Cyber security training platform Immersive Labs closes $75M Series C led by Insight Partners

Immersive Labs, a platform which teaches cyber security skills corporate employees by using real, up-to-date threat intelligence in a “gamified” way, has closed a $75 million Series C funding round led by new investors Insight Partners alongside Menlo Ventures, Citi Ventures and existing investor Goldman Sachs Asset Management.

The investment will be used to scale Immersive’s offering in the US and take advantage of the new wave of interest in cyber threats caused by so many people working remotely, post-pandemic. Founded in 2017, Immersive Labs now has 200 people, with joint operations HQs in Bristol, UK, and Boston, US. It plans to raise headcount to over 600 in the next two years and establish operations in new regions throughout APAC and Europe. Immersive’s ‘Cyber Workforce Optimization’ platform claims to offer board-level metrics and benchmarking to gauge how the skills inside organizations are coping.

Immersive has now raised a total of $123m in venture funding and counts HSBC, Vodafone, and the NHS as customers. The company says it is growing at “over 100% year-on-year”.

James Hadley, CEO and founder of Immersive Labs, said: “With cyber risk becoming a problem for a growing number of business functions, cybersecurity knowledge and skills should no longer be the preserve of a few technical people hidden away in a back office. Everyone from the teams who build software, to the CEO, now need to play their part in addressing a pervasive company issue. This requires unlocking and evidencing skills in a much broader group of people.”

Ryan Hinkle, managing director at Insight Partners, said: “With significant global customer and revenue growth over the last few years, Immersive Labs has established a strong position in the fast-developing cyber skills space. With influential leadership, an innovative product in a growing market, and strong user engagement, the company is in a position to continue to lead the cyber readiness market.”

Speaking to me over an interview, Hadley added: “We chose Insight Partners because they’ve got a real strength in enterprise B2B which is where we sell to CIOs and CEOs… We want to be the next Darktrace in terms of a successful UK cybersecurity company.”

The comparison might not be that fanciful. Immersive Labs came out of the CYLON cyber accelerator, similar to Darktrace, has the same investors as Darktrace, but has in fact attracted $75m for its Series C, whereas Darktrace didn’t manage that level until Series D. Darktrace has now IPO’d in the London for £1.7bn.

Hadley, a former GCHQ security researcher and trainer, came up with the idea for the cyber skills platform while leading cyber training himself. I asked him why he thinks Immersive has managed to come up with a ‘flywheel effect’ with its platform.

“People always talk about all the cyber threats getting worse, but it really is now and it’s in the public domain. We’ve got a strong belief that cybersecurity is no longer the responsibility of the geeks in the basement. Actually, it’s business-wide. And now the tidal wave is coming. Cybercrime is going to go off the scale this year and next because companies are paying the ransoms. And as a result of that, we’re putting in analytics to measure decision-making in a crisis. It’s just resonating really well with every company regardless of CIO or vertical,” he told me.

#boston, #bristol, #ceo, #cio, #citi-ventures, #computer-security, #crime, #cybercrime, #darktrace, #data-security, #europe, #gchq, #hsbc, #immersive, #immersive-labs, #london, #menlo-ventures, #nhs, #series-c, #tc, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #vodafone

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Croatia’s Gideon Brothers raises $31M for its 
3D vision-enabled autonomous warehouse robots

Proving that Central and Eastern Europe remains a powerhouse of hardware engineering matched with software, Gideon Brothers (GB), a Zagreb, Croatia-based robotics and AI startup, has raised a $31 million Series A round led by Koch Disruptive Technologies (KDT), the venture and growth arm of Koch Industries Inc., with participation from DB Schenker, Prologis Ventures, and Rite-Hite.

The round also includes participation from several of Gideon Brothers’ existing backers: Taavet Hinrikus (co-founder of TransferWise), Pentland Ventures, Peaksjah, HCVC (Hardware Club), Ivan Topčić, Nenad Bakić, and Luca Ascani.

The investment will be used to accelerate the development and commercialization of GB’s AI and 3D vision-based ‘autonomous mobile robots’ or ‘AMRs’. These perform simple tasks such as transporting, picking up, and dropping off products in order to free up humans to perform more valuable tasks.

The company will also expand its operations in the EU and US by opening offices in Munich, Germany and Boston, Massachusetts, respectively.

Gideon Brothers founders

Gideon Brothers founders

Gideon Brothers make robots and the accompanying software platform that specializes in horizontal and vertical handling processes for logistics, warehousing, manufacturing, and retail businesses. For obvious reasons, the need to roboticize supply chains has exploded during the pandemic.

Matija Kopić, CEO of Gideon Brothers, said: “The pandemic has greatly accelerated the adoption of smart automation, and we are ready to meet the unprecedented market demand. The best way to do it is by marrying our proprietary solutions with the largest, most demanding customers out there. Our strategic partners have real challenges that our robots are already solving, and, with us, they’re seizing the incredible opportunity right now to effect robotic-powered change to some of the world’s most innovative organizations.”

He added: “Partnering with these forward-thinking industry leaders will help us expand our global footprint, but we will always stay true to our Croatian roots. That is our superpower. The Croatian start-up scene is growing exponentially and we want to unlock further opportunities for our country to become a robotics & AI powerhouse.”

Annant Patel, Director at Koch Disruptive Technologies said: “With more than 300 Koch operations and production units globally, KDT recognizes the unique capabilities of and potential for Gideon Brothers’ technology to substantially transform how businesses can approach warehouse and manufacturing processes through cutting edge AI and 3D AMR technology.”

Xavier Garijo, Member of the Board of Management for Contract Logistics, DB Schenker added: “Our partnership with Gideon Brothers secures our access to best in class robotics and intelligent material handling solutions to serve our customers in the most efficient way.”

GB’s competitors include Seegrid, Teradyne (MiR), Vecna Robotics, Fetch Robotics, AutoGuide Mobile Robots, Geek+ and Otto Motors.

#articles, #artificial-intelligence, #boston, #central-europe, #ceo, #co-founder, #croatia, #db-schenker, #director, #eastern-europe, #europe, #european-union, #fetch-robotics, #geek, #germany, #gideon-brothers, #hardware-club, #koch-disruptive-technologies, #manufacturing, #massachusetts, #munich, #otto-motors, #robot, #robotics, #science-and-technology, #software-platform, #taavet-hinrikus, #tc, #teradyne, #transferwise, #united-states, #zagreb

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Apptopia raises $20M to expand its competitive intelligence business beyond mobile

Boston-based Apptopia, a company providing competitive intelligence in the mobile app ecosystem, has closed on $20 million in Series C funding aimed at fueling its expansion beyond the world of mobile apps. The new financing was led by ABS Capital Partners, and follows three consecutive years of 50% year-over-year growth for Apptopia’s business, which has been profitable since the beginning of last year, the company says.

Existing investors, including Blossom Street Ventures, also participated in the round. ABS Capital’s Mike Avon, a co-founder of Millennial Media, and Paul Mariani, are joining Apptopia’s board with this round.

The funding follows what Apptopia says has been increased demand from brands to better understand the digital aspects of their businesses.

Today, Apptopia’s customers include hundreds of corporations and financial institutions, including Google, Visa, Coca-Cola, Target, Zoom, NBC, Unity Technologies, Microsoft, Adobe, Glu, Andreessen Horowitz and Facebook.

In the past, Apptopia’s customers were examining digital engagement and interactions from a macro level, but now they’re looking to dive deeper into specific details, requiring more data. For example, a brand may have previously wanted to know how well a competitor’s promotion fared in terms of new users or app sessions. But now they want to know the answers to specific questions —  like how many unique users participated, whether those users were existing customers, whether they returned after the promotion ended, and so on.

The majority of Apptopia’s business is now focused on delivering these sorts of answers to enterprise customers who subscribe to Apptopia’s data — and possibly, to the data from its competitors like Sensor Tower and App Annie, with the goal of blending datasets together for a more accurate understanding of the competitive landscape.

Apptopia’s own data, historically, was not always seen as being the most accurate, admits Apptopia CEO Jonathan Kay. But it has improved over the years.

Kay, previously Apptopia COO, is now taking over the top role from co-founder Eliran Sapir, who’s transitioning to chairman of the board as the company enters its next phase of growth.

Apptopia’s rivals like Sensor Tower and App Annie use mobile panels to gather app data, among other methods, Kay explains. These panels involve consumer-facing apps like VPN clients and ad blockers, which users would download not necessarily understanding that they were agreeing to having their app usage data collected. This led to some controversy as the app data industry’s open secret was exposed to consumers by the media, and the companies tweaked their disclosures, as a result.

But the practice continues and has not impacted the companies’ growth. Sensor Tower, for example, raised $45 million last year, as demand for app data continued to grow. And all involved businesses are expanding with new products and services for their data-hungry customer bases.

Image Credits: Apptopia

Apptopia, meanwhile, decided not to grow its business on the back of mobile panels. (Though in its earlier days it did test and then scrap such a plan.)

It gains access to data from its app developer customers — and this data is already aggregated and anonymized from the developers’ Apple and Google Analytics accounts.

Initially, this method put Apptopia at a disadvantage. Rivals had more accurate data from about 2016 through 2018 because of their use of mobile panels, Kay says. But Apptopia made a strategic decision to not take this sort of risk — that is, build a business that Apple or Google could shut off at any time.

“Instead, what we did is we spent years investing into data science and algorithms,” notes Kay. “We figured out how to extract an equal or greater signal from the same data set that [competitors] had access to.”

Using what Kay describes as “huge, huge amounts of historical data,” Apptopia over time learned what sort of signals went into an app’s app store ranking. A lot of people still think an app’s rank is largely determined by downloads, but there are now a variety of signals that inform rank, Kay points out.

“Really, a rank is just an accumulation of analytical data points that Apple and Google give points for,” he explains. This includes things like number of sessions, how many users, how much time is spent in an app, and more. “Because we didn’t have these panels, we had to spend years figuring out how to do reverse engineering better than our competitors. And, eventually, we figured out how to get the same signal that they could get from the panel from rank. That’s what allowed us to have such a fast-growing, successful business over the past several years.”

As Apptopia was already profitable, it didn’t need to fundraise. But the company wanted to accelerate its expansion into new areas, including its planned expansion outside of mobile apps.

Today, consumers use “apps” on their computers, on their smartwatches and on their TV, in addition to their phones and tablets. And businesses no longer want to know just what’s happening on mobile — they want the full picture of “app” usage.

“We figured out a way to do that that doesn’t rely on any of what our competitors have done in the past,” says Kay. “So, we will not be using any apps to spy on people,” he states.

However, the company was not prepared to offer further details around its future product plans at this time. But Kay said Apptopia would not rule out partnerships or being acquisitive to accomplish its goals going forward.

Apptopia also sees a broader future in making its app data more accessible. Last year, for instance, it partnered with Bloomberg to bring mobile data to investors via the Bloomberg App Portal on the Bloomberg Terminal. And it now works with Amazon’s AWS Data Exchange and Snowflake to make access to app data available in other channels, as well. Future partnerships of a similar nature could come into play as another means of differentiating Apptopia’s data from its rivals.

The company declined to offer its current revenue run rate or valuation, but notes that it tripled its valuation from its last fundraise at the end of 2019.

In addition to product expansions, the company plans to leverage the funds to grow its team of 55 by another 25 in 2021, including in engineering and analysts. And it will grow its management team, adding a CFO, CPO, and CMO this year.

To date, Apptopia has raised $30 million in outside capital.

#abs-capital-partners, #app-developers, #app-stores, #apps, #apptopia, #blossom-street-ventures, #boston, #funding, #mobile, #mobile-app, #mobile-apps, #publishers

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Knox Financial raises $10M to take the pain out of being a landlord

We’ve all heard the phrase “passive income” to describe how people can make money by owning rental properties. Many Americans would love to passively earn money, but the process of becoming a landlord can be intimidating and complicated. 

I mean, how many people have looked back and wished they hadn’t sold a property after seeing its value rise years after selling it?

And those who are already landlords can get overwhelmed by the complexities of managing properties.

One startup out of Boston, Knox Financial, aims to help people identify and manage residential rentals with its algorithm-based platform, and it’s raised a $10 million Series A to help it further that goal. Boston-based G20 Ventures led the round, which included participation from Greycroft, Pillar VC, 2LVC, and Gaingels.  

The investment brings Knox’s total raised since its inception in 2018 to $14.7 million. The company closed on a $3 million seed round in January 2020, led by Greycroft.

Knox co-founder and CEO David Friedman is no stranger to startups. He founded Boston Logic – an integrated marketing platform and online marketing services for real estate offices and agents – in 2004. He sold that company (now under the name Propertybase) to Providence Equity for an undisclosed amount in 2016.

Knox launched its platform in March of 2019, with the goal of offering homeowners who are ready to move “a completely hands-off way” of converting a home they’re moving out of into an investment property. It also claims to help landlords more easily and efficiently manage their rentals.

At the time of its seed round early last year, the company was only operating in the Boston market and had 50 units on its platform. It’s now operating in seven states, has “hundreds” of investment properties on its platform and is overseeing a portfolio of more than $100 million.

So how does it work? Once a property is enrolled on Knox’s “Frictionless Ownership Platform,” the company automates and oversees the property’s finances and taxes, insurance, leasing and legal, tenant and property care, banking and bill pay.

Knox also has developed a rental pricing and projection model for calculating the investment rate of return a property will produce over time.

Image Credits: Knox Financial

“We save investors a lot and almost always make their portfolios more profitable,” Friedman said. “If someone is moving or upsizing, we can turn properties into incredible ROI generators or cash flow.”

The company’s revenue model is simple.

When a dollar of rent moves through our system, we keep a dime,” Friedman told TechCrunch. “We align our interests with our customers. If there’s no rent coming in, we’re not making money. Or if a tenant doesn’t pay rent, we don’t make money.”

Knox plans to use its new capital to continue expanding geographically and getting the word out to more people.

“We want to become the de facto platform for real estate investment acquisition and ownership,” Friedman said. “And we have to be coast to coast to really do that for everybody. So, we’re still very early in our growth trajectory.”

Bob Hower, co-founder and partner of G20 Ventures, shared that weeks after his college graduation, he had bought a fixer upper with his mother’s help. A week after finishing renovations, he put the house on the market. Over the subsequent 5 months, he gradually reduced the price as the market softened, and eventually the property sold at a small profit.

“That house now is worth a multiple of what I paid for it,” Hower recalls. “In hindsight, the mistake I made was deciding to sell the house at all.”

That experience helped Hower appreciate what he describes as a “clarity of thinking” in Knox’s business model.

“Had Knox existed decades ago, I’d likely still have that fixer-upper I bought after college,” he said. “Investing platforms such as Betterment have collapsed multiple advising and optimization activities into a simple single-sign-on service, and Knox is the first company to apply this type model to residential real estate investing.”

#articles, #banking, #boston, #david-friedman, #finance, #funding, #fundings-exits, #g20-ventures, #greycroft, #knox, #knox-financial, #landlord, #pillar, #real-estate, #recent-funding, #renting, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital

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The Klaviyo EC-1

E-commerce is booming as retailers race to transform their brick-and-mortar footprints into online storefronts. By some counts, the market grew an astonishing 42% in 2020 in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, and estimates show that online spending in the U.S. will surpass $1 trillion by 2022. It’s a bonanza, and everyone is figuring out this new terrain.

Consumers are likely familiar with the front-end brands for these storefronts — with companies like Amazon, Shopify, Square, and Stripe owning attention — but it’s the tooling behind the curtain that is increasingly determining the competitiveness of individual stores.

Klaviyo may not be a household name to consumers (at least, not yet), but in many ways, this startup has become the standard by which email marketers are judged today, triangulating against veterans Mailchimp and Constant Contact and riding the e-commerce wave to new heights.

Founded in 2012, this Boston-based company helps marketers personalize and automate their email messaging to customers. By now, most people are intimately familiar with these kinds of emails; if you’ve ever given your email address to an online store, the entreaties to come back to your abandoned cart or browse the latest sale are Klaviyo’s bread and butter.

It may seem obvious in retrospect that email would grow to become a premier platform for marketing, but this wasn’t the case even a few years ago when social ads and search engine marketing were the dominant paradigm. Today, owned marketing and customer experience management are white-hot trends, and Klaviyo has surged from a lifestyle business to a multi-billion dollar behemoth in just a few short years. Its story is at the heart of the internet economy today, and the future.

TechCrunch’s writer and analyst for this EC-1 is Chris Morrison. Morrison, who previously wrote our EC-1 on Roblox, has been a writer and independent game developer covering the video game industry and the marketing challenges that come with publishing. As an analyst and a potential user, he’s in a unique position to explain the Klaviyo story. The lead editor for this package was Danny Crichton, the assistant editor was Ram Iyer, the copy editor was Richard Dal Porto and illustrations were created by Nigel Sussman.

Klaviyo had no say in the content of this analysis and did not get advance access to it. Morrison has no financial ties to Klaviyo or other conflicts of interest to disclose.

The Klaviyo EC-1 comprises four main articles numbering 9,700 words and a reading time of 43 minutes. Let’s take a look:

  • Part 1: Origin storyHow Klaviyo transformed from a lifestyle business into a $4.15B email titan” (2,600 words/10 minutes) — Explores the rise of Klaviyo from a database for e-commerce data into a modern email powerhouse as it successively learned from customers and bootstrapped in the absence of funding from accelerators and early VCs.
  • Part 2: Business and growthHow Klaviyo used data and no-code to transform owned marketing” (3,000 words/12 minutes) — Analyzes Klaviyo’s recent growth and how marketers increasingly focus on owned marketing channels and customer experience management.
  • Part 3: Dynamics of e-commerce marketingMarketing in 2021 is emotional and not just transactional” (2,200 words/9 minutes) — To fully understand Klaviyo and this new world of martech, this article contextualizes how and why marketers are increasingly trying to personalize and build deeper emotional bonds with their customers outside of social media channels.
  • Part 4: Lessons on startup growthDrama and quirk aren’t necessary for startup success” (1,900 words/8 minutes) — Founders shouldn’t have to keep learning the same lessons over and over again. Klaviyo offers a number of tried-and-true tutorials to understand how to build a competitive startup and not get bogged down in finding product-market fit and scaling.

We’re always iterating on the EC-1 format. If you have questions, comments or ideas, please send an email to TechCrunch Managing Editor Danny Crichton at danny@techcrunch.com.

#boston, #ec-marketing-tech, #ec-1, #enterprise, #klaviyo, #saas, #tc

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How Klaviyo transformed from a lifestyle business into a $4.15B email titan

Startups are stories of feverish dreams and obsessive fears. Short of hearing it from the source, a glimpse into the inbox of a founder would be the best way to experience the travails they endure on the way to building a business. A customer finally makes a purchase, a VC invests or walks away, an employee signs their offer letter — all of the major and minor milestones of a startup are communicated via that now-ancient medium of email.

Current Klaviyo users may be surprised to hear that email was not a part of the initial product.

Email’s ubiquity is only part of the story, though. It’s also a symbol of freedom: The last social platform that remains relatively open and free from the clutches of a single monopoly owner. It’s a market rife with entrenched incumbents, but one that simultaneously continues to invite founders to find some new take on this venerable communications channel and make it better for everyone.

That was the mission that Andrew Bialecki and Ed Hallen undertook when they founded Klaviyo back in 2012. What they perhaps didn’t bank on was just how long of a route they were about to take — or how many rejections they might find in their own inboxes from accelerators and VCs who never thought a new generation of email service providers could make it.

So they bootstrapped, kept things lean. They debated canceling dinners to pay the bills when customers churned. And along the way, they built a special startup that is today valued at a whopping $4.15 billion. Klaviyo is the story of how two scrappy, inexperienced entrepreneurs set out to build a lifestyle business — and ended up creating an email titan.

Racing to the starting line

Klaviyo’s origin story sounds a bit like the generic advice given by every book on entrepreneurship. Andrew Bialecki — he goes by AB — had a need that no existing company filled. So, he started a company to address that need.

It began with what he calls a side hustle: a website devoted to cataloging the dates and locations of running races. Bialecki had the technical chops to build it, but the data wasn’t already available online and he needed race organizers to provide it. That, in turn, meant he needed to let them know his site existed and constantly follow up to make sure they were using it.

“I realized I’m on the phone with people and it’s never going to scale. After a while, I was working on that while I was at another startup, and I said I have two options here. Either I can go all-in on road races, or all-in on the problem: ‘How do we help these businesses connect with the people using their software or products?’” recalls Bialecki.

By then, he already had a co-founder in mind. Bialecki had been a student together with Ed Hallen at MIT, but the pair actually met while working at Applied Predictive Technologies (APT), a Washington, D.C. tech consultancy.

“I’d read all those books on, hey, when you’re looking for someone to start a business with, you want someone with similar values who’s also complementary,” says Bialecki. “I’d known he was kind of interested in starting a company, and we had really complementary skillsets. I loved the engineering and design and product, and he was a big product guy too, but was used to working with customers and clients.”

An email company that didn’t (initially) do email

Current Klaviyo users may be surprised to hear that email was not part of the product that emerged. Instead, Bialecki and Hallen built a database to collect all the e-commerce data that was falling through the cracks.

“Once we really talked to a lot of e-commerce people, it was clear there were long-standing problems,” says Hallen.

Bialecki adds, “There are facts you know, like their name, their email address, their favorite color or something they told you about their birthday. But some of the harder stuff was, jeez, how many times has this person visited my website, bought something from me, what products did they buy and how is that trending over time? Were they a really frequent customer that dropped off the face of the Earth?”

As they spoke to customers, the founders realized that handling customers’ data and making it useful to them was going to be critical to Klaviyo’s success. It just so happened that gathering data matched well with their experiences working at APT.

“We had a ton of experience stitching together data sources,” says Hallen. “We took that expertise and put it as our foundation. What’s the most broken, largest market, and let’s really tie data to it, not as an afterthought.”

Klaviyo’s two co-founders Andrew Bialecki and Ed Hallen in July 2012. Image Credits: Klaviyo

What that required, in practical terms, was spending the initial months building a custom database to store the disparate data types that come up during e-commerce transactions — events, documents and object data models. Conor O’Mahony, who joined the company in 2018 as chief product officer and departed this month to become an advisor, says that the company’s early time investment in its database laid the foundations for its later success in scaling up.

#boston, #ec-marketing-tech, #ec-1, #enterprise, #saas, #tc

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How Klaviyo used data and no-code to transform owned marketing

Email is the communication medium that refuses to die.

“Eventually, every technology is trumped by something new and better. And I feel that email is ready to be trumped. But by what?” wrote the venture capitalist Fred Wilson in 2007. Three years later, he updated readers that other forms of messaging had outgrown email. “It looks like email’s reign as the king of communication is ending and social networking is now supreme,” he said. (To be fair to Wilson, his view was nuanced enough to continue investing in email tech.)

Despite the competition, Klaviyo didn’t just break into the market — it has also achieved an unusual level of excitement and loyalty among marketers despite its youthful history.

Investors weren’t alone — marketers have also spent years anticipating the next big thing.

“It was SMS, it was YouTube, it was Instagram. Before that it was Facebook, then it was Snapchat and TikTok. I kinda feel like individually all those things are fleeting. I think people found: You know what? Everyone still opens their emails every day,” says Darin Hager, a former sneaker entrepreneur who is now an email marketing manager at Adjust Media.

Email has an estimated four billion users today and continues to grow steadily even as mature social networks plateau. Estimates of the number of nonspam messages sent each day range from 25 billion to over 300 billion.

Unsurprisingly for a marketing channel with so much volume, there’s voluminous competition to send and program those emails. Yet, despite the competition, Klaviyo didn’t just break into the market — it has also achieved an unusual level of excitement and loyalty among marketers despite its youthful history.

“If you’re not using Klaviyo and you’re in e-commerce, then it’s not very professional. If you see ‘Sent by Constant Contact or Mailchimp’ at the bottom of an email by a brand, it makes it look like they’re not really there yet,” Hager said.

How did Klaviyo become the standard solution among email marketers?

In Klaviyo’s origin story, we delved into part of the answer: The company began life as an e-commerce analytics service. Once it matured to compete as an email service provider, Klaviyo benefited from the edge given by its deeper, more comprehensive focus on data.

However, that leaves several questions unanswered. Why is email so important to e-commerce? What are the substantive differences between Klaviyo’s feature set and those of its competitors? And why did several large, well-funded incumbents fail to capitalize on building an advantage in data first?

In this section, we’ll answer those questions — as well as laying out the significance of COVID-19 on the e-commerce market, and how newsletters and AI figure into the company’s future.

A positive Outlook on email’s longevity

Email is one of the oldest tech verticals: Constant Contact, one of the most venerable email service providers (ESPs), was founded in 1995, went public in 2007 and was taken private in 2015 for $1 billion. By the time Klaviyo started in 2012, the space was well served by numerous incumbents.

#boston, #ec-marketing, #ec-marketing-tech, #ec-1, #enterprise, #klaviyo, #no-code, #saas, #tc

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Marketing in 2021 is emotional and not just transactional

Brands are emotions made physical. The clothes we wear, the media we consume, the devices we use — all signal not only to others what we value and see in ourselves, they also are a way to construct our very identities. Experimenting to deepen that bond has been at the core of the marketing profession for a century; its origins rooted in Freudian psychoanalysis.

There had always been one critical limitation, though: Marketers had to appeal to the masses. Radio, television and print media allowed brands to deliver only one message to everyone, no matter if their product conferred luxury or smart cost-consciousness.

On the internet, the masses have been shattered into ever smaller shards, shifting that marketing calculus toward targeted audiences and social network interest groups. Today, niche brands, large corporations and every business in between are reaching ever-narrower audiences.

Marketers who become expert at personalization, especially for existing customers through owned marketing platforms like email, will hold an edge over their competitors.

Yet, advertising and social networks are competitive marketplaces. Over time, prices to reach niche audiences rise, and strategies that once worked become unviable. In 2021, these perpetual challenges are joined by two new factors: a fresh influx of new e-commerce brands and changing privacy policies on third-party platforms.

Klaviyo benefits from these secular trends. While the cost or difficulty of acquiring new customers may increase, as we looked at in the second part of this EC-1, the cost of emailing an existing one remains much the same. Marketers who become expert at personalization, especially for existing customers through owned marketing platforms like email, will hold an edge over their competitors. It’s no longer about marketing to narrow slices of audiences — it’s about building an emotional bond with an audience of one.

To a booming economy, now ad inflation

While 2020 was a banner year for e-commerce in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the early months of 2021 have brought about a new problem: Customer acquisition costs are rising, sometimes to a worrying degree. For instance, one company interviewed by TechCrunch that did not wish to be named said it has seen its return on investment for Facebook ads fall by nearly half in the first months of 2021. Such inflation has also been predicted by firms like ECI Media Management.

There are two possible reasons for this increase. First, an unprecedented number of companies are moving online, spurred by COVID-19 and worldwide lockdowns.

#boston, #ec-marketing-tech, #ec-1, #enterprise, #klaviyo, #saas, #tc

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Drama and quirk aren’t necessary for startup success

Many of the stories in our EC-1 series tell tales of startups in the wilderness hacking out green field opportunities. Klaviyo is a different breed of company: One that went into an established market and challenged powerful incumbents, ultimately finding success with a new, more data-oriented generation of email marketers.

As such, the lessons that it offers are, perhaps, more subtle; its insights bordering on common sense.

But as the saying goes, common sense to an uncommon degree becomes wisdom. Here are four pieces of wisdom I’ve gleaned from Klaviyo’s story:

Drama and sizzle help companies stand out, undoubtedly. But are they necessary for success? Klaviyo’s story suggests otherwise.

Lesson 1: Drama and quirk aren’t necessary for startup success

Silicon Valley has become a showcase for oddity. Ironically, we all enjoy “Silicon Valley” (the show) or “The Social Network.” Unironically, we toss around phrases like “the hustle” and “sweat equity.” Hot companies often stand out with stories of intense struggle and failure, a larger-than-life founder or a chaotic (and often toxic) management structure.

Drama and sizzle help companies stand out, undoubtedly. But are they necessary for success? Klaviyo’s story suggests otherwise.

#boston, #ec-marketing-tech, #ec-1, #enterprise, #saas, #tc

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Grocery startup Mercato spilled years of data, but didn’t tell its customers

A security lapse at online grocery delivery startup Mercato exposed tens of thousands of customer orders, TechCrunch has learned.

A person with knowledge of the incident told TechCrunch that the incident happened in January after one of the company’s cloud storage buckets, hosted on Amazon’s cloud, was left open and unprotected.

The company fixed the data spill, but has not yet alerted its customers.

Mercato was founded in 2015 and helps over a thousand smaller grocers and specialty food stores get online for pickup or delivery, without having to sign up for delivery services like Instacart or Amazon Fresh. Mercato operates in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York, where the company is headquartered.

TechCrunch obtained a copy of the exposed data and verified a portion of the records by matching names and addresses against known existing accounts and public records. The data set contained more than 70,000 orders dating between September 2015 and November 2019, and included customer names and email addresses, home addresses, and order details. Each record also had the user’s IP address of the device they used to place the order.

The data set also included the personal data and order details of company executives.

It’s not clear how the security lapse happened since storage buckets on Amazon’s cloud are private by default, or when the company learned of the exposure.

Companies are required to disclose data breaches or security lapses to state attorneys-general, but no notices have been published where they are required by law, such as California. The data set had more than 1,800 residents in California, more than three times the number needed to trigger mandatory disclosure under the state’s data breach notification laws.

It’s also not known if Mercato disclosed the incident to investors ahead of its $26 million Series A raise earlier this month. Velvet Sea Ventures, which led the round, did not respond to emails requesting comment.

In a statement, Mercato chief executive Bobby Brannigan confirmed the incident but declined to answer our questions, citing an ongoing investigation.

“We are conducting a complete audit using a third party and will be contacting the individuals who have been affected. We are confident that no credit card data was accessed because we do not store those details on our servers. We will continually inform all authoritative bodies and stakeholders, including investors, regarding the findings of our audit and any steps needed to remedy this situation,” said Brannigan.


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#amazon, #boston, #california, #chicago, #cloud-computing, #cloud-infrastructure, #cloud-storage, #computer-security, #computing, #data-breach, #data-security, #ecommerce, #food, #instacart, #los-angeles, #mercato, #new-york, #security, #technology, #united-states, #velvet-sea-ventures

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Tines raises $26M Series B for its no-code security automation platform

Tines, a no-code automation platform co-founded by two senior cybersecurity operators, today announced that it has raised a $26 million Series B funding round led by Addition. Existing investors Accel and Blossom Capital participated in this round, which also includes strategic investments from CrowdStrike and Silicon Valley CISO Investments. After this round, which brings the total funding in the company to $41.1 million, Tines is now valued at $300 million.

Given that Tines co-founders Eoin Hinchy and Thomas Kinsella were both in senior security roles at DocuSign before they left to start their own company in 2018, it’s maybe no surprise that the company’s platform launched with a strong focus on security operations. As such, it combines security orchestration and robotic process automation with a low-code/no-code user interface.

“Tines is on a mission to allow frontline employees to focus on more business-critical tasks and improve their wellbeing by reducing the burden of ‘busy work’ by helping automate any manual workflow and making existing teams more efficient, effective, and engaged,” the company notes in today’s announcement.

The idea here is to free analysts from spending time on routine repetitive tasks and allow them to focus on those areas where they can have the most impact. The tools features pre-configured integrations with a variety of business and security tools, but for more sophisticated users, it also features the ability to hook into virtually any API.

Image Credits: Tines

The company argues that even non-technical employees should be able to learn the ins and outs of its platform within about three hours (sidenote: it’s nice to see a no-code platform acknowledge that users will actually need to spend some time with it before they can become productive).

“If software is eating the world, automation is eating the enterprise,” Hinchy said. “Yet, the majority of progress in this space still requires non-technical teams to depend on software engineers to implement their automation. Other platforms are generally either too hard to use, not flexible enough or not sufficiently robust for mission-critical workflows like cybersecurity. Tines empowers enterprise teams to automate any of their own manual workloads independently, making their jobs more rewarding while simultaneously delivering enormous value for their organizations.”

Current Tines customers include the likes of Box, Canva, OpenTable and Sophos.

The company, which was founded in Dublin, Ireland and recently opened an office in Boston, plans to use the new funding to double its 18-person team in order to support its product growth.

“Tines has quickly established itself as a market leader in enterprise automation,” said Lee Fixel, founder of Addition. “We look forward to supporting Eoin and the Tines team as they continue to scale the business and enhance their product — which is beloved by their unmatched customer base.”

Image Credits: Tines

#addition, #api, #automation, #boston, #box, #business, #business-process-automation, #canva, #crowdstrike, #docusign, #dublin, #ireland, #lee-fixel, #low-code, #market-leader, #no-code, #opentable, #recent-funding, #security, #security-tools, #silicon-valley-ciso-investments, #sophos, #startups, #tc, #tines, #tools

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Notarize raises $130M, tripling valuation on the back of 600% YoY revenue growth

When the world shifted toward virtual one year ago, one service in particular saw heated demand: digital notary services.

The ability to get a document notarized without leaving one’s home suddenly became more of a necessity than a luxury. Pat Kinsel, founder and CEO of Boston-based Notarize, worked to get appropriate legislation passed across the country to make it possible for more people in more states to use remote online notarization (RON) services. 

That hard work has paid off. Today, Notarize has announced $130 million in Series D funding led by fintech-focused VC firm Canapi Ventures after experiencing 600% year over year revenue growth. The round values Notarize at $760 million, which is triple its valuation at the time of its $35 million Series C in March of 2020. This latest round is larger than the sum of all of the company’s previous rounds to date, and brings Notarize’s total raised to $213 million since its 2015 inception.

A slew of other investors participated in the round, including Alphabet’s independent growth fund CapitalG, Citi Ventures, Wells Fargo, True Bridge Capital Partners and existing backers Camber Creek, Ludlow Ventures, NAR’s Second Century Ventures, and Fifth Wall Ventures.

Notarize insists that it “isn’t just a notary company.” Rather, Canapi Ventures Partner Neil Underwood described it as the ‘last mile’ of businesses (such as iBuyers, for example). 

The company has also evolved to “also bring trust and identity verification” into those businesses’ processes.

Over the past year, Notarize has seen a massive increase in transactions and inked new partnerships with companies such as Adobe, Dropbox, Stripe and Zillow Group, among others. It’s seen big spikes in demand from the real estate, financial services, retail and automotive sectors.

“In 2020, the world rushed to digitize. Online commerce ballooned, and businesses in almost every industry needed to transition to digital basically overnight so they could continue uninterrupted,” Kinsel said. “Notarize was there to help them safely close these deals with trust and convenience.”  

The company plans to use its new capital to expand its platform and product and scale “to serve enterprises of all sizes.” It also plans to double down on hiring in the next year.

“Notarize is disrupting outdated business models and technologies, and there’s massive potential, particularly in the financial services space, as more companies will need to offer secure digital alternatives to in-person transactions,” Canapi’s Underwood said.

Notarize’s success comes after a difficult 2019, when the company saw “critical financing” fall through and had to lay off staff, according to Kinsel. Talk about a turnaround story.

#boston, #camber-creek, #canapi-ventures, #capitalg, #ceo, #citi-ventures, #dropbox, #fifth-wall, #finance, #financial-services, #funding, #fundings-exits, #law, #ludlow-ventures, #notarize, #online-commerce, #pat-kinsel, #real-estate, #recent-funding, #startups, #stripe, #venture-capital, #wells-fargo, #zillow

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Appfire, provider of Atlassian apps, raises $100M to continue its buying spree

Appfire, a Boston-based provider of software development apps, announced Tuesday that it has received a $100 million investment from growth private equity firm TA Associates.

Founded in 2005, Appfire was bootstrapped until it got $49 million from Silversmith Capital Partners last May. Since that time, Appfire has acquired six companies in the Atlassian “ecosystem,” including Botron, Beecom, Innovalog, Navarambh, Artemis and Bolo.

The Boston-based company has been profitable for over a decade, according to Randall Ward, co-founder and CEO of Appfire. And while Ward declined to reveal valuation or hard revenue numbers, he did say that Appfire has seen its ARR more than double over the past year.

Since last June alone, the company says it has experienced:

  • A 103% year over year increase in ARR.
  • A 258% YOY increase in enterprise subscription revenue (data center only). 
  • A 182% YOY increase in all subscription revenue (data center and cloud).  

So why the need for institutional capital? With the latest funding, Appfire intends to extend its buying spree of complementary apps. 

Appfire has been acquiring businesses every six to eight weeks, and it plans to continue scooping them up at that pace, according to Ward.

It’s also looking to let shareholders cash in on their options.

Fun fact: Atlassian itself was bootstrapped for nearly a decade. The Australian enterprise software company was profitable from its inception in 2001 before taking its first round of external capital, a $60 million financing led by Accel, in July 2010. The financing was primarily secondary.

Some context

Appfire was initially a professional services company before transitioning into products in 2013. The company says it has “developed domain expertise in creating, launching and distributing apps” through the Atlassian marketplace. Today, the company has 85 products on that marketplace and more than 110,000 active installations globally spanning workflow automation, business intelligence, publishing and administrative tools. 

Specifically, the company’s Bob Swift, Feed Three and Wittified brand apps aim to help companies like Google, Amazon and Starbucks streamline product development through improved collaboration, security, reporting and automation.

“We started this business 15 years ago with the goal of building software applications for customers,” Ward told TechCrunch. “At that time, there were no marketplaces, so iTunes marketplace didn’t exist, Google Play didn’t exist, but yet we were seeing that applications were getting smaller in size, Mozilla was putting out plugins. My co-founder and I were sitting on the floor of a warehouse in Maynard, Massachusetts and we conceived of this company called Appfire, and boy did we pick the right name.”

The pair then stumbled upon a project by which a friend of a friend was looking for them to integrate two pieces of software with software from Atlassian.

“It was brand new to us — we had never heard of it — a software called JIRA and another piece of software called Confluence,” Ward recalls. “About three months later we launched a project and then got introduced to the co-founders of Atlassian.”

In 2017, Appfire decided it wanted to focus full time on becoming “the biggest app platform and aggregator.”

“So we decided to wind down all the other little special side projects for Atlassian delivering services to customers, and really put all of our eggs in this marketplace basket,” Ward recalls. 

It was at that point the company began looking for external capital. With this last raise, though, Ward says Appfire was not necessarily looking for more cash.

When approached by TA, Appfire asked if it could create more employee equity programs so the company could be an employee-led business. It also asked if it could take 1% of its equity and contribute to the Pledge 1% initiative.

“They said yes,” Ward said. “So that led us to this latest funding.”

Appfire is also moving into business intelligence and data analytics apps for Tableau and Microsoft Power BI.

As mentioned above, some of its latest funding will go back to existing shareholders, Ward said. The remainder will go into continuing to grow the business.

“We have a lot of organic and inorganic growth opportunities,” he added. “…That obviously takes some momentum.”

Michael Libert, a principal of TA Associates, said his firm had been tracking Appfire’s progress for “quite some time.” The company’s apps, he said, do not require complex training, allowing customers to improve productivity “at a low cost,” leading to further customer adoption and enabling “a solid land-and-expand strategy.”

“We found the company’s high-quality business model, impressive organic growth and recent significant acquisitive activity particularly attractive,” Libert told TechCrunch.

#appfire, #apps, #atlassian, #boston, #business, #business-intelligence, #cloud, #confluence, #economy, #enterprise-software, #funding, #fundings-exits, #jira, #massachusetts, #private-equity, #saas, #secondaries, #ta-associates, #tc

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Eying sustainability gains for its supply chain, BMW backs Boston Metal’s CO2-free iron production tech

BMW has joined the cohort of investors that are backing Boston Metal’s carbon dioxide-free production technology for steel.

The Boston-based startup had targeted a $50 million raise earlier in the year, as TechCrunch reported, and BMW’s addition closes out that round, according to a person familiar with the company.

Through a commitment from BMW iVentures, the automaker’s investment arm, Boston Metal will have an in to a company with massive demands for more sustainably manufactured metal. For instance, BMW Group press plants in Europe process more than half a million tonnes of steel per year, the company said.

“We systematically identify the raw materials and components in our supplier network with the highest CO2 emissions from production,” said Dr Andreas Wendt, member of the Board of Management of BMW AG responsible for Purchasing and Supplier Network, in a statement. “Steel is one of them, but it is vital to car production. For this reason, we have set ourselves the goal of continuously reducing CO2 emissions in the steel supply chain. By 2030, CO2 emissions should be about two million tonnes lower than today’s figure.”

Conventional steel production requires blast furnaces that generate carbon dioxide emissions, but using Boston Metal’s process, an electrolysis cell produces the pig iron that gets processed into steel, the company said.

The addition of BMW to its investor group, which already includes Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures and other strategic and financial investors, caps the fundraising process with another corporate partner wielding incredible industry influence.

“Our investors span across the steel value chain, from the upstream mining and iron ore companies to the downstream end customer, and validate Boston Metal’s innovative process to produce high-quality steel, cost-competitively, and at scale,” said chief executive officer and founder, Tadeu Carneiro.

#automotive-industry, #bmw, #boston, #carbon-dioxide, #cars, #chief-executive-officer, #europe, #investor, #metal, #steel, #tc

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Hi Marley raises $25M to fund its AI-powered communication platform for the insurance industry

If you’ve ever had to file a claim with your insurance company, you know that it’s not exactly fun. Often, you’re on hold indefinitely waiting to speak to a live person. And if you’ve ever had to file an auto or home insurance claim, you know that all the back and forth with your carrier and the various vendors can take up so much time.

Hi Marley is a Boston startup that has set out to modernize communications in the insurance space by giving carriers a way to “seamlessly” communicate with their policyholders via text. The company just closed on a $25 million Series B funding round to help scale its SMS platform.

Hi Marley also includes other vendors in that communicatiofns channel, such as car repair or rental companies. The goal is to keep policyholders happier and less likely to churn to another carrier, in addition to helping carriers resolve claims faster.

On the back end, Hi Marley is a platform of apps, APIs and a layer of intelligence that integrates with other core systems such as Guidewire and Duck Creek “to deliver critical insights” to the carriers, according to CEO and co-founder Mike Greene. Per its website, Hi Marley’s messaging solution aims to streamline communication around claims, underwriting and policyholder service interactions “while simultaneously connecting everyone who touches that insurance experience into a singular, real-time conversation.”

Demand is there, and no doubt the COVID-19 pandemic forcing more people to go digital has led to still more consumer demand for new ways to communicate. Last year, the number of carriers using Hi Marley’s platform doubled, and the company saw a 4x increase in its user base, Greene said. Currently, the startup has over 40 customers live in production — including American Family, MetLife, Auto-Owners, Erie and MAPFRE.

“Unlike horizontal chat solutions, we are tackling the entire communication layer across the insurance enterprise for our carriers and their ecosystem partners,” Greene told TechCrunch.

Greene is no stranger to the space, having worked in the insurance sector for years. He previously co-founded and led Futurity Group, which was acquired by AON, a software and services company focused on monitoring and improving performance in P&C insurance.

Emergence Capital led the Series B round, which brings Hi Marley’s total raised since its 2017 inception to $41.7 million. Existing backers Underscore, True Ventures, Bain Capital Ventures, and Greenspring also participated in the financing, along with additional investors including Brewer Lane.

Emergence Capital Founder & General Partner Gordon Ritter — who took a seat on Hi Marley’s board — said his firm has been focused on finding the next iconic industry cloud company within the vertical for “quite some time.” 

“In the same way Veeva [a company Ritter chaired to a successful IPO in 2013] expanded from CRM to additional software solutions that power the pharma industry, we continue to be bullish on startups building vertically-focused solutions that can power an entire industry,” Ritter said.

Historically, he added, insurance has been viewed as a necessary evil, a purchase made purely for the sake of safety and security. And in today’s environment, carriers using “old” communication strategies will likely see a negative impact on performance, Ritter believes.

“Most of us can likely agree that our experiences dealing with insurers during times of need have been less than ideal, if not unpleasant altogether,” said Ritter, who actually has family with roots in the insurance industry. “But Mike wants to reverse the indifference or negative reputation; he is on a mission to make insurance lovable A new communication fabric between carriers and their ecosystem to benefit end customers is needed.”

Looking ahead, Hi Marley plans to use its new capital to create new features, ensure the platform scales across the enterprise and (naturally) do some hiring.

#artificial-intelligence, #bain-capital-ventures, #boston, #emergence-capital, #funding, #insurance, #insurtech, #recent-funding, #sms, #startups, #tc, #true-ventures, #venture-capital

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Aqua Security raises $135M at a $1B valuation for its cloud native security service

Aqua Security, a Boston- and Tel Aviv-based security startup that focuses squarely on securing cloud-native services, today announced that it has raised a $135 million Series E funding round at a $1 billion valuation. The round was led by ION Crossover Partners. Existing investors M12 Ventures, Lightspeed Venture Partners, Insight Partners, TLV Partners, Greenspring Associates and Acrew Capital also participated. In total, Aqua Security has now raised $265 million since it was founded in 2015.

The company was one of the earliest to focus on securing container deployments. And while many of its competitors were acquired over the years, Aqua remains independent and is now likely on a path to an IPO. When it launched, the industry focus was still very much on Docker and Docker containers. To the detriment of Docker, that quickly shifted to Kubernetes, which is now the de facto standard. But enterprises are also now looking at serverless and other new technologies on top of this new stack.

“Enterprises that five years ago were experimenting with different types of technologies are now facing a completely different technology stack, a completely different ecosystem and a completely new set of security requirements,” Aqua CEO Dror Davidoff told me. And with these new security requirements came a plethora of startups, all focusing on specific parts of the stack.

Image Credits: Aqua Security

What set Aqua apart, Dror argues, is that it managed to 1) become the best solution for container security and 2) realized that to succeed in the long run, it had to become a platform that would secure the entire cloud-native environment. About two years ago, the company made this switch from a product to a platform, as Davidoff describes it.

“There was a spree of acquisitions by CheckPoint and Palo Alto [Networks] and Trend [Micro],” Davidoff said. “They all started to acquire pieces and tried to build a more complete offering. The big advantage for Aqua was that we had everything natively built on one platform. […] Five years later, everyone is talking about cloud-native security. No one says ‘container security’ or ‘serverless security’ anymore. And Aqua is practically the broadest cloud-native security [platform].”

One interesting aspect of Aqua’s strategy is that it continues to bet on open source, too. Trivy, its open-source vulnerability scanner, is the default scanner for GitLab’s Harbor Registry and the CNCF’s Artifact Hub, for example.

“We are probably the best security open-source player there is because not only do we secure from vulnerable open source, we are also very active in the open-source community,” Davidoff said (with maybe a bit of hyperbole). “We provide tools to the community that are open source. To keep evolving, we have a whole open-source team. It’s part of the philosophy here that we want to be part of the community and it really helps us to understand it better and provide the right tools.”

In 2020, Aqua, which mostly focuses on mid-size and larger companies, doubled the number of paying customers and it now has more than half a dozen customers with an ARR of over $1 million each.

Davidoff tells me the company wasn’t actively looking for new funding. Its last funding round came together only a year ago, after all. But the team decided that it wanted to be able to double down on its current strategy and raise sooner than originally planned. ION had been interested in working with Aqua for a while, Davidoff told me, and while the company received other offers, the team decided to go ahead with ION as the lead investor (with all of Aqua’s existing investors also participating in this round).

“We want to grow from a product perspective, we want to grow from a go-to-market [perspective] and expand our geographical coverage — and we also want to be a little more acquisitive. That’s another direction we’re looking at because now we have the platform that allows us to do that. […] I feel we can take the company to great heights. That’s the plan. The market opportunity allows us to dream big.”

 

#acrew-capital, #aqua, #aqua-security, #boston, #checkpoint, #cloud, #cloud-computing, #cloud-infrastructure, #cloud-storage, #computing, #docker, #enterprise, #greenspring-associates, #insight-partners, #ion-crossover-partners, #kubernetes, #lightspeed-venture-partners, #palo-alto, #recent-funding, #security, #serverless-computing, #software, #startups, #tc, #tel-aviv, #tlv-partners

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With Atlanta rising as a new hub for tech, early stage firm Tech Square Ventures gets a new partner

Atlanta is coming up in the tech world with several newly minted billion-dollar businesses hailing from the ATL and the city’s local venture capital community is taking notice.

Even as later stage firms like the newly minted BIP Capital rebrand and  with increasingly large funds, earlier stage firms like Tech Square Ventures are staffing up and adding new partners.

The firm’s latest hire is Vasant Kamath, a general partner who joins the firm from Primus Capital, a later stage investment vehicle based out of Atlanta. Before that, he was managing investments for the private office of the Cox family.

Originally from Augusta, Ga. Kamath left the south to attend Harvard and then went out west for a stint at Stanford Business School.

In between his jaunts North and West Kamath spent time in Atlanta as an investment banker with Raymond James in the early 2000s, the beginnings of a lifelong professional career in technology. Before business school, Kamath worked at Summit Equity Partners in Boston investing in later stage technology companies.

Kamath settled in Atlanta in 2010 just as a second wave of technology companies began making their presence felt in the city.

The new Tech Square Village general partner pointed to Atlanta’s underlying tech infrastructure as one reason for the move to early stage. One pillar of that infrastructure is Georgia Tech itself. The school, whose campus abuts the Tech Square Ventures offices, is one of the top engineering universities in the country and the breadth of talent coming out of that program is impressive, Kamath said.

There’s also the companies like Airwatch, MailChimp, Calendly and others that represent the resurgence of Atlanta’s tech scene, Tech Square Ventures’ newest general partner said.

Not only are young companies reinvesting in the city, but big tech giants and telecom players like T-Mobile, Google, and Microsoft are also establishing major offices, accelerators, and incubators in Atlanta.

“There’s a lot of momentum here in early stage and i think it’s building. It’s the right time for a firm like TSV to take advantage of all of the things,” Kamath said. 

Another selling point for making the jump to early stage investing was the relationship that Kamath had established with Tech Square Ventures founder, Blake Patton. A serial entrepreneur who’s committed to building up Atlanta’s startup ecosystem, Patton has been the architect of Tech Square Ventures’ growth through two separate initiatives.

In all, the firm has $90 million in assets under management. What began with a small pilot fund, Tech Square Ventures Fund 1, (a $5 million investment vehicle) has expanded to include two larger funds raised in conjunction with major industrial corporate partners like AT&T, Chick-Fil-A, Cox Enterprises, Delta, Georgia-Pacific, Georgia Power, The Home Depot, UPS, Goldman Sachs, and Invesco, under the auspices of a program called Engage. Those funds total $54 million in AUM and the firm is halfway toward closing a much larger second flagship fund under the Tech Square Ventures name with a $75 million target.

All this activity has led to a blossoming entrepreneurial community that early stage funds like Tech Square Ventures hopes to tap.

“We see a fair number of folks from these large corporations spinning out and starting things themselves,” said Kamath. “For a decade plus, you have multiple entrepreneurs doing really well and increasing acceleration in terms of climate and exits.”

And more firms from outside of the region are beginning to take notice.

“I think that is happening,” said Kamath. “You might seen investment from outside the region. At the seed stage it’s harder you do need to have feet on the ground right when they’re starting and building their business. Once they’ve been vetted and had that early round of investment you will definitely see a lot of activity. We’re seeing more investment at the Series A and B from out of town. That’s the strategy.”

It all points to a burgeoning startup scene that’s based in a collaborative approach, which should be good not only for Tech Square Ventures, but the other early stage funds like Atlanta Ventures, Outlander Labs, BLH Ventures, Knoll Ventures and Overline, that working to support the city’s entrepreneurs, Kamath said.

#airwatch, #att, #atlanta, #bip-capital, #boston, #calendly, #chick-fil-a, #corporate-finance, #cox-enterprises, #delta, #entrepreneurship, #finance, #georgia, #goldman-sachs, #google, #harvard, #invesco, #investment-banker, #knoll-ventures, #mailchimp, #microsoft, #money, #private-equity, #serial-entrepreneur, #t-mobile, #tc, #tech-square-ventures, #technology, #venture-capital

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UpEquity raises $25 million in equity and debt for its cash-pay mortgage lending service

With a stated goal of aligning the mortgage industry with consumer interests, Austin-based UpEquity has raised $25 million in equity and debt funding to expand its business.

Chief executive Tim Herman started the mortgage lending company to take advantage of what he saw as inefficiencies in the $2 trillion U.S. housing market.

Existing financial services and property technology companies treat the symptom and not the cause of market inefficiencies, said Herman.

The company makes free cash offers but charges 2.5% on the loans it makes to homebuyers to give them the cash they need to make an offer before having to go through the traditional process of taking out a home loan through a bank. Then the homeowners can make payments directly to UpEquity to pay off the mortgage on the house.

“Our cash offer works like a guarantee that during the escrow period we will be able to get the mortgage in place,” Herman said.

A U.S. Naval Academy graduate and former fighter pilot, Herman saw real estate as the only avenue to true wealth creation open to him and his family given their years on the road and lack of available investment capital.

After the Navy, Herman went to Harvard Business School and met his co-founder Louis Wilson. It was in Boston while in B-School that the two men started UpEquity.

They since relocated to Austin because of its booming housing market and relatively more relaxed regulatory environment.

Ultimately, the pitch to customers is the ability to make an all-cash offer, which dramatically improves the likelihood of closing on a house. It’s a luxury that roughly 90 percent of Americans can’t afford, Herman said. There’s no downside for selling homeowners, if a purchaser doesn’t end up buying the home then UpEquity owns the house.

Of all of the 300 deals the company has done so far, only two have failed.

That’s why a company like UpEquity can raise $7.5 million in venture and $17.5 million in venture debt to start making loans.

The company’s A round was led by Next Coast Ventures and UpEquity said it would use the money to fund product development that can slash the time-to-close for the real estate agents that act as the company’s sales channel to ten days.

“Our goal is to finally align the mortgage industry with consumer interests,” said UpEquity Co-Founder and CEO Tim Herman. “This funding is validation that consumers, real estate agents and venture investors understand the power of removing friction from the homebuying process, not only for personal advancement, but to attain the American Dream.”

So far the company has expanded its operations from Texas into Colorado, Florida and California, where it has originated $100 million in mortgages in 2020.

“As real estate continues to evolve in the face of limited supply and tight competition, UpEquity is at the helm of PropTech’s growing capabilities,” said Thomas Ball, managing director at Next Coast Ventures. “Most innovation has focused on the front end, but until now, nobody has expedited what happens after the borrower submits an application. UpEquity has the team, talent and technology to not only succeed, but to disrupt and emerge as the leader in the mortgage lending marketplace.”

 

#austin, #bank, #boston, #california, #co-founder, #colorado, #economy, #finance, #financial-services, #florida, #harvard-business-school, #leader, #loans, #money, #mortgage, #navy, #next-coast-ventures, #pilot, #real-estate, #real-estate-agents, #tc, #texas, #united-states

0

Launching Panoramic Ventures, Atlanta’s BIP Capital adds a new partner and plans $300 million new VC fund

The Atlanta-based BIP Capital has a new name for its venture capital operations (Panoramic Ventures); a new partner (Paul Judge); and is launching a $300 million new fund in its bid to plant a flag as the premier venture fund among the rising startup cities across the country.

Miami may have grabbed headlines recently as a new hub for venture capital and technology startups, but like other cities across the Southeast it’s lacked venture funds of a significant size since the early days of the dot-com bubble. Panoramic wants to be the fundraising destination for entrepreneurs outside of traditional tech hubs like Boston, Silicon Valley and New York as these new tech hubs emerge.

Atlanta, which already boasts several startup companies that have achieved billion-dollar valuations including Greenlight Financial and Calendly, has an equally burgeoning startup scene and an opportunity to become the central hub for venture capital investment in a region that encompasses several other rising tech hubs in the Southeast like Birmingham, Miami, Nashville, and New Orleans.

It’s a strategy similar to the one that Drive Capital has employed to become a leading fund in the Midwest and across the U.S.

Under the new partnership, which will include famed early stage Atlanta investor, Paul Judge, BIP Capital’s venture activities will operate under the Panoramic Ventures brand.

Should the firm manage to raise the $300 million it has targeted for Panoramic’s inaugural investment vehicle it would become the largest venture fund in the Southeast.

“It’s important to have a fund at that scale,” said Mark Buffington, a co-founder of BIP Capital and Panoramic Ventures. “You see the venture activity that is increasing in the region [and] one thing that’s been missing is a really active venture fund that can scale up as companies grow.”

Panoramic intends to be active at the seed stage while having the capacity to make investments in later stage venture backed companies as well, according to the two co-founders. And the firm will also try to focus on a more diverse group of entrepreneurs, thanks to the addition of Paul Judge.

Judge, a Black serial entrepreneur and investor, was the co-founder of the Atlanta-based voice recognition tech developer Pindrop, the Wi-Fi startup Luma Home, and security tech developer Purewire.  He’s also an investor several startups across the Southeast through his own venture initiatives, including Techsquare Labs and Judge sits on the investment committee for the SoftBank Opportunity Fund, focused on Black, Hispanic and Native American founders. His portfolio includes companies like LeaseQuery, Cove.tool, OncoLens and Eventeny.

About $125 million has already been soft-circled for the new Panoramic Ventures fund, which expects to work closely with some of the other investment firms that have cropped up or established a presence in the Southeast. That includes firms like Outlander Labs, founded by the husband and wife investment team of Paige and Leura Craig, and the LA-based firm, Mucker Labs, which has an investment partner working out of Nashville.

“There’s been an absence of this type of energy and this type of heft in a venture fund in Atlanta,” said Judge. “That’s the hole that we’ve been aiming to fill.”

Panoramic will invest in Seed, Series A, and Series B funding rounds, the company said in a statement. Investment areas will focus on include business-to-business software as a service companies, healthcare software, financial technologies, digital media, cybersecurity, and frontier technologies. 

#atlanta, #bip-capital, #boston, #business-incubators, #business-software, #calendly, #co-founder, #corporate-finance, #digital-media, #drive-capital, #economy, #energy, #entrepreneurship, #finance, #judge, #louisiana, #miami, #money, #mucker-labs, #nashville, #new-orleans, #new-york, #paige, #pindrop, #private-equity, #softbank-opportunity-fund, #startup-company, #tc, #techsquare-labs, #united-states, #venture-capital, #venture-capital-investment, #voice-recognition

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Battery companies are the latest SPAC target as EVs get a huge regulatory boost

Batteries are the latest landing pad for investors.

In the past week alone, two companies have announced plans to become publicly traded companies by merging with special purpose acquisition companies. European battery manufacturer FREYR said Friday it would become a publicly traded company through a special purpose acquisition vehicle with a valuation at $1.4 billion. Houston area startup Microvast announced Monday its own SPAC, at a $3 billion valuation.

A $4.4 billion combined valuation for two companies with a little over $100 million in revenue (FREYR has yet to manufacture a battery) would seem absurd were it not for the incredible demand for batteries that’s coming.

Legacy automakers like GM and Ford have committed billions of dollars to shifting their portfolios to electric models. GM said last year it will spend $27 billion over the next five years on the development of electric vehicles and automated technology. Meanwhile, a number of newer entrants are either preparing to begin production of their electric vehicles or scaling up. Rivian, for instance, will begin delivering its electric pickup truck this summer. The company has also been tapped by Amazon to build thousands of electric vans.

The U.S. government could end up driving some of that demand.  President Biden announced last week that the U.S. government would replace the entire federal fleet of cars, trucks and SUVs with electric vehicles manufactured in the U.S. That’s 645,047 vehicles. That’s going to mean a lot of new batteries need to be made to supply GM and Ford, but also U.S.-based upstarts like Fisker, Canoo, Rivian, Proterra, Lion Electric and Tesla.

Meanwhile, some of the largest cities in the world are planning their own electrification initiatives. Shanghai is hoping to have electric vehicles represent roughly half of all new vehicle purchases by 2025 and all public buses, taxis, delivery trucks, and government vehicles will be zero-emission by the same period, according to research from the Royal Bank of Canada.

The Chinese market for electric vehicles is one of the world’s largest and one where policy is significantly ahead of the rest of the world.

A potential windfall from China’s EV market is likely one reason for the significant investment into Microvast by investors including the Oshkosh Corp., a 100 year-old industrial vehicles manufacturer; the $8.67 trillion money management firm, BlackRock; Koch Strategic Platforms; and InterPrivate, a private equity fund manager. That’s because Microvast’s previous backers include CDH Investments and CITIC Securities, two of the most well-connected private equity and financial services firms in China.

So is the company’s focus on commercial and industrial vehicles. Microvast believes that the market for commercial electric vehicles could be $30 billion in the near term. Currently, commercial EV sales represent just 1.5% of the market, but that penetration is supposed to climb to 9% by 2025, according to the company.

“In 2008, we set out to power a mobility revolution by building disruptive battery technologies that would allow electric vehicles to compete with internal combustion engine vehicles,” said Microvast chief executive Yang Wu, in a statement. “Since that time we have launched three generations of battery technologies that have provided our customers with battery performance far superior to our competitors and that successfully satisfy, over many years of operation, the stringent requirements of commercial vehicle operators.”

Roughly 30,000 vehicles are using Microvast’s batteries and the investment in Microvast includes about $822 million in cash that will finance the expansion of its manufacturing capacity to hit 9 gigawatt hours by 2022. The money should help Microvast meet its contractual obligations which account for about $1.5 billion in total value, according to the company.

If Chinese investors stand to win big in the upcoming Microvast public offering, a clutch of American investors and one giant Japanese corporation are waiting expectantly for FREYR’s public offering. Northbridge Venture Partners, CRV, and Itochu Corp. are all going to see gains from FREYR’s exit — even if they’re not backers of the European company.

Those three firms, along with the International Finance Corp. are investors in 24m, the Boston-based startup licensing its technology to FREYR to make its batteries.

FREYR’s public offering will also be another win for Yet-Ming Chiang, a serial entrepreneur and professor who has a long and storied history of developing innovations in the battery and materials science industry.

The MIT professor has been working on sustainable technologies for the last two decades, first at the now-defunct battery startup A123 Systems and then with a slew of startups like the 3D printing company Desktop Metal; lithium-ion battery technology developer, 24m; the energy storage system designer, Form Energy; and Baseload Renewables, another early-stage energy storage startup.

Desktop Metal went public last year after it was acquired by a Special Purpose Acquisition Company, and now 24m is getting a potential boost from a big cash infusion into one of its European manufacturing partners, FREYR.

The Norwegian company, which has plans to build five modular battery manufacturing facilities around a site in its home country intends to develop up to 43 gigawatt hours of clean batteries over the next four years.

For FREYR chief executive Tom Jensen there were two main draws for the 24m technology. “It’s the production process itself,” said Jensen. “What they basically do is they mix the electrolyte with the active material, which allows them to make thicker electrodes and reduce the inactive materials in the battery. Beyond that, when you actually do that you remove the need fo a number of traditional production steps… Compared to conventional lithium battery production it reduces production from 15 steps to 5 steps.”

Those process efficiencies combined with the higher volumes of energy bearing material in the cell leads to a fundamental disruption in the battery production process.

Jensen said the company would need $2.5 billion to fully realize its plans, but that the float should get FREYR there. The company is merging with Alussa Energy Acquisition Corp. in a SPAC backed by investors including Koch Strategic Platforms, Glencore, Fidelity Management & Research Company LLC, Franklin Templeton, Sylebra Capital and Van Eck Associates.

All of these investments are necessary if the world is to meet targets for vehicle electrification on the timelines that have been established.

As the Royal Bank of Canada noted in a December report on the electric vehicle industry. “We estimate that globally, battery electric vehicles (BEVs) will represent ~3% of 2020 global demand, while plug-in hybrid-electric vehicles (PHEVs) will represent another ~1.3%,” according to RBC’s figures. “But we see robust growth off these low figures. By 2025, when growth is still primarily regulatory driven, we see ~11% BEV global penetration of new demand representing a ~40% CAGR from 2020’s levels and ~5% PHEV penetration representing a ~35% CAGR. By 2025, we see BEV penetration in Western Europe at ~20%, China at ~17.5%, and the US at 7%. Comparatively, we expect internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles to grow (cyclically) at a 2% CAGR through 2025. On a pure unit basis, we see “peak ICE” in 2024.”

#3d-printing, #amazon, #automotive-industry, #biden, #blackrock, #boston, #cdh-investments, #china, #crv, #desktop-metal, #electric-vehicle, #electric-vehicles, #energy, #energy-storage, #ford, #franklin-templeton, #gm, #houston, #itochu-corp, #lithium-ion-battery, #mit, #northbridge-venture-partners, #plug-in-hybrid, #president, #proterra, #rivian, #royal-bank-of-canada, #shanghai, #sylebra-capital, #tc, #tesla, #u-s-government, #united-states

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AWS updates its edge computing solutions with new hardware and Local Zones

AWS today closed out its first re:Invent keynote with a focus on edge computing. The company launched two smaller appliances for its Outpost service, which originally brought AWS as a managed service and appliance right into its customers’ existing data centers in the form of a large rack. Now, the company is launching these smaller versions so that its users can also deploy them in their stores or office locations. These appliances are fully managed by AWS and offer 64 cores of compute, 128GB of memory and 4TB of local NVMe storage.

In addition, the company expanded its set of Local Zones, which are basically small extensions of existing AWS regions that are more expensive to use but offer low-latency access in metro areas. This service launched in Los Angeles in 2019 and starting today, it’s also available in preview in Boston, Houston and Miami. Soon, it’ll expand to Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, New York, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Portland and Seattle. Google, it’s worth noting, is doing something similar with its Mobile Edge Cloud.

The general idea here — and that’s not dissimilar from what Google, Microsoft and others are now doing — is to bring AWS to the edge and to do so in a variety of form factors.

As AWS CEO Andy Jassy rightly noted, AWS always believed that the vast majority of companies, “in the fullness of time” (Jassy’s favorite phrase from this keynote), would move to the cloud. Because of this, AWS focused on cloud services over hybrid capabilities early on. He argues that AWS watched others try and fail in building their hybrid offerings, in large parts because what customers really wanted was to use the same control plane on all edge nodes and in the cloud. None of the existing solutions from other vendors, Jassy argues, got any traction (though AWSs competitors would surely deny this) because of this.

The first result of that was VMware Cloud on AWS, which allowed customers to use the same VMware software and tools on AWS they were already familiar with. But at the end of the day, that was really about moving on-premises services to the cloud.

With Outpost, AWS launched a fully managed edge solution that can run AWS infrastructure in its customers’ data centers. It’s been an interesting journey for AWS, but the fact that the company closed out its keynote with this focus on hybrid — no matter how it wants to define it — shows that it now understands that there is clearly a need for this kind of service. The AWS way is to extend AWS into the edge — and I think most of its competitors will agree with that. Microsoft tried this early on with Azure Stack and really didn’t get a lot of traction, as far as I’m aware, but it has since retooled its efforts around Azure Arc. Google, meanwhile, is betting big on Anthos.

#amazon-web-services, #atlanta, #aws-reinvent-2020, #boston, #chicago, #cloud, #cloud-applications, #cloud-computing, #cloud-infrastructure, #cloud-services, #computing, #dallas, #denver, #developer, #enterprise, #google, #houston, #kansas-city, #las-vegas, #los-angeles, #miami, #microsoft, #minneapolis, #mobile-edge, #new-york, #philadelphia, #phoenix, #portland, #seattle, #tc, #vmware, #web-hosting, #web-services

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Google Pay gets a major redesign with a new emphasis on personal finance

Google is launching a major redesign of its Google Pay app on both Android and iOS today. Like similar phone-based contactless payment services, Google Pay — or Android Pay as it was known then — started out as a basic replacement for your credit card. Over time, the company added a few more features on top of that but the overall focus never really changed. After about five years in the market, Google Pay now has about 150 million users in 30 countries. With today’s update and redesign, Google is keeping all the core features intact but also taking the service in a new direction with a strong emphasis on helping you manage your personal finances (and maybe get a deal here and there as well).

Google is also partnering with 11 banks to launch a new kind of bank account in 2021. Called Plex, these mobile-first bank accounts will have no monthly fees, overdraft charges or minimum balances. The banks will own the accounts but the Google Pay app will be the main conduit for managing these accounts. The launch partners for this are Citi and Stanford Federal Credit Union.

Image Credits: Google

“What we’re doing in this new Google Pay app, think of it is combining three things into one,” Google director of product management Josh Woodward said as he walked me through a demo of the new app. “The three things are three tabs in the app. One is the ability to pay friends and businesses really fast. The second is to explore offers and rewards, so you can save money at shops. And the third is getting insights about your spending so you can stay on top of your money.”

Paying friends and businesses was obviously always at the core of Google Pay — but the emphasis here has shifted a bit. “You’ll notice that everything in the product is built around your relationships,” Caesar Sengupta, Google’s lead for Payments and Next Billion Users, told me. “It’s not about long lists of transactions or weird numbers. All your engagements pivot around people, groups, and businesses.”

It’s maybe no surprise then that the feature that’s now front and center in the app is P2P payments. You can also still pay and request money through the app as usual, but as part of this overhaul, Google is now making it easier to split restaurant bills with friends, for example, or your rent and utilities with your roommates — and to see who already paid and who is still delinquent. Woodward tells me that Google built this feature after its user research showed that splitting bills remains a major pain point for its users.

In this same view, you can also find a list of companies you have recently transacted with — either by using the Google Pay tap-and-pay feature or because you’ve linked your credit card or bank account with the service. From there, you can see all of your recent transactions with those companies.

Image Credits: Google

Maybe the most important new feature Google is enabling with this update is indeed the ability to connect your bank accounts and credit cards to Google Pay so that it can pull in information about your spending. It’s basically Mint-light inside the Google Pay app. This is what enables the company to offer a lot of the other new features in the app. Google says it is working with “a few different aggregators” to enable this feature, though it didn’t go into details about who its partners are. It’s worth stressing that this, like all of the new features here, is off by default and opt-in.

Image Credits: Google

The basic idea here is similar to that of other personal finance aggregators. At its most basic, it lets you see how much money you spent and how much you still have. But Google is also using its smarts to show you some interesting insights into your spending habits. On Monday, it’ll show you how much you spent on the weekend, for example.

“Think of these almost as like stories in a way,” Woodward said. “You can swipe through them so you can see your large transactions. You can see how much you spent this week compared to a typical week. You can look at how much money you’ve sent to friends and which friends and where you’ve spent money in the month of November, for example.”

This also then enables you to easily search for a given transaction using Google’s search capabilities. Since this is Google, that search should work pretty well and in a demo, the team showed me how a search for ‘Turkish’ brought up a transaction at a kebab restaurant, for example, even though it didn’t have ‘Turkish’ in its name. If you regularly take photos of your receipts, you can also now search through these from Google Pay and drill down to specific things you bought — as well as receipts and bills you receive in your Gmail inbox.

Also new inside of Google Pay is the ability to see and virtually clip coupons that are then linked to your credit card, so you don’t need to do anything else beyond using that linked credit card to get extra cashback on a given transaction, for example. If you opt in, these offers can also be personalized.

Image Credits: Google

The team also worked with the Google Lens team to now let you scan products and QR codes to look for potential discounts.

As for the core payments function, Google is also enabling a new capability that will let you use contactless payments at 30,000 gas stations now (often with a discount). The partners for this are Shell, ExxonMobil, Phillips 66, 76 and Conoco.

In addition, you’ll also soon be able to pay for parking in over 400 cities inside the app. Not every city is Portland, after all, and has a Parking Kitty. The first cities to get this feature are Austin, Boston, Minneapolis, and Washington, D.C., with others to follow soon.

It’s one thing to let Google handle your credit card transaction but it’s another to give it all of this — often highly personal — data. As the team emphasized throughout my conversation with them, Google Pay will not sell your data to third parties or even the rest of Google for ad targeting, for example. All of the personalized features are also off by default and the team is doing something new here by letting you turn them on for a three-month trial period. After those three months, you can then decide to keep them on or off.

In the end, whether you want to use the optional features and have Google store all of this data is probably a personal choice and not everybody will be comfortable with it. The rest of the core Google Pay features aren’t changing, after all, so you can still make your NFC payments at the supermarket with your phone just like before.

#android, #apps, #artificial-intelligence, #austin, #bank, #boston, #citi, #computing, #exxonmobil, #google, #google-pay, #minneapolis, #mobile-payments, #online-payments, #p2p, #portland, #product-management, #shell, #tc, #up, #washington, #washington-d-c

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NextView Ventures closes its fourth fund with $89 million

NextView Ventures, a Boston-based venture capital fund, has raised an $89.6 million fund, according to SEC filings. The firm’s fourth fund, its largest to date, is oversubscribed, with early documents indicating a $70 million goal. The NextView Ventures team did not immediately respond to request for comment.

NextView Ventures was launched in 2010 by Rob Go, a former partner at Spark Capital; Dave Beisel, who clocked time at Venrock and Masthead Venture Partners; and Lee Hower, a former investor at Point Judith Capital. Melody Koh joined as a partner three years ago, and most recently, the fund brought on former journalist Leah Fessler as an investor.

The fund, which has offices in New York as well as Boston, invests in consumer and software-as-a-service enterprise startups at the pre-seed and seed stage. Its portfolio includes Ellevest, an investing platform for women; Grove Collaborative, a sustainable goods subscription platform; and ThredUp, which has confidentially filed for IPO. In April, NextView launched a virtual accelerator for startups to build a more robust pipeline for deal flow. The firm invested $200,000 for an 8% equity stake in a number of pre-seed and seed startups focused on “the everyday economy.

More Boston coverage

A hot Boston VC Summer

13 Boston investors reflect on COVID-19

Local accelerators provide a boon to area startups

Despite the pandemic, Boston’s startup scene has continued to attract record numbers in venture capital volume. In fact, according to PitchBook data, Boston-area startups raised more private capital during summer 2020 than they did in summer 2019, suggesting that the pandemic has been a boon to startups in aggregate.

More recently, my colleague Alex Wilhelm and I wrote about how the Boston area is growing its demographic footprint in venture capital. In Q3 2019, New England drove 9.3% of U.S. venture deals, and 10.3% of U.S. venture dollars. In Q3 2020, those numbers were 9.3% of U.S. venture deals, and 12.7% of U.S. venture dollars. The percentage change is notable, especially amid volatile times.

NextView’s new fund is yet another signal of the city’s ability to attract institutional investment. Its previous fund was raised in 2017 at a $50 million close.

#boston, #nextview-ventures, #rob-go, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital

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Deep tech VC fund The Engine raises $230M for its second fund from MIT and new backer Harvard

Deep tech. Hard tech. Or, as The Engine dubs it, Tough Tech.

Venture investing today is essentially identical to what happens on Wall Street, focused on data rooms, spreadsheets, SaaS churn models and cohort analysis. Yet, the history of venture capital firms is heavily interwoven with universities and their research. Some of the most famous VC funds like Kleiner Perkins got their start funding compelling research projects out of laboratories and financing their commercialization toward scale.

Technical risk is something many VCs like to avoid, but The Engine has built an entire brand and thesis around it. Centered around Kendall Square and the broader MIT ecosystem, The Engine debuted a couple of years ago with a focus on “tough tech” problems that are perhaps a touch too early for other VCs. That’s led to investments in companies like Boston Metal, which builds environmentally-friendly steel alloys, WoHo, which is rethinking modular building construction that we profiled last week, and Commonwealth Fusion Systems, which is developing fusion power.

Indeed, the firm’s portfolio page has to be one of the most interesting in the industry today.

The good news is that the firm’s ambitious funding strategy looks set to continue. It announced this morning that it has raised $230 million toward the firm’s second fund, which on top of the firm’s first fund brings it to a total of $435 million under management. In a press statement, the firm said that it has funded 27 portfolio companies out of its first fund. While MIT continues to be the anchor LP, Harvard joined for Fund 2, creating a cross-Cambridge, MA venture platform.

Katie Rae remains CEO and managing partner of the fund, and her team has expanded over the past few years as the firm has scaled up.

The Engine’s Reed Sturtevant, Katie Rae, and Ann DeWitt prepare for the Tough Tech Summit today. Photo via The Engine.

One interesting point that we haven’t noted previously is that MIT is building The Engine a 200,000 square foot building near its campus that will offer massive space for startups and portfolio companies to start and grow over time. That building is expected to open in 2022, hopefully when this whole pandemic situation allows for in-office collaboration again.

Boston has become something of a hub for deeper technical projects. Local startup Desktop Metal, which builds 3D printers that can print metal, is going through a SPAC process that values the company at roughly $2.5 billion. With this latest news from The Engine, it seems clear that Boston’s tough tech ecosystem will continue to have a pipeline of interesting and compelling companies.

#boston, #greentech, #hardware, #harvard, #katie-rae, #mit, #the-engine, #venture-capital

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Boston startups expand region’s venture capital footprint

This year has shaken up venture capital, turning a hot early start to 2020 into a glacial period permeated with fear during the early days of COVID-19. That ice quickly melted as venture capitalists discovered that demand for software and other services that startups provide was accelerating, pushing many young tech companies back into growth mode, and investors back into the check-writing arena.

Boston has been an exemplar of the trend, with early pandemic caution dissolving into rapid-fire dealmaking as summer rolled into fall.

We collated new data that underscores the trend, showing that Boston’s third quarter looks very solid compared to its peer groups, and leads greater New England’s share of American venture capital higher during the three-month period.

For our October look at Boston and its startup scene, let’s get into the data and then understand how a new cohort of founders is cropping up among the city’s educational network.

A strong Q3, a strong 2020

Boston’s third quarter was strong, effectively matching the capital raised in New York City during the three-month period. As we head into the fourth quarter, it appears that the silver medal in American startup ecosystems is up for grabs based on what happens in Q4.

Boston could start 2021 as the number-two place to raise venture capital in the country. Or New York City could pip it at the finish line. Let’s check the numbers.

According to PitchBook data shared with TechCrunch, the metro Boston area raised $4.34 billion in venture capital during the third quarter. New York City and its metro area managed $4.45 billion during the same time period, an effective tie. Los Angeles and its own metro area managed just $3.90 billion.

In 2020 the numbers tilt in Boston’s favor, with the city and surrounding area collecting $12.83 billion in venture capital. New York City came in second through Q3, with $12.30 billion in venture capital. Los Angeles was a distant third at $8.66 billion for the year through Q3.

#aerospace, #boston, #entrepreneurship, #flagship-pioneering, #fundings-exits, #harvard, #private-equity, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital

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Combining machine learning tools for medical imaging with genetic sequencing nets Sophia Genetics $110M

SOPHiA GENETICS, the shoutily and poorly capitalized named startup that’s combining machine learning tools for medical imaging and genetic sequencing to come up with a more holistic view of diseases for better patient care, has raised $110 million in new funding.

The Series F round for the company was led by aMoon an Israeli healthcare and life sciences investment fund, and HItachi Ventures, the investment arm of the Hitachi Group.

Financial services firms like Credit Suisse and the PIctet Group, along with previous investors including Swisscom Ventures, Endeavour Vision, Generation Investment Management, and Eurazeo Growth also participated in the financing.

The company’s technology uses multiple sources of medical data to come up with potentially novel insights about how diseases spread in the body and offer better ways to coordinate care among different . The Boston and Lausanne, Switzerland-based company’s tech is currently used by over 1,000 healthcare institutions and has analyzed 600,000 genomic profiles, according to a statement.

The goal, the company said, is better patient care.

According to a statement, the new funding will be used to expand the company’s footprint in the US and Asian markets.

It also appears that the company may be gearing up for a public offering. It’s added Didier Hirsch, the former chief financial officer of Agilent, to its board of directors and has created an audit committee (usually a stepping stone on the way to a dive into public market waters).

“We believe that SOPHIA’s decentralized model will play a pivotal role in empowering health organizations to offer better patient care,” said Dr. Tomer Berkovitz, Partner & CFO of aMoon, in a statement.

#amoon, #boston, #business, #cfo, #chief-financial-officer, #companies, #credit-suisse, #endeavour-vision, #eurazeo, #eurazeo-growth, #generation-investment-management, #healthcare, #hitachi, #industries, #machine-learning, #medical-imaging, #sophia, #swisscom-ventures, #switzerland, #tc, #united-states

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SaaS Ventures takes the investment road less traveled

Most venture capital firms are based in hubs like Silicon Valley, New York City and Boston. These firms nurture those ecosystems and they’ve done well, but SaaS Ventures decided to go a different route: it went to cities like Chicago, Green Bay, Wisconsin and Lincoln, Nebraska.

The firm looks for enterprise-focused entrepreneurs who are trying to solve a different set of problems than you might find in these other centers of capital, issues that require digital solutions but might fall outside a typical computer science graduate’s experience.

Saas Ventures looks at four main investment areas: trucking and logistics, manufacturing, e-commerce enablement for industries that have not typically gone online and cybersecurity, the latter being the most mainstream of the areas SaaS Ventures covers.

The company’s first fund, which launched in 2017, was worth $20 million, but SaaS Ventures launched a second fund of equal amount earlier this month. It tends to stick to small-dollar-amount investments, while partnering with larger firms when it contributes funds to a deal.

We talked to Collin Gutman, founder and managing partner at SaaS Ventures, to learn about his investment philosophy, and why he decided to take the road less traveled for his investment thesis.

A different investment approach

Gutman’s journey to find enterprise startups in out of the way places began in 2012 when he worked at an early enterprise startup accelerator called Acceleprise. “We were really the first ones who said enterprise tech companies are wired differently, and need a different set of early-stage resources,” Gutman told TechCrunch.

Through that experience, he decided to launch SaaS Ventures in 2017, with several key ideas underpinning the firm’s investment thesis: after his experience at Acceleprise, he decided to concentrate on the enterprise from a slightly different angle than most early-stage VC establishments.

Collin Gutman from SaaS Ventures

Collin Gutman, founder and managing partner at SaaS Ventures (Image Credits: SaaS Ventures)

The second part of his thesis was to concentrate on secondary markets, which meant looking beyond the popular startup ecosystem centers and investing in areas that didn’t typically get much attention. To date, SaaS Ventures has made investments in 23 states and Toronto, seeking startups that others might have overlooked.

“We have really phenomenal coverage in terms of not just geography, but in terms of what’s happening with the underlying businesses, as well as their customers,” Gutman said. He believes that broad second-tier market data gives his firm an upper hand when selecting startups to invest in. More on that later.

#boston, #chicago, #collin-gutman, #enterprise, #entrepreneurship, #healthcare-tech, #saas, #saas-ventures, #seed-investing, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital

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