards and helps companies onboard and manage remote workers. Employment Hero is also working with recruitment agencies that will help employers find remote workers.

Thompson said, “while it’s still early days for Global Teams, it’s definitely popular,” with dozens of companies in Australia, the United Kingdom and New Zealand using it to employ people in 21 countries.

Employment Hero’s Remote Work Report, released in June, found that 94% of respondents want to continue working remotely at least one day a week, up from 2% a year ago. Meanwhile, 74% of employers surveyed told Employment Hero that they plan to keep flexible working arrangements after COVID restrictions are lifted, up from 64% in 2020.

“We are seeing employers embrace remote work as a competitive advantage because it broadens their available talent pool and helps retain and engage their employees,” Thompson said. “Employers are now asking, how should we do things differently if we want to continue working remotely forever? This requires real intention and education, but it’s a whole lot better than losing great employees by forcing them back to the office five days a week.”

In a statement about the investment, Insight Partners managing director Rachel Geller said, “We have been following Employment Hero’s journey for four years and have seen the impressive and consistent growth experience by the company. Its customer-centric solutions have been embraced globally by the small and medium business community and we are looking forward to supporting them through this next phase of their expansion journey.”

Mural raises $50M Series C after tripling its ARR in the last year

By Alex Wilhelm

This morning Mural, a startup that builds digital collaboration software with a focus on visual presentation, announced that it has closed a $50 million Series C. The new capital, co-led by prior investors Insight Partners and Tiger Global, values the startup at more than $2 billion.

Previously, Mural was valued at around $500 million when it closed a $118 million round last August. Mural also raised a $23 million Series A at the start of 2020.

Mural’s product focuses around a visual collaboration space, akin to a digital whiteboard. Given its product focus, it’s not hard to see why the startup had a good COVID cycle; the world’s companies moved to remote work en masse, leaving offices empty and physical whiteboards un-scribbled. Services like Mural helped fill that, and similar voids. TechCrunch caught up with Mural CEO Mariano Suarez-Battan and Insight managing director Nikhil Sachdev to learn more about deal mechanics.

The new unicorn also disclosed that customers generating $100,000 in ARRR tripled to more than 100 organizations in the last year, and that it now has seven customers bringing in at least $1,000,000 in ARR apiece. That second figure is up from a “couple” seven-figure deals at the start of 2020, a figure that the company disclosed at the time of its Series A.

Per Suarez-Battan, Mural has continued the torrid pace of growth that made it a breakout company in 2020. In the last year the company has tripled its annual recurring revenue (ARR), he said. That’s the same pace of growth that the company disclosed when it raised its Series B in Q3 2020. As the company has now disclosed that it has tripled in each of the last two years, we can infer that the company has reached material top line scale.

Mural — known as Mural.ly through 2019 — however, was growing before the pandemic, and doesn’t appear to think that the eventual conclusion of the pandemic will be too deleterious to its growth rates. In a discussion concerning the company’s path after COVID-19, Suarez-Battan noted that many of his company’s customers have multiple offices in disparate locations. Those concerns, even if they returned to a fully in-office setup in time, would still have need for Mural and its software, goes the argument.

With more companies flipping to hybrid-friendly work environments, part-time office cultures, or fully remote organization structures, Mural’s market is moving toward its vision of collaboration at scale sans the need to be sitting next to the people with whom you are trying to be creative. Underscoring the point, Sachdev told TechCrunch that COVID was a “huge pull forward” in a trend that was long underway: remote work. He believes that companies executing collaborative, or creative work at a distance was a reality merely accelerated by COVID, not created by it.

The dollar amount of the Series C may seem a bit odd. Why did Mural raise less in its Series C than it did in its preceding Series B? Mural still had most of its previous round on its books, Sachdev said. Our read from that fact is that Mural simply didn’t need to raise another huge round. So, it didn’t.

Insider demand led to the funding event, which for Mural represents incredibly modest dilution (it sold around 4% of its shares at its new valuation) and a massive upsizing in its valuation (a little under 4x). Effectively, Mural was just handed the ability to go out into the market and buy whatever smaller companies and talent it wants, without worrying about dilution or cash concerns, respectively.

Quick growth wasn’t the only reason that Tiger and Insight wanted to buy more of Mural. According to the Insight MD, the startup has retained strong levels of efficiency as it has scaled, venture-speak for an ability to rapidly expand revenues while not similarly boosting the pace at which cash is consumed. It’s the venture equivalent of crowing about operating leverage, essentially.

Suarez-Battan also emphasized during his interview with TechCrunch that his company’s net dollar retention, or NDR, is strong. NDR is a key metric for modern software companies, as marginal revenue gains from existing customers are cheaper to secure than net-new accounts. Again, the theme that the metric details is efficient growth.

There’s lots to Mural worth our chewing on in time. The loop of consultants using its service, leading to new customers. How the firm works with consultants, period. The list goes on. Let’s see how quickly Mural can keep growing in the second half of 2021. The next time we chat with the firm it will be time to harangue it for hard revenue figures. Let’s see how that goes!

Choco bites into $100M Series B, at a $600M valuation, to build a more transparent, sustainable food supply chain

By Christine Hall

The United States estimates of the food produced here approximately 40% is wasted. Globally, $2.6 trillion annually is lost.

Berlin-based Choco, which has built ordering software for restaurants and their suppliers, is working to digitize the food supply chain and announced $100 million in Series B funding, led by Left Lane Capital, to give it a $600 million post-market valuation. Joining in is new investor Insight Partners and existing investors Coatue Management and Bessemer Venture Partners.

The new round comes just over a year after Choco’s $63.7 million Series A, raised at two different periods, a $33.5 million round in 2019 and a $30.2 million round in 2020 — at a $230 million valuation — to bring total funding to $171.5 million since the company was founded in 2018.

The company’s core food procurement technology digitizes ordering workflow and communications for restaurants and suppliers. During the global pandemic, Khachab said Choco became the go-to tool for operators to be more efficient around procurement processes and reducing expenses as they adapted to the changing market conditions.

With the food industry a $6 trillion market, Choco CEO Daniel Khachab told TechCrunch he aims to make the food supply chain more transparent and sustainable in order to help increase margins in the food service sector and combat climate change.

The company did 14 months of food waste research and found that it was central to a lot of other global problems: Food waste is the third-largest driver of climate change and is causing deforestation — as evident by news from the Amazon last year  — and the extinction of animals.

“It makes sense to try and solve it,” he added. “The food system is highly fragile, and what was shown in the first and second waves of the pandemic is how fragile and inflexible it was. It made the industry realize that it has to step up and that it can’t continue to work on pen and paper.”

Between the farmer and the end point, there are some nine parties involved, Khachab said. None are connected to another, which often means nine data silos and data not collected along the chain. It is important to connect them on one single platform so decision-making can be data-driven, he added.

As uncertainty swept across the food industry at the beginning of the pandemic, Khachab said Choco could either lay low and wait or invest in the company. He chose the latter, pumping up the team, regions and technology. As a result, Choco’s technology is stronger than it was 15 months ago and proved to be flexible amid the inflexible environment.

Choco saw orders quadruple on the platform in the past year, and gross merchandise value grew to $900 million annualized, up from $230 million, Khachab said.

As the company continues to learn how it can provide value to the food supply chain, half of the Series B funding will go into technology development. It will also go toward doubling its headcount, especially on the engineering side. Choco recently brought on ex-Uber and Facebook executive Vikas Gupta as chief technology officer, and Khachab said Gupta’s expertise will enable the company “to build the best technology team in Europe” and scale faster.

Choco is already operating in six markets, including the United States, Germany, France, Spain, Austria and Belgium. Khachab expects to expand in those markets and gain a footprint in new markets like Latin America, the Middle East and Asia.

 

Product-led sales startup Endgame raises over $17M

By Christine Hall

Endgame, enabling software companies to turn customer observations into go-to-market strategies, announced Tuesday it raised a total of $17 million in back-to-back seed and Series A funding rounds.

The $12.25 million Series A was led by Menlo Ventures, while the $5 million seed round was led by Upfront Ventures. Also participating in the round are a group of investors including Todd and Rahul’s Fund, Liquid 2 Ventures and Gainsight CEO Nick Mehta.

Los Angeles-based Endgame was founded in 2020 and provides a self-service look at what’s happening in a software trial so that a sales team can prioritize accounts based on user behavior signals and act on them faster without having to be a data scientist or engineer.

Company CEO Alex Bilmes told TechCrunch that the concepts of product-led sales and product-led growth have taken over the sale of software. Today’s customers sign up for a trial, and if they like it, they invite their friends to try it.

However, at a certain point, some sales pressure is needed to close the deal. That’s where Endgame comes in: It shows who is doing what, and what features are being used — data that is typically opaque to sales and revenue teams.

Traditional customer relationship management systems are designed to be user-driven, meaning the sales rep is responsible for adding notes. It’s simpler if a rep only has a few accounts, but across tens of millions of users, Endgame analyzes the data and identifies which accounts are most likely to convert, who are the users to engage, what makes a good customer and how to take action with the right people.

Endgame is not competing against other companies so much as in-house developers that are cobbling a bunch of apps together in efforts to create a system that works for them, Bilmes said.

“Most of this is solved with do-it-yourself,” he added. “I have built Endgame a number of times at other companies using databases and other piece-meals to put together something so I could mash data from lots of places and build subscriptive views for revenue teams. We compete with those data scientists and internal teams stitching together horizontal tools.”

Endgame is pre-revenue and is already catering to a group of beta customers like Figma, Loom, Airtable, Clubhouse, Mode, Retool and Algolia that are looking for a dedicated software platform to capture product-led value.

Bilmes said the customer relationship management market, both huge and fast-growing at 35% annually, is expected to reach $114 billion by 2027. To meet demand, he intends to use the new funds to continue hiring aggressively. He has already tripled the size of the team to nine in the past few months, and expects to double that in the coming year. In addition, funds will go toward R&D and to further define the product-led sales landscape.

Growth over the next year will be customer-focused as Endgame works to get into the hands of the right customers and making it as accessible as possible for people to begin doing product-led motions.

“Our efforts are product-focused,” Bilmes said. “We’ve seen more demand than we can possibly hope to fill given the problem is so real for so many.”

As part of the investment, Upfront Ventures Partner Kara Nortman and Menlo Ventures Partner Naomi Ionita will join Endgame’s board of directors. Sandhya Hegde, partner at Unusual Ventures, which also participated in both rounds, joins as a board observer to create an all-women investor board.

When Endgame was raising its seed fund, it wanted to work with Nortman, who has expertise in applying consumer concepts to enterprise, Bilmes said. When it came to the Series A, Bilmes said he felt Ionita was the perfect partner due to her similar background to Bilmes and expertise in teaching salespeople how to engage.

Ionita told TechCrunch she learned about Endgame from Nortman, with whom she has invested in other startups. The company understands the pain point and is also providing something self-serve that gives the “why and how.”

“This intelligence doesn’t exist, and I know that because I lived it — building in-house or seeing companies flying blind,” she added. “Alex just gets this, and I see Endgame being the system of record and intelligence for bridging self-serve. They will be the final bridge that needs to exist between product teams and product-facing sales reps for which accounts to address and why.”

 

Equity Live: This is what leadership smells like

By Natasha Mascarenhas

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This week we did something fun and different and good: a live show! A good number of people came, and asked questions, and altogether, it was a blast.

Danny, Natasha, and Alex had a lovely time with the regular work, while Grace and Chris and Kevin made the whole operation function. We’ll likely post a bonus episode of the Q&A on Saturday if people are interested in Equity After Hours.

That aside, what did we talk about in a longer-than-usual episode? Here’s the rundown:

It’s always fun to play around with our show, and thank you to everyone who came out and supported us in our first-ever, but probably not last-ever, virtual live show. We are back to regular, however, starting Monday.

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST, Wednesday, and Friday morning at 7:00 a.m. PST, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

PlanetScale raises $30M Series B for its database service

By Frederic Lardinois

PlanetScale, the company behind the open-source Vitess database clustering system for MySQL that was first developed at YouTube, today announced that it has raised a $30 million Series B funding round led by Insight Partners, with participation from a16z and SignalFire. With this, the company has now raised a total of $55 million, according to Crunchbase.

Today’s announcement comes only a few weeks after PlanetScale launched its new hosted database platform, also dubbed PlanetScale. The company had previously offered a hosted version of Vitess, but with this new service, it is going a step further and offering what it calls a “developer-first database” that abstracts away all of the infrastructures to ensure that developers won’t have to think about cloud zones, cluster sizes and other details.

Indeed, PlanetScale CEO and co-founder Jiten Vaidya was quite open about the limitations of this earlier product. “What we had built last year was pretty much hosted Vitess, which was no different than how a lot of cloud providers today give you databases,” he said. “So none of this ease of use, none of this elegance, none of these state-of-the-art experiences that the developers want and expect today, we had built into our product.”

But a few months ago, the company brought on former GitHub VP of Engineering Sam Lambert as its Chief Product Officer. Vaidya noted that Lambert brought a lot of developer empathy to PlanetScale and helped it launch this new product.

“People come to you because they’re not database experts, but they have data, they have problems,” Lambert said. “And too many companies, especially in the database world, do not think about the daily lives of their users like we do. They don’t think about the complete journey of what the user is actually trying to do, which is to provide value to their customers. They’re just very impressed with themselves for storing and retrieving data. And it’s like, yep, we’ve been doing that. We’ve been doing that since the 60s. Can we do something else now?”

The company’s users today include the likes of Slack, Figma, GitHub and Square, so it’s clearly delivering value to a lot of users. As Lambert noted, PlanetScale aims to offer them a product that is simple and easy to use. “Just because it is simple and easy to use, and beautiful, honestly — like just beautiful, well-designed tooling — it doesn’t mean it’s inferior. It doesn’t mean it’s missing anything. It means the others are missing the poetry and the additional elements of beauty that you can add to infrastructure products,” he said.

PlanetScale plans to use the new funding to scale its team globally and accelerate the adoption of its platform. Insight Partners Managing Director Nikhil Sachdev will join the company’s board, with the firm’s Managing Director Praveen Akkiraju also joining as a board observer.

“PlanetScale is setting a new bar for simplicity, performance and scalability for cloud-based databases in the serverless era,” said Sachdev. “The developer experience for databases has been painful for too long. PlanetScale is breaking that chain, solving longstanding problems related to scalability and reliability in an extremely elegant, tasteful, and useful way.”

Transmit Security raises $543M Series A to kill off the password

By Carly Page

Transmit Security, a Boston-based startup that’s on a mission to rid the world of passwords, has raised a massive $543 million in Series A funding.

The funding round, said to be the largest Series A investment in cybersecurity history and one of the highest valuations for a bootstrapped company, was led by Insight Partners and General Atlantic, with additional investment from Cyberstarts, Geodesic, SYN Ventures, Vintage, and Artisanal Ventures. 

Transmit Security said it has a pre-money valuation of $2.2 billion, and will use the new funds to expand its reach and investing in key global areas to grow the organization.

Ultimately, however, the funding round will help the company to accelerate its mission to help the world go passwordless. Organizations lose millions of dollars every year due to “inherently unsafe” password-based authentication, according to the startup; not only do weak passwords account for more than 80% of all data breaches, but the average help desk labor cost to reset a single password stands at more than $70. 

Transmit says its biometric-based authenticator is the first natively passwordless identity and risk management solution, and it has already been adopted by a number of big-name brands including Lowes, Santander, and UBS. The solution, which currently handles more than 9,000 authentication requests per second, can reduce account resets by 96%, the company says, and reduces customer authentication from 1 minute to 2 seconds. 

“By eliminating passwords, businesses can immediately reduce churn and cart abandonment and provide superior security for personal data,” said Transmit Security CEO Mickey Boodaei, who co-founded the company in 2014. “Our customers, whether they are in the retail, banking, financial, telecommunications, or automotive sectors, understand that providing an optimized identity experience is a multimillion-dollar challenge. With this latest round of funding from premier partners, we can significantly expand our reach to help rid the world of passwords.”

Transmit Security isn’t the only company that’s on a mission to kill off the password. Microsoft has announced plans to make Windows 10 password-free, and Apple recently previewed Passkeys in iCloud Keychain, a method of passwordless authentication powered by WebAuthn, and Face ID and Touch ID.

Tractable raises $60M at a $1B valuation to make damage appraisals using AI

By Ingrid Lunden

As the insurance industry adjusts to life in the 21st century (heh), an AI startup that has built computer vision tools to enable remote damage appraisals is announcing a significant round of growth funding.

Tractable, which works with automotive insurance companies to let users take and submit photos of damaged cars that are then “read” to make appraisals, has raised $60 million, a series D that values Tractable at $1 billion, the company said.

Tractable says it works with more than 20 of the top 100 auto insurers in the world, and it has seen sales grow 600% in the last 24 months, which CEO Alex Dalyac told me translates as “well into 8 figures of annual revenue.” He also told me that “we would have grown even faster if it weren’t for Covid.” People staying at home meant far less people on the roads, and less accidents.

Its business today is based mostly around car accident recovery — where users can take pictures using ordinary smartphone cameras, uploading pictures via a mobile web site (not typically an app).

But Tractable’s plan is to use some of the funding to expand deeper into areas adjacent to that: natural disaster recovery (specifically for appraising property damage), and used car appraisals. It will also use the investment to continue building out its technology, specifically to help build out better, AI-based techniques of processing and parsing pictures that are taken on smartphones — by their nature small in size.

Insight Partners and Georgian co-led the round and it brings the total raised by the company to $115 million.

Dalyac, a deep learning researcher by training who co-founded the company with Razvan Ranca and Adrien Cohen, said that the “opportunity” (if you could call an accident that) Tractable has identified and built to fix is that it’s generally time-consuming and stressful to deal with an insurance company when you are also coping with a problem with your car.

And while a new generation of “insuretech” startups have emerged in recent years that are bringing more modern processes into the equation, typically the incumbent major insurance companies — the ones that Tractable targets — have lacked the technology to improve that process.

It’s not unlike the tension between fintech-fuelled neobanks and the incumbent banks, which are now scrambling to invest in more technology to catch up with the times.

“Getting into an accident can be anything from a hassle to trauma,” Dalyac said. “It can be devastating, and then the process for recovery is pretty damn slow. You’re dealing with so many touch points with your insurance, so many people that need to come and check things out again. It’s hard to keep track and know when things will truly be back to normal. Our belief is that that whole process can be 10 times faster, thanks to the breakthroughs in image classification.”

That process currently also extends not just to taking pictures for claims, but also to help figure out when a car is beyond repair, in which case which parts can be recycled and reused elsewhere, also using Tractable’s computer vision technology. Dalyac noted that this was a popular enough service in the last year that the company helped recycle as many cars “as Tesla sold in 2019.”

Customers that have integrated with Tractable to date include Geico in the U.S., as well as a large swathe of insurers in Japan, specifically Tokio Marine Nichido, Mitsui Sumitomo, Aioi Nissay Dowa and Sompo. Covéa, the largest auto insurer in France, is also a customer, as is Admiral Seguros, the Spanish entity of UK’s Admiral Group, as well as Ageas, a top UK insurer.

Japan is the company’s biggest market today Dalyac said — the reason being that it has an ageing population, but one that is also very strong on mobile usage: combining those two, “automation is more than a value add; it’s a must have,” Dalyac said. He also added that he thinks the U.S. will overtake Japan as Tractable’s biggest market soon.

The new directions into property and other car applications will also open the door to a wider set of use cases beyond working with insurance providers over time. It will also bring Tractable potentially into new competitive environments. There are other companies that have also identified this opportunity.

For example, Hover, which has built a way to create 3d imagery of homes using ordinary smartphone cameras, is also eyeing ways of selling its tech (originally developed to help make estimates on home repairs) to insurance companies.

For now, however, it sounds like the opportunity is a big enough one that the race is more to meet demand than it is to beat competitors to do so.

“Tractable’s accelerating growth at scale is a testament to the power and differentiation of their applied machine learning system, which continues to improve as more businesses adopt it,” said Lonne Jaffe, MD at Insight Partners and Tractable Board member, in a statement. “We’re excited to double down on our partnership with Tractable as they work to help the world recover faster from accidents and disasters that affect hundreds of millions of lives.”

Emily Walsh, Partner at Georgian Partners added: “Tractable’s industry-leading computer vision capabilities are continuing to fuel incredible customer ROI and growth for the firm. We’re excited to continue to partner with Tractable as they apply their artificial intelligence capabilities to new, multi-billion dollar market opportunities in the used vehicle and natural disaster recovery industries.”

Bringg nabs $100M at a $1B valuation for a last-mile delivery platform for retailers

By Ingrid Lunden

With many consumers making the switch to online shopping in the last year due to COVID-19 and largely staying active on those platforms even after physical shops and the freedom to move about them have been restored, companies that are enabling those services are continuing to see a lot of business and attention. In the latest development, Bringg, which has built software to help retailers with last-mile logistics — specifically to manage, and in some cases even tap, people fulfilling deliveries — has raised $100 million in a Series E round of funding.

The money is coming about a year after its last round — a $30 million Series D — and Bringg has confirmed that the funding values the company at $1 billion — representing a hike of about 4x on its previous valuation. Part of the reason for that has been the company’s strong growth of 180% in new customers over the last year, a high watermark for delivery services, given the pandemic.

Insight Partners is leading this round, and Salesforce Ventures, Viola Growth, Next 47, Pereg Ventures, Harlap, GLP and Cambridge Capital — all previous backers — are also investing.

Guy Bloch, Bringg’s CEO, said in an interview that the funding will be used both to continue growing Bringg’s customer base, but also the company’s capabilities, and also likely for acquisitions to consolidate some of the links that go into the logistics and fulfillment chain.

Bringg has to date focused on the last mile — a critical area for retailers, commonly accounting for 30-40% of the total cost of delivering an item — but Bloch believes there are other parts of the system that it could tackle alongside that.

“The aim is to perfect the customer experience,” he said of the company’s strategy. “It’s not just the last mile but the middle mile. We have so many examples of that.” It’s also building out more options for its customers, including wider flexibility around delivery in-store, “greener” deliveries bundling several orders in one area and more.

The company counts a number of huge companies among its list of current customers. They include Walmart, Albertsons, Co-Op in the U.K., Coca-Cola and Panera.

With them and others, Bringg’s opportunity is a wide one. While some retailers, particularly larger ones, are “insourcing” in Bloch’s words, and building large operations to fulfill their own and third-party orders themselves, others — especially smaller companies — are looking for options of clicking into existing infrastructure, with not just logistics software, but perhaps even networks of delivery people to move their products. But in addition to that are the types of companies that Bringg is helping, a swathe of retailers that include not just groceries and goods, but ready-made food from restaurants and much more.

“We have amassed a large connected network over the years, millions of drivers,” said Bloch. “Every time we take on a new brand, it looks into our delivery hub and can see different variations depending on locations.” This enables customers to take blended offerings, too, to fill in gaps where they may lack their own people.

In that regard, Salesforce is a strategic backer here: As the CRM giant has grown, it’s extended its reach into providing a lot of different tools to its business customers, including e-commerce tools and management systems. Bringg is being integrated into that as part of its efforts to help businesses run their businesses.

Bringg is not the only company looking to build services to help other retailers jump into the new world of commerce. Others include the likes of Ocado, and of course Amazon and its vast network targeting businesses, and more. It’s an interesting company in the mix, however, simply for being completely neutral in the equation, with no direct to consumer services of its own.

“It’s clear to us that Bringg is building something special and we’re excited to partner with them as they continue to introduce transformative change for retailers and logistics partners,” said Jeff Horing, co-founder and managing director at Insight Partners, in a statement. “With Guy’s experience and leadership and a growing list of marquee customers, we’re confident that Bringg will continue to pave the way as the clear leader in the space.”

Looking forward, although Bringg will be looking to make acquisitions, Bloch said that the startup is “not entertaining” acquisition offers itself.

“My goal is to build a lasting company,” he said. “Companies need our urgent help to do a job.”

BrowserStack valued at $4 billion in $200 million BOND-led funding

By Manish Singh

BrowserStack, a startup that operates a giant software testing platform, said on Wednesday it has raised $200 million in a new financing round that valued the 10-year-old firm at $4 billion.

BOND led the Dublin and San Francisco-headquartered startup’s Series B financing round, while Insight Partners and existing investor Accel participated in it. BrowserStack, which for the first six years of its journey didn’t raise any money and remains profitable, has raised $250 million to date.

As companies move to rapid development cycles they often don’t have the time to perform adequate testing. For instance, say Google is working to launch a new mobile app. The search giant will want to test the new app on thousands — if not tens of thousands — of different mobile devices.

At present, even a company the size of Google will find it cumbersome to secure, store and maintain all those test devices. That’s where BrowserStack comes into play.

The startup has 15 data centers across the world and a repository of over 2,000 devices. BrowserStack, which began its journey in India, licenses its service to firms to let them remotely test their apps and browsers on its devices, explained Nakul Aggarwal, co-founder and CTO of BrowserStack, in an interview with TechCrunch.

“Our mission has always been to help engineers build amazing products for their customers. Whenever they are developing an app or a website they have to ensure that it works across the fragmented ecosystem,” said Aggarwal, referring to various kinds of mobile devices, tablets, TVs, wearables and other platforms. “We are ensuring that engineers don’t have to worry about building their own in-house labs for devices.”

Google is not a hypothetical example. The Android-maker along with giants including Amazon, Microsoft, Twitter, Tesco, Ikea, Spotify, Expedia, and Trivago are among over 50,000 customers of BrowserStack. Over 60% of BrowserStack’s customers today are in the U.S.

“As software continues to rewire everything, the bar on speed and quality continues to rise, and testing software across the expanding number of browsers and devices is a huge and expensive challenge for development teams to manage on their own,” said Jay Simons, General Partner at BOND, in a statement.

“BrowserStack makes this simple and cost-effective, giving developers instant access to the widest range of browser and device configurations to test their applications. This product is an absolute boon for today’s web and app developers.”

It wasn’t until early 2018 when BrowserStack, which bootstrapped its way to profitability, first raised capital from an investor. Aggarwal said the founding team’s previous failed ventures made them more disciplined about money and it wasn’t until BrowserStack had assumed the market leading position and began scaling that the team started to explore outside capital.

Aggarwal said BrowserStack wants to become the testing infrastructure of the internet. “Every pull request that is getting raise, we want to become the infrastructure where it is getting tested,” he said. The startup, which recently acquired visual testing and review platform Percy, is open to more acquisition and acquihire opportunities.

“Our recent acquisition of Percy, a visual testing platform, was just the start. We will accelerate the rate at which we take new products to market through acquisitions and investment in our Product and Engineering teams. We want to achieve our vision of becoming the testing infrastructure for the internet,” said Ritesh Arora, co-founder and chief executive of BrowserStack.

Apna raises $70 million to help workers in India secure jobs

By Manish Singh

Indian cities are home to hundreds of millions of low-skilled workers who hail from villages in search of work. Many of them have lost their jobs amid the coronavirus pandemic that has slowed several economic activities in the world’s second-largest internet market.

Apna, a startup by an Apple alum, is helping millions of such blue and gray-collar workers upskill themselves, find communities and land jobs. On Wednesday it announced its acceptance by the market has helped it raise $70 million in a new financing round as the startup prepares to scale the 16-month-old app across India.

Insight Partners and Tiger Global co-led Apna’s $70 million Series B round, which valued the startup at $570 million. Existing investors Lightspeed India, Sequoia Capital India, Greenoaks Capital and Rocketship VC also participated in the round, which brings Apna’s to-date raise to over $90 million.

The startup, whose name is inspired from a 2019 Bollywood song, at its core is solving the network gap issue for workers. “Someone born in a privileged family goes to the best school, best college and makes acquaintance with influential people. Many born just a few kilometres away are dealt with a whole different kind of life and never see such opportunities,” said Nirmit Parikh, founder and chief executive of Apna, in an interview with TechCrunch.

Apna is building a scalable networking infrastructure, something that doesn’t currently exist in the market, so that these workers can connect to the right employers and secure jobs. “Apna’s focus on digitizing the process of job discovery, application and employer candidate interaction has the potential to revolutionize the hiring process,” said Griffin Schroeder, a partner at Tiger Global, in a statement.

The workers in India “already have a champion in them, we are just helping them find opportunities,” said Nirmit Parikh, founder and chief executive of Apna. (Apna)

The startup’s eponymous Android app, available in multiple languages, features more than 70 communities today for skilled professionals such as carpenters, painters, field sales agents and many others.

On the app, users connect to each other and help with leads and share tips to improve at their jobs. The app also offers people the opportunity to upskill themselves, practice with their interview performance, and become eligible for even more jobs. The startup said it’s building Masterclass-like skilling modules, outcome or job based skilling, and also enabling peer-to-peer learning via its vertical communities. It plans to launch career counselling and resume building feature.

And that bet is working. The startup has amassed over 10 million users and just last month it facilitated more than 15 million job interviews, said Parikh. All jobs listed on the Apna platform are verified by the startup and free of cost for the candidates.

Apna has partnered with some of India’s leading public and private organizations and is providing support to the Ministry of Minority Affairs of India, National Skill Development Corporation and UNICEF YuWaah to provide better skilling and job opportunities to candidates.

Apna app (Apna)

More than 100,000 recruiters — including Byju’s, Unacademy, Flipkart, Zomato, Licious, Burger King, Dunzo, Bharti-AXA, Delhivery, Teamlease, G4S Global and Shadowfax — in the country today use Apna’s platform, where they have to spend less than five minutes to post job posts and are connect to hyperlocal candidates with relevant skills in within two days.

Apna has built the “market leading platform for India’s workforce to establish digital professional identity, network, access skills training, and find high quality jobs,” said Nikhil Sachdev, managing director, Insight Partners, in a statement.

“Employers are engaging with Apna at a rapid pace to help find high quality talent with low friction which is leading to best in class customer satisfaction scores. We believe that our investment will enable Apna to continue their steep growth trajectory, scale up their operations, and improve access to opportunities for India’s workforce.”

The startup plans to deploy the fresh capital to scale across India and eventually take the app to international markets, said Parikh. Apna, which has recently seen high-profile individuals from firms such as Uber, BCG  and Swiggy join the firm, is also actively hiring for several tech roles in the South Asian market.

Apna has built the infrastructure and brand awareness in the market that it can launch in a new city within two days and drive over 10,000 interviews there in less than two days, it said.

“Our first goal is to restart India’s economy in the next couple of months and do whatever we can to help,” said Parikh, who was part of the iPhone product-operations team at Apple.

Lightrun raises $23M for its debugging and observability platform

By Frederic Lardinois

Lightrun, a startup that helps developers debug their live production code, today announced that it has raised a $23 million Series A round led by Insight Partners. Glilot Capital Partners, which led the company’s $4 million seed round, also participated in this round.

What makes Lightrun stand out in a sea of monitoring startups is its focus on developers (more so than IT teams) and its ability to help developers debug their production code right from their IDEs. With a few keystrokes, they can also instrument the code for monitoring, but the key here is that Lightrun offers what the company calls an “ops-free” process that puts the developers in control. This “shift-left” approach moves the application monitoring process away from ops-centric tools like Splunk and New Relic and instead puts them right into the workspaces with which developers are already familiar.

“The observability market has been very oriented towards IT operators. When an IT operator gets that dreaded page that a service is down, they see health metrics on running instances on servers and have a variety of failover methods and ways to restore service health,” Lightrun co-founder and CEO Ilan Peleg explained. “And they do this all natively on the same interfaces that they use every day for systems management. But when a developer gets that dreaded notification that there is a bug, it’s like the early stages of a crime scene investigation that has no suspects and usually only minor clues.”

Currently, the service only supports Java and the IntelliJ development environment, but the team plans to expand its language and platform coverage by adding support for Python and Node.js, as well as additional IDEs.

“We’ve seen a number of observability solutions joining the market, but found Lightrun’s shift-left approach to be truly unique,” said Teddie Wardi, managing director, Insight Partners, who led the round and will join the board of directors. “The main point of shifting observability to the left in the software development lifecycle is incorporating observability into the day-to-day developer workflow. Lightrun makes observability more ops-free, real-time and ergonomic to the development process than any other platform, and we believe they are in a position to capture a large international market of development teams at enterprises that prioritize rapid feature development and frequent shipping.”

The company recently launched a free community edition of its service and introduced a set of new integrations with services like Datadog, IntelliJ IDEA, Logz.io, Prometheus, Slack and StatsD. Some of Lightrun’s current customers include Taboola, Sisense and Tufin.

The company doubled its employee count over the course of the last year. It will continue to use the new funding to expand its developer community and hire across functions. The company also plans to expand its U.S. presence.

 

Explorium scores $75M Series C just 10 months after B round

By Ron Miller

Without good data, it’s impossible to build an accurate predictive machine learning model. Explorium, a company that has been building a solution over the last several years to help data pros find the best data for a given model, announced a $75 million Series C today — just 10 months after announcing a $31 million Series B.

Insight Partners led today’s investment with participation from existing investors Zeev Ventures, Emerge, F2 Capital Ventures, 01 Advisors and Dynamic Loop Capital. The company reports it has now raised a total of $127 million. George Mathew, managing partner at Insight, and former president and COO at Alteryx, will be joining the board, giving the company someone with solid operator experience to help guide them into the next phase.

Company co-founder and CEO Maor Shlomo, says that in spite of how horrible COVID has been from a human perspective, it has been a business accelerator for his company and he saw revenue quadruple last year (although he didn’t share specific numbers beyond that). “It’s related to the nature of our business. We’re helping enterprises and data practitioners find new data sources that can help them solve business challenges,” Sholmo explained.

He says that during the pandemic, a lot of companies had to find new data sources because the old data wasn’t especially helpful for predictive models. That meant that customers required new sources to give them visibility into the shifts and movements in the market to help them adjust and make decisions during pandemic. “And given that’s basically what our platform does in its essence, we’ve seen a lot of growth [over the past year],” he says.

With the revenue growth the company has been experiencing, it has been adding employees at rapid clip. When we spoke to Explorium last July, the company had 87 people. Today that number has grown to 130 with plans to get to 200 perhaps by the end of 2021 or early 2022, depending on how the business continues to grow.

The company has offices in Tel Aviv and San Mateo, California with plans to open a new office in New York City whenever it’s possible to do so. While Shlomo wants a flexible workplace, he’s not going fully remote with plans to allow people to work two days from home and three in the office as local rules allow.

Insight Partners leads $60M growth round in cross-border payments startup Thunes

By Catherine Shu

The world of digital payments is very fragmented, with different types of online bank accounts, digital wallets and money transfer services used in different countries. Singapore-based Thunes, a fintech focused on making cross-border money transfers easier, announced today it has raised a $60 million growth round led by Insight Partners. One of the world’s largest venture capital firms, Insight is known for working closely with growth-stage companies, helping them expand through its ScaleUp program.

The round included participation from existing shareholders. Thunes’ last funding announcement was in September 2020 a $60 million Series B led by Helios Investment Partners. Other investors include GGV Capital and Checkout.com.

Founded in 2016, Thunes’ customers include Grab, PayPal, MPesa, the Commercial Bank of Dubai, Western Union, Remitly and Singaporean insurance firm NTUC Income. Its technology serves a similar purpose for online payments platforms as the SWIFT system does for commercial banks, acting as a hub to transfer money online to recipients in different countries, even if they use a different financial institution, digital wallet or mobile money account. For example, Western Union uses Thunes so it can move money into digital wallets and bank accounts. Thunes monetizes per transaction through a fixed fee and a small currency exchange fee. It is regulated by the Monetary Authority of Singapore and the Financial Conduct Authority in the United Kingdom.

Chief executive officer Peter De Caluwe told TechCrunch that Thunes looks for active investos who can help it work with banks and regulators in new markets and connect it with potential clients. For example, Helios focuses on African companies and Thunes used part of its funding from the firm to build teams in Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Ethiopia. Likewise, GGV Capital, which led its Series A, helped Thunes’ operations in China.

When Insight approached Thunes, it was not planning to raise more funding.

“The important note here is that we were actually not planning to do another round and Insight was pretty persistent in knocking on our door,” De Caluwe said. “Since we last spoke in September, we more than doubled our workforce, our revenues, everything just became bigger and more scaled. So at the end, we decided getting extra funding from a very solid investor makes sense if they can help us.”

Insight’s portfolio also includes Twitter and Shopify and its ScaleUp program focuses on supporting software companies with high growth potential. For example, it recently became the first outside investor in Octopus Deploy, which had been bootstrapped for almost a decade, to help grow its enterprise market over the next five to 10 years.

De Caluwe said Insight’s resources, including its talent network, will help Thunes expand in North and South America, build its engineering and product teams and decide what new services to offer customers. Thunes has doubled its team from about 70 people to 160 over the past half year, including engineers in the United Kingdom, Singapore and China, and business development teams in Latin America and Africa.

“Geographically, this is an important step for us that ticks a big box,” De Caluwe said. For example, Insight can help Thunes onboard larger U.S. retailers and fintech companies, especially ones that want to collect payments from emerging countries.

“Our ambition now is if we have a large U.S.-based retailer, service or game company who uses us to pay somebody in emerging markets, like suppliers or partners, to let our API also collect from someone. So if are you are a U.S.-based player, you can also collect payments and that is something we have been working very aggressively on,” he added.

In a press statement, Deven Parekh, managing director at Insight Partners, said, “Taking an innovative approach to solving the problems of an extremely fragmented and complex payments ecosystem, Thunes has created a unique platform that provides accessible, fast and reliable payment solutions. We see the company as poised for massive growth as it expands its infrastructure. We are looking forward to helping them scale up.”

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