Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between.
SaaS stocks had a good run in late 2019. TechCrunch covered their ascent, a recovery from early-year doldrums and a summer slowdown. In 2020 so far, SaaS and cloud stocks have surged to all-time highs. The latest records are only a hair higher than what the same companies saw in July of last year, but they represent a return to form all the same.
Given that public SaaS companies have now managed to crest their prior highs and have been rewarded for doing so with several days of flat trading, you might think that there isn’t much room left for them to rise. Not so, at least according to Atlassian . The well-known software company reported earnings after-hours yesterday and the market quickly pushed its shares up by more than 10%.
Why? It’s worth understanding, because if we know why Atlassian is suddenly worth lots more, we’ll better grok what investors — public and private — are hunting for in SaaS companies and how much more room they may have to rise.
As the number of drones proliferates in cities and towns across America, government agencies are scrambling to find ways to manage the oncoming traffic that’s expected to clog up their airspace.
Companies like Airmap and KittyHawk have raised tens of millions to develop technologies that can help cities manage congestion in the friendly skies, and now they have a new competitor in the Detroit-based startup, Airspace Link, which just raised $4 million from a swarm of investors to bring its services to the broader market.
The financing for Airspace Link follows the company’s reception of a stamp of approval from the Federal Aviation Administration for low-altitude authorization and notification capabilities, according to chief executive Michael Healander.
According to Healander, what distinguishes Airspace Link from the other competitors in the market is its integration with mapping tools used by municipal governments to provide information on ground-based risk.
“We’re creating the roads based on ground-based risk and we push that out into the drone community to let them know where it’s okay to fly,” says Healander.
That knowledge of terrestrial critical assets in cities and towns comes from deep integrations between Airspace Link and the mapping company ESRI, which has long provided federal, state and local governments with mapping capabilities and services.
“We’ve just spent the past month understanding what regulation is going to be around to support it. In two years from now every drone will be live tracked in our platform,” says Healnder. “Today we’re just authorizing flight plans.”
As drone operators increase in number, the autonomous vehicles pose more potential risks to civilian populations in the wrong hands.
Parking lots, sporting events, concerts — really any public area — could be targets for potential attacks using drones.
“Drones are becoming more and more powerful and smarter,” EU Security Commissioner Julian King warned in a statement last summer, “which makes them more and more attractive for legitimate use, but also for hostile acts.”
Already roughly half of the population of the U.S. lives in controlled airspace where drones flying with more than a half a pound of weight require flight plan authorization, according to Healander.
“We build out population data and give state and local governments a tool to create advisories for emergency events or any areas where high densities of people will be,” says Healander. “That creates an advisory that goes through our platform to the drone industry.”
Airspace Link closed a $1 million pre-seed round in September 2019 with a $6 million post-money valuation. The current valuation of the company is undisclosed, but the company’s progress was enough to draw the attention of investors led by Indicator Ventures with participation from 2048 Ventures, Ludlow Ventures, Matchstick Ventures, Detroit Venture Partners and Invest Detroit.
For Healander, Airspace Link is only the latest entrepreneurial venture. He previously founded GeoMetri, an indoor GPS tracking company, which was acquired by Acuity Brands.
I’ve been a partner of ESRI my entire life,” says Healander. “I’ve been in the geospatial industry for four or five companies with them.”
The company has four main components of its service. There’s AirRegistry, where people can opt-in or out of receiving drone deliveries; AirInspect, which is a service that handles city and state permitting for drone operators; AirNetm, which works with the FAA to create approved air routes for drones; and AirLink, an API that connects drone operators with local governments and collects fees for registering drones.
Between 2005 and 2018, the five biggest U.S. tech firms collectively spent more than half a billion dollars lobbying federal policymakers. But they shelled out even more in 2019: Facebook boosted its lobbying budget by 25%, while Amazon hiked its political outlay by 16%. Together, America’s biggest tech firms spent almost $64 million in a bid to shape federal policies.
Clearly, America’s tech giants feel they’re getting value for their money. But as CEO of Boundless, a 40-employee startup that doesn’t have millions of dollars to invest in political lobbying, I’m proposing another way. One of the things we care most about at Boundless is immigration. And while we’ve yet to convince Donald Trump and Stephen Miller that immigrants are a big part of what makes America great — hey, we’re working on it! — we’ve found that when you have a clear message and a clear mission, even a startup can make a big difference.
So how can scrappy tech companies make a splash in the current political climate? Here are some guiding principles we’ve learned.
You can’t make a difference if you don’t make some noise. A case in point: Boundless is spearheading the business community’s pushback against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s “public charge rule.” This sweeping immigration reform would preclude millions of people from obtaining U.S. visas and green cards — and therefore make it much harder for American businesses to hire global talent — based on a set of new, insurmountable standards. We’re doing that not by cutting checks to K Street but by using our own expertise, creativity and people skills — the very things that helped make our company a success in the first place.
By leveraging our unique strengths — including our own proprietary data — we’ve been able to put together a smart, business-focused amicus brief urging courts to strike down the public charge rule. And because we combine immigration-specific expertise with a real understanding of the issues that matter most to tech companies, we’ve been able to convince more than 100 other firms — such as Microsoft, Twitter, Warby Parker, Levi Strauss & Co. and Remitly — to cosign our amicus brief. Will that be enough to persuade the courts and steer federal policy in immigrants’ favor? The jury’s still out. But whatever happens, we take satisfaction in knowing that we’re doing everything we can on behalf of the entire immigrant community, not just our customers, in defense of a cause we’re passionate about.
Taking a stand is risky, but staying silent is a gamble, too: Consumers are increasingly socially conscious, and almost nine out of 10 said in one survey that they prefer to buy from brands that take active steps to support the causes they care about. It depends a bit on the issue, though. One survey found that trash-talking the president will win you brownie points from millennials but cost you support among Baby Boomers, for instance.
So pick your battles — but remember that media-savvy consumers can smell a phony a mile off. It’s important to choose causes you truly stand behind and then put your money where your mouth is. At Boundless, we do that by hiring a diverse workforce — not just immigrants, but also women (we’re over 60%), people of color (35%) and LGBTQ+ (15%) — and putting time and energy into helping them succeed. Figure out what authenticity looks like for your company, and make sure you’re living your values as well as just talking about them.
Tech giants might have a bigger megaphone, but there are a lot of startups in our country, and quantity has a quality all its own. In fact, the Small Business Administration reported in 2018 that there are 30.2 million small businesses in the United States, 414,000 of which are classified as “startups.” So instead of trying to shout louder, try forging connections with other smart, up-and-coming companies with unique voices and perspectives of their own.
At Boundless, we routinely reach out to the other startups that have received backing from our own investor groups — national networks such as Foundry Group, Trilogy Equity Partners, Pioneer Square Labs, Two Sigma Ventures and Flybridge Capital Partners — in the knowledge that these companies will share many of our values and be willing to listen to our ideas.
For startups, the venture capitalists, accelerators and incubators that helped you launch and grow can be an incredible resource: Leverage their expertise and Rolodexes to recruit a posse of like-minded startups and entrepreneurs that can serve as a force multiplier for your political activism. Instead of taking a stand as a single company, you could potentially rally dozens of companies — from a range of sectors and unique weights in their fields — on board for your advocacy efforts.
Every company has a few key superpowers, and the same things that make you a commercial success can help to sway policymakers, too. Boundless uses data and design to make the immigration process more straightforward, and number-crunching and messaging skills come in handy when we’re doing advocacy work, too.
Our data-driven report breaking down naturalization trends and wait times by location made a big splash, for instance, and not just in top-ranked Cleveland. We presented our findings to Congress, and soon afterward some Texas lawmakers began demanding reductions in wait times for would-be citizens. We can’t prove our advocacy was the deciding factor, but it’s likely that our study helped nudge them in the right direction.
Whether you’re Bill Gates or a small-business owner, if you’re quoted in The New York Times, then your voice will reach the same people. Reporters love to feel like they’re including quotes from the “little guy,” so make yourself accessible, and learn to give snappy, memorable quotes to reporters, and you’ll soon find that they keep you on speed dial.
Our phones rang off the hook when Trump tried to push through a healthcare mandate by executive order, for instance, and our founders were quoted by top media outlets — from Reuters to Rolling Stone. It takes a while to build media relationships and establish yourself as a credible source, but it’s a great way to win national attention for your advocacy.
To make a difference, you’ll need allies in the corridors of power. Reach out to your senators and congresspeople, and get to know their staffers, too. Working in politics is often thankless, and many aides love to hear from new voices, especially ones who are willing to stake out controversial positions on big issues, sound the alarm on bad policies or help move the Overton window to enable better solutions.
We’ve often found that prior to hearing from us, lawmakers simply hadn’t considered the special challenges faced by smaller tech companies, such as lack of internal legal, human and financial resources, to comply with various regulations. And those lawmakers come away from our meetings with a better understanding of the need to craft straightforward policies that won’t drown small businesses in red tape.
Political change doesn’t just happen in the Capital Beltway, so make a point of reaching out to your municipal and state-level leaders, too. In 2018, Boundless pitched to the Civic I/O Mayors Summit at SXSW because we knew that municipal leaders played a critical role in welcoming new Americans into our communities. Local policies and legislation can have a big impact on startups, and the support of local leaders remains a critical foundation for the kinds of change we want to see made to the U.S. immigration system.
It’s easy to make excuses or expect someone else to advocate on your behalf. But if there’s something you think the government could be doing better, then you have an obligation to use your company’s energy, talent and connections to push back and create momentum for reform. Sure, it would be nice to splash money around and hire a phalanx of lobbyists to shape public policy — but it’s perfectly possible to make a big difference without spending a dime.
But first, figure out what you stand for and what strengths and superpowers you can leverage to bear the problems you and your customers face. Above all, don’t be afraid to take a stand.
Advances in biology, biochemistry, sensors and automation have the potential to reshape the ways manufacturing in America is done, and a relatively new firm called Anzu Partners has just raised $190 million to invest in companies turning these scientific achievements into new products and services.
Far from Silicon Valley, Anzu is investing in technology companies coming from places as disparate as Durham, Omaha, and Santa Fe, in addition to the traditional technology hub of Boston and its surrounding area.
“We started in early 2016 with a focus on venture capital and early stage private equity,” says firm managing partner Whitney Haring-Smith. “The majority of the transactions that we do are minority, but there are a subset that are control.”
One of those acquisitions, for the optical electronics equipment manufacturer Axsun Technologies, yielded one of the firm’s early exits when the Massachusetts-based company was sold to Excelitas in a roughly $80 million transaction. The firm saw at least one other exit last year when Siemens bought its portfolio company MultiMechanics in November.
Co-founded and managed by former Boston Consulting Group leadership David Seldin and David Michael, the leadership team has expanded to include another BCG, alum, John Ho, who was just named partner with the close fo the fund.
Anzu Partners writes checks in the $3 million to $8 million range and follows that capital with commitments of up to $15 million, according to Haring-Smith.
“We focus today on investing in the technologies that enable tomorrow’s industries,” Haring-Smith said of the firm’s thesis. “We don’t know whether this biologic drug or that biologic drug will succeed but we know that all biologic drugs will need certain things.”
Examples include the company’s investment in the Santa Fe-based NTX Bio, which was made not because the startup manufactures particular biologics for the pharmaceutical industry, but because it makes technology which can produce lower cost, higher purity and higher stability biologics. “It doesn’t make vaccines, but makes vaccine manufacturing more cheap and efficient,” says Haring-Smith.
The firm has already made six investments from its new fund since it first began fundraising efforts last April.
Portfolio companies include the Durham-based BioSkryb, which makes technologies to improve gene sequencing; Boston Microfluidics, which develops blood collection devices; GelSight, which makes 3D imaging systems to improve quality control in manufacturing; immunoSCAPE, which profiles immune systems to provide better data on potentially applicable therapeutics for patients; Sofregen, which tissue support and regeneration products based on a novel process for manufacturing silk proteins, and Solchroma Technologies, which uses a unique manufacturing process to make digital displays.
Anzu operates from offices in Tampa, San Diego, Washington, and Boston and Haring-Smith believes that the geographic diversity gives the company a leg up on deals.
With the new fund, the firm expects to expand its geographic footprint to other under-capitalized regions around the U.S.
This morning FloQast, an LA-area startup, announced that it closed a $40 million Series C led by Norwest Venture Partners. The company also told TechCrunch in an interview that it raised a $20 million inside round between today’s investment and its 2017 Series B. Including today’s infusion, the firm has raised a little over $90 million.
The small inside round, however, wasn’t executed because the firm was low on options at the time. Instead, FloQast chose it over larger term sheets, using the cash to help launch a new product. It then raised the round we’re discussing today at a higher valuation. What did FloQast launch, and what impact did that choice have on its business? Let’s talk about what FloQast sells to help us answer both questions.
FloQast sells what it calls “close management software,” which might not mean much if you aren’t read-up on accounting. So, TechCrunch got FloQast CEO Mike Whitmire on the phone to explain it in more detail. According to the technology executive, his company helps “teams collaborate around the month end close, we help them communicate [and] stay on the same page with this process that occurs at the end of every month. And then we provide some light automation around [the] tie-out and reconciliation process, which is one of the steps of actually closing the books.”
Why does all that matter? Because a company can’t report its financial results until its books (accounts) are closed (finalized). So, Whitmire explained, you can’t get to a 10-Q or other bedrock financial report without this sort of work. And given that every company in the world has books that need closing you can see where FloQast fits into the business landscape.
FloQast doesn’t target every business, however. According to Whitmire, when a company reaches “five people in the corporate accounting department” is “where the pain starts to present itself” that FloQast wants to help with. And, in his view, the more complex a business becomes, the larger the need for the sort of help that his company’s software can provide.
You can see where we’re going with this by now. If not, here’s some help: If FloQast’s product works for larger companies, how quickly is its revenue (measured in annual recurring revenue, or ARR) growing, and, more precisely, how quickly is its average annual contract value (ACV) expanding?
Earlier we noted that FloQast decided to raise a small round before its Series C, using that money to launch a new product before raising its later, larger investment. That product, something called “AutoRec,” uses what the company calls “AI” to help reconcile accounts more quickly than would otherwise be possible.
The wager, launching that product before its Series C, paid off. Last year FloQast’s annual contract value (ACV) rose 60%. That gain was driven, according to the CEO, by the “new AutoRec product [helping add] more value” to contracts, and his company focusing more on upper-market customers. Its ACV growth helped FloQast’s growth stay consistent in percentage terms, with the CEO telling TechCrunch that his firm grows like “clockwork,” doubling its ARR on average every year. And, the company’s SaaS metrics look good: Including customer churn, Floqast has net retention of 115%, which is solid.
Summarizing his company’s last year or so, Whitmire said that FloQast “cut [its] cash burn, became very efficient, grew at a similar clip to what we’ve grown historically, maintained our net revenue retention number, and had this massive ACV kick.” It’s not hard to see, then, how FloQast put together its latest round.
So, the LA area really is more than Snap and Bird. You can build big SaaS companies there too.
Personio, the Germany-founded HR platform for SMEs, has raised $75 million in Series C funding in a round led by Accel. I understand the investment values the company at around $500 million.
Also joining is Lightspeed Venture Partners, alongside Lars Dalgaard (the founder and former CEO of SuccessFactors). Existing investors Index Ventures, Northzone, Rocket Internet’s Global Founders Capital, and Picus Capital followed on.
The Series C brings Personio’s total funding to $130 million since launching in 2015. The additional capital will help support the company’s expansion into the U.K. and Ireland, which is also being announced today. This will see Personio establish a new office in London to better serve clients in the U.K. and Ireland.
Combining human resources, recruiting and payroll into a single platform, Personio bills itself as an “HR operating system” for small and medium-sized companies (SMEs) ranging from 10 to 2,000 employees.
The cloud-based software is designed to power all of a company’s people processes via the product’s own growing functionality or through its ability to integrate with third-party software.
To that end, Personio says its customer base has tripled in the past 12 months, and says it now serves almost 2,000 customers in more than 40 countries. In the same period, the number of employees at Personio has more than doubled to more than 350. That figure is set to reach 700 employees by the end of 2020.
Along with traditional SMEs, Personio has naturally found a home amongst startups. “The strong growth of the last four years in German-speaking countries has shown that there is a great demand for HR software in SMEs,” Personio co-founder and CEO Hanno Renner tells me.
“Forty-two percent of their time is currently spent on administrative tasks, according to a recent, as yet unpublished, study from Germany. Personio automates repetitive tasks and thus gives HR staff time for value-adding tasks. This is an invaluable advantage that has already convinced several U.K. customers such as Raisin and millimetric.”
This week, LaunchDarkly announced that it has raised another $54 million. Led by Bessemer Venture Partners and backed by the company’s existing investors, it brings the company’s total funding up to $130 million.
For the unfamiliar, LaunchDarkly builds a platform that allows companies to easily roll out new features to only certain customers, providing a dashboard for things like “canary launches” (pushing new stuff to a small group of users to make sure nothing breaks) or launching a feature only in select countries or territories. By productizing an increasingly popular development concept (“feature flagging”) and making it easier to toggle new stuff across different platforms and languages, the company is quickly finding customers in companies that would rather not spend time rolling their own solutions.
I spoke with CEO and co-founder Edith Harbaugh, who filled me in on where the idea for LaunchDarkly came from, how their product is being embraced by product managers and marketing teams and the company’s plans to expand with offices around the world. Here’s our chat, edited lightly for brevity and clarity.
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.
NextNav LLC has raised $120 million in equity and debt to commercially deploy an indoor-positioning system that can pinpoint a device’s location — including what floor it’s on — without GPS .
The company has developed what it calls a Metropolitan Beacon System, which can find the location of devices like smartphones, drones, IoT products or even self-driving vehicles in indoor and urban areas where GPS or other satellite location signals cannot be reliably received. Anyone trying to use their phone to hail an Uber or Lyft in the Loop area of Chicago has likely experienced spotty GPS signals.
The MBS infrastructure is essentially bolted onto cellular towers. The positioning system uses a cellular signal, not line-of-sight signal from satellites like GPS does. The system focuses on determining the “altitude” of a device, CEO and co-founder Ganesh Pattabiraman told TechCrunch.
GPS can provide the horizontal position of a smartphone or IoT device. And wifi and Bluetooth can step in to provide that horizontal positioning indoors. NextNav says its MBS has added a vertical or “Z dimension” to the positioning system. This means the MBS can determine within less than 3 meters the floor level of a device in a multi-story building.
It’s the kind of system that can provide emergency services with critical information such as the number of people located on a particular floor. It’s this specific use-case that NextNav is betting on. Last year, the Federal Communication Commission issued new 911 emergency requirements for wireless carriers that mandates the ability to determine the vertical position of devices to help responders find people in multi-story buildings.
Today, the MBS is in the Bay Area and Washington D.C. The company plans to use this new injection of capital to expand its network to the 50 biggest markets in the U.S., in part to take advantage of the new FCC requirement.
The technology has other applications. For instance, this so-called Z dimension could come in handy for locating drones. Last year, NASA said it will use NextNav’s MBS network as part of its City Environment for Range Testing of Autonomous Integrated Navigation facilities at its Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.
The round was led by funds managed by affiliates of Fortress Investment Group . Existing investors Columbia Capital, Future Fund, Telcom Ventures, funds managed by Goldman Sachs Asset Management, NEA and Oak Investment Partners also participated.
XM Satellite Radio founder Gary Parsons is executive chairman of the Sunnyvale, Calif-based company.
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.”
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.
Indian tech startups have never had it so good.
Local tech startups in the nation raised $14.5 billion in 2019, beating their previous best of $10.6 billion last year, according to research firm Tracxn .
Tech startups in India this year participated in 1,185 financing rounds — 459 of those were Series A or later rounds — from 817 investors.
Early-stage startups — those participating in angel or pre-Series A financing round — raised $6.9 billion this year, easily surpassing last year’s $3.3 billion figure, according to a report by venture debt firm InnoVen Capital.
According to InnoVen’s report, early-stage startups that have typically struggled to attract investors saw a 22% year-over-year increase in the number of financing deals they took part in this year. Cumulatively, at $2.6 million, their valuation also increased by 15% from last year.
Overall, there were 81 financing deals of size between $25 million and $100 million, up from 56 last year and 36 the year before, and 27 rounds above $100 million, up from 17 in 2018 and and nine in 2017, Tracxn told TechCrunch.
Also in 2019, 128 startups in India got acquired, four got publicly listed and nine became unicorns. This year, Indian tech startups also attracted a record number of international investors, according to Tracxn.
This year’s fundraise further moves the nation’s burgeoning startup space on a path of steady growth.
Since 2016, when tech startups accumulated just $4.3 billion — down from $7.9 billion the year before — flow of capital has increased significantly in the ecosystem. In 2017, Indian startups raised $10.4 billion, per Tracxn.
“The decade has seen an impressive 25x growth from a tiny $550 million in 2010 to $14.5 billion in 2019 in terms of the total funding raised by the startups,” said Tracxn.
What’s equally promising about Indian startups is the challenges they are beginning to tackle today, said Dev Khare, a partner at VC fund Lightspeed Venture Partners, in a recent interview with TechCrunch.
In 2014 and 2015, startups were largely focused on building e-commerce solutions and replicating ideas that worked in Western markets. But today, they are tackling a wide-range of categories and opportunities and building some solutions that have not been attempted in any other market, he said.
Tracxn’s analysis found that lodging startups raised about $1.7 billion this year — thanks to Oyo alone bagging $1.5 billion, followed by logistics startups such as Elastic Run, Delhivery and Ecom Express that secured $641 million.
Also, 176 horizontal marketplaces, more than 150 education learning apps, over 160 fintech startups, over 120 trucking marketplaces, 82 ride-hailing services, 42 insurance platforms, 33 used car listing providers and 13 startups that are helping businesses and individuals access working capital secured funding this year. Fintech startups alone raised $3.2 billion this year, more than startups operating in any other category, said Tracxn.
Sequoia Capital, with more than 50 investments — or co-investments — was the most active venture capital fund for Indian tech startups this year. (Rajan Anandan, former executive in charge of Google’s business in India and Southeast Asia, joined Sequoia Capital India as a managing director in April.) Accel, Tiger Global Management, Blume Ventures and Chiratae Ventures were the other top four VCs.
Steadview Capital, with nine investments in startups, including ride-hailing service Ola, education app Unacademy and fintech startup BharatPe, led the way among private equity funds. General Atlantic, which invested in NoBroker and recently turned profitable edtech startup Byju’s, invested in four startups. FMO, Sabre Partners India and CDC Group each invested in three startups.
Venture Catalysts, with more than 40 investments, including in HomeCapital and Blowhorn, was the top accelerator or incubator in India this year. Y Combinator, with over 25 investments, Sequoia Capital’s Surge, Axilor Ventures and Techstars were also very active this year.
Indian tech startups also attracted a number of direct investments from top corporates and banks this year. Goldman Sachs, which earlier this month invested in fintech startup ZestMoney, overall made eight investments this year. Among others, Facebook made its first investment in an Indian startup — social-commerce firm Meesho — and Twitter led a $100 million financing round in local social networking app ShareChat.
CDPs are all the rage among customer experience vendors, as they provide a way to pull data from a variety of channels to build a more complete picture of the customer. The goal here is to deliver meaningful content to the customer based on what you know about them. Having a platform like this to draw upon makes it more likely that you will hit the target more accurately.
Acquia co-founder and CTO Dries Buytaert says he has been watching this space for the last year, and wanted to add this piece to the Acquia tool chest. “Adding a CDP like AgilOne to our existing platform will help our customers unify their data across various tools in their technology stack to drive better, more personal customer experiences,” he said.
In particular, he says he liked AgilOne because it used an intelligence layer while building the customer record. “What sets AgilOne apart from other CDPs are its machine learning capabilities, which intelligently segment customers and predict customer behaviors (such as when a customer is likely to purchase something). This allows for the creation and optimization of next-best action models to optimize offers and messages to customers on a 1:1 basis.”
Like most startup founders, AgilOne CEO Omer Artun sees this as an opportunity to grow his company, probably faster than he could have on his own. “Since AgilOne’s inception, our vision has been to give marketers the direct power to understand who their customers are and engage with them in a genuine way in order to boost profitability and create the omnichannel experiences that customers crave. Through this acquisition, Acquia will enable us to continue to deliver, and build upon, this vision,” he wrote in a blog post announcing the acquisition.
Tony Byrne, founder and principal analyst at the Real Story Group, has been watching the marketing automation space for some time, as well as the burgeoning CDP market. He sees this move as good for Acquia, but wonders how it will fit with other pieces in the Acquia stack. “This in theory allows them to support the unification of customer data across their suite,” Byrne told TechCrunch.
But he cautions that the company could struggle incorporating AgilOne into its platform. “The Marketing Automation platform they purchased targets mostly B2B. AgilOne is dialed in on B2C use cases and a fairly narrow set of vertical segments. It will take a lot of work to make it into a CDP that could adequately serve Acquia’s diverse customer base,” he said.
Acquia was acquired by Vista Equity Partners for $1 billion in September, and it tends to encourage its companies to be more acquisitive than they might have been on their own. “Vista has been supportive of our M&A strategy and believes strongly in AgilOne as a part of Acquia’s vision to redefine the customer experience stack,” Buytaert said.
AgilOne raised over $41 million, according to PitchBook data. Investors included Tenaya Capital, Sequoia Capital and Mayfield Fund. It had a post valuation of just over $115 million and was pegged as likely acquisition target by Pitchbook.
AgilOne customers will be happy to hear that Acquia plans to continue to sell it as a stand-alone product in addition to making it part of the Acquia Open Marketing Cloud.
The new financing round, dubbed Series C, was funded by MUFG Innovation Partners (MUIP), corporate venture capital arm and a wholly-owned subsidiary of Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group (MUFG), Daiwa PI Partners, the private equity arm of Japan’s securities group Daiwa Securities, Endeavor Catalyst, and Ondine Capital.
Existing investors including Gobi Partners and Convergence Ventures also participated in the round, which pushes four-year-old startups’s total raise to date to $85 million.
Carsome operates one of the largest car trading platforms in Southeast Asia, connecting individuals who wish to sell cars to dealers. The startup, which is operational in Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand, claims its platform sees more than 40,000 cars worth more than $300 million trade on the platform.
Carsome, which employs about 700 people uses an online auction model to conduct sales, with prospective cars typically listed the day after they are submitted by consumers following a check-up conducted by the startup’s staff.
That approach allows dealers to check in at a set time each day to look over the cars on offer, while the focus on vetting autos quickly — Carsome can dispatch vehicle checkers directly to a prospective seller’s home– means that consumers can quickly get a sale.
The auction model adds competition and the potential for a seller to make more money than they originally anticipated. That’s a dynamic that is tricky to replicate in other static sale models.
Eric Cheng, co-founder and chief executive of Carsome, told TechCrunch that the startup is attempting to challenge “opaque and inefficient” middle parties that “exploit the misinformation in the market.”
He added, “we want to establish a brand and a standard that advocates trust, transparency, consistency of service and quality assurance across the region that people and businesses can rely on to make their purchasing decisions.”
The startup, which competes with a number of players including Carro in Singapore, plans to use the fresh capital to expand to more markets in Southeast Asia such as the Philippines.
More to follow…
D-Wave Systems announced a partnership with Japanese industrial giant NEC today to build what they call ‘hybrid apps and services’ that work on a combination of NEC high performance computers and D-Wave’s quantum systems.
The two companies also announced that NEC will be investing $10 million in D-Wave, which has raised $204 million prior to this, according to Crunchbase data.
D-Wave’s chief product officer and EVP of R&D, Alan Baratz, whom the company announced this week will be taking over as CEO effective January 1st, says the company has been able to do a lot of business in Japan, and the size of this deal could help push the technology further. “Our collaboration with global pioneer NEC is a major milestone in the pursuit of fully commercial quantum applications,” he said in a statement.
The company says it is one of the earliest deals between a quantum vendor and a multinational IT company with the size and scale of NEC. The deal involves three key elements. First of all, NEC and D-Wave will come together to develop hybrid services that combine NEC’s supercomputers and other classical systems with D-Wave’s quantum technology. The hope is that by combining the classical and quantum systems, they can create better performance for lower cost than you could get if you tried to do similar computing on a strictly classical system.
The two companies will also work together with NEC customers to build applications that will take advantage of this hybrid approach, and finally, NEC will be an authorized reseller of D-Wave cloud services.
For NEC, which claims to have demonstrated the world’s first quantum bit device way back in 1999, it is about finding ways to keep advancing commercial quantum computing. “Quantum computing development is critical for the future of every industry tasked with solving today’s most complex problems. Hybrid applications and greater access to quantum systems is what will allow us to achieve truly commercial-grade quantum solutions,” Motoo Nishihara, Executive Vice President and CTO at NEC Corporation said in a statement.
This deal should help move the companies toward that goal.
A startup that’s built cross-channel growth marketing platform — used by businesses to capture customers across whatever digital media they happen to be using — is today announcing funding to do some growing of its own. Iterable — which uses email, push and in-app notifications, SMS and other sources to interact with users and deliver them targeted, personalised marketing messages — has closed another $60 million in funding, a Series D that it’s going to use to continue scaling its business into more markets (it’s recently expanded in Europe with a London office), and with more hiring.
“This is about being prepared because of the uncertainty in the wider market,” said co-founder and CEO Justin Zhu said in an interview. “We are not sure what might happen next year.” The bigger trend in marketing tech is around consolidation and the building of “marketing clouds” by large players like Adobe and Salesforce, so it’s notable that Zhu said that while Iterable is continuing to grow — it has the startup’s focus will be on remaining independent and turning profitable.
“It’s about getting to breakeven and then beyond that,” he said.
This latest round, a Series D, is being led by Viking Global Investors — the huge investment firm and hedge fund that has backed the likes of Facebook and security firm Druva, but also a range of biotech and pharma companies — with participation from previous investors CRV, Index Ventures, Blue Cloud Ventures, Harmony Partners, and Stereo Capital.
The company has now raised $140 million in total. Zhu described the valuation as a “very healthy increase,” and while he is not talking specific numbers, Iterable’s Series C came in at $275 million post-money, according to PitchBook, which makes this latest round definitely higher than $325 million. (We’ll keep trying to get a more specific number.)
A lot of marketing startups have their beginnings in the world of — no surprises here — marketing, which is to say that of the people who have had direct experience in dealing with the pain points of how legacy marketing products work, some of the more enterprising go on to found companies to try to solve those problems.
Iterable has a bit of a different origin story in that its founders come from technical backgrounds. Zhu co-founded Iterable with Andrew Boni six years ago, but before then, both of them cut their teeth as engineers, at Twitter and Google respectively (and they are both young: they started the company while in their twenties, and this is only Zhu’s second job out of university).
It was at Twitter that Zhu identified a gap between the amount of data that a company has on users, and how it’s not used as well as it could be to grow that company’s business, especially when that business is not already a tech company — and sometimes, even when it is: Twitter has yet to sign on as an Iterable customer, but Square, the other business led by Jack Dorsey, is.
“There are a lot of great ideas and things that became experiments at Twitter,” he said, “but I noticed that only a very few companies — the biggest, most qualified technology companies — could execute a variety of different growth marketing efforts. Many most likely don’t have the right people or experience.” As Zhu describes it, there are not that enough people building significant innovations in how marketing works, because they lack the technical chops to do so (they instead come from development and marketing backgrounds).
That challenge further has become a little more complicated in more recent times, for another reason, which is that we’re in a moment where it feels like marketing is the bad guy. The rise of stronger data protection and privacy rules, for example with GDPR in Europe, plus consumers’ wider awareness and subsequent have led to a collective rejection of too much tracking of their online activity.
The idea with Iterable — as its name implies — is that you’re given a platform to iterate, to try out lots of different approaches across a range of different platforms, leveraging data that you already have and can use, or that you are able to get from users as part of the campaign, to build out your relationships and engagement, to see what works and what definitely does not.
This can either be to bring in more eyeballs and visitors (in the case of a company that, say, offers ‘free’ services and makes money on advertising), or more straight sales by way of offering discounts, insights on offers for things you might want or other incentives to buy things.
The company’s customer list includes companies like Zillow, Priceline Care.com and Fender, which speaks to how it targets companies that span not those who are digitally native businesses (but not necessarily the newest of the pack), but also those that are legacy companies that need to figure out how to leverage digital channels better to continue connecting with more, newer, and younger audiences.
There are upwards of 7,000 companies in the wider space of marketing technology today, Zhu estimates, which speaks to just how much more activity we’re likely to see in this area: the big fish will eat the tastiest smaller fish, while other fish will not manage to grow and will disappear.
But equally, we’re also seeing an interesting evolution, where paths are emerging for the most promising of the lot to carve out independent places for their particular services, independent of the biggies (en route to becoming biggies themselves, perhaps). For example, the data warehousing startup Snowflake — covering one of the big components that martech efforts need to work — is now valued at around $4 billion and is showing no signs of slowing down.
That’s a path that Iterable wants to follow, too, with this round to help it get there.
We live in the world of ‘best of breed’ coming together, which for us is about partnering with the best analytics and data warehousing companies,” Zhu said. “There are many options today that don’t entail getting acquired by a bigger player.”
According to CEO Afif Khoury, we’re in the middle of “the third wave of social” — a shift back to local interactions. And Khoury’s startup Soci (pronounced soh-shee) has raised $12 million in Series C funding to help companies navigate that shift.
Soci works with customers like Ace Hardware and Sport Clips to help them manage the online presence of hundreds or thousands of stores. It allows marketers to post content and share assets across all those pages, respond to reviews and comments, manage ad campaigns, and provide guidance around how to stay on-brand.
It sounds like most of these interactions are happening on Facebook. Khoury told me that Soci integrates with “40 different APIs where businesses are having conversations with their customers,” but he added, “Facebook was and continues to be the most prominent conversation center.”
Khoury and CTO Alo Sarv founded Soci back in 2012. Khoury said they spent the first two years building the product, and have subsequently raised around $30 million in total funding.
“What we weren’t building was a point solution,” he said. “What we were building was a massive platform … It took us 18 months to two years to really build it in the way we thought was going to be meaningful for the marketplace.”
Soci has also incorporated artificial intelligence to power chatbots that Khoury said “take that engagement happening on social and move it downstream to a call or a sale or something relevant to the local business.”
The new round was led by Vertical Venture Partners, with participation from Grayhawk Capital and Ankona Capital. Khoury said the money will allow Soci to continue developing its AI technology and to build out its sales and marketing team.
“Ours is a very consultative sale,” he said. “It’s a complicated world that you’re living in, and we really want to partner and have a local presence with our customers.”
A little over a year after the dissolution of the once high-flying blood testing startup Theranos, another startup has raised over $27 million to breathe new life into the vision of bringing low-cost blood tests to point-of-care medical facilities.
Unlike Theranos, Truvian Sciences is not claiming that most of its blood tests do not need clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and is, in fact, raising the money to proceed with a year-long process to refine its technology and submit it to the FDA for approval.
“More and more consumers are refusing to accept the status quo of healthcare and are saying no to expensive tests, inconvenient appointments and little to no access to their own test results,” said Jeff Hawkins, the president and chief executive of Truvian, in a statement. “In parallel, retail pharmacies are rising to fill demand, becoming affordable health access points. By bringing accurate, on-site blood testing to convenient sites, we will give consumers a more seamless experience and enable them to act on the vast medical insights that come with regular blood tests.”
Hawkins, the former vice president and general manager of reproductive and genetic health business at Illumina, is joined by a seasoned executive team of life sciences professionals including Dr. Dena Marrinucci, the former co-founder of Epic Sciences, who serves as the company’s senior vice president of corporate development and is a co-founder of the company.
Image courtesy of Flickr/Mate Marschalko
As part of today’s announcement, the company said it was adding Katherine Atkinson, a former executive at Epic Sciences and Illumina, as its new chief commercial officer, and has brought on the former chairman of the Thermo Fisher Scientific board of directors, Paul Meister, as a new director.
The ultimate goal, according to Hawkins, is to develop a system that can be installed in labs and can provide accurate results in 20 minutes for a battery of health tests from a small sample of blood for as low as $50. Typically, these tests can cost anywhere from several hundred to several thousand dollars — depending on the testing facility, says Hawkins.
Using new automation and sensing technologies, Truvian is aiming to combine chemistries, immunoassays and hematology assays into a single device that can perform standard assessment blood tests like lipid panels, metabolic panels, blood cell counts, and tests of thyroid, kidney and liver functions.
The company’s system includes remote monitoring and serviceability, according to a statement from Truvian. Its dry reagent technology allows materials to be stored at room temperature, removing the need for cold chain or refrigerated storage. According to a statement, the company is working to receive a CE Mark in the European Economic Area and submitted to the FDA for 510(k) clearance along with a “clinical laboratory improvement amendments” waiver application to let the devices be used in a retail setting or doctor’s office.
“We don’t believe that single drop of blood from a finger stick can do everything,” says Hawkins (in opposition to Theranos). “Fundamentally as a company we have built the company with seasoned healthcare leaders.”
As the company brings its testing technology to market, it’s also looking to compliment the diagnostics toolkit with a consumer-facing app that would provide a direct line of communication between the company and the patients receiving the results of its tests.
Truvian’s data will integrate with both Apple and Google’s health apps as well as reside on the company’s own consumer-facing app, according to Hawkins.
“At the end of the day precision medicine is going to come from integrating these data sources,” says Hawkins. “I think if we pull off what we want we should be able to make your routine blood testing far more accessible.”
Founders First Capital Partners, an accelerator and investment firm which provides revenue-based financing to businesses led by “underrepresented entrepreneurs” operating in underserved markets, has received a $100 million commitment to expand its operations.
The San Diego-based investor raised the debt financing from Community Investment Management, a large debt-focused impact investment fund.
The revenue-based financing model is a new one that several startups are beginning to explore as a way to take non-dilutive capital for early stage businesses that might not qualify for traditional bank loans.
Companies like the new media startup, The Prepared, which offers tips on disaster preparedness, used revenue financing as a way to get its own business off the ground. And other companies are turning to the financing method too, according to investors from Lighter Capital.
At Founders First Capital Partners, the new financing will expand its lending operations to companies that are already generating between $1 million and $5 million in annual revenue.
The new program is set to launch in January 2020, expanding the firm’s footprint as a financial services firm for minority and other underrepresented founders, the company said in a statement.
The firm focuses on businesses led by people of color, women, and military veterans and concentrates on entrepreneurs whose business operate in low and middle-income communities outside of the traditional funding networks of Silicon Valley and New York, the company said.
It also operates an accelerator program for entrepreneurs that meet the same criteria.
“Founders First is very pleased to have secured such significant funding that allows us to expand our efforts to businesses that are led by underrepresented founders or those that serve underrepresented communities,” said Kim Folsom, co-founder and chief executive of Founders First, in a statement.
Revenue-based financing can in some cases be a better option for service-based, social impact companies, according to Jacob Haar, a managing partner with CIM, who previously worked at Minlam Investment Managemet, a hedge fund working in the micro-finance space.
Both microfinance and revenue-based financing come with risks — particularly around the rates that these lenders can charge for their financing.
But it is a unique opportunity to open up founders to additional types of financing models.
“CIM is excited to partner with Founders First to expand revenue-based financing to support underserved and underrepresented small business founders, including people of color, women, LGBTQ, and military veterans as well as small businesses located in low to moderate income areas,” Haar said in a statement. “We have found revenue-based financing to be a compelling alternative to venture capital and fixed payment loans as a forward-looking and structurally flexible investment to support business growth. We believe that Founders First’s unique advisory and revenue-based investment platform enables underrepresented small businesses to overcome systematic bias and achieve their potential.”
Salesforce and AWS announced an expansion of their on-going partnership that actually goes back to a $400 million 2016 infrastructure services agreement, and expanded last year to include data integration between the two companies. This year, Salesforce announced it will be offering AWS telephony and call transcription services with Amazon Connect as part of its Service Cloud call center solution.
“We have a strategic partnership with Amazon Web Services, which will allow customers to purchase Amazon Connect from us, and then it will be pre-integrated and out of the box to provide a full transcription of the call, and of course that’s alongside of an actual call recording of the call,” Bill Patterson, executive vice president for Service Cloud explained.
It’s worth noting that the company will be partnering with other telephony vendors as well, so that customers can choose the Amazon solution or another from Cisco, Avaya or Genesys, Patterson said.
These telephony partnerships fill in a gap in the Service Cloud call center offering, and give Salesforce direct access to the call itself. The telephony vendors will handle call transcription and hand that off to Salesforce, which can then use its intelligence layer called Einstein to “read” the transcript and offer the CSR next best actions in real time, something the company has been able to do with interactions from chat and other channels, but couldn’t do with voice.
“As this conversation evolves, the consumer is explaining what their problem is, and Einstein is [monitoring] that conversation. As the conversation gets to a critical mass, Einstein begins to understand what the content is about and suggests a specific solution to the agent,” Patterson said.
Salesforce will begin piloting this new Service Cloud capability in the spring with general availability expected next summer.
Only last week, Salesforce announced a major partnership with Microsoft to move Salesforce Marketing Cloud to Azure. These announcements show Salesforce will continue to use multiple cloud partners when it makes sense for the business. Today, it’s Amazon’s turn.