FreshRSS

🔒
❌ About FreshRSS
There are new available articles, click to refresh the page.
Before yesterdayYour RSS feeds

Kraftful raises $1M to help smart home companies make better apps

By Greg Kumparak

If a thousand companies make their own smart light bulb, do a thousand companies also have to design a light switch app to control them?

Kraftful, a company out of Y Combinator’s Summer 2019 class, doesn’t think so. Kraftful builds the myriad components that an IoT/Smart Home company might need, puzzle piecing them together into apps for each company without requiring them to reinvent the light switch (or the pad lock button, or the smart thermostat dial) for the nth time.

Because no company wants an app that looks identical to a competitor’s, much of what Kraftful does is built to be tailored to each company’s branding — all the surface level stuff, like iconography, fonts, colors, etc. are all customizable. Under the hood, though, everything is built to be reusable.

This focus on finding the parts that can be built once makes sense, especially given the team’s background. CEO Yana Welinder and CTO Nicky Leach were previously Head of Product and a Senior Engineer, respectively, at IFTTT — the web service made up of a zillion reusable, interlinking “recipe” applets that let you hook just about anything (Gmail, Instagram, your cat’s litterbox, whatever) into anything else to let one trigger actions on the other.

Kraftful founders Nicky Leach and Yana Welinder

So why now? More smart devices are coming onto the market every day, many of them from legacy appliance companies who don’t have much (or any) history in building smartphone apps. Good apps are the exception — the Philips Hue app is one of the better ones out there, and even it’s a little wonky sometimes. Many of them are… real bad.

Bad apps get bad App Store reviews, and bad reviews dent sales. And even for those who dive in and buy it without checking the reviews first, bad apps means returned devices. According to this iQor survey from 2018, 22% of smart home customers give up and return the products before getting them to work.

“We kind of looked around and realized that 80% of all smart home apps have zero, one, or two stars on the app store,” Welinder tells me.

Knowing what’s working and what’s not with buyers is a strength of Kraftful’s approach; behind the scenes, they can run all sorts of analytics on how users are actually interacting with components in the apps they’re powering and adjust all of them accordingly. If they make a tweak to the setup process in one app, do more users actually get all the way through it? Great. Now roll that out everywhere.

“If you look at some of the leading smart lock apps, they all have very… very similar interfaces. They’ve basically gotten to a standardized user experience, but they’ve all be developed individually.” says Welinder. “So all of these companies are spending the resources designing and developing these apps, but they’re not getting the benefit of being standardized across the board and being able to leverage data from all of these apps to be able to improve them all at once”

Kraftful builds the app for both iOS and Android, tailors it to the brand’s needs, offers cloud functionality like push notifications and activity history, provides analytics for insights on how users are actually using an app, and keeps everything working as OS updates roll out and as device display sizes grow ever larger.

Of course, the entire concept of a dedicated app for a smart home device has some pretty fierce competition — between Apple’s Homekit and Google Home, the platform makers themselves seem pretty set on gobbling up much of the functionality. But most buyers still expect their shiny devices to have their own apps — something branded and purpose-built, something for the manual to point them to. Power users, meanwhile, will always want to do things beyond what the all-encompassing solutions like Homekit/Home are built for.

Folks at Google seem to agree with Kraftful’s approach, here — the team counts the Google Assistant Investments Program as one of the investors in the $1 million they’ve raised. Other investors include YC, F7 Ventures, Cleo Capital, Julia Collins (co-founder of Zume Pizza and Planet Forward), Lukas Biewald (co-founder of CrowdFlower), Nicolas Pinto (co-founder of Perceptio) and a number of other angel investors.

Welinder tells me they’re already working with multiple companies to start powering their apps; NDAs prevent her from saying who, at this point, but she notes that they’re “some of the largest brands that provide smart lights, plugs/switches, thermostats, and other smart home products.”

UPDATE: Los Angeles-based CREXi raises $30 million for its online real estate marketplace

By Jonathan Shieber

Los Angeles is one of the most desirable locations for commercial real estate in the United States, so it’s little wonder that there’s something of a boom in investments in technology companies servicing the market coming from the region.

It’s one of the reasons that CREXi, the commercial real estate marketplace, was able to establish a strong presence for its digital marketplace and toolkit for buyers, sellers and investors.

Since the company raised its last institutional round in 2018, it has added more than 300,000 properties for sale or lease across the U.S. and increased its user base to 6 million customers, according to a statement.

It has now raised $30 million in new financing from new investors, including Mitsubishi Estate Company (“MEC”), Industry Ventures and Prudence Holdings . Previous investors Lerer Hippeau Ventures and Jackson Square Ventures also participated in the financing.

CREXi makes money three ways. There’s a subscription service for brokers looking to sell or lease property; an auction service where CREXi will earn a fee upon the close of a transaction; and a data and analytics service that allows users to get a view into the latest trends in commercial real estate based on the vast collection of properties on offer through the company’s services.

The company touts its service as the only technology offering that can take a property from marketing to the close of a sale or lease without having to leave the platform.

According to chief executive Mike DeGiorgio, the company is also recession-proof thanks to its auction services. “As more distressed properties hit the market, the best way to sell them is through an online auction,” DeGiorgio says.

So far, the company has seen $700 billion of transactions flow through the platform, and roughly 40% of those deals were exclusive to the company.

“The CRE industry is evolving, and market players, especially younger, digitally native generations are seeking out platforms that provide free and open access to information,” said Gavin Myers, general partner at Prudence Holdings, in a statement. “CREXi directly addresses this market need, providing fair access to a range of CRE information. As CREXi continues to build out its stable of services, features, and functionality, we’re thrilled to partner with them and support the company’s continued momentum.”

CREXi joins the ranks of startups based in Los Angeles that have raised money to reshape the real estate industry. Estimates from Built in LA count roughly 127 companies, which have raised in excess of $2.4 billion, active in the real estate industry in Los Angeles. These companies range from providers of short-term commercial office space, like Knotel, or co-working companies like WeWork, to companies focused on servicing the real estate industry like Luxury Presence, which raised a $5 million round earlier in the year.

Due to inaccurate information provided by the company, an initial version of this story indicated that CREXi had raised $29 million in its Series B round. The correct number is $30 million.

Playing traffic cop for drones in cities and towns nets Airspace Link $4 million

By Jonathan Shieber

As the number of drones proliferates in cities and towns across America, government agencies are scrambling to find ways to manage the oncoming traffic that’s expected to clog up their airspace.

Companies like Airmap and KittyHawk have raised tens of millions to develop technologies that can help cities manage congestion in the friendly skies, and now they have a new competitor in the Detroit-based startup, Airspace Link, which just raised $4 million from a swarm of investors to bring its services to the broader market.

The financing for Airspace Link follows the company’s reception of a stamp of approval from the Federal Aviation Administration for low-altitude authorization and notification capabilities, according to chief executive Michael Healander.

According to Healander, what distinguishes Airspace Link from the other competitors in the market is its integration with mapping tools used by municipal governments to provide information on ground-based risk.

“We’re creating the roads based on ground-based risk and we push that out into the drone community to let them know where it’s okay to fly,” says Healander.

That knowledge of terrestrial critical assets in cities and towns comes from deep integrations between Airspace Link and the mapping company ESRI, which has long provided federal, state and local governments with mapping capabilities and services.

We’ve just spent the past month understanding what regulation is going to be around to support it. In two years from now every drone will be live tracked in our platform,” says Healnder. “Today we’re just authorizing flight plans.”

As drone operators increase in number, the autonomous vehicles pose more potential risks to civilian populations in the wrong hands.

Parking lots, sporting events, concerts — really any public area — could be targets for potential attacks using drones.

“Drones are becoming more and more powerful and smarter,” EU Security Commissioner Julian King warned in a statement last summer, “which makes them more and more attractive for legitimate use, but also for hostile acts.”

Already roughly half of the population of the U.S. lives in controlled airspace where drones flying with more than a half a pound of weight require flight plan authorization, according to Healander.

“We build out population data and give state and local governments a tool to create advisories for emergency events or any areas where high densities of people will be,” says Healander. “That creates an advisory that goes through our platform to the drone industry.”

Airspace Link closed a $1 million pre-seed round in September 2019 with a $6 million post-money valuation. The current valuation of the company is undisclosed, but the company’s progress was enough to draw the attention of investors led by Indicator Ventures with participation from 2048 Ventures, Ludlow Ventures, Matchstick Ventures, Detroit Venture Partners and Invest Detroit.

For Healander, Airspace Link is only the latest entrepreneurial venture. He previously founded GeoMetri, an indoor GPS tracking company, which was acquired by Acuity Brands.

I’ve been a partner of ESRI my entire life,” says Healander. “I’ve been in the geospatial industry for four or five companies with them.”

The company has four main components of its service. There’s AirRegistry, where people can opt-in or out of receiving drone deliveries; AirInspect, which is a service that handles city and state permitting for drone operators; AirNetm, which works with the FAA to create approved air routes for drones; and AirLink, an API that connects drone operators with local governments and collects fees for registering drones.

Proxyclick raises $15M Series B for its visitor management platform

By Frederic Lardinois

If you’ve ever entered a company’s office as a visitor or contractor, you probably know the routine: check in with a receptionist, figure out who invited you, print out a badge and get on your merry way. Brussels, Belgium- and New York-based Proxyclick aims to streamline this process, while also helping businesses keep their people and assets secure. As the company announced today, it has raised a $15 million Series B round led by Five Elms Capital, together with previous investor Join Capital.

In total, Proxyclick says it’s systems have now been used to register over 30 million visitors in 7,000 locations around the world. In the UK alone, over 1,000 locations use the company’s tools. Current customers include L’Oreal, Vodafone, Revolut, PepsiCo and Airbnb, as well as a number of other Fortune 500 firms.

Gregory Blondeau, founder and CEO of Proxyclick, stresses that the company believes that paper logbooks, which are still in use in many companies, are simply not an acceptable solution anymore, not in the least because that record is often permanent and visible to other visitors.

Proxyclick’s founding team.

“We all agree it is not acceptable to have those paper logbooks at the entrance where everyone can see previous visitors,” he said. “It is also not normal for companies to store visitors’ digital data indefinitely. We already propose automatic data deletion in order to respect visitor privacy. In a few weeks, we’ll enable companies to delete sensitive data such as visitor photos sooner than other data. Security should not be an excuse to exploit or hold visitor data longer than required.”

What also makes Proxyclick stand out from similar solutions is that it integrates with a lot of existing systems for access control (including C-Cure and Lenel systems). With that, users can ensure that a visitor only has access to specific parts of a building, too.

In addition, though, it also supports existing meeting rooms, calendaring and parking systems and integrates with Wi-Fi credentialing tools so your visitors don’t have to keep asking for the password to get online.

Like similar systems, Proxyclick provides businesses with a tablet-based sign-in service that also allows them to get consent and NDA signatures right during the sign-in process. If necessary, the system can also compare the photos it takes to print out badges with those on a government-issued ID to ensure your visitors are who they say they are.

Blondeau noted that the whole industry is changing, too. “Visitor management is becoming mainstream, it is transitioning from a local, office-related subject handled by facility managers to a global, security and privacy driven priority handled by Chief Information Security Officers. Scope, decision drivers and key people involved are not the same as in the early days,” he said.

It’s no surprise then that the company plans to use the new funding to accelerate its roadmap. Specifically, it’s looking to integrate its solution with more third-party systems with a focus on physical security features and facial recognition, as well as additional new enterprise features.

Bear Robotics, a company making robot waiters, just raised a $32 million round led by SoftBank

By Connie Loizos

Back in August, we flagged a filing for you that we found interesting, one for a now 2.5-year-old, 40-person Redwood City, Calif.,-based startup called Bear Robotics that’s been developing robots to deliver food to restaurant customers. The filing listed a $35.8 million target; Bear Robotics founder and CEO John Ha now tells us the final close, being announced today, was $32 million in Series A funding.

The round was led by SoftBank Group, whose other recent robotics bets include the currently beleaguered food truck company Zume and, as we reported yesterday, Berkshire Grey, a seven-year-old, Lexington, Mass.-based company that makes pick, pack and sorting robots for fulfillment centers and that just raised a whopping $263 million in Series B funding led by SoftBank.

Because we know you’re interested in much more than Bear Robotics’ funding picture, we asked Ha — a former Intel research scientist turned technical lead at Google who in recent years opened and closed his own restaurant — to share more about the company and its robot servers.

TC: You were an engineer at Google. Why then start your own restaurant?

JH: It’s not like I had a dream of having a restaurant; it was more of an investment. It sounded fun, but it didn’t turn out to be fun. What I was really shocked by was how much hard work is involved and how low [employees’] income is. I felt [as I was forced to close it] that this was going to be my life’s work — to transform the restaurant industry with the skills I have. I wanted to remove the hard work and the repetitive tasks so that humans can focus on the truly human side, the hospitality. At restaurants, you’re selling food and service, but most of your time is spent dealing with hiring people and people not showing up, and I suspect our product will change [the equation] so restaurants can focus more on food and service.

TC: How did you come up with the first idea or iteration of the robot you’ve created, that you’re calling Penny?

JH: First, me and my restaurant staff constantly discussed, ‘If we have this robot, what would it look like and what capacity and features would it need?’ I knew it couldn’t be too big; robots have to be able to move well in narrow spaces. We also focused on the right capacity. And we didn’t want to make a robotic restaurant. I wanted to build a robot that no one really cares about; it’s just in the background, sort of like R2-D2 to Luke Skywalker. It’s a sidekick — a bland robot with a weak personality to get things done for your master.

TC Let’s talk parts. How are these things built?

JH: It’s self-driving tech that’s been adopted for indoor space, so it can safely navigate from Point A to Point B. A server puts the food on Penny, and it finds a way to get to the table. It has a two-wheel differential drive, plus casters. It’s pretty safe. A lot of similar-looking robots have blind spots, but ours doesn’t. It can detect baby hands on the floor — even something as thin as a wallet that’s fallen from someone’s table.

We’re not using robot arms because it’s very difficult to make it 100% safe when you have arms in a crowded space. The material — it’s going to be plastic — is safe and easy to clean and able to work with the sanitizers and detergents used in restaurants. We’ve also had to make sure the wheels won’t accumulate food waste, because that would cause issues with the health department.

TC: So this isn’t out in the world yet.

JH: We haven’t entered the mass-manufacturing phase yet.

TC: Where will these be built, and how will you charge for them?

JH: They’ll be made somewhere in Asia — maybe China or some other country. And we haven’t figured out pricing yet but restaurants will be leasing these, not buying them, and there will be a monthly subscription fee that they are paying for a white-glove service, so they don’t have to worry about maintenance or support.

TC: How customizable are these Penny robots going to be? Are there different tiers of service?

JH: Penny can be configured into several modes. The default is [for it to hold] three trays, so it can carry food to a table or a server can use it for busing help.

TC: Will it address the customers?

JH: Penny can speak and play sound, but it’s not conversational yet. It can say, ‘Please take your food,’ or play music while it’s moving. That’s where customers may want to personalize the robot for their own purposes.

TC: Ultimately, the idea is for this to be sold where — just restaurants?

JH: Wherever food is served, so it’s being tested right now in some restaurants, casinos, some homes. [I’m sure we’ll add] nursing homes, too.

Shared inbox startup Front raises $59 million round led by other tech CEOs

By Romain Dillet

Front is raising a $59 million Series C funding round. Interestingly, the startup hasn’t raised with a traditional VC firm leading the round. A handful of super business angels are investing directly in the productivity startup and leading the round.

Business angels include Atlassian co-founder and co-CEO Mike Cannon-Brookes, Atlassian President Jay Simons, Okta co-founder and COO Frederic Kerrest, Qualtrics co-founders Ryan Smith and Jared Smith and Zoom CEO Eric Yuan. Existing investors including Sequoia Capital, Initialized Capital and Anthos Capital are participating in this round as well.

While Front doesn’t share its valuation, the company says that the valuation has quadrupled compared to the previous funding round. Annual recurring venue has also quadrupled over the same period.

The structure of this round is unusual, but it’s on purpose. Front, like many other startups, is trying to redefine the future of work. That’s why the startup wanted to surround itself with leaders of other companies who share the same purpose.

“First, because we didn’t need to raise (we still had two years of runway), and it’s always better to raise when we don’t need it. The last few months have given me much more clarity into our go-to-market strategy,” Front co-founder and CEO Mathilde Collin told me.

Front is a collaborative inbox for your company. For instance, if you want to share an email address with your coworkers (support@mycompany.com or jobs@mycompany.com), you can integrate those shared inboxes with Front and work on those conversations as a team.

It opens up a ton of possibilities. You can assign conversations to a specific person, @-mention your coworkers to send them a notification, start a conversation with your team before you hit reply, share a draft with other people, etc.

Front also supports other communication channels, such as text messages, WhatsApp messages, a chat module on your website and more. As your team gets bigger, Front helps you avoid double replies by alerting other users when you’re working on a reply.

In addition to those collaboration features, Front helps you automate your workload as much as possible. You can set up automated workflows so that a specific conversation ends up in front of the right pair of eyes. You can create canned responses for the entire team as well.

Front also integrates with popular third-party services, such as Salesforce, HubSpot, Clearbit and dozens of others. Front customers include MailChimp, Shopify and Stripe.

While Front supports multiple channels, email represents the biggest challenge. If you think about it, email hasn’t changed much over the past decade. The last significant evolution was the rise of Gmail, G Suite and web-based clients. In other words, Front wants to disrupt Outlook and Gmail.

With today’s funding round, the company plans to iterate on the product front with Office 365 support for its calendar, an offline mode and refinements across the board. The company also plans to scale up its sales and go-to-market team with an office in Phoenix and a new CMO.

Thundra announces $4M Series A to secure and troubleshoot serverless workloads

By Ron Miller

Thundra, an early stage serverless tooling startup, announced a $4 million Series A today led by Battery Ventures. The company spun out from OpsGenie after it was sold to Atlassian for $295 million in 2018.

York IE, Scale X Ventures and Opsgenie founder Berkay Mollamustafaoglu also participated in the round. Battery’s Neeraj Agarwal is joining the company’s board under the terms of the agreement.

The startup also announced that it had recently hired Ken Cheney as CEO with technical founder Serkan Ozal becoming CTO.

Originally, Thundra helped run the serverless platform at OpsGenie. As a commercial company, it helps monitor, debug and secure serverless workloads on AWS Lambda. These three tasks could easily be separate tools, but Cheney says it makes sense to include them all because they are all related in some way.

“We bring all that together and provide an end-to-end view of what’s happening inside the application, and this is what really makes Thundra unique. We can actually provide a high-level distributed view of that constantly-changing application that shows all of the components of that application, and how they are interrelated and how they’re performing. It can also troubleshoot down to the local service, as well as go down into the runtime code to see where the problems are occurring and let you know very quickly,” Cheney explained.

He says that this enables developers to get this very detailed view of their serverless application that otherwise wouldn’t be possible, helping them concentrate less on the nuts and bolts of the infrastructure, the reason they went serverless in the first place, and more on writing code.

Serverless trace map in Thundra. Screenshot: Thundra

Thundra is able to do all of this in a serverless world, where there isn’t a fixed server and resources are ephemeral, making it difficult to identity and fix problems. It does this by installing an agent at the Lambda (AWS’ serverless offering) level on AWS, or at runtime on the container at the library level,” he said.

Battery’s Neeraj Agarwal says having invested in OpsGenie, he knew the engineering team and was confident in the team’s ability to take it from internal tool to more broadly applicable product.

“I think it has to do with the quality of the engineering team that built OpsGenie. These guys are very microservices oriented, very product oriented, so they’re very quick at iterating and developing products. Even though this was an internal tool I think of it as very much productized, and their ability to now sell it to the broader market is very exciting,” he said.

The company offers a free version, then tiered pricing based on usage, storage and data retention. The current product is a cloud service, but it plans to add an on prem version in the near future.

Placer.ai, a location data analytics startup, raises $12 million Series A

By Catherine Shu

Placer.ai, a startup that analyzes location and foot traffic analytics for retailers and other businesses, announced today that it has closed a $12 million Series A. The round was led by JBV Capital, with participation from investors including Aleph, Reciprocal Ventures and OCA Ventures.

The funding will be used on research and development of new features and to expand Placer.ai’s operation in the United States.

Launched in 2016, Placer.ai’s SaaS platform gives its clients to real-time data that helps them make decisions like where to rent or buy properties, when to hold sales and promotions and how to manage assets.

Placer.ai analyzes foot traffic and also creates consumer profiles to help clients make marketing and ad spending decisions. It does this by collecting geolocation and proximity data from devices that are enabled to share that information. Placer.ai’s co-founder and CEO Noam Ben-Zvi says the company protects privacy and follows regulation by displaying aggregated, anonymous data and does not collect personally identifiable data. It also does not sell advertising or raw data.

The company currently serves clients in the retail (including large shopping centers), commercial real estate and hospitality verticals, including JLL, Regency, SRS, Brixmor, Verizon* and Caesars Entertainment.

“Up until now, we’ve been heavily focused on the commercial real estate sector, but this has very organically led us into retail, hospitality, municipalities and even [consumer packaged goods],” Ben-Zvi told TechCrunch in an email. “This presents us with a massive market, so we’re just focused on building out the types of features that will directly address the different needs of our core audience.”

He adds that lack of data has hurt retail businesses with major offline operations, but that “by effectively addressing this gap, we’re helpiong drive more sustainable growth or larger players or minimizing the risk for smaller companies to drive expansion plans that are strategically aggressive.”

Others startups in the same space include Dor, Aislelabs, RetailNext, ShopperTrak and Density. Ben-Zvi says Placer. ai wants to differentiate by providing more types of real-time data analysis.

While there are a lot of companies touching the location analytics space, we’re in a unique situation as the only company providing these deep and actionable insights for any location in the country in a real-time platform with a wide array of functionality,” he said.

*Disclosure: Verizon Media is the parent company of TechCrunch.

Corporate relocation startup Shyft raises $15M

By Anthony Ha

Shyft is announcing that it has raised $15 million in Series A funding to make the moving process less painful — specifically in the situations where your employer is paying for the move.

There other startups are looking to offer concierge-type services for regular moving — I used a service called Moved last year and liked it. But Shyft co-founder and CEO Alex Alpert (who’s spent years in the moving business) told me that there are no direct competitors focused on corporate relocation.

“Even at the highest levels, the process is totally jacked up,” Alpert said. “We saw an opportunity to partner with corporations and relocation management companies to build a customized, tech-driven experience with more choices, more flexibility and to be able to navigate the quoting process seamlessly.”

So when a company that uses Shyft decides to relocate you — whether you’re a new hire or just transferring to a new office — you should get an email prompting you to download the Shyft app, where you can chat with a “move coach” who guides you through the process.

You’ll also be able to catalog the items you want to move over a video call and get estimates from movers. And you’ll receive moving-related offers from companies like Airbnb, Wag, Common, Sonder and Home Chef.

And as Alpert noted, Shyft also partners with more traditional relocation companies like Graebel, rather than treating them as competitors.

Shyft screenshot

The company was originally called Crater and focused on building technology for creating accurate moving estimates via video. It changed its name and its business model back in 2018 (Alpert acknowledged, “It wasn’t a very popular pitch in the beginning: ‘Hey, we’re building estimation software for moving companies.'”) but the technology remains a crucial differentiator.

“Our technology is within 95% accurate at identifying volume and weight of the move,” he said. “When moving companies know the information is reliable, they can bid very aggressively.”

As result, Alpert said the employer benefits not just from having happier employees, but lower moving costs.

The new funding, meanwhile, was led by Inovia Capital, with participation from Blumberg Capital and FJ Labs.

“There’s a total misalignment between transactional relocation services and the many logistical, social, and lifestyle needs that come with moving to a new city,” Inovia Partner Todd Simpson said in a statement. “As businesses shift towards more distributed workforces and talent becomes accustomed to personalized experiences, the demand for a curated moving offering will continue to grow.”

As retail robotics heats up, Berkshire Grey raises $263M

By Brian Heater

In recent years, the retail category has become one of the biggest and best-funded robotics categories — particularly when coupled with connected verticals like warehouse fulfillment and logistics. Berkshire Grey has flown mostly under the under the radar, but is kicking 2020 off with some pretty sizable funding news.

The Massachusetts-based company just announced a lofty $263 million Series B. The round is led by Softbank, which has taken a particular interest in robotics of late, along with participation from Khosla Ventures, New Enterprise Associates and Canaan.

In spite of having a name that sounds like a financial holdings company, Berkshire Grey has displayed some pretty sophisticated pick and place robots. It’s positioned particularly well in the warehouse space, making it a competitor with the likes of Amazon Robotics and Fetch. Like the others, Berkshire’s pitch is largely around questions of labor shortages in such high intensity jobs, while claiming to increase e-commerce operations by 70% to 80%.

“Our customers from leading enterprises in retail, ecommerce, and logistics are selecting Berkshire Grey as a competitive differentiator,” founder and CEO Tom Wagner said in a release tied to the news. “With our intelligent robotic automation, our clients see faster and more efficient supply chain operations that enable them to address the wants of today’s savvy consumer.”

The funding follows recent rounds by companies like Bossa Nova, Osaro Realtime and a $23 million raise by Soft Robotics earlier this week. Berkshire says the money will go toward increased headcount, acquisitions and a push toward international growth.

Skylo raises $103 million to affordably connect the Internet of Things to satellite networks

By Darrell Etherington

One of the biggest opportunities in the new space economy lies in taking the connectivity made possibly by ever-growing communications satellite constellations, and making that useful for things and companies here on Earth. Startup Skylo, which emerged from stealth today with a $103 million Series B funding announcement, is one of the players making that possible in an affordable way.

The funding brings Skylo’s total raised to $116 million, following a $14 million Series A. This new round was led by Softbank Group (which at this point carries a complicated set of connotations) and includes existing investors DCM and Eric Schmidt’s Innovation Endeavors. Skylo’s business is based on connecting Internet of Things (IoT) devices, including sensors, industrial equipment, logistics hardware and more, to satellite networks using the cellular-based Narrowband IoT protocol. Its network is already deployed on current geostationary satellites, too, meaning its customers can get up and running without waiting for any new satellites or constellations with dedicated technology to launch.

Already, Skylo has completed tests of its technology with commercial partners in real-world usage, including partners in private enterprise and government, across industries including fisheries, maritime logistics, automotive and more. The company’s main claim to advantage over other existing solutions is that it can offer connectivity for as little as $1 per seat, along with hardware that sells for under $100, which it says adds up to a cost savings of as much as 95 percent vs. other satellite IoT connectivity available on the market.

Its hardware, the Skylo Hub, is a satellite terminal that connects to its network on board geostationary satellites, acting as a “hot spot” to make that available to standard IoT sensors and devices. It’s roughly 8″ by 8″, can be powered internally via battery or plugged in, and is easy for customers to install on their own without any special expertise.

The company was founded in 2017, by CEO Parth Trivedi, CTO Dr. Andrew Nuttall and Chief Hub Architect Dr. Andrew Kalman. Trivedi is an MIT Aerospace and Astronautical engineering graduate; Nuttal has a Ph.D in Aeronautics from Stanford, and Kalman is a Stanford professor who previously founded CubeSat component kit startup Pumpkin, Inc.

Intezer raises $15M for its DNA-style ‘genetic’ approach to identifying and tracking malware code

By Ingrid Lunden

As the total cost of cybercrime reaches into trillions of dollars and continues to rise, an Israeli firm called Intezer — which has built a way to analyse, identify and eradicate malware by way of an ordering system similar to what’s used when mapping out DNA — has raised $15 million to double down on growth.

The funding, a Series B, is being led by OpenView Partners, the VC with a focus on expansion rounds for enterprise software companies, with participation from previous investors Intel Capital (which led the Series A in 2017), Magma, Samsung NEXT, the United Services Automobile Association, and Alon Cohen, the founder and former CEO of CyberArk, who is also a co-founder of Intezer. The company is not disclosing its valuation, and it has raised a relatively modest $25 million to date.

Itai Tevet, Intezer’s other co-founder and CEO who had previously run the Cyber Incident Response Team (CERT) in Israel’s IDF, notes that the startup’s customers include “Fortune 500 companies, late stage startups, and elite government agencies” (it doesn’t disclose any specific names although it’s notable to see the USAA as an investor here).

In an interview, he said Intezer will be using the funding both to expand that list — through two products it currently offers, Intezer Protect and Intezer Analyze (which comes without remediation) — and also to explore how to apply its model to other areas under threat from malicious cyberattacks not traditionally associated with malware.

“Because our technology deals with binary code in general, it’s applicable in many different ways,” he said. “Since any digital device runs binary code (even drones, medical devices, smart phones, …), our technology has the potential to create a big impact in numerous aspects of cyber security to provide visibility, control and protection from any unauthorized and malicious code.”

Intezer describes its technique as “genetic malware analysis”, and the basic premise is that “all software, whether legitimate or malicious, is comprised of previously written code,” Tevet said. (He said he first came up with this revelation at the IDF, where he was “dealing with the best cyber attackers in the world,” later working with Cohen and a third co-founder, Roy Halevi, to perfect the idea.)

Intezer therefore has built software that can “map” out different malware, making connections by detecting code reuse and code similarities, which in turn can help it identify new threats, and help put a stop to them.

There is a reason why cybercriminals reuse code, and it has to do with economies of scale: they can reuse and work faster. Conversely, it also becomes “exponentially harder for them to launch a new attack campaign since they would need to start completely from scratch,” Tevet notes.

While there are literally hundreds of startups now on the market building ways to identify, mitigate and remediate the effects of malware on systems, Intezer claims to stand apart from the pack.

“The vast majority of security systems in the market today detect threats by looking for anomalies and other indicators of compromise,” usually using machine learning and AI, but Tevet adds that this “can be evaded by ‘blending in’ as normal activity.” One consequence of that is that these methods also drown security teams with vague and false-positive alerts, he added. “On the other hand, Intezer doesn’t look for the symptoms of the attack, but can actually uncover the origins of the root cause of nearly all cyber attacks — the code itself.”

The startup’s proof is in the pudding so to speak: it has scored some notable successes to date through its use. Intezer was the first to identify that WannaCry came out of North Korea; it built a code map that helped provide the links between the Democratic National Committee breach and Russian hackers; and most recently it identified a new malware family called “HiddenWasp” linked specifically to Linux systems.

Itai Tevet, the co-founder and CEO, says that “hands down,” Linux-focused threats are the biggest issue of the moment.

“Everybody’s talking about cloud security but it is rarely discussed that Linux malware is a thing,” he said in an interview. “Since the dawn of cloud and IoT, Linux has become the most common operating system and, in turn, the biggest prize for hackers.” He added that in the more traditional enterprise landscape, “banking trojans such as Emotet and Trickbot remain the most common malware families seen in the wild.”

“Itai, Roy and the team at Intezer possess a rare expertise in incident response, malware analysis, and reverse engineering having mitigated many nation-state sponsored threats in the past,” said Scott Maxwell, founder and managing partner of OpenView, in a statement. “The Genetic Malware Analysis technology they’ve developed represents the next-generation of cyber threat detection, classification, and remediation. We’re excited to support them as they build a category-defining company.”

Snyk snags $150M investment as its valuation surpasses $1B

By Ron Miller

Snyk, the company that wants to help developers secure their code as part of the development process, announced a $150 million investment today. The company indicated the investment brings its valuation to over $1 billion (although it did not share the exact figure).

Today’s round was led by Stripes, a New York City investment firm with help from Coatue, Tiger Global, BoldStart,Trend Forward, Amity and Salesforce Ventures. The company reports it has now raised over $250 million.

The idea behind Snyk is to fit security firmly in the development process. Rather than offloading it to a separate team, something that can slow down a continuous development environment, Snyk builds in security as part of the code commit.

The company offers an open source tool that helps developers find open source vulnerabilities when they commit their code to GitHub, Bitbucket, GitLab or any CI/CD tool. It has built up a community of over 400,000 developers with this approach.

Snyk makes money with a container security product, and by making the underlying vulnerability database they use in the open source product available to companies as a commercial product.

CEO Peter McKay, who came on board last year as the company was making a move to expand into the enterprise, says the open source product drives the revenue-producing products and helped attract this kind of investment. “Getting to [today’s] funding round was the momentum in the open source model from the community to freemium to [land] and expand — and that’s where we are today,” he told TechCrunch.

He said that the company wasn’t looking for this money, but investors came knocking and gave them a good offer, based on Snyk’s growing market momentum. “Investors said we want to take advantage of the market, and we want to make sure you can invest the way you want to invest and take advantage of what we all believe is this very large opportunity,” McKay said.

In fact, the company has been raising money at a rapid clip since it came out of the gate in 2016 with a $3 million seed round. A $7 million Series A and $22 million Series B followed in 2018 with a $70 million Series C last fall.

The company reports over 4X revenue growth in 2019 (without giving exact revenue figures), and some major customer wins including the likes of Google, Intuit, Nordstrom and Salesforce. It’s worth noting that Salesforce thought enough of the company that it also invested in this round through its Salesforce Ventures investment arm.

African fintech firm Flutterwave raises $35M, partners with Worldpay

By Jake Bright

San Francisco and Lagos-based fintech startup Flutterwave has raised a $35 million Series B round and announced a partnership with Worldpay FIS for payments in Africa.

With the funding, Flutterwave will invest in technology and business development to grow market share in existing operating countries, CEO Olugbenga Agboola — aka GB — told TechCrunch.

The company will also expand capabilities to offer more services around its payment products.

More than payments

“We don’t just want to be a payment technology company, we have sector expertise around education, travel, gaming, e-commerce, fintech companies. They all use our expertise,” said GB.

That means Flutterwave will provide more solutions around the broader needs of its clients.

The Nigerian-founded startup’s main business is providing B2B payments services for companies operating in Africa to pay other companies on the continent and abroad.

Launched in 2016, Flutterwave allows clients to tap its APIs and work with Flutterwave developers to customize payments applications. Existing customers include Uber, Booking.com and e-commerce company Jumia.

In 2019, Flutterwave processed 107 million transactions worth $5.4 billion, according to company data.

Flutterwave did the payment integration for U.S. pop-star Cardi B’s 2019 performances in Nigeria and Ghana. Those are two of the countries in which the startup operates, in addition to South Africa, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, the U.K. and Rwanda.

Flutterwave Cardi B Nigeria“We want to scale in all those markets and be the payment processor of choice,” GB said.

The company will hire more business development staff and expand its developer team to create more sector expertise, according to GB.

“Our business goes beyond payments. People don’t want to just make payments, they want to do something,” he said. And Fluterwave aims to offer more capabilities toward what those clients want to do in Africa.

GB Flutterwave disrupt

Olugbenga Agboola, aka GB

“If you are a charity that wants to raise money for cancer research in Ghana, or you want to sell online, or you’re Cardi B…who wants to do concerts in Africa…we want to be able to set up payments, write the code and create the platform for those needs,” GB explained.

That also means Flutterwave, which built its early client base across global companies, aims to serve smaller African businesses, including startups. Current customers include African-founded tech companies, such as moto ride-hail venture Max.ng.

Worldpay partnership

The new round makes Flutterwave the payment provider for Worldpay in Africa.

“With this partnership, any Worldpay merchant in Europe or the U.S. can accept any African payment. If someone goes to pay Netflix with an African card, it just works,” GB said.

In 2019, Worldpay was acquired for a reported $35 billion by FIS, a U.S. financial services provider. At the time of the purchase, it was projected the two companies would generate revenues of $12 billion annually, yet neither has notable presence in Africa.

Therein lies the benefit of collaborating with Flutterwave.

FIS’s Head of Ventures Joon Cho confirmed the partnership with TechCrunch. FIS also backed Flutterwave’s $35 million Series B. US VC firms Greycroft and eVentures led the round, with participation of Visa, Green Visor and African fund CRE Venture Capital.

Flutterwave’s latest funding brings the company’s total investment to $55 million and follows a year in which the fintech venture announced a series of weighty partnerships.

In July 2019, the startup joined forces with Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba’s Alipay to offer digital payments between Africa and China.

The Alipay collaboration followed one between Flutterwave and Visa to launch a consumer payment product for Africa, called GetBarter.

Flutterwave and African fintech

Flutterwave’s $35 million round and latest partnership are among the reasons the startup has become a standout in Africa’s digital-finance landscape.

As a sector, fintech gains the bulk of dealflow and the majority of startup capital flowing to African startups annually. VC to Africa totaled $1.35 billion in 2019, according to WeeTracker’s latest stats.

While a number of payment startups and products have scaled — see Paga in Nigeria and M-Pesa in Kenya — the majority of the continent’s fintech companies are P2P in focus and segregated to one or two markets.

Flutterwave’s platform has served the increased B2B business payment needs spurred by the decade of growth and reform that has occurred in Africa’s core economies.

The value the startup has created is underscored not just by transactional volume the company generates, but the partnerships it has attracted.

A growing list of the masters of the payment universe — Visa, Alipay, Worldpay — have shown they need Flutterwave to do finance in Africa.

Stasher, the luggage storage app for travelers, raises $2.5M additional funding

By Steve O'Hear

Stasher, the luggage storage app for travelers, has raised $2.5 million in additional funding. Leading the round is Venture Friends, along with various angels, including Johan Svanstrom, former president of Expedia-owned Hotels.com.

Launched in 2015, and now calling itself a “sharing economy solution” to luggage storage, the Stasher marketplace and app connects travelers, event attendees and vacation rental guests with local shops and hotels that can store their luggage on a short to medium-term basis.

Insurance is included with each booking, and items stored at a StasherPoint are covered for damage, loss and theft up to the value of £1,000.

Meanwhile, the revenue share for hosts is roughly 50% of the storage fee. The idea is that brick and mortar shops can access an additional revenue stream, thanks to the so-called sharing economy.

More broadly, the problem Stasher wants to solve is that having to carry around luggage can often stop you enjoying part of your day when traveling, time that is otherwise wasted. “If you’ve ever been forced out of your Airbnb at 10am, you may be familiar with the issue,” co-founder Anthony Collias told me back in 2018.

To that end, the Stasher network has grown a lot since then, and now has a presence in 250 cities, up from 20. This has included bringing the luggage storage app to the U.S. and Australia.

This has seen the startup partner with the likes of Klook, Sonder, Marriott and Hotels.com, along with brands such as Premier Inn, Expedia, Holiday Express, OYO and Accor.

Challenger business bank Qonto raises $115 million round led by Tencent and DST Global

By Romain Dillet

French startup Qonto has raised a $115 million Series C funding round led by Tencent and DST Global. Today’s news comes a few days after another French fintech startup, Lydia, raised some money from Tencent.

Existing investors Valar and Alven are also participating in today’s funding round. TransferWise co-founder Taavet Hinrikus and Adyen CFO Ingo Uytdehaage are also joining the round. Qonto says it represents the largest funding round for a French fintech company.

Qonto is a challenger bank, or a neobank, but for B2B use cases. Instead of attracting millions of customers like N26 or Monzo, Qonto is serving small and medium companies as well as freelancers in Europe.

According to the startup, business banking in Europe is broken. The company thinks it can provide a much better user experience with an online and mobile-first product.

The company has managed to attract 65,000 companies over the past two years and a half. The product is currently live in France, Italy, Spain and Germany. In 2019 alone, Qonto managed €10 billion in transaction volume.

With today’s funding round, the company plans to double down on its existing markets, develop new features that make the platform work better in each country based on local needs and hire more people. The team should grow from 200 to 300 employees within a year.

Qonto obtained a payment institution license in June 2018 and has developed its own core banking infrastructure. Around 50% of the company’s user base is currently using Qonto’s own core banking system. Others are still relying on a third-party partner.

Moving from one back end to another requires some input from customers, which explains why there are still some customers using the legacy infrastructure. Over the coming months, Qonto plans to launch new payment features that should convince more users to switch to Qonto’s back end.

Even more important, Qonto plans to obtain a credit institution license, which could open up a ton of possibilities when it comes to features and revenue streams. The company says that it should have its new license by the end of the year.

For instance, you could imagine being able to get a credit card, apply for an overdraft and get a small loan with Qonto.

Compared to traditional banks, Qonto lets you open a bank account more easily. After signing up, Qonto offers a modern interface with your activity. You can export your transactions in no time, manage your expenses and get real-time notifications. Qonto also integrates with popular accounting tools.

When it comes to payment methods, Qonto gives you a French IBAN as well as debit cards. You can order physical or virtual cards whenever you want, customize limits and freeze a card. Qonto also supports direct debit and checks. Like many software-as-a-service products, you can also manage multiple user accounts and customize permission levels.

Personio, the German HR platform for SMEs, raises $75M Series C at a $500M valuation

By Steve O'Hear

Personio, the Germany-founded HR platform for SMEs, has raised $75 million in Series C funding in a round led by Accel. I understand the investment values the company at around $500 million.

Also joining is Lightspeed Venture Partners, alongside Lars Dalgaard (the founder and former CEO of SuccessFactors). Existing investors Index Ventures, Northzone, Rocket Internet’s Global Founders Capital, and Picus Capital followed on.

The Series C brings Personio’s total funding to $130 million since launching in 2015. The additional capital will help support the company’s expansion into the U.K. and Ireland, which is also being announced today. This will see Personio establish a new office in London to better serve clients in the U.K. and Ireland.

Combining human resources, recruiting and payroll into a single platform, Personio bills itself as an “HR operating system” for small and medium-sized companies (SMEs) ranging from 10 to 2,000 employees.

The cloud-based software is designed to power all of a company’s people processes via the product’s own growing functionality or through its ability to integrate with third-party software.

To that end, Personio says its customer base has tripled in the past 12 months, and says it now serves almost 2,000 customers in more than 40 countries. In the same period, the number of employees at Personio has more than doubled to more than 350. That figure is set to reach 700 employees by the end of 2020.

Along with traditional SMEs, Personio has naturally found a home amongst startups. “The strong growth of the last four years in German-speaking countries has shown that there is a great demand for HR software in SMEs,” Personio co-founder and CEO Hanno Renner tells me.

“Forty-two percent of their time is currently spent on administrative tasks, according to a recent, as yet unpublished, study from Germany. Personio automates repetitive tasks and thus gives HR staff time for value-adding tasks. This is an invaluable advantage that has already convinced several U.K. customers such as Raisin and millimetric.”

Israel’s cybersecurity startup scene spawned new entrants in 2019

By Walter Thompson
Yoav Leitersdorf Contributor
Yoav Leitersdorf is the Silicon Valley-based Managing Partner at YL Ventures, where he accelerates cybersecurity startups in the U.S. market.
Ofer Schreiber Contributor
Ofer Schreiber is partner and head of Israel Office at YL Ventures, where he seeds and accelerates cybersecurity startups.

As the global cybersecurity market becomes increasingly crowded, the Start Up Nation remains a bulwark of innovation and opportunity generation for investors and global cyber companies alike. It achieved this chiefly in 2019 by adapting to the industry’s competitive developments and pushing forward its most accomplished entrepreneurs in larger numbers to meet them.

New data illustrates how Israeli entrepreneurs have seized on the country’s reputation for building radically cutting-edge technologies as the number of new Israeli cybersecurity startups addressing nascent sectors eclipses its more traditional counterparts. Moreover, related findings highlight how cybersecurity companies looking to expand beyond their traditional offerings are entering Israel’s cybersecurity ecosystem in larger numbers through highly strategic acquisitions.

Broadly, new findings also reveal the Israeli cybersecurity market’s overall coming of age, seasoned entrepreneurial dominance and greater appetite for longer-term visions and strategies — the latter of which received record-breaking investor backing in 2019.

Breaking records

LaunchDarkly CEO Edith Harbaugh explains why her company raised another $54M

By Greg Kumparak

This week, LaunchDarkly announced that it has raised another $54 million. Led by Bessemer Venture Partners and backed by the company’s existing investors, it brings the company’s total funding up to $130 million.

For the unfamiliar, LaunchDarkly builds a platform that allows companies to easily roll out new features to only certain customers, providing a dashboard for things like “canary launches” (pushing new stuff to a small group of users to make sure nothing breaks) or launching a feature only in select countries or territories. By productizing an increasingly popular development concept (“feature flagging”) and making it easier to toggle new stuff across different platforms and languages, the company is quickly finding customers in companies that would rather not spend time rolling their own solutions.

I spoke with CEO and co-founder Edith Harbaugh, who filled me in on where the idea for LaunchDarkly came from, how their product is being embraced by product managers and marketing teams and the company’s plans to expand with offices around the world. Here’s our chat, edited lightly for brevity and clarity.

Caregiving startup Homage raises Series B to enter new Asian markets

By Catherine Shu

In many countries, an aging population coupled with a low birth rate is increasing the demand for qualified caregivers. In Asia, the need is especially urgent because rapid demographic shifts and changing social structures means family members who traditionally cared for relatives are unable to because they need to work, or live far away. Homage wants to help with a platform that not only matches pre-screened professionals and clients, but also enables caregiving organizations to scale up more quickly.

The startup announced this week that it has raised Series B funding, led by EV Growth, with new investors Alternate Ventures and KDV Capital. Returning investor HealthXCapital also participated. The amount of funding was undisclosed, but sources tell TechCrunch it was $10 million.

Launched in 2016 by Gillian Tee, Lily Phang and Tong Duong, Homage currently operates in Singapore and Malaysia, with plans to expand into five more countries over the next two years. Before Homage, Tee, its CEO, worked in the United States, where she co-founded Rocketrip, a business travel startup backed by Y Combinator. Tee tells TechCrunch she realized the need for a caregiving platform while looking for carers.

“We saw that in ASEAN and the Asia Pacific region, there is really a need to build long-term care infrastructure,” she says.

This includes increasing the pool of basic caregivers to reduce costs, and also making it easier for families to be matched with professionals. Homage’s platform currently includes about 2,000 caregivers and focuses on elderly care, but also provides services needed by a wide age range, including rehabilitation care, physiotherapy, speech therapy and occupational therapy.

The platform was also created to give caregiving organizations a tech platform that allows them to expand more quickly and cost efficiently, in turn reducing care expenses for families. Homage interviews caregivers before they are added to the platform and partners with health organizations to provide continuing education and training. On the enterprise side, it helps providers with administrative tasks like compliance and bookings.

Tee says Homage’s screening process goes beyond interviews and background checks.

“From solving my own caregiving problems, I believe that a platform is needed, a highly curated one, so that every single individual has to be fully competency assessed,” she says.

For caregivers, this means building a profile, and in addition to the information they provide, Homage also works with nurses to evaluate how they are able to perform important tasks like manual transfer techniques. That information is then used by its matching engine.

“The human mind can take in so many details at once, so we have an algorithm for manual transfer techniques, like bent pivot transfers or two-handed transfers, down to that granularity,” Tee says. “It is captured into the system and that translates into mobility, and gives categories of mobility, so it helps us shortlist much better than humans can.” Then final assessments and matches are done by one of Homage’s operators.

Homage also provides compliance tools that collect information about licenses, background and health checks, AED and CPR training and other documentation. On the bookings side, Homage helps organizations manage fluctuations in demand, since many families only need carers a few days a week. Caregivers on the platform range from full-time nurses to part-time carers. It also helps organizations plan breaks to prevent burnout.

Tee says many caregiving organizations put together their own system for administrative tasks, and Homage gives them an alternative that lets them set up operations or expand more quickly.

Homage’s funding will be used to expand its base of caregivers, provide training, and new services, including its medical delivery service.

In a press statement, EV Growth managing partner Willson Cuaca said, “Increasing aging population and low TFR (total fertility rate) are inevitable. Urbanization and a fast-paced working environment make caregiving service one of the key services in our daily life. Gillian and the team have been consistently trying to make the on-demand caregiving service as accessible as possible, fast and reliable. We are proud to be part of the Homage journey to bring back caregiving with control, grace, and dignity.”

❌