AI startup Eightfold valued at $2.1B in SoftBank-led $220M funding

Eightfold AI, a startup which uses deep learning and artificial intelligence to help companies find, recruit and retain workers, said on Thursday it has raised $220 million in a new round as it looks to accelerate its growth.

SoftBank Vision Fund 2 led the Series E round of the five-year-old startup, which is now valued at $2.1 billion, up from $1 billion in Series E last October, Eightfold AI founder and chief executive Ashutosh Garg told TechCrunch in an interview.

Existing investors General Catalyst, Capital One Ventures, Foundation Capital, IVP and Lightspeed Venture Partners also participated in the new round, which brings the startup’s all-time raise to over $410 million.

The Mountain View-based startup provides its clients with a talent acquisition platform that helps them identify suitable candidates and import and filter thousands of resumes. One of Eightfold AI’s missions is to help companies reduce biases in their hirings, so it masks candidates’ personal information during evaluation.

“Instead of searching for a job, a candidate can upload their resume and the system will tell what is the most relevant job for that candidate in real-time,” explained Garg. “What this does is, it reduces the drop-off rate. And our clients see more applications — and field more diverse applications.”

The startup, which has amassed clients in over 100 countries and offers its platform in over a dozen languages, also enables employers to deploy the Eightfold platform internally and help employees discover job opportunities within their organization. “This has helped businesses almost double their internal mobility,” said Garg, who previously worked at Google.

Garg said recruiting remains an untapped opportunity and existing platforms.

“Powered by AI and machine learning, Eightfold’s platform provides global enterprises with a single solution for managing the entire talent lifecycle, including hiring, retaining, and growing a diverse global workforce,” said Deep Nishar, Senior Managing Partner at SoftBank Investment Advisers and who previously worked for nearly six years at LinkedIn. “We are pleased to partner with Ashutosh and the Eightfold team to support their ambition of transforming how enterprises manage talent and how people build their careers.”

This is a developing story. More to follow…

#capital-one-ventures, #foundation-capital, #funding, #general-catalyst, #ivp, #lightspeed-venture-partners, #saas, #softbank, #softbank-vision-fund-2

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Synctera raises $33M Series A to pair fintechs with banks

Synctera, which aims to serve as a matchmaker for community banks and fintechs, has raised $33 million in a Series A round of funding led by Fin VC.

The raise comes just under six months after the fintech raised $12.4 million in a seed round of funding.

New investors Mastercard and Gaingels also participated in the latest round, which included follow-on investments from Lightspeed Venture Partners, Diagram Ventures, SciFi Ventures and Scribble Ventures. Several angel investors put money in the Series A including Omri Dahan, Marqeta’s Chief Revenue Officer, Feedzai Chairman and CEO Nuno Sebastiao and Greenlight co-founder and CEO Tim Sheehan. 

Alongside the Series A, Synctera is also announcing its commitment to the new Cap Table Coalition – which includes funding from Gaingels, Neythri Futures Fund, Plexo Capital and over 20 angels – alongside other startups by allocating 10% of all funding rounds to “traditionally marginalized,” or underrepresented, investors via an SPV. (Fellow fintech Finix led the initiative earlier this year before forming this coalition but more on that later).

“This has exposed us to find great folks who we otherwise might not have known,” said Synctera’s co-founder and CEO Peter Hazlehurst. “That’s why we pledge to reserve 10% of this round and all future rounds to diverse investors.”

In a nutshell, San Francisco-based Synctera has developed a platform designed to help facilitate partnership banking. It was founded on the premise that some community banks and credit unions are actually turning down deals with young fintechs because the relationships can be too complicated or time-consuming to manage. Synctera’s goal is to connect community banks and fintechs to streamline the process with its “Banking-as-a-Service” (BaaS) platform.

TechCrunch recently caught up with Hazlehurst, who most recently served as former head of Uber Money and previously also led development of Google Wallet and products related to its payments system.

Put simply, Synctera wants to make it easier for community banks and fintechs to partner with each other. It examines banks’ needs and then sets them up with a fintech that is best suited to meet those needs. It claims to “do the work for both parties,” managing the partnership from its back-end platform, while dealing with issues like regulatory compliance, which can be a deterrent for some companies. The process of managing, reconciling and billing banks can result in “a lot of operational overhead and complexity,” according to the company.

The company says it’s built a “diverse” marketplace of banks and fintech companies so that it can apply a “personalized touch to each match” and make sure that the parties “align on geography, brand ethos, and desired business goals.”

So far, Synctera has signed three banks with plans to sign on three more this month. The startup has already paired Coastal Community Bank – a local bank serving the greater Puget Sound community – with One, a new digital banking platform, and Ellevest, a new fintech. 

By using Synctera’s platform, the company claims, banks can more freely allow their fintech counterparts to offer FDIC-insured mobile checking, debit cards, savings accounts or innovations in payments to their prospective customers, the company claims. They can also make more money doing so, Hazlehurst said, by bringing in more revenue beyond interchange fees.

“Like most small businesses, community banks have been hit hard by COVID-19,” he added. “We hope to further diversify community banks’ revenue streams.”

Banks can also more easily manage multiple relationships with various fintechs as the companies agree to adopt Synctera’s tech stack, the company claims.

“We build a single dashboard for a bank, so there’s a consolidated position across all fintechs,” Hazlehurst told me at the time of the company’s last raise. “It’s all about visibility for the bank.”

Currently Synctera has about 50 employees, including about two dozen engineers, most of whom are located in Canada, Hazlehurst said. The company plans to ramp up to 160 employees by year’s end with a focus on engineering, sales, marketing and customer success staff.

Looking ahead, Hazlehurst predicts that the fourth quarter will be “all about support for small business fintechs.”

“We want to create a neobank for gig economy workers, and want to add lending as a service,” he said. “But our next big phase is to onboard a lot of fintechs, and learn from them.”

Logan Allin, managing general partner and founder at Fin VC, believes that Banking-as-a-Service in general will transform legacy national and regional banks, credit unions, fintecs, corporate tech and retailers alike “as these players either seek to vertically integrate financial services or accelerate their digitization process.”

Synctera, he adds, has taken an approach with its tech stack that allows for integration with legacy community banks and their respective cores. This, Allin believes, will help ensure a “cloud native and scalable model” and made it an attractive investment. (Fin VC has also backed the likes of other fintechs such as Pipe and SoFi).

“Synctera’s peers are simply abstracting bank cores and serving as ‘API wrappers’ in a kludgy short-term approach and having come from the legacy bank and modern fintech worlds, we recognized that these players had not built sufficiently strong bridges across the ecosystem,” Allin told TechCrunch.

For his part, Finix Founder Richie Serna is thrilled that other startups are following his lead in the pledge to make their cap tables more diverse.

“After Finix announced our special purpose vehicle for Black and Latinx investors, the response was overwhelmingly positive,” he told TechCrunch. “Startups in every sector and at every stage have asked us how to recreate our SPV. In response, we started the Cap Table Coalition to make it as easy as possible for more high-growth startups, like Synctera, to take control over their cap tables,” said Richie Serna, CEO and co-founder of Finix. “We see this as an inflection point that will completely upend how the VC world functions.”

Meanwhile, Synctera is not the only player trying to help banks and fintechs forge partnerships. Last week, TechCrunch reported on Visa said it has expanded its Visa Fintech Partner Connect program, which is designed to help financial institutions quickly connect with a “vetted and curated” set of technology providers. 

#api, #articles, #bank, #banking-as-a-service, #canada, #diversity, #economy, #fdic, #finance, #financial-services, #financial-technology, #finix, #fintech, #founder, #funding, #fundings-exits, #google, #greenlight, #head, #lightspeed-venture-partners, #marqeta, #mastercard, #peter-hazlehurst, #player, #plexo-capital, #recent-funding, #richie-serna, #san-francisco, #startup, #startups, #uber, #venture-capital

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Cybersecurity unicorn Exabeam raises $200M to fuel SecOps growth

Exabeam, a late-stage startup that helps organizations detect advanced cybersecurity threats, has landed a new $200 million funding round that values the company at $2.4 billion.

The Series F growth round was led by the Owl Rock division of Blue Owl Capital, with support from existing investors Acrew Capital, Lightspeed Venture Partners and Norwest Venture Partners.

The announcement of Exabeam’s latest funding, which the company says will help it on its mission to become “the number one trusted cloud SeCops platform in the market”, coincides with the news that CEO Nir Polak, who co-founded the company in 2013, will be replaced by former ForeScout chief executive Michael DeCesare.

DeCesare is a big name in the cybersecurity space, with more than 25 years of experience leading high-growth security companies. He joined ForeScout as CEO and president in February 2015 after four years as president of McAfee, which at the time was owned by Intel. Under his leadership, ForeScout raised nearly $117 million in an upsized IPO that valued the IoT security vendor at $800 million.

Polak, meanwhile, will shift to a chairman role at Exabeam and “will continue on as an active member of the executive team and remain at the company,” according to the funding announcement.

“Nir has built an incredibly robust, diverse and inclusive culture at Exabeam, and I am committed to helping it flourish,” said DeCesare. “I’m thrilled to join Nir and the whole leadership team to help drive the company through its next phase of growth.”

Exabeam, which has now raised $390 million in six rounds of outside funding, says it expects to use the new money to fuel scale, innovate and extend the company’s leadership. “It gives us the opportunity to triple down on our R&D efforts and continue engineering the most advanced UEBA, XDR and SIEM cloud security products available today,” commented Polak.

The company adds that it has made significant investments in its partner program over the last 12 months, which now includes more than 400 reseller, distributor, systems integrator, MSSP, MDR and consulting partners globally. Exabeam also has more than 500 technology integrations with cloud network, data lake and endpoint vendors including CrowdStrike, Okta and Snowflake.

It’s clearly expecting these investments to pay off, describing its “outcome-based approach” to external security as perfectly suited to support organizations as they manage exponential amounts of data and return to the post-COVID workplace in a variety of hybrid scenarios. After all, hackers are already beginning to target employees who have started making a return to the office, and this threat is only likely to increase as more companies begin to dial back on remote working and start welcoming staff back into workplaces.

“Exabeam is poised to be the next-gen leader in the cloud security analytics, XDR and SIEM markets,” Pravin Vazirani, Blue Owl Capital’s managing director and co-head of tech investing, said in a statement. “We led this round of funding to provide the company with the resources necessary to support its sustainable, long-term growth and value creation.”

#acrew-capital, #ceo, #chairman, #cloud, #cloud-applications, #companies, #crowdstrike, #exabeam, #executive, #forescout, #funding, #intel, #leader, #lightspeed, #lightspeed-venture-partners, #mcafee, #norwest-venture-partners, #okta, #president, #security, #software

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Forget the piggy bank, Till Financial’s kids’ spend management app gets Gates’ backing

Today’s children and teens want more power and control over their spending.

And while there are a number of financial services and apps out there aimed at helping this demographic save and invest money (Greenlight being among the most popular and well-known), one startup is coming at the space from another angle: helping younger people also better manage their spend.

Till Financial describes itself as a collaborative family financial tool that aims to empower kids to become smarter spenders. The New York-based company’s banking platform is designed to encourage “open and honest” discussions between parents and their kids. And it has just raised $5 million to help it advance on that goal.

A slew of investors put money in the round, including Elysian Park Ventures, Melinda Gates’ venture fund Pivotal Ventures with Magnify Ventures, Afore Capital, Luge Capital, Alpine Meridian Ventures, The Gramercy Fund, SM Ventures (the family office of the founders/CEOs of Stadium Goods) and Lightspeed Venture Partners’ Scout Fund. Also participating were angel investors such as the founders of fintech Petal, the founders of alcohol marketplace Drizly, the president of Transactis, and the president of 1800Flowers.

Part of Till’s goal is to help kids “learn by doing” and gain confidence in spending decisions. It arms them with a bank account, digital and physical debit card and goal-based savings. For example, say a teen wants to buy an iPad, they can set up an account that they can save toward that iPad and give family members (such as grandparents, for example) the opportunity to pitch in the same amount, or more. They can also set up recurring payments for things like Netflix or Spotify subscriptions so they can get a taste of what it’s like to pay regular bills.

“Parents and the current banking options miss the point when they just focus on savings. We need to first prepare kids to be Smarter Spenders, supported by savings and investing,” said Taylor Burton, who founded the company with Tom Pincince. “On Till, kids learn to spend with intention and purpose, while parents gain confidence and trust based on transparency and accountability.”

To Pincince, the market is clearly underserved.

“The legacy banks really don’t care about this young person and the early digital players are really missing the mark,” he said. 

And despite the plethora of apps targeting the demographic, Pincince believes there’s plenty of room for the right players.

“The reality is you’re talking about a swath of kids under the age of 18 and over the age of eight that is the single largest unbanked population,” he said. “We’re not fighting to be the top of your son’s wallet. We’re fighting to be the first product into that wallet.”

Indeed, it’s a big market — the average middle-class family in the U.S. spends $284,570 per child by the time they turn 18.

The platform is free to all families and, early on, attracted the attention of Peggy Mangot, operating partner/COO of PayPal Ventures. She invested personally in Till in its pre-seed rounds. Prior to PayPal, Mangot ran development of Greenhouse, Well Fargo’s fee-free mobile banking app that aimed to help younger users build responsible spending habits.

Mangot has three kids and recalls that when they were shopping online, she’d give them her credit card. Or, if they were going to the corner store or meeting with friends, she’d give them cash.

“But that way, the money is meaningless to them. They didn’t really know how to understand what things cost and there was no sense of ownership,” she said. “It was just me handing over cash or a card.”

What attracted her the most about Till, Mangot said, was the team’s approach to treat younger people “with respect and agency.”

She also believes that by helping children and teens understand important financial lessons at a younger age, the world will ultimately be full of more responsible adults.

“By putting these tools in the hands of these young people early, they’ll have years and years of experience before they’re more independent and have to manage their paycheck and bills,” Mangot told TechCrunch. “Once you have mass adoption, it’s going to create a much more financially literate, confident and in control set of young adults than we’ve ever had.”

Besides making money on interchange fees, Till aims to earn revenue by partnering with merchants to offer rewards to users. It also plans to earn referral fees by referring the teens to other financial institutions when they get older and have different needs.

“It’s not our intention to be your son or daughter’s forever bank. It’s our intention to be the first bank,” Pincince said. “So, they hit the age of maturity, we’re actually giving them a high-five off of our platform and introducing them to maybe their first college loan or their first credit card.”

#afore-capital, #bank, #banking, #debit-card, #drizly, #ebay, #finance, #financial-services, #fintech, #funding, #fundings-exits, #ipad, #lightspeed-venture-partners, #luge-capital, #melinda-gates, #mobile-banking, #mobile-payments, #netflix, #new-york, #online-payments, #paypal, #pivotal-ventures, #recent-funding, #spotify, #stadium-goods, #startup, #startups, #tc, #till-financial, #tom-pincince, #united-states, #up, #venture-capital

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Level raises $27M from Khosla, Lightspeed ‘to rebuild insurance from the ground up’

Level, a startup that aims to give companies a more flexible way to offer benefits to employees, has raised $27 million in a Series A funding round led by Khosla Ventures and Lightspeed Venture Partners.

Operator Collective and leading angels also participated in the financing, along with previous backers First Round Capital and Homebrew. The round was raised at a “nine-figure” valuation, according to founder and CEO Paul Aaron, who declined to be more specific.

Founded in 2018, New York City-based Level says it’s “rebuilding insurance from the ground up” via flexible networks and real-time claims with the goal of helping employers and employees get the most out of their benefit dollars. 

Employers can customize plans to do things like offer 100% coverage across treatments. The company also touts the ability to process claims in four hours. 

“That’s lightning fast when compared to 30- to 60-day claims often processed by traditional payers,” said Aaron, who as one of the first employees at Square, led the network team at Oscar Health and is an inventor of several patents in the payments space.

Level first launched employer-sponsored dental benefits in the summer of 2019 and started serving its first beta customers that fall. It also now offers vision plans. The company has more than 10,000 members from companies such as Intercom, Udemy, KeepTruckin and Thistle that have paid for care via its platform. 

“Insurance is confusing and often feels unfair. Networks restrict where you can go, billing takes weeks and you always seem to owe more than you expect,” Aaron said. “We believe paying with insurance should be as easy as any other purchase.”

Level says it is taking a full-stack approach and building end-to-end tools, from automated underwriting to real-time benefit analytics. 

It plans to launch a new insurance product aimed at “helping smaller businesses offer bigger benefits” that typically only enterprises have the ability to offer. The company also aims to help employers get money back for any unused benefits after paying a fixed amount each month. Ultimately, the goal is to be able to offer a full suite of products that will allow companies of all sizes — from two employees to 20,000 — provide better benefits for their teams. 

Level claims that its self-insured dental and vision products let companies offer more coverage to their teams while often cutting nearly 20% from their benefits budget. 

“Employers already spend so much money on benefits, and neither they nor their teams get enough out of it,” said Jana Messerschmidt from Lightspeed Venture Partners, in a written statement. “Businesses of all sizes need to compete for talent with innovative benefits that help people get more from their paychecks. Level offers a far superior employee experience, and you’re getting bang for your buck.” 

Meanwhile, Khosla’s Samir Kaul said he believes Level can do for insurance and benefits “what Square Cash did for person-to-person payments.”

Investor First Round Capital claims to have saved 47% by switching from fully insured to Level. And, Thistle says it saw 41% in savings by switching to Level. 

#employee-benefits, #fintech, #first-round-capital, #insurance, #khosla-ventures, #level, #lightspeed-venture-partners, #new-york, #recent-funding, #startup, #startups, #tc, #thistle

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Snorkel AI scores $35M Series B to automate data labeling in machine learning

One of the more tedious aspects of machine learning is providing a set of labels to teach the machine learning model what it needs to know. Snorkel AI wants to make it easier for subject matter experts to apply those labels programmatically, and today the startup announced a $35 million Series B.

It also announced a new tool called Applications Studio that provides a way to build common machine learning applications using templates and predefined components.

Lightspeed Venture Partners led the round with participation from previous investors Greylock, GV, In-Q-Tel and Nepenthe Capital. New investors Walden and BlackRock also joined in. The startup reports that it has now raised $50 million.

Company co-founder and CEO Alex Ratner says that data labeling remains a huge challenge and roadblock to moving machine learning and artificial intelligence forward inside a lot of industries because it is costly, labor-intensive and hard for the subject experts to carve out the time to do it.

“The not so hidden secret about AI today is that in spite of all the technological and tooling advancements, roughly 80 to 90% of the cost and time for an average AI project goes into just manually labeling and collecting and relabeling this training data,” he said.

He says that his company has developed a solution to simplify this process to make it easier for subject experts to programmatically add the labels, a process he says decreases the time and effort required to apply labels in a pretty dramatic way from months to hours or days, depending on the complexity of the data.

As the company has developed this methodology, customers have been asking for help in the next step of the machine learning process, which is taking that training data and the model and building an application. That’s where the Application Studio comes in. It could be a contract classifier at a bank or a network anomaly detector at a telco and it helps companies take that next step after data labeling.

“It’s not just about how you programmatically label the data, it’s also about the models, the preprocessors, the post processors, and so we’ve made this now accessible in a kind of templated and visual no-code interface,” he said.

The company’s products are based on research that began at the Stanford AI Lab in 2015. The founders spent four years in the research phase before launching Snorkel in 2019. Today, the startup has 40 employees. Ratner recognizes the issues that the technology industry has had from a diversity perspective and says he has made a conscious effort to build a diverse and inclusive company.

“What I can say is that we tried to prioritize it at a company level, the full team level and at a board level from day one, and to also put action behind that. So we’ve been working with external firms for internal training and audits and strategy around DEI, and we’ve made pipeline diversity, a non-negotiable requirement of any of our contracts with recruiting firms,” he said.

Ratner also recognizes that automation can hard code bias into machine learning models, and he’s hopeful that by simplifying the labeling process, it can make it much easier to detect bias when it happens.

“If you start with a dozen or two dozen of what we call labeling functions in Snorkel, you still need to be vigilant and proactive about trying to detect bias, but it’s easier to audit what taught your model to change it by just going back and looking at a couple of hundred lines of code.”

#artificial-intelligence, #data-labeling-tools, #funding, #lightspeed-venture-partners, #machine-learning, #recent-funding, #snorkel-ai, #startups, #tc

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India’s HealthPlix raises $13.5 million to help doctors treat patients more efficiently

There are fewer than 300,000 doctors in India actively practicing medicine. They serve hundreds of millions of patients who suffer from chronic illness in the world’s second most populous nation.

A doctor only has a few minutes to spend on a patient, remember the past diagnosis by glancing at their record, and formulate a plan of management.

HealthPlix, a Bangalore-based startup, believes it can help doctors serve these patients more efficiently with the limited time they have.

The startup has developed a software for doctors that helps them keep a tab on the symptoms a patient has displayed in the past, the medicine that was prescribed to them, and if they are showing any improvements in a methodical template.

But it doesn’t stop there, said Sandeep Gudibanda, co-founder of HealthPlix, in an interview with TechCrunch. The software has a knowledge base that is making determination of all the other factors that a doctor needs to assess as they treat the patient.

For instance, if a patient has diabetes, and they have mentioned that they had swollen feet and are experiencing more frequent visits to the washroom, said Gudibanda, the doctor can quickly assess that the patient’s symptoms are getting worse and she needs to start looking at the function of the kidney and other organs and monitor blood sugar.

“As a doctor, you are able to see how my disease is progressing, what medicine was prescribed to me and if they are working. So you are not going to prescribe me some medicine that didn’t work two months ago. Based on the data of more than 12 million patients we have, our software is also able to inform doctors what other things I am exposed to,” he said.

“Doctors have immense knowledge, but they have very little time. So how do we help them make better decisions on the few minutes they have with a patient,” he asked. “These few minutes matter most. It is in this precious interaction that health decisions get made, diagnostic tests get prescribed, pharmaceutical brands get chosen, surgical procedures get planned, and hospital referrals get made. This interaction is the moment of truth, where $88 billion of annual healthcare spend is decided.”

Scores of healthtech startups in India today are attempting to serve patients. What distinguishes HealthPlix from most is the approach it has taken. Unlike other startups, HealthPlix’s solution puts doctors at its centre of universe, said Gudibanda, who has spent nearly two decades in entrepreneurship in healthtech.

He said in a country like India, where there are so many people suffering from chronic diseases, a doctor’s intervention is needed for best results. “While going through the patient’s route, we might achieve some scale, we realized that the stakeholder they reason with and listen to is the doctor. A doctor here serves hundreds of patients. You work with the doctor and you make a bigger impact,” he said.

“Second, because of the immense workload on doctors, who can only spend 2-3 minutes to serve a patient, If he or she doesn’t have all the information, their thinking might get compromised. Hence the doctor had to be in the piece.”

HealthPlix initially started in late 2016 to help doctors connect with patients digitally. But that model, he recalled, wasn’t working. The current model is growing fast. More than 6,000 doctors today are using HealthPlix for over four hours a day, he said. The startup plans to reach over 50,000 doctors in two years.

On Wednesday, the startup said it has raised $13.5 million in its ongoing Series B financing round. The round was led by Lightspeed Venture Partners. The startup has now raised about $23.5 million to date.

“What sets HealthPlix apart is its doctor-first B2B approach. Doctors are the most influential decision-makers in healthcare. We believe whichever platform wins their trust will have the sole right to orchestrate the entire $88 billion of healthcare spend,” said Vaibhav Agrawal, Partner at Lightspeed, in a statement.

“The impact is very clear — improved health outcomes for patients, better practices for doctors, 10x better Insights for pharma and med device companies, and superior underwriting capability for insurers.”

Gudibanda said the startup will also deploy the fresh capital to tackle some acute diseases.

#asia, #funding, #health, #india, #lightspeed-venture-partners

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Big banks rush to back Greenwood, Killer Mike’s Atlanta-based digital bank for underrepresented customers

Before even taking its first deposit, Greenwood, the digital banking service targeting Black and Latino individuals and business owners, has raised $40 million — only a few months after its launch.

Coming in to finance the new challenger bank are six of the seven largest U.S. Banks and the payment technology developers Mastercard and Visa.

That’s right, Bank of America, PNC, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, and Truist, are backing a bank co-founded by a man who declared, “I’m with the revolutionary. I’m with the radical policy,” when stumping for then Presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Joining the financial services giants in the round are FIS, a behind-the-scenes financial services tech developer; along with the venture capital firms TTV Capital, SoftBank Group’s SB Opportunity Fund, and Lightspeed Venture Partners. Sports investors Quality Control and All-Pro NFL running back Alvin Kamara also came in to finance the latest round.

Atlanta-based Greenwood was launched last October by a group that included former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young and Bounce TV founder, Ryan Glover.

“The net worth of a typical white family is nearly ten times greater than that of a Black family and eight times greater than that of a Latino family. This wealth gap is a curable injustice that requires collaboration,” said \ Glover, Chairman and Co-founder of Greenwood, in a statement. “The backing of six of the top seven banks and the two largest payment technology companies is a testament to the contemporary influence of the Black and Latino community. We now are even better positioned to deliver the world-class services our customers deserve.”

Named after the Greenwood district of Tulsa, Okla., which was known as the Black Wall Street before it was destroyed in a 1921 massacre, the digital bank promises to donate the equivalent of five free meals to an organization addressing food insecurity for every person who signs up to the bank. And every time a customer uses a Greenwood debit card, the bank will make a donation to either the United Negro College FundGoodr (an organization that addresses food insecurity) or the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

In addition, each month the bank will provide a $10,000 grant to a Black or Latinx small business owner that uses the company’s financial services.

“Truist Ventures is helping to inspire and build better lives and communities by leading the Series A funding round for Greenwood’s innovative approach to building greater trust in banking within Black and Latino communities,” said Truist Chief Digital and Client Experience Officer Dontá L. Wilson who oversees Truist Ventures, in a statement. “In addition to the opportunity to work with and learn from this distinguished group of founders, our investment in Greenwood is reflective of our purpose and commitment to advancing economic empowerment of minority and underserved communities.”

So far, 500,000 people have signed up for the wait list to bank with Greenwood.

#andrew-young, #atlanta, #bank, #bank-of-america, #banking, #bernie-sanders, #challenger-bank, #companies, #finance, #financial-services, #fis, #greenwood, #jpmorgan-chase, #lightspeed-venture-partners, #mastercard, #mayor, #national-football-league, #nfl, #oklahoma, #softbank-group, #tc, #tulsa, #united-states, #venture-capital-firms, #visa, #wells-fargo

0

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

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

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

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

Image Credits: Aqua Security

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

0

Yugabyte announces $48M Series C as cloud native database makes enterprise push

As demand for cloud native applications is growing, Yugabyte, makers of the cloud native, open source YugabyteDB database are seeing a corresponding rise in demand for their products, especially with large enterprise customers. Today, the company announced a $48 million Series C financing round to help build on that momentum.

Lightspeed Venture Partners led the round with participation from Greenspring Associates, Dell Technologies Capital, Wipro Ventures and 8VC. Today’s round comes on the heels of the startup’s $30 million Series B last June, and brings the total raised to $103 million, according to the company.

Kannan Muthukkaruppan, Yugabyte co-founder and president, says the startup saw a marked increase in interest in both the open source and commercial offerings in 2020 as the pandemic pushed many companies to the cloud faster than they might have gone otherwise, something many startup founders have pointed out to me.

“The distributed SQL space is definitely heating up, and if anything over the last six months almost in every vector in terms of enterprise customers — from Fortune 500 companies across financial, retail, ISP or telcos — are putting Yugabyte in production to be the system of record database to meet some of their business critical services needs,” Muthukkaruppan told me.

In addition, he’s seeing a similar rise in the level of interest from the open source version of the product.”Similarly, the groundswell on the community and the open source adoption has been phenomenal. Our Slack [open source] user community quadrupled in 2020,” he said.

That kind of momentum led to the increased investor interest, says co-founder and CTO Karthik Ranganathan. “Some of the primary reasons to go and even ask for funding was that we realized we could accelerate some of this stuff, and we couldn’t do that with the original $30 million we had raised,” he said. The original thinking was to do a secondary raise in the $15-20 million, but multiple investors expressed interest in participating, and it ended up being a $48 million round when all was said and done.

Former Pivotal president Bill Cook came on board as CEO at the same time they were announcing their last funding round in June and brought some enterprise chops to the table. It was his job to figure out how to expand the market opportunity with larger high-value enterprise clients. “And so the last six or seven months has been about that, dealing with enterprise clients on one hand and then this emerging developer led cloud offering as well,” Cook said.

The company has a three tier offering that includes the open source YugabyteDB. Then there is a fully managed cloud version called Yugabyte Cloud, and finally there is a self-managed cloud version of the database called Yugabyte Platform. The latter is especially attractive to large enterprise customers, who want to be in the cloud, but still want to maintain control of their data and infrastructure, and so choose to manage the cloud installation themselves.

The company started last year with 50 employees, doubled that to this point, and now expects to reach 200 by the end of this year. As they add employees, the leadership team is cognizant of the importance of building a diverse and inclusive workforce, while recognizing the challenges in doing so.

“It’s work in progress as always. We’ve added diversity candidates right along the whole spectrum as we’ve grown but from my perspective it’s never sufficient, and we just need to keep pushing on it hard, and I think as a leadership team we recognize that,” Cook said.

The three leaders of the company have been working together remotely now since the announcement in June, and had only met briefly in person prior to the pandemic shutting down offices, but they say that it has gone smoothly. And while they would obviously like to meet in person again when the time is right, the momentum the company is experiencing shows that things are moving in the right direction, regardless of where they are getting their work done.

#cloud, #databases, #enterprise, #funding, #lightspeed-venture-partners, #open-source, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc, #yugabyte

0

Stori raises $32.5M in a Lightspeed-led Series B to build Mexico’s credit card for the masses

While credit cards are commonplace in the United States, they are far less ubiquitous in many other countries, particularly those in Latin America. In Mexico in particular, cash remains the dominant method of payment with an estimated 86% of all payments being in the form of cash.

But card usage is growing as more people are shopping online than ever before. According to one recent study, Mexico topped the list of the world’s fastest growing e-commerce markets. Meanwhile, only 37% of Mexicans over 15 years old have a bank account, according to recent World Bank stats.

All these factors clearly make the country ripe for fintech innovation. 

And for the founders of Mexico City-based startup Stori, they spell opportunity.

From left to right, Stori founding team Juan Villaseñor, Marlene Garayzar, Bin Chen, Camila Burne

Stori launched its credit card product in Mexico in January 2020 and has so far had more than 1 million customers apply for a card. 

Several members of the founding team spent years at Capital One honing their skills in underwriting underserved populations while others worked at the likes of Mastercard, Morgan Stanley, GE Money, HSBC and Intel in Mexico and the U.S.

Now the company has raised a $32.5 million Series B round with the goal of “becoming Mexico’s leading credit card issuer for the rising middle class.”

Lightspeed Venture Partners led the company’s financing, which brings Stori’s total raised since its early 2018 inception to $50 million. According to Lightspeed Partner Mercedes Bent, the investment marked her firm’s first large investment in the Latin American region “with more to come.”

Existing backers Vision Plus Capital, BAI Capital and Source Code Capital also participated in the round.

Stori provides credit cards with “a 100% mobile app-based experience” to the rising middle income population in Mexico. The team spent its first two years building out the startup’s infrastructure and platform. 

In January 2021, the fintech’s monthly new customer growth was 14 times than what it saw in January 2020 and 6 times the company’s monthly average for 2020, according to co-founder Bin Chen. He declined to reveal its current total of customers.

Because the Mexican market is so huge (the country has a population of nearly 130 million), Stori is currently only focused on serving the country.

Just as in other parts of the world, Stori saw tailwinds in the COVID-19 pandemic in that it fueled customer demand for a way to pay digitally. 

“Consumers in Mexico are increasingly using e-commerce and app-based services like ride hailing and delivery and credit cards are the preferred payment methods in those channels,” Chen said. “They’re experiencing more cash flow fluctuation and irregular expenses and need access to flexible credit that can meet short term needs.”

And of course, during pandemic-related lockdowns, more people are turning to digital financial offerings to avoid visiting bank branches in person.

One commonality among all of Stori’s co-founders, according to Chen, is that each “comes from a modest background.”

“We all experienced the feeling of being excluded from the traditional financial service world. As an international student pursuing my master’s degree in Illinois more than twenty years ago, I was relying solely on teaching assistantship to cover my study and living expenses,” Chen recalled. “I often ran out of money, and had a hard time to make ends meet – I received many rejections before I got my first credit card.”

Similar to TomoCredit’s mission in the U.S., Stori’s founders are working to give middle and low-income customers that are “new to the formal financial system” an opportunity to access credit.

The company plans to use its new capital to grow its customer base, boost headcount and invest in product design, technology infrastructure and underwriting, said Chen, who previously worked at Capital One and Mastercard in both U.S. and emerging markets. Today, Stori has 80 employees spread across offices in Mexico, U.S. and China, up from 40 a year ago.

“Our goal is to become a leading digital bank for the underserved population in the region,” he said.

For its part, Lightspeed first met the company’s founders over a year ago.

“We were struck by the depth of their experience. They navigated the pitfalls of Covid masterfully — without the benefit of a US style stimulus — and showed that their underwriting models were strong and improving,” Bent said. “That is a reflection of the quality of the team.”

Yiran Liu, a partner at China-based Vision Plus Capital, says the firm led Stori’s Series A round and “continues to be super pro rata in this round.”

“We have a structural thesis on digital fintech models and are investing in these models globally, particularly in emerging markets,” Liu said in a written statement. “We are impressed by the team’s execution and excited by the local market opportunity as evidenced by the rapid growth.”

 

 

#credit-cards, #finance, #funding, #latin-america, #lightspeed-venture-partners, #mercedes-bent, #mexico, #mexico-city, #payments, #recent-funding, #startups, #stori, #venture-capital

0

Fintech startup Finix closes on $3M in Black and Latinx investor-led SPV

Many founders talk about their desire for a more diverse investor base. Richie Serna took that desire and made it a reality.

Serna, who founded payments infrastructure startup Finix in 2016, had raised more than $95 million in venture funding from the likes of Lightspeed Venture Partners, American Express Ventures, Homebrew, Precursor Ventures, Insight Partners, Bain Capital Ventures, Visa and Activant Capital.

The San Francisco-based fintech last raised $30 million in an extension of its Series C round last August. At the time, Finix — which says its mission is to make every company a payments company — said it had seen its transaction volume more than quadruple from Q2 2019 to Q2 2020.

But Serna, a first-generation Mexican-American who was the first in his family to go to college (Harvard), wanted to broaden his company’s cap table even further. So he created a special purpose vehicle (SPV) that ultimately raised an additional $3 million and brought more than 80 “traditionally marginalized” investors onto Finix’s cap table. 

“This is very personal for me as a founder of color — making sure we have a diverse representation of people in our investor base,” Serna said.

Finix CEO and founder Richie Serna – Image courtesy of Finix

The effort, Serna added, was more than just diversifying his company’s cap table. It was also an initiative aimed at giving Black and Latinx investors access to an opportunity they may not have otherwise had. Indeed, the numbers are dismal. A recent NVCA-Deloitte Human Capital Survey found that 80% of investment partners at VC firms are white, and just 3% are Black and 3% are Hispanic/Latinx.

“This is about helping historically underrepresented groups build track records and get attribution for the work to help them start their careers and hopefully one day start their own fund,” Serna told TechCrunch. “So this is just one way that we at Finix can construct a rewrite of the story about the lack of diversity in Silicon Valley.”

It’s also not a one-time thing. Moving forward, in all subsequent rounds, Finix will be allocating 10% of each round to Black and Latinx investors.

Jewel Burks Solomon, managing partner of Collab Capital and head of Google for Startups, U.S. said the opportunity to invest in “a high growth company like Finix at a time that is typically reserved for a very select group of highly connected (usually white) investors is a big deal.”

“Access is the primary determinant of wealth creation,” Atlanta, Ga.-based Solomon added. “So creating an opportunity for access to folks who might not otherwise have it is game-changing.”

For Tiffani Ashley Bell, founder and executive director of The Human Utility (and now Finix investor), the SPV gives “talented, knowledgeable investors and operators from diverse backgrounds — especially Black and Latinx people — who have traditionally been excluded from investing early in rocket ship startups” a chance to be able to do so. 

While fundraising, Finix was also hiring for senior executive positions and through the process was able to find a few who came with a breadth of experience to help the company advance on its long-term goals — including the possibility of going public one day. As a result, its C-suite is now made up of a Mexican American (CEO), a woman (COO), a Black American (CGO, or chief growth officer) and an Indian American (CTO). 

For example, the company recently hired Fiona Taylor — who helped steer Solar City’s IPO and acquisition by Tesla and most recently served as Marqeta’s SVP of operations — to serve as its COO. 

The startup also tapped Ramana Satyavarapu to serve as its CTO. Satyavarapu was a founding member of Microsoft Office 365 and the head of engineering for Google Play Search. He also led software infrastructure engineering at Uber and was most recently the head of data platforms & products at Two Sigma, a quantitative hedge fund. 

Today, Finix has about 100 employees, 50% of whom Serna says he’s never met. The company plans to double its headcount over the next year.

On whether the new hires mean that an IPO was in Finix’s future, Serna replied: “We always like to think that we’re not just building for the next year, we’re building for the future. And I think if you look at the group that we’ve brought together, it’s pretty clear in terms of the direction that we’re trying to head as an organization.”

In looking ahead, Serna said he’s also excited about the potential of the SPV to add diversity to his company’s cap table.

“Black investors and other Latinx entrepreneurs were the first people to believe in me and back Finix,” he added. “I’m honored to pay it forward by creating the SPV, and I hope other founders are inspired to do the same.”

#activant-capital, #american-express-ventures, #bain-capital-ventures, #diversity, #finance, #finix, #funding, #homebrew, #insight-partners, #lightspeed-venture-partners, #payments, #precursor-ventures, #recent-funding, #richie-serna, #san-francisco, #startups, #techcrunch-include

0

Lightspeed’s Gaurav Gupta and Grafana’s Raj Dutt discuss pitch decks, pricing and how to nail the narrative

Before he was a partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners, Gaurav Gupta had his eye on Grafana Labs, the company that supports open-source analytics platform Grafana. But Raj Dutt, Grafana’s co-founder and CEO, played hard to get.

This week on Extra Crunch Live, the duo explained how they came together for Grafana’s Series A — and eventually, its Series B. They also walked us through Grafana’s original Series A pitch deck before Gupta shared the aspects that stood out to him and how he communicated those points to the broader partnership at Lightspeed.

Gupta and Dutt also offered feedback on pitch decks submitted by audience members and shared their thoughts about what makes a great founder presentation, pulling back the curtain on how VCs actually consume pitch decks.

We’ve included highlights below as well as the full video of our conversation.

We record new episodes of Extra Crunch Live each Wednesday at 12 p.m. PST/3 p.m. EST/8 p.m. GMT. Check out the February schedule here.

Episode breakdown:

  • How they met — 2:00
  • Grafana’s early pitch deck — 12:00
  • The enterprise ecosystem — 25:00
  • The pitch deck teardown — 32:00

How they met

As soon as Gupta joined Lightspeed in June 2019, he began pursuing Dutt and Grafana Labs. He texted, called and emailed, but he got little to no response. Eventually, he made plans to go meet the team in Stockholm but, even then, Dutt wasn’t super responsive.

The pair told the story with smiles on their faces. Dutt said that not only was he disorganized and not entirely sure of his own travel plans to see his co-founder in Stockholm, Grafana wasn’t even raising. Still, Gupta persisted and eventually sent a stern email.

“At one point, I was like ‘Raj, forget it. This isn’t working’,” recalled Gupta. “And suddenly he woke up.” Gupta added that he got mad, which “usually does not work for VCs, by the way, but in this case, it kind of worked.”

When they finally met, they got along. Dutt said they were able to talk shop due to Gupta’s experience inside organizations like Splunk and Elastic. Gupta described the trip as a whirlwind, where time just flew by.

“One of the reasons that I liked Gaurav is that he was a new VC,” explained Dutt. “So to me, he seemed like one of the most non-VC VCs I’d ever met. And that was actually quite attractive.”

To this day, Gupta and Dutt don’t have weekly standing meetings. Instead, they speak several times a week, conversing organically about industry news, Grafana’s products and the company’s overall trajectory.

Grafana’s early pitch deck

Dutt shared Grafana’s pre-Series A pitch deck — which he actually sent to Gupta and Lightspeed before they met — with the Extra Crunch Live audience. But as we know now, it was the conversations that Dutt and Gupta had (eventually) that provided the spark for that deal.

#ec-cloud-and-enterprise-infrastructure, #ecl, #enterprise, #funding, #gaurav-gupta, #grafana-labs, #lightspeed-venture-partners, #raj-dutt, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital

0

India’s Zetwerk raises $120 million to scale its B2B marketplace for manufacturing parts

When you want to buy a refrigerator or a television, you can walk to the nearby electronics store or visit an e-commerce website like Amazon. But where do you go when you’re looking for parts of a crane, a door or chassis of different machines?

For several businesses globally, the answer to that question is increasingly Zetwerk, a Bangalore-based startup.

The three-year-old startup runs a business-to-business marketplace for manufacturing items that connects OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) and EPC (engineering procurement construction) customers with manufacturing small-businesses and enterprises.

All the products it sells today are custom-made. “Nobody has a stock of such inventories. You get the order, you find manufacturers and workshops that make them,” explained Amrit Acharya, co-founder and chief executive of Zetwerk, in an interview with TechCrunch.

Its customers — there are over 250 of them, up from 100 a year ago — operate across two-dozen industries (including process plants, oil & gas, steel, aerospace, medical devices, apparel and luxury goods) in the infrastructure space, and approach Zetwerk with digital designs they wish to be translated into physical products.

Customers aren’t alone in seeing value in Zetwerk. On Wednesday, the Indian startup said it has raised $120 million in a Series D financing round led by existing investors Greenoaks Capital and Lightspeed Venture Partners. Existing investors Sequoia Capital and Kae Capital also participated in the Series D round.

The new round, which brings Zetwerk’s to-date raise to $193 million, gives the firm a post-money valuation of somewhere between $600 million to $700 million, a person familiar with the matter told TechCrunch. (A quick side note: Zetwerk announced a $21 million Series C round last year, but ended up raising $31 million in that round.)

Zetwerk was co-founded by Acharya, Srinath Ramakkrushnan, Rahul Sharma and Vishal Chaudhary. Long before Acharya and Ramakkrushnan joined forces to tackle this space, they had been contemplating this idea.

Both of them studied at IIT Madras, went to the same exchange program in Singapore, and were colleagues at Kolkata-headquartered conglomerate ITC. While working there, they realized that part of a product manager’s job at the firm was dealing with gazillions of suppliers and the manufacturing items they offered.

The process was archaic: There were no databases, and people couldn’t track shipments.

The early version of Zetwerk, which was a database of suppliers, was a direct response to this. But after listening to requests from customers, the startup saw a bigger opportunity and transformed itself into a full-fledged marketplace with integrations with third-party vendors. Once a firm has placed an order, Zetwerk allows them to keep tabs on the progress of manufacturing and then the shipping. There are also quality checks in place.

Zetwerk website

Zetwerk operates in such a unique space today — Shailesh Lakhani, managing director at Sequoia India, says the startup has defined a new category of marketplace — that by and large it’s not competing with any other firm in India — or South Asia. (The startup competes with domain project consultants in the offline world.)

The opportunity in India itself is gigantic. According to industry reports, manufacturing today accounts for 14% of India’s GDP. Vaibhav Agarwal, a partner at Lightspeed, estimates that the market is as large as $40 billion to $60 billion in India and global trade-tailwinds that creates opportunity to serve international demand.

As more and more companies expand or shift their manufacturing to India — in part due to import duties imposed by India and geo-political tension with China, the global hub for manufacturing — this opportunity has only grown bigger in recent years.

“India has a lot of depth in manufacturing, but much of it has not been tapped well,” said Acharya.

Zetwerk — which grew 3X last year and reported revenue of $43.9 million in the financial year that ended in March, a 20X growth from the year prior — plans to deploy the new capital to expand to more areas of categories, and broaden its technology stack. Consumer goods (which covers items such as mixer grinders and TVs) is an area Zetwerk expanded to last year, and said it accounts for 15% of the revenue it generated in the last six months.

Currently 25 of its customers are in the U.S., Canada, Europe and other international markets. Acharya said the startup plans to open offices overseas this year as it scouts for more international customers. 

“We are excited to partner with Zetwerk on the next leg of their journey, as they expand their value proposition globally. Zetwerk’s operating system for manufacturing has digitized multiple supply chains end-to-end, ensuring on-time delivery and high quality standards. This has led to rapid growth in India and internationally, with the potential to quickly become one of the most important manufacturing platforms globally,” said Neil Shah, partner at Greenoaks Capital, in a statement.

#asia, #ecommerce, #funding, #greenoaks-capital, #india, #kae-capital, #lightspeed-venture-partners, #recent-funding, #sequoia-capital-india, #startups, #zetwerk

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Lightspeed’s Gaurav Gupta and Grafana Labs’ Raj Dutt will tell us why they financially tied the knot (twice!)

Many founders only know their own experience fundraising, and don’t hear much about what other founders went through. On Extra Crunch Live on Wednesday, we’re going to remedy that.

Grafana Labs has raised upwards of $75 million since it launched in 2014. Lightspeed Venture Partners, and partner Gaurav Gupta to be specific, led both the startup’s Series A and Series B rounds. As far as commitments go, that’s a pretty significant one.

The new and improved Extra Crunch Live pairs founders and the investors who led their earlier rounds to talk about how the deal went down, from the moment they met to the conversations they had (including some disagreements) to the relationship as it exists today. Hell, we may even take a peek at the original pitch deck that made it all happen.

Then, we’ll turn our eyes back to you, the audience. That same founder/investor duo (in this case, Grafana Labs CEO Raj Dutt and LVP’s Gaurav Gupta) will take a look at your pitch decks and give their own feedback. (If you haven’t yet submitted a pitch deck to be torn down on Extra Crunch Live, you can do so here.)

The hour-long episode is sandwiched in between two 30-minute rounds of networking. From start to finish, it goes from 11:30am PT/2:30pm ET to 1:30pm PT/4:30pm ET. And Extra Crunch Live will come to you at the same time, every week, with a new pair of speakers.

So let’s learn a little bit more about Gupta and Dutt.

Before becoming an investor, Gupta enjoyed a rich career in the product development sphere, holding positions at Elastic (where he led product management), Splunk (VP of Products), as well as Google, Gateway and the McKenna Group. He joined Lightspeed in 2019 as a partner, focusing primarily on enterprise software. He’s led investments in Impira, Blameless, Hasura and Panther, and of course, Grafana. He sits on the board of the last three companies in that list.

Dutt is the cofounder and CEO at Grafana Labs, but the fast-growing company isn’t his first go at entrepreneurialism. Dutt also founded and led Voxel, a cloud-hosting startup that was acquired by Internap for $30 million in 2012.

We’re absolutely thrilled to have Gupta and Dutt join us on our first episode of Extra Crunch Live in 2021. As a reminder, Extra Crunch Live is for Extra Crunch members only. We’re coming to you with a new pair of speakers every week, and you can catch everything you missed on demand if you can’t join us live. It’s worth the cost of the subscription on its own, but EC members also get access to our premium content, including market maps and investor surveys. Long story short? Subscribe, smarty. You won’t regret it.

Oh, and here’s a look at other speakers you can expect to see on Extra Crunch Live:

Aydin Senkut (Felicis) + Kevin Busque (Guideline) – February 10
Steve Loughlin (Accel) + Jason Boehmig (Ironclad) – February 17
Matt Harris (Bain Capital Ventures) + Isaac Oats (Justworks) – February 24

And that’s just the February slate!

All the details to register for this upcoming episode (and more) are available below. Can’t wait to see you there!

#enterprise, #extra-crunch-live-announcement, #funding, #gaurav-gupta, #grafana-labs, #lightspeed-venture-partners, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital

0

13 investors say lifelong learning is taking edtech mainstream

The venture potential of a startup that caters to individual students — instead of a slow-moving, small-pocketed institution — has a bullish aura that attracts investors.

Add in a pandemic that forced many to embrace remote learning overnight, and it makes sense that we have seen companies like Outschool and ClassDojo turn first profits while startups like Quizlet and ApplyBoard reached $1 billion valuations.

Last year brought a flurry of record-breaking venture capital to the sector. PitchBook data shows that edtech startups around the world raised $10.76 billion last year, compared to $4.7 billion in 2019. While reporting delays could change this total, VC dollars have more than doubled since the pandemic began. In the United States, edtech startups raised $1.78 billion in venture capital across 265 deals during 2020, compared to $1.32 billion the prior year.

In today’s survey, thirteen top edtech investors shared their thoughts on how growth of lifelong learning is reshaping the industry. Given the sudden extinction of snow days and yeast shortages brought on by student bakers in the early days of the pandemic, it’s easy to see how remote education extends beyond traditional school hours. As learners become more multi-layered and nuanced, so have the edtech companies that back them. 

This was a recurring theme in today’s survey, signaling a shift in how investors approach hybrid learning. The evolution of post-pandemic education will be complex, if not aggressively competitive among the growing cohort of well-capitalized edtech companies. While we asked investors about their post-pandemic tastebuds back in July, much has changed since. Higher education didn’t combust like some expected today, and today, many predict that K-12 students will return to pre-COVID formats after vaccinations are widespread. 

It puts startups in a difficult spot: if 2020 was about enabling video-based teaching, what might emerge from 2021? Integration between different edtech apps? New student collaboration tools? Are employer-led up-skilling and a renewed interest in self-improvement enlarging edtech’s TAM?

Here are the investors we spoke to, along with their areas of interest and expertise:

  • Deborah Quazzo, managing partner, GSV Ventures (an education fund backing ClassDojo, Degreed, Clever)
  • Ashley Bittner, founding partner of Firework Ventures (a future of work fund with portfolio companies LearnIn and TransfrVR)
  • Jomayra Herrera, principal, Cowboy Ventures (a generalist fund with portfolio companies Hone and Guild Education)
  • John Danner, managing partner, Dunce Capital (an edtech and future of work fund with portfolio companies Lambda School and Outschool)
  • Mercedes Bent and Bradley Twohig, partners, Lightspeed Venture Partners (a multi-stage generalist fund with investments including Forage, Clever, and Outschool)
  • Ian Chiu, managing director, Owl Ventures (a large edtech-focused fund backing highly-valued companies including Byju’s, Newsela, and Masterclass) 
  • Jan Lynn-Matern, founder and partner, Emerge Education (a leading edtech seed fund in Europe with portfolio companies like Aula, Unibuddy, and BibliU) 
  • Benoit Wirz, partner, Brighteye Ventures (an active edtech-focused venture capital fund in Europe that backs YouSchool, Lightneer, and Aula)
  • Charles Birnbaum, partner, Bessemer Venture Partners (a generalist fund with portfolio companies including Guild Education and Brightwheel)
  • Daniel Pianko, co-founder and managing director, University Ventures (a higher ed and future of work fund that is backing Imbellus and Admithub)
  • Rebecca Kaden, managing partner, Union Square Ventures (a generalist fund with portfolio companies including TopHat, Quizlet, Duolingo)
  • Andreata Muforo, partner, TLCom Capital (a generalist fund backing uLesson)

Deborah Quazzo, managing partner, GSV Ventures

What will edtech look like when students finally go back to school in person? Now that remote has become familiar, what are other concepts that you could see becoming popular?

For k12, use of digital products and platforms will now be very “normal” – companies like Lexia and Dreambox and Nearpod. Maybe this drives home usage of some products traditionally used only in schools like Lexia. Students of all ages are now very facile with zoom, this can pave the way for more zoom based synchronous learning offerings including extracurricular learning like music, dance etc. schools are now fully wired – maybe we will see schools implement home based learning programs – it’s where students spend half their time.

What are the biggest hurdles ahead for early-stage edtech startups looking to scale? What opportunities are fading as the space matures?

Edtech cos need to stay away from the me too solutions. We have seen 20 creator led learning platforms across “preK to Gray” learning in addition to incumbents like Teachable and very few have an ability to build a moat in my view. Unless someone has a very fresh take, I think that ship has sailed. Hopefully as white spaces fill with competitors, new white spaces will emerge. Emerging tech – AI/NLP/ML/VR – will continue to push the envelope. We are still not driving enough people to competency whether in prek12, higher ed or workforce so the opportunity remains vast.

How has edtech’s boom impacted your dealmaking? Has the new interest from generalist investors made valuations too bubbly, or is the market growth helping everyone?

We met on zoom with over 800 founding teams in covid all over the world. We invested in 14 new companies and are just finishing rounds in 2 more. Valuation pressures are across tech sectors. Id argue that education still lags average tech. the question for edtech is whether there is potential for a $100B company in the sector – will TAMs support it.

Ashley Bittner, founding partner, Firework Ventures

What will edtech look like when students finally go back to school in person? Now that remote has become familiar, what are other concepts that you could see becoming popular?

As it relates to our thesis, I believe that the role of employers is changing. Pre-COVID, it was estimated that as much as 1/3 of the US workforce would need to change jobs by 2030. Employers cite skills gaps as a top 3 business concern to stay competitive. Our thesis is that employers will take on more responsibility for reskilling their current workforce, and that training will become job-embeded (rather than only trying to hire to address the challenge.) Degreed was the first wave of this… Learn In is an example of the next step in this evolution. As employers look to provide more skills training (rather than compliance training), we believe that more will come from external sources (CEOs say they are unprepared to meet the reskilling challenge with existing internal resources) and that much of this training will be provided online and during work hours (to address the time barrier that is an equity issue.) I also see an opportunity for modalities like VR to become more popular as we shift to more digital and remote solutions (e.g TRANSFR.) Stats from McKinsey research.

What are the biggest hurdles ahead for early-stage edtech startups looking to scale? What opportunities are fading as the space matures? In US pre-K and K-12, high customer fragmentation (16,000 school districts, 100K+ schools…pre-K even more fragmented with little public investment), long sales cycles, budget, pedagogy, and regulation. TAM. Relatively low consumer spend on education relative to other markets. Opportunities – increasing access to broadband, increase in device penetration. In FOW, increased recognition that reskilling and upskilling is a business imperative, company culture matters for competitiveness, increased focus on DEI.

Jomayra Herrera, principal, Cowboy Ventures

What will edtech look like when students finally go back to school in person? Now that remote has become familiar, what are other concepts that you could see becoming popular?
I think activities that are fundamentally better in person will go back to [being] in person (e.g., sports, music and other enrichment activities). I think that new technology educators may have adopted during the pandemic that they have found to be helpful to their instruction will remain but all the “nice to haves” will likely fall to the wayside. We have a thesis at Cowboy that supplemental education (e.g., Juni Learning, Reconstruction or Outschool) will likely stay online, because parents will not have to worry about driving their kids to learning centers and these companies have the opportunity to make the learning fun.
What are the biggest hurdles ahead for early-stage edtech startups looking to scale? What opportunities are fading as the space matures?
For companies focused on K-12 students, it’s still really challenging to sell into schools and school districts because of the long sales cycle. This will likely become even harder, as local and state budgets tighten. In regard to what is fading, I think that tools that don’t solve a real need for educators, students and/or parents or don’t have demonstrated efficacy when it comes to student outcomes will start to fade. Consumers, especially after the pandemic, seem to be more aware of what technology has to offer and have lower tolerance for tools not having a demonstrable impact.For companies that are targeting adult learners, the biggest hurdle continues to be customer acquisition and building a brand that learners can actually trust. As the space starts to mature, consumers are getting more aware of the questions they should be asking (e.g., graduation and placement outcomes) and are less [fooled] by clever marketing.

What do you expect education to look like in five-plus years from now, when the pandemic is more of a memory?
I hope that in this pandemic we’ve realized how critical our educators are to our children’s success and we pay them more 🙂 Incentivizing our best talent to get into and stay in teaching is a critical lever we can pull to improve education.
For K-12, I expect that there will be more comfort with technology in the classroom and that tech can be partnered with in-person instruction in a way that supercharges the educator with the data needed to personalize their instruction.
For higher ed, I expect that there will be an acceleration in online learning for adults as they continue to look to reskill or upskill. There will be more opportunities to do self-paced online learning that is effective and affordable.

John Danner, managing partner, Dunce Capital

What will edtech look like when students finally go back to school in person? Now that remote has become familiar, what are other concepts that you could see becoming popular?

In K-12, education will probably continue to look much like it did, because the majority of parents are clear that child care is the principal value for their kids being at school. That said, a minority of parents are certainly rethinking education after witnessing what their children were actually learning every day for a year. My opinion is that we will continue to see a disaggregation of this care function from academics. Here’s a piece I wrote about that, which has accelerated significantly this year.

What are the biggest hurdles ahead for early-stage edtech startups looking to scale? What opportunities are fading as the space matures?

For vocational schools with a “free until you get a job” model like Lambda or SV Academy, it’s all about job placement. Lambda has had a lot of success with their new fellowship model, which has allowed them to scale significantly. For a lot of early childhood and K-12 companies working online, it’s about new parent behaviors and whether you can develop a habit like Outschool has done. For senior learning like what GetSetUp does, finding the reimbursement models through healthcare is probably the key.

What do you expect education to look like in five-plus years from now, when the pandemic is more of a memory?

I think we are in a transition to more and more academics happening in the cloud. Right now, that’s all about live experiences and human in the loop. In five years, I think we will begin seeing a significant impact of AI replacing many human functions.

#andreata-muforo, #bessemer-venture-partners, #bradley-twohig, #brighteye-ventures, #charles-birnbaum, #cowboy-ventures, #ec-investor-survey, #edtech, #education, #emerge-education, #ian-chiu, #jan-lynn-matern, #jomayra-herrera, #lightspeed-venture-partners, #mercedes-bent, #owl-ventures, #rebecca-kaden, #startups, #tc, #tlcom-capital, #union-square-ventures, #university-ventures, #venture-capital

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Vectorized announces $15.5M investment to build simpler streaming data tool

Streaming data is not new. Kafka has existed as an open source tool for a decade. Vectorized was founded on the premise that the existing tools were too complex and not designed for today’s streaming requirements. Today the company released its first product, Redpanda, an open source tool designed to make it easier for developers to build streaming data applications.

While it was at it, the startup announced a $15.5 million funding round, which is actually a combination of a previously unannounced $3 million seed round led by Lightspeed Venture Partners and a $12.5 million Series A, which was also from Lightspeed with help from Google Ventures.

Redpanda is an open source tool that is delivered as an “intelligent API” to help “turn data streams into products,” company founder and CEO Alexander Gallego explained. It’s built to be a Kafka replacement, while remaining Kafka-compatible to help deal with backwards compatibility.

At the same time, it takes a more modern approach. Gallego points out that teams building data streaming applications have been getting lost in the complexity and he recognized an opportunity to build a company to simplify that.

“People are drowning in complexity today managing Kafka, ZooKeeper (an open source configuration management tool) and the data lake,” he said, adding “We enable new things that couldn’t be done before for several reasons: one is performance, one is simplicity and the other one is this store procedures.”

He says that the key to developer adoption is making the product free through open source, and having Kafka compatibility so that developers don’t feel like they have to just dump existing projects and start from scratch. While the company is launching with an open source tool, it plans to use the funding to build a hosted version of Redpanda to put it within reach of more organizations. “This funding round in particular is to power our cloud,” he said.

Arif Janmohamed, a partner at Lightspeed Ventures who is leading the investment in Vectorized sees a company looking to improve upon an existing technology with a better approach. “With a simple, elegant solution that doesn’t require any changes to an existing application’s code, Vectorized delivers 10x better performance, a much simpler management paradigm, and new functionality that will unleash the next set of real-time applications for the next decade,” Janmohamed said.

The company has 22 employees today with plans to add another 8 in the first half of this year, mostly engineers to help build the hosted version. As a Latino founder, Gallego is acutely aware of the need for a diverse and inclusive workforce. “What I have found is that being a [Latino] CEO, it attracts more people that look like me, and so that’s been a big thing, and it’s made a difference [in attracting diverse candidates],” he said.

One concrete thing he has done is start a scholarship to encourage under represented groups to become developers. “I started a scholarship where we just give money and mentorship to communities of Latino, Black and female developers, or people that want to transition to software engineering,” he said. While he says he does it without strings attached, he does hope that some of these folks could become part of the tech industry eventually, and perhaps even work at his company.

#cloud, #developer, #enterprise, #funding, #lightspeed-venture-partners, #open-source, #recent-funding, #startups, #streaming-data, #tc, #vectorized

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Calm raises $75M more at $2B valuation

Calm, a well-known meditation app, has raised new capital at a valuation of $2 billion. The round was anticipated after the company was reported to be hunting for up to $150 million at a valuation of $2.2 billion; perhaps Calm will follow in the steps of Robinhood and add a second tranche to the round in time.

Prior investor Lightspeed Venture Partners led the investment, which also saw participation from Insight, TPG and Salesforce CEO and new Slack owner Marc Benioff, among others.

That Calm was able to secure more capital is not surprising. The company has a history of quick revenue growth, and is reportedly profitable, to boot. And the investment comes after mental health-focused startups as a category have performed well from a venture capital perspective.

Calm and rival service Headspace have now raised a combined $434 million according to Crunchbase data, underscoring how attractive their models have proved to venture capitalists. According to a Bloomberg interview, Calm is considering acquiring smaller companies in the wake of its new capital event.

The startups sells a consumer service for around $70 per year, or $15 per month. And the startup has built out a corporate arm, “Calm for Business,” that likely brings revenue stability that augments its consumer efforts.

As part of a release concerning today’s news, Calm detailed a number of nearly useful growth metrics. The service has over 100 million downloads (meaningless sans more incremental results), for example, and 4 million paying users (we asked if that data was inclusive of any Calm for Business customers, a question Calm did not answer).

Other TechCrunch queries regarding the company’s economics, revenue growth and performance compared to its pre-COVID plan also went unanswered.

Regardless, Calm now has a refreshed war chest heading into 2021 and a plan to go hunting. That should generate a headline or two.

#apps, #calm, #headspace, #insight-venture-partners, #lightspeed-venture-partners, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc, #tpg

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Materialize scores $40 million investment for SQL streaming database

Materialize, the SQL streaming database startup built on top of the open source Timely Dataflow project, announced a $32 million Series B investment today led by Kleiner Perkins with participation from Lightspeed Ventures.

While it was at it, the company also announced a previously unannounced $8 million Series A from last year that had been led by Lightspeed, bringing the total raised to $40 million.

These firms see a solid founding team that includes CEO Arjun Narayan, formerly of Cockroach Labs, and chief scientist Frank McSherry, who created the Timely Flow project on which the company is based.

Narayan says that the company believes fundamentally that every company needs to be a real-time company and it will take a streaming database to make that happen. Further, he says the company is built using SQL because of its ubiquity, and the founders wanted to make sure that customers could access and make use of that data quickly without learning a new query language.

“Our goal is really to help any business to understand streaming data and build intelligent applications without using or needing any specialized skills. Fundamentally what that means is that you’re going to have to go to businesses using the technologies and tools that they understand, which is standard SQL,” Narayan explained.

Bucky Moore, the partner at Kleiner Perkins leading the B round sees this standard querying ability as a key part of the technology. “As more businesses integrate streaming data into their decision making pipelines, the inability to ask questions of this data with ease is becoming a non-starter. Materialize’s unique ability to provide SQL over streaming data solves this problem, laying the foundation for them to build the industry’s next great data platform,” he said.

They would naturally get compared to Confluent, a streaming database built on top of the Apache Kafka open source streaming database project, but Narayan says his company uses straight SQL for querying, while Confluent uses its own flavor.

The company still is working out the commercial side of the house and currently provides a typical service offering for paying customers with support and a service agreement (SLA). The startup is working on a SaaS version of the product, which it expects to release some time next year.

They currently have 20 employees with plans to double that number by the end of next year as they continue to build out the product. As they grow, Narayan says the company is definitely thinking about how to build a diverse organization.

He says he’s found that hiring in general has been challenging during the pandemic, and he hopes that changes in 2021, but he says that he and his co-founders are looking at the top of the hiring funnel because otherwise, as he points out, it’s easy to get complacent and rely on the same network of people you have been working with before, which tends to be less diverse.

“The KPIs and the metrics we really want to use to ensure that we really are putting in the extra effort to ensure a diverse sourcing in your hiring pipeline and then following that through all the way through the funnel. That’s I think the most important way to ensure that you have a diverse [employee base], and I think this is true for every company,” he said.

While he is working remotely now, he sees having multiple offices with a headquarters in NYC when the pandemic finally ends. Some employees will continue to work remotely, but the majority coming into one of the offices.

#bessemer-venture-partners, #enterprise, #funding, #lightspeed-venture-partners, #materialize, #open-source, #recent-funding, #startups, #streaming-databases, #tc

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Cato Network snags $130M Series E on $1B valuation as cloud wide area networking thrives

Cato Networks has spent the last five years building a cloud-based wide area network that lets individuals connect to network resources regardless of where they are. When the pandemic hit, and many businesses shifted to work from home, it was the perfect moment for technology like this. Today, the company was rewarded with a $130 million Series E investment on $1 billion valuation.

Lightspeed Venture Partners led the round with participation from new investor Coatue and existing investors Greylock, Aspect Ventures/Acrew Capital, Singtel Innov8 and Shlomo Kramer (who is the co-founder and CEO of the company). The company reports it has now raised $332 million since inception.

Kramer is a serial entrepreneur. He co-founded Check Point Software, which went public in 1996 and Imperva, which went public in 2011, and was later acquired by private equity firm Thoma Bravo in 2018. He helped launch Cato in 2015. “In 2015, we identified that the wide area networks (WANs), which is a tens of billions of dollars market, was still built on the same technology stack […] that connects physical locations, and appliances that protect physical locations and was primarily sold by the telcos and MSPs for many years,” Kramer explained.

The idea with Cato was to take that technology and redesign it for a mobile and cloud world, not one that was built for the previous generation of software that lived in private data centers and was mostly accessed from an office. Today they have a cloud-based network of 60 Points of Presence (PoPs) around the world, giving customers access to networking resources and network security no matter where they happen to be

The bet they made was a good one because the world has changed, and that became even more pronounced this year when COVID hit and forced many people to work from home. Now suddenly having the ability to sign in from anywhere became more important than ever, and they have been doing well with 2x growth in ARR this year (although he wouldn’t share specific revenue numbers).

As a company getting Series E funding, Kramer doesn’t shy away from the idea of eventually going public, especially since he’s done it twice before, but neither is he ready to commit any time table. For now, he says the company is growing rapidly, with almost 700 customers — and that’s why it decided to take such a large capital influx right now.

Cato currently has 270 employees with plans to grow to 400 by the end of next year. He says that Cato is a global company with headquarters in Israel where diversity involves religion, but he is trying to build a diverse and inclusive culture regardless of the location.

“My feeling is that inclusion needs to happen in the earlier stages of the funnel. I’m personally involved in these efforts, at the educational sector level, and when students are ready to be recruited by startups, we are already competitive, and if you look at our employee base it’s very diverse,” Kramer said.

With the new funds, he plans to keep building the company and the product. “There’s a huge opportunity and we want to move as fast as possible. We are also going to make very big investments on the engineering side to take the solution and go to the next level,” he said.

#cato-networks, #cloud, #enterprise, #funding, #lightspeed-venture-partners, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc, #wide-area-networking

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Salto raises $27M to let you configure your SaaS platforms with code

Salto, a Tel Aviv-based open-source startup that allows you to configure SaaS platforms like Salesforce, NetSuite and HubSpot with code, is coming out of stealth today and announced that it has raised a $27 million Series A round. This round was led by Bessemer Venture Partners, Lightspeed Venture Partners and Salesforce Ventures.

The general idea here — which is similar to the ‘infrastructure-as-code’ movement — is to allow business operations teams to automate the labor-intensive and error-prone ways they currently use to manage SaaS platforms. While others in this space are betting on no-code solutions for managing these systems, Salto is going the other way and is betting on code instead.

“We realized the challenges BizOps teams face are very similar to the problems encountered by software and DevOps engineers on a daily basis,” writes Salto co-founder and CEO Rami Tamir in today’s announcement. “So we adapted software development fundamentals and best practices to the BizOps field. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel; the same techniques used to make high-quality software can also be applied to keeping control over business applications.”

Image Credits: Salto

Salto makes the core of its service available as open source. This open-source version includes the company’s NaCI language, a declarative configuration language based on the syntax of HashiCorp’s hcl, a command-line interface for deploying configuration changes (and fetching the current configuration state of an application) and a VS Code extension.

In combination with Git, business operations teams can collaborate on writing these configurations and test them in staging environments. The company is essentially taking modern software development practices and applying them to business operations.

Image Credits: Salto

“Defining a company’s business logic as code can make a fundamental change in the way business applications are delivered,” writes Tamir. “We like to think about it as ‘company-as-code,’ much in the same way as ‘infrastructure-as-code’ transformed the way we manage data centers.”

Some of the use cases here are configuring custom Salesforce CPQ fields, and syncing profiles across Salesforce environments and maintaining audio logs for NetSuite. For now, the company only supports connections to Salesforce, HubSpot and NetSuite, with others following soon.

Like other open-source companies, Salto’s business model involved selling a hosted version of its service, which the company is also announcing today.

In terms of raising this new round, it surely helped that the founding team, which includes Benny Schnaider and Gil Hoffer, in addition to Tamir, previously sold the three companies they founded. Pentacom was acquired by Cisco earlier this year; Oracle acquired Ravello Systems in 2016 and Qumranet was acquired by Red Hat in 2008.

“Business agility is more important than ever today, and the alignment of external business services to real business needs is increasing in strategic importance,” said Alex Kayyal, Partner and Head of International at Salesforce Ventures . “BizOps teams are becoming more and more crucial to the success of companies. With Salto they are empowered to meet the tasks they are charged with, equipped with modernized methodologies and a greatly enhanced toolbox.”

#bessemer-venture-partners, #cisco, #cloud-applications, #computing, #devops, #head, #hubspot, #lightspeed-venture-partners, #netsuite, #oracle, #oracle-corporation, #ravello-systems, #red-hat, #salesforce, #salesforce-ventures, #salto, #software, #software-as-a-service, #tc, #tel-aviv

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Lightspeed Venture Partners backs Theta Lake’s video conferencing security tech with $12.7 million

Theta Lake, a provider of compliance and security tools for conferencing software like Cisco Webex, Microsoft Teams, RingCentral, Zoom and others, said it has raised $12.7 million in a new round of funding.

Lightspeed Venture Partners led the round with commitments from Cisco Investments, angel investors from the collaboration and security space, and previous investors, Neotribe Ventures, Firebolt Ventures and WestWave Capital, the company said.

The company’s financing comes as the COVID-19 pandemic has created a surge of demand for remote work conferencing technologies — and services that can ensure the security of those communications.

Citing a Research and Markets report, the company estimates that the market will grow from $8.9 billion in 2019 to $23 billion by the end of this year.

Theta Lake said that the funding would be used to increase its sales and marketing capabilities and for research and development on new product features, according to a statement. 

The company’s tech already uses machine learning to detect security risks in video, visual, voice, chat and document content shared over video and collaboration tools.

As a result of its investment, Arif Janmohamed, a partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners, will join the Theta Lake Board of Directors, the company said. 

“The need for security and compliance solutions that fully cover modern collaboration tools should be obvious to everyone,” said Devin Redmond, Theta Lake’s co-founder and chief executive, in a statement. “That need pre-existed the pandemic, but now is more pressing than ever. The shift from physical work sites and employer-owned networks with tightly managed devices and applications, to a distributed workplace that lives inside your collaboration tools means organizations need new security and compliance coverage that lives inside that new workplace. 

 

#artificial-intelligence, #cisco-investments, #cisco-systems, #collaboration-tools, #companies, #computing, #lightspeed, #lightspeed-venture-partners, #machine-learning, #microsoft, #neotribe-ventures, #partner, #ringcentral, #security-tools, #tc, #telecommunications, #web-conferencing

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Discuss the unbundling of early-stage VC with Unusual Ventures’ Sarah Leary & John Vrionis

This year has been everything but business as usual for the venture and tech community. And we still have a presidential election ahead of us.

So, why not listen to the aptly-named experts over at Unusual Ventures? Partners Sarah Leary (co-founder of Nextdoor) and John Vrionis, formerly of Lightspeed Ventures Partners, will join us on Tuesday, October 20 on the Extra Crunch Live virtual stage.

Thanks to all of you who have joined us for our series of live discussions that has included tech leaders like Sydney Sykes, Alexia von Tobel, Mark Cuban and many others (all recordings are still accessible for Extra Crunch subscribers to watch and learn from).

If you’re new, welcome! You’ll have a chance to participate in the live discussion if you have an Extra Crunch subscription.

Unusual Ventures’ investments span the consumer and enterprise space, including companies like Robinhood, AppDynamics, Mulesoft and Winnie.

For this chat, I plan to spend some time talking to Leary and Vrionis about how early-stage venture capital has changed with the rise of rolling funds, community funds and syndicates. Unusual Ventures claims “there’s an enormous opportunity to raise the bar on what seed-stage investors provide for early-stage founders,” so we’ll get into that opportunity as well.

And if we have time, we’ll discuss remote work, building in public and the U.S. presidential election.

So, what are you waiting for? Add the deets to your calendar (below the jump!) and join me next Tuesday.

Details

#appdynamics, #extra-crunch-live, #john-vrionis, #lightspeed-venture-partners, #sarah-leary, #startups, #tc, #unusual-ventures, #venture-capital, #wearables

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Months-old Uni raises $18.5 million seed round to expand India’s credit card market

Even as close to a billion debit cards are in use in India today, only about 58 million credit cards are in circulation in the world’s second most populous nation.

According to industry estimates, between 30 million to 35 million people in the country today have a credit card. Part of the reason why the vast majority of the population has not made the cut is because they don’t have a credit score — or if they do have an eligible credit score they don’t see any appeal in the paltry rewards most credit cards offer in the country.

The credit card industry in India appears to be stuck in a deadlock. Part of the reason why so few people in the country have a credit score is because banks and credit card companies are still relying on age-old methodologies to determine someone’s creditworthiness.

Nitin Gupta, a veteran in the financial services business, has co-founded Uni

Most banks in India are only comfortable with issuing credit cards to individuals who have a full-time employment with one of a few hundred companies listed in their spreadsheets that they last updated years ago.

Through his new startup called Uni, Nitin Gupta wants to address some of these issues. And he is one of the few individuals in the country who is positioned to do it. He co-founded PayU India, and then ran ride-hailing firm Ola’s financial services business.

During his tenure at PayU, the startup established a dominance in the payments processing business in the country. And at Ola, he launched Olamoney Postpaid, a service that allows customers to pay for their rides at a later stage. Olamoney, which was valued at $250 million last year, is now one of the largest financial services businesses in the country.

Serious VCs are now willing to bet on Gupta’s new venture.

On Tuesday, Uni announced it has raised $18.5 million in its seed financing round led by Lightspeed and Accel . The startup currently does not have a product, but it took Gupta only two months in the middle of a global pandemic to raise what is one of the largest seed financing rounds in India.

In an interview with TechCrunch, Gupta said at Uni he is joined by two more senior executives — Laxmikant Vyas and Prateek Jindal — who have stellar records in the financial services business.

He declined to reveal what exactly Uni’s product — or line of products — would look like, but suggested that Uni is building the modern age consumer credit card.

“It would seem very obvious when it comes out, and people will wonder why nobody else thought of it,” he said, adding that he is working with multiple banks on partnerships.

The adoption of digital payments has grown exponentially in the country in the last five years, but the credit card business is still struggling to make inroads, he said, adding that he sees an opportunity to expand the credit card base to 200 million over the next five years.

“Nitin and Uni’s team are passionate about unlocking the power of financial services for millions of Indian consumers using new tech-powered solutions,” Bejul Somaia​, a partner at Lightspeed India, said. “We are excited about their mission and proud to support them from day one.”

#accel, #asia, #finance, #funding, #india, #lightspeed-india, #lightspeed-venture-partners, #ola, #payu

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Rephrase.ai raises $1.5M to use synthetic media for personalized sales pitches

Bangalore-based Rephrase.ai has an ambitious vision for reshaping how movies and videos are made.

CEO Ashray Malhotra laid it out for me yesterday, saying that his co-founder Nisheeth Lahoti “came up with this concept — he wants to build an engine that can take any script as input and create a professional movie,” no filming required.

But Rephrase.ai is starting with what Malhotra said is a more “short-term, monetizable” goal: Offering technology that makes it easy to create personalized sales videos.

The startup was part of the Techstars Bangalore program in 2019 and is announcing today that it has raised $1.5 million in seed funding led by Lightspeed Venture Partners and AV8 Ventures.

Malhotra demonstrated the technology for me, showing me how a salesperson can select a model, a background and a voice, and enter text that the model will recite. They can then export that video for use in a variety of sales tools.

This is valuable for, he said, because sending personalized video messages in sales emails can lead to “an insane increase” in clickthrough rates. But creating all those videos can be a huge chore, if not downright impossible.

And while there are plenty of other startups working on synthetic media, Malhotra said Rephrase.ai is set apart by the 18 months the team spent developing technology that can take 10 minutes of footage and “predict how the lip movements of the person would have been if you’d shot them [saying any phrase] in an actual studio.”

You can see the results for yourself in the video above. Personally, I was impressed by the lip movements but disconcerted by the fact that Rephrase.ai customers can pair any model with any voice, leading to some strange combinations that feel more like badly dubbed movie than an effective sales pitch.

When I brought this up, Malhotra replied that some clients will want to take the time “perfecting it out, finding the right voices, the right costumes, the right personality of the actors,” while other clients might be fine spending less time to create something a little less convincing.

It’s also worth noting that Rephrase.ai has several policies designed to prevent the creation of deceptive deepfakes: Presenters can control who has the authority to create videos using their faces, the platform is only open to authorized businesses and videos are created from scratch, rather than transferring someone’s face onto an existing person.

Malhotra said Rephrase.ai is currently talking to a number of potential customers, but those discussions are in early stages. He also suggested that the technology could expand fairly quickly into areas like chatbots and education.

“I think it’s going to open a whole new world of creativity,” he said. “When you and I want to express something, we’re most likely to write a text document, but as a viewer, we want to see a video. They’ve been disconnected because video creation is really difficult.”

#av8-ventures, #funding, #fundings-exits, #lightspeed-venture-partners, #startups, #synthetic-media

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Edtech investors are panning for gold

The spotlight on edtech grows brighter and harsher: On one end, remote-learning startups are attracting millions in venture capital. On the other, many educators and parents are unimpressed with the technology that enables virtual learning and gaps remain in and out of the classroom.

It’s clear that edtech’s nebulous pain points — screen time, childcare and classroom management — require innovation. But as founders flurry to a sector recently rejuvenated with capital, the influx of interest has not fostered any breakout solutions. As a result, edtech investors must hone their skills at sorting the innovators from the opportunists amid the rush.

Lucky for us, investors shared notes during TechCrunch Disrupt and offline regarding how they are separating the gold from the dust, giving us a peek into their due diligence process (and inboxes).

Putting profitability over growth

The pandemic has broadly forced founders to get more conservative and prioritize profitability over the usual “growth at all costs” startup mentality. Growth still matters, but within edtech, the boom comes with a big focus on profitability, efficacy, outcomes and societal impact.

“The goal of all of education is personalized learning, when every student receives exactly the instruction in the way that they need it at the time that they need it. And that’s really, really difficult to do if you’re trying to have one person teach 180 students,” said Mercedes Bent of Lightspeed Venture Partners. “And so I’ve been excited to see more solutions that are focused on creating smaller class sizes that are also focused on allowing students to connect with people outside of their homes as well.”

During Disrupt, Reach Capital’s Jennifer Carolan brought up a recent Netflix documentary, “The Social Dilemma,” which illustrates the impact screen time can have on society. When vetting companies, Carolan said she wanted to see founders who have considered how their products may impact young users.

#cowboy-vc, #disrupt-2020, #edtech, #education, #ian-chiu, #jennifer-carolan, #jomayra-hererra, #lightspeed-venture-partners, #mercedes-bent, #owl-ventures, #reach-capital, #startups, #tc

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