Marketplace platform Mirakl raises $555 million at $3.5 billion valuation

French startup Mirakl has closed a new Series E funding round of $555 million. Following this round, the company is now valued at $3.5 billion. Mirakl helps you launch a marketplace on your online store for your end customers or for your B2B clients. It’s a software-as-a-service marketplace, meaning that Mirakl manages the marketplace for you.

Silver Lake is leading the investment with existing investors 83North, Elaia Partners, Felix Capital and Permira also participating. With today’s funding round, Mirakl is experiencing a sharp valuation bump as the company closed a $300 million funding round at a $1.5 billion valuation last year.

Some of Mirakl’s clients include ABB, Accor, Airbus Helicopters, Carrefour, Express, Leroy Merlin, The Kroger Co and Toyota Material Handling.

Chances are you’re already familiar with marketplaces on online stores. If the e-commerce brand doesn’t have the item you’re looking for, they might be recommending some third-party sellers. You can buy the item from this third-party seller directly on the store you’re using. Mirakl helps you add a marketplace to your site.

On some online stores, marketplace transactions have overtaken in-house transactions. It’s a lucrative shift as e-commerce companies don’t own the inventory of third-party sellers. It frees up some capital to increase reach and online sales.

And that trend isn’t limited to consumer-facing online stores. B2B marketplaces are emerging. For instance, car manufacturers rely on many different suppliers. They could all list parts directly on a marketplace so that repair shops can easily find the right part to fix a car.

When you add a marketplace component, you switch from a one-to-many model to a many-to-many model. It means that you have to make sure that you’re taking advantage of your marketplace by partnering with the right third-party sellers. As a third-party seller, it also means that you need to list your products on as many marketplaces as possible.

That’s why the company has also built something called Mirakl Connect. The startup positions itself as a center piece of the marketplace ecosystem by connecting online stores with sellers. Mirakl customers can use Mirakl Connect to find third-party sellers. And third-party sellers can more easily list their products on Mirakl-compatible marketplaces.

With today’s funding round, Mirakl plans to increase the size of its engineering team. It’ll add 350 engineers on top of its team of 500. Similarly, the customer success team will double in size. In other words, things are going well for Mirakl, so let’s invest.

Image Credits: Mirakl

#e-commerce, #ecommerce, #europe, #france-newsletter, #fundings-exits, #marketplace, #mirakl, #online-store, #saas, #startups

Rippling launches computer inventory management as more workers remain remote

Rippling, a startup building a platform to manage all aspects of employee data, from payroll and benefits through to device management, launched Rippling Inventory Management, what founder and CEO Parker Conrad is touting as the “world’s first cloud IT closet.”

The dashboard enables businesses to automatically store, ship and retrieve employee computers in a way that is remote and hands-free. Rippling stores and monitors company devices so they no longer need an “IT closet” on-site or utilize an employee’s home. Rippling also manages the logistics related to the devices, including wiping and assigning devices and issuing prepaid mailers for machines that need to be returned.

Customers pay a per employee, per month fee to use the dashboard to hire, or fire employees, and set up all of the apps (and access) that the employee will need on their computer. In addition, the user can see all of the outstanding shipments and where they are in the process of being delivered or returned.

The product launch is buoyed by a massive $145 million Series B round in 2020 that gave the company a valuation of $1.35 billion.

Rippling inventory management gif. Image Credits: Rippling

The inventory management platform stems from a problem Rippling saw as remote work became more prevalent over the past 18 months, Conrad told TechCrunch. The company itself used to have an IT closet, which he considers “the last physical part about managing employees.”

“What this does is kill the IT closet,” he added. “If you don’t work in an office and decide to leave, some companies don’t have a process on how to get the former employee’s device back. We had a situation ourselves where employees would ship computers back to one person, and she had them stacked up in her apartment.”

The leadership team spent a long time looking for an inventory management service, and also saw customers posting about it on social media. However, Conrad considers this a problem that didn’t really exist until March 2020.

He explained that with the exception of a few outlier companies, most were not remote and physically handed a computer to new employees or gathered them from the desk of someone who left. Once they were remote, it was difficult to keep track of who had which device and how to get them back if needed.

“Everyone can be done online now, and you don’t have to come into the office to sign paperwork,” Conrad said. “This is the last piece that companies need and works to solve the last-mile problem.”

 

#enterprise, #funding, #hiring, #it, #logistics, #mobile-device-management, #parker-conrad, #personnel, #rippling, #saas, #social-media, #startups, #tc, #telecommuting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Business Canvas, a Korea-based document management SaaS company, closes $2.5M seed round

Business Canvas, a South Korean document management SaaS company behind Typed, announced today it has raised a $2.5 million seed round led by Mirae Asset Venture Investment, with participation from Kakao Ventures and Nextrans Inc.

The seed round will be used for accelerating product development and global launch of open beta for its AI-powered document management platform. The company opened an office in Santa Clara, California this year to spur its global expansion.

People are bombarded with information thanks to advances in technology that opens the doors to a wealth of information, but at the same time, too much information and a huge amount of data at one time leave the users confused and/or unable to make timely decisions.

Business Canvas, founded in July 2020 by CEO Woojin Kim, Brian Shin, Seungmin Lee, Dongjoon Shin and Clint Yoo, is hoping to solve the challenge that every knowledge worker and writer faces: spending more time on research and file organization than the actual content output they need to create.

“In fact, people commit over 30% of their working hours trying to search for that file we once saved in a folder that we just cannot find anymore,” Business Canvas CEO and co-founder Kim said.

Through a network that intelligently tracks and organizes files based on the user’s interactions, Typed brings all the knowledge from different websites and applications into one simple-to-use and quick-to-learn digital workspace.

Strictly keeping its users’ information and their confidential files uninterrupted, Typed does not access the content of users’ documents but utilize them as machine learning data in order to protect their information and data, Kim told TechCrunch. It simply collects users’ action driven data point and publicly available metadata of documents and resources under users’ permission, Kim added.

“Modern document writing has not changed since the 1980s,” Business Canvas co-founder Clint Yoo said. “While we have more knowledge at our fingertips than ever before, we use the same rudimentary methods to organize and make sense of it. We want any writer – from lawyers and entrepreneurs to researchers and students – to focus on creating great content instead of wasting time organizing their source material. We achieved this by making knowledge management more like the way our brain operates.”

Since the launch of the closed beta test in February 2021, Typed saw significant user growth including more than 10,000 users on the waitlist, with 25,000 files uploaded and 350% month-over-month active user growth, the company said in its statement. Typed will be available through a freemium model and is currently accepting beta registrations on its website.

“When we’ve tested our closed beta, our metrics show top traction among students as well as journalists, writers and lawyers, who require heavy research and document work on a frequent basis. We opened up access earlier this month for the waitlists in over 50 countries. These are primarily B2C users,” Kim told TechCrunch. “As for B2B, we are currently in the process of proof-of-concept (POC) for one of the largest conglomerates in South Korea. Smaller teams like startups, boutique law, consulting firms, venture capitals and government institutions also have been adopting Typed as well.”

“While the company is still in its nascent stage in its development, Typed has the potential to fundamentally change how we work individually or as a team. If there is a business to take on our outdated way of writing content, it’s them [Typed],” Shina Chung, Kakao Ventures CEO said.

The global market size for social software and collaboration SaaS is estimated at $4.5 billion in 2021, increasing over 17% year on year, Kim said.

#artificial-intelligence, #asia, #funding, #fundings-exits, #machine-learning, #saas, #social-software, #south-korea, #tc

Slack releases Clips video tool, announces 16 Salesforce integrations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blackbird.AI grabs $10M to help brands counter disinformation

New York-based Blackbird.AI has closed a $10 million Series A as it prepares to launched the next version of its disinformation intelligence platform this fall.

The Series A is led by Dorilton Ventures, along with new investors including Generation Ventures, Trousdale Ventures, StartFast Ventures and Richard Clarke, former chief counter-terrorism advisor for the National Security Council. Existing investor NetX also participated.

Blackbird says it’ll be used to scale up to meet demand in new and existing markets, including by expanding its team and spending more on product dev.

The 2017-founded startup sells software as a service targeted at brands and enterprises managing risks related to malicious and manipulative information — touting the notion of defending the “authenticity” of corporate marketing.

It’s applying a range of AI technologies to tackle the challenge of filtering and interpreting emergent narratives from across the Internet to identify disinformation risks targeting its customers. (And, for the record, this Blackbird is no relation to an earlier NLP startup, called Blackbird, which was acquired by Etsy back in 2016.)

Blackbird AI is focused on applying automation technologies to detect malicious/manipulative narratives — so the service aims to surface emerging disinformation threats for its clients, rather than delving into the tricky task of attribution. On that front it’s only looking at what it calls “cohorts” (or “tribes”) of online users — who may be manipulating information collectively, for a shared interest or common goal (talking in terms of groups like antivaxxers or “bitcoin bros”). 

Blackbird CEO and co-founder Wasim Khaled says the team has chalked up five years of R&D and “granular model development” to get the product to where it is now. 

“In terms of technology the way we think about the company today is an AI-driven disinformation and narrative intelligence platform,” he tells TechCrunch. “This is essentially the efforts of five years of very in-depth, ears to the ground research and development that has really spanned people everywhere from the comms industry to national security to enterprise and Fortune 500,  psychologists, journalists.

“We’ve just been non-stop talking to the stakeholders, the people in the trenches — to understand where their problem sets really are. And, from a scientific empirical method, how do you break those down into its discrete parts? Automate pieces of it, empower and enable the individuals that are trying to make decisions out of all of the information disorder that we see happening.”

The first version of Blackbird’s SaaS was released in November 2020 but the startup isn’t disclosing customer numbers as yet. v2 of the platform will be launched this November, per Khaled. 

Also today it’s announcing a partnership with PR firm, Weber Shandwick, to provide support to customers on how to respond to specific malicious messaging that could impact their businesses and which its platform has flagged up as an emerging risk.

Disinformation has of course become a much labelled and discussed feature of online life in recent years, although it’s hardly a new (human) phenomenon. (See, for example, the orchestrated airbourne leaflet propaganda drops used during war to spread unease among enemy combatants and populations). However it’s fair to say that the Internet has supercharged the ability of intentionally bad/bogus content to spread and cause reputational and other types of harms.

Studies show the speed of online travel of ‘fake news’ (as this stuff is sometimes also called) is far greater than truthful information. And there the ad-funded business models of mainstream social media platforms are implicated since their commercial content-sorting algorithms are incentivized to amplify stuff that’s more engaging to eyeballs, which isn’t usually the grey and nuanced truth.

Stock and crypto trading is another growing incentive for spreading disinformation — just look at the recent example of Walmart targeted with a fake press release suggesting the retailer was about to accept litecoin.

All of which makes countering disinformation look like a growing business opportunity.

Earlier this summer, for example, another stealthy startup in this area, ActiveFence, uncloaked to announce a $100M funding round. Others in the space include Primer and Yonder (previously New Knowledge), to name a few.

 

While some other earlier players in the space got acquired by some of the tech giants wrestling with how to clean up their own disinformation-ridden platforms — such as UK-based Fabula AI, which was bought by Twitter in 2019.

Another — Bloomsbury AI — was acquired by Facebook. And the tech giant now routinely tries to put its own spin on its disinformation problem by publishing reports that contain a snapshot of what it dubs “coordinated inauthentic behavior” that it’s found happening on its platforms (although Facebook’s selective transparency often raises more questions than it answers.)

The problems created by bogus online narratives ripple far beyond key host and spreader platforms like Facebook — with the potential to impact scores of companies and organizations, as well as democratic processes.

But while disinformation is a problem that can now scale everywhere online and affect almost anything and anyone, Blackbird is concentrating on selling its counter tech to brands and enterprises — targeting entities with the resources to pay to shrink reputational risks posed by targeted disinformation.

Per Khaled, Blackbird’s product — which consists of an enterprise dashboard and an underlying data processing engine — is not just doing data aggregation, either; the startup is in the business of intelligently structuring the threat data its engine gathers, he says, arguing too that it goes further than some rival offerings that are doing NLP (natural language processing) plus maybe some “light sentiment analysis”, as he puts it.

Although NLP is also key area of focus for Blackbird, along with network analysis — and doing things like looking at the structure of botnets.

But the suggestion is Blackbird goes further than the competition by merit of considering a wider range of factors to help identify threats to the “integrity” of corporate messaging. (Or, at least, that’s its marketing pitch.)

Khaled says the platform focuses on five “signals” to help it deconstruct the flow of online chatter related to a particular client and their interests — which he breaks down thusly: Narratives, networks, cohorts, manipulation and deception. And for each area of focus Blackbird is applying a cluster of AI technologies, according to Khaled.

But while the aim is to leverage the power of automation to tackle the scale of the disinformation challenge that businesses now face, Blackbird isn’t able to do this purely with AI alone; expert human analysis remains a component of the service — and Khaled notes that, for example, it can offer customers (human) disinformation analysts to help them drill further into their disinformation threat landscape.

“What really differentiates our platform is we process all five of these signals in tandem and in near real-time to generate what you can think of almost as a composite risk index that our clients can weigh, based on what might be most important to them, to rank the most important action-oriented information for their organization,” he says.

“Really it’s this tandem processing — quantifying the attack on human perception that we see happening; what we think of as a cyber attack on human perception — how do you understand when someone is trying to shift the public’s perception? About a topic, a person, an idea. Or when we look at corporate risk, more and more, we see when is a group or an organization or a set of accounts trying to drive public scrutiny against a company for a particular topic.

“Sometimes those topics are already in the news but the property that we want our customers or anybody to understand is when is something being driven in a manipulative manner? Because that means there’s an incentive, a motive, or an unnatural set of forces… acting upon the narrative being spread far and fast.”

“We’ve been working on this, and only this, and early on decided to do a purpose-built system to look at this problem. And that’s one of the things that really set us apart,” he also suggests, adding: “There are a handful of companies that are in what is shaping up to be a new space — but often some of them were in some other line of work, like marketing or social and they’ve tried to build some models on top of it.

“For bots — and for all of the signals we talked about — I think the biggest challenge for many organizations if they haven’t completely purpose built from scratch like we have… you end up against certain problems down the road that prevent you from being scalable. Speed becomes one of the biggest issues.

“Some of the largest organizations we’ve talked to could in theory product the signals — some of the signals that I talked about before — but the lift might take them ten to 12 days. Which makes it really unsuited for anything but the most forensic reporting, after things have kinda gone south… What you really need it in is two minutes or two seconds. And that’s where — from day one — we’ve been looking to get.”

As well as brands and enterprises with reputational concerns — such as those whose activity intersects with the ESG space; aka ‘environmental, social and governance’ — Khaled claims investors are also interested in using the tool for decision support, adding: “They want to get the full picture and make sure they’re not being manipulated.”

At present, Blackbird’s analysis focuses on emergent disinformation threats — aka “nowcasting” — but the goal is also to push into disinformation threat predictive — to help prepare clients for information-related manipulation problems before they occur. Albeit there’s no timeframe for launching that component yet.

“In terms of counter measurement/mitigation, today we are by and large a detection platform, starting to bridge into predictive detection as well,” says Khaled, adding: “We don’t take the word predictive lightly. We don’t just throw it around so we’re slowly launching the pieces that really are going to be helpful as predictive.

“Our AI engine trying to tell [customers] where things are headed, rather than just telling them the moment it happens… based on — at least from our platform’s perspective — having ingested billions of posts and events and instances to then pattern match to something similar to that that might happen in the future.”

“A lot of people just plot a path based on timestamps — based on how quickly something is picking up. That’s not prediction for Blackbird,” he also argues. “We’ve seen other organizations call that predictive; we’re not going to call that predictive.”

In the nearer term, Blackbird has some “interesting” counter measurement tech to assist teams in its pipeline, coming in Q1 and Q2 of 2022, Khaled adds.

#artificial-intelligence, #blackbird-ai, #deception, #disinformation, #enterprise, #fabula-ai, #fake-news, #national-security-council, #natural-language-processing, #new-york, #pr, #saas, #tc

Alternative financing startup Pipe snaps up Stripe and HubSpot execs, expands to UK

Pipe, a two-year-old startup that aims to be the “Nasdaq for revenue,” announced today it has snagged former Stripe EIC Sid Orlando and HubSpot’s ex-Chief Strategy Officer Brad Coffey to serve on its executive team.

The Miami-based fintech also revealed today its first expansion outside of the United States with its entry into the U.K. market.

It’s been a good year for Pipe. The buzzy startup has raised $300 million in equity financing this year from a slew of investors, such as Shopify, Slack, Okta, HubSpot, Marc Benioff’s TIME Ventures, Alexis Ohanian’s Seven Seven Six, Chamath Palihapitiya, MaC Ventures, Fin VC, Greenspring Associates and Counterpoint Global (Morgan Stanley), among others.

Since its public launch in June 2020, over 8,000 companies have signed up on the Pipe trading platform. That’s double from the reported “over 4,000” that had signed up at the time of the company’s last raise in May — a $250 million round that valued the company at $2 billion.

Orlando has left her role as editor-in-chief of fintech giant Stripe, where she has worked for over four years, to head up content for Pipe. She was also previously manager of curation and content at Kickstarter. Coffey left HubSpot — where he worked for over 13 years and most recently served as chief strategy officer for nearly 5 — to serve as Pipe’s chief customer officer, where he will be responsible for driving continued growth and expansion of verticals beyond Pipe’s initial launch market of SaaS. Coffey was one of HubSpot’s first employees and witnessed the progression of the company from a startup with $1 million in ARR to a publicly traded company with $1 billion in annual recurring revenue. 

CEO Harry Hurst, Josh Mangel and Zain Allarakhia founded Pipe in September 2019 with the mission of giving SaaS companies a way to get their revenue upfront, by pairing them with investors on a marketplace that pays a discounted rate for the annual value of those contracts. (Pipe describes its buy-side participants as “a vetted group of financial institutions and banks.”)

The goal of the platform is to offer companies with recurring revenue streams access to capital so they don’t dilute their ownership by accepting external capital or get forced to take out loans.

Pipe’s platform has evolved to offer non-dilutive capital to non-SaaS companies as well. In fact, today over 50% of the companies using its platform are non-SaaS companies, compared to 25% in May.

Notably, Coffey led HubSpot’s investment into Pipe last spring and that’s how he first became familiar with the company.

“When I first came across Pipe, I realized they had the opportunity to be a company that not only transforms but also helps a generation of founders get access to the growth capital they’ve never had access to at scale before,” he wrote in an email to TechCrunch. “This was even more obvious when I led HubSpot’s investment in Pipe…where HubSpot provides the software and education, and Pipe can provide the capital. As I got to know the founders and the team through that process, I realized it was an opportunity I didn’t want to miss and had to be a part of.”

Orlando expressed similar sentiments around her decision to join the company.

“Pipe has such an intriguing opportunity to recontour aspects of the funding landscape, providing alternative financing option to founders looking to grow and scale companies on their own terms,” she wrote via email. “Being a part of the early team to build such an impactful product in the market was no doubt a compelling mandate! I’m also struck by Pipe’s team and mission, of pursuing the ambitious vision for leveraging a new asset class with both humility and immense motivation, in service of greater flexibility, agency, equitability and growth opportunities for founders and their teams.”

For Pipe’s Hurst, the new hires signal a new chapter for the company, which continues to grow at a rapid rate.

“There are lots of days on Pipe where tens of millions [of dollars] are traded in a single day. Tens of millions of dollars were being traded every month last time we spoke [in May], he told TechCrunch. “And it’s across a diversified set of customers and different verticals. We are even increasingly helping finance M&As. Growth has been explosive.” 

Tradable annual recurring revenue (ARR) on the Pipe platform is in excess of $2 billion and trending toward $3 billion, according to Hurst.

The company’s expansion into the United Kingdom is significant because while the region has a growing venture ecosystem, capital is not nearly as available to founders as it is in the U.S. Pipe’s availability in the region will give those founders an alternative means of financing, Hurst believes.

“There are a lot of fundamentally healthy companies that don’t have access to financing, period,” he told TechCrunch. “So we believe in the U.K., Pipe will be incredibly impactful and that is evidenced from what we’ve seen already.”

The move also represents a return to the CEO’s roots. 

“I left the U.K. for the United States seven years ago as it provided the best funding environment to build my first technology company, and it is enormously gratifying to bring those same opportunities to the burgeoning ecosystem of technology companies in the U.K.,” he said. “If Pipe existed a decade ago and offered company friendly financing options, I might never have left the U.K. … Now, I’m bringing it home and really excited to be launching in the U.K.” 

With the move, Pipe has opened a microhub in London and 10% of its 55-person team will be based there.

#brad-coffey, #finance, #personnel, #pipe, #saas, #sid-orlando, #startups, #tc

Toast raises IPO price range, providing a Monday bump to fintech valuations

U.S. technology unicorn Toast filed a new S-1 document this morning detailing a higher IPO price range for its shares. The more expensive range indicates that Toast may be worth more in its debut than it initially expected, a bullish sign for technology companies more broadly.

Toast’s rising valuation may provide a boon to two different sub-sectors of technology: software and fintech. The restaurant-focused Toast sells software on a recurring basis (SaaS) to restaurants while also providing financial technology solutions. And while it is best known as a software company that dabbles in hardware, Boston-based Toast generates the bulk of its aggregate top line from financial services.

Software revenues are valuable thanks to their high margins and recurring structure. Toast’s financial-services revenues, by contrast, are largely transaction-based and sport lower gross margins. The company’s IPO price, then, could help the private markets more fairly price startups offering their own blend of software-and-fintech incomes.

The so-called “vertical SaaS” model, in which startups build software tailored to one particular industry or another, has become a somewhat two-part business effort; many startups today are pursuing both the sale of software along with fintech revenues. Toast’s IPO, then, could operate as a bellwether of sorts for a host of startups.

To see Toast raise its range, therefore, got our eyebrows up. Let’s talk money.

Toast’s new IPO range

From a previous range of $30 to $33, Toast now expects to price its IPO between $34 and $36.

Toast now expects its IPO price to clear its previous upper-end guidance at the low end of its new range. That’s bullish — and indicative of a thus-far receptive market for the company’s equity.

#fintech, #fundings-exits, #ipo, #saas, #startups, #tc, #toast

Bzaar bags $4M to enable US retailers to source home, lifestyle products from India

Small businesses in the U.S. now have a new way to source home and lifestyle goods from new manufacturers. Bzaar, a business-to-business cross-border marketplace, is connecting retailers with over 50 export-ready manufacturers in India.

The U.S.-based company announced Monday that it raised $4 million in seed funding, led by Canaan Partners, and including angel investors Flipkart co-founder Binny Bansal, PhonePe founders Sameer Nigam and Rahul Chari, Addition founder Lee Fixel and Helion Ventures co-founder Ashish Gupta.

Nishant Verman and Prasanth Nair co-founded Bzaar in 2020 and consider their company to be like a “fair without borders,” Verman put it. Prior to founding Bzaar, Verman was at Bangalore-based Flipkart until it was acquired by Walmart in 2018. He then was at Canaan Partners in the U.S.

“We think the next 10 years of global trade will be different from the last 100 years,” he added. “That’s why we think this business needs to exist.”

Traditionally, small U.S. buyers did not have feet on the ground in manufacturing hubs, like China, to manage shipments of goods in the same way that large retailers did. Then Alibaba came along in the late 1990s and began acting as a gatekeeper for cross-border purchases, Verman said. U.S. goods imports from China totaled $451.7 billion in 2019, while U.S. goods imports from India in 2019 were $87.4 billion.

Bzaar screenshot. Image Credits: Bzaar

Small buyers could buy home and lifestyle goods, but it was typically through the same sellers, and there was not often a unique selection, nor were goods available handmade or using organic materials, he added.

With Bzaar, small buyers can purchase over 10,000 wholesale goods on its marketplace from other countries like India and Southeast Asia. The company guarantees products arrive within two weeks and manage all of the packaging logistics and buyer protection.

Verman and Nair launched the marketplace in April and had thousands users in three continents purchasing from the platform within six months. Meanwhile, products on Bzaar are up to 50% cheaper than domestic U.S. platforms, while SKU selection is growing doubling every month, Verman said.

The new funding will enable the company to invest in marketing to get in front of buyers and invest on its technology to advance its cataloging feature so that goods pass through customs seamlessly. Wanting to provide new features for its small business customers, Verman also intends to create a credit feature to enable buyers to pay in installments or up to 90 days later.

“We feel this is a once-in-a-lifetime shift in how global trade works,” he added. “You need the right team in place to do this because the problem is quite complex to take products from a small town in Vietnam to Nashville. With our infrastructure in place, the good news is there are already shops and buyers, and we are stitching them together to give buyers a seamless experience.”

 

#alibaba, #bzaar, #canaan-partners, #china, #ecommerce, #enterprise, #flipkart, #funding, #import, #market, #nishant-verman, #prasanth-nair, #recent-funding, #saas, #startups, #tc

Flippa raises $11M to match online asset and business buyers, sellers

Flippa, an online marketplace to buy and sell online businesses and digital assets, announced its first venture-backed round, an $11 million Series A, as it sees over 600,000 monthly searches from investors looking to connect with business owners.

OneVentures led the round and was joined by existing investors Andrew Walsh (former Hitwise CEO), Flippa co-founders Mark Harbottle and Matt Mickiewicz, 99designs, as well as new investors Catch.com.au founders Gabby and Hezi Leibovich; RetailMeNot.com founders Guy King and Bevan Clarke; and Reactive Media founders Tim O’Neill and Tim Fouhy.

The company, with bases in both Austin and Australia, was started in 2009 and facilitates exits for millions of online business owners that operate on e-commerce marketplaces, blogs, SaaS and apps, the newest being Shopify, Blake Hutchison, CEO of Flippa, told TechCrunch.

He considers Flippa to be “the investment bank for the 99%,” of small businesses, providing an end-to end platform that includes a proprietary valuation product for businesses — processing over 4,000 valuations each month — and a matching algorithm to connect with qualified buyers.

Business owners can sell their companies directly through the platform and have the option to bring in a business broker or advisor. The company also offers due diligence and acquisition financing from Thrasio-owned Yardline Capital and a new service called Flippa Legal.

“Our strategy is data,” Hutchison said. “Users can currently connect to Stripe, QuickBooks Online, WooCommerce, Google Analytics and Admob for apps, which means they can expose their online business performance with one-click, and buyers can seamlessly assess financial and operational performance.”

Online retail, as a share of total retail sales, grew to 19.6% in 2020, up from 15.8% in 2019, driven largely by the global pandemic as sales shifted online while brick-and-mortar stores closed.

Meanwhile, Amazon has 6 million sellers, and Shopify sellers run over 1 million businesses. This has led to an emergence of e-commerce aggregators, backed by venture capital dollars, that are scooping up successful businesses to grow, finding many through Flippa’s marketplace, Hutchison said.

Flippa has over 3 million registered users and added 300,000 new registered users in the past 12 months. Overall transaction volume grows 100% year over year. Though being bootstrapped for over a decade, the company’s growth and opportunity drove Hutchison to go after venture capital dollars.

“There is a huge movement toward this being recognized as an asset class,” he said. “At the moment, the asset class is undervalued and driving a massive swarm as investors snap up businesses and aggregate them together. We see the future of these aggregators becoming ‘X company for apps’ or ‘X for blogs.’ ”

As such, the new funding will be used to double the company’s headcount to more than 100 people as it builds out its offices globally, as well as establishing outposts in Melbourne, San Francisco and Austin. The company will also invest in marketing and product development to scale its business valuation tool that Hutchison likens to the “Zillow Zestimate,” but for online businesses.

Nigel Dews, operating partner at OneVentures, has been following Flippa since it started. His firm is one of the oldest venture capital firms in Australia and has 30 companies in its portfolio focused on healthcare and technology.

He believes the company will create meaningful change for small businesses. The team combined with Flippa’s ability to connect buyers and sellers puts the company in a strong leadership position to take advantage of the marketplace effect.

“Flippa is an incredible opportunity for us,” he added. “You don’t often get a world-leading business in a brand new category with incredible tailwinds. We also liked that the company is based in Australia, but half of its revenue comes from the U.S.”

#advertising-tech, #amazon, #artificial-intelligence, #blake-hutchison, #ecommerce, #enterprise, #flippa, #funding, #mark-harbottle, #matt-mickiewicz, #nigel-dews, #oneventures, #online-marketplace, #online-retail, #recent-funding, #saas, #shopify, #startups, #tc

Inside GitLab’s IPO filing

While the technology and business world worked towards the weekend, developer operations (DevOps) firm GitLab filed to go public. Before we get into our time off, we need to pause, digest the company’s S-1 filing, and come to some early conclusions.

GitLab competes with GitHub, which Microsoft purchased for $7.5 billion back in 2018.

The company is notable for its long-held, remote-first stance, and for being more public with its metrics than most unicorns — for some time, GitLab had a November 18, 2020 IPO target in its public plans, to pick an example. We also knew when it crossed the $100 million recurring revenue threshold.

Considering GitLab’s more recent results, a narrowing operating loss in the last two quarters is good news for the company.

The company’s IPO has therefore been long expected. In its last primary transaction, GitLab raised $286 million at a post-money valuation of $2.75 billion, per Pitchbook data. The same information source also notes that GitLab executed a secondary transaction earlier this year worth $195 million, which gave the company a $6 billion valuation.

Let’s parse GitLab’s growth rate, its final pre-IPO scale, its SaaS metrics, and then ask if we think it can surpass its most recent private-market price. Sound good? Let’s rock.

The GitLab S-1

GitLab intends to list on the Nasdaq under the symbol “GTLB.” Its IPO filing lists a placeholder $100 million raise estimate, though that figure will change when the company sets an initial price range for its shares. Its fiscal year ends January 31, meaning that its quarters are offset from traditional calendar periods by a single month.

Let’s start with the big numbers.

In its fiscal year ended January 2020, GitLab posted revenues of $81.2 million, gross profit of $71.9 million, an operating loss of $128.4 million, and a modestly greater net loss of $130.7 million.

And in the year ended January 31, 2021, GitLab’s revenue rose roughly 87% to $152.2 million from a year earlier. The company’s gross profit rose around 86% to $133.7 million, and operating loss widened nearly 67% to $213.9 million. Its net loss totaled $192.2 million.

This paints a picture of a SaaS company growing quickly at scale, with essentially flat gross margins (88%). Growth has not been inexpensive either — GitLab spent more on sales and marketing than it generated in gross profit in the past two fiscal years.

#computing, #crowdstrike, #datadog, #ec-news-analysis, #enterprise-software, #fundings-exits, #git, #github, #gitlab, #ipo, #microsoft, #saas, #software, #software-engineering, #startups, #tc, #twilio, #version-control

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How businesses use social proof

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

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

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

Social proof for B2B

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

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

Social proof for SaaS

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

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

Social proof for e-commerce brands

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

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

How to collect social proof

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

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

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

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

Defy Partners leads $3M round into sales intelligence platform Aircover

Aircover raised $3 million in seed funding to continue developing its real-time sales intelligence platform.

Defy Partners led the round with participation from Firebolt Ventures, Flex Capital, Ridge Ventures and a group of angel investors.

The company, headquartered in the Bay Area, aims to give sales teams insights relevant to closing the sale as they are meeting with customers. Aircover’s conversational AI software integrates with Zoom and automates parts of the sales process to lead to more effective conversations.

Aircover’s founding team of Andrew Levy, Alex Young and Andrew’s brother David Levy worked together at Apteligent, a company co-founded and led by Andrew Levy, that was sold to VMware in 2017.

Chatting about pain points on the sales process over the years, Levy said it felt like the solution was always training the sales team more. However, by the time everyone was trained, that information would largely be out-of-date.

Instead, they created Aircover to be a software tool on top of video conferencing that performs real-time transcription of the conversation and then analysis to put the right content in front of the sales person at the right time based on customer issues and questions. This means that another sales expert doesn’t need to be pulled in or an additional call scheduled to provide answers to questions.

“We are anticipating that knowledge and parsing it out at key moments to provide more leverage to subject matter experts,” Andrew Levy told TechCrunch. “It’s like a sales assistant coming in to handle any issue.”

He considers Aircover in a similar realm with other sales team solutions, like Chorus.ai, which was recently scooped up by ZoomInfo, and Gong, but sees his company carving out space in real-time meeting experiences. Other tools also record the meetings, but to be reviewed after the call is completed.

“That can’t change the outcome of the sale, which is what we are trying to do,” Levy added.

The new funding will be used for product development. Levy intends to double his small engineering team by the end of the month.

He calls what Aircover is doing a “large interesting problem we are solving that requires some difficult technology because it is real time,” which is why the company was eager to partner with Bob Rosin, partner at Defy Partners, who joins Aircover’s board of directors as part of the investment.

Rosin joined Defy in 2020 after working on the leadership teams of Stripe, LinkedIn and Skype. He said sales and customer teams need tools in the moment, and while some are useful in retrospect, people want them to be live, in front of the customer.

“In the early days, tools helped before and after, but in the moment when they need the most help, we are not seeing many doing it,” Rosin added. “Aircover has come up with the complete solution.”

 

#aircover, #andrew-levy, #apteligent, #artificial-intelligence, #bob-rosin, #customer-experience, #defy-partners, #enterprise, #firebolt-ventures, #funding, #recent-funding, #ridge-ventures, #saas, #sales, #startups, #tc, #video-conferencing, #vmware

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Salesforce announces new Mulesoft RPA tool based on Servicetrace acquisition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Zealand startup HeartLab raises $2.45M to bring heart scanning software to the US

New Zealand-based medtech startup HeartLab has raised $2.45 million in seed funding that it says will help the company expand its AI-powered heart scanning and reporting platform to cardiologists in the United States by early next year.

HeartLab provides an end-to-end solution for echocardiograms, the ultrasound tests that doctors use to examine a patient’s heart structure and function. Not only does the software help sort and analyze ultrasound images to help doctors diagnose cardiovascular disease, but it also streamlines the workflow by generating patient reports for doctors that can then be added to a patient’s health record.

Will Hewitt, 21, started HeartLab when he was 18 years old studying applied mathematics and statistics at the University of Auckland and working as a researcher at the Auckland Bioengineering Institute. The idea for the startup came to him as he listened to cardiologist, and now co-founder, Patrick Gladding explain how time-consuming and potentially inaccurate it is for doctors to have to review multiple scans manually everyday.

“You’ve got a really repetitive manual task done by a highly trained professional,” Hewitt told TechCrunch. “To start with, we just decided to train the AI to do one really small part of the doctor’s job, which was to look at these scans and generate a couple of different measurements that normally the doctor would have to do themselves,” said Hewitt.

In order to replicate the tedious process that doctors were doing, HeartLab built its own in-house labeling tool with sonographers that includes step-by-step guides and prompts to collect data on a range of different measurements. Hewitt said this initiative was one of the most valuable efforts of engineering the company has invested in to date because it has lead to cross validation, which is used to test the ability of the machine learning model to predict new data, as well as flag problems like selection bias and overfitting.

Once HeartLab was able to successfully replicate the scanning process, the company worked to expand its services in a way that would relieve doctors of further admin minutiae so they could spend more time actually treating their patients. Usually, doctors use a software tool that analyzes the images, another that visualizes patterns and another that actually writes up the report, says Hewitt. HeartLab’s platform, called Pulse, can now condense those processes into one software.

Cardiologists and sonographers at four different sites in New Zealand are trialing HeartLab’s tech now, which is also awaiting regulatory approval from the U.S.’s Food and Drug Administration. HeartLab anticipates FDA approval of Pulse by the first quarter of 2022, which is when the startup can begin selling the SaaS product.

“To begin with we want to talk to small and medium clinics over in the U.S.,” said Hewitt. “We’ve actually found that our products are most popular at those clinics because it replaces more software than at a larger clinic. At a larger clinic some of these bits of software they’ve already had to purchase, versus a smaller clinic, it’s stuff that they couldn’t access anyway. So when we get to the states, we want to start shipping mostly to those sorts of users while we work out how to best pitch our value proposition to the larger clinics.”

Hewitt says the funds from this round will also help the startup hire 10 more staff members to join the existing 13-member team based in Auckland. Having more tech talent on board will help HeartLab advance its product offering. At the moment, Pulse is at the point where it sees so many scans and takes so many measurements that it can get through the process quicker than a doctor could on their own and actually pick out patterns that a doctor wouldn’t see, according to Hewitt. The next step, which a good chunk of the seed funding is going toward, is how to be diagnostic about disease rather than just being able to indicate it.

“How do we actually provide something that normally doctors would have to order another scan for?” said Hewitt. “One of the key ideas with AI is you can create mappings from low-resolution images like ultrasounds. How can we try to learn a pattern from an ultrasound that’s similar to what you might see from an MRI, for example?”

If HeartLab can figure out how to glean advanced information from an echocardiogram instead of an MRI, it would be able to save hospitals, clinics and patients a lot of money. Each cardiac MRI can cost about $1,000 to $5,000, which is about five times the price of an echocardiogram.

“I’d say the biggest challenge for us is, how can we transform from a company that at the moment can deliver products to a few local clinics successfully to actually building a product that scales and delivers a really good experience to lots of users and different hospitals?” said Hewitt.

Advancements in early diagnostics and imaging tech like HeartLabs’ is causing an increased demand for such tools. As a result, the global AI-enabled medical imaging solutions market is expected to reach $4.7 billion by 2027. By extending its reach to the U.S., where heart disease is the leading cause of death, HeartLab is poised to take a big piece of that pie.

In total, HeartLab has publicly raised about $3.2 million in funding, which includes a pre-seed last October of about $800,000 led by Icehouse Ventures with support from Founders Fund, the San Francisco-based VC firm that led the round announced on Thursday. Icehouse Ventures also contributed to the oversubscribed seed round, along with another New Zealand firm Outset Ventures and private investor and CEO of design platform Figma, Dylan Field.

“The use of AI in medicine is reducing pressures on health systems and ultimately saving lives,” said Founders Fund partner Scott Nolan, who has led investment rounds for three other New Zealand startups, in a statement. “The HeartLab team has built a really compelling AI-powered platform that doctors love to use.”

#artificial-intelligence, #biotech, #founders-fund, #health, #healthtech, #heartlab, #recent-funding, #saas, #startups, #tc

Front introduces customer-centric features with deeper CRM integration

Customer communication platform Front is holding an event today to introduce three new features. These new features focus on showing you more information about your customers right from Front’s user interface.

If you’re not familiar with Front, the company started as a shared email inbox product so that you can interact with incoming emails as a team. For instance, if your company uses email lists, such as support@companyname.com, sales@companyname.com or jobs@companyname.com, multiple team members can see incoming emails in Front.

Before replying, you can triage conversations by assigning them to specific team members, discuss the current conversation in the comment section or show your email draft before sending it.

Over time, Front has evolved to integrate more communication channels. You can now use Front for SMS conversations, live chat on your website with your customers, Facebook messages, etc. The company has also refined its product with more powerful features.

For instance, you can set up rules to automate your workflow with simple ‘if this then that’ rules. It’s a good way to spread out work across multiple team members and make sure the right person sees the incoming message as quickly as possible.

Today, the company is showcasing features that will be particularly useful for teams that interact with bigger customers, such as sales, support and customer success teams. First, Front users will be able to learn more about the customer they’re interacting with directly from their inbox.

The refreshed context panel works better if the team is interacting with multiple people working for your client. Instead of viewing past conversations with someone in particular, you can view past conversations with everyone working for this client.

Front already integrates with your CRM, such as Salesforce or HubSpot. You can now more easily pull data into the context panel. You can see the name of the account owner, the customer segment and the SLA (service-level agreement) commitment with this customer.

Image Credits: Front

Second, Front is adding new capabilities for its automated routing feature with deeper integrations with your CRM. For instance, you can find the name of the account owner in your CRM and assign incoming emails to the account owner directly.

If the account owner changes in Salesforce, rules will be automatically updated in Front. You can also fetch annual revenue data from your CRM and set a VIP tag if you’re receiving a message from an important customer.

Image Credits: Front

Finally, Front will soon upgrade the analytics pages. For instance, you can track the team’s performance for a specific account and compare that to the SLA.

These updates position Front as a tool that works better for bigger enterprise clients with expensive B2B contracts. Current Front customers include Shopify, Dropbox, Flexport, Checkout.com, Lydia and Airbnb.

Image Credits: Front

#communication-platform, #crm, #enterprise, #front, #saas, #startups

5 Reasons to need to go to TC Sessions: SaaS 2021

We’re thrilled that TC Sessions: SaaS 2021 is just slightly more than a month away on October 27. You have purchased your event ticket, right? No? Well then, it’s time to get your rhymes-with-SaaS in gear.

Bonus: You’ll save $100 if you buy your pass before October 1 at 11:59 pm (PT). What’s that? You need a bit more convincing? Fair enough and listen up.

TC Sessions are a special kind of TechCrunch event. We take one topic and devote an entire day (or sometimes two) and explore the latest trends, challenges and possibilities. And we always focus on the early-stage founders hard at work building or reinventing the sector.

So, what can TC Sessions: SasS do for you? Here are five reasons why attending isn’t just essential — it’s imperative.

  1. Expand your knowledge base

The defacto software for the B2B and B2C crowd, SaaS is rapidly expanding and constantly evolving to meet ever-increasing demand. How do you scale effectively? What’s your plan to keep company and customer data safe at a time where security threats proliferate faster than bacteria?

You’ll hear from and engage with the leading voices in SaaS on these and other topics like Data, Data Everywhere and Automation’s Moment Is Now. Take a look at our still-growing event agenda.

“Attending TC Sessions helps us keep an eye on what’s coming around the corner. It uncovers crucial trends so we can identify what we should be thinking about before anyone else.” — Jeff Johnson, vice president of enterprise sales and solutions at FlashParking.

2. Network for opportunity

Thousands of SaaS-y people from around the world will attend, and that means infinite possibilities for collaboration and opportunities. The following real-world example comes out of TC Sessions: Mobility, provided courtesy of Karin Maake, senior director of communications at FlashParking.

“TC Sessions isn’t just an educational opportunity, it’s a real networking opportunity. Everyone was passionate and open to creating pilot programs or other partnerships. That was the most exciting part. And now — thanks to a conference connection — we’re talking with Goodyear’s Innovation Lab.”

3. Connect with founders or investors

Early-stage founders in search of funding and VCs in search of promising startups — it is ever thus, and you’ll find each other at TC Sessions: SasS. Take advantage of CrunchMatch, our AI-powered platform that makes finding and connecting with the people you most want to meet simple and efficient.

Start a conversation and see where it leads. It’s one big reason why Rachael Wilcox, creative producer, Volvo Cars makes it a point to attend TC Session events.

“I go TC Sessions to find new and interesting companies, make new business connections and look for startups with investment potential. It’s an opportunity to expand my knowledge and inform my work.”

4. Connect with community

Building a startup can be a lonely pursuit, even without a pandemic. Spend a day with your people — explore the startups in the demo area, talk shop with other founders and engineers, learn the latest trends, hear SaaS icons share their journey and insight. In short, get inspired to keep at the Sisyphean task of building your empire.

“TC Sessions is definitely worth your time, especially if you’re an early-stage founder. You get to connect to people in your field and learn from founders who are literally a year into your same journey. Plus, you can meet and talk to the movers and shakers — the people who are making it happen.” — Jens Lehmann, technical lead and product manager, SAP.

5. Discover new and exciting startups

Speaking of that demo area, we’ve got 10 outstanding early-stage startups ready to show you their latest and greatest. Marvel at your colleagues’ ingenuity, start a conversation, schedule a product demo. Who knows, you might join forces and create a little SaaS magic.

TC Sessions: SaaS 2021 takes place on October 27. Whether you pick one of our reasons, all five or come up with your own, buy your pass before October 1 at 11:59 pm (PT), and you’ll save $100.

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

#artificial-intelligence, #business-models, #computing, #crunchmatch, #flashparking, #jeff-johnson, #saas, #software, #software-as-a-service, #tc, #tc-sessions-saas-2021, #volvo-cars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ascend app

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zonos banks $69M to develop APIs for democratizing cross-border commerce

Cross-border commerce company Zonos raised $69 million in a Series A, led by Silversmith Capital Partners, to continue building its APIs that auto classify goods and calculate an accurate total landed cost on international transactions.

St. George, Utah-based Zonos is classifying the round as a minority investment that also included individual investors Eric Rea, CEO of Podium, and Aaron Skonnard, co-founder and CEO of Pluralsight. The Series A is the first outside capital Zonos has raised since it was founded in 2009, Clint Reid, founder and CEO, told TechCrunch.

As Reid explained it, “total landed cost” refers to the duties, taxes, import and shipping fees someone from another country might pay when purchasing items from the U.S. However, it is often difficult for businesses to figure out the exact cost of those fees.

Global cross-border e-commerce was estimated to be over $400 billion in 2018, but is growing at twice the rate of domestic e-commerce. This is where Zonos comes in: The company’s APIs, apps and plugins simplify cross-border sales by providing an accurate final price a consumer pays for an item on an international purchase. Businesses can choose which one or multiple shipping carriers they want to work with and even enable customers to choose at the time of purchase.

“Businesses can’t know all of a country’s laws,” Reid added. “Our mission is to create trust in global trade. If you are transparent, you bring trust. This was traditionally thought to be a shipping problem, but it is really a technology problem.”

As part of the investment Todd MacLean, managing partner at Silversmith Capital Partners, joined the Zonos board of directors. One of the things that attracted MacLean to the company was that Reid was building a company outside of Silicon Valley and disrupting global trade far from any port.

He says while looking into international commerce, he found people wound up being charged additional fees after they have already purchased the item, leading to bad customer experiences, especially when a merchant is trying to build brand loyalty.

Even if someone chooses not to purchase the item due to the fees being too high, MacLean believes the purchasing experience will be different because the pricing and shipping information was provided up front.

“Our diligence said Zonos is the only player to take the data that exists out there and make sense of it,” MacLean said. “Customers love it — we got the most impressive customer references because this demand is already out there, and they are seeing more revenue and their customers have more loyalty because it just works.”

In fact, it is common for companies to see 25% to 30% year over year increase in sales, Reid added. He went on to say that due to fees associated with shipping, it doesn’t always mean an increase in revenue for companies. There may be a small decrease, but a longer lifetime value with customers.

Going after venture capital at this time was important to Reid, who saw global trade becoming more complex as countries added new tax laws and stopped using other trade regulations. However, it was not just about getting the funding, but finding the right partner that recognizes that this problem won’t be solved in the next five years, but will need to be in it for the long haul, which Reid said he saw in Silversmith.

The new investment provides fuel for Zonos to grow in product development and go-to-market while also expanding its worldwide team into Europe and Asia Pacific. Eighteen months ago, the company had 30 employees, and now there are over 100. It also has more than 1,500 customers around the world and provides them with millions of landed cost quotes every day.

“Right now, we are the leader for APIs in cross-border e-commerce, but we need to also be the technology leader regardless of the industry,” Reid added. “We can’t just accept that we are good enough, we need to be better at doing this. We are looking at expanding into additional markets because it is more than just servicing U.S. companies, but need to be where our customers are.”

 

#aaron-skonnard, #clint-reid, #cross-border-e-commerce, #cross-border-payments, #customer-experience, #ecommerce, #enterprise, #eric-rea, #europe, #finance, #funding, #payments, #pluralsight, #podium, #pricing, #recent-funding, #saas, #silversmith-capital-partners, #startups, #tc, #todd-maclean, #zonos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EverAfter closes $13M to help companies ride off into the sunset with their customers

EverAfter secured $13 million in seed funding to continue developing its no-code customer-facing tool that streamlines onboarding and retention and enables business-to-business clients to embed personalized customer portals within any product.

The Tel Aviv-based company was founded in 2020 by Noa Danon and Tal Shemesh. CEO Danon, who comes from a project management background, said they saw a disconnect between the user and product experience.

The company’s name, EverAfter, comes from the concept that in SaaS companies, someone has to be in charge of the “EverAfter,” with customers, even as the relationship changes, Danon told TechCrunch.

Via its no-code platform, customer success teams are able to build a website in weeks using drop-and-drag widgets like training materials, timelines, task management and meeting summaries, and then configure what each user sees. Then there is a snippet of code that is embedded into the product.

EverAfter also integrates with existing customer relationship management, project management and service ticket tools, while also updating Salesforce and HubSpot directly through an interface.

“It’s like the customer owns a piece of real estate inside the product,” Danon said.

TLV Partners and Vertex Ventures co-led the round and were joined by angel investors Benny Shneider, Zohar Gilon and Amit Gilon.

Yanai Oron, general partner at Vertex Ventures, said he is seeing best-in-breed companies try to solve customer churn or improve the relationship process on their own and failing, which speaks to the complexity of the problem.

Startups in this space are coming online and raising money, but with EverAfter, they are differentiating themselves by not only putting a dashboard on their product, but launching with the capabilities to manage thousands of customers using the product, he added.

“I’ve been tracking the customer success space over the past few years, and it is a growing field with the least sophisticated tools,” Oron said. “During COVID, companies realized it was easier to retain customers rather than get new ones. We are all used to more self-service and wanting to get the answer ourselves, and customers are the same. Companies also started to be more at ease in letting customers develop things on their own and leave R&D departments to do other things.”

Clients include Taboola, AppsFlyer and Verbit, with Verbit reporting its company’s customer success managers save 10 hours a week managing ongoing customer communication by using EverAfter, Danon added. This comes as CallMiner reports that unplanned customer churn costs companies $35.3 billion in the U.S. alone.

EverAfter offers both customer success and partner management software and clients can choose a high-touch service or kits and templates for self-service.

The new funding will enable the company to focus on integration and expansion into additional use cases. Since being founded, EverAfter has grown to 20 employees and 30 customers. The founders also want to utilize the data they are collecting on what works and doesn’t work for each customer.

“There are so many interesting things that happen between companies and customers, from onboarding to business reviews, and we are going to expand on those,” Danon said. “We want to be the first thing companies put inside their product to figure out the relationship between customers and customer success teams and managers.”

 

#business-intelligence, #crm, #customer-experience, #customer-relationship-management, #customer-success, #developer, #enterprise, #everafter, #funding, #no-code, #noa-danon, #project-management, #recent-funding, #saas, #startups, #taboola, #tal-shemesh, #tc, #tlv-partners, #vertex-ventures, #yanai-oron

Fintech startup SellersFunding raises $166.5M in equity, credit round to support e-commerce sellers

SellersFunding secured $166.5 million in a combination of Series A equity funding and a credit facility to continue developing its technology and payments platforms for e-commerce businesses.

Northzone led the round and was joined by Endeavor Catalyst and Fasanara. SellersFunding CEO Ricardo Pero did not disclose the funding breakdown, but did say the company previously raised two seed rounds for a total of $40 million in equity and more than $100 million in credit facilities, including one that the company was expanding to $200 million.

SellersFunding, with offices in Florida, New York and London, created a digital platform that delivers financial tools and resources to streamline global commerce for thousands of marketplaces, including working capital, cross-border cash management, tax solutions and business valuation.

Pero got the idea for the company after spending 20 years in the financial industry. He left JP Morgan in 2016 with a drive to start his own company. He was consulting for a friend selling on Amazon who asked him to help make sense of Amazon’s fees and to review the next year’s budget because the friend was struggling to keep up with growth.

“I helped him address the fees issue, but when I went to talk to traditional lenders, I found that they have no clue about e-commerce and the needs of SMEs,” he said.

In addition to being a lending source for businesses selling on these marketplaces, SellersFunding leverages sales data provided by the marketplaces and e-commerce platforms to create sales and cash flow estimates based on the credit limits given to clients so that owners can better understand the fees they are paying and make more informed decisions.

He founded the company in 2017, and today has over 30,000 registered users and is approaching $10 billion in sales volume that is feeding data into SellersFunding’s daily models. The company makes money as both a lender and on fees it charges for payments collected by its customers. Merchants can collect money from marketplaces and pay their suppliers in local or foreign currency.

SellersFunding has consistently grown 300% year over year, Pero said. As such, he intends to use the new funding to scale globally, expand the team, create a marketing budget and look for two small acquisitions in the U.S. and Europe.

The company will continue to invest on the payments side and to promote cross-border payments.

“When I look at the payments landscape, companies are competing on pricing and I don’t think we will ever have a focus there, but instead will compete on customer experience,” Pero added. “Our core business will always be lending and our core investments will be payments and technology, but then we will extend to other services that our clients want.”

With an eye on expanding internationally, it fit to bring on Northzone as a partner, he added. The venture firm is based in Europe and was of a similar vision for thinking globally.

Jeppe Zink, general partner at Northzone, said via email that Pero and his team “are the most experienced in this category” and are building a category leader that is “more experienced and understanding of the lending side than its competitors.”

“We have seen this massive rise in e-shopping, most of the new ones coming from marketplaces like Amazon and Shopify, and if you look at the sellers, thousands are small businesses sourcing their goods which means that they are very important customers,” Zink added. “Normal banks like Barclay can’t check credit. SellersFinding is helping small businesses get this credit, and rightly so. In the same way we thought neobanks won with accounts created when it comes to delivering credit and banking products, they are nowhere to be found yet.”

#banking, #ecommerce, #endeavor-catalyst, #enterprise, #fasanara, #financial-tools, #funding, #jeppe-zink, #northzone, #online-lending, #payments, #recent-funding, #retailers, #ricardo-pero, #saas, #sellersfunding, #startups, #tc

PassFort, a RegTech SaaS for KYC and AML, nets $16.2M

London-based PassFort, a SaaS provider that helps business meet compliance requirements such as KYC (Know Your Customer) and AML (Anti-Money Laundering) reporting, has closed a $16.2 million Series A led by US growth equity fund, Level Equity.

The 2015-founded startup‘s existing investors OpenOcean, Episode 1 and Entrepreneur First also participated in the round. The Series A is a mix of equity and debt, with $4.89M worth of venture debt being provided by Shard Credit Partners.

PassFort tells TechCrunch it now has 54 customers in total, saying the majority are in the digital payments space. It’s also selling its SaaS to customers in foreign exchange, banking and (ofc) crypto. It also touts some “major” customer wins preceding this raise — name-checking the likes of Curve and WorldRemit.

The new funding will be put towards stepping up its growth globally — with PassFort noting it’s hired a new C-suite for its growth team to lead the planned global push.

It’s also hiring more staff in business development and marketing, and plans to significantly bump spending across marketing, sales and customer support roles as it gears up to scale up.

“On the product side we are developing the solution to meet the demands of the changing digital economy and the threats it faces,” says CEO and co-founder Donald Gillies. “This means investing heavily into our new compliance policy cloud, system-to-system integrations with market-leading CRM and transaction monitoring systems as well as building a data team capable of deriving valuable real-time insights across our customer network.”

PassFort says its revenues grew ~2.5x over the past 12 months.

Gillies credits COVID-19 with really hitting the digital “accelerator” and driving adoption for compliance tools, as fintechs and regulated businesses look to streamline their approach to customer on-boarding and risk monitoring.

Alongside this accelerated digital transformation, he also points to a rise in cyber crime and increasingly sophisticated financial crime driving demand for compliance tools, and a “huge” rise in the number of regulations announced since COVID-19, noting: “Estimates from those who track regulatory changes stated that by August 2020, more than 1,330 COVID-19 related regulatory announcements had been made globally by regulators.”

As well as serving up an “always-on picture of risk”, as PassFort’s marketing puts it, the platform offers a single place to access and manage customer profiles, while also centralizing records for audit purposes.

PassFort’s SaaS also tracks efficiency — supporting customers to see where holdups in the onboarding process might be, to help with customer experience as well as the wider support it offers to compliance teams.

The startup says its integration model is such that it can “ingest datasets from any provider and interoperate with any system”, so — for example — it has pre-built connectors to more than 25 data providers at this stage.

It also offers a single API to integrate with a customer’s existing back-office system.

Another feature of the SaaS it flags is a focus on “low to no-code” — to increase accessibility and help customers with high complexity in their compliance needs (such as multiple customer types, multiple product lines and multi-jurisdictions. This includes a smart policy builder with a ‘drag and drop’ interface to help customers configure complex workflows.

On the competitive side, PassFort names Dublin-based Fenergo as its closest competitor but says it’s targeting a broader market — likening its own product to ‘Salesforce for compliance teams’ and saying its goal is to get the SaaS into the hands of “every financial crime and compliance team in the world”.

Commenting in a statement, Charles Chen, partner at Level Equity — who’s now joining PassFort’s board of directors — added: “Over the last few years, financial institutions and organisations have experienced exponential growth in business volumes and data, which has only increased the complexity in staying compliant with ever-evolving regulatory laws. In parallel, we’ve experienced an unprecedented rise in sophisticated financial crime activity as channels into financial systems have been digitized.

“This has underscored the importance of compliance matters such as AML/KYC, yet companies often have to weigh the trade-offs between speed, compliance and automation. PassFort has solved this challenge by providing a next-generation RegTech software solution that enables customers to offer a seamless customer onboarding experience, maintain best-in-class monitoring capabilities, and balance automation vs. human touch via its intelligent orchestration engine. We are thrilled to partner with the industry thought leader in this space and look forward to supporting the company’s future growth initiatives.”

#crm, #europe, #financial-regulation, #financial-services, #fundings-exits, #know-your-customer, #level-equity, #london, #money-laundering, #passfort, #recent-funding, #regulatory-compliance, #regulatory-technology, #saas, #software-as-a-service, #startups, #tc, #worldremit

3 keys to pricing early-stage SaaS products

I’ve met hundreds of founders over the years, and most, particularly early-stage founders, share one common go-to-market gripe: Pricing.

For enterprise software, traditional pricing methods like per-seat models are often easier to figure out for products that are hyper-specific, especially those used by people in essentially the same way, such as Zoom or Slack. However, it’s a different ball game for startups that offer services or products that are more complex.

Most startups struggle with a per-seat model because their products, unlike Zoom and Slack, are used in a litany of ways. Salesforce, for example, employs regular seat licenses and admin licenses — customers can opt for lower pricing for solutions that have low-usage parts — while other products are priced based on negotiation as part of annual renewals.

You may have a strong champion in a CIO you’re selling to or a very friendly person handling procurement, but it won’t matter if the pricing can’t be easily explained and understood. Complicated or unclear pricing adds more friction.

Early pricing discussions should center around the buyer’s perspective and the value the product creates for them. It’s important for founders to think about the output and the outcome, and a number they can reasonably defend to customers moving forward. Of course, self-evaluation is hard, especially when you’re asking someone else to pay you for something you’ve created.

This process will take time, so here are three tips to smoothen the ride.

Pricing is a journey

Pricing is not a fixed exercise. The enterprise software business involves a lot of intangible aspects, and a software product’s perceived value, quality, and user experience can be highly variable.

The pricing journey is long and, despite what some founders might think, jumping head-first into customer acquisition isn’t the first stop. Instead, step one is making sure you have a fully fledged product.

If you’re a late-seed or Series A company, you’re focused on landing those first 10-20 customers and racking up some wins to showcase in your investor and board deck. But when you grow your organization to the point where the CEO isn’t the only person selling, you’ll want to have your go-to-market position figured out.

Many startups fall into the trap of thinking: “We need to figure out what pricing looks like, so let’s ask 50 hypothetical customers how much they would pay for a solution like ours.” I don’t agree with this approach, because the product hasn’t been finalized yet. You haven’t figured out product-market fit or product messaging and you want to spend a lot of time and energy on pricing? Sure, revenue is important, but you should focus on finding the path to accruing revenue versus finding a strict pricing model.

#artificial-intelligence, #aws, #column, #ec-column, #ec-enterprise-applications, #ec-how-to, #enterprise, #enterprise-software, #product, #saas, #salesforce, #startups, #tc

SpotOn raises $300M at a $3.15B valuation and acquires Appetize

Last year at this time, SpotOn was on the brink of announcing a $60 million Series C funding round at a $625 million valuation.

Fast forward to almost exactly one year later, and a lot has changed for the payments and software startup.

Today, SpotOn said it has closed on $300 million in Series E financing that values the company at $3.15 billion — more than 5x of its valuation at the time of its Series C round, and significantly higher than its $1.875 billion valuation in May (yes, just three and a half months ago) when it raised $125 million in a Series D funding event.

Andreessen Horowitz (a16z) led both the Series D and E rounds for the company, which says it has seen 100% growth year over year and a tripling in revenue over the past 18 months. Existing investors DST Global, 01 Advisors, Dragoneer Investment Group, Franklin Templeton and Mubadala Investment Company too doubled down on their investments in SpotOn, joining new backers Wellington Management and Coatue Management. Advisors Douglas Merritt, CEO of Splunk, and Mike Scarpelli, CFO of Snowflake, also made individual investments as angels. With the new capital, SpotOn has raised $628 million since its inception.

The latest investment is being used to finance the acquisition of another company in the space — Appetize, a digital and mobile commerce payments platform for enterprises such as sports and entertainment venues, theme parks and zoos. SpotOn is paying $415 million in cash and stock for the Los Angeles-based company.

Since its 2017 inception, SpotOn has been focused on providing software and payments technology to SMBs with an emphasis on restaurants and retail businesses. The acquisition of Appetize extends SpotOn’s reach to the enterprise space in a major way. Appetize will go to market as SpotOn and will work to grow its client base, which already includes an impressive list of companies and organizations including Live Nation, LSU, Dodger Stadium and Urban Air. 

In fact, Appetize currently covers 65% of all major league sports stadiums, specializing in contactless payments, mobile ordering and menu management. So for example, when you’re ordering food at a game or concert, Appetize’s technology makes it easier to pay in a variety of contactless ways through point of sale (POS) devices, self-service kiosks, handheld devices, online ordering, mobile web and API integrations.

Image Credits: SpotOn

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

The combined company will have 1,600 employees — 1,300 from SpotOn and 300 from Appetize. SpotOn will now have over 500 employees on its product and technology team, according to co-founder and co-CEO Zach Hyman. It will also have clients in the tens of thousands, a number that SpotOn says is growing by “thousands more every month.”

The acquisition is not the first for SpotOn, which also acquired SeatNinja earlier this year.

But in Appetize it saw a company that was complementary both in its go-to-market and tech stacks, and a “natural fit.”

SMEs are going to benefit from the scalable tech that can go with them, including things like kiosks and offline modes, and for the enterprise clients of Appetize, they’re going to be able to leverage products like sophisticated loyalty programs and extended marketing capabilities,” Hyman told TechCrunch. 

SpotOn was not necessarily planning to raise another round so soon, Hyman added, but the opportunity came up to acquire Appetize.

“We spent a lot of time together, and it was too compelling to pass up,” he told TechCrunch.

For its part, Appetize — which has raised over $77 million over its lifetime, according to Crunchbase — too saw the combination as a logical one.

“It was important to us to retain a stake in the business. We were not looking to cash out,” said Appetize CEO Max Roper. “We are deeply invested in growing the business together. It’s a big win for our team and our clients over the long term. This is a rocketship that we are excited to be on.” 

No doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic only emphasized the need for more digital offerings from small businesses to enterprises alike.

“There has been a high demand for our services and now as businesses are faced with a Covid resurgence, no one is closing down,” Hyman said. “So they see a responsibility to install the necessary technology to properly run their business.”

One of the moves SpotOn has made, for example, is launching a vaccination alert system in its reservation management software platform to make it easier for consumers to confirm they are vaccinated for cities and states that have those requirements.

Clearly, a16z General Partner David George too was bullish on the idea of a combined company.

He told TechCrunch that the two companies fit together “extremely nicely.”

“It felt like a no-brainer for us to want to lead the round, and continue to support them,” George said.

Since first investing in SpotOn in May, the startup’s growth has “exceeded” a16z’s expectations, he added.

“When companies are growing as fast as it is organically, they don’t need to rely on acquisitions to fuel growth,” he said. “But the strategic rationale here is so strong, that the acquisition will only turbocharge what is already high growth.”

While the Series E capital is primarily funding the acquisition, SpotOn continues to double down on its product and technology.

“This is our time to shine and invest in the future with forward thinking technology,” Hyman told TechCrunch. “We’re thinking about things like how are consumers going to be ordering their beer at a Dodgers game in three years? Are they going to be standing in line for 25 minutes or are they going to be interacting and buying merchandise in other unique ways? Those are the things we’re looking to solve for.”

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