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Census raises $16M Series A to help companies put their data warehouses to work

By Frederic Lardinois

Census, a startup that helps businesses sync their customer data from their data warehouses to their various business tools like Salesforce and Marketo, today announced that it has raised a $16 million Series A round led by Sequoia Capital. Other participants in this round include Andreessen Horowitz, which led the company’s $4.3 million seed round last year, as well as several notable angles, including Figma CEO Dylan Field, GitHub CTO Jason Warner, Notion COO Akshay Kothari and Rippling CEO Parker Conrad.

The company is part of a new crop of startups that are building on top of data warehouses. The general idea behind Census is to help businesses operationalize the data in their data warehouses, which was traditionally only used for analytics and reporting use cases. But as businesses realized that all the data they needed was already available in their data warehouses and that they could use that as a single source of truth without having to build additional integrations, an ecosystem of companies that operationalize this data started to form.

The company argues that the modern data stack, with data warehouses like Amazon Redshift, Google BigQuery and Snowflake at its core, offers all of the tools a business needs to extract and transform data (like Fivetran, dbt) and then visualize it (think Looker).

Tools like Census then essentially function as a new layer that sits between the data warehouse and the business tools that can help companies extract value from this data. With that, users can easily sync their product data into a marketing tool like Marketo or a CRM service like Salesforce, for example.

Image Credits: Census

Three years ago, we were the first to ask, ‘Why are we relying on a clumsy tangle of wires connecting every app when everything we need is already in the warehouse? What if you could leverage your data team to drive operations?’ When the data warehouse is connected to the rest of the business, the possibilities are limitless.” Census explains in today’s announcement. “When we launched, our focus was enabling product-led companies like Figma, Canva, and Notion to drive better marketing, sales, and customer success. Along the way, our customers have pulled Census into more and more scenarios, like auto-prioritizing support tickets in Zendesk, automating invoices in Netsuite, or even integrating with HR systems.

Census already integrates with dozens of different services and data tools and its customers include the likes of Clearbit, Figma, Fivetran, LogDNA, Loom and Notion.

Looking ahead, Census plans to use the new funding to launch new features like deeper data validation and a visual query experience. In addition, it also plans to launch code-based orchestration to make Census workflows versionable and make it easier to integrate them into enterprise orchestration system.

Torii announces $10M Series A to automate SaaS management

By Ron Miller

Today, that software is offered as a cloud service should be pretty much considered a given. Certainly any modern tooling is going to be SaaS, and as companies and employees add services, it becomes a management nightmare. Enter Torii, an early-stage startup that wants to make it easier to manage SaaS bloat.

Today, the company announced a $10 million Series A investment led by Wing Venture Capital with participation from prior investors Entree Capital, Global Founders Capital, Scopus Ventures and Uncork Capital. The investment brings the total raised to $15 million, according to the company. Under the terms of the deal, Wing partner Jake Flomenberg is joining the board.

Uri Haramati, co-founder and CEO, is a serial entrepreneur who helped launch Houseparty and Meerkat. As a serial founder, he says that he and his co-founders saw first-hand how difficult it was to manage their companies’ SaaS applications and the idea for Torii developed from that.

“We all felt the changes around SaaS and managing the tools that we were using. We were all early adopters of SaaS. We all [took advantage of SaaS] to scale our companies and we felt the same thing: The fact is that you just can’t add more people who manage more software, it just doesn’t scale,” Haramati told me.

He said they started Torii with the idea of using software to control the SaaS sprawl they were experiencing. At the heart of the idea was an automation engine to discover and manage all of the SaaS tools inside an organization. Once you know what you have, there is a no-code workflow engine to create workflows around those tools for key activities like onboarding or offboarding employees.

Torii no code workflow engine.

Torii Workflow Engine. Image Credits: Torii

The approach seems to be working. As the pandemic struck in 2020, more companies than ever needed to control and understand the SaaS tooling they had, and revenue grew 400% YoY last year. Customers include Delivery Hero, Chewy, Monday.com and Palo Alto Networks.

The company also doubled its employees from a dozen they started last year with with plans to get to 60 people by the end of this year. As they do that, as experienced entrepreneurs Haramati told me they already understood the value of developing a diverse and inclusive workforce, certainly around gender. Today, the team is 25 people with 10 being women and they are working to improve those ratios as they continue to add new people.

Flomenberg invested in Torii because he was particularly impressed with the automation aspect of the company and how it took a holistic approach to the SaaS management problem, rather than attempting to solve one part of it. “When I met Uri, he described this vision. It was really to become the operating system for SaaS. It all starts with the right data. You can trust data that is gathered from [multiple] sources to really build the right picture and pull it together. And then they took all those signals and they built a platform that is built on automation,” he said.

Haramati admits that it’s challenging to scale in the midst of a pandemic, but the company is growing and is already working to expand the platform to include product recommendations and help with compliance and cost control.

Proptech startup Knock secures $20M to grow SaaS platform for property managers

By Mary Ann Azevedo

In recent years, the U.S. has seen more renters than at any point since at least 1965, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of Census Bureau housing data. 

Competition for renters is fierce and property managers are turning to technology to get a leg up.

To meet that demand, Seattle-based Knock – one startup that has developed tools to give property management companies a competitive edge – has raised $20 million in a growth funding round led by Fifth Wall Ventures.

Existing backers Madrona Venture Group, Lead Edge Capital, Second Avenue Partners and Seven Peaks Ventures also participated in the financing, which brings the company’s total capital raised to $47 million.

Demetri Themelis and Tom Petry co-founded Knock in 2014 after renting “in super competitive markets” such as New York City, San Francisco and Seattle. 

“After meeting with property management companies, it was eye-opening to learn about the total gap across their tech stacks,” Themelis recalled.

Knock’s goal is to provide CRM tools to modernize front office operations for these companies so they can do things like offer virtual tours and communicate with renters via text, email or social media from “a single conversation screen.” For renters, it offers an easier way to communicate and engage with landlords. 

“Apartment buildings, like almost every customer-driven business, compete with each other by attracting, converting and retaining customers,” Themelis said. “For property management companies, these customers are renters.”

The startup — which operates as a SaaS business — has seen an uptick in growth, quadrupling its revenue over the past two years. Its software is used by hundreds of the largest property management companies across the United States and Canada and has more than 1.5 million apartment units using the platform. Starwood Capital Group, ZRS, FPI and Cushman & Wakefield (formerly Pinnacle) are among its users.

As Petry explains it, Knock serves as the sales inbox (chat, SMS, phone, email), sales calendar and CRM systems, all in one. 

“We also automate certain sales tasks like outreach and appointment scheduling, while also surfacing which sales opportunities need the most attention at any given time, for both new leases as well as renewals,” he said.

Image Credit: Knock

The company, Themelis said, was well-prepared for the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our software supports property management companies, which operate high-density apartment buildings that people live and work in,” he told TechCrunch. “You can’t just ‘shut them down,’ which has made multifamily resilient and even grow in comparison to retail and industrial real estate.”

For example, when lockdowns went into effect, in-person property tours declined by an estimated 80% in a matter of weeks.

Knock did things like help property managers transition to a centralized and remote leasing model so remote agents could work across a large portfolio of properties rather than in a single on-site leasing office, noted Petry.

It also helped them adopt self-guided, virtual and live video-based leasing tools, so prospective renters could tour properties in person on their own or virtually.

“This transformation and modernization became a huge tailwind for our business in 2020,” Petry said. “Not only did we have a record year in terms of new customers, revenue growth and revenue retention, but our customers outperformed market averages for occupancy and rent growth as well.”

Looking ahead, the company says it will be using its new capital to (naturally!) hire across product, engineering, sales, marketing, customer success, finance and human resources divisions. It expects to grow headcount by 40% to 50% before year-end. It also plans to expand its product portfolio to include AI communications, fraud prevention, applicant screening and leasing, and intelligent forecasting. 

Fifth Wall partner Vik Chawla, who is joining Knock’s board of directors, pointed out that the macroeconomic environment is driving institutional capital into multifamily real estate at an accelerated pace. This makes Knock’s offering even more timely in its importance, in the firm’s view.

The startup, he believes, outshines its competitors in terms of quality of product, technical prowess and functionality.

“The Knock team has accomplished so much in just a short period of time by attracting very high quality product design and engineering talent to ameliorate a nuanced pain point in the tenant acquisition process,” Chawla told TechCrunch.

In terms of fitting with its investment thesis, Chawla said companies like Knock can both benefit from Fifth Wall’s global corporate strategic partners “and simultaneously serve as a key offering which we can share with real estate industry leaders in different countries as a potential solution for their local markets.”

Magical raises $3.3M to modernize calendars

By Frederic Lardinois

Calendars. They are at the core of how we organize our workdays and meetings, but despite regular attempts to modernize the overall calendar experience, the calendar experience you see today in Outlook or G Suite Google Workspace hasn’t really changed at its core. And for the most part, the area that startups like Calendly or ReclaimAI have focused on in recent years is scheduling.

Magical is a Tel Aviv-based startup that wants to reinvent the calendar experience from the ground up and turn it into more of a team collaboration tool than simply a personal time-management service. The company today announced that it has raised a $3.3 million seed round led by Resolute Ventures, with additional backing from Ibex Investors, Aviv Growth Partners, ORR Partners, Homeward Ventures and Fusion LA, as well as several angel investors in the productivity space.

The idea for the service came from discussions on Supertools, a large workplace-productivity community, which was also founded by Magical founder and CEO Tommy Barav.

Image Credits: Magical

Based on the feedback from the community — and his own consulting work with large Fortune 500 multinationals — Barav realized that time management remains an unsolved business problem. “The time management space is so highly fragmented,” he told me. “There are so many micro tools and frameworks to manage time, but they’re not built inside of your calendar, which is the main workflow.”

Traditional calendars are add-ons to bigger product bundles and find themselves trapped under those, he argues. “The calendar in Outlook is an email sidekick, but it’s actually the center of your day. So there is an unmet need to use the calendar as a time management hub,” he said.

Magical, which is still in private beta, aims to integrate many of the features we’re seeing from current scheduling and calendaring startups, including AI-scheduling and automation tools. But Magical’s ambition is larger than that.

Image Credits: Magical

“We want to redefine how you use a calendar in the first place,” Barav said. “Many of the innovations that we’ve seen are associated with scheduling: how you schedule your time, letting you streamline the way you schedule meetings, how you see your calendar. […] But we’re talking about redefining time management by giving you a better calendar, by bringing these workflows — scheduling, coordinating and utilizing — into your calendar. We’re redefining the use of the calendar in the modern workspace.”

Since Magical is still in its early days, the team is still working out some of the details, but the general idea is to, for example, turn the calendar into the central repository for meeting notes — and Magical will feature tools to collaborate on these notes and share them. Team members will also be able to follow those meeting notes without having to participate in the actual meeting (or get copied on the emails about that meeting).

“We’ll help teams reduce pointless meetings,” Barav noted. To do this, the team is also integrating other service into the calendar experience, including the usual suspects like Zoom and Slack, but also Salesforce and Notion, for example.

“It’s rare that you find an entrepreneur who has so clearly validated its market opportunity,” said Mike Hirshland, a founding partner of Magical investor Resolute Ventures. “Tommy and his team have been talking to thousands of users for three years, they’ve validated the opportunity, and they’ve designed a product from the ground-up that meets the needs of the market. Now it’s ‘go time’ and I’m thrilled to be part of the journey ahead.”

Fintech Marqeta expands into credit card space days after filing for an IPO

By Mary Ann Azevedo

Marqeta is expanding into the consumer credit card space to help other brands launch credit card programs. 

The move comes just days after the payment card issuing company reportedly filed confidentially for an initial public offering, making it the latest fintech to make a move to the public markets.

The value of the IPO is expected to be around $10 billion, according to Reuters. Marqeta — which is working with Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase on the offering — is reportedly hoping to complete the IPO by April.

Oakland, California-based Marqeta raised $150 million last May at a $4.2 billion valuation, TechCrunch previously reported. Then in October, Mastercard put an undisclosed amount of money in Marqeta.

The company, which provides the tools for financial services platforms of all stripes to provide cards, wallets and other payment mechanisms, counts Cash App, Affirm, DoorDash, and Instacart among its customers. At the end of 2020, Marqeta says it had issued 270 million cards through its platform, up from 140 million at the end of 2019. The company, which has over 550 employees, is live in 35 countries.

Now, Marqeta is partnering with another startup, Deserve, on its new credit card initiative.

As Deserve CEO Kalpesh Kapadia explains it, his company’s technology and open API platform will power Marqeta’s program management services, including origination, underwriting, bank and bureau Integration, customer service, compliance and risk management. 

Marqeta founder and CEO Jason Gardner described Marqeta’s expansion into building new credit products as a “major milestone” for the company in building out a “truly comprehensive card issuing platform, able to support any card type.”

“This technology is complex, and we saw that this barrier to market had created an opportunity for us to take what we’ve learned helping customers innovate in the prepaid and debit space and adapt that to credit,” he told TechCrunch.

Marqeta is banking on the notion that any business currently issuing a card is looking, or currently working, on a credit card.

“These innovators want to launch modern card products but having to rely on legacy technology, which allows much less options for flexibility and personalization, has slowed down innovation,” Gardner added.

It’s also betting that consumers want more from credit cards than just paying for a purchase.

Image Credits: Marqeta

“They want seamless digital experiences, rewards that match their lifestyle, and personalized apps that track financial health, but there’s been little innovation that speaks to this,” he said.

With the COVID-19 pandemic accelerating touchless payments — as more people avoided in-person interaction and shopping — the demand for more digital financial offerings has exploded.

With its new initiative, Marqeta aims to be able to help its customers launch new customized credit card products “in a fraction of the time, with more flexible controls and features.”

 

For example, they will have what Marqeta describes as a modern credit system of record that can adjust account parameters, such as rewards, APR and credit lines, in real time based on custom rules. Customers will have the ability to instantly activate cardholders upon approval and provision cards directly into digital wallets.

Gardner called Menlo Park-based Deserve “an ideal first strategic partner” in its expansion into the credit card market.

“We plan to offer program management services for customers using our credit card issuing platform through an ecosystem of partners,” he said. “They are a good DNA fit for what we’re trying to accomplish – with a strong belief in the power of open APIs to increase speed to market, and also targeting innovators looking to build truly modern card products. They’re experienced in the credit card space, which has a unique set of requirements, and have a unique approach to underwriting.”

For its part, Deserve says its B2B business has been growing in recent years, with it currently adding one prospect every week and one new partner to its business every month. More than 1.5 million consumers have applied and interacted with its platform over the past three years and the company is currently serving hundreds of thousands of customers (directly and indirectly), with tens of millions of dollars transacting every month on its platform, according to Kapadia.

Deserves also manages the entire credit card infrastructure for companies like Sallie Mae in the cloud, whereby consumers applying for and using Sallie Mae credit cards are engaging with Deserve behind the scene. It also provides origination services to companies such as BankMobile. Other fintechs such as Opploans, BlockFi and Earnest use its entire credit card infrastructure to launch their credit products. 

The credit market is dominated by legacy technologies, high cost of operations and lack of customization and speed,” Kapadia told TechCrunch. “Marqeta’s leading card-issuing platform paired with Deserve’s digital card expertise will enable further innovation in the credit industry and provide consumers with superior card experiences.”

 

 

Locus Robotics has raised a $150M Series E

By Brian Heater

Massachusetts-based Locus Robotics today announced a $150 million Series E. The round, led by Tiger Global Management and Bond, brings the firm’s total to around $250 to date, and values the robotics company at $1 billion. Locus is notable for a more modular and flexible solution for automating warehouses than many of its competitors (see: Berkshire Grey). The company essentially leases out robotic fleet for organizes looking to automate logistics.

“We can change the wings on the plane while it’s flying,” CEO Rick Faulk tells TechCrunch. Basically no one else can do that. Companies want flexible automation. They don’t want to bolt anything to the floor. If you’re a third-party logistics company and you have a two, three, four-year contract, the last thing you want to do is invest $25-$50 million to buy a massive solution, bolt it to the floor and be locked into all of this upfront expense.”

The company currently has some 4,000 robots deployed across 80 sites. Roughly 80% of its deployments are in the U.S., with the remaining 20% in Europe. Part of this massive funding round will go toward expanding international operations, including a bigger push into the EU, as well as the APAC region, where it presently doesn’t have much of a footprint.

The company will also be investing in R&D, sales and marketing and increasing its current headcount of 165 by 75 in the coming year.

The pandemic is clearly a driver in interest around this brand of automation, with more companies looking toward robotics for help.

“COVID has put a spike in the growth of online ordering, clearly, and that spike is probably a four to five year jump,” says Faulk. “If you look at the trend of e-commerce, it’s been on a steady upward tick. It was about 11% last year and COVID put a spike up to 16/17%. We think that genie’s out of the bottle, and it’s not going back any time soon.”

The funding round also points to a company that seemingly has no desire to be acquired by a larger name, akin to Kiva Systems’ transformation into Amazon Robotics.

“We have no interest in being acquired,” the CEO says. “We think we can build the most and greatest value by operating independently. There are investors that want to invest in helping everyone that’s not named ‘Amazon’ compete.”

Dixa acquires Elevio, the ‘knowledge management’ platform helping brands improve customer support

By Steve O'Hear

Dixa, the Danish customer support platform promising more personalised customer support, has acquired Melbourne-based “knowledge management” SaaS Elevio to bolster its product and technology offerings.

The deal is said to be worth around $15 million, in a combination of cash and Dixa shares. This sees Elevio’s own VC investors exit, and Elevio’s founders and employees incentivised as part of the Dixa family, according to Dixa co-founder and CEO, Mads Fosselius.

“We have looked at many partners within this space over the years and ultimately decided to partner with Elevio as they have what we believe is the best solution in the market,” he tells me. “Dixa and Elevio have worked together since 2019 on several customers and great brands through a strong and tight integration between the two platforms. Dixa has also used Elevio’s products internally and to support our own customers for self service, knowledge base and help center”.

Fosselius says that this “close partnership, strong integration, unique tech” and a growing number of mutual customers eventually led to a discussion late last year, and the two companies decided to go on a journey together to “disrupt the world of customer service”.

“The acquisition comes with many interesting opportunities but it has been driven by a product/tech focus and is highly product and platform strategic for us,” he explains. “We long ago acknowledged that they have the best knowledge product in the market. We could have built our own knowledge management system but with such a strong product already out there, built with a similar tech stack as ours and with a very aligned vision and culture fit to Dixa, we felt this was a no brainer”.

Founded in 2015 by Jacob Vous Petersen and Mads Fosselius, Dixa wants to end bad customer service with the help of technology that claims to be able to facilitate more personalised customer support. Originally dubbed a “customer friendship” platform, the Dixa cloud-based software works across multiple channels — including phone, chat, e-mail, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and SMS — and employs a smart routing system so the right support requests reach the right people within an organisation.

Broadly speaking, the platform competes with Zendesk, Freshdesk and Salesforce. However, there’s also overlap with Intercom in relation to live chat and messaging, and perhaps MessageBird with its attempted expansion to become an “Omnichannel Platform-as-a-Service” (OPaaS) to easily enable companies to communicate with customers on any channel of their choosing.

Meanwhile, Elevio is described as bridging the gap between customer support and knowledge management. The platform helps support agents more easily access the right answers when communicating with customers, and simultaneously enables end-users to get information and guidance to resolve common issues for themselves.

Machine learning is employed so that the correct support content is provided based on a user’s query or on-going discussion, whilst also alerting customer support teams when documents need updating. The Australian company also claims that creating user guides using Elevio doesn’t require any technical skills and says its “embeddable assistant” enables support content to be delivered in-product or injected into any area of a website “without involving developers”.

Adds the Dixa CEO : “Customer support agents still spend a lot of time helping customers with the same type of questions over and over again. Together with Elevio we are able to ensure that agents are given the opportunity to quickly replicate best practice answers, ensuring fast, standardised and correct answers for customers. Elevio is the world leader in applying machine learning to solve this problem”.

After raising $150 million in equity and debt, Nature’s Fynd opens its fungus food for pre-orders

By Jonathan Shieber

Nature’s Fynd, the food technology company with a new food offering cultivated from fungus found in the wilds of Yellowstone National Park, is releasing its first products for pre-order. 

Pitching both a non-dairy cream cheese and meatless breakfast patties, Nature’s Fynd had managed to attract some serious investors including Al Gore’s Generation Investment Management and the Bill Gates-backed investment fund, Breakthrough Energy Ventures. The company most recently raised $80 million in its last round of funding.

The company is part of a wave of innovative products using a range of bacteria, fungi, and plants to create meat alternatives.  Last year, companies developing meat alternatives raised well over $1 billion in financing and investors show no sign of slowing down in their commitments to the industry.

The commercial launch of the Fy Breakfast Bundle, vegan and non-GMO alternatives to traditional breakfast products will be the first commercial test for Nature’s Fynd as it looks to go to market.

These limited release bundles are available for $14,99 plus shipping, according to the company, and the products will be available across the 48 contiguous U.S. states.

The company’s product is grown using fermentation technology to cultivate the bacteria that Nature’s Fynd’s chief scientists discovered during their research into organisms around Yellowstone National Park.

Nature’s Fynd touts the resilience and efficiency of the microbe it discovered, leading to a more sustainable production process that uses a fraction of the land, water, and energy resources that traditional animal husbandry requires, the company said.

“We choose optimism so that we can find a way to do more with less. Using our novel liquid-air surface fermentation technology, we’re creating a range of sustainable foods that nourish our bodies and nurture our planet for generations to come. We’re really excited to be at the beginning of this journey with the launch of our first-ever limited release of Fy Breakfast Bundles,” said Nature’s Fynd CEO Thomas Jonas. “We’ve deeply studied our consumers and we know that Fy’s unique versatility, which delivers great tasting meat and dairy alternatives for every occasion, is highly appealing.” 

Nature’s Fynd chief executive, Thomas Jonas. Image Credit: Nature’s Fynd

9 investors discuss hurdles, opportunities and the impact of cloud vendors in enterprise data lakes

By Ron Miller

About a decade ago, I remember having a conversation with a friend about big data. At the time, we both agreed that it was the purview of large companies like Facebook, Yahoo and Google, and not something most companies would have to worry about.

As it turned out, we were both wrong. Within a short time, everyone would be dealing with big data. In fact, it turns out that huge amounts of data are the fuel of machine learning applications, something my friend and I didn’t foresee.

Frameworks were already emerging like Hadoop and Spark and concepts like the data warehouses were evolving. This was fine when it involved structured data like credit card info, but data warehouses weren’t designed for unstructured data you needed to build machine learning algorithms, and the concept of the data lake developed as a way to take unprocessed data and store until needed. It wasn’t sitting neatly in shelves in warehouses all labeled and organized, it was more amorphous and raw.

Over time, this idea caught the attention of the cloud vendors like Amazon, Microsoft and Google. What’s more, it caught the attention of investors as companies like Snowflake and Databricks built substantial companies on the data lake concept.

Even as that was happening startup founders began to identify other adjacent problems to attack like moving data into the data lake, cleaning it, processing it and funneling to applications and algorithms that could actually make use of that data. As this was happening, data science advanced outside of academia and became more mainstream inside businesses.

At that point there was a whole new modern ecosystem and when something like that happens, ideas develop, companies are built and investors come. We spoke to nine investors about the data lake idea and why they are so intrigued by it, the role of the cloud companies in this space, how an investor finds new companies in a maturing market and where the opportunities and challenges are in this lucrative area.

To learn about all of this, we queried the following investors:


Where are the opportunities for startups in the data lakes space with players like Snowflake and the cloud infrastructure vendors so firmly established?

Caryn Marooney: The data market is very large, driven by the opportunity to unlock value through digital transformation. Both the data lake and data warehouse architectures will be important over the long term because they solve different needs.

For established companies (think big banks, large brands) with significant existing data infrastructure, moving all their data to a data warehouse can be expensive and time consuming. For these companies, the data lake can be a good solution because it enables optionality and federated queries across data sources.

Dharmesh Thakker: Databricks (which Battery has invested in) and Snowflake have certainly become household names in the data lake and warehouse markets, respectively. But technical requirements and business needs are constantly shifting in these markets — and it’s important for both companies to continue to invest aggressively to maintain a competitive edge. They will have to keep innovating to continue to succeed.

Regardless of how this plays out, we feel excited about the ecosystem that’s emerging around these players (and others) given the massive data sprawl that’s occurring across cloud and on-premise workloads, and around a variety of data-storage vendors. We think there is a significant opportunity for vendors to continue to emerge as “unification layers” between data sources and different types of end users (including data scientists, data engineers, business analysts and others) in the form of integration middleware (cloud ELT vendors); real-time streaming and analytics; data governance and management; data security; and data monitoring. These markets shouldn’t be underestimated.

Casey Aylward: There are a handful of big opportunities in the data lake space even with many established cloud infrastructure players in the space:

  • Business intelligence/analytics/SQL may end up converging with machine learning/code like Scala or Python in certain products, but these domains have different end users and communities, programming language preferences and technical skills. Generally, architectural lock-ins are a big point of fear within core infrastructure. This is true for end users with their cloud providers, storage solutions, compute engines, etc. Solutions will be heterogeneous because of that and technology that enables this flexibility will be important.
  • As data moves around today, it is being reprocessed in each platform, which at scale is inefficient and expensive. There is an opportunity to build technology that allows users to move data around without rewriting transformations, data pipelines and stored procedures.
  • Finally, we’re seeing more traction around general data processing frameworks that are not MapReduce under the hood, especially in the Python data science ecosystem. This is a transition from Hadoop or even Spark, since they aren’t always best suited for unstructured, more modern algorithms.

Chinese esports player VSPN closes $60M Series B+ round to boost its international strategy

By Mike Butcher

eSports “total solutions provider” VSPN (Versus Programming Network) has closed a $60 million Series B+ funding round, joined by Prospect Avenue Capital (PAC), Guotai Junan International and Nan Fung Group.

VSPN facilitates esports competitions in China, which is a massive industry and has expanded into related areas such as esports venues. It is the principal tournament organizer and broadcaster for a number of top competitions, partnering with more than 70% of China’s eSports tournaments.

The “B+” funding round comes only three months after the company raised around $100 million in a Series B funding round, led by Tencent Holdings.

This funding round will, among other things, be used to branch out VSPN’s overseas esports services.

Dino Ying, Founder, and CEO of VSPN said in a statement: “The esports industry is through its nascent phase and is entering a new era. In this coming year, we at VSPN look forward to showcasing diversified esports products and content… and we are counting the days until the pandemic is over.”

Ming Liao, the co-founder of PAC, commented: “As a one-of-its-kind company in the capital market, VSPN is renowned for its financial management; these credentials will be strong foundations for VSPN’s future development.”

Xuan Zhao, Head of Private Equity at Guotai Junan International said: “We at Guotai Junan International are very optimistic of VSPN’s sharp market insight as well as their team’s exceptional business model.”

Meng Gao, Managing Director at Nan Fung Group’s CEO’s Office said: “Nan Fung is honored to be a part of this round of investment for VSPN in strengthening their current business model and promoting the rapid development of emerging services and the esports streaming ecosystem.”

The biggest step the Biden administration took on climate yesterday wasn’t rejoining the Paris Agreement

By Jonathan Shieber

While the Biden Administration is being celebrated for its decision to rejoin the Paris Agreement in one of its first executive orders after President Joe Biden was sworn in, it wasn’t the biggest step the administration took to advance its climate agenda.

Instead it was a move to get to the basics of monitoring and accounting, of metrics and dashboards. While companies track their revenues and expenses and monitor for all sorts of risks, impacts from climate change and emissions aren’t tracked in the same way. Now, in the same way there are general principals for accounting for finance, there will be principals for accounting for the impact of climate through what’s called the social cost of carbon.

Among the flurry of paperwork coming from Biden’s desk were Executive Orders calling for a review of Trump era rule-making around the environment and the reinstitution of strict standards for fuel economy, methane emissions, appliance and building efficiency, and overall emissions. But even these steps are likely to pale in significance to the fifth section of the ninth executive order to be announced by the new White House.

That’s the section addressing the accounting for the benefits of reducing climate pollution. Until now, the U.S. government hasn’t had a framework for accounting for what it calls the “full costs of greenhouse gas emissions” by taking “global damages into account”.

All of this is part of a broad commitment to let data and science inform policymaking across government, according to the Biden Administration.

Biden writes:

“It is, therefore, the policy of my Administration to listen to the science; to improve public health and protect our environment; to ensure access to clean air and water; to limit exposure to dangerous chemicals and pesticides; to hold polluters accountable, including those who disproportionately harm communities of color and low-income communities; to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; to bolster resilience to the impacts of climate change; to restore and expand our national treasures and monuments; and to prioritize both environmental justice and the creation of the well-paying union jobs necessary to deliver on these goals.”

The specific section of the order addressing accounting and accountability calls for a working group to come up with three metrics: the social cost of carbon (SCC), the social cost of nitrous oxide (SCN) and the social cost of methane (SCM) that will be used to estimate the monetized damages associated with increases in greenhouse gas emissions.

As the executive order notes, “[an] accurate social cost is essential for agencies to accurately determine the social benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions when conducting cost-benefit analyses of regulatory and other actions.” What the Administration is doing is attempting to provide a financial figure for the damages wrought by greenhouse gas emissions in terms of rising interest rates, and the destroyed farmland and infrastructure caused by natural disasters linked to global climate change.

These kinds of benchmarks aren’t flashy, but they are concrete ways to determine accountability. That accountability will become critical as the country takes steps to meet the targets set in the Paris Agreement. It also gives companies looking to address their emissions footprints an economic framework to point to as they talk to their investors and the public.

The initiative will include top leadership like the Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, the director of the Office of Management and Budget and the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (a position that Biden elevated to a cabinet level post).

Representatives from each of the major federal agencies overseeing the economy, national health, and the environment will be members of the working group along with the representatives or the National Climate Advisor and the Director of the National Economic Council.

While the rule-making is proceeding at the federal level, some startups are already developing services to help businesses monitor their emissions output.

These are companies like CarbonChainPersefoni, and SINAI Technologies. And their work compliments non-profits like CDP, which works with companies to assess carbon emissions.

Biden’s plan will have the various agencies and departments working quickly. The administration expects an interim SCC, SCN, and SCM within the next 30 days, which agencies will use when monetizing the value of changes in greenhouse gas emissions resulting from regulations and agency actions. The President wants final metrics will be published by January of next year.

The executive order also restored protections to national parks and lands that had been opened to oil and gas exploration and commercial activity under the Trump Administration and blocked the development of the Keystone Pipeline, which would have brought oil from Canadian tar sands into and through the U.S.

“The Keystone XL pipeline disserves the U.S. national interest. The United States and the world face a climate crisis. That crisis must be met with action on a scale and at a speed commensurate with the need to avoid setting the world on a dangerous, potentially catastrophic, climate trajectory. At home, we will combat the crisis with an ambitious plan to build back better, designed to both reduce harmful emissions and create good clean-energy jobs,” according to the text of the Executive Order. “The United States must be in a position to exercise vigorous climate leadership in order to achieve a significant increase in global climate action and put the world on a sustainable climate pathway. Leaving the Key`12stone XL pipeline permit in place would not be consistent with my Administration’s economic and climate imperatives.”

How and when to build marketing teams at deep tech companies

By Jessica Brunner

Deep tech startups develop cutting-edge innovations with the power to truly revolutionize society. The founding team members at these companies often come from deeply technical backgrounds, which powers rapid product progress but can create bottlenecks on the go-to-market side.

In this post, I outline the answers to four key questions around marketing at early-stage deep tech companies that are post-revenue:

  • What marketing teams at deep tech companies do.
  • When to hire the marketing team.
  • Whether the marketing team needs industry experience.
  • How to source and evaluate talent for the marketing team.

From this post, deep tech startups can formulate their marketing hiring strategy and attract and cultivate top talent to drive their go-to-market plan. Without business execution, even the most groundbreaking innovations do not achieve their intended impact.

What do marketing teams at deep tech companies do?

To set the context, I share below the typical projects of deep tech marketing teams, which look different from marketing in other industries given the greater product focus and complexity, regulatory oversight and longer time to market.

Go-to-market

Marketers leverage the strength of the IP to establish collaborations with large companies, such as pharma companies and institutions, such as the government, universities or hospitals. To this end, marketers develop creative ways to gather lists of, and information on, key contacts at these potential partners. They also build sales collateral, such as demo videos, pitch decks and one-pagers, to more effectively reach and build long-term relationships with these prospects.

More broadly, marketers also develop the go-to-market strategy beyond partnerships. To this end, marketers conduct in-depth market research on business models, monetization strategies and reimbursement channels.

Communications

Marketers create original content to establish the company as a thought leader, build the company’s brand credibility through social media and apply for awards and honors to validate the potential of the company’s solution.

Forecasting

Marketers work with finance and product teams to formulate projections as the company moves into the clinical phase.

When should deep tech companies hire marketers?

The CEO and other members of the founding team take on marketing work in the formation stage to better understand and empathize with the needs, capabilities and opportunities in the department before bringing someone on full time.

Once the product shows signs of repeatable revenue, a marketing lead is needed. Specifically, this is ahead of a large Series A round, after a small Series A round or when a commercial partner has expressed interest in larger, long-term contracts. Instead of the typical chief marketing officer or chief revenue officer title, deep tech startups call this person a chief commercial officer or chief partnerships officer.

For additional support in the formation stage, companies bring on MBA interns and work with their investors. Prior to the Series A, platform teams at deep tech venture-capital funds are hands-on in helping with marketing through actually doing marketing projects for their portfolio companies, ideating on long-term marketing strategy with the founders through regular feedback sessions and connecting founders with vetted marketing contractors or agencies.

For companies that require FDA approval, commercial advisors, consultants and board members fully take on the partnership strategy work (which represents the bulk of the marketing needs) prior to the Series A round. Similarly, external consultants, such as marketing agencies, can take over major projects like launch strategy. External consultants can then join the team should their performance be strong.

For drug-development companies, the marketing leader is most crucial when the company enters the clinical phase and prepares for trials, regardless of funding stage.

Do marketing hires need industry experience?

Of course, it is ideal to hire someone with experience selling into the space and someone who is comfortable with the complex supply chains and long sales cycles. However, if the choice is between someone with functional expertise but no industry expertise and someone with industry experience but limited or no functional expertise, it is better to hire the former candidate and leverage the rest of the team for domain expertise. Deep tech is a niche area, so the other team members can support the marketer in developing industry expertise.

Citrix is acquiring Wrike from Vista for $2.25B

By Ron Miller

Citrix announced today that it plans to acquire Wrike, a SaaS project management platform, from Vista Equity Partners for $2.25 billion. Vista bought the company just two years ago.

Citrix, which is best known for its digital workspaces, sees this as a good match, especially at a time where employees have been forced to work from home because of the pandemic. By combining the two companies, it produces a powerful combination, one that didn’t escape Citrix CEO and president David Henshall

“Together, Citrix and Wrike will deliver the solutions needed to power a cloud-delivered digital workspace experience that enables teams to securely access the resources and tools they need to collaborate and get work done in the most efficient and effective way possible across any channel, device or location,” Henshall said in a statement.

Andrew Filev, founder and CEO at Wrike, who has managed the company through these multiple changes and remains at the helm, believes his company has landed in a good spot with the Citrix purchase.

“First, as part of the Citrix family we will be able to scale our product and accelerate our roadmap to deliver capabilities that will help our customers get more from their Wrike investment. We have always listened to our customers and have built our product based on their feedback — now we will be able to do more of that, faster.,” Filev wrote in a company blog post announcing the deal, stating a typical argument from CEOs of acquired companies.

The startup reports $140 million ARR, growing at 30% annually, so that comes out to approximately 16x its present-day revenue, which is the price companies are generally paying for acquisitions these days. However, as Wrike expects to reach $180 million to $190 million in ARR this year, the company’s sale price could look like a bargain in a few years’ time if the projections come to pass.

The price was not revealed in the 2018 sale, but it surely feels like a big win for Vista. Consider that Wrike has previously raised just $26 million.

PPRO nabs $180M at a $1B+ valuation to bring together the fragmented world of payments

By Ingrid Lunden

The pandemic has hastened a shift of most commerce becoming e-commerce in the last year, and that has brought a new focus on startups that are helping to enable that process.

In the latest development, PPRO, a London-based startup that has built a platform to make it easier for marketplaces, payment providers and other e-commerce players to enable localised payments — that is, make and take payments in whatever form local customers prefer to use, which extend well beyond basic payment cards — has closed a round of $180 million, funding that catapults PPRO’s valuation to over $1 billion.

PPRO (pronounced “P-pro”, as in payments professionals) plans to use the funding to continue expanding in newer markets.

Simon Black, PPRO’s CEO, said in an interview that two particular areas of focus in the coming year will be more activity in Asian countries like Singapore and Indonesia, as well as Latin America, where the company acquired a local player, allpago, back in 2019.

In both cases, the opportunity comes in the form of high growth stemming from more transactions moving online, as well as the chaos that is the fragmented payments market.

The capital is coming from a group of investors that includes Eurazeo Growth, Sprints Capital, and Wellington Management. It comes on the heels of a $50 million round the company raised last August from Sprints, along with Citi and HPE Growth; and a further $50 million it picked up in 2018 led by strategic investor PayPal.

PayPal, alongside Citi, Mastercard Payment Gateway Services, Mollie, and Worldpay are among PPRO’s 100 large global customers, which use the company’s APIs for a variety of functions, including localised gateway, processing and merchant acquirer services.

The flood of activity coming from consumers and businesses buying more online — a by-product of the pandemic leading to many businesses shutting down physical operations for the moment — has seen the company double transaction volumes between Q4 2020 and the same quarter in 2019.

PPRO is not the only company to be targeting that opportunity.

The fragmentation of financial services overall — where realistically, there is only handful of types of transactions that might be made (usually: deposits, payments, credit), but quite literally thousands of permutations and methods to make them, with specific markets and their populations typically coalescing around their own localised selections.

That has led to the rise of a number of companies providing what has come to be called “banking as a service” or “fintech as a service,” where a tech provider stitches together in the background a number of services, sometimes thousands, and makes it easier for their customers, by way of an API, to plug those services in for their own customers to use more easily, most often connected to a range of other services provided to them like money management.

Others in this wider space that includes payments and other fintech services include the likes of Rapyd, Mambu, Thought Machine, Temenos, Edera, Adyen, Stripe and newer players like Unit, with many of these raising large amounts of money in recent times in particular to double down on what is currently a rapidly expanding market.

The unique aspect of PPRO is that it was an early mover in the area of identifying the conundrum of fragmentation in payments for companies that operate in more than one country or region, and that it has continued to play only in payments, without a jump to adjacent services.

“We’re ultra focused because the local payments problem is actually growing,” said Black, who believes that “the disconnect between what a consumer wants to use, but also their appetite and the proliferation of payment options” all contribute to more complexity (with the trade-off being more choices for consumers, but equally possibly too much choice?).

As Black sees it, the company’s focus on payments has given it more momentum to build better tech specifically to address that globally.

“PPRO is building solutions for performance in industrial strength. It’s growing rapidly because there are no other players that are truly global. We are globalizing to support the needs of customers who want to nationalize, so we have an opportunity to focus on payments, to be a strategic outsource partner.”

This doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for product expansion: alongside payments, Black highlighted product compliance and providing better analytics as two areas where the company is already active and will be doing more for customers.

“Where we partner and provide value is in anticipating changes in consumer demand,” he noted. “We monitor how customers are using those methods and — whether you are are service provider or furniture or travel company — determine which are the best relevant payment methods.” Services like open banking, tools for banks to enable allowing payments directly from customers’ accounts, or buy-now-pay-later payments, are examples, he said, of areas that speak of further opportunities.

“We are delighted to support Simon and the team at PPRO as they continue to develop best-in-class local payment solutions,” commented Nathalie Kornhoff-Brüls, Managing Director at Eurazeo Growth, in a statement. “All signs for the future indicate that digital commerce, and even more so cross-border commerce, will continue to grow exponentially while innovation in payment methods remains strong. As a result, facilitating local payments is becoming increasingly complex. Payment service providers, however, no longer have a choice as merchants and their customers are pushing for the adoption.”

“PPRO has proven to be the go-to problem solver in this area, providing the local payments technology and expertise that the world’s biggest payment players rely on. Our investment reflects our confidence in the growth potential for PPRO and we’re excited to support PPRO and its team on their journey,” added Voria Fattahi, a partner at Sprints Capital, in a separate statement.

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. 

Grafana Labs adds a free tier to its managed observability platform

By Frederic Lardinois

Grafana Labs, the company behind the increasingly popular open-source monitoring and observability platform, today announced both an updated version of its cloud service and the launch of a free tier for it.

The free plan for Grafana Cloud has some limitations, but it includes access to virtually all of Grafana Labs’ tools for monitoring modern applications. In addition, Grafana’s paid Pro plan for its hosted service is also getting an update and will now include access to five times more metrics per month.

With the free plan, users get a 14-day retention period for metrics and logs, access for up to three team members, 50 GB of log storage and up to 10,000 series for Prometheus and Graphite metrics. For Pro plans, those numbers increase to 15,000 series, 13 months of retention for metrics (up from 3,000 previously) and 100 GB of logs with a one-month retention period.

Image Credits: Grafana

Offering a hosted service is par for the course for open-source companies. For most of them, after all, this is the most obvious way to monetize their tools.

“The origin story of Grafana Cloud is one of open source,” the company writes in today’s announcement. “Just like the development of our features, Grafana Cloud was first born from the pains and needs of our open source community. We were looking to give users a quick way to get Grafana up and running. It was a product created out of necessity, and it made sense at the time because it’s what our customers wanted back then.”

Given its open-source origins, the team decided that it made sense to also offer a free plan. In addition, though, adding a free plan will also make it easier for new users to get started — and maybe become paying users over time.

Image Credits: Grafana

Vision Fund backs Chinese fitness app Keep in $360 million round

By Rita Liao

As Chinese fitness class provider Keep continues to diversify its offerings to include Peloton-like bikes, health-conscious snacks among other things, it’s bringing in new investors to fund its ambitions.

On Monday, Keep said it has recently closed a Series F financing round of $360 million led by SoftBank Vision Fund. Hillhouse Capital and Coatue Management participated in the round, as well as existing investors GGV Capital, Tencent, 5Y Capital, Jeneration Capital and Bertelsmann Asia Investments.

The latest fundraise values the six-year-old startup at about $2 billion post-money, people with knowledge told TechCrunch. Keep said it currently has no plans to go public, a company spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Keep started out in 2014 by providing at-home workout videos and signed up 100 million users within three years. As of late, it has served over 300 million users, the company claims. It has over time fostered an ecosystem of fitness influencers who give live classes to students via videos, and now runs a team of course designers, streaming coaches and operational staff dedicated to its video streaming business.

The company said its main revenue driver is membership fees from the 10 million users who receive personalized services. It’s also expanding its consumer product line. Last year, for instance, the firm introduced an internet-connected stationary bike that comes with video instructions like Peloton . It’s also rolled out apparel, treadmills and smart wristbands.

The company launched foreign versions of its Keep app in 2018 as it took aim at the overseas home fitness market. It was posting diligently on Western social networks including Instagram, Facebook and Twitter up until the spring of 2019.

According to Keep, the purpose of the latest funding is to let it continue doing what it has focused on in recent years: improving services and products for users and serving fitness professionals against a backdrop of the Chinese government’s campaign for “national fitness.”

“We believe fitness has become an indispensable part of Chinese people’s everyday life as their income rises and health awareness grows,” said Eric Chen, managing partner at SoftBank Vision Fund .

 

Connecting employer healthcare plans to surgical centers of excellence nets Carrum Health $40 million

By Jonathan Shieber

Six years after launching its service linking employer-sponsored insurance plans with surgical centers of excellence, Carrum Health has raised $40 million in a new round of financing to capitalize on tailwinds propelling its business forward. 

As the COVID-19 pandemic exposes cracks in the U.S. healthcare system, one of the ways that employers have tried to manage the significant costs of insuring employees is by taking on the management of care themselves.

As they shoulder more of the burden, companies like Carrum, which offer services that manage some of the necessary points of care for businesses, at lower costs, are becoming increasingly attractive targets for investors.

That’s why Carrum was able to attract investors led by Tiger Global Management, GreatPoint Ventures and Cross Creek, all firms that joined returning investors Wildcat Venture Partners and SpringRock Ventures in backing the company’s Series A round.

Carrum said the money will go toward sales and marketing to more customers, adding more services and improving its existing technology stack.

Carrum uses machine learning to collect and analyze data on surgical outcomes and care to identify what it considers to be surgical centers of excellence across the U.S.

The company offers self-insured employers the opportunity to buy services directly from surgical centers for a bundled price. That can mean savings of up to 50% on surgical expenses.

Using Carrum, there are no co-pays, deductibles or co-insurance. Instead, Carrum Health’s customers pay a fee and in return receive a 30-day warranty on procedures, meaning that the healthcare provider will cover any costs associated with care from botched operations or complications.

Employees have access to a mobile application that gives them access to virtual care before, during and after surgeries.

“For years, the industry has talked about redesigning healthcare to benefit patients, but the only way to really do that is to tackle the underlying economics of care, a truly difficult task,” said Sach Jain, CEO and founder of Carrum Health, in a statement. “Employers now have a modern, technology-driven solution to help patients get better care without financial headache and we’re not stopping at surgery. In 2021 we’ll be expanding our reach and impact with additional services. It’s such an honor to pave the way for a better healthcare future and we’re so excited for what’s to come.”

Carrum Health’s customers include Quest Diagnostics, US Foods, and other, undisclosed organizations in retail, manufacturing, communications and insurance, the company said.

Centers of excellence on the platform include Johns Hopkins HealthCare, Mayo Clinic and Tenet Healthcare .

 

 

Sources: Hinge Health has raised $310M Series D at a $3B valuation

By Steve O'Hear

Hinge Health, the San Francisco-based company that offers a digital solution to treat chronic musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions — such as back and joint pain — has closed a $310 million in Series D funding, according to sources.

The round is led by Coatue and Tiger Global, and values 2015-founded Hinge at $3 billion post-money, people familiar with the investment tell me. It comes off the back of a 300% increase in revenue in 2020, with investors told to expect revenue to nearly triple again in 2021 based on the company’s booked pipeline.

I also understand that Hinge’s founders — Daniel Perez and Gabriel Mecklenburg — retain voting control of the board. I’ve reached out to CEO Perez for comment and will update this post should I hear back.

Hinge’s existing investors include Bessemer Venture Partners, which backed the company’s $90 million Series C round in February, along with Lead Edge Capital, Insight Partners (which led the Series B), Atomico (which led the Series A), 11.2 Capital, Quadrille Capital and Heuristic Capital.

Originally based in London, Hinge Health primarily sells into U.S. employers and health plans, billing itself as a digital healthcare solution for chronic MSK conditions. The platform combines wearable sensors, an app and health coaching to remotely deliver physical therapy and behavioral health.

The basic premise is that there is plenty of existing research to show how best to treat chronic MSK disorders, but existing healthcare systems aren’t up to the task due to funding pressures and for other systematic reasons. The result is an over tendency to use opioid-based painkillers or surgery, with poor results and often at even greater cost. Hinge wants to reverse this through the use of technology and better data, with a focus on improving treatment adherence.

Meanwhile, Hinge’s jump in valuation is significant. According to sources, the company’s February round produced a valuation of around $420 million, so the new valuation is more than a 6x increase.

FBI, NSA say ongoing hacks at US federal agencies ‘likely Russian in origin’

By Zack Whittaker

The U.S. government says hackers “likely Russian in origin” are responsible for breaching the networks of at least 10 U.S. federal agencies and several major tech companies, including FireEye and Microsoft.

In a joint statement published Tuesday, the FBI, the NSA, and Homeland Security’s cybersecurity advisory unit CISA said that the government was “still working to understand the scope” of the breach, but that the breaches is likely an “intelligence gathering effort.”

The agencies investigating the espionage campaign said the compromises are “ongoing.”

The statement didn’t name the breached agencies, but the Treasury, State, and the Department of Energy are among those reported to be affected.

“This is a serious compromise that will require a sustained and dedicated effort to remediate,” the statement said. “The [joint agency effort] will continue taking every necessary action to investigate, remediate, and share information with our partners and the American people,”

News of the widespread espionage campaign emerged in early December after cybersecurity giant FireEye, normally the first company that cyberattack victims will call, discovered its own network had been breached. Soon after it was reported that several government agencies had also been infiltrated.

All of the victims are customers of U.S. software firm SolarWinds, whose Orion network management tools are used across the U.S. government and Fortune 500 companies. FireEye said that hackers broke into SolarWinds’ network and pushed a tainted software update to its customers, allowing the hackers to easily break in to any one of thousands of companies and agencies that installed the backdoored update.

Some 18,000 customers downloaded the backdoored software update, but the government’s joint statement said that it believes only a “much smaller number have been compromised by follow-on activity on their systems.”

Several news outlets have previously reported that the hacks were carried out by a Russian intelligence group known as APT 29, or Cozy Bear, which has been linked to several espionage-driven attacks, including attempting to steal coronavirus vaccine research.

Tuesday’s joint statement would be the first time the government acknowledged the likely culprit behind the campaign.

Russia had previously denied involvement with the hacks.

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