Censys, a search engine for internet devices, raises $15.5M Series A

Internet device search engine Censys is one of the biggest search engines you’ve probably never heard of.

If Google is the search engine for finding information sitting on the web, Censys is the search engine for finding internet devices, like computers, servers, and smart devices, that hosts the data to begin with. By continually mapping the internet looking for connected devices, it’s possible to identify devices that are accessible outside a company’s firewall. The aim is to help companies keep track of which systems can be accessed from the web and know which devices have exploitable security vulnerabilities.

Now, Censys has raised $15.5 million in a Series A fundraise, led by GV and Decibel with participation from Greylock Partners.

David Corcoran, chief executive and co-founder of the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based internet security startup, said the company plans to “aggressively” invest in top security talent and plans to double its headcount from about 50 to 100 in the next year, including expanding its sales, engineering, and leadership teams.

“We’re thrilled to have the support of world-class investors as we keep the momentum building and continue to revolutionize how businesses manage their security posture in an ever-changing environment,” said Corcoran.

The fundraise couldn’t come at a more critical time for the company. Censys is not the only internet device search engine, rivaling Binary Edge and Shodan. But Censys says it has spent two years on bettering its internet mapping technology, helping it see more of the internet than it did before.

The new scan engine, built by the same team that developed and maintains its original open-source ZMap scanner, claims to see 44% more devices on the internet than other security companies. That helps companies see new vulnerable systems as soon as the come online, said Censys’ chief scientist Zakir Durumeric.

Censys is one of a number of growing security companies in the Ann Arbor area, alongside NextHop Technologies, Interlink Networks, and Duo Security, co-founded by Dug Song, who also sits on Censys’ board.

“You can’t protect what you can’t see — but in today’s dynamic IT environment, many organizations struggle to find, much less keep track of, every system and application at risk before the attackers do,” said Song. “Censys empowers defenders with the automated visibility they need to truly understand and to get ahead of these risks, enabling even small security teams to have an outsized impact.”

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Building your startup’s customer advisory board

A customer advisory board (CAB) can be an invaluable resource for startups, but many founders struggle with putting together the right group of advisors and how to incentivize them. At our TechCrunch Early Stage event, Saam Motamedi, a general partner at Greylock Partners, talked about how he thinks about putting together the right CAB.

“We encourage all of our early-stage companies to put this in place,” Motamedi said. The goal here is to speed up the process to get to product/market fit since your CAB will provide you with regular feedback.

“The idea here is [that] you have this feedback loop from customers back to your product where you build, you go get feedback, you iterate — and the tighter this feedback loop is, the faster you’ll get to product-market fit. And you want to do things structurally to make this feedback loop tighter, starting with a CAB.”

Motamedi said a CAB should consist of about three to six customers. These should be “luminaries or forward thinkers” in the market you are serving. “You add them to the CAB — you might give them small advisory grants — and they become stakeholders and give you feedback as you work through the early stages of product development.”

Image Credits: Greylock Partners

As for the people who you put on the CAB, Motamedi suggests first setting the right expectations for the board.

“There are three components. Number one, the most valuable thing you can get from these customer advisors is their time. So the first piece is you want them to commit to a monthly cadence, that could be 60 minutes, it could be 90 minutes, where you’re going to say, ‘Hey, I’m going to come to the meeting, I’m going to bring two of my teammates, we’re going to show you the latest product demo, and you’re going to drill us with feedback. We’re going to do that once a month.’  […] And then piece two is this notion of customer days, you could do quarterly, you could also do twice a year.

“The idea is you want to bring the customers together. Because if you and I are both CIOs at Fortune 500 companies and we independently react to a product, that’s one thing, but if we sit in a room together, we all look at the product together, there’s going to be interesting data amongst us as customers and the founder is going to learn a lot from that.[…] And I think the third piece is just an expectation that as the company progresses and product maturity increases, that folks on the CAB are going to be advocates and evangelists for the company with their customer networks.”

Motamedi recommends outlining those expectations in a short document.

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5 VCs agree: COVID-19 reshaped adtech and martech

We last surveyed VCs about their advertising and marketing investment strategies back in January — which is to say, in a completely different world, before the coronavirus pandemic began to wreak havoc on the global economy.

While there don’t appear to be any comprehensive numbers yet about the effect on digital advertising (which is, after all, still playing out), early data and anecdotes suggest a rapid decline, with some categories of ad spend disappearing entirely.

And as we noted in our previous survey, Crunchbase data shows that adtech had already fallen at a roughly 10% compounded annual growth rate over the last five years.

So what does the landscape look like now, and where are the remaining opportunities? To find out, we’ve compiled updated answers from two investors who participated in the previous survey and brought in three new perspectives:

For the most part, they acknowledged the landscape’s challenges — not just the pandemic, but the general maturity of the industry — while also pointing to opportunities in areas like machine learning. As Elton put it succinctly, “Marketing and advertising are not going away.”

Eric Franchi, MathCapital

How much time are you spending looking at marketing tech or adtech startups right now? Are you more focused on one or the other?

Adtech and martech are our main categories as a fund. We selectively invest in categories that might benefit from it (think DTC brands or media) or be of benefit to it (think next-generation CRM or HR tech). But 90%+ of our focus is adtech and martech.

What are you looking for in your next investment?

As always — team first. We look for founding teams with talent, vision and grit. We keep a fairly wide berth in terms of products and categories but we are spending much of our time focused on two themes: the post-privacy era in marketing (i.e. new, cookieless, compliant forms of identity and infrastructure) and future of digital media (i.e. video, OTT, audio, etc.).

How has COVID-19 impacted the adtech and martech investing landscape? Are there still opportunities?

Dealflow is down somewhat, but we are still seeing great opportunities. We have several investments in the pipeline for Q2. The challenges right now are similar to other sectors: spending time getting to know teams and calibrating expectations for growth in a Zoom-only (for now) world.

What kind of advice are you giving to your portfolio companies?

Right now, two months post-lockdown, most adjustments have been made to budgets and plans, teams (and customers) are adjusted to being fully remote and things have somewhat stabilized. Now is the time to get teams focused on sales and marketing. It’s a unique and rare time to outflank larger, slower-moving competitors and adapt to the market.

Christine Tsai, 500 Startups

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Colin Kaepernick joins Medium board of directors and inks partnership publishing deal

The online publishing platform Medium said that it has added former San Francisco 49ers quarterback and civil rights advocate Colin Kaepernick to its board of directors.

The company also said it had inked a partnership agreement with Kaepernick to develop projects focused on race and civil rights in America under the Kaepernick Publishing imprint — Kaepernick’s personal publishing company founded in 2019.

Medium’s decision to bring Kaepernick on board as a director and publisher for the site follows an industry-wide reckoning within startups around the country about their role in perpetuating racial disparity in America. The accounting comes as protests in cities across the country shine a spotlight on police brutality and the political and economic disenfranchisement of the nation’s Black communities in the wake of the Memorial Day murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers.

According to Medium’s chief executive Ev Williams, the deal with Kaepernick is the culmination of a long-running discussion between the company and the athlete and activist.

“We’ve been in talks with Colin for some time, and we are honored to be electing him to join our board,” said Williams, in a statement. “Colin’s voice and actions have led the discussion on racial justice, and the world is finally catching up to him.”

Kaepernick will be writing stories and working on features for Medium’s Level, which describes itself as a publication for the “interested man” and its new blog on anti-Black racism and civil rights, Momentum. The activist and former quarterback will also interview leaders, activists and athletes for the Medium platform.

“I am excited for Kaepernick Publishing to partner with Medium to continue to elevate Black voices in the news and publishing industry,” said Kaepernick, in a statement. “I also look forward to creating new opportunities and avenues for Black writers and creators with my new role as a Board member.”

Medium currently boasts 170 million monthly readers across its blogs and editorially driven publications including ZORA and Level, which are aimed at women and men of color, according to the company. Medium also publishes GEN, focused on “politics, power, and culture”; the technology-focused masthead, OneZeroElemental, a health-focused site; Forge, for self-help and advice; and Marker, which the company bills as a business-focused site.

Momentum is the latest addition to Medium’s suite of curated blogs and publications.

To date, Medium has raised over $130 million from investors including Andreessen Horowitz, Spark Capital, GV, Greylock Partners, The Chernin Group, Lowercase Capital and Obvious Ventures.

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