DREAMTECH NEWS

Microsoft says Teams now has 13M daily active users

Teams, Microsoft’s two-year-old Slack competitor, is the company’s fastest-growing application in its history. That’s something Microsoft has said in the past, but for the first time, Microsoft today also announced actual user numbers for the service ahead of its Inspire partner conference next week. Teams now has 13 million active daily users, Microsoft said, and 19 million weekly active users. Microsoft also today said that Teams is now in use by 91 of the Fortune 100 companies.

The company isn’t afraid of putting those numbers up against Slack, which IPOed only a few weeks ago. Jared Spataro, Microsoft Corporate VP for Microsoft 365, doesn’t mention Slack by name in his blog post, but the company put together a little graphic that clearly shows why it is now willing to share these numbers.

The last official number from Slack is that it had 10 million daily active users in January. Without updates numbers from Slack, it’s hard to say if Teams now has more users, but unless Slack’s growth accelerated in recent months, that’s probably the case.

2019 07 11 1047In addition to disclosing these numbers, Microsoft also announced a number of updates to Teams that range from features like priority notifications, which take the annoyance of chat notifications to a new level by pinging you every two minutes until you respond, to read receipts, new moderation and cross-posting options for Teams channels and a time clock feature that lets employees clock in and out of work shifts right from the Teams mobile apps.

Since Inspire is an event for Microsoft partners, it doesn’t come as a surprise that Microsoft is also launching a few new Teams features that involve its resellers and other partners. These include the ability to integrate teams with compliance recording partners like ASC, NICE and Verint Verba, as well as a contact center solution in partnership with Five9, Nice InContact and others. The most important of these announcements, though, is surely the fact that Microsoft is launching a new partner-led Teams trial (PDF) that will enable Microsoft 365 partners to offer their customers that are on the Exchange-only or Office 365 Business plan a free six-month trial of Teams. This will surely bolster Microsoft’s user numbers for Teams in the coming months, too.


By Frederic Lardinois

Andrew Ng to talk about how AI will transform business at TC Sessions: Enterprise

When it comes to applying AI to the world around us, Andrew Ng has few if any peers. We are delighted to announce that the renowned founder, investor, AI expert and Stanford professor will join us on stage at the TechCrunch Sessions: Enterprise show on Sept. 5 at the Yerba Buena Center in San Francisco. 

AI promises to transform the $500 billion enterprise world like nothing since the cloud and SaaS.  Hundreds of startups are already seizing the AI moment in areas like recruiting, marketing and communications, and customer experience. The oceans of data required to power AI are becoming dramatically more valuable, which in turn is fueling the rise of new data platforms, another big topic of the show

Last year, Ng  launched the $175 million AI Fund, backed by big names like Sequoia, NEA, Greylock, and Softbank. The fund’s goal is to develop new AI businesses in a studio model and spin them out when they are ready for prime time. The first of that fund’s cohort is Landing AI, which also launched last year and aims to “empower companies to jumpstart AI and realize practical value.” It’s a wave businesses will want to catch if Ng is anywhere near right in his conviction that AI will generate $13 trillion in GDP growth globally in the next 20 years. You heard that right. 

At TC Sessions: Enterprise, TechCrunch’s editors will ask Ng to detail how he believes AI will unfold in the enterprise world and bring big productivity gains to business. 

As the former Chief Scientist at Baidu and the founding lead of Google Brain, Ng led the AI transformation of two of the world’s leading technology companies. Dr. Ng is the Co-founder of Coursera, an online learning platform, and founder of deeplearning.ai, an AI education platform. Dr. Ng is also an Adjunct Professor at Stanford University’s Computer Science Department and holds degrees from Carnegie Mellon University, MIT and the University of California, Berkeley.

Early Bird tickets to see Andrew at TC Sessions: Enterprise are on sale for just $249 when you book here, but hurry prices go up by $100 soon! Students, grab your discounted tickets for just $75 here.



By Frederic Lardinois

Swit, a collaboration suite that offers “freedom from integrations,” raises $6 million in seed funding

A marketplace dominated by Slack and Microsoft Teams, along with a host of other smaller workplace communication apps, might seem to leave little room for a new entrant, but Swit wants to prove that wrong. The app combines messaging with a roster of productivity tools, like task management, calendars and Gantt charts, to give teams “freedom from integrations.” Originally founded in Seoul and now based in the San Francisco Bay Area, Swit announced today that it has raised a $6 million seed round led by Korea Investment Partners, with participation from Hyunadi Venture Investment Corporation and Mirae Asset Venture Investment.

Along with an investment from Kakao Ventures last year, this brings Swit’s total seed funding so far to about $7 million. Swit’s desktop and mobile apps were released in March and since then more than 450 companies have adopted it, with 40,000 individual registered users. The startup was launched last year by CEO Josh Lee and Max Lim, who previously co-founded auction.co.kr, a Korean e-commerce site acquired by eBay in 2001.

While Slack, which recently went public, has become so synonymous with the space that “Slack me” is now part of workplace parlance at many companies, Lee says Swit isn’t playing catch up. Instead, he believes Swit benefits from “last mover advantage,” solving the shortfalls of other workplace messaging, collaboration and productivity apps by integrating many of their functions into one hub.

“We know the market is heavily saturated with great unicorns, but many companies need multiple collaboration apps and there is nothing that seamlessly combines them, so users don’t have to go back and forth between two platforms,” Lee tells TechCrunch. Many employees rely on Slack or Microsoft Teams to chat with one another, on top of several project management apps, like Asana, Jira, Monday and Confluence, and email to communicate with people at other companies (Lee points to a M.io report that found most businesses use at least two messaging apps and four to seven collaboration tools).

Lee says he used Slack for more than five years and during that time, his teammates added integrations from Asana, Monday, GSuite and Office365, but were unsatisfied with how they worked.

“All we could do with the integrations was receive mostly text-based notifications and there were also too many overlapping features,” he says. “We realized that working with multiple environments reduced team productivity and increased communication overhead.” In very large organizations, teams or departments sometimes use different messaging and collaboration apps, creating yet more friction.

Swit’s goal is to covers all those needs in one app. It comes with integrated Kanban task management, calendars and Gantt charts and at the end of this year about 20 to 30 bots and apps will be available in its marketplace. Swit’s pricing tier currently has free and standard tiers, with a premium tier for enterprise customers planned for fall. The premium version will have full integration with Office365 and GSuite, allowing users to drag-and-drop emails into panels or convert them into trackable tasks.

While being a late-mover gives Swit certain advantages, it also means it must convince users to switch from their current apps, which is always a challenge when it comes to attracting enterprise clients. But Lee is optimistic. After seeing a demo, he says 91 percent of potential users registered on Swit, with more than 75 percent continuing to use it every day. Many of them used Asana or Monday before, but switched to Swit because they wanted to more easily communicate with teammates while planning tasks. Some are also gradually transitioning over from Slack to Swit for all their messaging (Swit recently released a Slack migration tool that enables teams to move over channels, workspaces and attachments. Migration tools for Asana, Trello and Jira are also planned).

In addition to “freedom from integrations,” Lee says Swit’s competitive advantages include being developed from the start for small businesses as well as large enterprises that still frequently rely on email to communicate across different departments or locations. Another differentiator is that all of Swit’s functions work on both desktop and mobile, which not all integrations in other collaboration apps can.

“That means if people integrate multiple apps into a desktop app or web browser, they might not be able to use them on mobile. So if they are looking for data, they have to search app by app, channel by channel, product by product, so data and information is scattered everywhere, hair on fire,” Lee says. “We provide one centralized command center for team collaboration without losing context and that is one of our biggest sources of customer satisfaction.”
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By Catherine Shu

OneTrust raises $200M at a $1.3B valuation to help organizations navigate online privacy rules

GDPR, and the newer California Consumer Privacy Act, have given a legal bite to ongoing developments in online privacy and data protection: it’s always good practice for companies with an online presence to take measures to safeguard people’s data, but now failing to do so can land them in some serious hot water.

Now — to underscore the urgency and demand in the market — one of the bigger companies helping organizations navigate those rules is announcing a huge round of funding. OneTrust, which builds tools to help companies navigate data protection and privacy policies both internally and with its customers, has raised $200 million in a Series A led by Insight that values the company at $1.3 billion.

It’s an outsized round for a Series A, being made at an equally outsized valuation — especially considering that the company is only three years old — but that’s because, according to CEO Kabir Barday, of the wide-ranging nature of the issue, and OneTrust’s early moves and subsequent pole position in tackling it.

“We’re talking about an operational overhaul in a company’s practices,” Barday said in an interview. “That requires the right technology and reach to be able to deliver that at a low cost.” Notably, he said that OneTrust wasn’t actually in search of funding — it’s already generating revenue and could have grown off its own balance sheet — although he noted that having the capitalization and backing sends a signal to the market and in particular to larger organizations of its stability and staying power.

Currently, OneTrust has around 3,000 customers across 100 countries (and 1,000 employees), and the plan will be to continue to expand its reach geographically and to more businesses. Funding will also go towards the company’s technology: it already has 50 patents filed and another 50 applications in progress, securing its own IP in the area of privacy protection.

OneTrust offers technology and services covering three different aspects of data protection and privacy management.

Its Privacy Management Software helps an organization manage how it collects data, and it generates compliance reports in line with how a site is working relative to different jurisdictions. Then there is the famous (or infamous) service that lets internet users set their preferences for how they want their data to be handled on different sites. The third is a larger database and risk management platform that assesses how various third-party services (for example advertising providers) work on a site and where they might pose data protection risks.

These are all provided either as a cloud-based software as a service, or an on-premises solution, depending on the customer in question.

The startup also has an interesting backstory that sheds some light on how it was founded and how it identified the gap in the market relatively early.

Alan Dabbiere, who is the co-chairman of OneTrust, had been the chairman of Airwatch — the mobile device management company acquired by VMware in 2014 (Airwatch’s CEO and founder, John Marshall, is OneTrust’s other co-chairman). In an interview, he told me that it was when they were at Airwatch — where Barday had worked across consulting, integration, engineering and product management — that they began to see just how a smartphone “could be a quagmire of information.”

“We could capture apps that an employee was using so that we could show them to IT to mitigate security risks,” he said, “but that actually presented a big privacy issue. If [the employee] has dyslexia [and uses a special app for it] or if the employee used a dating app, you’ve now shown things to IT that you shouldn’t have.”

He admitted that in the first version of the software, “we weren’t even thinking about whether that was inappropriate, but then we quickly realised that we needed to be thinking about privacy.”

Dabbiere said that it was Barday who first brought that sensibility to light, and “that is something that we have evolved from.” After that, and after the VMware sale, it seemed a no-brainer that he and Marshall would come on to help the new startup grow.

Airwatch made a relatively quick exit, I pointed out. His response: the plan is to stay the course at OneTrust, with a lot more room for expansion in this market. He describes the issues of data protection and privacy as “death by 1,000 cuts.” I guess when you think about it from an enterprising point of view, that essentially presents 1,000 business opportunities.

Indeed, there is obvious growth potential to expand not just its funnel of customers, but to add in more services, such as proactive detection of malware that might leak customers’ data (which calls to mind the recently-fined breach at British Airways), as well as tools to help stop that once identified.

While there are a million other companies also looking to fix those problems today, what’s interesting is the point from which OneTrust is starting: by providing tools to organizations simply to help them operate in the current regulatory climate as good citizens of the online world.

This is what caught Insight’s eye with this investment.

“OneTrust has truly established themselves as leaders in this space in a very short timeframe, and are quickly becoming for privacy professionals what Salesforce became for salespeople,” said Richard Wells of Insight. “They offer such a vast range of modules and tools to help customers keep their businesses compliant with varying regulatory laws, and the tailwinds around GDPR and the upcoming CCPA make this an opportune time for growth. Their leadership team is unparalleled in their ambition and has proven their ability to convert those ambitions into reality.”

Wells added that while this is a big round for a Series A it’s because it is something of an outlier — not a mark of how Series A rounds will go soon.

“Investors will always be interested in and keen to partner with companies that are providing real solutions, are already established and are led by a strong group of entrepreneurs,” he said in an interview. “This is a company that has the expertise to help solve for what could be one of the greatest challenges of the next decade. That’s the company investors want to partner with and grow, regardless of fund timing.”


By Ingrid Lunden

Signavio raises $177M at a $400M valuation for its business process automation solutions

Robotic Process Automation has been the name of the game in enterprise software lately — with organizations using advances in machine learning algorithms and other kinds of AI, alongside big-data analytics to speed up everything from performing mundane tasks to more complex business decisions.

To underscore the opportunity and growth in the market, today a startup in the wider segment of process automation is announcing a significant fundraise. Signavio, a company founded out of Berlin that provides tools for business process management — “providing the ‘P’ in RPA,” as the company describes it — has picked up an investment of $177 million at what we understand is a valuation of $400 million.

This round is large on its own, but even more so considering that before this the company — founded in 2009 — had only raised around $50 million before now, according to data from PitchBook. This latest capital injection is being led by Apax Digital (the growth equity team of Apax Partners), with DTCP. It notes that existing investor Summit Partners is also keeping a stake in the business with this deal.

The company was founded by a team of alums from the Hasso Plattner Institute in Potsdam, Germany, who used research they did there for creating the world’s first web modeller for business process management and analytics as the template for Signavio’s own Process Manager. (The name “Signavio” seems to be a portmanteau of “navigating through signals”, which essentially explains the basics of what BPM aims to do to help a business with its decision-making.)

Partly because it’s raised so little money, Signavio has been somewhat under the radar, but it has seen a huge amount of growth. It says that revenues in the last 12 months have grown by more than 70%, and its software  is used by more than one million users across 1,300 customers — with clients including SAP, DHL, Liberty Mutual, Deloitte, Comcast and Puma. It counts Silicon Valley as its second HQ these days, that trajectory will be followed further with this latest funding: Signavio says the funding in part will be going to international expansion of the business.

“10 years ago, we set out on a journey to tackle the time-consuming practices that limit business productivity,” said Dr. Gero Decker, CEO and co-founder of Signavio, in a statement. “This significant new investment further validates our approach to solve business problems faster and more efficiently, unleashing the power of process through our unique Business Transformation Suite. We are thrilled to welcome Apax Digital as our new lead partner, and look forward to building upon our success to date by leveraging our partners’ operating capabilities and global platforms for our international expansion.”

The other area of investment will be the company’s technology suite. While BPM has been around for years as a concept — and indeed there are a number of other companies that provide tools that are compared sometimes to Signavio’s such from biggies like IBM and Microsoft through to Kissflow and others — what’s interesting is how it’s had a surge of interest more recently as organizations increasingly start to add more automation into their IT infrastructure, in part to reduce the human labor needed for more mundane back-office tasks, and in part to reduce costs and speed up processes.

Robotic process automation companies like UiPath and Blue Prism bring some of the same processing tools to the table as Signavio, although the argument is that the latter — which says it helps to “mine, model, monitor, manage and maintain” customers’ data — provides a more sophisticated level of data crunching that can be used for RPA, or for other ends. (It also works with several of the big RPA players, mainly Blue Prism but also UiPath and Automation Anywhere.)

“As businesses have become more global, and workforces more distributed, business processes have proliferated, and become more complex,” noted Daniel O’Keefe, Managing Partner, and Mark Beith, Managing Director, of Apax Digital, in a joint statement. “Signavio’s cloud-native suite allows employees across an enterprise to collaborate and transform their businesses by digitizing, optimizing and ultimately automating their processes. We are tremendously excited to partner with the Signavio team and to support their vision.” The two will also be joining Signavio’s board with this round.


By Ingrid Lunden

SAP’s CEO Bill McDermott will join us at TC Sessions: Enterprise

You can’t talk about enterprise software without talking about SAP, the German software giant that now has a market cap of more than $172 billion, making it Europe’s most valuable tech company. To talk about his company and leadership in a rapidly changing environment for enterprise software, SAP CEO Bill McDermott will join us for a fireside chat at our TC Sessions: Enterprise event on September 5 in San Francisco.

McDermott joined the company as the CEO of SAP America in 2002. He then joined the executive board in 2008 and became co-CEO in 2010. Since becoming the first American to head the company in 2014, McDermott has continued to increase the company’s annual revenue and, maybe more importantly, expanded the company’s product range.

Chances are you know SAP mostly for its Hana in-memory database offering and CRM and enterprise resource management systems. Hana is important enough that all of the major cloud suppliers offer virtual machines specifically tuned for it, something they don’t do for any other piece of software. But SAP also offers services around data and networks management, IoT, blockchain and HR. Its more than 300,000 customers span virtually every industry and include government agencies around the globe, and the company itself has offices in virtually every country in the world.

We will talk to McDermott about the trends he’s seeing in the industry, including his company’s open data alliance with Microsoft and Adobe, his plans to double his company’s market cap, the role that open source now plays in enterprise software and how owning a Long Island deli prepared him for his current job. And we won’t forget SAP’s giant $8 billion acquisition of Qualtrics last year, which allows SAP to couple operational data with customer experience – matching what customers do with why they do it – one of the hottest areas in enterprise.

Outside of SAP, McDermott also serves on the board of directors of companies like Under Armour, Dell SecureWorks and ANSYS.e

Early Bird tickets are on sale for just $249 when you book here, but hurry prices go up by $100 soon! Students, grab your discounted tickets for just $75 here.



By Frederic Lardinois

Anvyl, looking to help D2C brands manage their supply chain, raises $9.3M

Growing D2C brands face an interesting challenge. While they’ve eliminated much of the hassle of a physical storefront, they must still deal with all the complications involved in managing inventory and manufacturing and shipping a physical product to suppliers.

Anvyl, with a fresh $9.3 million in Series A funding, is looking to jump in and make a difference for those brands. The company, co-founded by chief executive Rodney Manzo, is today announcing the raise, led by Redpoint Ventures, with participation from existing investors First Round Capital and Company Ventures. Angel investors Kevin Ryan (MongoDB and DoubleClick), Ben Kaufman (Quirky and Camp) and Dan Rose (Facebook) also participated in the round.

Manzo hails from Apple, where with $300 million in spend to manage logistics and supply chain he was still operating in an Excel spreadsheet. He then went to Harry’s, where he shaved $10 million in cash burn in his first month. He says himself that sourcing, procurement and logistics are in his DNA.

Which brings us to Anvyl. Anvyl looks at every step in the logistics process, from manufacture to arrival at the supplier, and visualizes that migration in an easy-to-understand UI.

The difference between Anvyl and other supply chain logistics companies, such as Flexport, is that Anvyl goes all the way to the very beginning of the supply chain: the factories. The company partners with factories to set up cameras and sensors that let brands see their product actually being built.

“When I was at Apple, I traveled for two years at least once a month to China and Japan just to oversee production,” said Manzo. “To oversee production, you essentially have to be boots on the ground and eyes in the factory. None of our brands have traveled to a factory.”

On the other end of the supply chain, Anvyl lets brands manage suppliers, find new suppliers, submit RFQs, see cost breakdowns and accept quotes.

The company also looks at each step in between, including trucks, trains, boats and planes so that brands can see, in real time, their products go from being manufactured to delivery.

Anvyl charges brands a monthly fee using a typical SaaS model. On the other end, Anvyl takes a “tiny percentage” of goods being produced within the Anvyl marketplace. The company declined to share actual numbers around pricing.

This latest round brings Anvyl’s total funding to $11.8 million. The company plans to use the funding toward hiring in engineering and marketing, and grow its consumer goods customer base.


By Jordan Crook

Visa funds $40M for no-password crypto vault Anchorage

Visa and Andreessen Horowitz are betting even bigger on cryptocurrency, funding a big round for fellow Facebook Libra Association member Anchorage’s omnimetric blockchain security system. Instead of using passwords that can be stolen, Anchorage requires cryptocurrency withdrawals to be approved by a client’s other employees. Then the company uses both human and AI review of biometrics and more to validate transactions before they’re executed, while offering end-to-end insurance coverage.

This new-age approach to cryptocurrency protection has attracted a $40 million Series B for Anchorage led by Blockchain Capital and joined by Visa and Andreessen Horowitz. The round adds to Anchorage’s $17 million Series A that Andreessen led just six months ago, demonstrating extraordinary momentum for the security startup.

As a custodian, our work is focused on building financial plumbing that other companies depend on for their operations to run smoothly. In this regard we have always looked at Visa as a model” Anchorage co-founder and president Diogo Mónica tells me.

“Visa was ‘fintech’ before the term existed, and has always been on the vanguard of financial infrastructure. Visa’s investment in Anchorage is helpful not only to our company but to our industry, as a validation of the entire ecosystem and a recognition that crypto will play a key role in the future of global finance.”

Anchorage Crypto 1

Cold-storage, where assets are held in computers not connected to the Internet, has become a popular method of securing Bitcoin, Ether, and other tokens. But the problem is that this can prevent owners from participating in governance of certain cryptocurrency where votes are based on their holdings, or earning dividends. Anchorage tells me it’s purposefully designed to permit this kind of participation, helping clients to get the most out of their assets like capturing returns from staking and inflation, or joining in on-chain governance.

As 3 of the 28 founding members of the Libra Association that will govern the new Facebook-incubated cryptocurrency; Anchorage, Visa, and Andreessen Horowitz will be responsible for ensuring the stablecoin stays secure. While Facebook is building its own custodial wallet called Calibra for users, other Association members and companies hoping to dive into the ecosystem will need ways to protect their Libra stockpiles.

“Libra is exactly the kind of asset that Anchorage was created to hold” Mónica wrote the day Libra was revealed. “Our custody solution , so that asset-holders don’t face a trade-off between security and usability.” The company believes that custodians shouldn’t dictate what coins their clients hold, so it’s working to support all types of digital assets. Anchorage tells me that will include support for securing Libra in the future.

Libra Association Founding Partners

You’ve probably already used technology secured by Anchorage’s founders, who engineered Docker’s containers that are used by Microsoft, and Square’s first encrypted card reader. Mónica was at Square when he met his future Anchorage co-founder Nathan McCauley who’d been working on anti-reverse engineering tech for the U.S. military. When a company that had lost the password to a $1 million cryptocurrency account asked for their help with security, they recognized a recognized the need for a more idiot-proof take on asset protection.

“Anchorage applies the best of modern security engineering for a more advanced approach: we generate and store private keys in secure hardware so they are never exposed at any point in their life cycle, and we eliminate human operations that expose assets to risk” Mónica says. The startup competes with other crypto custody firms like Bitgo, Ledger, Coinbase, and Gemini.

Anchorage CryptocurrencyLast time we spoke, Anchorage was cagey about what I could reveal regarding how its transaction validation system worked. With the new funding, it’s feeling a little more secure about its market position and was willing to share more.

Anchorage ditches usernames, passwords, email addresses, and phone numbers completely. That way a hacker can’t just dump your coins into their account by stealing your private key or SIM-porting your number to their phone. Instead, clients whitelist devices held by their employees, who use the Anchorage app to submit transactions. You’d propose selling $10 million worth of Bitcoin or transferring it to someone else as payment, and a minimum of two-thirds of your designated co-workers would need to concur to form a quorum that approves the transfer.

But first, Anchorage would’s artificial intelligence and human staff would check for any suspicious signals that might indicate a hack in progress. It uses behavioral analysis (do you act like a real human and similar to how you have before), biometric signals (do you look like you), and network signals (is your device what and where it should be) to confirm the transaction is legitimate. The same process goes down if you try to add a new whitelisted device or change who has permission to do what.

The challenge will be scaling security to an ever-broadening range of digital assets, each with their own blockchain quirks and complex smart contracts. Even if Anchorage keeps coins safely in custody, those variables could expose assets to risk while in transit. Now with deeper pockets and the Visa vote of confidence, Anchorage could solve those problems as clients line up.

While most blockchain attention has focused on the cryptocurrencies themselves and the exchanges where you can buy and sell them, a second order of critical infrastructure startups is emerging. Companies like Anchorage could make Bitcoin, Ether, Libra, and more not just objects of speculation or the domain of experts, but safely functioning elements of the new world economy.


By Josh Constine

Box CEO Aaron Levie is coming to TC Sessions: Enterprise

Box co-founder, chairman and CEO Aaron Levie took his company from a consumer-oriented online storage service to a publicly-traded enterprise powerhouse. Launched in 2005, Box today has over 41 million users and the vast majority of Fortune 500 companies use its service. Levie will join us at TC Sessions: Enterprise for a fireside chat about the past, present and future of Box, as well as the overall state of the SaaS and cloud space.

Levie, who also occasionally contributes to TechCrunch, was a bit of a serial entrepreneur before he even got to college. Once he got to the University of Southern California, the idea for Box was born. In hindsight, it was obviously the right idea at the right time, but its early iterations focused more on consumers than business users. Like so many other startups, though, the Box team quickly realized that in order to actually make money, selling to the enterprise was the most logical — and profitable — option.

Before going public, Box raised well over $500M from some of the most world’s most prestigious venture capital firms. Box’s market cap today is just under $2.5 billion, but more than four years after going public, the company like many Silicon Valley unicorns both private and public still regularly loses money. 

Early Bird Tickets are on sale today for just $249 – book here before prices go up by $100!


By Frederic Lardinois

Grasshopper’s Judith Erwin leaps into innovation banking

In the years following the financial crisis, de novo bank activity in the US slowed to a trickle. But as memories fade, the economy expands and the potential of tech-powered financial services marches forward, entrepreneurs have once again been asking the question, “Should I start a bank?”

And by bank, I’m not referring to a neobank, which sits on top of a bank, or a fintech startup that offers an interesting banking-like service of one kind or another. I mean a bank bank.

One of those entrepreneurs is Judith Erwin, a well-known business banking executive who was part of the founding team at Square 1 Bank, which was bought in 2015. Fast forward a few years and Erwin is back, this time as CEO of the cleverly named Grasshopper Bank in New York.

With over $130 million in capital raised from investors including Patriot Financial and T. Rowe Price Associates, Grasshopper has a notable amount of heft for a banking newbie. But as Erwin and her team seek to build share in the innovation banking market, she knows that she’ll need the capital as she navigates a hotly contested niche that has benefited from a robust start-up and venture capital environment.

Gregg Schoenberg: Good to see, Judith. To jump right in, in my opinion, you were a key part of one of the most successful de novo banks in quite some time. You were responsible for VC relationships there, right?

…My background is one where people give me broken things, I fix them and give them back.

Judith Erwin: The VC relationships and the products and services managing the balance sheet around deposits. Those were my two primary roles, but my background is one where people give me broken things, I fix them and give them back.

Schoenberg: Square 1 was purchased for about 22 times earnings and 260% of tangible book, correct?

Erwin: Sounds accurate.

Schoenberg: Plus, the bank had a phenomenal earnings trajectory. Meanwhile, PacWest, which acquired you, was a “perfectly nice bank.” Would that be a fair characterization?

Erwin: Yes.

Schoenberg: Is part of the motivation to start Grasshopper to continue on a journey that maybe ended a little bit prematurely last time?

Erwin: That’s a great insight, and I did feel like we had sold too soon. It was a great deal for the investors — which included me — and so I understood it. But absolutely, a lot of what we’re working to do here are things I had hoped to do at Square 1.

Image via Getty Images / Classen Rafael / EyeEm

Schoenberg: You’re obviously aware of the 800-pound gorilla in the room in the form of Silicon Valley Bank . You’ve also got the megabanks that play in the segment, as well as Signature Bank, First Republic, Bridge Bank and others.


By Gregg Schoenberg