DREAMTECH NEWS

Persona raises $17.5M for an identify verification platform that goes beyond user IDs and passwords

The proliferation of data breaches based on leaked passwords, and the rising tide of regulation that puts a hard stop on just how much user information can be collected, stored and used by companies have laid bare the holes in simple password and memorable-information-based verification systems.

Today a startup called Persona, which has built a platform to make it easier for organisations to implement more watertight methods based on third-party documentation, real-time evaluation, and AI to verify users, is announcing a funding round, speaking to the shift in the market and subsequent demand for new alternatives to the old way of doing things.

The startup has raised $17.5 million in a Series A from a list of impressive investors that include Coatue and First Round Capital, money that it plans to use to double down on its core product: a platform that businesses and organisations can access by way of an API, which lets them use a variety of documents, from government-issued IDs through to biometrics, to verify that customers are who they say they are.

Current customers include Rippling, Petal, UrbanSitter, Branch, Brex, Postmates, Outdoorsy, Rently, SimpleHealth and Hipcamp, among others. Persona’s target user today is any company involved in any kind of online financial transaction to verify for regulatory compliance, fraud prevention and for trust and safety.

The startup is young and is not disclosing valuation. Previously, Persona had raised an undisclosed amount of funding from Kleiner Perkins and FirstRound, according to data from PitchBook. Angels in the company have included Zach Perret and William Hockey (co-founders of Plaid), Dylan Field (founded Figma), Scott Belsky (Behance) and Tony Xu (DoorDash).

Founded by Rick Song and Charles Yeh, respectively former engineers from Square and Dropbox (companies that have had their own concerns with identity verification and breaches), Persona’s main premise is that most companies are not security companies and therefore lack the people, skills, time and money to build strong authentication and verification services — much less to keep up with the latest developments on what is best practice.

And on top of that, there have been too many breaches that underscored the problem with companies holding too much information on users, collected for identification purposes but then sitting there waiting to be hacked.

The name of the game for Persona is to provide services that are easy to use for customers — for those who can’t or don’t access the code of their apps or websites for registration flows, they can even verify users by way of email-based links.

“Digital identity is one of the most important things to get right, but there is no silver bullet,” Song, who is the CEO, said in an interview. “I believe longer term we’ll see that it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach.” Not least because malicious hackers have an ever-increasing array of tools to get around every system that gets put into place. (The latest is the rise of deep-fakes to mimic people, putting into question how to get around that in, say, a video verification system.)

At Persona, the company currently gives customers the option to ask for social security numbers, biometric verification such as fingerprints or pictures, or government ID uploads and phone lookups, some of which (like biometrics) is built by Persona itself and some of which is accessed via third-party partnerships. Added to that are other tools like quizzes and video-based interactions. Song said the list is expanding, and the company is looking at ways of using the AI engine that it’s building — which actually performs the matching — to also potentially suggest the best tools for each and every transaction.

The key point is that in every case, information is accessed from other databases, not kept by the customer itself.

This is a moving target, and one that is becoming increasingly harder to focus on, given not just the rise in malicious hacking, but also regulation that limits how and when data can be accessed and used by online businesses. Persona notes a McKinsey forecast that the personal identify and verification market will be worth some $20 billion by 2022, which is not a surprising figure when you consider the nearly $9 billion that Google has been fined so far for GDPR violations, or the $700 million Equifax paid out, or the $50 million Yahoo (a sister company now) paid out for its own user-data breach.


By Ingrid Lunden

As SaaS stocks set new records, Atlassian’s earnings show there’s still room to grow

Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between.

SaaS stocks had a good run in late 2019. TechCrunch covered their ascent, a recovery from early-year doldrums and a summer slowdown. In 2020 so far, SaaS and cloud stocks have surged to all-time highs. The latest records are only a hair higher than what the same companies saw in July of last year, but they represent a return to form all the same.

Given that public SaaS companies have now managed to crest their prior highs and have been rewarded for doing so with several days of flat trading, you might think that there isn’t much room left for them to rise. Not so, at least according to Atlassian . The well-known software company reported earnings after-hours yesterday and the market quickly pushed its shares up by more than 10%.

Why? It’s worth understanding, because if we know why Atlassian is suddenly worth lots more, we’ll better grok what investors — public and private — are hunting for in SaaS companies and how much more room they may have to rise.


By Alex Wilhelm

Crisp, the demand forecast platform for the food industry, goes live

The food industry may be the biggest industry in the world, but it’s also one of the least efficient. BCG says 1.6 billions tons of food, worth $1.2 trillion, is wasted in food every year and those numbers are only expected to go up.

A number of players have stepped up to try and solve their own portion of the problem, and one such solution is Crisp. The company, which received $14 million in Series A funding last year led by FirstMark Capital, is today going live with its platform (which has been in beta).

Crisp aims to solve the global food waste problem via demand forecasts. Founder and CEO Are Traasdahl, a serial founder, believes that a lack of communication and data flow between the many players in the supply chain is a main cause for all this waste, a great deal of which happens long before the food reaches the consumer.

Right now, forecasting demand is no where close to a perfect science for many of these players. From food brands to distributors to grocery stores, the problem is usually solved by looking at a spreadsheet from last year’s sales for hours to try to determine the signals that played into this or that SKU’s sales performance.

And then there was Crisp.

Integrated with almost any ERP software a company might have, Crisp ingests historical data from these food brands and combines that data with signals around other demand drivers, such as seasonality, holidays, price sensitivity and other pricing information, marketing campaigns, competitive landscape, weather that might affect the sale or shipment of certain produce or other ingredients.

Using these data points, and historical sales data, Crisp believes it can give a much more accurate picture of demand over the next day, week, month or year.

But Crisp isn’t just for food brands, such as Nounós Creamery, a Crisp customer that says its reduced scrapped inventory by 80 percent since switching to the platform. Crisp serves almost every player in the food supply chain, from retailers to distributors to brands to brokers.

And the more customers it gets, the better it is at predicting demand on a very specific level. For instance, the demand forecasting Crisp offers for a particular grocery store, based on external data, will obviously get much better once that grocery store is a customer on the platform.

Traasdahl was initially concerned that his customers would be reluctant to hand over this type of sensitive sales data, and also that players within the industry might be anxious to hand over such data to a platform that’s aggregating everyone’s data, including their competitors. Turns out, the food industry has more of a “better together” mentality.

“Other industries are not as dependent on each other,” said Traasdahl. “If I am a creamery and need to buy blueberries for my yogurt, I may have five different vendors for those blueberries. And if they don’t get delivered on the right day, Costco will yell at me for being late with the yogurt. Everyone in the supply chain is somewhat dependent on each other.”

For that reason, it’s been easier to attract clients to the platform than expected. The prospect of a collaborative demand forecast platform, that’s pulling signals from across the entire industry, is going to be more accurate than siloed demand forecasts produced by a single vendor or brand.

During the beta program, which launched in October, Crisp brought on more than 30 companies to the platform, including Gilbert’s Craft Sausages, SunFed Perfect Produce, Nounós Creamery, Hofseth, REMA and Superior Farms.


By Jordan Crook

In latest JEDI contract drama, AWS files motion to stop work on project

When the Department of Defense finally made a decision in October on the decade long, $10 billion JEDI cloud contract, it seemed that Microsoft had won. But nothing has been simple about this deal from the earliest days, so  it shouldn’t come as a surprise that last night Amazon filed a motion to stop work on the project until the court decides on its protest of the DoD’s decision.

The company announced on November 22nd that it had filed suit in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims protesting the DoD’s decision to select Microsoft. Last night’s motion is an extension of that move to put the project on hold until the court decides on the merits of the case.

“It is common practice to stay contract performance while a protest is pending and it’s important that the numerous evaluation errors and blatant political interference that impacted the JEDI award decision be reviewed. AWS is absolutely committed to supporting the DoD’s modernization efforts and to an expeditious legal process that resolves this matter as quickly as possible,” a spokesperson said in a statement last night.

As we previously reported, the statement echoes sentiments AWS CEO Andy Jassy made at a press event during AWS re:Invent in December:

“I would say is that it’s fairly obvious that we feel pretty strongly that it was not adjudicated fairly,” he said. He added, “I think that we ended up with a situation where there was political interference. When you have a sitting president, who has shared openly his disdain for a company, and the leader of that company, it makes it really difficult for government agencies, including the DoD, to make objective decisions without fear of reprisal.”

This is just the latest turn in a contract procurement process for the ages. It will now be up to the court to decide if the project should stop or not, and beyond that if the decision process was carried out fairly.


By Ron Miller

Proxyclick raises $15M Series B for its visitor management platform

If you’ve ever entered a company’s office as a visitor or contractor, you probably know the routine: check in with a receptionist, figure out who invited you, print out a badge and get on your merry way. Brussels, Belgium- and New York-based Proxyclick aims to streamline this process, while also helping businesses keep their people and assets secure. As the company announced today, it has raised a $15 million Series B round led by Five Elms Capital, together with previous investor Join Capital.

In total, Proxyclick says it’s systems have now been used to register over 30 million visitors in 7,000 locations around the world. In the UK alone, over 1,000 locations use the company’s tools. Current customers include L’Oreal, Vodafone, Revolut, PepsiCo and Airbnb, as well as a number of other Fortune 500 firms.

Gregory Blondeau, founder and CEO of Proxyclick, stresses that the company believes that paper logbooks, which are still in use in many companies, are simply not an acceptable solution anymore, not in the least because that record is often permanent and visible to other visitors.

Proxyclick’s founding team.

“We all agree it is not acceptable to have those paper logbooks at the entrance where everyone can see previous visitors,” he said. “It is also not normal for companies to store visitors’ digital data indefinitely. We already propose automatic data deletion in order to respect visitor privacy. In a few weeks, we’ll enable companies to delete sensitive data such as visitor photos sooner than other data. Security should not be an excuse to exploit or hold visitor data longer than required.”

What also makes Proxyclick stand out from similar solutions is that it integrates with a lot of existing systems for access control (including C-Cure and Lenel systems). With that, users can ensure that a visitor only has access to specific parts of a building, too.

In addition, though, it also supports existing meeting rooms, calendaring and parking systems and integrates with Wi-Fi credentialing tools so your visitors don’t have to keep asking for the password to get online.

Like similar systems, Proxyclick provides businesses with a tablet-based sign-in service that also allows them to get consent and NDA signatures right during the sign-in process. If necessary, the system can also compare the photos it takes to print out badges with those on a government-issued ID to ensure your visitors are who they say they are.

Blondeau noted that the whole industry is changing, too. “Visitor management is becoming mainstream, it is transitioning from a local, office-related subject handled by facility managers to a global, security and privacy driven priority handled by Chief Information Security Officers. Scope, decision drivers and key people involved are not the same as in the early days,” he said.

It’s no surprise then that the company plans to use the new funding to accelerate its roadmap. Specifically, it’s looking to integrate its solution with more third-party systems with a focus on physical security features and facial recognition, as well as additional new enterprise features.


By Frederic Lardinois

Google Cloud gets a Secret Manager

Google Cloud today announced Secret Manager, a new tool that helps its users securely store their API keys, passwords, certificates and other data. With this, Google Cloud is giving its users a single tool to manage this kind of data and a centralized source of truth, something that even sophisticated enterprise organizations often lack.

“Many applications require credentials to connect to a database, API keys to invoke a service, or certificates for authentication,” Google developer advocate Seth Vargo and product manager Matt Driscoll wrote in today’s announcement. “Managing and securing access to these secrets is often complicated by secret sprawl, poor visibility, or lack of integrations.”

With Berglas, Google already offered an open-source command-line tool for managing secrets. Secret Manager and Berglas will play well together and users will be able to move their secrets from the open-source tool into Secret Manager and use Berglas to create and access secrets from the cloud-based tool as well.

With KMS, Google also offers a fully managed key management system (as do Google Cloud’s competitors). The two tools are very much complementary. As Google notes, KMS does not actually store the secrets — it encrypts the secrets you store elsewhere. Secret Manager provides a way to easily store (and manage) these secrets in Google Cloud.

Secret Manager includes the necessary tools for managing secret versions and audit logging, for example. Secrets in Secret Manager are also project-based global resources, the company stresses, while competing tools often manage secrets on a regional basis.

The new tool is now in beta and available to all Google Cloud customers.


By Frederic Lardinois

Shared inbox startup Front raises $59 million round led by other tech CEOs

Front is raising a $59 million Series C funding round. Interestingly, the startup hasn’t raised with a traditional VC firm leading the round. A handful of super business angels are investing directly in the productivity startup and leading the round.

Business angels include Atlassian co-founder and co-CEO Mike Cannon-Brookes, Atlassian President Jay Simons, Okta co-founder and COO Frederic Kerrest, Qualtrics co-founders Ryan Smith and Jared Smith and Zoom CEO Eric Yuan. Existing investors including Sequoia Capital, Initialized Capital and Anthos Capital are participating in this round as well.

While Front doesn’t share its valuation, the company says that the valuation has quadrupled compared to the previous funding round. Annual recurring venue has also quadrupled over the same period.

The structure of this round is unusual, but it’s on purpose. Front, like many other startups, is trying to redefine the future of work. That’s why the startup wanted to surround itself with leaders of other companies who share the same purpose.

“First, because we didn't need to raise (we still had two years of runway), and it's always better to raise when we don't need it. The last few months have given me much more clarity into our go-to-market strategy,” Front co-founder and CEO Mathilde Collin told me.

Front is a collaborative inbox for your company. For instance, if you want to share an email address with your coworkers ([email protected] or [email protected]), you can integrate those shared inboxes with Front and work on those conversations as a team.

It opens up a ton of possibilities. You can assign conversations to a specific person, @-mention your coworkers to send them a notification, start a conversation with your team before you hit reply, share a draft with other people, etc.

Front also supports other communication channels, such as text messages, WhatsApp messages, a chat module on your website and more. As your team gets bigger, Front helps you avoid double replies by alerting other users when you’re working on a reply.

In addition to those collaboration features, Front helps you automate your workload as much as possible. You can set up automated workflows so that a specific conversation ends up in front of the right pair of eyes. You can create canned responses for the entire team as well.

Front also integrates with popular third-party services, such as Salesforce, HubSpot, Clearbit and dozens of others. Front customers include MailChimp, Shopify and Stripe.

While Front supports multiple channels, email represents the biggest challenge. If you think about it, email hasn’t changed much over the past decade. The last significant evolution was the rise of Gmail, G Suite and web-based clients. In other words, Front wants to disrupt Outlook and Gmail.

With today’s funding round, the company plans to iterate on the product front with Office 365 support for its calendar, an offline mode and refinements across the board. The company also plans to scale up its sales and go-to-market team with an office in Phoenix and a new CMO.


By Romain Dillet

Descartes Labs launches its new platform for analyzing geospatial data

Descartes Labs, a wellfunded startup based in New Mexico, provides businesses with geospatial data and the tools to analyze it in order to make business decisions. Today, the company announced the launch of its Descartes Labs Platform, which promises to bring its data together with all of the tools data scientists — including those with no background in analyzing this kind of information — would need to work with these images to analyze them and build machine learning models based on the data in them.

Descartes Labs CEO Phil Fraher, who took this position only a few months ago, told me that the company’s current business often includes a lot of consulting work to get its customers started. These customers span the range from energy and mining companies to government agencies, financial services and agriculture businesses, but many don’t have the in-house expertise to immediately make use of the data that Descartes Labs provides them with.

“For the most part, we still have to evangelize how to use geospatial data to solve business problems. And so a lot of our customers rely on us to do consulting,” Fraher said. “But what’s really interesting is that even with some of our existing customers, we’re now seeing more early adopters, more business and analysis teams and data scientists being hired, that do focus on geospatial data. So what’s really exciting with this launch is we’re now going to put our platform tool in the hands of those particular individuals that now can do their own work.”

In many ways, this new platform gives these customers access to the tools and data that Descartes Labs’ own team uses and allows them to collaborate with the company to solve their problems and use the new modeling tools to build solutions for their individual businesses.

“Previously, a data science team that at a company that’s interested in this kind of analysis would also have to know how to wrangle very large-scale or petabyte-scale Earth observation data sets,” Fraher said. “These are very unique and specific skillsets and because of that kind of barrier to entry, the adoption of some of this technology and data sources has been slow.”

To enable more businesses to get started with working with this data (and become Descartes Labs customers), the company is betting on the standard tools in the industry, with hosted Jupyter notebooks, Python support and a set of APIs. It also includes tools to transform ad clean the incoming data from Descartes’ third-party partners in order to make it usable for data scientists.

“it’s not just like some simple ETL-like data processing pipeline,” Descartes Labs’  Head of Engineering Sam Skillman noted. “It’s something where we have to combine very in-depth data science, remote sensing and large scale compute capabilities to bring all of that data in in a way that normalizes it and gets it ready for analysis.”

All of this analysis is handled in the cloud, with AWS being Descartes Labs cloud of choice.

The new platform is now available to businesses that want to give it a try.

 


By Frederic Lardinois

TriggerMesh scores $3M seed from Index and Crane to help enterprises embrace ‘serverless’

TriggerMesh, a startup building on top of the open source Kubernetes software to help enterprises go “serverless” across apps running in the cloud and traditional data centers, has raised $3 million in seed funding.

The round is led Index Ventures and Crane Venture Partners. TriggerMesh says the investment will be used to scale the company and grow its development team in order to offer what it bills as the industry’s first “cloud native integration platform for the serverless era”.

Founded by two prominent names in the open source community — Sebastien Goasguen (CEO) and Mark Hinkle (CMO), based in Geneva and North Carolina, respectively — TriggerMesh’s platform will enable organizations to build enterprise-grade applications that span multiple cloud and data center environments, therefore helping to address what the startup says is a growing pain point as serverless architectures become more prevalent.

TriggerMesh’s platform and serverless cloud bus is said to facilitate “application flow orchestration” to consume events from any data center application or cloud event source and trigger serverless functions.

“As cloud-native applications use a greater number of serverless offerings in the cloud, TriggerMesh provides a declarative API and a set of tools to define event flows and functions that compose modern applications,” explains the company.

One feature TriggerMesh is specifically talking up and very relevant to legacy enterprises is its integration functionality with on-premise software. Via its wares, it says it is easy to connect SaaS, serverless cloud offerings and on-premises applications to provide scalable cloud-native applications at a low cost and quickly.

“There are huge numbers of disconnected applications that are unable to fully benefit from cloud computing and increased network connectivity,” noted Scott Sage, co-founder and partner at Crane Venture Partners, in a statement. “Most companies have some combination of cloud and on-premises applications and with more applications around, often from different vendors, the need for integration has never been greater. We see TriggerMesh’s solution as the ideal fit for this need which made them a compelling investment”.


By Steve O’Hear

Placer.ai, a location data analytics startup, raises $12 million Series A

Placer.ai, a startup that analyzes location and foot traffic analytics for retailers and other businesses, announced today that it has closed a $12 million Series A. The round was led by JBV Capital, with participation from investors including Aleph, Reciprocal Ventures and OCA Ventures.

The funding will be used on research and development of new features and to expand Placer.ai’s operation in the United States.

Launched in 2016, Placer.ai’s SaaS platform gives its clients to real-time data that helps them make decisions like where to rent or buy properties, when to hold sales and promotions and how to manage assets.

Placer.ai analyzes foot traffic and also creates consumer profiles to help clients make marketing and ad spending decisions. It does this by collecting geolocation and proximity data from devices that are enabled to share that information. Placer.ai’s co-founder and CEO Noam Ben-Zvi says the company protects privacy and follows regulation by displaying aggregated, anonymous data and does not collect personally identifiable data. It also does not sell advertising or raw data.

The company currently serves clients in the retail (including large shopping centers), commercial real estate and hospitality verticals, including JLL, Regency, SRS, Brixmor, Verizon* and Caesars Entertainment.

“Up until now, we’ve been heavily focused on the commercial real estate sector, but this has very organically led us into retail, hospitality, municipalities and even [consumer packaged goods],” Ben-Zvi told TechCrunch in an email. “This presents us with a massive market, so we’re just focused on building out the types of features that will directly address the different needs of our core audience.”

He adds that lack of data has hurt retail businesses with major offline operations, but that “by effectively addressing this gap, we’re helpiong drive more sustainable growth or larger players or minimizing the risk for smaller companies to drive expansion plans that are strategically aggressive.”

Others startups in the same space include Dor, Aislelabs, RetailNext, ShopperTrak and Density. Ben-Zvi says Placer. ai wants to differentiate by providing more types of real-time data analysis.

While there are a lot of companies touching the location analytics space, we’re in a unique situation as the only company providing these deep and actionable insights for any location in the country in a real-time platform with a wide array of functionality,” he said.

*Disclosure: Verizon Media is the parent company of TechCrunch.


By Catherine Shu