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Singapore-based Nektar.ai gets $6M to help B2B sales team collaborate more effectively

By Catherine Shu

A photo of Nektar.ai founders Aravind Ravi Sulekha and Abhijeet Vijayvergiya

Nektar.ai founders Aravind Ravi Sulekha and Abhijeet Vijayvergiya

Organizing information about prospective deals is a challenging task for B2B sales teams, since salespeople usually rely on multiple tools (email, Zoom, WhatsApp, etc) to talk with buyer committees. It becomes even more unwieldy when sales teams work remotely. Nektar.ai is a B2B sales productivity startup that wants to help sales team by reducing the amount of time they spend on manual data entry and providing analytics that can increase their revenue. The Singapore-based company announced today it has raised $6 million in seed funding, led by B Capital Group.

3One4 Capital and returning investor Nexus Venture Partners also participated, along with angel investors like Amit Midha, president of Asia Pacific and Japan at Dell; Ritesh Agarwal the founder and CEO of OYO Hotels;, Kevin Merritt, former president of Tyler Technologies’ data and insights division; Evan Davidson, SentinelOne’s vice president of Asia Pacific and Japan; Deep Nishar, senior managing partner at SoftBank Investment Advisers; and Tom Donlea, Ekata’s vice president and general manager of APAC.

Combined with its previous round, $2.15 million led by Nexus Venture Partners and announced in November 2020, the new funding brings Nektar.ai’s total seed capital to $8.1 million. The company says this is one of the largest seed rounds ever for a SaaS company based in Asia. Nektar.ai’s workforce is remote-first and the company says half of its team are women.

Nektar.ai has been in stealth mode since it was founded in 2020 by Abhijeet Vijayvergiya and Aravind Ravi Sulekha, working with hundreds of clients in private beta mode. Its waitlist is currently open for sign-ups, with plans to launch publicly in the first half of 2022. Part of Nektar.ai’s seed funding will be used to build a go-to-market team focused on the United States.

Nektar.ai was designed for SaaS revenue teams who have to manage information across many channels, including email, calendars, web conferences, Slack, CRM tools, LinkedIn and WhatsApp. This makes it hard for them to collaborate, follow playbooks (or sets of best practices) and get a full understanding of their deals pipeline and revenue. Nektar.ai integrates with different apps, surfaces key data and delivers it to the most convenient collaboration tool for a team, like Slack.

Vijayvergiya told TechCrunch that over the last six months, Nektar.ai accelerated product development because “we saw a strong demand for a guided selling solution in the market,” onboarding more than 200 prospects from its waitlist.

Nektar.ai launched a web console for managers, a Chrome extension and integrations with Salesforce, Google Workspace and Slack. It also added a new feature called Capture Bot, an AI-based system that automatically extracts important information from salespeople’ online interactions with buyer committees, surfacing data that would otherwise be tucked away in different inboxes and calendars. This increases the accuracy of their CRM tools and allows sales managers to see how engaged their teams are with potential customers and how prospective deals are progressing.

For individual representatives, Nektar.ai’s tools let them spend less time on manual data entry. They also get analytics like multithreading scores that help them identify how deals were won or lost. For example, Vijayvergiya said one client found they won deals if they had at least four contacts with a buyer committee after the demo stage. As a result, its sales representatives began engaging with more than four members of the buyer committee on all potential deals.

Another way Nektar.ai helps SaaS sales teams save money and time is building databases of first-party contacts from their inboxes. Vijayvergiya said one client was able to save $50,000 by organizing their existing contacts instead of purchasing third-party contact data.

In a statement, B Capital Group general partner Gabe Greenbaum said, “Nektar.ai’s solutions provide great value to distributed revenue teams, which is even more important as enterprises conduct further business across global markets. B Capital is always eager to work with experienced and knowledgeable founders, and we’re confident that Abhijeet, Aravind and the Nektar.ai team will continue their strong momentum on the path to becoming the industry-leading tool for enterprise sales productivity.”

Design expert Scott Tong outlines 4 concepts founders should consider when designing products

By Jordan Crook

In the last decade, high-quality design has become a necessity in the software space. Great design is a commodity, not a luxury, and yet, designing beautiful products and finding great designers continues to be a struggle for many entrepreneurs.

At Early Stage 2021, design expert Scott Tong walked us through some of the ways founders should think about design. Tong was involved in product and brand design at some of the biggest brands in tech, including IDEO, IFTTT, Pinterest and more. He’s now a partner at Design Fund.

Tong explained how to think about brand as more than a logo or a social media presence, what design means and the steps that come before focusing on the pixels, and gave guidance on when entrepreneurs should hire third-party design agencies or bring on full-time talent.

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Reputation

“The purest treasure mortal times afford is spotless reputation,” wrote Shakespeare. Though we often think of a brand as a logo or a social media persona, a brand is the equivalent of a person’s reputation. It signifies what the company and products stand for, and it has an element of being memorable for something, whether it’s prestige, like for Chanel, or terrible customer service, like for Comcast.

The closest word in the English language to brand is actually reputation. The analogy is that brand is to company as reputation is to person. If you can link your brand with your company’s reputation, I think it’s a really great place to start when you’re having conversations about brands. What is the first impression? What are the consistent behaviors that your brand hopes to repeat over and over? What are the memorable moments that stand out and make your brand, your reputation memorable? (Timestamp: 2:40)

Existing versus preferred

Tong outlined what design is truly about. There are many different schools of thought on design methodology and there are many different types of design. You may be thinking about product design and logo design and brand design all at the same time, and the only way to successfully hire for those tasks and complete them is to understand what design is, at its core.

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Sendlane raises $20M to convert shoppers into loyal customers

By Christine Hall

Sendlane, a San Diego-based multichannel marketing automation platform, announced Thursday it raised $20 million in Series A funding.

Five Elms Capital and others invested in the round to give Sendlane total funding of $23 million since the company was founded in 2018.

Though the company officially started three years ago, co-founder and CEO Jimmy Kim told TechCrunch he began working on the idea back in 2013 with two other co-founders.

They were all email marketers in different lines of business, but had some common ground in that they were all using email tools they didn’t like. The ones they did like came with too big of a price tag for a small business, Kim said. They set out to build their own email marketing automation platform for customers that wanted to do more than email campaigns and newsletters.

When two other companies Kim was involved in exited in 2017, he decided to put both feet into Sendlane to build it into a system that maximized revenue based on insights and integrations.

In late 2018, the company attracted seed funding from Zing Capital and decided in 2019 to pivot into e-commerce. “Based on our personal backgrounds and looking at the customers we worked with, we realized that is what we did best,” Kim said.

Today, more than 1,700 e-commerce companies use Sendlane’s platform to convert more than 100 points of their customers’ data — abandoned carts, which products sell the best and which marketing channel is working — into engaging communications aimed at driving customer loyalty. The company said it can increase revenue for customers between 20% and 40% on average.

The company itself is growing 100% year over year and seeing over $7 million in annual recurring revenue. It currently has 54 employees right now, and Kim expects to be at around 90 by the end of the year and 150 by the end of 2022. Sendlane currently has more than 20 open roles, he said.

That current and potential growth was a driver for Kim to go after the Series A funding. He said Sendlane became profitable last year, which is why it has not raised a lot of money so far. However, as the rapid adoption of e-commerce continues, Kim wants to be ready for the next wave of competition coming in, which he expects in the next year.

He considers companies like ActiveCampaign and Klaviyo to be in line with Sendlane, but says his company’s differentiator is customer service, boasting short wait times and chats that answer questions in less than 15 seconds.

He is also ready to go after the next vision, which is to unify data and insights to create meaningful interactions between customers and retailers.

“We want to start carving out a new space,” Kim added. “We have a ton of new products coming out in the next 12 to 18 months and want to be the single source for customer journey data insights that provides flexibility for your business to grow.”

Two upcoming tools include Audiences, which will unify customer data and provide insights, and an SMS product for two-way communications and enabled campaign-level sending.

 

Hyper is a new fund that offers $300k checks and promise of a media slingshot for founders 

By Matthew Panzarino

Hyper is a $60M early-stage fund co-founded by Josh Buckley, Product Hunt’s CEO along with writer, founder and designer Dustin Curtis. Two ex-Sequoia operators are part of the team at launch as well. Malika Cantor as Partner and GM and Ashton Brown as Head of Program. The fund launches today and is self-described as ‘inspired by the Product Hunt community’. 

The team will be writing $300k checks for 5% of very early companies in any arena that seems promising to the partnership in a fixed deal structure that mirrors Y-Combinator. 

The fund will exist as a ‘sister company’ to Product Hunt (though it’s going to technically own it). Product Hunt, however, is the first of what the team says will be many companies it will own, create and operate in order to provide ‘direct value’ to its portfolio companies. 

I had a chat with Buckley, Curtis and Cantor about the new fund and company and the way that they hoped to differentiate Hyper in a world of aggressively service-oriented venture firms. 

The short version is: distribution. It’s hard to argue with the overall assumption that the Hyper team is working under — capital is majorly commoditized. Frankly, sometimes that’s all you want from an investor whose value add is more of a thorn in your side than anything. But, especially at the early stage there are a few funds and firms that offer a strong value outside of writing checks in the form of, say, hiring, sales introductions or board members that have relevant operational experience. 

Where Hyper differs, says Buckley, is that they see distribution as the biggest value add for a nascent startup at the stages where the firm hopes to invest. Product Hunt is one opportunity that he points to as an example. It’s an established launch pad to an audience of extreme early adopters that can provide a seed of a real user base — Hyper itself is launching via a post on the platform. 

I’ll let the Hyper team’s words spell out what they say is its thesis:

Hyper believes that every company (B2B or B2C) needs access to distribution channels to find customers, users, and talented employees to join their teams. Hyper works with early-stage companies at three key junctures in a startup’s journey:

  • Initial customer acquisition and validation (often at the pre-Seed stage)
  • First product/company launch and hiring (often at the Seed stage)
  • Scaling customer acquisition and fundraising (before the Series A)

Founders who go through the program will remain a part of the tight-knit Hyper founder community long past their Series A.

Over the past few months, Buckley says that Product Hunt has grown headcount by around 50% in part to boost its ability to act as an enhanced distribution channel. 

A short list of some of the people involved as advisors, mentors or investors themselves includes Alexis & Serena Williams, Alfred Lin of Sequoia, Garry Tan of Initialized, Harry Stebbings, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Naval Ravikant, Owen van Natta, Ryan Hoover, Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic and Sriram Krishnan of a16z. 

It’s a pretty eclectic group, but if you squint you can see the shape of the ambitions that Hyper has reflected in the parties involved. A mix of media, venture and product figures is probably the right way to go if you want to back yourself into a media empire funded by venture capital returns. 

They’ll be building additional media products as well, especially ones that focus on areas of hyper growth and high interest in order to both generate deal flow and to feature companies in the portfolio. Interestingly, unlike many marketing-operations-disguised-as-journalistic-enterprises, Curtis says that they want these to be real, functioning media companies and that startups funded by Hyper will be presented on those sites and platforms in clearly defined sections that make it clear that they are part of the program. 

As an example, the team is careful to state that Product Hunt will remain a ‘neutral platform’ for launching products and that Hyper companies will get clearly marked slots on the site. 

Surrounding those placements will be content that is produced by editorial media arms independent of the fund (though, in the end, funded by the profits of the fund). They’re not quite up to giving specifics about how they’re going to power these media properties initially but the funds management fees as well as most of its profits from carry will go towards cultivating the distro side. The other part of the ‘most’ will, one assumes, go to the individual investors. Curtis says that there could be other ways to obtain capital to speed up this process that is allowed by the unique structure of Hyper like debt or equity financing. 

Hyper itself is trying to establish two lines of business. A portfolio of wholly owned companies like Product Hunt (which still counts AngelList as a majority investor and Ravikant on its board) and other new media brands. And the other component which includes the portfolio of Hyper funds (plural theirs) and a founder program that includes mentorship, twice-a-year-events, and other future efforts — eventually. 

The mentorship component that Hyper hopes to add for founders in the fund is an 8-week founder program that includes individuals from “partners” like Andreeessen Horowitz, AngelList, Sequoia Capital, the Twenty Minute VC Podcast and Product Hunt helping founders to solve ‘key challenges’. Some of the participants are investors in Hyper, though none of the funds participated themselves The group includes some close to home figures as well, in Product Hunt GM Ashley Higgins and founder Ryan Hoover.

The program will also offer office hours with experts, an exclusive Product Hunt launch event and a Public Hyper Demo Day and Investor Demo Day to participate in within a year of being in the program.

The Hyper concept sounds fresh in combination, if not in components. An enormous amount of ink has been spilled, for instance, on the spinning up of the VC media apparatus as a bullhorn for a tech-optimism POV. But most of that content is understood to be talking the firm’s book and not intended to be seen as journalism. Though the media publications that Hyper is planning on forming have yet to be realized, there is enough of a differentiating spark here that could make it a unique play that attempts to straddle the worlds of editorial and venture. 

I have thoughts about the way that venture and media interact, as you might imagine given what I do and waves hands at the masthead where we are having this little chat. Combining a media and investing apparatus is not a new concept — as TechCrunch readers will know. But it’s not without its complexities. Enthusiast media that works does so for a couple of major reasons, in my opinion:

  • Genuine obsession with the subject matter. The writers, editors and even business people involved must have a crazy thirst to understand and contextualize the subjects that they write about. There can be no in-between here, as they are speaking every day to an audience that is just as obsessed with it as they are and can detect any level of commitment to it that is less than 100%. 
  • A patina of either trust or candor built over time. You can go into it with some bona-fides that you buy with a big name hire or series of them, and the reputations that they’ve built elsewhere. But if you’re full of shit, you’re going to lose — no matter how well positioned and funded you are. You may ‘win’ long term by turning what you’re doing into something else, a broad interest publication in niche clothing, for instance. But you won’t win at the enthusiast level.
  • An intense, punishing commitment to momentum. The further you delve into any niche, the more knowledgeable your audience will be. This means that you must produce uniquely insightful, crisp, well-researched content every day and you must do it with a level of granularity that surpasses anyone else in your niche. Your audience lives and breathes this stuff so if you’re telling them things they’ve already read on 3 message boards, in private texts or in their work slack then you’ve lost. You’ve got to get subcutaneous and not just superficially so. 

And when you add in a layer of complexity that is proudly announcing your vested interests in the success of particular companies, it just ups the level of difficulty massively. I don’t think that it’s at all impossible to run a fund that feeds a media arm, but it’s definitely a ‘doing a really hard thing while also on fire’ kind of operation.

Which doesn’t mean that Hyper can’t pull it off. Product Hunt is the model for what they’re trying to do, creating close-to-the-ground media that attracts as many operators and investors as it does early adopters. Duplicating that in a variety of publications and events, however, is not easy at all. 

I will say that a bet on distribution as value add is still one of the better stabs that I’ve seen lately. The capital is, as Buckley told me, readily and generically available. And having your calling card be “we can help the first 10, 20 or 30 thousand people know that you even exist” isn’t a bad situation at all. It works.

This is, after all, what we do at TechCrunch, we just don’t take a cut. 

The announcement today is the Hyper the fund, and the fact that they’re opening applications to a small cohort of 25 companies. The applications are planned to open for roughly 4 weeks every quarter and the deadline for this tranche is August 10th, 2021 at midnight PT. The second cohort will open in November 2021. 

The fund is taking applicants worldwide though notes that some countries present legal complexities for investment. 

Kdan Mobile gets $16M Series B for its cloud-based content and productivity tools

By Catherine Shu

Kdan Mobile founder and CEO Kenny Su

Kdan Mobile founder and CEO Kenny Su

Kdan Mobile, a company that provides a wide range of cloud-based software, including AI-based tech for organizing documents, has raised a $16 million Series B. The round was led by South Korea-based Dattoz Partners, which will also take a seat on Kdan Mobile, and included participation from WI Harper Group, Taiwania Capital and Golden Asia Fund Mitsubishi UFJ Capital.

Launched in 2009, Kdan Mobile has focused on developing content creation and productivity software for mobile devices from the start, founder and chief executive officer Kenny Su told TechCrunch. “We’ve observed more and more industries embracing remote or hybrid work for years now, even before 2020,” he said. “We always sensed that trend would continue.”

Kdan Mobile has now raised $21 million in total. Since announcing its Series A in April 2018, Kdan Mobile has grown from 70 employees to 200 in Taiwan, China, Japan and the United States. It also passed 200 million downloads and now has more than 100 million members on its platform. More than half of Kdan Mobile’s users are in the U.S. and Europe, 30% from Asia and 15% from Africa and Australia.

Part of the funding will be used to develop Kdan Mobile’s enterprise products, including Document AI, its data processing and filtering technology, and SaaS products like e-signature service DottedSign, PDF software Document 365 and Creativity 365 for multimedia content creation, including animations and video editing.

After focusing primarily on individual users, Kdan Mobile decided to start working with more enterprise clients in 2018 and its software is now used by more than 40,000 businesses and educational organizations. Su said the company’s focus on enterprise was validated with the 2019 launch of DottedSign, which now has more than 300,000 users. During the past year and a half, the number of signatures processed by DottedSign increase by 30 times as companies switched to remote work because of the pandemic. Kdan Mobile also began offering a set of APIs and SDKs so internal developers at large enterprises can integrate and customize its technology.

“We use a lot of what’s called B2C2B approach, or business to consumer to business, meaning that we still try to connect with users at the individual level, but do so in a way that we hope they’ll adopt our solutions at the company level,” said Su.

Document AI was launched in 2021 after Kdan Mobile found that many of its users wanted to reduce the amount of time they spend managing documents. Its features include optical character recognition, smart tagging and search, and protection for sensitive data. Some examples of how Document AI can be used include automating data-entry tasks and creating summaries of research documents.

When asked how its products differentiate from those offered by Google, Microsoft and Adobe, Su said one way is that Kdan Mobile has always created products for mobile first, before designing the user experience for other devices, with the idea of serving professionals who are on the move a lot.

On the other hand, Kdan Mobile doesn’t necessarily see itself as a competitor with those companies. Instead, its solutions are complementary. For example, it creates files that are compatible with Adobe products and is integrated with Google Workspace, Zapier and, in the near future, Microsoft Teams.

“In that regard, it’s about helping users where they are, rather than trying to sway them away from existing products or services,” Su said.

In statement, Dattoz Partner CEO Yeon Su Kim said, “We see tremendous growth in the market for software and solutions that empower the post-pandemic hybrid workforce. Kdan’s powerful product suite and the leadership team’s ability to executive have led to its strong momentum in several key markets, including the U.S. and Asia markets.”

 

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