FreshRSS

🔒
❌ About FreshRSS
There are new available articles, click to refresh the page.
Yesterday — January 17th 2021Your RSS feeds

GitLab oversaw a $195 million secondary sale that values the company at $6 billion

By Ron Miller

GitLab has confirmed with TechCrunch that it oversaw a $195 million secondary sale that values the company at $6 billion. CNBC broke the story earlier today.

The company’s impressive valuation comes after its most recent 2019 Series E in which it raised $268 million on a 2.75 billion valuation, an increase of $3.25 billion in under 18 months. Company co-founder and CEO Sid Sijbrandij believes the increase is due to his company’s progress adding functionality to the platform.

“We believe the increase in valuation over the past year reflects the progress of our complete DevOps platform towards realizing a greater share of the growing, multi-billion dollar software development market,” he told TechCrunch.

While the startup has raised over $434 million, this round involved buying employee stock options, a move that allows the company’s workers to cash in some of their equity prior to going public. CNBC reported that the firms buying the stock included Alta Park, HMI Capital, OMERS Growth Equity, TCV and Verition.

The next logical step would appear to be IPO, something the company has never shied away from. In fact, it actually at one point included the proposed date of November 18, 2020 as a target IPO date on the company wiki. While they didn’t quite make that goal, Sijbrandij still sees the company going public at some point. He’s just not being so specific as in the past, suggesting that the company has plenty of runway left from the last funding round and can go public when the timing is right.

“We continue to believe that being a public company is an integral part of realizing our mission. As a public company, GitLab would benefit from enhanced brand awareness, access to capital, shareholder liquidity, autonomy and transparency,” he said.

He added, “That said, we want to maximize the outcome by selecting an opportune time. Our most recent capital raise was in 2019 and contributed to an already healthy balance sheet. A strong balance sheet and business model enables us to select a period that works best for realizing our long-term goals.”

GitLab has not only published IPO goals on its Wiki, but its entire company philosophy, goals and OKRs for everyone to see. Sijbrandij told TechCrunch’s Alex Wilhelm at a TechCrunch Disrupt panel in September that he believes that transparency helps attract and keep employees. It doesn’t hurt that the company was and remains a fully remote organization, even pre-COVID.

“We started [this level of] transparency to connect with the wider community around GitLab, but it turned out to be super beneficial for attracting great talent as well,” Sijbrandij told Wilhelm in September.

The company, which launched in 2014, offers a DevOps platform to help move applications through the programming lifecycle.

Update: The original headline of this story has been changed from ‘GitLab raises $195M in secondary funding on $6 billion valuation.’

 

Before yesterdayYour RSS feeds

Tiger Global is raising a new $3.75 billion venture fund, one year after closing its last

By Connie Loizos

According to a recent letter sent to its investors, Tiger Global Management, the New York-based investing powerhouse, is raising a new $3.75 billion venture fund called Tiger Private Investment Partners XIV that it expects to close in March.

The fund is Tiger Global’s 13th venture fund, despite its title — the partners might be superstitious — and it comes hot on the heels of the firm’s 12th venture fund, closed exactly a year ago, also with $3.75 billion in capital commitments.

A spokesperson for the firm declined to comment on the letter or Tiger Global’s broader fundraising strategy when reached this morning.

It’s a lot of capital to target, even amid a sea of enormous new venture vehicles. New Enterprise Associates closed its newest fund with $3.6 billion last year. Lightspeed Venture Partners soon after announced $4 billion across three funds. Andreessen Horowitz, the youngest of the three firms, announced in November it had closed a pair of funds totaling $4.5 billion.

At the same time, Tiger Global has seemingly has a strong case to potential limited partners. Last year alone, numerous of its portfolio companies either went public or was acquired.

Yatsen Holding, the nearly five-year-old parent company of China-based cosmetics giant Perfect Diary, went public in November and is now valued at $14 billion. (Tiger Global’s ownership stake didn’t merit a mention on the company’s regulatory filing.)

Tiger Global also quietly invested in the cloud-based data warehousing outfit Snowflake and, while again, it didn’t have a big enough stake to be included in the company’s S-1, even a tiny ownership percentage would be valuable, given that Snowflake is now valued at $85 billion.

And Tiger Global backed Root insurance, a nearly six-year-old, Columbus, Oh.-based insurance company that went public in November and currently boasts a market cap of $5.3 billion. Tiger owned 10.3% sailing into the offering.

As for M&A, Tiger Global saw at least three of its companies swallowed by bigger tech companies during 2020, including Postmates’s all-stock sale to Uber for $2.65 billion; Credit Karma’s $7 billion sale in cash and stock to Intuit; and the sale of Kustomer, which focused on customer service platforms and chatbots, for $1 billion to Facebook.

Tiger Global, whose roots are in hedge fund management, launched its private equity business in 2003, spearheaded by Chase Coleman, who’d previously worked for hedge-fund pioneer Julian Robertson at Tiger Management; and Scott Shleifer, who joined the firm in 2002 after spending three years with the Blackstone Group. Lee Fixel, who would become a key contributor in the business, joined in 2006.

Shleifer focused on China; Fixel focused on India, and the rest of the firm’s support team (it now has 22 investing professionals on staff) helped find deals in Brazil and Russia  before beginning to focus more aggressively on opportunities in the U.S.

Every investing decision was eventually made by each of the three. Fixel left in 2019 to launch his own investment firm, Addition. Now Shleifer and Coleman are the firm’s sole decision-makers.

Whether the firm eventually replaces Fixel is an open question, though it doesn’t appear to be the plan. Tiger Global is known for grooming investors within its operations rather than hiring outsiders, so a new top lieutenant would almost surely come from its current team.

In the meantime, the firm’s private equity arm — which has written everything from Series A checks (Warby Parker) to checks in the multiple hundreds of millions of dollars — is currently managing assets of $30 million, compared with the $49 billion that Tiger is managing more broadly.

A year ago, Tiger Global, which employs 100 people altogether, was reportedly managing $36.2 billion in assets.

According to the outfit’s investor letter, the firm’s gross internal rate of return across its 12 previous funds is 32%, while its net IRR is 24%.

Tiger Global’s investors include a mix of sovereign wealth funds, foundations, endowments, pensions, and its own employees, who are collectively believed to be the firm’s biggest investors at this point.

Some of Tiger Global’s biggest wins to date have include a $200 million bet on the e-commerce giant JD.com that produced a $5 billion for the firm. According to the WSJ, it also cleared more than $1 billion on the Chinese online-services platform Meituan Dianping, which went public in 2018.

Tiger Global also reportedly reaped $3 billion from majority sale of India’s Flipkart to Walmart in 2018,  though the Indian government has more recently been trying to recover $1.9 billion from the firm, claiming it has outstanding tax dues on the sale of its share in the company.

One outcome that might surprise even Tiger Global’s investors ties to the connected fitness company Peloton, 20% of which the firm owned at the time of Peloton’s  2019 IPO (a deal that Fixel reportedly brought to the table, along with Flipkart). Fueled by users trapped at home during the pandemic, Peloton — which was valued by private investors at $4 billion and doubled in value immediately as a publicly traded company — now boasts a market cap of $48.6 billion.

Tiger Global has invested its current fund in roughly 50 companies over the last 12 months.

Among its newest bets is Blend, an eight-year-old, San Francisco-based digital lending platform that yesterday announced $300 million in Series G funding, including from Coatue, at a post-money valuation of $3.3 billion.

It also led the newly announced $450 million Series C round for Checkout.com, an eight-year-old, London-based online payments platform that is now valued at $15 billion. And it wrote a follow-on check to Cockroach Labs, the nearly six-year-old, New York-based distributed SQL database that just raised $160 million in Series E funding at a $2 billion valuation, just eight months after raising an $86.6 million Series D round.

Another of its newest, biggest bets centers on the online education platform Zuowebang, in China. Back in June, Tiger Global co-led a $750 million Series E round in the company.

Last month, it was back again, co-leading a $1.6 billion round in the distance-learning company.

Pictured: Scott Shleifer, managing director of Tiger Global Management LLC, right, speaks with an attendee during the UJA-Federation of New York Wall Street Dinner in New York, on Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2011. 

Mosaic raises $18.5M Series A from GC to rebuild the CFO software stack

By Danny Crichton

CFOs are the supposed omniscient owners of a company. While the CEO sets strategy, messages and builds culture, the CFO needs to know everything that it is going on in an organization. Where is revenue coming from, and when will it arrive? How much will new headcount cost, and when do those expenses need to be paid? How can cash flows be managed, and what debt products might help smooth out any discontinuities?

As companies have migrated to the cloud, these questions have gotten harder to answer as other departments started avoiding the ERP as a centralized system-of-record. Worse, CFOs are expected to be more strategic than ever about finance, but can struggle to deliver important forecasts and projections given the lack of availability of key data. CMOs have gotten a whole new software stack to run marketing in the past decade, so why not CFOs?

For three Palantir alums, the hope is that CFOs will turn to their new startup called Mosaic. Mosaic is a “strategic finance platform” that is designed to ingest data from all sorts of systems in the alphabet soup of enterprise IT — ERPs, HRISs, CRMs, etc. — and then provide CFOs and their teams with strategic planning tools to be able to predict and forecast with better accuracy and with speed.

The company was founded in April 2019 by Bijan Moallemi, Brian Campbell and Joe Garafalo, who worked together at Palantir in the company’s finance team for more than 15 years collectively. While there, they saw the company grow from a small organization with a bit more than one hundred people to an organization with thousands of employees, more than one hundred customers as we saw last year with Palantir’s IPO and incoming revenue from more than a dozen countries.

Mosaic founders Bijan Moallemi, Brian Campbell and Joseph Garafalo. Photo via Mosaic.

Strategically handling finance was critical for Palantir’s success, but the existing tools in its stack couldn’t keep up with the company’s needs. So Palantir ended up building its own. We were “not just cranking away in Excel, which is really the default tool in the toolkit for CFOs, but actually building a technical team that was writing code, [and] building tools to really give speed, access, trust and visibility across the organization,” Moallemi, who is CEO of Mosaic, described.

Most organizations can’t spare their technical talent to the CFO’s office, and so as the three co-founders left Palantir to other pastures as heads of finance — Moallemi to edtech startup Piazza, Campbell to litigation management startup Everlaw and Garafalo to blockchain startup Axoni — they continued to percolate on how finance could be improved. They came together to do for all companies what they saw at Palantir: build a great software foundation for the CFO’s office. “Probably the biggest advancements to the office of the CFO over the last 10 years has been moving from kind of desktop-based Excel to cloud-based Google Sheets,” Moallemi said.

So what is Mosaic trying to do to rebuild the CFO software stack? It wants to build a platform that is a gateway to connecting the entire company to discuss finance in a more collaborative fashion. So while Mosaic focuses on reporting and planning, the mainstays of the finance office, it wants to open those dashboards and forecasts wider into the company so more people can have insight into what’s going on and also give feedback to the CFO.

Screenshot of Mosaic’s planning function. Photo via Mosaic.

There are a handful of companies like publicly-traded Anaplan that have entered this space in the last decade. Moallemi says incumbents have a couple of key challenges that Mosaic hopes to overcome. First is onboarding, which can take months for some of these companies as consultants integrate the software into a company’s workflow. Second is that these tools often require dedicated, full-time staff to stay operational. Third is that these tools are basically non-visible to anyone outside the CFO office. Mosaic wants to be ready to integrate immediately, widely distributed within orgs, and require minimal upkeep to be useful.

“Everyone wants to be strategic, but it’s so tough to do because 80% of your time is pulling data from these disparate systems, cleaning it, mapping it, updating your Excel files, and maybe 20% of [your time] is actually taking a step back and understanding what the data is telling you,” Moallemi said.

That’s perhaps why it’s target customers are Series B and C-funded companies, who no doubt have much of their data already located in easily-accessible databases. The company started with smaller companies and Moallemi said “We’ve been slowly inching our way up there over the last 12 months or so working with larger, more complex customers.” The company has grown to 30 employees and has revenues in the seven figures (without a sales org according to Moallemi), although the startup didn’t want to be more specific than that.

With all that growth and excitement, the company is attracting investor attention. Today, the company announced that it raised $18.5 million of Series A financing led by Trevor Oelschig of General Catalyst, who has led other enterprise SaaS deals into startups like Fivetran, Contentful, and Loom. That round closed at the end of last year.

Mosaic previously raised a $2.5 million seed investment led by Ross Fubini of XYZ Ventures in mid-2019, who was formerly an investor at Village Global. Fubini said by email that he was intrigued by the company because the founders had a “shared pain” at Palantir over the state of software for CFOs, and “they had all experienced this deep frustration with the tools they needed to do their jobs.”

Other investors in the Series A included Felicis Ventures, plus XYZ and Village Global.

Along with the financing, the company also announced the creation of an advisory board that includes the current or former CFOs from nine tech companies, including Palantir, Dropbox, and Shopify.

Many functions of business have had a complete transformation in software. Now, Mosaic hopes, it’s the CFO’s time.

Harness snags $85M Series C on $1.7B valuation as revenue grows 3x

By Ron Miller

Harness, the startup that wants to create a suite of engineering tools to give every company the kind of technological reach that the biggest companies have, announced an $85 million Series C today on a $1.7 billion valuation.

Today’s round comes after 2019’s $60 million Series B, which had a $500 million valuation, showing a company rapidly increasing in value. For a company that launched just three years ago, this is a fairly remarkable trajectory.

Alkeon Capital led the round with help from new investors Battery Ventures, Citi Ventures, Norwest Venture Partners, Sorenson Capital and Thomvest Ventures. The startup also revealed a previously unannounced $30 million B-1 round raised after the $60 million round, bringing the total raised to date to $195 million.

Company founder and CEO Jyoti Bansal previously founded AppDynamics, which he sold to Cisco in 2017 for $3.7 billion. With his track record, investors came looking for him this round. It didn’t hurt that revenue grew almost 3x last year.

“The business is doing very well, so the investor community has been proactively reaching out and trying to invest in us. We were not actually planning to raise a round until later this year. We had enough capital to get through that, but there were a lot of people wanting to invest,” Bansal told me.

In fact, he said there is so much investor interest that he could have raised twice as much, but didn’t feel a need to take on that much capital at this time. “Overall, the investor community sees the value in developer tools and the DevOps market. There are so many big public companies now in that space that have gone out in the last three to five years and that has definitely created even more validation of this space,” he said.

Bansal says that he started the company with the goal of making every company as good as Google or Facebook when it comes to engineering efficiency. Since most companies lack the engineering resources of these large companies, that’s a tall task, but one he thinks he can solve through software.

The company started by building a continuous delivery module. A cloud cost-efficiency module followed. Last year the company bought open-source continuous integration company Drone.io and they are working on building that into the platform now, with it currently in beta. There are additional modules on the product roadmap coming this year, according to Bansal.

As the company continued to grow revenue and build out the platform in 2020, it also added a slew of new employees, growing from 200 to 300 during the pandemic. Bansal says that he has plans to add another 200 by the end of this year. Harness has a reputation of being a good place to work, recently landing on Glassdoor’s best companies list.

As an experienced entrepreneur, Bansal takes building a diverse company with a welcoming culture very seriously. “Yes, you have to provide equal opportunity and make sure that you are open to hiring people from diverse backgrounds, but you have to be more proactive about it in the sense that you have to make sure that your company environment and company culture feels very welcoming to everyone,” he said.

It’s been a difficult time building a company during the pandemic, adding so many new employees, and finding a way to make everyone feel welcome and included. Bansal says he has actually seen productivity increase during the pandemic, but now has to guard against employee burnout.

He says that people didn’t know how to draw boundaries when working at home. One thing he did was introduce a program to give everyone one Friday a month off to recharge. The company also recently announced it would be a “work from anywhere” company post-COVID, but Bansal still plans on having regional offices where people can meet when needed.

Carbyne raises $25M for a next-generation platform to improve emergency 911 responses

By Ingrid Lunden

Emergency services continue to be a major force when it comes to coping with the COVID-19 health pandemic, and today a company that is building technology to help them run better is announcing a round of funding to continue expanding its business.

Carbyne — an Israeli startup that has built a cloud-based platform aimed at emergency services to help them pinpoint more complete information about the people who are calling in, and to provide additional telemedicine services to start responding faster — has picked up $25 million.

The plan will be to take the service — which was already seeing strong growth before the pandemic — to the next level in terms of the technology it is building and the markets and organizations it is serving.

“Carbyne was not founded last year: we were already pushing cloud services and video and location to 911 for quite a while and had served 250 million people before the pandemic,” said Amir Elichai, the CEO, in an interview. “But cloud solutions for emergency services went from nice-to-have to must-have with COVID.”

The company has partnerships with public health providers as well as with groups like CentralSquare and Global Medical Response (GMR), and says that in the U.S. it is on target to cover some 90% of the market.

The Series B1 is being led by Hanaco Ventures and ELSTED Capital Partners, with former CIA Director General David Petraeus, Founders Fund, FinTLV, and other past investors also participating.

The fact that this is a B1 round points to more funding on the way for the company in coming months. In any case, the $25 million is more than the company had planned to raise.

“The plan was to raise $15 million in 2020. After Covid started I decided we didn’t want to let anyone go, but we didn’t know what the situation would be. So we cut salaries instead across the board,” said Elichai. “But then we started to double revenues starting in Q2, and then in Q3 and Q4 grew 160%. It was straightforward to raise this money.”

The funding is coming on the heels of very strong growth for the company, in particular in the last year.

Carbyne’s services now cover about 400 million people, with a new implementation launching every 10 days since March of last year.

Elichai, who co-founded the company with Alex Dizengoff (CTO) and Yony Yatsun (engineering lead), said in an interview that in the last nine months, Carbyne has provided some 155 million location points to emergency medical services teams. Newer products are also growing. The services for EMS teams to provide help remotely have racked up 1.3 million minutes of video in that time, he said.

From what we understand, the funding puts Carbyne’s valuation at “over $100 million.” Although Elichai declined to give a specific figure, for some context, the company was valued at “around” $100 million when it last raised in 2018, a $15 million round that marked the first time that Founders Fund had invested in an Israeli startup.

The growth of the last year, and the ongoing demands on the business, point to that “over” being strong. Indeed, since its last round, the world at large, and the startup itself, have undergone some significant changes.

2018 and whatever dramas we were experiencing back then now feel like a distant, almost halcyon?, past when compared to some of the crises of the moment. One in particular, the coronavirus pandemic, has a direct connection to Carbyne.

Covid-19, the illness the results from the virus, has proven to be a pernicious and dogged ailment, often hitting people with its most dire and serious symptoms — the inability to breathe and organ failure — just when they start to think that they might be recovering. (Of course, that’s not the case for everyone, thankfully, but still it happens much too often to ignore.)

That has put a huge strain on emergency response services, from those that are fielding initial callouts, through to those making first contact with patients, and those at the hospitals bringing in and caring for the most serious cases. In many cases, those working these services have been stretched to overcapacity. The situation in many cities is nothing short of dire.

Carbyne’s technology has come into its own as a way not just to help those people do their jobs better by providing them with more data, but by becoming a means to those services channelling data back to those people calling in.

In the last couple of years, the startup has undergone some significant shifts in how it delivers its services.

When I covered the startup’s last funding round in 2018, for example, it provided some services directly to EMS organizations, but mainly it needed users to install an app, or provide that technology through another app, in order to work.

Now, Elichai says that the company has integrated some location services from companies like Google to remove the need to use an app to connect users to its platform.

Similarly, the startup has taken a strong lead in how it collaborates with municipalities not just to provide services to make their operations more efficient, but to help offset them getting overwhelmed.

A project in that vein was a recent undertaking in New Orleans, which Elichai said played a part in helping the city from really buckling under and managing the Covid-19 outbreak. More on that here:

Longer term, in countries like the US and elsewhere, there is a strong argument to be made for a lot of legacy services in 911-style emergency response finally getting the updates they have needed for years.

Specifically, earlier this month, a $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill approved in Congress earmarks $12 billion in funding for next-generation 911 deployments.

Carbyne believes that by 2023, it will be serving some 1.5 billion people, and it’s moves like this in the U.S. that point to why that might not be so far-fetched, Covid-19 or not.

“The ability to create transparent emergency communications between citizens, emergency call centers, first responders, and state and local government entities will prove of enormous importance as it is integrated into emergency response systems and will certainly save lives and improve outcomes,” said General Petraeus in a statement. “What Carbyne provides will dramatically enhance communications in the moments that matter most.”

X1 Card raises $12 million for its credit card with limits based on your income

By Romain Dillet

X1 Card is raising a $12 million funding round. The company is building a credit card that sets limits based on your current and future income, not your credit score.

Spark Capital is leading the round with Jared Leto, Aaron Levie, Jeremy Stoppelman, Max Levchin and Ali Rowghani also participating. American Express veteran Ash Gupta is also joining the company as an advisor — he was the chief risk officer of American Express.

The company says that it has attracted nearly 300,000 signups on its waitlist. I covered X1 Card back in September and it attracted a lot of readers, so that number doesn’t surprise me.

The X1 Card is a stainless steel Visa credit card with a different origin story. When you apply for a card, instead of determining your limits based on your credit score, the company wants to see your current and future income.

The startup believes the credit score system is outdated and doesn’t reflect your creditworthiness. That’s why it doesn’t use it to calculate limits. Your credit score still affects your variable APR (from 12.9% to 19.9%), but that’s it.

There are also a lot of software features that work with the credit card. For instance, you can track your subscriptions from the X1 app, you can also generate an auto-expiring virtual card for free trials that require a credit card. You also get notifications for refunds.

As for rewards, you get 2X points on all purchases. If you’re a heavy user and you spend more than $15,000 on your card per year, you’re upgraded to a new tier and earn 3X points. There’s also a viral element as you get a boosted reward level when you refer a friend — you get 4X points for a month. You can then spend your points with retail partners.

The company has promised a lot of features and now has enough cash in its bank account to deliver. Let’s see if the company can live up to the hype once the first customers get their cards. But it’s clear that the credit score system is outdated.

Accel Partners heads down to Georgia to invest in DecisionLink, leading an $18.5 million round

By Jonathan Shieber

DecisionLink, an Atlanta-based company that provides software for cost-benefit analyses of business services from a customer’s perspective, has managed to woo one of Silicon Valley’s top venture firms to invest in its latest $18.5 million round of funding.

Accel Partners has a longstanding reputation as one of the Bay Area’s premier investment firms, and it’s leading DecisionLink’s latest round. Their investment comes on the heels of billion-dollar valuations for Atlanta companies like Calendly, Greenlight Financial Technologies, OneTrust and the $800 million acquisition of Kabbage.

Atlanta startups are on fire 🔥

Calendly – raising at $3B valuation
OneTrust – $2.5B valuation
Greenlight – $1B+ valuation
Kabbage – just sold for $800M.

We have hit an inflection point in Atlanta – the next 10 years are going to be really runs

— Romeen Sheth (@RomeenSheth) November 19, 2020

Other investors in the round included George Kurtz, the president and chief executive of CrowdStrike, and George Roberts, a partner at OpenView Venture Partners and the former executive vice president of North American sales at Oracle.

“Value Management [sic] as a practice is now a C-suite priority and increasingly considered an enterprise-critical function alongside software systems like CRM, marketing automation, and project management,” said Sameer Gandhi, partner, Accel, in a statement. “In 2019, we invested in a SAFE round in DecisionLink because we believed in the market opportunity for scalable [value management]. Now, we have been so impressed by DecisionLink’s execution and its ability to drive this transformation on behalf of customers, that we are excited to lead its Series A round.”

Businesses are constantly looking for ways to benchmark themselves against their competitors or find new ways to better service them. Most of these strategies don’t take off, or are variations on a theme, but value management seems to have legs — especially given the accessibility of all kinds of benchmarking data points that are publicly available.

Accel-backed portfolio companies like CrowdStrike, PagerDuty and DocuSign are using the service and so are companies like ServiceNow, Marketo, NCR and VMware.

These are big names in enterprise software, and the signal that their adoption of DecisionLink’s software provided must have played a role in Accel’s decision to invest.

Pace launches out of private beta with a plan to scale virtual group therapy

By Natasha Mascarenhas

One in five people have a mental health illness. Pace, a new startup founded by Pinterest and Affirm executives, wants to pay attention to the other four in that statistic.

“Nobody is perfectly mentally healthy all the time,” said Jack Chou, Pace co-founder. “It’s a non-existent idea, everyone is sort of swimming in between being clinically mentally unhealthy and perfectly mentally happy.”

While diagnosable mental health conditions might get an individual medication or therapy, those that live in a grey space might still need resources to stay afloat. After Chou experienced the detrimental effects of burnout while working for Pinterest and Affirm, and co-founder Cat Lee, formerly of Pinterest and Maveron, experienced a personal travesty, the former colleagues realized there needed to be a way to help people who didn’t fit squarely into one bucket.

So Pace, which launched out of private beta today, wants to address this fallacy by creating small-group training classes for people interested in taking care of their emotional and mental health. It is launching with $1.9 million in seed funding. Investors include Nellie and Max Levchin, Jeff Weiner, Emilie Choi, Ben Silbermann, Box Group, and SV Angel.

The core of the product is a 90-minute live video group session once a week, delivered through Pace’s platform. The video component integrates with Twilio and Agora (and interestingly, not Zoom, because its SDK lacks personalization options). Users can attend the sessions on Web, iOS or Android.

Image Credits: Pace

Pace forms cohorts of eight to 10 people around shared interest or identities, such as a founder group or parent group. Then, Pace interviews a new user for 15 to 30 minutes to learn about what they hope to get out of the experience.

Once a group is formed, they meet weekly with a facilitator at the helm. While it’s not trying to be a therapy replacement, the startup is looking for facilitators who are licensed in mental health practice. To help them do this, Pace secured two founding members who are psychologists: Dr. Kerry Makin-Byrd and Dr. Vivian Oberling.

When users sign on, they are prompted to pick three words that describe themselves from dozens of options. Those words show up under their video as they talk, and help skip some small talk in the beginning of the sessions.

The group talks about a variety of topics, from how to manage stress to how to adapt to a remote world. There is no formal curriculum, but each class has a takeaway for participants to leave with.

Pace doesn’t follow any specific curriculum during the meetings, but instead uses the time for people to talk through their feelings. Facilitators are licensed mental health clinicians, with the majority of the leaders being part-time or freelancers. It plans to introduce asynchronous ways for group members to chat and stay in touch beyond the weekly class, as well as spend time building out a product that feels beyond a Zoom call.

Mental health software startups are on a tear right now. Last month, Lyra Health raised $175 million at a $2.25 billion valuation to connect employees to therapists and mental health services. Another telehealth provider, Talkspace, announced today that it was going public through a SPAC. There’s also Calm, last valued at $2 billion, and Headspace, its biggest competitor in the mindfulness app space.

Pace’s focus is more similar to the latter than the former: It’s avoiding the telehealth label and positioning itself more as supplementary to formal health services.

“Our hope is that as [therapists] have individual patients who they’d like to incorporate some group work, or need a next thing, that we’re here for that too,” says Chou.

One of Pace’s closest competitors is Coa, which launched with $3 million in seed funding in October 2020. The startup is similarly using small-group fitness culture and applying it to mental health. It mixes lecture-style teaching with breakout sessions to breed conversation.

Pace wouldn’t expand on how it differentiates from Coa beyond alluding to upcoming product features and community investments. Coa charges $25 for drop-in classes (sticking to that fitness class theme) while Pace charges $45 per week for the same group to meet for months at a time. While Coa has licensed therapists, Pace has licensed mental health clinicians.

Coa co-founders Alexa Meyer and Dr. Emily Anhalt say their service is unique from Pace in a curriculum perspective.

“Although all of Coa’s classes are facilitated by licensed therapists, Coa’s classes are different from group therapy,” Meyer said. Coa uses Anhalt’s research around mental happiness to create programming. Both companies are still pre-launch, but Coa says it has 6,000 people on its waitlist.

For both startups, the hurdles ahead are common for any startup: customer acquisition, effectiveness in tracking outcomes and scaling an innately emotional and personalized experience. As Homebrew’s Hunter Walk pointed out in a recent blog post, vulnerable populations being exposed to venture-level risk is a difficult phenomenon. Startups fail often, and in this case, that could mean leaving without once-critical support people who are depending on group therapy.

Going forward, the real winner in the mental health fitness space will come down to a thoughtful curriculum and a user experience that brings out vulnerability in people even over a virtual setting. Regardless, innovation pouring into the sector couldn’t come at a better time.

E-commerce optimization startup Tradeswell raises $15.5M

By Anthony Ha

After launching in October, Tradeswell is announcing today that it has raised $15.5 million in Series A funding.

Co-founder and CEO Paul Palmieri previously led digital ad company Millennial Media (now owned by TechCrunch’s parent company Verizon Media), and he said the e-commerce market today is similar to the online ad market when he was leading Millennial — ready for more optimization and automation.

Tradeswell focuses on six components of e-commerce businesses — marketing, retail, inventory, logistics, forecasting, lifetime value and financials — with the key goal of allowing those businesses to improve their net margins, rather than simply driving more clicks or purchases. The platform can fully automate some processes, such as buying online ads.

To illustrate what it can accomplish, Tradeswell pointed to the work it did with a personal care brand on Amazon Prime Day, with total sales doubling versus the previous Prime Day and profits increasing 67%.

The startup has now raised a total of $18.8 million. The Series A was led by SignalFire, which also led Tradeswell’s seed round, while Construct Capital, Allen & Company and The Emerson Group also participated.

“With the explosion of ecommerce over the past year, Tradeswell is perfectly positioned to help brands manage the complexity of online sales across an ever-increasing number of platforms and marketplaces,” said SignalFire founder and CEO Chris Farmer in a statement. “Paul and his team bring together a unique blend of experience in data, marketing and logistics to address the challenges of today and a rapidly evolving market in the years ahead with a central command center to optimize profitable growth.”

Palmieri said the new funding will allow Tradeswell to continue investing in the product, which will also mean building more integrations so that more types of data become “more liquid,” which in turn means that the platform can “make much more real-time decisions.”

When Tradeswell launched publicly last fall, it already had 100 customers, and Palmieri told me that number has subsequently grown past 150. Nor does he expect the consumer shift in e-commerce to disappear once the pandemic ends.

“Some of it probably goes back to the way it was, some of it stays online,” he said. “I do think it’s important to point out there’s something in the middle — that something is this notion of high convenience, that is semi-brick-and-mortar with [elements of e-commerce], whether that’s mobile ordering or something like an Instacart.”

Naturally, he sees Tradeswell as the key platform to help businesses navigate that shift.

 

Drata raises $3.2M for its compliance audit platform

By Frederic Lardinois

Drata, a startup that helps businesses get their SOC 2 compliance, today announced that it has raised a $3.2 million seed round led by Cowboy Ventures and that it is coming out of stealth. Other investors include Leaders Fund, SV Angel and a group of angel investors.

Like similar services, Drata helps businesses automate a lot of the evidence collection as they prepare for a SOC 2 audit. The focus of the service is obviously on running tests against the SOC 2 framework to help businesses prepare for their audit (and to prepare the right materials for the auditor). To do so, it features integrations with a lot of standard online business tools and cloud services to regularly pull in data. One nifty feature is that it also lets you step through all of the various sections of the SOC 2 criteria to check your current readiness for an audit.

At the end of the day, tools like Drata are meant to get you through an audit, but at the same time, the idea here is also to give you a better idea of your own security posture. For that, Drata offers continuous control monitoring, as well as tools to track if your employees have turned on all the right controls on their work computers, for example. Since companies have to regularly renew their certification, too, Drata can help them to continuously collect all of the data for their renewal, something that previously often involved boring — and quickly forgotten — manual tasks like taking screenshots of various settings every month or so.

Image Credits: Drata

Drata co-founder and CEO Adam Markowitz worked on the space shuttle engines after graduating from college and then launched his own startup, Portfolium, after that program ended. Portfolium, which helped students showcase their work in the form of — you guessed it — a portfolio, eventually sold to Instructure in 2019, where Markowitz stayed on until he launched Drata last June, together with a group of former Portfolium founders and engineers. Besides Markowitz, the co-founders include CTO Daniel Marashlian and CRO Troy Markowitz. It was the team’s experience seeing companies go through the audit process, which has traditionally been a drawn-out and manual process, that led them to look at building their own solution.

The company already managed to sign up a number of customers ahead of its official launch. These include Spot by NetAppAccel RoboticsAbnormal SecurityChameleon and Vareto. As Markowitz told me, even though Drata already had customers who were using the service to prepare for their audits, the team wanted to remain in stealth mode until it had used its own tool to go through its own audit. With that out of the way, and Drata receiving its SOC 2 certification, it’s now ready to come out of stealth.

As the number of companies that need to go through these kinds of audits increases, it’s maybe no surprise that we’re also seeing a growing number of companies that aim to automate much of this process. With that, unsurprisingly, the number of VC investments in this space also continues to increase. In recent months, Secureframe and Strike Graph announced their own funding rounds, for example.

Image Credits: Drata

Openbase scores $3.6M seed to help developers find open-source components

By Ron Miller

Openbase founder Lior Grossman started his company the way that many founders do — to solve a problem he was having. In this case, it was finding the right open-source components to build his software. He decided to build something to solve the problem, and Openbase was born.

Today, the company announced a $3.65 million seed round led by Zeev Ventures with participation from Y Combinator and 20 individual tech industry investors. Openbase was a member of the YC 2020 cohort.

Grossman says that being part of YC helped him meet investors, especially on Demo Day when hundreds of investors listened in. “I would say that being part of YC definitely gave us a higher profile, and exposed us to some investors that I didn’t know before. It definitely opened doors for us,” he said.

As developers build modern software, they often use open-source components to help build the application, and Openbase helps them find the best one for their purposes. “Openbase basically helps developers choose from among millions of open-source packages,” Grossman told me.

The database includes 1.5 million JavaScript packages today, with support for additional languages including Python and Go in beta. The way it works is that users search for a package based on their requirements and get a set of results. From there, they can compare components and judge them based on user reviews and other detailed insights.

Openbase data screen gives detailed insights on the chosen package including popularity and similar packages.

Image Credits: Openbase

Grossman found that his idea began resonating with developers shortly after he launched in 2019. In fact, he reports that he went from zero to half a million users in the first year without any marketing beyond word of mouth. That’s when he decided to apply to Y Combinator and got into the Summer 2020 class.

The database is free for developers, and that has helped build the user base so quickly. Eventually he hopes to monetize by allowing certain companies to promote their packages on the system. He says that these will be clearly marked and that the plan is to have only one promoted package per category. What’s more, they will retain all their user reviews and other associated data, regardless of whether it’s being promoted or not.

Grossman started the company on his own, but has added five employees, with plans to hire more people this year to keep growing the startup. As an immigrant founder, he is sensitive to diversity and sees building a diverse company as a key goal. “I built this company as an immigrant myself […] and I want to build an inclusive culture with people from different backgrounds because I think that will produce the best environment to foster innovation,” he explained.

So far the company has been fully remote, but the plan is to open an office post-pandemic. He says he sees a highly flexible approach to work, though, with people spending some days in the office and some at home. “I think for our culture this hybrid approach will work. Whenever we expand further I obviously imagine having more offices and not only our office in San Francisco.”

Iziwork raises $43 million for its temporary work platform

By Romain Dillet

French startup Iziwork has raised a $43 million funding round. Cathay Innovation and Bpifrance’s Large Venture fund are participating in this funding round. The company has been building a platform focused on improving temporary employment.

While it’s a relatively large funding round, the startup is quite young. It was founded in September 2018 and it has raised $68 million overall.

Iziwork manages a marketplace of temporary work; 2,000 companies are using the platform in France and Italy, and 800,000 candidates have used the app to access job opportunities. You can consider it as a tech-enabled version of the good old employment agency.

Candidates can onboard directly from the mobile app. You then get personalized recommendations based on your profile (95% of assignments are filled in less than four hours). And of course, all your documents are managed from the app.

Iziwork tries to add some benefits to compensate for the fact that temporary workers often jump from one company to another. For instance, you get a time savings account, you can request a down payment on your pay every week, etc.

The startup has realized that it can’t open offices in every big and intermediate city. That’s why third-party companies can join the Iziwork network. As a partner, you find new clients and new job opportunities. You can then leverage Iziwork’s app, service and pool of candidates.

This is an interesting strategy, as it greatly increases supply on the Iziwork marketplace. Partners get a revenue sharing deal with Iziwork.

With today’s funding round, the company plans to expand to new countries and improve its tech product. There are still some growth opportunities in its existing markets as well.

Jobandtalent, another company in this space, has attracted some headlines as it raised $108 million last week. Founded in 2009 and based in Madrid, it generated €500 million in revenue last year.

But, let’s be honest, the temporary work market is huge. Adecco, Randstad and other legacy players still represent a bigger threat for this recent wave of temp staffing startups. Let’s see how it plays out in the coming years.

Human AI nabs $3.2M seed to build personal intelligence platform

By Ron Miller

The last we heard from Luther.ai, the startup was participating in the TechCrunch Disrupt Battlefield in September. The company got a lot of attention from that appearance, which culminated in a $3.2 million seed round it announced today. While they were at it, the founders decided to change the company name to Human AI, which they believe better reflects their mission.

Differential VC led the round joined by Village Global VC, Good Friends VC, Beni VC and Keshif Ventures. David Magerman from Differential will join the startup’s Board.

The investors were attracted to Human AI’s personalized kind of artificial intelligence, and co-founder and CEO Suman Kanuganti says that the Battlefield appearance led directly to investor interest, which quickly resulted in a deal four weeks later.

“I think overall the messaging of what we delivered at TechCrunch Disrupt regarding an individual personal AI that is secured by blockchain to retain and recall [information] really set the stage for what the company is all about, both from a user standpoint as well as from an investor standpoint,” Kanuganti told me.

As for the name change, he reported that there was some confusion in the market that Luther was an AI assistant like Alexa or a chatbot, and the founders wanted the name to better reflect the personalized nature of the product.

“We are creating AI for the individual and there is so much emphasis on the authenticity and the voice and the thoughts of an individual, and how we also use blockchain to secure ownership of the data. So most of the principle lies in creating this AI for an individual human. So we thought, let’s call it Human AI,” he explained.

As Kanuganti described it in September, the tool allows individuals to search for nuggets of information from past events using a variety of AI technologies:

“It’s made possible through a convergence of neuroscience, NLP and blockchain to deliver seamless in-the-moment recall. GPT-3 is built on the memories of the public internet, while Luther is built on the memories of your private self.”

The company is still in the process of refining the product and finding its audience, but reports that so far they have found interest from creative people such as writers, professionals such as therapists, high tech workers interested in AI, students looking to track school work and seniors looking for a way to track their memories for memoir purposes. All of these groups have the common theme of having to find nuggets of information from a ton of signals and that’s where Human AI’s strength lies.

The company’s diverse founding team includes two women, CTO Sharon Zhang and designer Kristie Kaiser, along with Kanuganti, who is himself an immigrant. The founders want to continue building a diverse organization as they add employees. “I think in general we just want to attract a diverse kind of talent, especially because we are also Human AI and we believe that everyone should have the same opportunity,” Zhang told me.

The company currently has 7 full time employees and a dozen consultants, but with the new funding is looking to hire engineers and AI talent and a head of marketing to push the notion of consumer AI. While the company is remote today and has employees around the world, it will look to build a headquarters at some point post-COVID where some percentage of the employees can work in the same space together.

Stacklet raises $18M for its cloud governance platform

By Frederic Lardinois

Stacklet, a startup that is commercializing the Cloud Custodian open-source cloud governance project, today announced that it has raised an $18 million Series A funding round. The round was led by Addition, with participation from Foundation Capital and new individual investor Liam Randall, who is joining the company as VP of business development. Addition and Foundation Capital also invested in Stacklet’s seed round, which the company announced last August. This new round brings the company’s total funding to $22 million.

Stacklet helps enterprises manage their data governance stance across different clouds, accounts, policies and regions, with a focus on security, cost optimization and regulatory compliance. The service offers its users a set of pre-defined policy packs that encode best practices for access to cloud resources, though users can obviously also specify their own rules. In addition, Stacklet offers a number of analytics functions around policy health and resource auditing, as well as a real-time inventory and change management logs for a company’s cloud assets.

The company was co-founded by Travis Stanfield (CEO) and Kapil Thangavelu (CTO). Both bring a lot of industry expertise to the table. Stanfield spent time as an engineer at Microsoft and leading DealerTrack Technologies, while Thangavelu worked at Canonical and most recently in Amazon’s AWSOpen team. Thangavelu is also one of the co-creators of the Cloud Custodian project, which was first incubated at Capital One, where the two co-founders met during their time there, and is now a sandbox project under the Cloud Native Computing Foundation’s umbrella.

“When I joined Capital One, they had made the executive decision to go all-in on cloud and close their data centers,” Thangavelu told me. “I got to join on the ground floor of that movement and Custodian was born as a side project, looking at some of the governance and security needs that large regulated enterprises have as they move into the cloud.”

As companies have sped up their move to the cloud during the pandemic, the need for products like Stacklets has also increased. The company isn’t naming most of its customers, but one of them is FICO, among a number of other larger enterprises. Stacklet isn’t purely focused on the enterprise, though. “Once the cloud infrastructure becomes — for a particular organization — large enough that it’s not knowable in a single person’s head, we can deliver value for you at that time and certainly, whether it’s through the open source or through Stacklet, we will have a story there.” The Cloud Custodian open-source project is already seeing serious use among large enterprises, though, and Stacklet obviously benefits from that as well.

“In just 8 months, Travis and Kapil have gone from an idea to a functioning team with 15 employees, signed early Fortune 2000 design partners and are well on their way to building the Stacklet commercial platform,” Foundation Capital’s Sid Trivedi said. “They’ve done all this while sheltered in place at home during a once-in-a-lifetime global pandemic. This is the type of velocity that investors look for from an early-stage company.”

Looking ahead, the team plans to use the new funding to continue to developed the product, which should be generally available later this year, expand both its engineering and its go-to-market teams and continue to grow the open-source community around Cloud Custodian.

Loop launches out of stealth to make auto insurance more equitable

By Natasha Mascarenhas

Car auto-insurance from legacy providers has structural bias built into it. It uses metrics such as credit score, income, marital status and education to figure out insurance rates, which eventually disproportionately hurts low-income individuals through high rates and low protection.

Loop, co-founded by John Henry and Carey Anne Nadeau, hopes to launch an alternative model that is equitable for all communities.

“Structural bias is baked into financial services and institutions that perpetuate and reinforce [it],” said Nadeau, who has worked at Brookings Institute and studied at MIT around topics of mobility. “We can’t just focus on banking, [and] insurance is sort of the overlooked ugly stepchild in the world view of financial services.”

How to rewrite the rules

Loop is a managing general agent (MGA) business so it can act as a broker and a vendor in the insurance space. It markets, acquires and services customers, instead of serving simply as a vendor built atop an existing insurance provider. The startup, also a B corp, is prioritizing profit alongside the environment and social dynamics.

The startup is trying to rewrite the rules of auto insurance by using two key metrics to track, create and charge insurance rates: state of roads and driver behavior. Loop bases rates off of usage, while a legacy provider might base rates off of demographics.

Loop is a mobile-only product that vertically integrates with insurance carriers.

Once a user downloads an app, Loop will find a quote for the user based on their location. The secret sauce is Loop’s tech: Using a database of over 100 million car crashes in 27 states, Loop creates a quote for a user based on their location. Henry, who co-founded Harlem Capital, describes Loop’s data is “almost a God-level understanding of crashes that have occurred on each, individual road.”

The startup also uses data around traffic volume, roadway infrastructure and weather data to set rates. The artificial intelligence capabilities could allow Loop to, say, steer a driver off of a road that has high-risk for crashes. Or it could simply reward them for clearing the road without a bumper scratch.

Image Credits: Loop

The other part of its business is based on telematics technology, which allows Loop to understand how and where a driver is going at all times. While legacy carriers might use lack of accidents to incentivize lower rates, Loop is using data to both set the rate and lower it.

Exchanging data for more flexibility could raise some eyebrows, but the co-founders think their customer-base, largely millennials and Gen Z, are comfortable with the model as it promises fairer prices. Loop makes a gross commission on every policy it sells.

Loop also pointed to Ohio-based Root Insurance as an example of how consumers are growing more comfortable with sharing location data. The car insurance startup went public in what many saw as a successful IPO for a midwestern high-growth tech company. Root similarly uses metrics like driver performance and history with telematics technology.

“They use telematics but they still are largely using legacy insurance models,” says Henry. “We’re kind of replacing that with our own AI based approach.”

Root might be the most obvious competitor, but usage-based pricing has been a rising dynamic in insurance for over a decade through various forms. Flexible insurtech has been on a tear recently, with MetroMile’s SPAC, Lemonade’s IPO and, on the early-stage front, Marshmallow, a U.K. based auto insurance startup last valued at $130 million.

The co-founders are confident that their technology is differentiated enough to survive the hot competition.

A racial reckoning and a tweet

The idea for the startup began in July 2020, when George Floyd, a Black man, was murdered by police. Protests erupted across the world, rallying for change and solutions to address systemic racism. VC firms rushed to support Black founders, and Henry saw a gap in solutions committed to change.

Henry tweeted in reaction:

“It occurred to me that the change that we’re looking for was not gonna just bring itself about,” Henry said. “It takes intentional tackling of systemic issues.” He knew Nadeau had focused on transportation and mobility, and the duo eventually decided that they would “swing big.”

Carey Anne Nadeau and John Henry, the co-founders of Loop. Image Credits: Loop

While the co-founders admit the goal is ambitious, they have secured investors that think Loop could be a big business one day. The startup tells TechCrunch that it has raised a $3.25 million seed round led by Freestyle VC, with participation from Blue Fog Capital, Fontinalis Capital Partners, Concrete Rose, Uprising Ventures and Backstage Capital. Participating angel investors include Kristen Dickey, Steve Schlafman, Songe LaRon, Craig J. Lewis, Gerard Adams and Joshua Dorkin.

The money will be used for hiring and developing its data science infrastructure. It’s not live in the market yet, but is launching in Ohio, Illinois, Pennsylvania and New York (pending regulatory approval, of course).

The team met up with 77 investors, 25% of which were female investors, to get the funding needed to start Loop.

“It was more difficult than we thought,” said Henry. “We knew from the jump that we wanted to raise a larger seed round to signal to the market that we were looking to grow big.”

Loop eventually closed the goal round and valuation. As for the tipping point that got investors to back a company disrupting a $256 million industry with around $3 million in seed financing?

Mission, Henry says.

“I literally have goosebumps right now because the mission will open doors that profit cannot,” he said.

Slim.ai announces $6.6M seed to build container DevOps platform

By Ron Miller

We are more than seven years into the notion of modern containerization, and it still requires a complex set of tools and a high level of knowledge on how containers work. The DockerSlim open source project developed several years ago from a desire to remove some of that complexity for developers.

Slim.ai, a new startup that wants to build a commercial product on top of the open source project, announced a $6.6 million seed round today from Boldstart Ventures, Decibel Partners, FXP Ventures and TechAviv Founder Partners.

Company co-founder and CEO John Amaral says he and fellow co-founder and CTO Kyle Quest have worked together for years, but it was Quest who started and nurtured DockerSlim. “We started coming together around a project that Kyle built called DockerSlim. He’s the primary author, inventor and up until we started doing this company, the sole proprietor of that of that community,” Amaral explained.

At the time Quest built DockerSlim in 2015, he was working with Docker containers and he wanted a way to automate some of the lower level tasks involved in dealing with them. “I wanted to solve my own pain points and problems that I had to deal with, and my team had to deal with dealing with containers. Containers were an exciting new technology, but there was a lot of domain knowledge you needed to build production-grade applications and not everybody had that kind of domain expertise on the team, which is pretty common in almost every team,” he said.

He originally built the tool to optimize container images, but he began looking at other aspects of the DevOps lifecycle including the author, build, deploy and run phases. He found as he looked at that, he saw the possibility of building a commercial company on top of the open source project.

Quinn says that while the open source project is a starting point, he and Amaral see a lot of areas to expand. “You need to integrate it into your developer workflow and then you have different systems you deal with, different container registries, different cloud environments and all of that. […] You need a solution that can address those needs and doing that through an open source tool is challenging, and that’s where there’s a lot of opportunity to provide premium value and have a commercial product offering,” Quinn explained.

Ed Sim, founder and general partner at Boldstart Ventures, one of the seed investors sees a company bringing innovation to an area of technology where it has been lacking, while putting some more control in the hands of developers. “Slim can shift that all left and give developers the power through the Slim tools to answer all those questions, and then, boom, they can develop containers, push them into production and then DevOps can do their thing,” he said.

They are just 15 people right now including the founders, but Amaral says building a diverse and inclusive company is important to him, and that’s why one of his early hires was head of culture. “One of the first two or three people we brought into the company was our head of culture. We actually have that role in our company now, and she is a rock star and a highly competent and focused person on building a great culture. Culture and diversity to me are two sides of the same coin,” he said.

The company is still in the very early stages of developing that product. In the meantime, they continue to nurture the open source project and to build a community around that. They hope to use that as a springboard to build interest in the commercial product, which should be available some time later this year.

Roboflow raises $2.1M for its end-to-end computer vision platform

By Frederic Lardinois

Roboflow, a startup that aims to simplify the process of building computer vision models, today announced that it has raised a $2.1 million seed round co-led by Lachy Groom and Craft Ventures. Additional investors include Segment co-founder Calvin French-Owen, Lob CEO Leore Avidar, Firebase co-founder James Tamplin and early Dropbox engineer Aston Motes, among others. The company is a graduate of this year’s Y Combinator summer class.

Co-founded by Joseph Nelson (CEO) and Brad Dwyer (CTO), Roboflow is the result of the team members’ previous work on AR and AI apps, including Magic Sudoku from 2017. After respectively exiting their last companies, the two co-founders teamed up again to launch a new AR project, this time with a focus on board games. In 2019, the team actually participated in the TC Disrupt hackathon to add chess support to that app — but in the process, the team also realized that it was spending a lot of time trying to solve the same problems that everybody else in the computer vision field was facing.

Image Credits: Roboflow

“In building both those [AR] products, we realized most of our time wasn’t spent on the board game part of it, it was spent on the image management, the annotation management, the understanding of ‘do we have enough images of white queens, for example? Do we have enough images from this angle or this angle? Are the rooms brighter or darker?’ This data mining of understanding in visual imagery is really underdeveloped. We had built a bunch of — at the time — internal tooling to make this easier for us,” Nelson explained. “And in the process of building this company, of trying to make software features for real-world objects, realize that developers didn’t need inspiration. They needed tooling.”

So shortly after participating in the hackathon, the founders started putting together the first version of Roboflow and launched the first version a year ago in January 2020. And while the service started out as a platform for managing large image data sets, it has since grown to become an end-to-end solution for handling image management, analysis, pre-processing and augmentation, up to building the image recognition models and putting them into production. As Nelson noted, while the team didn’t set out to build an end-to-end solution, its users kept pushing the team to add more features.

Image Credits: Roboflow

So far, about 20,000 developers have used the service, with use cases ranging from accelerating cancer research to smart city applications. The thesis here, Nelson said, is that computer vision is going to be useful for every single industry. But not every company has the in-house expertise to set up the infrastructure for building models and putting it into production, so Roboflow aims to provide an easy to use platform for this that individual developers and (over time) large enterprise teams can use to quickly iterate on their ideas.

Roboflow plans to use the new funding to expand its team, which currently consists of five members, both on the engineering and go-to-market side.

The Roboflow racoon.

The Roboflow racoon. Image Credits: Roboflow

“As small cameras become cheaper and cheaper, we’re starting to see an explosion of video and image data everywhere,” Segment co-founder and Roboflow investor French-Owen noted. “Historically, it’s been hard for anyone but the biggest tech companies to harness this data, and actually turn it into a valuable product. Roboflow is building the pipelines for the rest of us. They’re helping engineers take the data that tells a thousand words, and giving them the power to turn that data into recommendations and insights.”

Cockroach Labs scores $160M Series E on $2B valuation

By Ron Miller

Cockroach Labs, makers of CockroachDB, have been on a fundraising roll for the last couple of years. Today the company announced a $160 million Series E on a fat $2 billion valuation. The round comes just eight months after the startup raised an $86.6 million Series D.

The latest investment was led by Altimeter Capital with participation from new investors Greenoaks and Lone Pine along with existing investors Benchmark, Bond, FirstMark, GV, Index Ventures and Tiger Global. The round doubled the company’s previous valuation and increased the amount raised to $355 million.

Co-founder and CEO Spenser Kimball says that the company’s revenue more than doubled in 2020 in spite of COVID, and that caught the attention of investors. He attributed this paradoxical rise to the rapid shift to the cloud brought on by the pandemic that many people in the industry have seen.

“People became more aggressive with what was already underway, a real move to embrace the cloud to build the next generation of applications and services, and that’s really fundamentally where we are,” Kimball told me.

As that happened, the company began a shift in thinking. While it has embraced an open source version of CockroachDB along with a 30-day free trial on the company’s cloud service as ways to attract new customers to the top of the funnel, it wants to try a new approach.

In fact, it plans to replace the 30 day trial with a newer version later this year without any time limits. It believes this will attract more developers to the platform and enable them to see the full set of features without having to enter credit card information. What’s more, by taking this approach it should end up costing the company less money to support the free tier.

“What we expect is that you can do all kinds of things on that free tier. You can do a hackathon, any kind of hobby project […] or even a startup that has ambitions to be the next DoorDash or Airbnb,” he said. As he points out, there’s a point where early stage companies don’t have many users, and can remain in the free tier until they achieve product-market fit.

“That’s when they put a credit card down, and they can extend beyond the free tier threshold and pay for what they use,” he said. The newer free tier is still in the beta testing phase, but will be rolled out during this year.

Kimball says that company wasn’t necessarily looking to raise, although he knew that it would continue to need more cash on the balance sheet to run with giant competitors like Oracle, AWS and the other big cloud vendors, along with a slew of other database startups. As the company’s revenue grows, he certainly sees an IPO in its future, but he doesn’t see it happening this year.

The startup ended the year with 200 employees and Kimball expects to double that by the end of this year. He says growing a diverse group of employees takes good internal data and building a welcoming and inclusive culture.

“I think the starting point for anything you want to optimize in a business is to make sure that you have the metrics in front of you, and that you’re constantly looking at them […] in order to measure how you’re doing,” he explained.

He added, “The thing that we’re most focused on in terms of action is really building the culture of the company appropriately and that’s something we’ve been doing for all six years we’ve been around. To the extent that you have an inclusive environment where people actually really view the value of respect, that helps with diversity.”

Kimball says he sees a different approach to running the business when the pandemic ends with some small percentage going into the office regularly and others coming for quarterly visits, but he doesn’t see a full return to the office post-pandemic.

Content discovery platform Dable closes $12 million Series C at $90 million valuation to accelerate its global expansion

By Catherine Shu

Launched in South Korea five years ago, content discovery platform Dable now serves a total of six markets in Asia. Now it plans to speed up the pace of its expansion, with six new markets in the region planned for this year, before entering European countries and the United States. Dable announced today that it has raised a $12 million Series C at a valuation of $90 million, led by South Korean venture capital firm SV Investment. Other participants included KB Investment and K2 Investment, as well as returning investor Kakao Ventures, a subsidiary of Kakao Corporation, one of South Korea’s largest internet firms.

Dable (the name is a combination of “data” and “able”) currently serves more than 2,500 media outlets in South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Indonesia, Vietnam and Malaysia. It has subsidiaries in Taiwan, which accounts for 70% of its overseas sales, and Indonesia.

The Series C brings Dable’s total funding so far to $20.5 million. So far, the company has taken a gradual approach to international expansion, co-founder and chief executive officer Chaehyun Lee told TechCrunch, first entering one or two markets and then waiting for business there to stabilize. In 2021, however, it plans to use its Series C to speed up the pace of its expansion, launching in Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, mainland China, Australia and Turkey before entering markets in Europe and the United States, too.

The company’s goal is to become the “most utilized personalized recommendation platform in at last 30 countries by 2024.” Lee said it also has plans to transform into a media tech company by launching a content management system (CMS) next year.

Dable currently claims an average annual sales growth rate since founding of more than 50% and says it reached $27.5 million in sales in 2020, up from 63% the previous year. Each month, it has a total of 540 million unique users and recommends five billion pieces of content, resulting in more than 100 million clicks. Dable also says its average annual sales growth rate since founding is more than 50%, and in that 2020, it reached $27.5 million in sales, up 63% from the previous year.

Before launching Dable, Lee and three other members of its founding team worked at RecoPick, a recommendation engine developer operated by SK Telecom subsidiary SK Planet. For media outlets, Dable offers two big data and machine learning-based products: Dable News to make personalized recommendations of content, including articles, to visitors, and Dable Native Ad, which draws on ad networks including Google, MSN and Kakao.

A third product, called karamel.ai, is an ad targeting solution for e-commerce platforms that also makes personalized product recommendations.

Dable’s main rivals include Taboola and Outbrain, both of which are headquartered in New York (and recently called off a merger), but also do business in Asian markets, and Tokyo-based Popin, which also serves clients in Japan and Taiwan.

Lee said Dable proves the competitiveness of its products by running A/B tests to compare the performance of competitors against Dable’s recommendations and see which one results in the most clickthroughs. It also does A/B testing to compare the performance of articles picked by editors against ones that were recommended by Dable’s algorithms.

Dable also provides algorithms that allow clients more flexibility in what kind of personalized content they display, which is a selling point as media companies try to recover from the massive drop in ad spending precipitated by COVID-19 pandemic. For example, Dable’s Related Articles algorithm is based on content that visitors have already viewed, while its Perused Article algorithm gauges how interested visitors are in certain articles based on metrics like how much time they spent reading them. It also has another algorithm that displays the most viewed articles based on gender and age groups.

Sneaker enthusiast group SoleSavy raises $2M, setting the stage for a community-driven commerce boom

By Matthew Panzarino

SoleSavy, a community built around buying hot sneakers and related items that are increasingly hard to acquire at retail, raised $2 million in a round that closed late last year. SoleSavy is a group of communities that is currently mostly hosted on Slack. 

SoleSavy’s co-founders Dejan Pralica and Justin Dusanj founded the company in 2018 as a paid community for collectors and enthusiasts seeking pairs that were getting snapped up by bots or resellers. Pralica previously co-founded Kicks Deals, a sneaker shipping site focused on less than retail pricing and Dusanj is the former director of Operations at New Age Sports, a Nike retailer. 

SoleSavy’s $2 million party raise includes investment from Panache Ventures, Jason Calacanis’ LAUNCH, Turner Novak, Ben Narasin, Morning Brew’s Alex Lieberman and Austin Rief, Tiny Capital, Wesley Pentz (yes, Diplo), Matthew Hauri aka Yung Gravy, Ryan Holmes, Roham Gharegozlou and Bedrock Capital.

SoleSavy has built an engaged community (several communities, really) around the ebb and flow of the sneakerhead consumer universe (SCU). I just coined that, by the way, please make it a thing. The SCU is an interesting place filled with fascinating characters and behaviors. Every once in a while it pokes its head into the mainstream, whether via a documentary, a hot shoe release or a strong-arm robbery attempt. In 2021, I believe that we will see more of this world breaking out of its box into the larger consumer consciousness. 

The trends that are leading us to this place are varied, but some of them have been front and center during the pandemic, as a decade’s worth of consumer behavioral change has occurred in the space of a few months. You only have to look at how hard it was to get a PS5 or Xbox One X or a GPU for the holiday season, and how many services, Twitter accounts and monitor groups rose up to try to help people do that to see what the future of shopping looks like. 

I joked about not being able to buy butter without a bot, but it’s not far from the truth — nearly every category of goods has had its own shortages over the last year. But the mother of all limited goods category for decades now has been sneakers. 

Every release is hotly anticipated and eagerly purchased by people looking for the latest shoe. The massive increase in interest in the sneaker as the marquee desirable item and the unwillingness of the biggest manufacturers to lose the hype halo has led to each drop being harder to get than the last. Second-market startups like StockX and GOAT have sprung up to facilitate those who don’t mind paying 30%-200% premiums on each release. 

The solution for many lies in the countless “cook groups” that help buyers anticipate demand and stock for each drop and plan to purchase them on release date. 

SoleSavy’s function is ostensibly to do just that: help regular enthusiasts to strategize and execute the release-day cop. But beyond that, Pralica says that the group has come to be about the community of people around those shoes more than the purchase itself. 

Image Credits: SoleSavy

SoleSavy is at its heart a Slack group (a series of groups actually that act as cohorts, leading people through the tiers of community that the team has built) with rooms that help people to understand what’s happening in sneakers, get the releases and commiserate around the culture. Pralica says that they’ve built that community out slowly (the waitlist for the group grows by 400 people per day) in order to maintain a positive atmosphere and to properly onboard new people to the group. They also have an app that drives push notifications and a podcast. 

That positive community vibe is what Pralica says is SoleSavy’s long-term focus and differentiating factor that keeps the 4,000 members across the U.S. and Canada interacting with the group on a nearly daily basis.

I’ve been in a dozen or so different groups focused on buying large quantities of each release to re-sell over the years and many of them are, at best, rowdy and at worst toxic. That’s an environment that SoleSavy wanted to stay away from, says Pralica. Instead, SoleSavy tries to court those who want to buy and wear the shoes, trade them and yes, maybe even resell personal pairs eventually to obtain and wear another grail.

Though cook groups have been the “core” of the Discord and Slack-based communities in the sneaker world, other iterations have been booming too. Entrepreneurial communities based in the same hustle principles like Tyler Blake’s In This Economy and fanbase-focused groups around popular streamers top the Disboard. And bets on social token outfits like Zora are also focused on community as the glue that holds together a user base. 

Community is the future of all commerce, whether you’re looking for a specific product (see the huge PS5 monitors) or want to steep yourself in a particular universe of product interest (the SCU). The trends that I’ve been seeing all point to 2021 being the year that community-driven purchasing breaks out of the underbelly of fandom and becomes officially “a thing.”

Image Credits: SoleSavy

SoleSavy has been experimenting with a variety of ways to keep the community knit going, including live chats, get-togethers and even a handsome custom community-designed Jordan 1. These efforts have driven the previously bootstrapped company to some impressive early numbers. Pralica says that SoleSavy is currently profitable, with $1.5 million ARR on $33 monthly subscriptions plus affiliate revenue and that their DAUs are at 90% — an engagement number that would make any retailer salivate. 

Though the funding closed (very) late last year I thought that this would be a great kick-off story for the year ahead. Though SoleSavy seems to have a really compelling story and a great growth curve, I think they’re at the tip of a very large trend, one that we will see continue to build throughout the year. 

 

❌