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Henry picks up cash to be a Lambda School for Latin America

By Natasha Mascarenhas

Latin America’s startup scene has attracted troves of venture investment, lifting highly-valued companies such as Rappi and NuBank into behemoth businesses. Now that the spotlight has arrived, those same startups need more talent than ever before to meet demand.

That’s where one seed-stage Buenos Aires startup wants to help. Henry has created an online computer science school that trains software developers from low-income backgrounds to understand technical skills and get employed. The company was founded by brother-sister duo Luz and Martin Borchardt, as well as Manuel Barna Ferrés, Antonio Tralice and Leonardo Maglia.

The Henry team.

The company claims that there’s an estimated 1 million software engineering job openings in Latin America, but fewer than 100,000 professionals that have training suitable for those roles.

“Higher education is only for 13% of the population in Latin America,” says Martin Borchardt, CEO and co-founder of Henry . “It’s very exclusive, very expensive, and has very low impact skills. So we’re giving these people an opportunity.”

With 90% of graduates coming from no formal higher education background, Henry seeks to help bring more back-end junior developers and full-stack developers into startups. Henry offers a five-month course that goes from Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., which focuses on software developer skills. Beyond technical training, Henry gives participants job coaching, resume workshops and up-skilling opportunities post-graduation.

To make the school more affordable, Henry looks to take on the same strategy used by Lambda School, a YC-graduate that has raised over $122 million in known funding: income-share agreements. The set-up would allow for boot camp participants to join the program at zero upfront costs, and then only pay once they get hired at a job.

Lambda School’s ISA terms ask students to pay 17% of their monthly salary for 24 months once they earn $4,167 monthly. The students pay a maximum of $30,000. Henry takes a much smaller slice of the pie, partly because salaries are lower in Latin American than in the United States. Henry asks students to pay 15% of their monthly salary for 24 months once students earn $500 a month.

If a Henry student doesn’t get employed in a job that allows them to make $500 a month within five years after the program completes, they are off the hook for paying back the boot camp.

Henry is also focused on helping more women get into the field of software development. Internally, Henry’s remote team is 20% women, 64% men. The current students reflect the same breakdown.

One issue with coding boot camps is that while it might help a student go from unemployed to employed, the lack of credential and degree might limit career mobility past that first job. For that reason, Henry has created a database of alumni resources, including up-skilling and reskilling opportunities in the latest skill, which will be free of charge for graduates.

Henry needs to execute on job placement to be successful in its field. Currently, more than 80% of students in Henry’s first cohort have found jobs, but it’s too soon in the startups’ trajectory to get a stronger metric on that front. About four Henry graduates have been employed by the startup.

The need for more talent in emerging countries has not gone unnoticed. Microverse, also funded by Y Combinator, is similarly using income-sharing agreements to bring education to the masses in developing countries, including spaces in Latin America. Henry thinks the competitor is approaching the dynamic too broadly.

“They’re focusing on all emerging markets and don’t teach to Spanish speakers,” Borchardt said. Henry, alternatively, focuses on Spanish speakers, over 60% of its market in Latin America.

What if Lambda School, the source of Henry’s inspiration, was to break into Latin America? The founder added that the richly funded company has tried, and failed, to expand into international geographies, including China and Europe, due to fragmentation.

Currently, Henry has graduated 200 students and is working with 600 students across Colombia, Chile, Uruguay and Argentina. It plans to expand into Mexico and to bring on Portuguese instruction.

Now, VCs are giving Henry some cash to do so. After going through Y Combinator’s Summer batch, Henry announced today that it has raised $1.5 million in seed funding in a round led by Accion Venture Lab, Emles Venture Partners and Noveus VC. There were also a number of edtech angel investors from Latin American that participated in the round.

“I love the human interaction within instructors and our staff and students,” Borchardt said. “That is something very powerful of Henry compared to a MOOC. The biggest challenge is how do you scale maintaining those assets that bring you that?”

Florida-based logistics provider ShipMonk raises $290 million on the back of rising eCommerce demand

By Jonathan Shieber

Jan Bednar started ShipMonk with $70,000 in winnings from a string of student business plan competitions and launched the business that just closed on $290 million in new funding from a small warehouse with no air conditioning in the middle of Florida.

While Bednar’s new offices are still inside the warehouse his company operates, they now have air conditioning… and a $290 million financing round from Summit Partners to grow its business.

The Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.-based ShipMonk provides a slew of shipping and logistics services for small to medium-sized eCommerce businesses and right now — given the continuing COVID-19 pandemic — business is good.

We help SMBs and mid-market direct to consumer companies manage their supply chains. Help get their products from suppliers to facilities and connect with all of their sales channels including B2B … order management, transportation management, reverse logistics,” said Bednar. 

The company’s largest customers can book anywhere from $150 million to $250 million in revenue, but most of ShipMonk’s customers are actually small businesses pulling in between $1 million and $10 million on average.

It’s for these businesses that ShipMonk will fill its warehouses in Pennsylvania, California and Florida with 60,000 stock keeping units — managing around 50 different items for each customer it serves.

Bednar said ShipMonk would use the new cash to continue to upgrade its automation services and increase its staffing while also looking to expand internationally.

Profitable from the outset, ShipMonk just came off one of its best years, taking in upwards of $140 million in revenue. 

Bednar began the business alone, but quickly brought on co-founders Kevin Seitz, who handles marketing for the business, and Bosch Jares, a fellow native of the Czech Republic (like Bednar) who serves as the company’s chief technology officer.

The story of how Jares joined the business is indicative of the type of hustle that’s allowed Bednar to grow a booming tech and logistics business from the Ft. Lauderdale beaches.

It was the Florida weather that sold Jares, a college student from one of the Czech Republic’s top technical institutions, on the move to ShipMonk. Bednar had posted an internship opportunity to work (unpaid, but offering room and board) at his company on a college job board in the middle of January. The applications came pouring in, but it was Jares, a programmer who had been working with computers since age 14 who took the slot.

The rest… is ShipMonk history. Jares built the bulk of the backend for the company’s initial services spending nearly 20 hours a day coding.

 The thriftiness and hard work has won ShipMonk a booming business that has grown from 15,000 square feet of warehousing space into nearly 1 million square feet of storage space and a logistics service that spans the U.S. 

Timing for the new round couldn’t be better, as National Retail Federation estimates are banking on a 20% bump in new online sales — which could reach $202 billion this year. 

Black Friday alone raked in $9 billion in online purchases, according to data from Adobe Analytics provided by the company, and consumer spending is only going to continue to move online as the pandemic continues to threaten the health and safety of American consumers.  

ShipMonk’s technology integrates with shopping cart and marketplace platforms like Shopify to import orders across sales channels, which are then processed at the company’s warehouse locations. Customers can save up to 50% on their operational costs, according to the company.

“We believe ShipMonk truly demonstrates the power of a bootstrapped, durable growth mindset. Jan identified a significant gap in the market and, together with the ShipMonk team, has scaled the business in a deliberate and capital efficient manner to address that need. The results have been impressive,” said Christopher Dean, a Managing Director at Summit Partners who is taking a seat on the company’s board. 

 

With an eye for what’s next, longtime operator and VC Josh Elman gets pulled into Apple

By Connie Loizos

Josh Elman is moving over to Apple, he announced on Twitter today, saying he will be focused on the company’s App Store and helping “customers discover the best apps for them.”

Asked for more details about his new role, Elman referred us to Apple, which confirmed his employment but declined to offer more, including about his new title. (This is typical operating procedure for the tech giant.)

Certainly, Elman has plenty of experience with fast-growing technologies and popular apps in particular.  One of his first jobs out of Stanford was with RealNetworks, a bubble-era internet streaming company that went public in 1997, three years after it was funded. (It remains publicly traded, though its market cap is just $60 million these days.)

After RealNetworks, it was on to LinkedIn, which Elman joined in 2004 as a senior product manager when the company was just two years old.  From there, Elman worked in product management at the custom apparel and accessories company Zazzle, then at Facebook, then Twitter.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the venture firm Greylock brought Elman into the fold in 2011 as a principal, and by 2013, he was a general partner, investing in social networking deals throughout like Musical.ly (Bytedance acquired the company and turned it into TikTok); Nextdoor (which is reportedly eyeing ways to go public); Houseparty (acquired last year by Epic Games, which is now suing Apple); and Discord (which is sewing up a private funding deal at a valuation of roughly $7 billion).

Somewhat unexpectedly, in 2018, Elman left his full-time role with Greylock to join a company notably not in the firm’s its portfolio, the stock-trading platform Robinhood. As interesting, though he took on the role of VP of product at the popular and fast-growing startup, he didn’t cut ties with Greylock entirely, taking on the title of venture partner and remaining on as a board member to his companies.

Asked about the move, Elman told TC at the time that he had “started talking with a few of my partners about how I want to spend the next decade of my professional life. What gets me the most energized is when I can dig in on product with a hyper-growth company.”

Ultimately, the role didn’t last long, with Elman leaving last November after less than two years on the job. Now Elman — who said he’s stepping away from some of his Greylock-related board seats —  has a new chance to do what he loves most that from one of the most powerful perches in the world, the App Store.

“I’m really excited to get to build ways to help over a billion customers and millions of developers connect,” he tweeted earlier. He added in the same thread: “I recently found my college resume. My career objective was ‘To create great technology that changes people’s lives’. Still at it :)”

Vista acquires Gainsight for $1.1B, adding to its growing enterprise arsenal

By Ron Miller

Vista Equity Partners hasn’t been shy about scooping up enterprise companies over the years, and today it added to a growing portfolio with its purchase of Gainsight. The company’s software helps clients with customer success, meaning it helps create a positive customer experience when they interact with your brand, making them more likely to come back and recommend you to others. Sources pegged the price tag at $1.1 billion.

As you might expect, both parties are putting a happy face on the deal, talking about how they can work together to grow Gainsight further. Certainly, other companies like Ping Identity seem to have benefited from joining forces with Vista. Being part of a well-capitalized firm allowed them to make some strategic investments along the way to eventually going public last year.

Gainsight and Vista are certainly hoping for a similar outcome in this case. Monti Saroya, co-head of the Vista Flagship Fund and senior managing director at the firm, sees a company with a lot of potential that could expand and grow with help from Vista’s consulting arm, which helps portfolio companies with different aspects of their business like sales, marketing and operations.

“We are excited to partner with the Gainsight team in its next phase of growth, helping the company to expand the category it has created and deliver even more solutions that drive retention and growth to businesses across the globe,” Saroya said in a statement.

Gainsight CEO Nick Mehta likes the idea of being part of Vista’s portfolio of enterprise companies, many of whom are using his company’s products.

“We’ve known Vista for years, since 24 of their portfolio companies use Gainsight. We’ve seen Gainsight clients like JAMF and Ping Identity partner with Vista and then go public. We believe we are just getting started with customer success, so we wanted the right partner for the long term and we’re excited to work with Vista on the next phase of our journey,” Mehta told TechCrunch.

Brent Leary, principle analyst at CRM Essentials, who covers the sales and marketing space, says that it appears that Vista is piecing together a sales and marketing platform that it could flip or go public in a few years.

“It’s not only the power that’s in the platform, it’s also the money. And Vista seems to be piecing together an engagement platform based on the acquisitions of Gainsight, Pipedrive and even last year’s Acquia purchase. Vista isn’t afraid to spend big money, if they can make even bigger money in a couple years if they can make these pieces fit together,” Leary told TechCrunch.

While Gainsight exits as a unicorn, the deal might not have been the outcome it was looking for. The company raised more than $187 million, according to PitchBook data, though its fundraising had slowed in recent years. Gainsight raised $50 million in April of 2017 at a post-money valuation of $515 million, again per PitchBook. In July of 2018 it added $25 million to its coffers, and the final entry was a small debt investment raised in 2019.

It could be that the startup saw its growth slow down, leaving it somewhere between ready for new venture investment and profitability. That’s a gap that PE shops like Vista look for, write a check, shake up a company and hopefully exit at an elevated price.

Gainsight hired a new chief revenue officer last month, notably. Per Forbes, the company was on track to reach “about” $100 million ARR by the end of 2020, giving it a revenue multiple of around 11x in the deal. That’s under current market norms, which could imply that Gainsight had either lower gross margins than comparable companies, or as previously noted, that its growth had slowed.

A $1.1 billion exit is never something to bemoan — and every startup wants to become a unicorn — but Gainsight and Mehta are well known, and we were hoping for the details only an S-1 could deliver. Perhaps one day with Vista’s help that could happen.

Materialize scores $40 million investment for SQL streaming database

By Ron Miller

Materialize, the SQL streaming database startup built on top of the open-source Timely Dataflow project, announced a $32 million Series B investment led by Kleiner Perkins, with participation from Lightspeed Ventures.

While it was at it, the company also announced a previously unannounced $8 million Series A from last year, led by Lightspeed, bringing the total raised to $40 million.

These firms see a solid founding team that includes CEO Arjun Narayan, formerly of Cockroach Labs, and chief scientist Frank McSherry, who created the Timely Dataflow project on which the company is based.

Narayan says that the company believes fundamentally that every company needs to be a real-time company, and it will take a streaming database to make that happen. Further, he says the company is built using SQL because of its ubiquity, and the founders wanted to make sure that customers could access and make use of that data quickly without learning a new query language.

“Our goal is really to help any business to understand streaming data and build intelligent applications without using or needing any specialized skills. Fundamentally what that means is that you’re going to have to go to businesses using the technologies and tools that they understand, which is standard SQL,” Narayan explained.

Bucky Moore, the partner at Kleiner Perkins leading the B round, sees this standard querying ability as a key part of the technology. “As more businesses integrate streaming data into their decision-making pipelines, the inability to ask questions of this data with ease is becoming a non-starter. Materialize’s unique ability to provide SQL over streaming data solves this problem, laying the foundation for them to build the industry’s next great data platform,” he said.

They would naturally get compared to Confluent, a streaming database built on top of the Apache Kafka open-source streaming database project, but Narayan says his company uses straight SQL for querying, while Confluent uses its own flavor.

The company still is working out the commercial side of the house and currently provides a typical service offering for paying customers with support and a service agreement (SLA). The startup is working on a SaaS version of the product, which it expects to release some time next year.

They currently have 20 employees with plans to double that number by the end of next year as they continue to build out the product. As they grow, Narayan says the company is definitely thinking about how to build a diverse organization.

He says he’s found that hiring in general has been challenging during the pandemic, and he hopes that changes in 2021, but he says that he and his co-founders are looking at the top of the hiring funnel because otherwise, as he points out, it’s easy to get complacent and rely on the same network of people you have been working with before, which tends to be less diverse.

“The KPIs and the metrics we really want to use to ensure that we really are putting in the extra effort to ensure a diverse sourcing in your hiring pipeline and then following that through all the way through the funnel. That’s I think the most important way to ensure that you have a diverse [employee base], and I think this is true for every company,” he said.

While he is working remotely now, he sees having multiple offices with a headquarters in NYC when the pandemic finally ends. Some employees will continue to work remotely, with the majority coming into one of the offices.

Altana raises $7M to protect supply chains from disruptions, child labor

By Danny Crichton

Supply chains used to be one of those magical elements of capitalism that seemed to be designed by Apple: they just worked. Minus the occasional salmonella outbreak in your vegetable aisle, we could go about our daily consumer lives never really questioning how our fast-fashion clothes, tech gadgets, and medical supplies actually got to our shelves or homes.

Of course, a lot has changed over the past few years. Anti-globalization sentiment has grown as a political force, driving governments like the United States and the United Kingdom to renegotiate free trade agreements and attempt to onshore manufacturing while disrupting the trade status quo. Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic placed huge stress on supply chains — with some entirely breaking in the process.

In short, supply chain managers suddenly went from one of those key functions that no one wants to think about, to one of those key functions that everyone thinks about all the time.

While these specialists have access to huge platforms from companies like Oracle and SAP, they need additional intelligence to understand where these supply chains could potentially break. Are there links in the supply chain that might be more brittle than at first glance? Are there factories in the supply chain that are on alert lists for child labor or environmental violations? What if government trade policy shifts — are we at risk of watching products sit in a cargo container at a port?

New York-headquartered Altana wants to be that intelligence layer for supply-chain management, bringing data and machine learning to bear against the complexity of modern capitalism. Today, the company announced that it has raised $7 million in seed financing led by Anne Glover of London-based Amadeus Capital Partners.

The three founders of the startup, CEO Evan Smith, CTO Peter Swartz, and COO Raphael Tehranian, all worked together on Panjiva, a global supply chain platform that was founded in 2006, funded by Battery Ventures a decade ago, and sold to S&P Global in early 2018. Panjiva’s goal was to build a “graph” of supply chains that would offer intelligence to managers.

That direct experience informs Altana’s vision, which in many ways is the same as Panjiva’s but perhaps revamped using newer technology and data science. Again, Altana wants to build a supply-chain knowledge graph, provide intelligence to managers, and create better resilience.

The difference has to do with data. “What we continually found when we were in the data sales business was that you are kind of stuck in that place in the value chain,” Smith said. “Your customers won’t let you touch their data, because they don’t trust you with it, and other proprietary data companies don’t let you work on and manage and transform their data.”

Instead of trying to be the central repository for all data, Altana is “operating downstream” from all of these data sources, allowing companies to build their own supply chain graphs using their own data and whatever other data sources they have access to.

The company sells into procurement offices, which are typically managed in the CFO’s office. Today, the majority of customers for Altana are government clients such as border control, where “the task is to pick the needles out of the haystack as the ship arrives and you’ve got to pick the illicit shipments from the safe ones and actually facilitate the lawful trade,” Smith said.

The company’s executive chairman is Alan Bersin, who is a former commissioner of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency currently working as a policy consultant for Covington & Burling, which has been one of the premier law firms on trade issues like CFIUS during the Trump administration.

Altana allows one-off investigations and simulations, but its major product goal is to offer real-time alerts that give supply chain managers substantive visibility into changes that affect their business. For instance, rather than waiting for an annual labor or environmental audit to find issues, Altana hopes to provide predictive capabilities that allow companies to solve problems much faster than before.

In addition to Amadeus, Schematic Ventures, AlleyCorp, and the Working Capital – The Supply Chain Investment Fund also participated.

Recycling robotics company AMP Robotics could raise up to $70M

By Jonathan Shieber

AMP Robotics, the recycling robotics technology developer backed by investors including Sequoia Capital and Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners, is close to closing on as much as $70 million in new financing, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the company’s plans.

The new financing speaks to AMP Robotics’ continued success in pilot projects and with new partnerships that are exponentially expanding the company’s deployments.

Earlier this month the company announced a new deal that represented its largest purchase order for its trash sorting and recycling robots.

That order, for 24 machine learning-enabled robotic recycling systems with the waste handling company Waste Connections, was a showcase for the efficacy of the company’s recycling technology.

That comes on the back of a pilot program earlier in the year with one Toronto apartment complex, where the complex’s tenants were able to opt into a program that would share recycling habits monitored by AMP Robotics with the building’s renters in an effort to improve their recycling behavior.

The potential benefits of AMP Robotic’s machine learning enabled robots are undeniable. The company’s technology can sort waste streams in ways that traditional systems never could and at a cost that’s far lower than most waste handling facilities.

As TechCrunch reported earlier the tech can tell the difference between high-density polyethylene and polyethylene terephthalate, low-density polyethylene, polypropylene and polystyrene. The robots can also sort for color, clarity, opacity and shapes like lids, tubs, clamshells and cups — the robots can even identify the brands on packaging.

AMP’s robots already have been deployed in North America, Asia and Europe, with recent installations in Spain and across the U.S. in California, Colorado, Florida, Minnesota, Michigan, New York, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin.

At the beginning of the year, AMP Robotics  worked with its investor, Sidewalk Labs on a pilot program that provided residents of a single apartment building representing 250 units in Toronto with detailed information about their recycling habits. Sidewalk Labs is transporting the waste to a Canada Fibers material recovery facility where trash is sorted by both Canada Fibers employees and AMP Robotics.

Once the waste is categorized, sorted and recorded, Sidewalk communicates with residents of the building about how they’re doing in their recycling efforts.

It was only last November that the Denver-based AMP Robotics raised a $16 million round from Sequoia Capital and others to finance the early commercialization of its technology.

 

As TechCrunch reported at the time, recycling businesses used to be able to rely on China to buy up any waste stream (no matter the quality of the material). However, about two years ago, China decided it would no longer serve as the world’s garbage dump and put strict standards in place for the kinds of raw materials it would be willing to receive from other countries.

The result has been higher costs at recycling facilities, which actually are now required to sort their garbage more effectively. At the time, unemployment rates put the squeeze on labor availability at facilities where trash was sorted. Over the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has put even more pressure on those recycling and waste handling facilities, despite their identification as “essential workers”.

Given the economic reality, recyclers are turning to AMP’s technology — a combination of computer vision, machine learning and robotic automation to improve efficiencies at their facilities.

And, the power of AMP’s technology to identify waste products in a stream has other benefits, according to chief executive Matanya Horowitz.

“We can identify… whether it’s a Coke or Pepsi can or a Starbucks cup,” Horowitz told TechCrunch last year. “So that people can help design their product for circularity… we’re building out our reporting capabilities and that, to them, is something that is of high interest.”

AMP Robotics declined to comment for this article.

 

YC-backed Cashfree raises $35.3 million for its payments platform

By Manish Singh

Cashfree, an Indian startup that offers a wide-range of payments services to businesses, has raised $35.3 million in a new financing round as the profitable firm looks to broaden its offering.

The Bangalore-based startup’s Series B was led by London-headquartered private equity firm Apis Partners (which invested through its Growth Fund II), with participation from existing investors Y Combinator and Smilegate Investments. The new round brings the startup’s to-date raise to $42 million.

Cashfree kickstarted its journey in 2015 as a solution for restaurants in Bangalore that needed an efficient way for their delivery personnel to collect cash from customers.

Akash Sinha and Reeju Datta, the founders of Cashfree, did not have any prior experience with payments. When their merchants asked if they could build a service to accept payments online, the founders quickly realized that Cashfree could serve a wider purpose.

In the early days, Cashfree also struggled to court investors, many of whom did not think a payments processing firm could grow big — and do so fast enough. But the startup’s fate changed after Y Combinator accepted its application, even though the founders had missed the deadline and couldn’t arrive to join the batch on time. Y Combinator later financed Cashfree’s seed round.

Fast-forward five years, Cashfree today offers more than a dozen products and services and helps over 55,000 businesses disburse salary to employees, accept payments online, set up recurring payments and settle marketplace commissions.

Some of its customers include financial services startup Cred, online grocer BigBasket, food delivery platform Zomato, insurers HDFC Ergo and Acko and travel ticketing service provider Ixigo. The startup works with several banks and also offers integrations with platforms such as Shopify, PayPal and Amazon Pay.

Based on its offerings, Cashfree today competes with scores of startups, but it has an edge — if not many. Cashfree has been profitable for the past three years, Sinha, who serves as the startup’s chief executive, told TechCrunch in an interview.

“Cashfree has maintained a leadership position in this space and is now going through a period of rapid growth fuelled by the development of unique and innovative products that serve the needs of its customers,” Udayan Goyal, co-founder and a managing partner at Apis, said in a statement.

The startup processed over $12 billion in payments volumes in the financial year that ended in March. Sinha said part of the fresh fund will be deployed in R&D so that Cashfree can scale its technology stack and build more services, including those that can digitize more offline payments for its clients.

Cashfree is also working on building cross-border payments solutions to explore opportunities in emerging markets, he said.

“We still see payments as an evolving industry with its own challenges and we would be investing in next-gen payments as well as banking tech to make payments processing easier and more reliable. With the solid foundation of in-house technologies, tech-driven processes and in-depth industry knowledge, we are confident of growing Cashfree to be the leader in the payments space in India and internationally,” he said.

AliveCor, which helps its users manage their heart health, scores another FDA approval

By Connie Loizos

Last week, AliveCor, a nine-year-old, 92-person company whose small, personal electrocardiogram devices help users detect atrial fibrillation, bradycardia, and tachycardia from heart rate readings taken from their own kitchen tables, raised $65 million from investors.

Today, it’s clearer why investors — who’ve now provided the Mountain View, Ca., company with $169 million altogether —  are excited about its prospects. AliveCor just received its newest FDA clearance under the agency’s software as a medical device designation for an upgrade that generates enough detail and fidelity that AliveCor says its cardiological services can now serve as stand-in for the vast majority of cases when cardiac patients are not in front of their doctor.

Specifically, the company says the FDA-cleared update can detect premature atrial contractions, premature ventricular contractions, sinus rhythm with wide QRS.

In a world where the pandemic continues to rage and people remain hesitant to visit a hospital, these little steps add up. In fact, CEO Priya Abani, along with AliveCor founder and chief medical officer David Albert, formerly the chief clinical scientist of cardiology at GE, say AliveCor’s “Kardia” devices have been used to record nearly 15 million EKG recordings since March of this year, which is up over 70% year-over-year.

They also claim a 25% increase year-over-year in what they call physician-patient connections, meaning doctors specifically asking their patients to use the device, either at their medical office or at the patient’s home. Indeed, the pair says that while the company has focused historically on consumer sales, so much new business is coming through doctor referrals that roughly one out of every two of its devices is now sold through these recommendations.

Patients still need to pay out of pocket for AliveCor’s personal EKG devices, one of which currently sells for $89 while a more sophisticated model sells for $139.

The company also more recently rolled out a subscription product for $99 per year that “unlocks” additional features, including monthly summaries of a customer’s heart data, and hopefully soon, says Abani, access to cardiologists who will be able to answer questions in lieu of one’s own cardiologist.

Abani — who joined AliveCor last year from Amazon, where she was a general manager and director of Alexa — says other offerings are also in the works that should help customers measure their hypertension and blood pressure. She adds that the company more broadly sees itself as becoming a way for people to manage chronic conditions from home and that, if things go AliveCor’s way, employers will begin offering the service to employees as a way for them to take better care of their own heart health.

In the meantime, AliveCor’s bigger push into the enterprise appears tied not only to COVID and its ripple effects but also to competition on the consumer front from Apple Watch, which also now enables wearers to records the electrical pulses that make one’s heart beat and to determine whether the upper and lower chambers are their heart are in rhythm.

Though the company has sung Apple’s praises for raising awareness around heart health, last year, owing to shrinking sales, AliveCor stopped making an earlier product called the KardiaBand that was an FDA-cleared ECG wristband designed for use with Apple Watches.

AliveCor’s products are currently sold in 12 countries, including India, South Korea, and Germany, and it has clearance to sell in more than 37 altogether.

In addition to selling directly to customers through its site, its devices are available to buy through Best Buy, CVS, and Walgreens.

Very worth noting: Neither Apple nor AliveCor can detect actual heart attacks. While both can detect atrial fibrillation, acute heart attacks are not associated with atrial fibrillation.

LA-based Boulevard raises $27 million for its spa management software

By Jonathan Shieber

Boulevard, a spa management and payment platform, has raised $27 million in a new round of funding despite a business slowdown caused by the COVID0-19 pandemic.

Founded four years ago by Matt Danna and Sean Stavropoulos, Boulevard was inspired by Stavropoulos’ inability to book a haircut and Danna’s hunch that the inability of salons and spas to cater to customers like the busy programmer could be indicative of a bigger problem.

The two spent months pounding the pavement in Los Angeles pretending to be college students doing research on the industry. They spoke with salon owners in Beverly Hills, Hollywood and other trendy neighborhoods trying to get a sense of where software and services were falling short.

Through those months of interviews the two developed the booking management and payment platform that would become Boulevard. The inspiration was one part Shopify and one part ServiceTitan, Danna said.

The idea was that Boulevard could build a pretty large business catering to the needs of a niche industry that hadn’t traditionally been exposed to a purpose-built toolkit for its vertical.

Investors including Index Ventures, Toba Capital, VMG Partners, Bonfire Ventures, Ludlow Ventures and BoxGroup agreed.

That could be because of the size of the industry. There is more than $250 billion spent per year across roughly 3 million businesses in the salon and spa category, according to data provided by the company. By comparison, fitness attracts roughly $34 billion in annual spending from 150,000 businesses.

“With limited access to the professionals that help us look and feel our best, I think the world has realized something that our team has always recognized: Salons and spas are more than a luxury, they are essential to our well-being,” said Danna, in a statement. “We are humbled that so many businesses are placing their trust in us during such a turbulent time. This new capital will help accelerate our mission and deliver value to salons and spas that they never imagined was possible from technology.”

According to data provided by the company, Boulevard is definitely giving businesses a boost. On average, businesses increase bookings by 16%, retail revenue jumps by 18% and gratuity paid out to stylists jumps by 24% for businesses that use Boulevard, the company said. It also reduces no-shows and cancellations, and halves time spent on the phone.  

“Boulevard is revitalizing the salon and spa industry, as evidenced by the company’s sustained 300-400% revenue growth over the last three years,” said Damir Becirovic of Index Ventures, whose firm led the company’s Series A round and has doubled down with the new capital infusion. 

Customers using the company’s software include: Chris McMillan the Salon, Heyday, MèCHE Salon, Paintbox, Sassoon Salon, SEV Laser, Spoke & Weal and TONI&GUY.

Boulevard now has 90 employees and will look to increase that number as it continues to expand across the country.

Investors have taken a run at the spa market in the past, with company’s like MindBody valued at over $1 billion for its software services. Indeed, that company was taken private two years ago in a $1.9 billion transaction by Vista Equity Partners.

As Boulevard expands, the company may look to get deeper into financial services for the salons and spas that it’s already working with. Given the company’s window into these businesses’ financing, it’s not impossible to imagine a new line of business providing small business loans to these companies.

It’s something that the founders would likely not rule out. And it’s a way to provide more tools to entrepreneurs that often fall outside of the traditional sweet spot for banks and other lenders, Danna said.

 

Serenade snags $2.1M seed round to turn speech into code

By Ron Miller

Several years ago Serenade co-founder Matt Wiethoff was a developer at Quora when he was diagnosed with a severe repetitive stress injury to his hand and couldn’t code. He and co-founder Tommy MacWilliam decided to use AI to create a tool that let him speak the code instead, and Serenade was born.

Today, the company announced a $2.1 million seed investment led by Amplify Partners and Neo. While it was at it, the startup also announced the first commercial version of the product, Serenade Pro.

“Serenade is an app that you’ll download onto your computer. It will plug into your existing editors like Visual Studio Code or IntelliJ, and then allows you to speak your code,” co-founder MacWilliam told me. At that point the startup’s AI engine takes over and translates what you say into syntactically correct code.

He says that while there are a bunch of generalized speech-to-text engines out there, they hadn’t been able to find anything that was tuned specifically for the requirements of someone entering code. While it may seem that this would have a pretty narrow market focus, the co-founders see this use case as simply a starting point with developers using this kind of technology even when not injured.

“Our vision is that this is just the future of programming. With machine learning, coding becomes faster and easier than ever before, and our AI eliminates a lot of the rote mechanical parts of programming. So rather than needing to remember keyboard shortcuts or syntax details of a language, you can just focus on expressing your idea naturally, and then our machine learning takes care of translating that into actual code for you,” MacWilliam explained.

The startup has five employees today, but has plans to build the company to 15-20 in the next year fueled by the introduction of the commercial product and the new funding. As they build the company, MacWilliam says being diverse is a big part of that.

“Our diversity strategy ranges throughout the process. I think it starts at the top of the funnel. We need to make sure that we’re going out and reaching great people — there are great people everywhere and it’s on us to find them and convince them why working at Serenade would be great,” he said. They are working with a variety of sources to find a diverse group of candidates that stretches beyond their own personal network, then looking at how they interview and judge candidates’ skill sets with the goal of building a more diverse employee base.

The company sees itself as a way to move beyond the keyboard to speaking your code, and it intends to use this money to continue building the product, while building a community of dedicated users. “We’ll be thinking about how we can showcase the value of coding by voice, how we can put together demos and build a community of product champions showing that [it’s faster to code using your voice],” he said.

Friday app, a remote work tool, raises $2.1 million led by Bessemer

By Jordan Crook

Friday, an app looking to make remote work more efficient, has announced the close of a $2.1 million seed round led by Bessemer Venture Partners. Active Capital, Underscore, El Cap Holdings, TLC Collective, and New York Venture Partners also participated in the round, among others.

Founded by Luke Thomas, Friday sits on top of the tools that teams already use — Github, Trello, Asana, Slack, etc. — to surface information that workers need when they need it and keep them on top of what others in the organization are doing.

The platform offers a Daily Planner feature, so users can roadmap their day and share it with others, as well as a Work Routines feature, giving users the ability to customize and even automate routine updates. For example, weekly updates or daily standups done via Slack or Google Hangouts can be done via Friday app, eliminating the time spent by managers, or others, jotting down these updates or copying that info over from Slack.

Friday also lets users set goals across the organization or team so that users’ daily and weekly work aligns with the broader OKRs of the company.

Plus, Friday users can track their time spent in meetings, as well as team morale and productivity, using the Analytics dashboard of the platform.

Friday has a free forever model, which allows individual users or even organizations to use the app for free for as long as they want. More advanced features like Goals, Analytics and the ability to see past three weeks of history within the app, are paywalled for a price of $6/seat/month.

Thomas says that one of the biggest challenges for Friday is that people automatically assume it’s competing with an Asana or Trello, as opposed to being a layer on top of these products that brings all that information into one place.

“The number one problem is that we’re in a noisy space,” said Thomas. “There are a lot of tools that are saying they’re a remote work tool when they’re really just a layer on top of Zoom or a video conferencing tool. There is certainly increased amount of interest in the space in a good and positive way, but it also means that we have to work harder to cut through the noise.”

The Friday team is small for now — four full-time staff members — and Thomas says that he plans to double the size of the team following the seed round. Thomas declined to share any information around the diversity breakdown of the team.

Following a beta launch at the beginning of 2020, Friday says it is used by employees at organizations such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Quizlet, Red Hat, and EA, among others.

This latest round brings the company’s total funding to $2.5 million.

Resilience raises over $800 million to transform pharmaceutical manufacturing in response to COVID-19

By Jonathan Shieber

Resilience, a new biopharmaceutical company backed by $800 million in financing from investors including ARCH Venture Partners and 8VC, has emerged from stealth to transform the way that drugs and therapies are manufactured in the U.S.

Founded by ARCH Venture Partners investor Robert Nelsen, National Resilience Inc., which does business as Resilience was born out of Nelsen’s frustrations with the inept American response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to a statement the company will invest heavily in developing new manufacturing technologies across cell and gene therapies, viral vectors, vaccines and proteins.

Resilience’s founders identified problems in the therapeutic manufacturing process as one of the key problems that the industry faces in bringing new treatments to market — and that hurdle is exactly what the company was founded to overcome.

“COVID-19 has exposed critical vulnerabilities in medical supply chains, and today’s manufacturing can’t keep up with scientific innovation, medical discovery, and the need to rapidly produce and distribute critically important drugs at scale. We are committed to tackling these huge problems with a whole new business model,” said Nelsen in a statement.

The company brings together some of the leading investment firms in healthcare and biosciences including operating partners from Flagship Pioneering like Rahul Singhvi, who will serve as the company’s chief executive’ former Food and Drug Administration commissioner Scott Gottlieb, a partner at New Enterprise Associates and director on the Resilience board; and Patrick Yang, the former executive vice president and global head of technical operations at Roche/Genentech .

“It is critical that we adopt solutions that will protect the manufacturing supply chain, and provide more certainty around drug development and the ability to scale up the manufacturing of safe, effective but also more complex products that science is making possible,” said Dr. Gottlieb, in a statement. “RESILIENCE will enable these solutions by combining cutting edge technology, an unrivaled pool of talent, and the industry’s first shared service business model. Similar to Amazon Web Services, RESILIENCE will empower drug developers with the tools to more fully align discovery, development, and manufacturing; while offering new opportunities to invest in downstream innovations in formulation and manufacturing earlier, while products are still being conceived and developed.”

Other heavy hitters in the world of medicine and biotechnology who are working with the company include Frances Arnold, the Nobel Prize-winning professor from the California Institute of Technology; George Barrett, the former chief executive of Cardinal Health; Susan Desmond-Hellmann, the former president of product development at Genentech; Kaye Foster, the former vice president of human resources at Johnson and Johnson; and Denice Torres, the former President of Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceutical and Consumer Companies.

Why Bessemer’s Byron Deeter thinks SaaS companies could grow even faster in 2021

By Jordan Crook

Byron Deeter is not backing down from his optimism about the cloud and the end of the COVID-19-induced wave of software buying doesn’t have him too worried.

Of course, Deeter is an investor at Bessemer, a venture capital concern that has done well betting on the cloud, so you might expect him to stay a cloud bull. But during a recent chat with TechCrunch as part of our Extra Crunch Live series, his answer was worth re-reading.

The Extra Crunch Live series continues: Click this to see what’s coming up on the agenda.

We asked the about what might happen once the newly announced vaccines arrive and the pandemic-led digital transformation acceleration loses its tailwind.

“Will that growth decelerate? [Or] was it a point-in-time moment for COVID? Or has this been a pulling forward of overall trends? Certainly, you’re going to have both,” he said, adding that he doesn’t “think in a year from now, we’re going to be spending 10 hours a day on Zooms,” but that in his view Zoom will remain “foundational in the economy.”

In Deeter’s view, “we’ve just set a new baseline [for software] and the beauty of these subscription businesses is that they’re not going to turn them off.” The result of all of that? Bullish growth expectations.

Drilling in further, we asked if he expects Bessemer software portfolio companies will grow faster in percentage terms in 2021 than they did in 2020. Saying that the cohort profile will change, he added that “on balance,” he thinks that “there’s a real case that [the group] could grow the same or faster.”

Astra targets December for next orbital launch attempt

By Darrell Etherington

Astra is set to launch it’s next orbital rocket, with a window that opens on December 7 and lasts for 12 days following, until December 18, with an 11 AM to 2:30 PM PT block each day during which the launch could occur, depending on weather and conditions on the ground. This is the startup’s Rocket 3.2, a slightly revised and improved version of the Rocket 3.1 launch vehicle it flew in September.

Alameda-based Astra is a startup focused on producing a small, relatively cheap-to-build launch vehicle that can carry small payloads to space at a rapid clip, with flexible launch location capabilities. It was founded by former NASA CTO Chris Kemp, and is backed by funding from Mac Benioff, Innovation Endeavors, Airbus Ventures, Canaan Partners and others, and it already has an active rocket assembly factory operating in the East Bay.

The company was originally founded with the goal of winning DARPA’s Launch Challenge, though the deadline for that has since passed. Astra still aims to essentially satisfying the functional requirements of that competition by creating a launch vehicle that can be launched essentially on-demand when needed by clients looking for more responsive and mobile spaceflight capabilities, including the U.S. Department of Defense.

The goal of this next flight is similar to the goal of Rocket 3.1 in September: essentially to study the startup’s rocket and boost its efficiencies while building its effectiveness. Actually reaching orbit isn’t a primary goal yet, but is a secondary, nice-to-have aim of this launch, which will take off from Kodiak, Alaska. The company already learned a ton from its first launch, including lessons that led to changes and improvements made to Rocket 3.2. It has always aimed for a three-flight initial orbital launch test series, and will also fly a Rocket 3.3 after this one, incorporating additional lessons learned.

Rapid Robotics raises $5.5M for pre-programmed manufacturing robots

By Brian Heater

Bay Area-based Rapid Robotics today announced it has raised $5.5 million in seed funding in a round led by Greycroft and Bee Partners. The announcement comes during what has been a solid several months for robotics funding, and more and more companies are looking to automate workforces as the COVID-19 pandemic has ground a lot of productivity to a halt.

Manufacturing is one of the sectors of greatest interest on that front, as a business that can’t really afford to go on hiatus. That positions Rapid Robotics fairly well in the field. There are, of course, countless companies vying for a space in the massive industry.

Rapid’s primary value prop is in the training category. Getting robotics up and running in a factory can by an expensive and time-intensive process. The startup believes it has a unique offering with pre-programmed robotics that don’t require the same sort of training — and more or less work out to the box. On-board AI, meanwhile, assures that they’ll continue learning on the job, after they’re up and running.

The company’s primary robot is the Rapid Machine Operator, which factories can rent for around $25,000 a year. It features a six-joint robotic arm inside a safety work cell, computer vision and iPad for manual operation. It can perform a variety of manufacturing tasks, including part inspection, injection molding, pick-and-place and welding.

The company is pitching a potential return to U.S. manufacturing as a key selling point for the product. “Right now, billions of dollars of revenue are flowing offshore due to what I call ‘the automation gap’ for US contract manufacturers,” CEO Jordan Kretchmer said in a release. “The need to automate simple tasks is incredibly high, but the ability to do so has been out of reach for a vast majority of manufacturers. The Rapid Machine Operator is the first robotic solution to close that gap, making US manufacturers more competitive and supply chains more resilient.”

Bay Area-based Westec Plastics has been signed on as a customer.

Cloudbolt announces $35M Series B debt/equity investment to help manage hybrid cloud

By Ron Miller

Cloudbolt, a Bethesda, MD startup that helps companies manage hybrid cloud environments, announced a $35 million Series B investment today. It was split between $15 million in equity investment and $20 Million in debt.

Insight Partners provided the equity side of the equation, while Hercules Capital and Bridge Bank supplied the venture debt. The company has now raised over $61 million in equity and debt, according to Crunchbase data.

CEO Jeff Kukowski says that his company helps customers with cloud and DevOps management including cost control, compliance and security. “We help [our customers] take advantage of the fact that most organizations are already hybrid cloud, multi cloud, and/or multi tool. So you have all of this innovation happening in the world, and we make it easier for them to take advantage of it,” he said.

As he sees it, the move to cloud and DevOps, which was supposed to simplify everything has actually created new complexity, and the tools his company sells are designed to help companies reduce some of that added complexity. What they do is provide a way to automate, secure and optimize their workloads, regardless of the tools or approach to infrastructure that they are using.

The company closed the funding round at the end of last quarter and put it to work with a couple of acquisitions — Kumolus and SovLabs — to help accelerate and fill in the road map. Kumulos, which was founded in 2011 and raised $1.7 million, according to Crunchbase, really helps Cloudbolt extend its vision from managing on premises to the public cloud.

Solvlabs was an early stage startup working on a very specific problem creating a framework for extending VMware automation.

Cloudbolt currently has 170 employees. While Kukowski didn’t want to get specific about the number of additional employees he might be adding to that in the next 12 months, he says that as he does, he thinks about diversity in three ways.

“One is just pure education. So we as a company regularly meet and educate on issues around inclusion, social justice and diversity. We also recruit with with those ideas in mind. And then we also have a standing committee within the company that continues to look at issues not only for discussion, but quite frankly for investment in terms of time and fundraising,” he said.

Kukowski says that going remote because of COVID has allowed the company to hire from anywhere, but he still looks forward to a time when he can meet face-to-face with his employees and customers, and sees that as alway being part of his company’s culture.

Cloudbolt was founded in 2012 and has around 200 customers. Kukowski says that the company is growing between 40 and 50% year over year, although he wouldn’t share specific revenue numbers.

AI-tool maker Seldon raises £7.1M Series A from AlbionVC and Cambridge Innovation Capital

By Mike Butcher

Seldon is a UK startup that specializes in the rarified world of development tools to optimize Machine Learning. What does this mean? Well, dear reader, it means that the “AI” that companies are so fond of trumpeting, does actually end up working.

It’s now raised a £7.1M Series A round co-led by AlbionVC and Cambridge Innovation Capital . The round also includes significant participation from existing investors Amadeus Capital Partners and Global Brain, with follow-on investment from other existing shareholders. The £7.1M funding will be used to accelerate R&D and drive commercial expansion, take Seldon Deploy – a new enterprise solution – to market, and double the size of the team over the next 18 months.

More accurately, Seldon is a cloud-agnostic Machine Learning (ML) deployment specialist which works in partnership with industry leaders such as Google, Red Hat, IBM and Amazon Web Services.

Key to its success is that its open-source project Seldon Core has over 700,000 models deployed to date, drastically reducing friction for users deploying ML models. The startup says its customers are getting productivity gains of as much as 92% as a result of utilizing Seldon’s product portfolio.

Alex Housley, CEO and founder of Seldon said: Speaking to TechCrunch, Housley explained that companies are using machine learning across thousands of use cases today, “but the model actually only generates real value when it’s actually running inside a real-world application.”

“So what we’ve seen emerge over these last few years are companies that specialize in specific parts of the machine learning pipeline, such as training version control features. And in our case we’re focusing on deployment. So what this means is that organizations can now build a fully bespoke AI platform that suits their needs, so they can gain a competitive advantage,” he said.

In addition, he said Seldon’s Open Source model means that companies are not locked-in: “They want to avoid locking as well they want to use tools from various different vendors. So this kind of intersection between machine learning, DevOps and cloud-native tooling is really accelerating a lot of innovation across enterprise and also within startups and growth-stage companies.”

Nadine Torbey, Investor AlbionVC added: “Seldon is at the forefront of the next wave of tech innovation, and the leadership team are true visionaries. Seldon has been able to build an impressive open-source community and add immediate productivity value to some of the world’s leading companies.”

Vin Lingathoti, Partner at Cambridge Innovation Capital said: “Machine learning has rapidly shifted from a nice-to-have to a must-have for enterprises across all industries. Seldon’s open-source platform operationalizes ML model development and accelerates the time-to-market by eliminating the pain points involved in developing, deploying and monitoring Machine Learning models at scale.”

John Legend and Natalie Portman want you to try wearing fungus instead of leather

By Jonathan Shieber

Natalie Portman and John Legend are joining a group of venture capitalists and unnamed fashion brands backing MycoWorks, a company that just raised $45 million to commercialize its technology that makes a fungal-based biomaterial that can replace leather.

The goal is to get consumers to trade in their leather and lizard skin couture for some fungus fashion.

The company said it has inked some deals with big fashion brands as partners as it looks to bring its funky fungus to the masses in shoes, wallets, belts and other goods that traditionally use cowhide or other animal skins.

“We have been working with a few luxury brands and a major footwear manufacturer in very close collaboration,” said Matt Scullin, the chief executive officer at MycoWorks .

The unnamed fashion brands have already started producing products for stores in a range of items including shoes, ready to wear apparel and bags, according to Scullin.

MycoWorks likes to differentiate itself from other brands that want to bring a fungus among us or plant new plant-based fabrics in fashion — companies like Bolt Threads (mushrooms), Ananas Anam (pineapple fibers), and Desserto (cactus leather) — with its emphasis on the durability of its fabric.

“We’ve had the product tested in a huge range of different applications of various leather-based apparel to upholstery to standard leather goods like handbags and wallets. The key difference between our material and mushroom leather is that the structural components is so high,” Scullin said. “We’re confident in the material’s ability to perform in a really wide range of applications so there’s a wide range of uses for that.”

To that end, MycoWorks is focused on the high-end of the market. “There’s a misconception that brands are willing to sacrifice performance for sustainability and that’s not true,” Scullin said. “The real adoption occurs in an industry like this when the performance is there.”

Scullin won’t say how much the MycoWorks material costs nor would he talk about which specific companies are working with the company’s product right now. He did say that the company hopes eventually to be price competitive with not just the traditional leather market, but the plastic market for leather replacements, which is worth $70 billion per-year alone.

With the company’s current capacity it can produce tens of thousands of square feet of fungal material per yar, according to Scullin. That means MycoWorks still has a long way to go to catch up to an industry that produces billions of square feet of leather.

The funding for MycoWorks is impressive, but it also has to contend with some competitors that are getting traction of their own in the fashion industry.

In October, Bolt Threads announced the creation of a consortium alongside longtime partners Adidas, Stella McCartney and the fashion house behind brands like Balenciaga to explore mushroom leather-based products.

For MycoWorks investors — including WTT Investment Ltd. (Taipei, Taiwan), DCVC Bio, Valor Equity Partners, Humboldt Fund, Gruss & Co., Novo Holdings, 8VC, SOSV, AgFunder, Wireframe Ventures and Tony Faddell — the competition is expected. But they believe that MycoWorks functionality makes it the king (oyster) of the leather substitute world. 

“Fine mycelial leather is customizable to client needs,” said DCVC Bio investor Kiersten Stead. “[It’s] customizable in terms of shape, and application. And prices will vary depending on what the application and the criteria from customers is.”

In all, MycoWorks has raised $62 million and the company’s new financing announcement coincides with the opening of a new Emeryville, California production plant that takes its capacity up to its current tens-of-thousands of feet of fungal leather replacement capacity.

Behind all of this push to find replacements for animal skins is a growing awareness of the problems associated with traditional methods for manufacturing leather for clothes and shoes. It’s a terribly toxic and polluting process, both in the tanning and dyeing and in the waste and landfilling associated with both animal leather and its plastic replacements.

“The process of growing the mycelium is carbon negative. Customers will look at [our product] versus an animal hide and say why wouldn’t I choose [that],” said Sculin. “In addition you have the non-animal aspects and the plastic-free aspects that are driving so many decisions right now… what we really are to our brand partners is an advanced manufacturing company. We are motivated by sustainability. We represent a way for them to change their supply chains.”

Cato Network snags $130M Series E on $1B valuation as cloud wide area networking thrives

By Ron Miller

Cato Networks has spent the last five years building a cloud-based wide area network that lets individuals connect to network resources regardless of where they are. When the pandemic hit, and many businesses shifted to work from home, it was the perfect moment for technology like this. Today, the company was rewarded with a $130 million Series E investment on $1 billion valuation.

Lightspeed Venture Partners led the round with participation from new investor Coatue and existing investors Greylock, Aspect Ventures/Acrew Capital, Singtel Innov8 and Shlomo Kramer (who is the co-founder and CEO of the company). The company reports it has now raised $332 million since inception.

Kramer is a serial entrepreneur. He co-founded Check Point Software, which went public in 1996 and Imperva, which went public in 2011, and was later acquired by private equity firm Thoma Bravo in 2018. He helped launch Cato in 2015. “In 2015, we identified that the wide area networks (WANs), which is a tens of billions of dollars market, was still built on the same technology stack […] that connects physical locations, and appliances that protect physical locations and was primarily sold by the telcos and MSPs for many years,” Kramer explained.

The idea with Cato was to take that technology and redesign it for a mobile and cloud world, not one that was built for the previous generation of software that lived in private data centers and was mostly accessed from an office. Today they have a cloud-based network of 60 Points of Presence (PoPs) around the world, giving customers access to networking resources and network security no matter where they happen to be

The bet they made was a good one because the world has changed, and that became even more pronounced this year when COVID hit and forced many people to work from home. Now suddenly having the ability to sign in from anywhere became more important than ever, and they have been doing well with 2x growth in ARR this year (although he wouldn’t share specific revenue numbers).

As a company getting Series E funding, Kramer doesn’t shy away from the idea of eventually going public, especially since he’s done it twice before, but neither is he ready to commit any time table. For now, he says the company is growing rapidly, with almost 700 customers — and that’s why it decided to take such a large capital influx right now.

Cato currently has 270 employees with plans to grow to 400 by the end of next year. He says that Cato is a global company with headquarters in Israel where diversity involves religion, but he is trying to build a diverse and inclusive culture regardless of the location.

“My feeling is that inclusion needs to happen in the earlier stages of the funnel. I’m personally involved in these efforts, at the educational sector level, and when students are ready to be recruited by startups, we are already competitive, and if you look at our employee base it’s very diverse,” Kramer said.

With the new funds, he plans to keep building the company and the product. “There’s a huge opportunity and we want to move as fast as possible. We are also going to make very big investments on the engineering side to take the solution and go to the next level,” he said.

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