Billogram, provider of a payments platform specifically for recurring billing, raises $45M

Payments made a huge shift to digital platforms during the Covid-19 pandemic — purchasing moved online for many consumers and businesses; and a large proportion of those continuing to buy and sell in-person went cash-free. Today a startup that has been focusing on one specific aspect of payments — recurring billing — is announcing a round of funding to capitalize on that growth with expansion of its own. Billogram, which has built a platform for third parties to build and handle any kind of recurring payments (not one-off purchases), has closed a round of $45 million.

The funding is coming from a single investor, Partech, and will be used to help the Stockholm-based startup expand from its current base in Sweden to six more markets, Jonas Suijkerbuijk, Billogram’s CEO and founder, said in an interview, to cover more of Germany (where it’s already active now), Norway, Finland, Ireland, France, Spain, and Italy.

The company got its start working with SMBs in 2011 but pivoted some years later to working with larger enterprises, which make up the majority of its business today. Suijkerbuijk said that in 2020, signed deals went up by 300%, and the first half of 2021 grew 50% more on top of that. Its users include utilities like Skanska Energi and broadband company Ownit, and others like remote healthcare company Kry, businesses that take invoice and take monthly payments from their customers.

While there has been a lot of attention around how companies like Apple and Google are handling subscriptions and payments in apps, what Billogram focuses on is a different beast, and much more complex: it’s more integrated into the business providing services, and it may involve different services, and the fees can vary over every billing period. It’s for this reason that, in fact, even big companies in the realm of digital payments, like Stripe, which might even already have products that can help manage subscriptions on their platforms, partner with companies like Billogram to build the experiences to manage their more involved kinds of payment services.

I should point out here that Suijkerbuijk told me that Stripe recently became a partner of Billograms, which is very interesting… but he also added that a number of the big payments companies have talked to Billogram. He also confirmed that currently Stripe is not an investor in the company. “We have a very good relationship,” he said.

It’s not surprising to see Stripe and others wanting to more in the area of more complex, recurring billing services. Researchers estimate that the market size (revenues and services) for subscription and recurring billing will be close to $6 billion this year, with that number ballooning to well over $10 billion by 2025. And indeed, the effort to make a payment or any kind of transaction will continue to be a point of friction in the world of commerce, so any kinds of systems that bring technology to bear to make that easier and something that consumers or businesses will do without thinking about it, will be valuable, and will likely grow in dominance. (It’s why the more basic subscription services, such as Prime membership or a Netflix subscription, or a cloud storage account, are such winners.)

Within that very big pie, Suijkerbuijk noted that rather than the Apples and Googles of the world, the kinds of businesses that Billogram currently competes against are those that are addressing the same thornier end of the payments spectrum that Billogram is. These include a wide swathe of incumbent companies that do a lot of their business in areas like debt collection, and other specialists like Scaleworks-backed Chargify — which itself got a big investment injection earlier this year from Battery Ventures, which put $150 million into both it and another billing provider, SaaSOptics, in April.

The former group of competitors are not currently a threat to Billogram, he added.

“Debt collecting agencies are big on invoicing, but no one — not their customers, nor their customers’ customers — loves them, so they are great competitors to have,” Suijkerbuijk joked.

This also means that Billogram is not likely to move into debt collection itself as it continues to expand. Instead, he said, the focus will be on building out more tools to make the invoicing and payments experience better and less painful to customers. That will likely include more moves into customer service and generally improving the overall billing experience — something we have seen become a bigger area also during the pandemic, as companies realized that they needed to address non-payments in a different way from how their used to, given world events and the impact they were having on individuals.

“We are excited to partner with Jonas and the team at Billogram.” says Omri Benayoun, General Partner at Partech, in a statement. “Having spotted a gap in the market, they have quietly built the most advanced platform for large B2C enterprises looking to integrate billing, payment, and collection in one single solution. In our discussion with leading utilities, telecom, e-health, and all other clients across Europe, we realized how valuable Billogram was for them in order to engage with their end-users through a top-notch billing and payment experience. The outstanding commercial traction demonstrated by Billogram has further cemented our conviction, and we can’t wait to support the team in bringing their solution to many more customers in Europe and beyond!”

#apple, #battery-ventures, #billing, #billogram, #broadband, #business-software, #ceo, #e-health, #economy, #europe, #finance, #financial-technology, #finland, #france, #funding, #general-partner, #germany, #google, #ireland, #italy, #kry, #merchant-services, #money, #netflix, #norway, #online-payments, #partner, #spain, #stockholm, #stripe, #sweden, #web-applications

UIPath CEO Daniel Dines is coming to TC Sessions: SaaS to talk RPA and automation

UIPath came seemingly out of nowhere in the last several years, going public last year in a successful IPO during which it raised over $527 million. It raised $2 billion in private money prior to that with its final private valuation coming in at an amazing $35 billion. UIPath CEO Daniel Dines will be joining us on a panel on automation at TC Sessions: Saas on October 27th.

The company has been able capture all this investor attention doing something called Robotic Process Automation, which provides a way to automate a series of highly mundane tasks. It has become quite popular, especially to help bring a level of automation to legacy systems that might not be able to handle more modern approaches to automation involving artificial intelligence and machine learning. In 2019 Gartner found that RPA was the fastest growing category in enterprise software.

In point of fact,  UIPath didn’t actually come out of nowhere. It was founded in 2005 as a consulting company and transitioned to software over the years. The company took its first VC funding, a modest $1.5 million seed round in 2015, according to Crunchbase data.

As RPA found its market, the startup began to take off, raising gobs of money including a $568 million round in April 2019 and $750 million in its final private raise in February 2021.

Dines will be appearing on a panel discussing the role of automation in the enterprise. Certainly, the pandemic drove home the need for increased automation as masses of office workers moved to work from home, a trend that is likely to continue even after the pandemic slows.

As the RPA market leader, he is uniquely positioned to discuss how this software and other similar types will evolve in the coming years and how it could combine with related trends like no-code and process mapping. Dines will be joined on the panel by investor Laela Sturdy from Capital G and ServiceNow’s Dave Wright where they will discuss the state of the automation market, why it’s so hot and where the next opportunities could be.

In addition to our discussion with Dines, the conference will also include Databricks’ Ali Ghodsi, Salesforce’s Kathy Baxter and Puppet’s Abby Kearns, as well as investors Casey Aylward and Sarah Guo, among others. We hope you’ll join us. It’s going to be a stimulating day.

Buy your pass now to save up to $100. We can’t wait to see you in October!

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at TC Sessions: SaaS 2021? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

#abby-kearns, #ali-ghodsi, #articles, #artificial-intelligence, #automation, #business-process-automation, #business-process-management, #business-software, #casey-aylward, #ceo, #daniel-dines, #databricks, #dave-wright, #enterprise, #kathy-baxter, #laela-sturdy, #machine-learning, #robotic-process-automation, #rpa, #salesforce, #sarah-guo, #servicenow, #software, #tc, #tc-sessions-saas-2021, #technology, #uipath

Insight Partners leads $30M round into Metabase, developing enterprise business intelligence tools

Open-source business intelligence company Metabase announced Thursday a $30 million Series B round led by Insight Partners.

Existing investors Expa and NEA joined in on the round, which gives the San Francisco-based company a total of $42.5 million in funding since it was founded in 2015. Metabase previously raised $8 million in Series A funding back in 2019, led by NEA.

Metabase was developed within venture studio Expa and spun out as an easy way for people to interact with data sets, co-founder and CEO Sameer Al-Sakran told TechCrunch.

“When someone wants access to data, they may not know what to measure or how to use it, all they know is they have the data,” Al-Sakran said. “We provide a self-service access layer where they can ask a question, Metabase scans the data and they can use the results to build models, create a dashboard and even slice the data in ways they choose without having an analyst build out the database.”

He notes that not much has changed in the business intelligence realm since Tableau came out more than 15 years ago, and that computers can do more for the end user, particularly to understand what the user is going to do. Increasingly, open source is the way software and information wants to be consumed, especially for the person that just wants to pull the data themselves, he added.

George Mathew, managing director of Insight Partners, believes we are seeing the third generation of business intelligence tools emerging following centralized enterprise architectures like SAP, then self-service tools like Tableau and Looker and now companies like Metabase that can get users to discovery and insights quickly.

“The third generation is here and they are leading the charge to insights and value,” Mathew added. “In addition, the world has moved to the cloud, and BI tools need to move there, too. This generation of open source is a better and greater example of all three of those.”

To date, Metabase has been downloaded 98 million times and used by more than 30,000 companies across 200 countries. The company pursued another round of funding after building out a commercial offering, Metabase Enterprise, that is doing well, Al-Sakran said.

The new funding round enables the company to build out a sales team and continue with product development on both Metabase Enterprise and Metabase Cloud. Due to Metabase often being someone’s first business intelligence tool, he is also doubling down on resources to help educate customers on how to ask questions and learn from their data.

“Open source has changed from floppy disks to projects on the cloud, and we think end users have the right to see what they are running,” Al-Sakran said. “We are continuing to create new features and improve performance and overall experience in efforts to create the BI system of the future.

 

#artificial-intelligence, #business-intelligence, #business-software, #cloud, #cloud-computing, #cloud-infrastructure, #data-management, #enterprise, #expa, #funding, #george-mathew, #insight-partners, #metabase, #nea, #recent-funding, #sameer-al-sakran, #startups, #tc

Build a digital ops toolbox to streamline business processes with hyperautomation

Reliance on a single technology as a lifeline is a futile battle now. When simple automation no longer does the trick, delivering end-to-end automation needs a combination of complementary technologies that can give a facelift to business processes: the digital operations toolbox.

According to a McKinsey survey, enterprises that have likely been successful with digital transformation efforts adopted sophisticated technologies such as artificial intelligence, Internet of Things or machine learning. Enterprises can achieve hyperautomation with the digital ops toolbox, the hub for your digital operations.

The hyperautomation market is burgeoning: Analysts predict that by 2025, it will reach around $860 billion.

The toolbox is a synchronous medley of intelligent business process management (iBPM), robotic process automation (RPA), process mining, low code, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and a rules engine. The technologies can be optimally combined to achieve the organization’s key performance indicator (KPI) through hyperautomation.

The hyperautomation market is burgeoning: Analysts predict that by 2025, it will reach around $860 billion. Let’s see why.

The purpose of a digital ops toolbox

The toolbox, the treasure chest of technologies it is, helps with three crucial aspects: process automation, orchestration and intelligence.

Process automation: A hyperautomation mindset introduces the world of “automating anything that can be,” whether that’s a process or a task. If something can be handled by bots or other technologies, it should be.

Orchestration: Hyperautomation, per se, adds an orchestration layer to simple automation. Technologies like intelligent business process management orchestrate the entire process.

Intelligence: Machines can automate repetitive tasks, but they lack the decision-making capabilities of humans. And, to achieve a perfect harmony where machines are made to “think and act,” or attain cognitive skills, we need AI. Combining AI, ML and natural language processing algorithms with analytics propels simple automation to become more cognitive. Instead of just following if-then rules, the technologies help gather insights from the data. The decision-making capabilities enable bots to make decisions.

 

Simple automation versus hyperautomation

Here’s a story of evolving from simple automation to hyperautomation with an example: an order-to-cash process.

#artificial-intelligence, #business-process-management, #business-software, #column, #data-mining, #ec-cloud-and-enterprise-infrastructure, #ec-column, #ec-enterprise-applications, #enterprise, #machine-learning, #minimum-viable-product, #process-mining, #robotic-process-automation, #software-development, #tc

The Accellion data breach continues to get messier

Morgan Stanley has joined the growing list of Accellion hack victims — more than six months after attackers first breached the vendor’s 20-year-old file-sharing product. 

The investment banking firm — which is no stranger to data breaches — confirmed in a letter this week that attackers stole personal information belonging to its customers by hacking into the Accellion FTA server of its third-party vendor, Guidehouse. In a letter sent to those affected, first reported by Bleeping Computer, Morgan Stanley admitted that threat actors stole an unknown number of documents containing customers’ addresses and Social Security numbers.

The documents were encrypted, but the letter said that the hackers also obtained the decryption key, though Morgan Stanley said the files did not contain passwords that could be used to access customers’ financial accounts.

“The protection of client data is of the utmost importance and is something we take very seriously,” a Morgan Stanley spokesperson told TechCrunch. “We are in close contact with Guidehouse and are taking steps to mitigate potential risks to clients.”

Just days before news of the Morgan Stanley data breach came to light, an Arkansas-based healthcare provider confirmed it had also suffered a data breach as a result of the Accellion attack. Just weeks before that, so did UC Berkely. While data breaches tend to grow past initially reported figures, the fact that organizations are still coming out as Accellion victims more than six months later shows that the business software provider still hasn’t managed to get a handle on it. 

The cyberattack was first uncovered on December 23, and Accellion initially claimed the FTA vulnerability was patched within 72 hours before it was later forced to explain that new vulnerabilities were discovered. Accellion’s next (and final) update came in March, when the company claimed that all known FTA vulnerabilities — which authorities say were exploited by the FIN11 and the Clop ransomware gang — have been remediated.

But incident responders said Accellion’s response to the incident wasn’t as smooth as the company let on, claiming the company was slow to raise the alarm in regards to the potential danger to FTA customers.

The Reserve Bank of New Zealand, for example, raised concerns about the timeliness of alerts it received from Accellion. In a statement, the bank said it was reliant on Accellion to alert it to any vulnerabilities in the system — but never received any warnings in December or January.

“In this instance, their notifications to us did not leave their system and hence did not reach the Reserve Bank in advance of the breach. We received no advance warning,” said RBNZ governor Adrian Orr.

This, according to a discovery made by KPMG International, was due to the fact that the email tool used by Accellion failed to work: “Software updates to address the issue were released by the vendor in December 2020 soon after it discovered the vulnerability. The email tool used by the vendor, however, failed to send the email notifications and consequently the Bank was not notified until 6 January 2021,” the KPMG’s assessment said. 

“We have not sighted evidence that the vendor informed the Bank that the System vulnerability was being actively exploited at other customers. This information, if provided in a timely manner is highly likely to have significantly influenced key decisions that were being made by the Bank at the time.”

In March, back when it was releasing updates about the ongoing breach, Accellion was keen to emphasize that it was planning to retire the 20-year-old FTA product in April and that it had been working for three years to transition clients onto its new platform, Kiteworks. A press release from the company in May says 75% of Accellion customers have already migrated to Kiteworks, a figure that also highlights the fact that 25% are still clinging to its now-retired FTA product. 

This, along with Accellion now taking a more hands-off approach to the incident, means that the list of victims could keep growing. It’s currently unclear how many the attack has claimed so far, though recent tallies put the list at around 300. This list includes Qualys, Bombardier, Shell, Singtel, the University of Colorado, the University of California, Transport for New South Wales, Office of the Washington State Auditor, grocery giant Kroger and law firm Jones Day.

“When a patch is issued for software that has been actively exploited, simply patching the software and moving on isn’t the best path,” Tim Mackey, principal security strategist at the Synopsys Cybersecurity Research Center, told TechCrunch. “Since the goal of patch management is protecting systems from compromise, patch management strategies should include reviews for indications of previous compromise.”

Accellion declined to comment.

#accellion, #arkansas, #bank, #business-software, #california, #colorado, #computer-security, #computing, #data-breach, #governor, #healthcare, #information-technology, #investment-banking, #kroger, #law, #morgan-stanley, #qualys, #security, #security-breaches, #singtel, #spokesperson, #synopsys, #transport, #university-of-california

SpotOn raises $125M in a16z-led Series D, triples valuation to $1.875B

Certain industries were hit harder by the COVID-19 pandemic than others, especially in its early days.

Small businesses, including retailers and restaurants, were negatively impacted by lockdowns and the resulting closures. They had to adapt quickly to survive. If they didn’t use much technology before, they were suddenly being forced to, as so many things shifted to digital last year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. For companies like SpotOn, it was a pivotal moment. 

The startup, which provides software and payments for restaurants and SMBs, had to step up to help the businesses it serves. Not only for their sake, but its own.

“We really took a hard look at what was happening to our clients. And we realized we needed to pivot, just to be able to support them,” co-CEO and co-founder Matt Hyman recalls. “We had to make a decision because our revenues also were taking a big hit, just like our clients were. Rather than lay off staff or require salary deductions, we stayed true to our core values and just kept plugging away.”

All that “plugging away” has paid off. Today, SpotOn announced it has achieved unicorn status with a $125 million Series D funding round led by Andreessen Horowitz (a16z).

Existing backers DST Global, 01 Advisors, Dragoneer Investment Group and Franklin Templeton also participated in the financing, in addition to new investor Mubadala Investment Company. 

Notably, the round triples the company’s valuation to $1.875 billion compared to its $625 million valuation at the time of its Series C raise last September. It also marks San Francisco-based SpotOn’s third funding event since March 2020, and brings the startup’s total funding to $328 million since its 2017 inception.

Its efforts have also led to impressive growth for the company, which has seen its revenue triple since February 2020, according to Hyman.

Put simply, SpotOn is taking on the likes of Square in the payments space. But the company says its offering extends beyond traditional payment processing and point-of-sale (POS) software. Its platform aims to give SMBs the ability to run their businesses “from building a brand to taking payments and everything in-between.” SpotOn’s goal is to be a “one-stop shop” by incorporating tools that include things such as custom website development, scheduling software, marketing, appointment scheduling, review management, analytics and digital loyalty.

When the pandemic hit, SpotOn ramped up and rolled out 400 “new product innovations,” Hyman said. It also did things like waive $1.5 million in fees (it’s a SaaS business, so for several months it waived its monthly fee, for example, for its integrated restaurant management system). It also acquired a company, SeatNinja, so that it could expand its offering.

“Because a lot of these businesses had to go digital literally overnight, we built a free website for them all,” Hyman said. SpotOn also did things like offer commission-free online ordering for restaurants and helped retail merchants update their websites for e-commerce. “Obviously these businesses were resilient,” Hyman said. “But such efforts also created a lot of loyalty.” 

Today, more than 30,000 businesses use SpotOn’s platform, according to Hyman, with nearly 8,000 of those signing on this year. The company expects that number to triple by year’s end.

Currently, its customers are split about 60% retail and 40% restaurants, but the restaurant side of its business is growing rapidly, according to Hyman.

The reason for that, the company believes, is while restaurants initially rushed to add online ordering for delivery or curbside pickup, they soon realized they “wanted a more affordable and more integrated solution.”

Image Credits: SpotOn co-founders Zach Hyman, Doron Friedman and Matt Hyman / SpotOn

What makes SpotOn so appealing to its customers, Hyman said, is the fact that it offers an integrated platform so that businesses that use it can save “thousands of dollars” in payments and software fees to multiple, “à la carte” vendors. But it also can integrate with other platforms if needed.

In addition to growing its customer base and revenue, SpotOn has also boosted its headcount to about 1,250 employees (from 850 in March of 2020). Those employees are spread across its offices in San Francisco, Chicago, Detroit, Denver, Mexico City, Mexico and Krakow, Poland.

SpotOn is not currently profitable, which Hyman says is “by choice.”

“We could be cash flow positive technically whenever we choose to be. Right now we’re just so focused on product innovation and talent to exceed the needs of our clients,” he said. “We chose the capital plan so that we could really just double down on what’s working so well.”

The new capital will go toward further accelerating product development and expanding its market presence.

“We’re doubling down on our single integrated restaurant management system,” Hyman said. 

The raise marks the first time that a16z has put money in the startup, although General Partner David George told TechCrunch he was familiar with co-founders Matt Hyman and Zach Hyman through mutual friends.

George estimates that about 80% of restaurants and SMBs use legacy solutions “that are clunky and outdated, and not very customer friendly.” The COVID-19 pandemic has led to more of these businesses seeking digital options.

“We think we’re in the very early days in the transition [to digital], and the opportunity is massive,” he told TechCrunch. “We believe we’re at the tipping point of a big tech replacement cycle for restaurant and small business software, and at the very early stages of this transition to modern cloud-native solutions.”

George was also effusive in his praise for how SpotOn has executed over the past 14 months.

“There are companies that build great products, and companies that can build great sales teams. And there are companies that offer really great customer service,” he said. “It’s rare that you find two of those and extremely rare to find all three of those as we have in SpotOn.”

#advisors, #andreessen-horowitz, #business-software, #chicago, #cloud, #denver, #detroit, #dragoneer-investment-group, #dst-global, #e-commerce, #finance, #fintech, #franklin-templeton, #fundings-exits, #krakow, #mexico, #mexico-city, #mubadala-investment-company, #olo, #payment-processing, #payments, #point-of-sale, #poland, #recent-funding, #saas, #san-francisco, #series-c, #spoton, #startup, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital

Freemium isn’t a trend — it’s the future of SaaS

As the COVID-19 lockdowns cascaded around the world last spring, companies large and small saw demand slow to a halt seemingly overnight. Enterprises weren’t comfortable making big, long-term commitments when they had no clue what the future would hold.

Innovative SaaS companies responded quickly by making their products available for free or at a steep discount to boost demand.

While Zoom gets all the attention, there were hundreds of free SaaS tools to help folks through the pandemic. Pluralsight ran a #FreeApril campaign, offering free access to its platform for all of April. Cloudflare made its Teams product free from March until September 1, 2020. GitHub went free for teams in April and slashed the price of its paid Team plan.

A selection of new free, free trial and low-priced offerings from leading SaaS companies. Image Credits: Kyle Poyar/OpenView.

The free products were aimed squarely at end users — whether it be a developer, individual marketer, sales rep or someone else at the edge of an organization. These end users were stuck at home during the pandemic, yet they desperately needed software to power their working lives.

End users prefer to do the vast majority of their research online before ever talking to a sales rep, making free products the ideal way to reach them.

End users prefer to do the vast majority of their research online before ever talking to a sales rep, making free products the ideal way to reach them. Many end users want to jump straight into a product, no hassle or credit card or budget approval required.

After they’ve set up an account and customized it for their workflow, end users have essentially already made a purchase decision with their time — all without ever feeling like they were in an active buying cycle.

An end user-focused free offering became an essential SaaS survival strategy in 2020.

But these free offerings didn’t go away as lockdowns loosened up. SaaS companies instead doubled down on freemium because they realized that doing so had a real and positive impact on their business. In doing so, they busted the outdated myths that have held 82% of SaaS companies back from offering their own free plan.

Myth: A free offering will cannibalize paying customers

GoDaddy is a digital behemoth, known for being a ’90s-era pioneer in web domains as well as for their controversial Super Bowl ads. The company has steadily diversified into business software, now generating roughly $700 million in ARR from its business applications segment and reaching millions of paying customers. There are very few businesses that would see greater potential revenue cannibalization from launching a free product than GoDaddy.

But GoDaddy didn’t let fear stop them from testing freemium when lockdowns set in. Freemium started out as a small-scale experiment in spring 2020 for the websites and marketing product. GoDaddy has since increased the experiment to 50% of U.S. website traffic, with plans to scale to 100% of U.S. traffic and open availability to other markets in 2021.

#business-software, #column, #ec-cloud-and-enterprise-infrastructure, #ec-column, #freemium, #saas, #software, #software-as-a-service

Learn how to create an effective earned media strategy with Rebecca Reeve Henderson at TC Early Stage 2021

TechCrunch’s Early Stage 2021 is back for part two of our bootcamp-for-entrepreneurs event, with a focus on marketing and fundraising. Building on the first half of the event in April, this two-day virtual sprint will take place July 8 & 9, and we’re thrilled to welcome Rebecca Reeve Henderson as one of our all-star slate of experts. Rebecca will be joining us to share insight on how to build an effective earned media strategy for your startup, building on her deep expertise developing effective communications programs for some of the top business software companies in the world.

Earned media, aka the kind of exposure you get from a TechCrunch article, is a key element of any startup’s marketing strategy. It’s something that is best used as a complementary component to paid marketing and owned channel promotional efforts, but it’s also one of the trickiest things to get right, especially for first-time founders. Rebecca has worked with companies ranging from Slack, to Shopify, to Zapier, to Canva and many more, helping craft effective earned media strategies in one of the most difficult areas of all: B2B SaaS.

Image Credits: Rsquared Communications

Rebecca is also a founder herself, having built her communications company Rsquared from the ground up into an international business spanning the U.S. and Canada. Rsquared’s clients included startups at all stages of growth, from their very beginnings through to successful exits, including public market debuts, so she’s run effective communications campaigns at every point on the growth spectrum. Then in 2019, Rsquared had its own exit, with an acquisition by global communications firm Archetype.

We’ll hear tips from Rebecca on how earned media contributes to an effective overall communications strategy, and how you go about earning that media — including how to pitch media, and how to build successful long-term relationships with key reporters and publications in your industry.

Tickets for TC Early Stage: Marketing & Fundraising are available until this Friday at the early bird rate which gives you an instant $100 savings! Secure your seat before this weekend!

#business, #business-software, #canva, #communications, #early-stage-2021, #events, #marketing, #rebecca-reeve-henderson, #shopify, #startup-company, #startups, #tc, #tc-early-stage-2021, #united-states

Laiye, China’s answer to UiPath, closes $50 million Series C+

Robotic process automation has become buzzy in the last few months. New York-based UiPath is on course to launch an initial public offering after gaining an astounding valuation of $35 billion in February. Over in China, homegrown RPA startup Laiye is making waves as well.

Laiye, which develops software to mimic mundane workplace tasks like keyboard strokes and mouse clicks, announced it has raised $50 million in a Series C+ round. The proceeds came about a year after the Beijing-based company pulled in the first tranche of its Series C round.

Laiye, six years old and led by Baidu veterans, has raised over $130 million to date according to public information.

Leading investors in the Series C+ round were Ping An Global Voyager Fund, an early-stage strategic investment vehicle of Chinese financial conglomerate Ping An, and Shanghai Artificial Intelligence Industry Equity Investment Fund, a government-backed fund. Other participants included Lightspeed China Partners, Lightspeed Venture Partners, Sequoia China and Wu Capital.

RPA tools are attracting companies looking for ways to automate workflows during COVID-19, which has disrupted office collaboration. But the enterprise tech was already gaining traction prior to the pandemic. As my colleague, Ron Miller wrote this month on the heels of UiPath’s S1 filing:

“The category was gaining in popularity by that point because it addressed automation in a legacy context. That meant companies with deep legacy technology — practically everyone not born in the cloud — could automate across older platforms without ripping and replacing, an expensive and risky undertaking that most CEOs would rather not take.”

In one case, Laiye’s RPA software helped the social security workers in the city of Lanzhou speed up their account reconciliation process by 75%; in the past, they would have to type in pensioners’ information and check manually whether the details were correct.

In another instance, Laiye’s chatbot helped automate the national population census in several southern Chinese cities, freeing census takers from visiting households door-to-door.

Laiye said its RPA enterprise business achieved positive cash flow and its chatbot business turned profitability in the fourth quarter of 2020. Its free-to-use edition has amassed over 400,000 developers, and the company also runs a bot marketplace connecting freelance developers to small-time businesses with automation needs.

Laiye is expanding its services globally and boasts that its footprint now spams Asia, the United States and Europe.

“Laiye aims to foster the world’s largest developer community for software robots and built the world’s largest bot marketplace in the next three years, and we plan to certify at least one million software robot developers by 2025,” said Wang Guanchun, chair and CEO of Laiye.

“We believe that digital workforce and intelligent automation will reach all walks of life as long as more human workers can be up-skilled with knowledge in RPA and AI”.

#artificial-intelligence, #asia, #automation, #beijing, #business-software, #chatbot, #china, #enterprise, #lightspeed, #lightspeed-venture-partners, #robotic-process-automation, #saas, #sequoia-china, #uipath

Autodesk acquires Upchain

Autodesk, the publicly-traded software company best known for its CAD and 3D modeling tools, today announced that it has acquired Upchain, a Toronto-based startup that offers a cloud-based product lifecycle management (PLM) service. The two companies, which didn’t disclose the acquisition price, expect the transaction to close by July 31, 2021.

Since its launch in 2015, Upchain raised about $7.4 million in funding, according to Crunchbase. The central idea behind the service was that existing lifecycle management solutions, which are meant to help businesses take new products from inception production and collaborate with their supply chain in the process, were cumbersome and geared toward large multi-national enterprises. Upchain’s focus is on small and mid-sized companies and promises to be more affordable and usable than other solutions. It’s customer base spans a wide range of industries, ranging from textiles and apparel to automotive, aerospace, industrial machines, transportation and entertainment.

“We’ve had a singular focus at Upchain to up-level cloud collaboration across the entire product lifecycle, changing the way that people work together so that everyone has access to the data they need, when they need it,” Upchain CEO and founder John Laslavic said in today’s announcement. “Autodesk shares our vision for radically simplifying how engineers and manufacturers across the entire value chain collaborate and bring a top-quality product to market faster. I look forward to seeing how Upchain and Autodesk, together, take that vision to the next level in the months and years to come.”

For Autodesk, this is the company’s 15th acquisition since 2017. Earlier this year, the company made its first $1 billion acquisition when it bought Portland, OR-based Innovyze, a 35-year-old company that focuses on modeling and lifecycle management for the water management industry. 

“Resilience and collaboration have never been more critical for manufacturers as they confront the increasing complexity of developing new products. We’re committed to addressing those needs by offering the most robust end-to-end design and manufacturing platform in the cloud,” said Andrew Anagnost, President and CEO of Autodesk. “The convergence of data and processes is transforming the industry. By integrating Upchain with our existing offerings, Autodesk customers will be able to easily move data without barriers and will be empowered to unlock and harness valuable insights that can translate to fresh ideas and business success.”

#aerospace, #andrew-anagnost, #autodesk, #business-software, #cad, #ceo, #portland, #product-lifecycle-management, #product-management, #software, #supply-chain, #tc, #toronto

No-code business intelligence service y42 raises $2.9M seed round

Berlin-based y42 (formerly known as Datos Intelligence), a data warehouse-centric business intelligence service that promises to give businesses access to an enterprise-level data stack that’s as simple to use as a spreadsheet, today announced that it has raised a $2.9 million seed funding round led by La Famiglia VC. Additional investors include the co-founders of Foodspring, Personio and Petlab.

The service, which was founded in 2020, integrates with over 100 data sources, covering all the standard B2B SaaS tools from Airtable to Shopify and Zendesk, as well as database services like Google’s BigQuery. Users can then transform and visualize this data, orchestrate their data pipelines and trigger automated workflows based on this data (think sending Slack notifications when revenue drops or emailing customers based on your own custom criteria).

Like similar startups, y42 extends the idea data warehouse, which was traditionally used for analytics, and helps businesses operationalize this data. At the core of the service is a lot of open source and the company, for example, contributes to GitLabs’ Meltano platform for building data pipelines.

y42 founder and CEO Hung Dang

y42 founder and CEO Hung Dang.

“We’re taking the best of breed open-source software. What we really want to accomplish is to create a tool that is so easy to understand and that enables everyone to work with their data effectively,” Y42 founder and CEO Hung Dang told me. “We’re extremely UX obsessed and I would describe us as no-code/low-code BI tool — but with the power of an enterprise-level data stack and the simplicity of Google Sheets.”

Before y42, Vietnam-born Dang co-founded a major events company that operated in over 10 countries and made millions in revenue (but with very thin margins), all while finishing up his studies with a focus on business analytics. And that in turn led him to also found a second company that focused on B2B data analytics.

Image Credits: y42

Even while building his events company, he noted, he was always very product- and data-driven. “I was implementing data pipelines to collect customer feedback and merge it with operational data — and it was really a big pain at that time,” he said. “I was using tools like Tableau and Alteryx, and it was really hard to glue them together — and they were quite expensive. So out of that frustration, I decided to develop an internal tool that was actually quite usable and in 2016, I decided to turn it into an actual company. ”

He then sold this company to a major publicly listed German company. An NDA prevents him from talking about the details of this transaction, but maybe you can draw some conclusions from the fact that he spent time at Eventim before founding y42.

Given his background, it’s maybe no surprise that y42’s focus is on making life easier for data engineers and, at the same time, putting the power of these platforms in the hands of business analysts. Dang noted that y42 typically provides some consulting work when it onboards new clients, but that’s mostly to give them a head start. Given the no-code/low-code nature of the product, most analysts are able to get started pretty quickly  — and for more complex queries, customers can opt to drop down from the graphical interface to y42’s low-code level and write queries in the service’s SQL dialect.

The service itself runs on Google Cloud and the 25-people team manages about 50,000 jobs per day for its clients. the company’s customers include the likes of LifeMD, Petlab and Everdrop.

Until raising this round, Dang self-funded the company and had also raised some money from angel investors. But La Famiglia felt like the right fit for y42, especially due to its focus on connecting startups with more traditional enterprise companies.

“When we first saw the product demo, it struck us how on top of analytical excellence, a lot of product development has gone into the y42 platform,” said Judith Dada, General Partner at LaFamiglia VC. “More and more work with data today means that data silos within organizations multiply, resulting in chaos or incorrect data. y42 is a powerful single source of truth for data experts and non-data experts alike. As former data scientists and analysts, we wish that we had y42 capabilities back then.”

Dang tells me he could have raised more but decided that he didn’t want to dilute the team’s stake too much at this point. “It’s a small round, but this round forces us to set up the right structure. For the series, A, which we plan to be towards the end of this year, we’re talking about a dimension which is 10x,” he told me.

#alteryx, #analytics, #berlin, #big-data, #business-intelligence, #business-software, #ceo, #cloud, #data, #data-analysis, #data-management, #data-warehouse, #enterprise, #general-partner, #information-technology, #judith-dada, #recent-funding, #shopify, #sql, #startups, #vietnam

DeepSee.ai raises $22.6M Series A for its AI-centric process automation platform

DeepSee.ai, a startup that helps enterprises use AI to automate line-of-business problems, today announced that it has raised a $22.6 million Series A funding round led by led by ForgePoint Capital. Previous investors AllegisCyber Capital and Signal Peak Ventures also participated in this round, which brings the Salt Lake City-based company’s total funding to date to $30.7 million.

The company argues that it offers enterprises a different take on process automation. The industry buzzword these days is ‘robotic process automation,’ but DeepSee.ai argues that what it does is different. I describe its system as ‘knowledge process automation’ (KPA). The company itself defines this as a system that “mines unstructured data, operationalizes AI-powered insights, and automates results into real-time action for the enterprise.” But the company also argues that today’s bots focus on basic task automation that doesn’t offer the kind of deeper insights that sophisticated machine learning models can bring to the table. The company also stresses that it doesn’t aim to replace knowledge workers but help them leverage AI to turn the plethora of data that businesses now collect into actionable insights.

Image Credits: DeepSee.ai

“Executives are telling me they need business outcomes and not science projects,” writes DeepSee.ai CEO Steve Shillingford. “And today, the burgeoning frustration with most AI-centric deployments in large-scale enterprises is they look great in theory but largely fail in production. We think that’s because right now the current ‘AI approach’ lacks a holistic business context relevance. It’s unthinking, rigid, and without the contextual input of subject-matter experts on the ground. We founded DeepSee to bridge the gap between powerful technology and line-of-business, with adaptable solutions that empower our customers to operationalize AI-powered automation – delivering faster, better, and cheaper results for our users.”

To help businesses get started with the platform, DeepSee.ai offers three core tools. There’s DeepSee Assembler, which ingests unstructured data and gets it ready for labeling, model review and analysis. Then, DeepSee Atlas can use this data to train AI models that can understand a company’s business processes and help subject-matter experts define templates, rules and logic for automating a company’s internal processes. The third tool, DeepSee Advisor, meanwhile focuses on using text analysis to help companies better understand and evaluate their business processes.

Currently, the company’s focus is on providing these tools for insurance companies, the public sector and capital markets. In the insurance space, use cases include fraud detection, claims prediction and processing, and using large amounts of unstructured data to identify patterns in agent audits, for example.

That’s a relatively limited number of industries for a startup to operate in, but the company says it will use its new funding to accelerate product development and expand to new verticals.

“Using KPA, line-of-business executives can bridge data science and enterprise outcomes, operationalize AI/ML-powered automation at scale, and use predictive insights in real time to grow revenue, reduce cost, and mitigate risk,” said Sean Cunningham, Managing Director of ForgePoint Capital. “As a leading cybersecurity investor, ForgePoint sees the daily security challenges around insider threat, data visibility, and compliance. This investment in DeepSee accelerates the ability to reduce risk with business automation and delivers much-needed AI transparency required by customers for implementation.”

#allegiscyber-capital, #articles, #artificial-intelligence, #automation, #automation-anywhere, #business-process-automation, #business-process-management, #business-software, #cloud, #emerging-technologies, #enterprise, #forgepoint-capital, #machine-learning, #recent-funding, #robotic-process-automation, #salt-lake-city, #signal-peak-ventures, #startups

Microsoft brings tighter integration to Dynamics 365 and Teams

As the pandemic drags on and we learn about the requirements of working from home with distributed teams, users could be craving more integration across their tools to help reduce the clicks required to complete a set of tasks. Today at the Ignite Conference, Microsoft announced tighter integration between its business suite Dynamics 365 and its collaboration tool Teams to help with that issue.

Alysa Taylor, corporate VP for business applications and global industry at Microsoft, pointed out that one of the advantages of this native integration approach is that it helps reduce context switching across different applications. “We are committed to really bringing together the collaboration platform and the business process layer to enable salespeople, service representatives, operations managers [and other similar roles] to really have a unified platform in which they both collaborate and have their everyday business functions,” Taylor explained.

This could manifest itself in a number of different ways across marketing, sales and service. For instance, a marketer can create a webinar, which they set up and track in Dynamics 365 Marketing tools and run in Teams as a streaming event with the Teams streaming setup integrated directly into the Dynamics 365 console.

In a sales example Taylor says, “We’re enabling sellers to be able to track the career movements of their contacts using the LinkedIn Sales Navigator, as well as connect very specific sales records within Microsoft Teams without ever having to leave Dynamics 365 Sales. So you can be in the Sales application and you have the ability to deeply understand a contact and any contact changes that occur in Teams, and that’s automatically updated in Sales.”

If your company is not an all-Microsoft shop and wants to use different tools as part of these workflows, Taylor says that you can use Microsoft cross-cloud connectors to connect to another service, and this is true regardless of the tasks involved (so long as the connector to the desired application is available).

Salesforce, a primary rival of Microsoft in the business software space, spent over $27 billion to buy Slack at the end of last year to bring this kind of integration to its platform. Taylor sees the acquisition as a reaction to the integration Microsoft already has and continues to build.

“I think that Salesforce had to acquire Slack to be able to have that collaboration [we have], so we are years ahead of what they’re going to be able to provide because they will not have these native integrations. So I actually see the Salesforce acquisition as a response to what we’re doing with Dynamics 365 and Teams,” Taylor told me.

It’s worth pointing out that Salesforce is far ahead of Microsoft when it comes market share in the CRM space with over 19% versus under 3% for Microsoft, according to Gartner numbers from 2019. While it’s possible these numbers have shifted some since then, probably not significantly.

#business-software, #cloud, #collaboration-tools, #dynamics-365, #enterprise, #microsoft, #microsoft-ignite-2021, #microsoft-teams, #tc

Brex applies for bank charter, taps former Silicon Valley Bank exec as CEO of Brex Bank

Brex is the latest fintech to apply for a bank charter.

The fast-growing company, which sells a credit card tailored for startups with Emigrant Bank currently acting as the issuer, announced Friday that it has submitted an application with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and the Utah Department of Financial Institutions (UDFI) to establish Brex Bank.

The industrial bank will be located in Draper, Utah, and be a wholly-owned subsidiary of Brex.

The company has tapped former Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) exec Bruce Wallace to serve as the subsidiary’s CEO. He served in several roles at SVB, including COO, Chief Digital Officer and head of global services. It also has named Jean Perschon, the former CFO for UBS Bank USA, to be the Brex Bank CFO.

Last May, Brex announced that it had raised $150 million in a Series C extension from a group of existing investors, including DST Global and Lone Pine Capital.

With that raise, Brex, which was co-founded by Henrique Dubugras and Pedro Franceschi, had amassed $465 million in venture capital funding to-date.

The company said in a statement today that “Brex Bank will expand upon its existing suite of financial products and business software, offering credit solutions and FDIC insured deposit products to small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs).”

Offering credit products to small businesses has become a popular product offering and source of revenue for tech companies serving entrepreneurs, including Shopify and Square in the commerce arena. Likewise, offering business-focused bank accounts, like Shopify Balance, which is currently in development with a plan to launch sometime this year in the U.S.

These financial products can provide additional opportunities for revenue on interest and cost of borrowing for these companies, who might have better insight into the risk profiles of the types of businesses they serve than traditional lenders and FIs.

“Brex and Brex Bank will work in tandem to help SMBs grow to realize their full potential,” said Wallace.

Brex is based in San Francisco and counts Kleiner Perkins Growth, YC Continuity Fund, Greenoaks Capital, Ribbit Capital, IVP, and DST Global as well as Peter Thiel and Affirm CEO Max Levchin among its investors. It currently has over 400 employees, and though it had significant layoffs mid-year in 2020, it cited restructuring rather than financial difficulty as the cause of that downsize.

Other fintechs that have made moves toward bank charters include Varo Bank, which this week raised another $63 million and SoFi, which last October was granted preliminary approval for a national bank charter.

#bank, #brex, #business-software, #california, #ceo, #cfo, #credit-card, #draper, #dst-global, #finance, #greenoaks-capital, #henrique-dubugras, #ivp, #kleiner-perkins, #lone-pine-capital, #max-levchin, #peter-thiel, #ribbit-capital, #san-francisco, #shopify, #silicon-valley-bank, #sofi, #tc, #utah, #varo-bank

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

Robotic process automation platform UiPath raises $750M at $35B valuation

UiPath, one of the leaders in the quickly growing robotic process automation (RPA) space, announced Monday that it has closed on $750 million in Series F funding at a staggering post-money valuation of $35 billion.

Existing backers Alkeon Capital and Coatue co-led the round, which also included participation from other returning investors such as Altimeter Capital, Dragoneer, IVP, Sequoia, Tiger Global, and funds and accounts advised by T. Rowe Price Associates, Inc. The financing brings the New York-based company’s total raised to nearly $2 billion since inception, according to Crunchbase.

UiPath was founded in 2005 but didn’t raise institutional capital until 2015, according to Crunchbase. CNBC reported in December that the company had annual revenue of about $360 million and over 6,300 customers including Amazon, Bank of America and Verizon.

UiPath’s self-proclaimed mission is “to unlock human creativity and ingenuity by enabling the Fully Automated Enterprise™ and empowering workers through automation.” Its Automation Platform aims to “transform the way humans work” by giving companies a way to build out and run automations across departments.

The company uses artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning in an effort to “automate millions of repetitive, mind-numbing tasks for business and government organizations all over the world, improving productivity, customer experience and employee job satisfaction.” Its goal is to give workers the mental energy and time to focus on more complex jobs. Competitors include Microsoft Power Automate, Blue Prism, Automation Anywhere. SAP also recently entered the space.

The company has been growing like crazy. Back when I covered its $568 million Series D in April of 2019, UiPath had 400,000 users in 200 countries. At the time, the company said it had increased its annual recurring revenue (ARR) from $8 million in April 2017 to over $200 million. UiPath said then it had grown its headcount by 16 times over a two-year period, to more than 2,500 employees. It also hinted that it was considering an IPO.

True to its word, UiPath in December submitted a draft registration to the Securities and Exchange Commission for an initial public offering. So it’s especially interesting that it raised such a huge round now.

For some, UiPath’s going public could be the Snowflake IPO of 2021. Alternative payments provider Affirm followed a similar path recently – raising $500 million before filing for an IPO weeks later.

UiPath declined to comment on its latest funding round beyond a press release.

#alkeon-capital, #altimeter-capital, #artificial-intelligence, #automation-anywhere, #blue-prism, #business-software, #machine-learning, #microsoft, #robotic-process-automation, #sap, #securities-and-exchange-commission, #tc, #tiger-global, #uipath

LA-based Boulevard raises $27 million for its spa management software

Boulevard, a spa management and payment platform, has raised $27 million in a new round of funding despite a business slowdown caused by the COVID0-19 pandemic.

Founded four years ago by Matt Danna and Sean Stavropoulos, Boulevard was inspired by Stavropoulos’ inability to book a haircut and Danna’s hunch that the inability of salons and spas to cater to customers like the busy programmer could be indicative of a bigger problem.

The two spent months pounding the pavement in Los Angeles pretending to be college students doing research on the industry. They spoke with salon owners in Beverly Hills, Hollywood, and other trendy neighborhoods trying to get a sense of where software and services were falling short.

Through those months of interviews the two developed the booking management and payment platform that would become Boulevard. The inspiration was one part Shopify and one part ServiceTitan, Danna said.

The idea was that the Boulevard could build a pretty large business catering to the needs of a niche industry that hadn’t traditionally been exposed to a purpose-built toolkit for its vertical.

Investors including Index Ventures, Toba Capital, VMG Partners, Bonfire Ventures, Ludlow Ventures and BoxGroup agreed.

That could be because of the size of the industry. There’s over $250 billion spent per year across roughly 3 million businesses in the salon and spa category, according to data provided by the company. By comparison, fitness attracts roughly $34 billion in annual spending from 150,000 businesses.

“With limited access to the professionals that help us look and feel our best, I think the world has realized something that our team has always recognized: salons and spas are more than a luxury, they are essential to our well-being,” said Danna, in a statement. “We are humbled that so many businesses are placing their trust in us during such a turbulent time. This new capital will help accelerate our mission and deliver value to salons and spas that they never imagined was possible from technology.”

According to data provided by the company, Boulevard is definitely giving businesses a boost. On average, businesses increase bookings by 16%, retail revenue jumps by 18%, and gratuity paid out to stylists jumps by 24% for businesses that use Boulevard, the company said. It also reduces no-shows and cancellations, and halves time spent on the phone.  

“Boulevard is revitalizing the salon and spa industry, as evidenced by the company’s sustained 300-400% revenue growth over the last three years,” said Damir Becirovic of Index Ventures, whose firm led the company’s Series A round and has doubled down with the new capital infusion. 

Customers using the company’s software include: Chris McMillan the Salon, Heyday, MèCHE Salon, Paintbox, Sassoon Salon, SEV Laser, Spoke & Weal, and TONI&GUY.

Boulevard now has 90 employees and will look to increase that number as it continues to expand across the country.

Investors have taken a run at the spa market in the past, with company’s like MindBody valued at over $1 billion for its software services. Indeed, that company was taken private two years ago in a $1.9 billion transaction by Vista Equity Partners.

As Boulevard expands, the company may look to get deeper into financial services for the salons and spas that it’s already working with. Given the company’s window into these businesses’ financing, it’s not impossible to image a new line of business providing small business loans to these companies.

It’s something that the founders would likely not rule out. And it’s a way to provide more tools to entrepreneurs that often fall outside of the traditional sweet spot for banks and other lenders, Danna said.

 

#articles, #bonfire-ventures, #boulevard, #boxgroup, #business, #business-software, #economy, #financial-services, #laser, #los-angeles, #ludlow-ventures, #mindbody, #shopify, #small-business, #tc, #toba-capital, #vista-equity-partners

Wrike launches new AI tools to keep your projects on track

Project management service Wrike today announced a major update to its platform at its user conference that includes a lot of new AI smarts for keeping individual projects on track and on time, as well as new solutions for marketers and project management offices in large corporations. In addition, the company also launched a new budgeting feature and tweaks to the overall user experience.

The highlight of the launch, though, is, without doubt, the launch of the new AI and machine learning capabilities in Wrike . With more than 20,000 customers and over 2 million users on the platform, Wrike has collected a trove of data about projects that it can use to power these machine learning models.

Image Credits: Wrike

The way Wrike is now using AI falls into three categories: project risk prediction, task prioritization and tools for speeding up the overall project management workflow.

Figuring out the status of a project and knowing where delays could impact the overall project is often half the job. Wrike can now predict potential delays and alert project and team leaders when it sees events that signal potential issues. To do this, it uses basic information like start and end dates, but more importantly, it looks at the prior outcomes of similar projects to assess risks. Those predictions can then be fed into Wrike’s automation engine to trigger actions that could mitigate the risk to the project.

Task prioritization does what you would expect and helps you figure out what you should focus on right now to help a project move forward. No surprises there.

What is maybe more surprising is that the team is also launching voice commands (through Siri on iOS) and Gmail-like smart replies (in English for iOS and Android). Those aren’t exactly core features of a project management tools, but as the company notes, these features help remove the overall friction and reduce latencies. Another new feature that falls into this category is support for optical character recognition to allow you to scan printed and handwritten notes from your phones and attach them to tasks (iOS only).

“With more employees working from home, work and personal life are becoming intertwined,” the company argues. “As workers use AI in their personal lives, team managers and everyday users expect the smarts they’re accustomed to in consumer devices and apps to help them manage their work as well. Wrike Work Intelligence is the most comprehensive machine learning foundation that taps into tens of millions of work-related user engagements to power cross-functional collaboration to help organizations achieve operational efficiency, create new opportunities and accelerate digital transformation. Teams can focus on the work that matters most, predict and minimize delays, and cut communication latencies.”

Image Credits: Wrike

The other major new feature — at least if you’re in digital marketing — is Wrike’s new ability to pull in data about your campaigns from about 50 advertising, marketing automation and social media tools, which is then displayed inside the Wrike experience. In a fast-moving field, having all that data at your fingertips and right inside the tool where you think about how to manage these projects seems like a smart idea.

Image Credits: Wrike

Somewhat related, Wrike’s new budgeting feature also now makes it easier for teams to keep their projects within budget, using a new built-in rate card to manage project pricing and update their financials.

“We use Wrike for an extensive project management and performance metrics system,” said Shannon Buerk, the CEO of engage2learn, which tested this new budgeting tool. “We have tried other PM systems and have found Wrike to be the best of all worlds: easy to use for everyone and savvy enough to provide valuable reporting to inform our work. Converting all inefficiencies into productive time that moves your mission forward is one of the keys to a culture of engagement and ownership within an organization, even remotely. Wrike has helped us get there.”

#artificial-intelligence, #business-software, #enterprise, #machine-learning, #optical-character-recognition, #project-management, #wrike

Microsoft brings new robotic process automation features to its Power Platform

Earlier this year, Microsoft acquired Softomotive, a player in the low-code robotic process automation space with a focus on Windows. Today, at its Ignite conference, the company is launching Power Automate Desktop, a new application based on Softomotive’s technology that lets anyone automate desktop workflows without needing to program.

“The big idea of Power Platform is that we want to go make it so development is accessible to everybody,” Charles Lamanna, Microsoft’s corporate VP for its low-code platform, told me. “And development includes understanding and reporting on your data with Power BI, building web and mobile applications with Power Apps, automating your tasks — whether it’s through robotic process automation or workflow automation — with Power Automate, or building chatbots and chat-based experiences with Power Virtual Agent.”

Power Automate already allowed users to connect web-based applications, similar to Zapier and IFTTT, but the company also launched a browser extension earlier late last year to help users connect native system components to Power Automate. Now, with the integration of the Softomotive technology and the launch of this new low-code Windows application, it’s taking this integration into the native Windows user interface one step further.

“Everything still runs in the cloud and still connects to the cloud, but you now have a rich desktop application to author and record your UI automations,” Lamanna explained. He likened it to an ‘ultimate connector,’ noting that the “ultimate API is just the UI.”

He also stressed that the new app feels like any other modern Office app like Outlook (which is getting a new Mac version today, by the way) or Word. And like the modern versions of those apps, Power Automate Desktop derives a lot of its power from being connected to the cloud.

It’s also worth noting that Power Automate isn’t just a platform for automating simple two- or three-step processes (like sending you a text message when your boss emails you), but also for multistep, business-critical workflows. T-Mobile, for example, is using the platform to automate some of the integration processes between its systems and Sprint.

Lamanna noted that for some large enterprises, adopting these kinds of low-code services necessitates a bit of a culture shift. IT still needs to have some insights into how these tools are used, after all, to ensure that data is kept safe, for example.

Another new feature the company announced today is an integration between the Power Platform and GitHub, which is now in public preview. The idea here is to give developers the ability to create their own software lifecycle workflows. “One of the core ideas of Power Platform is that it’s low code,” Lamanna said. “So it’s built first for business users, business analysts, not the classical developers. But pro devs are welcome. The saying I have is: we’re throwing a party for business users, but pro devs are also invited to the party.” But to get them onto the platform, the team wants to meet them where they are and let them use the tools they already use — and that’s GitHub (and Visual Studio and Visual Studio Code).

#articles, #author, #automation, #business, #business-process-automation, #business-process-management, #business-software, #economy, #ifttt, #microsoft, #microsoft-windows, #player, #softomotive, #tc, #windows, #zapier

Microsoft and SAS announce deep technology partnership

Microsoft and SAS, the privately held enterprise data management and analytics company (and not the airline), today announced a far-reaching partnership that will see Microsoft’s Azure become SAS’s preferred cloud and deep integrations of SAS’s various products into Microsoft’s cloud portfolio, ranging from Azure to Dynamics 365 and PowerBI. The two companies also plan to launch new joint solutions for their customers.

While you may not necessarily be familiar with 44-year-old SAS, the North Carolina-based company counts more than 90 of the top 100 Fortune 1000 companies among its customers, Marquee customers include the likes of Allianz, Discover, Honda, HSBC, Lockheed Martin, Lufthansa and Nestle. While it provides tools and services for companies across a wide range of verticals, they all focus on helping these companies better manage their data and turn it into actionable analytics. Like similar data-centric companies, these days, that includes a lot of work on machine learning, too.

SAS COO and CTO Oliver Schabenberger

“It is a technology partnership,” SAS COO and CTO Oliver Schabenberger told me ahead of today’s announcement. “Our customers are increasingly moving to the cloud. I have something that I call the ‘principles of analytics.’ The first principle is: analytics follows the data — and increasingly, data is moving to the cloud. We have our own cloud operation at SAS. We have done enterprise hosting for over 20 years and have a lot of experience in that. So one of the strategic questions that I asked myself is how do we combine what we love so much about our own cloud and managed services and working directly with a customer with the scale, the agility and the reach of a public cloud?”

The answer to that for SAS was a partnership with Microsoft. Both companies, Schabenberger said, are looking at how to democratize access to technologies like machine learning and analytics, he noted, but are also trying to build data visualization tools and other services that make it easier for anybody within a company to work with the increasingly large data sets that most enterprises now gather.

“The technologies of SAS and Microsoft to me go hand in hand,” said Schabenberger. “They really complement each other. What Microsoft’s doing with Dynamics, with Power Platform, I can envision a new class of business applications — all low-code, no-code — where data and analytics drive logic and drive decisioning. And so for us, what’s really interesting, fascinating and innovative about this relationship is that this is not about bringing a service to Azure, or an integration into Synapse. It is really looking at the entire Microsoft Cloud estate, if you will, from Azure to integrating with AD, with AKS, with [Azure] Database for PostgreSQL. These are obvious things, but then looking at Microsoft 365, Dynamics 365 and Power Platform, how can we be part of this ecosystem? I think that’s a very powerful integration.”

It’s important to note that this is not an exclusive agreement and Schabenberg stressed that SAS will continue to offer support for customers who choose a different public cloud provider.

Scott Guthrie, Microsoft executive VP of its Cloud and AI group, echoed this. “We couldn’t be more excited on the Microsoft side for this partnership. If you look at pretty much any business out there, they’re using SAS for analytics and they’re using Microsoft software as well. And the thing that Oliver called out and what we really look for in strategic partnerships like this is, where can we help our mutual customers do more and achieve more? And I think both from a technology alignment perspective and then also from a mission statement and culture perspective, that’s where we’re so aligned.”

Both Guthrie and Schabenberger stressed how deep the integrations here are. As an example, Guthrie noted that users will be able to take SAS models and embed them into SQL Server statements — and there will be similar integrations for Microsoft products into SAS’s tools, too. Guthrie also noted that the two companies will go to market together in a deep way, too, leveraging the existing salesforces of both companies. “So it’s a little different from what we might do with a startup, which tends to not have a big salesforce. But as part of this partnership, you’ll definitely see our go-to-market deep alignment and Microsoft sellers will be heavily incented to promote and push the SAS integration and likewise, SAS is going to be highly incented to drive this integration from their perspective as well.”

One interesting aspect here is that both companies offer competing products, be that around data management and analytics, as well as data visualization. Guthrie and Schabenberger were quite open about this, though. “I’m perfectly comfortable with that,” said Schabenberger. “I’ve recognized for a long time that our customers have choices and they exercise those choices. And if we bring the right technology to bear and offer it to them, then I’m proud of the technology we built. We’re not the best at everything and I am really looking forward actually to focusing on our core competency, where we’re strongest — and I’m happy to have customers make other choices. […] We have an existing customer base that wants to make use of their existing investment in SAS technology, but also wants to modernize, wants to be part of a cloud ecosystem, wants to operate with agility and speed — and we can combine all that.”

“We’ve been around long enough and we’re big enough and we have enough customers to also realize, what really matters is making your customers successful,” noted Guthrie. “And
the complementary capabilities that we’re bringing together by partnering is so powerful that, yes, there might be some overlap in a few places, but for the most part, this is such a powerful accelerant for our customers and we’re going to both benefit from that.”

#allianz, #business-intelligence, #business-software, #cloud-computing, #cloud-infrastructure, #computing, #data-management, #discover, #honda, #hsbc, #lockheed-martin, #lufthansa, #machine-learning, #microsoft, #microsoft-azure, #nestle, #north-carolina, #power-bi, #sas, #scott-guthrie, #tc, #vertica

Microsoft acquires robotic process automation platform Softomotive

During his Build keynote, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella today confirmed that the company has acquired Softomotive, a software robotic automation platform. Bloomberg first reported that this acquisition was in the works earlier this month, but the two companies didn’t comment on the report at the time.

Today, Nadella noted that Softomotive would become part of Microsoft’s Power Automate platform. “We’re bringing RPA – or robotic process automation to legacy apps and services with our acquisition of Softomotive,” Nadella said.

Softomotive currently has about 9,000 customers around the world. Softomotive’s WinAutomation platform will be freely available to Power Automate users with what Microsoft calls an RPA attended license in Power Automate.

In Power Automate, Microsoft will use Softomotive’s tools to enable a number of new capabilities, including Softomotives low-code desktop automation solution WinAutomation. Until now, Power Automate did not feature any desktop automation tools.

It’ll also build Softomotive’s connectors for applications from SAP, as well as legacy terminal screens and Java, into its desktop automation experience and enable parallel execution and multitasking for UI automation.

Softomotives other flagship application, ProcessRobot for server-based enterprise RPA development, will also find a new home in Power Automate. My guess, though, is that Microsoft mostly bought the company for its desktop automation skills.

“One of our most distinguishing characteristics, and an indelible part of our DNA, is an unswerving commitment to usability,” writes Softomotive CEO and co-founder Marios Stavropoulos. “We have always believed in the notion of citizen developers and, since less than two percent of the world population can write code, we believe the greatest potential for both process improvement and overall innovation comes from business end users. This is why we have invested so diligently in abstracting complexity away from end users and created one of the industry’s most intuitive user interfaces – so that non-technical business end users can not just do more, but also make deeper contributions by becoming professional problem solvers and innovators. We are extremely excited to pursue this vision as part of Microsoft.”

The two companies did not disclose the financial details of the transaction.

#articles, #artificial-intelligence, #automation, #business, #business-software, #ceo, #microsoft, #microsoft-build-2020, #robotic-process-automation, #satya-nadella, #tc, #technology

Templafy raises $25M Series C led by Insight partners to deal with enterprise documents

Back in 2018 Templafy — which had come up with a way for enterprises to more easily make templates out of standard documents (yes, it’s a thing) — raised an additional $15 million from existing investors as an extension of its earlier Series B round taking it to $40.2 million raised. The company integrates with enterprise infrastructure to provide corporate content assets, document templates, and automatic validation of created documents for all kinds of clients. On this journey it has used its cash to acquire SlideProof in Berlin, then Veodin and iWRITER in 2019, and opened an office in NYC. 

It’s been quite a journey since they started in 2014, and today the journey continues with the news that it’s closed a $25 million Series C funding round led by Insight partners. With additional funding from Dawn Capital, Seed Capital and Damgaard Company, bringing the total external capital raised to almost $70 million.

Templafy plans to use this latest round to boost its M&A activity; advance its product roadmap; and double staff from 200 to 400 full-time employees.

Jesper Theill Eriksen, CEO of Templafy said in a statement: “We set out to establish a new market category and create a high return on investment for companies streamlining their document creation workflow through our platform.”

He says the COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on remote working means “now more than ever, we see the need of global enterprises to support their distributed workforce with solutions that ensure productivity and compliance when documents are created.”

Jonathan Rosenbaum, vice president at Insight Partners said: “Templafy’s software represents a unique nexus of both end-user productivity and document compliance. This is what allows its customers to see real efficiency gains across an entire employee base.”

Templafy says it has more than doubled its revenue in the past year and has now sold over 2 million Templafy licenses worldwide

The total addressable market for Templafy’s document assembly software, in theory, extends to anyone that has to use traditional desktop software. The company’s Microsoft integration, means there are north of 1 billion Microsoft Office users for which Templafy could be used.

Christian Lund, co-founder and CPO at Templafy explained over email to TechCrunch that: “Being a horizontal document production infrastructure, Templafy is agnostic to the type of business document created (presentations, reports, contracts, proposals, pitches, emails, internal / external etc.) This is a key reason why many of the world’s largest enterprises use the platform company-wide.”

Templafy has plenty of competition across all the vertical categories it covers – for example in Template Management (Litera); Creative Content (Frontify, Bynder), Sales Enablement (Showpad, Seismic),  Proposal management (Conga, PandaDoc), Email Signature Management (Exclaimer, Xink).

But Templify takes a horizontal approach rather than vertical approach.

#berlin, #business, #business-software, #ceo, #co-founder, #dawn-capital, #europe, #insight-partners, #microsoft, #microsoft-office, #pandadoc, #seed-capital, #showpad, #software, #tc, #techcrunch, #vice-president

Superhuman CEO Rahul Vohra on waitlists, freemium pricing and future products

The “Sent via Superhuman iOS” email signature has become one of the strangest flexes in the tech industry, but its influence is enduring, as the $30 per month invite-only email app continues to shape how a wave of personal productivity startups are building their business and product strategies.

I had a chance to chat with Superhuman CEO and founder Rahul Vohra earlier this month during an oddly busy time for him. He had just announced a dedicated $7 million angel fund with his friend Todd Goldberg (which I wrote up here) and we also noted that LinkedIn is killing off Sales Navigator, a feature driven by Rapportive, which Vohra founded and later sold in 2012. All the while, his buzzy email company is plugging along, amassing more interested users. Vohra tells me there are now more than 275,000 people on the waitlist for Superhuman.

Below is a chunk of my conversation with Vohra, which has been edited for length and clarity.


TechCrunch: When you go out to raise funding and a chunk of your theoretical user base is sitting on a waitlist, is it a little tougher to determine the total market for your product?

Rahul Vohra: That’s a good question. When we were doing our Series B, it was very easily answered because we’re one of a cohort of companies, that includes Notion and Airtable and Figma, where the addressable market — assuming you can build a product that’s good enough — is utterly enormous.

With my last company, Rapportive, there was a lot of conversation around, “oh, what’s the business model? What’s the market? How many people need this?” This almost never came up in any fundraising conversation. People were more like, “well, if this thing works, obviously the market is basically all of prosumer productivity and that is, no matter how you define it, absolutely huge.”

#business-software, #enterprise, #figma, #github, #gmail, #notion, #rahul-vohra, #rapportive, #superhuman, #tc, #todd-goldberg, #webmail