Salesforce reaches Net Zero energy usage, announces updates to Sustainability Cloud

Salesforce has often preached about responsible capitalism, and today at Dreamforce, the company’s annual customer extravaganza, it announced a notable achievement in the battle against global climate change. The company said that it has achieved effective Net Zero energy usage across its entire value chain with 100% renewable energy, while purchasing carbon offsets when that’s not possible.

At the same time, it announced updates to the Sustainability Cloud, a product that the company sells to other organizations to manage their climate initiatives, proving you can be responsible, and still be capitalists. Suzanne DiBianca, chief impact officer & EVP for corporate relations at Salesforce, speaking at yesterday’s Dreamforce press event says the company is proud to be an example of a large organization taking positive climate action.

“I’m very excited about our commitment to climate action around being a Net Zero company today. And this is not in 2030, not in 2040, not in some other future moment. We know we have to accelerate, and we have gotten to Net Zero today including our entire value chain, which is Scope 1, 2 and 3. Very few companies have gotten here,” she said.

There is a lot of sustainability jargon there, so we spoke to Ari Alexander, GM of Sustainability Cloud to break it down for us. Alexander explained that the sustainability community measures a company’s carbon footprint in three main areas known as Scope 1, Scope 2 and Scope 3. “Scope 1 and 2 are what you own, what you operate, what you control and then what energy is procured in order to power your operation,” he said.

Scope 3 is everything else your company touches, which is referred to as ‘up and down the value chain’ in industry parlance. “The vast majority of the emissions that a company is responsible for are actually not in their direct operational control, but relate to their upstream suppliers that they procure goods and services from, or in the case of other industries the downstream use of the product or the life of a product,” he said. A downstream example might be what happens to your phone after you trade it in for a new one.

So when Salesforce says that it’s Net Zero up and down the value chain, it involves everything it controls and every company it interacts with in the act of doing business. Because there are so many variables here outside of Salesforce’s control, Alexander says when the company can’t ensure that a partner or vendor is in compliance with the standard set by the company, it buys what he calls “high quality carbon offsets.”

“Also for where we can’t do that immediately, we are purchasing high quality carbon offsets to make up the difference to be able to be fully Net Zero now, while we continue on that really important journey of reducing to absolute zero across the supply chain [over time],” he said.

In addition, the company announced updates to the Sustainability Cloud, the commercial tool it has developed to sell to other companies, using the same tools and technology that Salesforce is using in-house.

“Sustainability is undergoing a transformation in that it’s going from something that’s a nice to have to something that’s actually at the heart of business transformation itself. That it’s one of the mega trends of our time and growing exponentially every year, and part of what that means is that companies are moving significant resources in order to respond to the climate crisis and moving sustainability to the core of how they do business,” Alexander said.

At the same time, the company published a blueprint based on its own plans to be a more sustainable organization called the Salesforce Climate Action Plan (link to pdf) that it is making available for free online.

The company also announced plans to accelerate its tree planting goals to grow 30 million trees this year. This involves working with other organizations to plant, grow and restore 100 million trees in a 10 year period, a goal that they have been pushing to make happen much sooner.

Company president and COO Bret Taylor speaking at the Dreamforce press event said that the climate crisis has had an impact on everyone, and he believes Salesforce can have a meaningful impact based on its behavior while acting as an example for other organizations.

“We’re showing up at Dreamforce, […] really to recognize that we think business is the greatest platform for change and to paint a picture of this vision for inspiring every organization to become a trusted enterprise and address these crises [like climate],” Taylor said.

#bret-taylor, #cloud, #dreamforce-2021, #enterprise, #greentech, #saas, #salesforce, #sustainability

Slack releases Clips video tool, announces 16 Salesforce integrations

Slack has been talking about expanding beyond text-based messaging for some time. Today at Dreamforce, the Salesforce customer conference taking place this week, it announced Clips, a way to leave short video messages that people can watch at their leisure.

Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield sees Clips as a way to communicate with colleagues when a full 30 minutes meeting isn’t really required. Instead, you can let people know what’s going on through a brief video. “Clips are a way to record yourself on your screen. And the idea is that a lot of the meetings shouldn’t require us to be together in real time,” Butterfield said at a Dreamforce press event yesterday.

He added that these video clips provide more value because you can still get the point that would have been delivered in a full meeting without having to actually attend to get access to that information. What’s more, he says the videos create an audit trail of activity for archival purposes.

“It’s easily shareable with people who weren’t in attendance, but [still] get the update. It’s available in the archive, so you can go back and find the answers to questions you have or trace back the roots of a decision,” he said. It’s worth noting that Slack first introduced this idea last October, and announced an early customer beta last March, at which point they hadn’t even named it yet.

He admitted that this may require people to rethink how they work, and depending on the organization that may be harder in some places than others, but he believes that value proposition of freeing up employees to meet less and work more will eventually drive people and organizations to try it and then incorporate into the way that they work.

Clips builds on the Huddles tool released earlier this year, which is a way via audio to have serendipitous water cooler kinds of conversations, again as a way to reduce the need for a full-fledged meeting when people can get together for a few minutes, resolve an issue and get back to work. Butterfield says that Huddles has had the fastest adoption of any new capability since he first launched Slack.

In March, in a Clubhouse interview with SignalFire investor Josh Constine (who is also a former TechCrunch reporter), Butterfield said that the company was also working on a Clubhouse tool for business. The company did not announce any similar tool this week though.

The company also announced 16 integrations with Salesforce that span the entire Salesforce platform. These include the sales-focussed deal room and the customer support incident response called swarms announced earlier this month, as well as new connections to other tools in the Salesforce family of product including Mulesoft and Tableau and industry-specific integrations for banking, life sciences and philanthropy.

In case you had forgotten, Salesforce bought Slack at the end of last year in a mega deal worth almost $28 billion. Today, as part of the CRM giant, the company continues to build on the platform and product roadmap it had in place prior to the acquisition, while building in integrations all across the Salesforce platform.

#bret-taylor, #cloud, #collaboration, #enterprise, #ma, #messaging, #saas, #salesforce, #slack, #stewart-buttefield, #tc

Fivetran hauls in $565M on $5.6B valuation, acquires competitor HVR for $700M

Fivetran, the data connectivity startup, had a big day today. For starters it announced a $565 million investment on $5.6 billion valuation, but it didn’t stop there. It also announced its second acquisition this year, snagging HVR, a data integration competitor that had raised over $50M, for $700 million in cash and stock.

The company last raised a $100 million Series C on a $1.2 billion valuation, increasing the valuation by over 5x. As with that Series C, Andreessen Horowitz was back leading the round with participation from other double dippers General Catalyst, CEAS Investments, Matrix Partners and other unnamed firms or individuals. New investors ICONIQ Capital, D1 Capital Partners and YC Continuity also came along for the ride. The company reports it has now raised $730 million.

The HVR acquisition represents a hefty investment for the startup, grabbing a company for a price that is almost equal to all the money it has raised to date, but it provides a way to expand its market quickly by buying a competitor. Earlier this year Fivetran acquired Teleport Data as it continues to add functionality and customers via acquisition.

“The acquisition — a cash and stock deal valued at $700 million — strengthens Fivetran’s market position as one of the data integration leaders for all industries and all customer types,” the company said in a statement.

While that may smack of corporate marketing speak, there is some truth to it, as pulling data from multiple sources, sometimes in siloed legacy systems is a huge challenge for companies and both Fivetran and HVR have developed tools to provide the pipes to connect various data sources and put it to work across a business.

Data is central to a number of modern enterprise practices including customer experience management, which takes advantage of customer data to deliver customized experiences based on what you know about them, and data is the main fuel for machine learning models, which use it to understand and learn how a process works. Fivetran and HVR provide the nuts and bolts infrastructure to move the data around to where it’s needed, connecting to various applications like Salesforce, Box or Airtable, databases like Postgres SQL or data repositories like Snowflake or Databricks.

Whether bigger is better remains to be seen, but Fivetran is betting that it will be in this case as it makes its way along the startup journey. The transaction has been approved by both company’s boards. The deal is still subject to standard regulatory approval, but Fivetran is expecting it to close in October

#andreessen-horowitz, #cloud, #data-pipelines, #enterprise, #exit, #fivetran, #fundings-exits, #ma, #mergers-and-acquisitions, #recent-funding, #startups

Zoom looks beyond video conferencing as triple-digit 2020 growth begins to slow

It’s been a heady 12-18 months for Zoom, the decade-old company that experienced monster 2020 growth and more recently, a mega acquisition with the $14.7 billion Five9 deal in July. That addition is part of a broader strategy the company has been undertaking the last couple of years to move beyond its core video conferencing market into adjacencies like phone, meeting management and messaging, among other things. Here’s a closer look at how the plan is unfolding.

As the pandemic took hold in March 2020, everyone from businesses to schools to doctors and and places of worship moved online. As they did, Zoom video conferencing became central to this cultural shift and the revenue began pouring in, ushering in a period of sustained triple-digit growth for the company that only recently abated.

#cloud, #enterprise, #saas, #software-platform, #tc, #video-conferencing, #zoom

Demand Curve: How to get social proof that grows your startup

When people are uncertain, they look to others for behavioral guidance. This is called social proof, which is a physiological effect that influences your decisions every day, whether you know it or not.

At Demand Curve and through our agency Bell Curve, we’ve helped over 1,000 startups improve their ability to convert cold traffic into repeat customers. We’ve found that effectively using social proof can lead to up to 400% improvement in conversion.

This post shares exactly how to collect and use social proof to help grow your SaaS, e-commerce, or B2B startup.

Surprisingly, we’ve actually seen negative reviews help improve conversion rates. Why? Because they help set customer expectations.

How businesses use social proof

Have you ever stopped to check out a restaurant because it had a large line of people out front? That wasn’t by chance.

It’s common for restaurants to limit the size of their reception area. This forces people to wait outside, and the line signals to people walking past that the restaurant is so good it’s worth waiting for.

But for Internet-based businesses, social proof looks a bit different. Instead of people lining up outside your storefront, you’re going to need to create social proof that resonates with your target customers — they’ll be looking for different clues to signal whether doing business with your company is “normal” or “acceptable” behavior.

Social proof for B2B

People love to compare themselves to others, and this is especially true when it comes to the customers of B2B businesses. If your competitor is able to get a contract with a company that you’ve been nurturing for months, you’d be upset (and want to know how they did it).

Therefore, B2B social proof is most effective when you display the logos of companies you do business with. This signals to people checking out your website that other businesses trust you to deliver on your offer. The more noteworthy or respected the logos on your site, the stronger the influence will be.

Social proof for SaaS

Depending on the type of SaaS product or service you’re selling, you’ll either be selling to an individual or to a business. The strategy remains the same, but the channels will vary slightly.

The most effective way to generate social proof for SaaS products is through positive reviews from trusted sources. For consumer SaaS, that will be through influential bloggers and YouTubers speaking highly of your product. For B2B SaaS, it will be through positive ratings on review sites like G2 or Capterra. Proudly display these testimonials on your site.

Social proof for e-commerce brands

E-commerce brands will typically sell directly to an individual through ads, but because anyone can purchase an ad, you’re going to need to signal trust in other ways. The most common way we see e-commerce brands building social proof is by nurturing an organic social media following on Instagram or TikTok.

This signals to new customers that you’ve gotten the seal of approval from others like them. Having an audience also allows you to showcase user-generated content from your existing customers.

How to collect social proof

There are five avenues startups can tap to collect social proof:

  1. Product reviews
  2. Testimonials
  3. Public relations and earned media
  4. Influencers
  5. Social media and community

Here are a few tactics we’ve used to help startups build social proof.

#assistant, #cloud, #column, #e-commerce, #e-sports, #ec-column, #ec-growth-marketing, #ecommerce, #growth-marketing, #marketing, #review-tools, #saas, #social-media, #social-networks, #social-proof, #startups, #user-generated-content, #verified-experts

Mirantis launches cloud-native data center-as-a-service software

Mirantis has been around the block, starting way back as an OpenStack startup, but a few years ago the company began to embrace cloud-native development technologies like containers, microservices and Kubernetes. Today, it announced Mirantis Flow, a fully managed open source set of services designed to help companies manage a cloud-native data center environment, whether your infrastructure lives on-prem or in a public cloud.

“We’re about delivering to customers an open source-based cloud-to-cloud experience in the data center, on the edge, and interoperable with public clouds,” Adrian Ionel, CEO and co-founder at Mirantis explained.

He points out that the biggest companies in the world, the hyperscalers like Facebook, Netflix and Apple, have all figured out how to manage in a hybrid cloud-native world, but most companies lack the resources of these large organizations. Mirantis Flow is aimed at putting these same types of capabilities that the big companies have inside these more modest organizations.

While the large infrastructure cloud vendors like Amazon, Microsoft and Google have been designed to help with this very problem, Ionel says that these tend to be less open and more proprietary. That can lead to lock-in, which today’s large organizations are looking desperately to avoid.

“[The large infrastructure vendors] will lock you into their stack and their APIs. They’re not based on open source standards or technology, so you are locked in your single source, and most large enterprises today are pursuing a multi-cloud strategy. They want infrastructure flexibility,” he said. He added, “The idea here is to provide a completely open and flexible zero lock-in alternative to the [big infrastructure providers, but with the] same cloud experience and same pace of innovation.”

They do this by putting together a stack of open source solutions in a single service. “We provide virtualization on top as part of the same fabric. We also provide software-defined networking, software-defined storage and CI/CD technology with DevOps as a service on top of it, which enables companies to automate the entire software development pipeline,” he said.

As the company describes the service in a blog post published today, it includes “Mirantis Container Cloud, Mirantis OpenStack and Mirantis Kubernetes Engine, all workloads are available for migration to cloud native infrastructure, whether they are traditional virtual machine workloads or containerized workloads.”

For companies worried about migrating their VMware virtual machines to this solution, Ionel says they have been able to move these VMs to the Mirantis solution in early customers. “This is a very, very simple conversion of the virtual machine from VMware standard to an open standard, and there is no reason why any application and any workload should not run on this infrastructure — and we’ve seen it over and over again in many many customers. So we don’t see any bottlenecks whatsoever for people to move right away,” he said.

It’s important to note that this solution does not include hardware. It’s about bringing your own hardware infrastructure, either physical or as a service, or using a Mirantis partner like Equinix. The service is available now for $15,000 per month or $180,000 annually, which includes: 1,000 core/vCPU licenses for access to all products in the Mirantis software suite plus support for 20 virtual machine (VM) migrations or application onboarding and unlimited 24×7 support. The company does not charge any additional fees for control plane and management software licenses.

#cloud, #developer, #enterprise, #kubernetes, #mirantis, #open-source, #openstack, #tc

Confluent CEO Jay Kreps is coming to TC Sessions: SaaS for a fireside chat

As companies process ever-increasing amounts of data, moving it in real time is a huge challenge for organizations. Confluent is a streaming data platform built on top of the open source Apache Kafka project that’s been designed to process massive numbers of events. To discuss this, and more, Confluent CEO and co-founder Jay Kreps will be joining us at TC Sessions: SaaS on Oct 27th for a fireside chat.

Data is a big part of the story we are telling at the SaaS event, as it has such a critical role in every business. Kreps has said in the past the data streams are at the core of every business, from sales to orders to customer experiences. As he wrote in a company blog post announcing the company’s $250 million Series E in April 2020, Confluent is working to process all of this data in real time — and that was a big reason why investors were willing to pour so much money into the company.

“The reason is simple: though new data technologies come and go, event streaming is emerging as a major new category that is on a path to be as important and foundational in the architecture of a modern digital company as databases have been,” Kreps wrote at the time.

The company’s streaming data platform takes a multi-faceted approach to streaming and builds on the open source Kafka project. While anyone can download and use Kafka, as with many open source projects, companies may lack the resources or expertise to deal with the raw open source code. Many a startup have been built on open source to help simplify whatever the project does, and Confluent and Kafka are no different.

Kreps told us in 2017 that companies using Kafka as a core technology include Netflix, Uber, Cisco and Goldman Sachs. But those companies have the resources to manage complex software like this. Mere mortal companies can pay Confluent to access a managed cloud version or they can manage it themselves and install it in the cloud infrastructure provider of choice.

The project was actually born at LinkedIn in 2011 when their engineers were tasked with building a tool to process the enormous number of events flowing through the platform. The company eventually open sourced the technology it had created and Apache Kafka was born.

Confluent launched in 2014 and raised over $450 million along the way. In its last private round in April 2020, the company scored a $4.5 billion valuation on a $250 million investment. As of today, it has a market cap of over $17 billion.

In addition to our discussion with Kreps, the conference will also include Google’s Javier Soltero, Amplitude’s Olivia Rose, as well as investors Kobie Fuller and Casey Aylward, among others. We hope you’ll join us. It’s going to be a thought-provoking lineup.

Buy your pass now to save up to $100 when you book by October 1. We can’t wait to see you in October!

#apache-kafka, #casey-aylward, #cisco, #cloud, #cloud-computing, #computing, #confluent, #developer, #enterprise, #event-streaming, #free-software, #goldman-sachs, #google, #javier-soltero, #jay-kreps, #kobie-fuller, #linkedin, #microsoft, #netflix, #open-source, #saas, #software, #software-as-a-service, #tc, #tc-sessions-saas-2021, #uber

Fiberplane nabs € 7.5M seed to bring Google Docs-like collaboration to incident response

Fiberplane, an Amsterdam-based early stage startup that is building collaborative notebooks for SREs (site reliability engineers)  to collaborate around an incident in a similar manner to group editing in a Google Doc, announced a ​​€ 7.5M (approximately $8.8 million USD) seed round today.

The round was co-led by Crane Venture Partners and Notion Capital with participation from Northzone, System.One and Basecase Capital.

Micha Hernandez van Leuffen (known as Mies) is founder and CEO at Fiberplane. When his previous startup, Werker was sold to Oracle in 2017, Hernandez van Leuffen became part of a much larger company where he saw people struggling to deal with outages (which happen at every company).

“We were always going back and forth between metrics, logs and traces, what I always call this sort of treasure hunt, and figuring out what was the underlying root cause of an outage or downtime,” Hernandez van Leuffen told me.

He said that this experience led to a couple of key insights about incident response: First, you needed a centralized place to pull all the incident data together, and secondly that as a distributed team managing a distributed system you needed to collaborate in real time, often across different time zones.

When he left Oracle in August 2020, he began thinking about the idea of giving DevOps teams and SREs the same kind of group editing capabilities that other teams inside an organization have with tools like Google Docs or Notion and an idea for his new company began to take shape.

What he created with Fiberplane is a collaborative notebook for SRE’s to pull in the various data types and begin to work together to resolve the incident, while having a natural audit trail of what happened and how they resolved the issue. Different people can participate in this notebook, just as multiple people can edit a Google Doc, fulfilling that original vision.

Fiberplane incident response notebook with various types of data about the incident.

Fiberplane collaborative notebook example with multiple people involved. Image Credit: Fiberplane

He doesn’t plan to stop there though. The longer term vision is an operational platform for SREs and DevOps teams to deal with every aspect of an outage. “This is our starting point, but we are planning to expand from there as more I would say an SRE workbench, where you’re also able to command and control your infrastructure,” he said.

Today the company has 13 employees and is growing, and as they do, they are exploring ways to make sure they are building a diverse company, looking at concrete strategies to find more diverse candidates.

“To hire diversely, we’re re-examining our top of the funnel processes. Our efforts include posting our jobs in communities of underrepresented people, running our job descriptions through a gender decoder and facilitating a larger time frame for jobs to remain open,” Elena Boroda, marketing manager at Fiberplane said.

While Hernandez van Leuffen is based in Amsterdam, the company has been hiring people in the UK, Berlin, Copenhagen and the US, he said. The plan is to have Amsterdam as a central hub when offices reopen as the majority of employees are located there.

#cloud, #developer, #enterprise, #eu-startups, #fiberplane, #funding, #incident-response, #sres, #startups, #tc

Salesforce announces new Mulesoft RPA tool based on Servicetrace acquisition

When Salesforce announced it was buying German RPA vendor Servicetrace last month, it seemed that it might match up well with Mulesoft, the company the CRM giant bought in 2018 for $6.5 billion. Mulesoft, among other things, helps customers build APIs to legacy systems, while Servicetrace provides a way to add automation to legacy systems. Sure enough, the company announced today, that it’s planning a new Mulesoft-Servicetrace tool called Mulesoft RPA.

The Servicetrace deal closed on September 2nd and the company isn’t wasting any time putting it to work wherever it makes sense across the organization — and the Mulesoft integration is a primary use case. John Kucera, SVP of product management at Salesforce where he leads product automation, says that Mulesoft has API management and integration tooling already, but RPA will add another dimension to those existing capabilities.

“We found that many of our customers also need to automate and integrate with disconnected systems, with PDFs, with spreadsheets, but also these legacy systems that don’t have events or API’s. And so we wanted to make sure that we can meet our customers where they are, and that we could have this end-to-end, solution to automate these capabilities,” Kucera told me.

The company will be packaging ServiceTrace as a part of Mulesoft, while blending it with other parts of the Salesforce family of integration tools, as well as other parts of the platform. The Mulesoft RPA tool will live under the Einstein Automate umbrella, but Mulesoft will also sell it as a stand-alone service, so customers can take advantage of it, even if they aren’t using other parts of the Mulesoft platform or even the broader Salesforce platform. Einstein is the name of Salesforce’s artificial intelligence capabilities. Although RPA isn’t really AI, it can become integrated into an AI-fueled workflow like this.

The Mulesoft acquisition always seemed to be about giving Salesforce, a fully cloud company at its core, a way to access on-prem, legacy enterprise systems, allowing customers to reach data wherever it lives. Adding RPA to the mix takes that a step further, enabling companies to build connections to these systems inside their more modern Einstein Automate workflow tooling to systems that previously wouldn’t have been accessible to the Einstein Automate system.

This is often the case for many large companies, which typically use a mix of newer and often very old systems. Giving them a way to link the two and bring automation across the company could prove quite useful if it truly works as described.

The company is announcing all of these capabilities at the Dreamforce, its annual customer conference taking place next week. As with many announcements at the conference, this one is designed to let customers know what’s coming, rather than something that’s available now (or at least soon). Salesforce RPA is not expected to be ready for general availability until some time in the first half of next year.

#cloud, #einstein-automate, #enterprise, #mulesoft, #rpa, #saas, #salesforce, #servicetrace, #tc, #workflow-automation

Ascend raises $5.5M to provide a BNPL option for commercial insurance

Ascend on Wednesday announced a $5.5 million seed round to further its insurance payments platform that combines financing, collections and payables.

First Round Capital led the round and was joined by Susa Ventures, FirstMark Capital, Box Group and a group of angel investors, including Coalition CEO Joshua Motta, Newfront Insurance executives Spike Lipkin and Gordon Wintrob, Vouch Insurance CEO Sam Hodges, Layr Insurance CEO Phillip Hodges, Anzen Insurance CEO Max Bruner, Counterpart Insurance CEO Tanner Hackett, former Bunker Insurance CEO Chad Nitschke, SageSure executive Paul VanderMarck, Instacart co-founders Max Mullen and Brandon Leonardo and Houseparty co-founder Ben Rubin.

This is the first funding for the company that is live in 20 states. It developed payments APIs to automate end-to-end insurance payments and to offer a buy now, pay later financing option for distribution of commissions and carrier payables, something co-founder and co-CEO Andrew Wynn, said was rather unique to commercial insurance.

Wynn started the company in January 2021 with his co-founder Praveen Chekuri after working together at Instacart. They originally started Sheltr, which connected customers with trained maintenance professionals and was acquired by Hippo in 2019. While working with insurance companies they recognized how fast the insurance industry was modernizing, yet insurance sellers still struggled with customer experiences due to outdated payments processes. They started Ascend to solve that payments pain point.

The insurance industry is largely still operating on pen-and-paper — some 600 million paper checks are processed each year, Wynn said. He referred to insurance as a “spaghetti web of money movement” where payments can take up to 100 days to get to the insurance carrier from the customer as it makes its way through intermediaries. In addition, one of the only ways insurance companies can make a profit is by taking those hundreds of millions of dollars in payments and investing it.

Home and auto insurance can be broken up into payments, but the commercial side is not as customer friendly, Wynn said. Insurance is often paid in one lump sum annually, though, paying tens of thousands of dollars in one payment is not something every business customer can manage. Ascend is offering point-of-sale financing to enable insurance brokers to break up those commercial payments into monthly installments.

“Insurance carries continue to focus on annual payments because they don’t have a choice,” he added. “They want all of their money up front so they can invest it. Our platform not only reduces the friction with payments by enabling customers to pay how they want to pay, but also helps carriers sell more insurance.”

Ascend app

Startups like Ascend aiming to disrupt the insurance industry are also attracting venture capital, with recent examples including Vouch and Marshmallow, which raised close to $100 million, while Insurify raised $100 million.

Wynn sees other companies doing verticalized payment software for other industries, like healthcare insurance, which he says is a “good sign for where the market is going.” This is where Wynn believes Ascend is competing, though some incumbents are offering premium financing, but not in the digital way Ascend is.

He intends to deploy the new funds into product development, go-to-market initiatives and new hires for its locations in New York and Palo Alto. He said the raise attracted a group of angel investors in the industry, who were looking for a product like this to help them sell more insurance versus building it from scratch.

Having only been around eight months, it is a bit early for Ascend to have some growth to discuss, but Wynn said the company signed its first customer in July and six more in the past month. The customers are big digital insurance brokerages and represent, together, $2.5 billion in premiums. He also expects to get licensed to operate as a full payment in processors in all states so the company can be in all 50 states by the end of the year.

The ultimate goal of the company is not to replace brokers, but to offer them the technology to be more efficient with their operations, Wynn said.

“Brokers are here to stay,” he added. “What will happen is that brokers who are tech-enabled will be able to serve customers nationally and run their business, collect payments, finance premiums and reduce backend operation friction.”

Bill Trenchard, partner at First Round Capital, met Wynn while he was still with Sheltr. He believes insurtech and fintech are following a similar story arc where disruptive companies are going to market with lower friction and better products and, being digital-first, are able to meet customers where they are.

By moving digital payments over to insurance, Ascend and others will lead the market, which is so big that there will be many opportunities for companies to be successful. The global commercial insurance market was valued at $692.33 billion in 2020, and expected to top $1 trillion by 2028.

Like other firms, First Round looks for team, product and market when it evaluates a potential investment and Trenchard said Ascend checked off those boxes. Not only did he like how quickly the team was moving to create momentum around themselves in terms of securing early pilots with customers, but also getting well known digital-first companies on board.

“The magic is in how to automate the underwriting, how to create a data moat and be a first mover — if you can do all three, that is great,” Trenchard said. “Instant approvals and using data to do a better job than others is a key advantage and is going to change how insurance is bought and sold.”

#andrew-wynn, #artificial-intelligence, #auto-insurance, #bill-trenchard, #box-group, #cloud, #commercial-insurance, #enterprise, #first-round-capital, #firstmark-capital, #funding, #health-insurance, #hippo, #insurance, #payments, #praveen-chekuri, #recent-funding, #saas, #startups, #susa-ventures, #tc, #vouch-insurance

Logistics startup Stord raises $90M in Kleiner Perkins-led round, becomes a unicorn and acquires another company

When Kleiner Perkins led Stord’s $12.4 million Series A in 2019, its founders were in their early 20s and so passionate about their startup that they each dropped out of their respective schools to focus on growing the business.

Fast-forward two years and Stord — an Atlanta-based company that has developed a cloud supply chain — is raising more capital in a round again led by Kleiner Perkins.

This time, Stord has raised $90 million in a Series D round of funding at a post-money valuation of $1.125 billion — more than double the $510 million that the company was valued at when raising $65 million in a Series C financing just six months ago.

In fact, today’s funding marks Stord’s third since early December of 2020, when it raised its Series B led by Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund, and brings the company’s total raised since its 2015 inception to $205 million.

Besides Kleiner Perkins, Lux Capital, D1 Capital, Palm Tree Crew, BOND, Dynamo Ventures, Founders Fund, Lineage Logistics and Susa Ventures also participated in the Series D financing. In addition, Michael Rubin, Fanatics founder and founder of GSI Commerce; Carlos Cashman, CEO of Thrasio; Max Mullen, co-founder of Instacart; and Will Gaybrick, CPO at Stripe, put money in the round.

Founders Sean Henry, 24, and Jacob Boudreau, 23, met while Henry was at Georgia Tech and Boudreau was in online classes at Arizona State (ASU) but running his own business, a software development firm, in Atlanta.

Over time, Stord has evolved into a cloud supply chain that can give companies a way to compete and grow with logistics, and provides an integrated platform “that’s available exactly when and where they need it,” Henry said. Stord combines physical logistics services such as freight, warehousing and fulfillment in that platform, which aims to provide “complete visibility, rapid optimization and elastic scale” for its users.

About two months ago, Stord announced the opening of its first fulfillment center, a 386,000-square-foot facility, in Atlanta, which features warehouse robotics and automation technologies. “It was the first time we were in a building ourselves running it end to end,” Henry said.

And today, the company is announcing it has acquired Connecticut-based Fulfillment Works, a 22-year-old company with direct-to-consumer (DTC) experience and warehouses in Nevada and in its home state.

With FulfillmentWorks, the company says it has increased its first-party warehouses, coupled with its network of over 400 warehouse partners and 15,000 carriers.

While Stord would not disclose the amount it paid for Fulfillment Works, Henry did share some of Stord’s impressive financial metrics. The company, he said, in 2020 delivered its third consecutive year of 300+% growth, and is on track to do so again in 2021. Stord also achieved more than $100 million in revenue in the first two quarters of 2021, according to Henry, and grew its headcount from 160 people last year to over 450 so far in 2021 (including about 150 Fulfillment Works employees). And since the fourth quarter is often when people do the most online shopping, Henry expects the three-month period to be Stord’s heaviest revenue quarter.

For some context, Stord’s new sales were up “7x” in the second quarter of 2020 compared to the same period last year. So far in the third quarter, sales are up almost 10x, according to Henry.

Put simply, Stord aims to give brands a way to compete with the likes of Amazon, which has set expectations of fast fulfillment and delivery. The company guarantees two-day shipping to anywhere in the country.

“The supply chain is the new competitive battleground,” Henry said. “Today’s buying expectations set by Amazon and the rise of the omni-channel shopper have placed immense pressure on companies to maintain more nimble and efficient supply chains… We want every company to have world-class, Prime-like supply chains.”

What makes Stord unique, according to Henry, is the fact that it has built what it believes to be the only end-to-end logistics network that combines the physical infrastructure with software.

That too is one of the reasons that Kleiner Perkins doubled down on its investment in the company.

Ilya Fushman, Stord board director and partner at Kleiner Perkins, said even at the time of his firm’s investment in 2019, that Henry displayed “amazing maturity and vision.”

At a high level, the firm was also just drawn to what he described as the “incredibly large market opportunity.”

“It’s trillions of dollars of products moving around with consumer expectation that these products will get to them the same day or next day, wherever they are,” Fushman told TechCrunch. “And while companies like Amazon have built amazing infrastructure to do that themselves, the rest of the world hasn’t really caught up… So there’s just amazing opportunity to build software and services to modernize this multitrillion-dollar market.”

In other words, Fushman explained, Stord is serving as a “plug and play” or “one stop shop” for retailers and merchants so they don’t have to spend resources on their own warehouses or building their own logistics platforms.

Stord launched the software part of its business in January 2020, and it grew 900% during the year, and is today one of the fastest-growing parts of its business.

“We built software to run our logistics and network of hundreds of warehouses,” Henry told TechCrunch. “But if companies want to use the same system for existing logistics, they can buy our software to get that kind of visibility.”

#atlanta, #cloud, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #funding, #fundings-exits, #ilya-fushman, #kleiner-perkins, #logistics, #ma, #recent-funding, #startup, #startups, #stord, #supply-chain, #venture-capital

Grammarly SDK beta lets developers embed automated text editing in any web app

Grammarly, the popular auto editing tool, announced the release of Grammarly for Developers today. The company is starting this effort with the Text Editor SDK (software development kit), which enables programmers to embed Grammarly text editing functionality into any web application.

Rob Brazier, head of product and platform at Grammarly, says that the beta release of this SDK gives developers access to the full power of Grammarly automated editing with a couple of lines of code.”Literally in just a couple lines of HTML, [developers] can add Grammarly’s assistance to their application, and they get a native Grammarly experiences available to all of their users without the users needing to install or register Grammarly,” Brazier told me.

Underneath the hood, these developers are getting access to highly sophisticated natural language processing (NLP) technology without requiring any artificial intelligence understanding or experience whatsoever. Instead, developers can take advantage of the work that Grammarly has already done.

While users of the target application don’t need to be Grammarly customers (and that is in fact the idea), if they do happen to be, they can log into their Grammarly accounts and access all of the functionality that comes with that. “If their users have a Grammarly subscription, those users can link their Grammarly accounts into the developer’s application. They can sign in with Grammarly and unlock the additional features of their particular subscriptions [directly] in that application,” he said.

Brazier said that because this is a starting point, the company wanted to keep it basic, get feedback on the beta and then add additional capabilities in the future. “We wanted to start with the simplest possible way of giving access to this capability to the greatest number of users. So that’s why we started with a pretty simple product. I think it’ll evolve over time and grow in sophistication, but it is really just a couple lines of code and you’re up and running,” he said.

This is the company’s first dip into the developer tool space, allowing programmers to access Grammarly functionality and embed it in their applications. This is not unlike the approach Zoom took last year when it released an SDK to tap into video services (although Zoom is much further along on this developer tool journey). As companies like Grammarly and Zoom grow in popularity, it seems the next logical step is to expose the strengths of the platform, in this case text editing, to let developers take advantage of it. In fact, Salesforce was the first to implement this idea in 2007 when it launched Force.com.

This approach also will potentially provide another source of revenue for Grammarly beyond the subscription versions of the product, although Brazier says it’s too early to say what shape that will take. Regardless, today’s announcement is just the first step in a broader strategy to expose different parts of the platform to developers and enable them to take advantage of all the work Grammarly’s engineers put into the platform. Interested developers can apply to be part of the beta program.

#artificial-intelligence, #cloud, #developer, #editing-tools, #grammarly, #natural-language-processing, #saas, #software-development-kit, #tc

AgBiome lands $166M for safer crop protection technology

AgBiome, developing products from microbial communities, brought in a $116 million Series D round as the company prepares to pad its pipeline with new products.

The company, based in Research Triangle Park, N.C., was co-founded in 2012 by a group including co-CEOs Scott Uknes and Eric Ward, who have known each other for over 30 years. They created the Genesis discovery platform to capture diverse microbes for agricultural applications, like crop protection, and screen the strains for the best assays that would work for insect, disease and nematode control.

“The microbial world is immense,” said Uknes, who explained that there is estimated to be a trillion microbes, but only 1% have been discovered. The microbes already discovered are used by humans for things like pharmaceuticals, food and agriculture. AgBiome built its database in Genesis to house over 100,000 microbes and every genome in every microbe was sequenced into hundreds of strains.

The company randomly selects strains and looks for the best family of strains with a certain activity, like preventing fungus on strawberries, and creates the product.

AgBiome co-CEOs Scott Uknes and Eric Ward. Image Credits: AgBiome

Its first fungicide product, Howler, was launched last year and works on more than 300 crop-disease combinations. The company saw 10x sales growth in 2020, Uknes told TechCrunch. As part of farmers’ integrated pest program, they often spray fungicide applications 12 times per year in order to yield fruits and vegetables.

Due to its safer formula, Howler can be used as the last spray in the program, and its differentiator is a shorter re-entry period — farmers can spray in the morning and be able to go back out in the field in the afternoon. It also has a shorter pre-harvest time of four hours after application. Other fungicides on the market today require seven days before re-entry and pre-harvest, Uknes explained.

AgBiome aims to add a second fungicide product, Theia, in early 2022, while a third, Esendo was submitted for Environmental Protection Agency registration. Uknes expects to have 11 products, also expanding into insecticides and herbicides, by 2025.

The oversubscribed Series D round was co-led by Blue Horizon and Novalis LifeSciences and included multiple new and existing investors. The latest investment gives AgBiome over $200 million in total funding to date. The company’s last funding round was a $65 million Series C raised in 2018.

While competitors in synthetic biology often sell their companies to someone who can manufacture their products, Uknes said AgBiome decided to manufacture and commercialize the products itself, something he is proud of his team for being able to do.

“We want to feed the world responsibly, and these products have the ability to substitute for synthetic chemicals and provide growers a way to protect their crops, especially as consumers want natural, sustainable tools,” he added.

The company has grown to over 100 employees and will use the new funding to accelerate production of its two new products, building out its manufacturing capacity in North America and expanding its footprint internationally. Uknes anticipates growing its employee headcount to 300 in the next five years.

AgBiome anticipates rolling up some smaller companies that have a product in production to expand its pipeline in addition to its organic growth. As a result, Uknes said he was particular about the kind of investment partners that would work best toward that goal.

Przemek Obloj, managing partner at Blue Horizon, was introduced to the company by existing investors. His firm has an impact fund focused on the future of food and began investing in alternative proteins in 2016 before expanding that to delivery systems in agriculture technology, he said.

Obloj said AgBiome is operating in a $60 billion market where the problems include products that put toxic chemicals into the ground that end up in water systems. While the solution would be to not do that, not doing that would mean produce doesn’t grow as well, he added.

The change in technology in agriculture is enabling Uknes and Ward to do something that wasn’t possible 10 years ago because there was not enough compute or storage power to discover and sequence microbes.

“We don’t want to pollute the Earth, but we have to find a way to feed 9 billion people by 2050,” Obloj said. “With AgBiome, there is an alternative way to protect crops than by polluting the Earth or having health risks.”

#agbiome, #agriculture, #agriculture-tech, #artificial-intelligence, #biology, #biotech, #blue-horizon, #cloud, #crop-protection, #enterprise, #environmental-protection-agency, #environmental-science, #eric-ward, #food, #funding, #herbicide, #novalis-lifesciences, #pharmaceuticals, #przemek-obloj, #recent-funding, #scott-uknes, #startups, #tc

JumpCloud raises $159M on $2.56B valuation for cloud directory tool

JumpCloud, the late-stage startup that is modernizing the notion of corporate directories in a cloud context, announced a $159 million Series F investment on a healthy $2.56 billion valuation today.

Sapphire Ventures led the round with new investors participating including Owl Rock, Whale Rock Capital, Sands Capital and Endeavor Catalyst along with existing investors General Atlantic, BlackRock and H.I.G. Growth Partners. The company has now raised almost $356 million with $259 million coming over the most recent two rounds.

JumpCloud CEO Rajat Bhargava says that investor interest in the company is driven by his belief that the directory structure is the center of an IT organization, especially as it relates to identity, and that includes mobile device management, single sign-on, multi-factor authentication, privileged access management and identity governance. He sees all these approaches coming together in the directory structure.

“We believe that those are all part of one core directory platform. So when you think of a directory very holistically and broadly, it is really about securely and frictionlessly connecting users and their identities to whatever they may need to access,” Bhargava told me.

They do this by going after SMBs and mid-market companies with a cloud product that simplifies the management of these complex systems. Jai Das, who is managing director at lead investor Sapphire Ventures, believes that this part of the market was being mostly left out of directory services because of that complexity before JumpCloud and others attempted to fill the void.

“Large enterprises have put in place various directory and security solutions to solve these problems, but with large investments in tech outlays and IT support teams. SMBs and mid-sized enterprises don’t have the big budgets or large staff to replicate the large enterprise model,” Das said. He adds that developing for this market is a huge challenge because it requires “building a product with all of the features large enterprises require, plus it has to be easy to use, easy to deploy and not [be] terribly expensive.”

While the company is not revealing any revenue metrics, Bhargava did say that they have added 2000 customers since we last spoke in November for a total of 5000, and he said that the company should double head count by the end of the year from the 300 last November.

He also said that he has been making progress at building a diverse company, and one way he does that is just asking every hiring manager if they interviewed historically underrepresented candidates.

“The simple act of just asking that question makes such a massive difference inside of an organization. We’ve encouraged all of our hiring managers to interview diverse candidates but we also when there’s an offer about to be made, or when they’re in the [interview] process, we are asking them did you talk to [diverse] candidates. And then if you didn’t, we’re going to ask you to go, search for those folks [before making a hiring decision],” he said.

Bhargava didn’t want to talk about and IPO when we spoke last year, and not much changed this time around. “We’ll see. It’s just not part of what we’re worried about or focused on,” he said.

He did indicate however, that with such a substantial amount of money on the balance sheet, he would consider some strategic acquisitions. “We will focus on M&A and where it makes sense will integrate different components and teams into our business,” he said. With a tight labor market, that could be about adding engineering, as well as adding functionality to the platform, he said.

#cloud, #directory-services, #funding, #jai-das, #jumpcloud, #midmarket, #recent-funding, #sapphire-ventures, #smb, #startups

Chinese crackdown on tech giants threatens its cloud market growth

As Chinese tech companies come under regulatory scrutiny at home, concerns and pressures are escalating among investors and domestic tech companies including China’s four big cloud companies, BATH (Baidu AI, Alibaba Cloud, Tencent Cloud and Huawei Cloud), according to an analyst report.

Despite a series of antitrust and internet-related regulation crackdowns, the four leading cloud companies have been growing steadily. As the current scrutiny is not particularly focused on the cloud sector and the demand for digital transformation, artificial intelligence and smart industries remains firm, China’s cloud infrastructure market size mounted to $6.6 billion, which is an increase of 54% compared with the previous year, in the second quarter of 2021.

Nonetheless, share prices of three of them–Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent– have fallen between 18% and 30% over the last 6 month, which could make investors cautious on betting on the Chinese tech companies.

“Chinese tech companies could always rely on their local market, especially when access to lucrative Western markets was blocked. But increasing domestic regulatory pressures over the past nine months have been a frustrating headwind for those companies that have seen their cloud businesses grow significantly over the past years,” said Canalys Vice President Alex Smith.

The four big cloud titans dominate the Chinese cloud market, accounting for 80% of total cloud spending. Alibaba Cloud maintained its frontrunner status with a 33.8% market share, in the second quarter of this year. Huawei, which had 19.3% of China’s market size in 2Q21, is the one that has avoided regulatory measures so far.

“Huawei is an infrastructure and device company that also happens to have developed a strong cloud business. When it comes to cloud infrastructure, we focus on the BATH companies, not just BAT. Huawei is in a strong position to drive growth, particularly in the public sector where it has a good standing and long-term relationship with the government,” Canalys Chief Analyst Matthew Ball said.

While Chinese regulators intensify scrutiny of its technology companies, the crackdowns wreak havoc on its own markets and the shares of China-based companies.

Beijing passed the Data Security Law in June that started to go into effect early September for protecting critical data related to national security and issued draft guidelines on regulating the algorithms companies, targeting ByteDance, Alibaba Group, Tencent and DiDi and others, in late August.

#alibaba-cloud, #artificial-intelligence, #asia, #china, #cloud, #cloud-infrastructure, #huawei-cloud, #policy, #tc

Amagi tunes into $100M for cloud-based video content creation, monetization

Media technology company Amagi announced Friday $100 million to further develop its cloud-based SaaS technology for broadcast and connected televisions.

Accel, Avataar Ventures and Norwest Venture Partners joined existing investor Premji Invest in the funding round, which included buying out stakes held by Emerald Media and Mayfield Fund. Nadathur Holdings continues as an existing investor. The latest round gives Amagi total funding raised to date of $150 million, Baskar Subramanian, co-founder and CEO of Amagi, told TechCrunch.

New Delhi-based Amagi provides cloud broadcast and targeted advertising software so that customers can create content that can be created and monetized to be distributed via broadcast TV and streaming TV platforms like The Roku Channel, Samsung TV Plus and Pluto TV. The company already supports more than 2,000 channels on its platform across over 40 countries.

“Video is a complex technology to manage — there are large files and a lot of computing,” Subramanian said. “What Amagi does is enable a content owner with zero technology knowledge to simplify that complex workflow and scalable infrastructure. We want to make it easy to plug in and start targeting and monetizing advertising.”

As a result, Amagi customers see operational cost savings on average of up to 40% compared to traditional delivery models and their ad impressions grow between five and 10 times.

The new funding comes at a time when the company is experiencing rapid growth. For example, Amagi grew 30 times in the United States alone over the past few years, Subramanian said. Amagi commands an audience of over 2 billion people, and the U.S. is its largest market. The company also sees growth potential in both Latin America and Europe.

In addition, in the last year, revenue grew 136%, while new customer year over year growth was 44%, including NBCUniversal — Subramanian said the Tokyo Olympics were run on Amagi’s platform for NBC, USA Today and ABS-CBN.

As more of a shift happens with video content being developed for connected television experiences, which he said is a $50 billion market, the company plans to use the new funding for sales expansion, R&D to invest in the company’s product pipeline and potential M&A opportunities. The company has not made any acquisitions yet, Subramanian added.

In addition to the broadcast operations in New Delhi, Amagi also has an innovation center in Bangalore and offices in New York, Los Angeles and London.

“Consumer behavior and infrastructure needs have reached a critical mass and new companies are bringing in the next generation of media, and we are a large part of that growth,” Subramanian said. “Sports will come on quicker, while live news and events are going to be one of the biggest growth areas.”

Shekhar Kirani, partner at Accel, said Amagi is taking a unique approach to enterprise SaaS due to that $50 billion industry shift happening in video content, where he sees half of the spend moving to connected television platforms quickly.

Some of the legacy players like Viacom and NBCUniversal created their own streaming platforms, where Netflix and Amazon have also been leading, but not many SaaS companies are enabling the transition, he said.

When Kirani met Subramanian five years ago, Amagi was already well funded, but Kirani was excited about the platform and wanted to help the company scale. He believes the company has a long tailwind because it is saving people time and enabling new content providers to move faster to get their content distributed.

“Amagi is creating a new category and will grow fast,” Kirani added. “They are already growing and doubling each year with phenomenal SaaS metrics because they are helping content providers to connect to any audience.

 

#accel, #advertising-tech, #amagi, #avataar-ventures, #baskar-subramanian, #cloud, #cloud-computing, #computing, #content-creators, #developer, #enterprise, #funding, #india, #mayfield-fund, #media, #norwest-venture-partners, #recent-funding, #shekhar-kirani, #startups, #streaming-video, #tc, #video-content

Box wins proxy board battle with activist investor Starboard Value

A battle between Box and its majority shareholder Starboard Value over control of the board ended today when the company’s slate of directors easily defeated Starboard’s. It culminated months of maneuvering on both sides as they battled for control of the company.

Box in a somewhat generic statement expressed gratitude for the results: “Box appreciates the support and perspectives we have received from our stockholders throughout this process. The Board and management team will remain focused on continuing to transform Box and executing Box’s strategy to grow profitably and deliver significant value to all Box stockholders,” the company said in a statement released after the vote became official.

Starboard on the other hand, as you might expect, was unhappy with the outcome and didn’t hide that in a letter to shareholders released earlier today.

“We are certainly disappointed by the results of this election, which were heavily skewed by the voting rights tied to the preferred equity financing and the use of stockholder capital to aggressively repurchase shares ahead of the record date from stockholders likely to support change. At this juncture, the future of Box is in the Board’s hands, and there is a significant amount of work left to be done. Many commitments have been made, and we hope that Box will finally be able to follow through on its promises to drive improved results, accountability, governance, and compensation practices,” managing director Peter A. Feld wrote in the letter.

This all began when Starboard Value invested in Box, taking a 7.5% stake, which would eventually grow to 8.8% in the company. With that stake, it became the largest shareholder, but it remained relatively quiet until March of this year. That is when public rumblings began that Starboard was unhappy with the direction of the company, a conflict that could have ultimately resulted in the ouster of founder and CEO Aaron Levie or the sale of Box.

The situation took an interesting turn when Box announced it was taking a $500 million investment from KKR, a move that Starboard took great exception to and made clear in a letter published at the beginning of May that it wanted significant changes to take place. As we wrote at the time:

While they couched the letter in mostly polite language, it’s quite clear Starboard is exasperated with Box. “While we appreciate the dialogue we have had with Box’s management team and Board of Directors (the “Board”) over the past two years, we have grown increasingly frustrated with continued poor results, questionable capital allocation decisions, and subpar shareholder returns,” Starboard wrote in its letter.

Less than a week later Starboard made a move for board seats and the battle was on for control. Box’s position was strengthened by two decent earnings reports prior to the vote; the company took the unusual move of delivering the results early in order to give the voters that information prior to the vote.

The company also made the unusual move of filing a document with the SEC that pushed back against Starboards’s slate of candidates. In the end, Box won the battle. Alan Pelz-Sharpe, founder and principal analyst at Deep Analysis, who has been watching the content management space where Box operates for years, sees this as a victory for Levie and Box.

“It was not a surprise to me that Box won the day. In my opinion, Starboard misread and underestimated the loyalty that Aaron Levie generates. The fact is that to most Box employees and investors, the company is a success story, and they also know that the customer base is pretty engaged and that there is plenty of room for future growth,” he said.

“For Box this vote of confidence will mean that they can (if they want) make some acquisitions and invest more in R&D moving forward, without constantly having an aggressive investor looking over their shoulder,” Pelz-Sharpe added.

It’s hard to know what happens next, but Starboard still maintains its shares for now, and it still has some clout in those numbers. Throughout its ownership tenure, Box has performed better, as the recent earnings results have shown, and the firm says that this remains the ultimate goal.

“As we have repeatedly stated, our only goal has been to help Box perform better and adopt best-in-class practices across operating performance, financial results, governance, and compensation in order to create long-term value for the benefit of all stockholders. We will continue to monitor progress at Box, and we hope to see the Company embrace the changes catalyzed by our involvement and create long-term value,” Starboard’s Feld wrote.

#aaron-levie, #activist-investors, #box, #cloud, #cloud-content-management, #drama, #enterprise, #starboard-value, #tc

Fin names former Twilio exec Evan Cummack as CEO, raises $20M

Work insights platform Fin raised $20 million in Series A funding and brought in Evan Cummack, a former Twilio executive, as its new chief executive officer.

The San Francisco-based company captures employee workflow data from across applications and turns it into productivity insights to improve the way enterprise teams work and remain engaged.

Fin was founded in 2015 by Andrew Kortina, co-founder of Venmo, and Facebook’s former VP of product and Slow Ventures partner Sam Lessin. Initially, the company was doing voice assistant technology — think Alexa but powered by humans and machine learning — and then workplace analytics software. You can read more about Fin’s origins at the link below.

In 2020, the company pivoted again to the company it is today. The new round was led by Coatue, with participation from First Round Capital, Accel and Kleiner Perkins. The original team was talented, but small, so the new funding will build out sales, marketing and engineering teams, Cummack said.

“At that point, the right thing was to raise money, so at the end of last year, the company raised a $20 million Series A, and it was also decided to find a leadership team that knows how to build an enterprise,” Cummack told TechCrunch. “The company had completely pivoted and removed ‘Analytics’ from our name because it was not encompassing what we do.”

Fin’s software measures productivity and provides insights on ways managers can optimize processes, coach their employees and see how teams are actually using technology to get their work done. At the same time, employees are able to manage their workflow and highlight areas where there may be bottlenecks. All combined, it leads to better operations and customer experiences, Cummack said.

Graphic showing how work is really done. Image Credits: Fin

Fin’s view is that as more automation occurs, the company is looking at a “renaissance of human work.” There will be more jobs and more types of jobs, but people will be able to do them more effectively and the work will be more fulfilling, he added.

Particularly with the use of technology, he notes that in the era before cloud computing, there was a small number of software vendors. Now with the average tech company using over 130 SaaS apps, it allows for a lot of entrepreneurs and adoption of best-in-breed apps so that a viable company can start with a handful of people and leverage those apps to gain big customers.

“It’s different for enterprise customers, though, to understand that investment and what they are spending their money on as they use tools to get their jobs done,” Cummack added. “There is massive pressure to improve the customer experience and move quickly. Now with many people working from home, Fin enables you to look at all 130 apps as if they are one and how they are being used.”

As a result, Fin’s customers are seeing metrics like 16% increase in team utilization and engagement, a 25% decrease in support ticket handle time and a 71% increase in policy compliance. Meanwhile, the company itself is doubling and tripling its customers and revenue each year.

Now with leadership and people in place, Cummack said the company is positioned to scale, though it already had a huge head start in terms of a meaningful business.

Arielle Zuckerberg, partner at Coatue, said via email that she was part of a previous firm that invested in Fin’s seed round to build a virtual assistant. She was also a customer of Fin Assistant until it was discontinued.

When she heard the company was pivoting to enterprise, she “was excited because I thought it was a natural outgrowth of the previous business, had a lot of potential and I was already familiar with management and thought highly of them.”

She believed the “brains” of the company always revolved around understanding and measuring what assistants were doing to complete a task as a way to create opportunities for improvement or automation. The pivot to agent-facing tools made sense to Zuckerberg, but it wasn’t until the global pandemic that it clicked.

“Service teams were forced to go remote overnight, and companies had little to no visibility into what people were doing working from home,” she added. “In this remote environment, we thought that Fin’s product was incredibly well-suited to address the challenges of managing a growing remote support team, and that over time, their unique data set of how people use various apps and tools to complete tasks can help business leaders improve the future of work for their team members. We believe that contact center agents going remote was inevitable even before COVID, but COVID was a huge accelerant and created a compelling ‘why now’ moment for Fin’s solution.”

Going forward, Coatue sees Fin as “a process mining company that is focused on service teams.” By initially focusing on customer support and contact center use case — a business large enough to support a scaled, standalone business — rather than joining competitors in going after Fortune 500 companies where implementation cycles are long and there is slow time-to-value, Zuckerberg said Fin is better able to “address the unique challenges of managing a growing remote support team with a near-immediate time-to-value.”

 

#accel, #andrew-kortina, #arielle-zuckerberg, #artificial-intelligence, #automation, #business-intelligence, #business-process-management, #cloud, #cloud-computing, #coatue, #enterprise, #fin, #first-round-capital, #funding, #groupware, #kleiner-perkins, #machine-learning, #process-mining, #recent-funding, #saas, #sam-lessin, #slow-ventures, #startups, #talent, #tc, #twilio, #workflow

Google Workspace opens up spaces for all users

Employee location has become a bit more complicated as some return to the office, while others work remotely. To embrace those hybrid working conditions, Google is making more changes to its Google Workspace offering by going live with spaces — its tool for small group sharing — in Google Chat for all users.

Spaces integrates with Workspace tools, like the calendar, Drive and documents, to provide a more hybrid work experience where users can see the full history, content and context of conversations regardless of their location.

Google’s senior director of product management Sanaz Ahari wrote in a blog post that customers wanted spaces to be more like a “central hub for collaboration, both in real time and asynchronously. Instead of starting an email chain or scheduling a video meeting, teams can come together directly in a space to move projects and topics along.”

Here are some new features users can see in spaces:

  • One interface for everything — inbox, chats, spaces and meetings.
  • Spaces, and content therein, can be made discoverable for people to find and join in the conversation.
  • Better search ability within a team’s knowledge base.
  • Ability to reply to any message within a space.
  • Enhanced security and admin tools to monitor communication.

Employees can now indicate if they will be virtual or in-person on certain days in Calendar for collaboration expectations. As a complement, users can call colleagues on both mobile and desktop devices in Google Meet.

Calendar work location

In November, all customers will be able to use Google Meet’s Companion Mode to join a meeting from a personal device while tapping into in-room audio and video. Also later this year, live-translated captions will be available in English to French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, with more languages being added in the future.

In addition, Google is also expanding its Google Meet hardware portfolio to include two new all-in-one video conferencing devices, third-party devices — Logitech’s video bar and Appcessori’s mobile device speaker dock — and interoperability with Webex by Cisco.

Google is tying everything together with a handbook for navigating hybrid work, which includes best practice blueprints for five common hybrid meetings.

 

#apps, #cloud, #computing, #enterprise, #google, #google-meet, #google-workspace, #groupware, #mobile-device, #mobile-software, #tc, #technology, #telecommunications, #video-conferencing, #web-conferencing, #webex

New IBM Power E1080 server promises dramatic increases in energy efficiency, power

We know that large data centers running powerful servers use vast amounts of electricity. Anything that can reduce consumption would be a welcome change, especially in a time of climate upheaval. That’s where the new IBM Power E1080 server, which is powered by the latest Power10 processors, comes into play.

IBM claims it can consolidate the work of 126 competitive servers down to just two E1080s, saving 80% in energy costs, by the company’s estimation. What’s more, the company says, “The new server has set a new world record in a SAP benchmark that measures performance for key SAP applications, needing only half the resources used by x86 competitive servers to beat them by 40%.”

Patrick Moorhead, founder and principal analyst at Moor Insight & Strategy, who closely follows the chip industry, says that the company’s bold claims about what these systems can achieve make sense from a hardware design perspective. “The company’s claims on SAP, Oracle and OpenShift workloads pass initial muster with me as it simply requires less sockets and physical processors to achieve the same performance. These figures were compared to Intel’s Cascade Lake that will be replaced with Sapphire Rapids (in the future),” he said.

Steve Sibley, vice president and business line executive in the Power Systems Group at IBM, says that the new server (and the Power10 chip running it) have been designed for customers looking for a combination of speed, power, efficiency and security. “If you look at what we deliver here with scale and performance, it gives customers even more agility to respond quickly to scale to their highest demands,” he said.

To give customers options, they can buy E1080 servers outright and install them in a company data center. They can buy server access as a service from the IBM cloud (and possibly competitor clouds) or they can rent the servers and install them in their data centers and pay by the minute to help mitigate the cost.

“Our systems are a little bit more expensive on what I call a base cost of acquisition standpoint, but we allow customers to actually purchase [E1080 servers] on an as-a-service basis with a by-the-minute level of granularity of what they’re paying for,” he said.

What’s more, this server, which is the first to be released based on the Power10 chip, is designed to run Red Hat software under the hood, giving the company another outlet for its 2018 $34 billion acquisition.

“Bringing Red Hat’s platform to this platform is a key way to modernize applications, both from just a RHEL (Red Hat Enterprise Linux) operating system environment, as well as OpenShift (the company’s container platform). The other place that has been key with our Red Hat acquisition and our capitalizing on it is that we’re leveraging their Ansible projects and products to drive management and automation on our platform, as well,” Sibley explained.

Since Arvind Krishna took over as CEO at IBM in April 2020, he has been trying to shift the focus of the company to hybrid computing, where some computing exists in the cloud and some on prem, which is the state many companies will find themselves in for many years to come. IBM hopes to leverage Red Hat as a management plane for a hybrid environment, while offering a variety of hardware and software tools and services.

While Red Hat continues to operate as a standalone entity inside IBM, and wants to remain a neutral company for customers, Big Blue is still trying to find ways to take advantage of its offerings whenever possible and using it to run its own systems, and the E1080 provides a key avenue for doing that.

The company says that it is taking orders for the new servers starting immediately and expects to begin shipping systems at the end of the month.

#arvind-krishna, #chips, #cloud, #enterprise, #hardware, #ibm, #ibm-red-hat-deal, #red-hat, #tc

Virtual meeting platform Vowel raises $13.5M, aims to cure meeting fatigue

Meetings are an inevitable part of the work day, but as workplaces became more distributed over the past 18 months, Vowel CEO Andy Berman says we are steadily moving toward “death by meeting.”

His virtual meeting platform is the latest to receive venture capital funding — $13.5 million — with the goal of making meetings more useful before, during and after.

Vowel is launching a meeting operating system with tools like real-time transcription; integrated agendas, notes and action items; meeting analytics; and searchable, on-demand recordings of meetings. The company has a freemium business model and will also be rolling out a business plan this fall for $16 per user per month. Extra features will include advanced integrations, security and admin controls.

The Series A was led by David Hornik of Lobby Capital, who was joined by existing investors Amity Ventures and Box Group and a group of individual investors, including Calendly CEO Tope Awotona, Intercom co-founder Des Traynor, Slack VP Ethan Eismann, former Yammer executive Viviana Faga, former InVision president David Fraga and Okta co-founder Frederic Kerrest.

Prior to starting Vowel, Berman was one of the founders of baby monitor company Nanit. The company had teams spread out around the world, and communication was tough as a result. In 2018, the company went looking for a tool that would work for synchronous and asynchronous meetings, but there were still a lot of time zones to manage, he said.

Taking a cue from Nanit’s own baby monitors that were streaming video over 17 hours a day, the idea for Vowel was born, and the company began to focus on the hypothesis that distributed work would be prevalent.

“People initially thought we were crazy, but then the pandemic hit, and everyone was learning how to work remotely,” Berman told TechCrunch. “As we now go back to hybrid work, we see this as an opportunity.”

In 2017, Harvard Business Review reported that executives spent 23 hours in meetings each week. Berman now estimates that the average worker spends half of their time each week in meetings.

Vowel is out to bring Slack, Figma and GitHub components to meetings by recording audio and video that can be paused at any time. Users can add notes and see where those notes fall within a real-time transcription that enables people who arrive late or could not make the meeting to catch up easily. After meetings are over, they can be shared, and Vowel has a search function so that users can go back and see where a particular person or topic was discussed.

The new funding will enable the company to grow its team in product, design and engineering. Vowel plans to hire up to 30 new people over the next year. The company recently closed its beta test and has amassed a 10,000-person waitlist. The public launch will happen in the fall, Berman said.

Workplace productivity and office communication tools are not new concepts, but as Berman explained, became increasingly important when homes became offices over the past 18 months.

Competitors took different approaches to solving these problems: focusing on video conferencing or audio or meeting management with plugins. Berman says an area where many have not succeeded yet is integrating meetings into the typical workflow. That’s where Vowel comes in with its “meeting OS,” he added.

“Our goal is to make meetings more inclusive and worthwhile, which includes the prep, the meeting and the follow-up,” Berman said. “We see the future will be about knowledge management, so the difference between what we are doing is ensuring you can catch up quickly and keep that knowledge base. A Garner report said that 75% of workplace meetings will be recorded by 2025, and that is a trend we are reinventing from the ground up.”

David Hornick, founding partner at Lobby Capital, said he became acquainted with Vowel from its existing investor Amity Ventures. Hornick, who sits on the GitLab board, said GitLab was one of the largest distributed companies in the tech space, prior to the pandemic, and saw first-hand the challenge of making distributed teams functionable.

When Hornick heard about Vowell, he said he “jumped quickly” on the opportunity. His firm typically invests in platform businesses that have the capacity to transform business spaces. Many are pure software, like Splunk or GitLab, while others are akin to Bill.com, which transformed how small businesses manage financial operations, he added.

All of those combine into a company, like Vowel, especially given the company’s vision for a meeting OS to transform a meeting space that hadn’t moved forward in decades, he said.

“This was quickly obvious to me because my day is meetings — an eight-Zoom day is a normal day — I just wish I could remember everything,” Hornick said. “Speaking with early customers using the product, when I asked them what they would do if this ever went away, the first thing they said was ‘cry,’ and, because there was no alternative, would return to Zoom or other tools, but it would be a big setback.”

#amity-ventures, #andy-berman, #artificial-intelligence, #box-group, #cloud, #david-hornik, #enterprise, #funding, #knowledge-management, #lobby-capital, #meetings, #operating-system, #recent-funding, #saas, #software, #startups, #streaming-video, #tc, #video-conferencing, #vowel, #web-conferencing, #zoom

DigitalOcean enhances serverless capabilities with Nimbella acquisition

As developers look for ways to simplify how they create software, serverless solutions, which enable them to write code without worrying about the underlying infrastructure required to run their applications, is becoming increasingly popular. DigitalOcean announced today that it is enhancing its existing offering in this area with the acquisition of serverless startup Nimbella. The companies did not share the terms of the deal.

With Nimbella, the company is getting a platform for building serverless applications that is built on the open source container orchestration platform, Kubernetes and Apache OpenWhisk, which is itself an open source serverless development platform.

DigitalOcean CEO Yancey Spruill, who took over two years ago, refers to Nimbella’s capabilities as Function as a Service with the goal being to simplify serverless development in an open source context for its target customers.”Serverless kinds of capabilities are taking a whole level of the infrastructure burden away from developers and businesses and we absorb that. We’ll allow our customers to have more configurability around the tools, which just removes burdens for them and allows them to go faster,” he said.

In practical terms, Nimbella CEO Anshu Agarwal says that means they are providing a specific set of tools to build sophisticated serverless applications and connect to other DigitalOcean services. “The capabilities that we will be adding to DigitalOcean portfolio are a fast solution, a function as a service solution that also integrates with the underlying DigitalOcean services [like] managed databases, storage and other services that make it make it easier for a developer to develop full applications, not just addressing events, but doing things which are completely stateless,” Agarwal explained.

Spruill said that this wasn’t the company’s first foray into serverless. That began last year when it offered its initial serverless tooling, but it wanted to build on its current offering and Nimbella fit the bill.

DigitalOcean is a cloud Infrastructure as a Service and Platform as a Service provider, aiming at individual developers, startups and SMBs. While DigitalOcean’s $318 million 2020 revenue was a fraction of the $129 billion cloud market, it is proof that there is still money to be made even with a small slice of that market.

The companies did not discuss the terms of the deal, the number of employees involved or even the title that Agarwal would have when the deal closed, but the plan is to fully integrate Nimbella into the DigitalOcean portfolio and eventually make it a DigitalOcean-branded product some time in the first half of next year.

#cloud, #cloud-infrastructure-market, #digitalocean, #exit, #fundings-exits, #ma, #mergers-and-acquisitions, #open-source, #serverless, #startups, #tc

Quantum Machines plans to expand quantum orchestration platform with $50M investment

Quantum Machines, an Israeli startup that is building the classical hardware and software infrastructure to help run quantum machines, announced a $50 million Series B investment today.

Today’s round was led by Red Dot Capital Partners with help from Exor, Claridge Israel, Samsung NEXT, Valor Equity Partners, Atreides Management, LP, as well as TLV Partners, Battery Ventures, 2i Ventures and other existing investors. The company has now raised approximately $83 million, according to Crunchbase data.

While quantum computing in general is in its early days, Quantum Machines has developed a nice niche by building a hardware and software system, what they call The Quantum Orchestration Platform, that helps run the burgeoning quantum machines, leaving it plenty of room to grow as the industry develops.

Certainly Quantum Machines co-founder and CEO Itamar Sivan, who has been working in quantum his entire career, sees the vast potential of this technology. “Quantum computers have the promise of potentially speeding up very substantially computations that are impossible to complete in reasonable time with classical computers, and this is at the highest level the interest in the field right now. Our vision specifically at Quantum Machines is to make quantum computers ubiquitous and disruptive across all industries,” he said.

To achieve that, the company has created a system that relies on classical computers to power quantum computers as they develop. While the company has designed its own silicon for this purpose, it is important to note that it is not building quantum chips. As Sivan explains, the classical computer has a software and hardware layer, but quantum machines have three layers: “The quantum hardware, which is the heart, and on top of that you have classical hardware […] and then on top of that you have software,” he said.

“We focus on the two latter layers. So classical hardware and the software that drives it. Now at the heart of our hardware is in fact a classical processor. So this is I think one of the most interesting parts of the quantum stack,” he explained.

He says that this interaction between classical computing and quantum computing is one that is fundamental to the technology, and it’s a mix that will last well into the future, possibly forever. What Quantum Machines is building is essentially the classical cloud infrastructure required to run quantum computers.

Quantum Machines founding team.

Quantum Machines founding team: Itamar Sivan, Nissim Ofek, Yonatan Cohen. Photo Credit: Quantum Machines

So far the approach has been working quite well, as Sivan reports that governments, researchers, universities and the hyper scaler operators (which could include companies like Amazon, Netflix and Google, although the company has not said they are customers) are all interested in QM’s technology. While it isn’t discussing specific metrics, the company has customers in 15 countries at the moment and is working with some large entities that it couldn’t name.

The money from this round helps validate what the company is doing, enabling it to continue building out the solution, while also investing heavily in research and development, which is essential as the industry is still in early development and much will change over time.

They have been able to create this solution to this point with just 60 employees, and with the new funding should be able to build out the team in a substantial way in the coming years. He says that when it comes to diversity, he comes from an academic background where this is the norm and he has carried this forth to his company as he hires new people. What’s more, the pandemic has allowed him to hire from anywhere and he says that the company has taken advantage of this opportunity.

“First of all, we’re not hiring just in Israel, we’re hiring globally, and we’re not limited to hiring in specific geographies. We have people [from a number of countries],” he said. He adds, “Diversity for me personally means involving as many people as possible in hiring processes. That is the only way to ensure that there is diversity.”

Even throughout the pandemic, the hardware team has been meeting in person in the office with necessary precautions when it has been allowed, but most employees have continued to work from home, and that is an approach he will continue to take even when it’s safe to return to the office on a regular basis.

“Of course, work in a post-COVID era will include a substantial amount of remote work. […] So even in [our] headquarters, we anticipate allowing people to work remotely [if they wish].

#cloud, #enterprise, #funding, #israeli-startups, #quantum-computing, #quantum-machines, #recent-funding, #red-dot-capital-partners, #startups

The time Animoto almost brought AWS to its knees

Today, Amazon Web Services is a mainstay in the cloud infrastructure services market, a $60 billion juggernaut of a business. But in 2008, it was still new, working to keep its head above water and handle growing demand for its cloud servers. In fact, 15 years ago last week, the company launched Amazon EC2 in beta. From that point forward, AWS offered startups unlimited compute power, a primary selling point at the time.

EC2 was one of the first real attempts to sell elastic computing at scale — that is, server resources that would scale up as you needed them and go away when you didn’t. As Jeff Bezos said in an early sales presentation to startups back in 2008, “you want to be prepared for lightning to strike, […] because if you’re not that will really generate a big regret. If lightning strikes, and you weren’t ready for it, that’s kind of hard to live with. At the same time you don’t want to prepare your physical infrastructure, to kind of hubris levels either in case that lightning doesn’t strike. So, [AWS] kind of helps with that tough situation.”

An early test of that value proposition occurred when one of their startup customers, Animoto, scaled from 25,000 to 250,000 users in a 4-day period in 2008 shortly after launching the company’s Facebook app at South by Southwest.

At the time, Animoto was an app aimed at consumers that allowed users to upload photos and turn them into a video with a backing music track. While that product may sound tame today, it was state of the art back in those days, and it used up a fair amount of computing resources to build each video. It was an early representation of not only Web 2.0 user-generated content, but also the marriage of mobile computing with the cloud, something we take for granted today.

For Animoto, launched in 2006, choosing AWS was a risky proposition, but the company found trying to run its own infrastructure was even more of a gamble because of the dynamic nature of the demand for its service. To spin up its own servers would have involved huge capital expenditures. Animoto initially went that route before turning its attention to AWS because it was building prior to attracting initial funding, Brad Jefferson, co-founder and CEO at the company explained.

“We started building our own servers, thinking that we had to prove out the concept with something. And as we started to do that and got more traction from a proof-of-concept perspective and started to let certain people use the product, we took a step back, and were like, well it’s easy to prepare for failure, but what we need to prepare for success,” Jefferson told me.

Going with AWS may seem like an easy decision knowing what we know today, but in 2007 the company was really putting its fate in the hands of a mostly unproven concept.

“It’s pretty interesting just to see how far AWS has gone and EC2 has come, but back then it really was a gamble. I mean we were talking to an e-commerce company [about running our infrastructure]. And they’re trying to convince us that they’re going to have these servers and it’s going to be fully dynamic and so it was pretty [risky]. Now in hindsight, it seems obvious but it was a risk for a company like us to bet on them back then,” Jefferson told me.

Animoto had to not only trust that AWS could do what it claimed, but also had to spend six months rearchitecting its software to run on Amazon’s cloud. But as Jefferson crunched the numbers, the choice made sense. At the time, Animoto’s business model was for free for a 30 second video, $5 for a longer clip, or $30 for a year. As he tried to model the level of resources his company would need to make its model work, it got really difficult, so he and his co-founders decided to bet on AWS and hope it worked when and if a surge of usage arrived.

That test came the following year at South by Southwest when the company launched a Facebook app, which led to a surge in demand, in turn pushing the limits of AWS’s capabilities at the time. A couple of weeks after the startup launched its new app, interest exploded and Amazon was left scrambling to find the appropriate resources to keep Animoto up and running.

Dave Brown, who today is Amazon’s VP of EC2 and was an engineer on the team back in 2008, said that “every [Animoto] video would initiate, utilize and terminate a separate EC2 instance. For the prior month they had been using between 50 and 100 instances [per day]. On Tuesday their usage peaked at around 400, Wednesday it was 900, and then 3,400 instances as of Friday morning.” Animoto was able to keep up with the surge of demand, and AWS was able to provide the necessary resources to do so. Its usage eventually peaked at 5000 instances before it settled back down, proving in the process that elastic computing could actually work.

At that point though, Jefferson said his company wasn’t merely trusting EC2’s marketing. It was on the phone regularly with AWS executives making sure their service wouldn’t collapse under this increasing demand. “And the biggest thing was, can you get us more servers, we need more servers. To their credit, I don’t know how they did it — if they took away processing power from their own website or others — but they were able to get us where we needed to be. And then we were able to get through that spike and then sort of things naturally calmed down,” he said.

The story of keeping Animoto online became a main selling point for the company, and Amazon was actually the first company to invest in the startup besides friends and family. It raised a total of $30 million along the way, with its last funding coming in 2011. Today, the company is more of a B2B operation, helping marketing departments easily create videos.

While Jefferson didn’t discuss specifics concerning costs, he pointed out that the price of trying to maintain servers that would sit dormant much of the time was not a tenable approach for his company. Cloud computing turned out to be the perfect model and Jefferson says that his company is still an AWS customer to this day.

While the goal of cloud computing has always been to provide as much computing as you need on demand whenever you need it, this particular set of circumstances put that notion to the test in a big way.

Today the idea of having trouble generating 3,400 instances seems quaint, especially when you consider that Amazon processes 60 million instances every day now, but back then it was a huge challenge and helped show startups that the idea of elastic computing was more than theory.

#amazon, #amazon-web-services, #animoto, #apps, #cloud, #enterprise, #infrastructure-as-a-service, #tc

Pixalate tunes into $18.1M for fraud prevention in television, mobile advertising

Pixalate raised $18.1 million in growth capital for its fraud protection, privacy and compliance analytics platform that monitors connected television and mobile advertising.

Western Technology Investment and Javelin Venture Partners led the latest funding round, which brings Pixalate’s total funding to $22.7 million to date. This includes a $4.6 million Series A round raised back in 2014, Jalal Nasir, founder and CEO of Pixalate, told TechCrunch.

The company, with offices in Palo Alto and London, analyzes over 5 million apps across five app stores and more 2 billion IP addresses across 300 million connected television devices to detect and report fraudulent advertising activity for its customers. In fact, there are over 40 types of invalid traffic, Nasir said.

Nasir grew up going to livestock shows with his grandfather and learned how to spot defects in animals, and he has carried that kind of insight to Pixalate, which can detect the difference between real and fake users of content and if fraudulent ads are being stacked or hidden behind real advertising that zaps smartphone batteries or siphons internet usage and even ad revenue.

Digital advertising is big business. Nasir cited Association of National Advertisers research that estimated $200 billion will be spent globally in digital advertising this year. This is up from $10 billion a year prior to 2010. Meanwhile, estimated ad fraud will cost the industry $35 billion, he added.

“Advertisers are paying a premium to be in front of the right audience, based on consumption data,” Nasir said. “Unfortunately, that data may not be authorized by the user or it is being transmitted without their consent.”

While many of Pixalate’s competitors focus on first-party risks, the company is taking a third-party approach, mainly due to people spending so much time on their devices. Some of the insights the company has found include that 16% of Apple’s apps don’t have privacy policies in place, while that number is 22% in Google’s app store. More crime and more government regulations around privacy mean that advertisers are demanding more answers, he said.

The new funding will go toward adding more privacy and data features to its product, doubling the sales and customer teams and expanding its office in London, while also opening a new office in Singapore.

The company grew 1,200% in revenue since 2014 and is gathering over 2 terabytes of data per month. In addition to the five app stores Pixalate is already monitoring, Nasir intends to add some of the China-based stores like Tencent and Baidu.

Noah Doyle, managing director at Javelin Venture Partners, is also monitoring the digital advertising ecosystem and said with networks growing, every linkage point exposes a place in an app where bad actors can come in, which was inaccessible in the past, and advertisers need a way to protect that.

“Jalal and Amin (Bandeali) have insight from where the fraud could take place and created a unique way to solve this large problem,” Doyle added. “We were impressed by their insight and vision to create an analytical approach to capturing every data point in a series of transactions —  more data than other players in the industry — for comprehensive visibility to help advertisers and marketers maintain quality in their advertising.”

 

#ad-fraud, #advertising-tech, #apps, #artificial-intelligence, #cloud, #digital-advertising, #enterprise, #funding, #jalal-nasir, #javelin-venture-partners, #marketing, #mobile, #mobile-advertising, #noah-doyle, #online-advertising, #pixalate, #recent-funding, #smartphone, #startups, #tc, #western-technology-investment

Goodcall picks up $4M, Yelp partnership to answer merchant inbound calls

Even without staffing shortages, local merchants have difficulty answering calls while all hands are busy, and Goodcall wants to alleviate some of that burden from America’s 30 million small businesses.

Goodcall’s free cloud-based conversational platform leverages artificial intelligence to manage incoming phone calls and boost customer service for businesses of all sizes. Former Google executive Bob Summers left Google back in January, where he was working on Area 120 — an internal incubator program for experimental projects — to start Goodcall after recognizing the call problem, noting that in fact 60% of the calls that come into merchants go unanswered.

“It’s frustrating for you and for the person calling,” Summers told TechCrunch. “Every missed call is a lost opportunity.”

Goodcall announced its launch Wednesday with $4 million in seed funding led by strategic investors Neo, Foothill Ventures, Merus Capital, Xoogler Ventures, Verissimo Ventures and VSC Ventures, as well as angel investors including Harry Hurst, founder and co-CEO of Pipe.com, and Zillow co-founder Spencer Rascoff.

Goodcall mobile agent. Image Credits: Goodcall

Restaurants, shops and merchants can set up on Goodcall in a matter of minutes and even establish a local phone number to free up an owner’s mobile number from becoming the business’ main line. The service is initially deployed in English and the company has plans to operate in Spanish, French and Hindi by 2022.

Merchants can choose from six different assistant voices and monitor the call logs and what the calls were about. Goodcall can also capture consumer sentiment, Summers said.

The company offers three options, including its freemium service for solopreneurs and business owners, which includes up to 500 minutes per month of Goodcall services for a single phone line. Up to five additional locations and five staff members costs $19 per month for the Pro level, or the Premium level provides unlimited locations and staff for $49 per month.

During the company’s beta period, Goodcall was processing several thousands of calls per month. The new funding will be used to continue to offer the free service, hire engineers and continue product development.

In addition to the funding round, Goodcall is unveiling a partnership with Yelp to tap into its database of local businesses so that those owners and managers can easily deploy Goodcall. Yelp data shows that more than 500,000 businesses opened during the pandemic. The company pulls in from Yelp a merchant’s open hours, location, if they offer Wi-Fi and even their COVID policy.

“We are partnering with Yelp, which has the best data on small businesses, and other large distribution channels to get our product to market,” Summers said. “We are bringing technology into an industry that hasn’t innovated since the 1980s and democratizing conversational AI for small businesses that are the main driver of job creation, and we want to help them grow.”

 

#artificial-intelligence, #bob-summers, #call-assistance, #cloud, #ecommerce, #enterprise, #foothill-ventures, #funding, #goodcall, #index, #merus-capital, #neo, #personnel, #recent-funding, #software, #startups, #tc, #xoogler, #yelp

Extra Crunch roundup: Toast and Freshbook S-1s, pre-pitch tips, flexible funding lessons

The digital transformation currently sweeping society has likely reached your favorite local restaurant.

Since 2013, Boston-based Toast has offered bars and eateries a software platform that lets them manage orders, payments and deliveries.

Over the last year, its customers have processed more than $38 billion in gross payment volume, so Alex Wilhelm analyzed the company’s S-1 for The Exchange with great interest.

“Toast was last valued at just under $5 billion when it last raised, per Crunchbase data,” he writes. “And folks are saying that it could be worth $20 billion in its debut. Does that square with the numbers?”


Full Extra Crunch articles are only available to members.
Use discount code ECFriday to save 20% off a one- or two-year subscription.


Airbnb, DoorDash and Coinbase each debuted at past Y Combinator Demo Days; as of this writing, they employ a combined 10,000 people.

Today and tomorrow, TechCrunch reporters will cover the proceedings at YC’s Summer 20201 Demo Day. In addition to writing up founder pitches, they’ll also rank their favorites.

Even remotely, I can feel a palpable sense of excitement radiating from our team — anything can happen at YC Demo Day, so sign up for Extra Crunch to follow the action.

Thanks very much for reading; I hope you have an excellent week.

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch
@yourprotagonist

How Amazon EC2 grew from a notion into a foundational element of cloud computing

Image Credits: Ron Miller/TechCrunch

In August 2006, AWS activated its EC2 cloud-based virtual computer, a milestone in the cloud infrastructure giant’s development.

“You really can’t overstate what Amazon was able to accomplish,” writes enterprise reporter Ron Miller.

In the 15 years since, EC2 has enabled clients of any size to test and run their own applications on AWS’ virtual machines.

To learn more about a fundamental technological shift that “would help fuel a whole generation of startups,” Ron interviewed EC2 VP Dave Brown, who built and led the Amazon EC2 Frontend team.

3 ways to become a better manager in the work-from-home era

Image of a manager talking to his team via a video conference.

Image Credits: Jasmin Merdan (opens in a new window)/ Getty Images

Most managers agree that OKRs foster transparency and accountability, but running a team effectively has different challenges when workers are attending all-hands meetings from their kitchen tables.

Instead of just discussing key metrics before board meetings or performance reviews, make them part of the day-to-day culture, recommends Jeremy Epstein, Gtmhub’s CMO.

“Strengthen your team by creating authentic workplace transparency using numbers as a universal language and providing meaning behind your team’s work.”

The pre-pitch: 7 ways to build relationships with VCs

A person attracts people to his side with a magnet.

Image Credits: Getty Images under an Andrii Yalanskyi (opens in a new window) license

Many founders must overcome a few emotional hurdles before they’re comfortable pitching a potential investor face-to-face.

To alleviate that pressure, Unicorn Capital founder Evan Fisher recommends that entrepreneurs use pre-pitch meetings to build and strengthen relationships before asking for a check:

“This is the ‘we actually aren’t looking for money; we just want to be friends for now’ pitch that gets you on an investor’s radar so that when it’s time to raise your next round, they’ll be far more likely to answer the phone because they actually know who you are.”

Pre-pitches are good for more than curing the jitters: These conversations help founders get a better sense of how VCs think and sometimes lead to serendipitous outcomes.

“Investors are opportunists by necessity,” says Fisher, “so if they like the cut of your business’s jib, you never know — the FOMO might start kicking hard.”

Lessons from COVID: Flexible funding is a must for alternative lenders

Flexible Multi Colored Coil Crossing Hexagon Frame on White Background.

Image Credits: MirageC (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

FischerJordan’s Deeba Goyal and Archita Bhandari break down the pandemic’s impact on alternative lenders, specifically what they had to do to survive the crisis, taking a look at smaller lenders including Credibly, Kabbage, Kapitus and BlueVine.

“Only those who were able to find a way through the complexities of their existing capital sources were able to maintain their performance, and the rest were left to perish or find new funding avenues,” they write.

Inside Freshworks’ IPO filing

Customer engagement software company Freshworks’ S-1 filing depicts a company that’s experiencing accelerating revenue growth, “a great sign for the health of its business,” reports Alex Wilhelm in this morning’s The Exchange.

“Most companies see their growth rates decline as they scale, as larger denominators make growth in percentage terms more difficult.”

Studying the company’s SEC filing, he found that “Freshworks isn’t a company where we need to cut it lots of slack, as we might with an adjusted EBITDA number. It is going public ready for Big Kid metrics.”

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