By Christine Hall
September 10, 2021
By Ron Miller
September 9, 2021
By Ingrid Lunden
September 9, 2021
By Ron Miller
September 8, 2021
By Christine Hall
September 7, 2021
By Romain Dillet
September 7, 2021
By Ingrid Lunden
September 6, 2021
Spain’s Factorial raises $80M at a $530M valuation on the back of strong traction for its ‘Workday for SMBs’
By Ingrid Lunden
September 6, 2021
By Ron Miller
September 5, 2021
By Christine Hall
September 3, 2021
Media technology company Amagi announced Friday $100 million to further develop its cloud-based SaaS technology for broadcast and connected televisions.
Accel, Avataar Ventures and Norwest Venture Partners joined existing investor Premji Invest in the funding round, which included buying out stakes held by Emerald Media and Mayfield Fund. Nadathur Holdings continues as an existing investor. The latest round gives Amagi total funding raised to date of $150 million, Baskar Subramanian, co-founder and CEO of Amagi, told TechCrunch.
New Delhi-based Amagi provides cloud broadcast and targeted advertising software so that customers can create content that can be created and monetized to be distributed via broadcast TV and streaming TV platforms like The Roku Channel, Samsung TV Plus and Pluto TV. The company already supports more than 2,000 channels on its platform across over 40 countries.
“Video is a complex technology to manage — there are large files and a lot of computing,” Subramanian said. “What Amagi does is enable a content owner with zero technology knowledge to simplify that complex workflow and scalable infrastructure. We want to make it easy to plug in and start targeting and monetizing advertising.”
As a result, Amagi customers see operational cost savings on average of up to 40% compared to traditional delivery models and their ad impressions grow between five and 10 times.
The new funding comes at a time when the company is experiencing rapid growth. For example, Amagi grew 30 times in the United States alone over the past few years, Subramanian said. Amagi commands an audience of over 2 billion people, and the U.S. is its largest market. The company also sees growth potential in both Latin America and Europe.
In addition, in the last year, revenue grew 136%, while new customer year over year growth was 44%, including NBCUniversal — Subramanian said the Tokyo Olympics were run on Amagi’s platform for NBC, USA Today and ABS-CBN.
As more of a shift happens with video content being developed for connected television experiences, which he said is a $50 billion market, the company plans to use the new funding for sales expansion, R&D to invest in the company’s product pipeline and potential M&A opportunities. The company has not made any acquisitions yet, Subramanian added.
In addition to the broadcast operations in New Delhi, Amagi also has an innovation center in Bangalore and offices in New York, Los Angeles and London.
“Consumer behavior and infrastructure needs have reached a critical mass and new companies are bringing in the next generation of media, and we are a large part of that growth,” Subramanian said. “Sports will come on quicker, while live news and events are going to be one of the biggest growth areas.”
Shekhar Kirani, partner at Accel, said Amagi is taking a unique approach to enterprise SaaS due to that $50 billion industry shift happening in video content, where he sees half of the spend moving to connected television platforms quickly.
Some of the legacy players like Viacom and NBCUniversal created their own streaming platforms, where Netflix and Amazon have also been leading, but not many SaaS companies are enabling the transition, he said.
When Kirani met Subramanian five years ago, Amagi was already well funded, but Kirani was excited about the platform and wanted to help the company scale. He believes the company has a long tailwind because it is saving people time and enabling new content providers to move faster to get their content distributed.
“Amagi is creating a new category and will grow fast,” Kirani added. “They are already growing and doubling each year with phenomenal SaaS metrics because they are helping content providers to connect to any audience.
By Christine Hall
A battle between Box and its majority shareholder Starboard Value over control of the board ended today when the company’s slate of directors easily defeated Starboard’s. It culminated months of maneuvering on both sides as they battled for control of the company.
Box, in a somewhat generic statement, expressed gratitude for the results:
Box appreciates the support and perspectives we have received from our stockholders throughout this process. The Board and management team will remain focused on continuing to transform Box and executing Box’s strategy to grow profitably and deliver significant value to all Box stockholders.
Starboard on the other hand, as you might expect, was unhappy with the outcome and didn’t hide that in a letter to shareholders released earlier today.
“We are certainly disappointed by the results of this election, which were heavily skewed by the voting rights tied to the preferred equity financing and the use of stockholder capital to aggressively repurchase shares ahead of the record date from stockholders likely to support change. At this juncture, the future of Box is in the Board’s hands, and there is a significant amount of work left to be done. Many commitments have been made, and we hope that Box will finally be able to follow through on its promises to drive improved results, accountability, governance, and compensation practices,” managing director Peter A. Feld wrote in the letter.
This all began when Starboard Value invested in Box, taking a 7.5% stake, which would eventually grow to 8.8% in the company. With that stake, it became the largest shareholder, but it remained relatively quiet until March of this year. That is when public rumblings began that Starboard was unhappy with the direction of the company, a conflict that could have ultimately resulted in the ouster of founder and CEO Aaron Levie or the sale of Box.
The situation took an interesting turn when Box announced it was taking a $500 million investment from KKR, a move that Starboard took great exception to and made clear in a letter published at the beginning of May that it wanted significant changes to take place. As we wrote at the time:
While they couched the letter in mostly polite language, it’s quite clear Starboard is exasperated with Box. “While we appreciate the dialogue we have had with Box’s management team and Board of Directors (the “Board”) over the past two years, we have grown increasingly frustrated with continued poor results, questionable capital allocation decisions, and subpar shareholder returns,” Starboard wrote in its letter.
Less than a week later Starboard made a move for board seats and the battle was on for control. Box’s position was strengthened by two decent earnings reports prior to the vote; the company took the unusual move of delivering the results early in order to give the voters that information prior to the vote.
The company also made the unusual move of filing a document with the SEC that pushed back against Starboard’s slate of candidates. In the end, Box won the battle. Alan Pelz-Sharpe, founder and principal analyst at Deep Analysis, who has been watching the content management space where Box operates for years, sees this as a victory for Levie and Box.
“It was not a surprise to me that Box won the day. In my opinion, Starboard misread and underestimated the loyalty that Aaron Levie generates. The fact is that to most Box employees and investors, the company is a success story, and they also know that the customer base is pretty engaged and that there is plenty of room for future growth,” he said.
“For Box this vote of confidence will mean that they can (if they want) make some acquisitions and invest more in R&D moving forward, without constantly having an aggressive investor looking over their shoulder,” Pelz-Sharpe added.
It’s hard to know what happens next, but Starboard still maintains its shares for now, and it still has some clout in those numbers. Throughout its ownership tenure, Box has performed better, as the recent earnings results have shown, and the firm says that this remains the ultimate goal.
“As we have repeatedly stated, our only goal has been to help Box perform better and adopt best-in-class practices across operating performance, financial results, governance and compensation in order to create long-term value for the benefit of all stockholders. We will continue to monitor progress at Box, and we hope to see the company embrace the changes catalyzed by our involvement and create long-term value,” Starboard’s Feld wrote.
By Ron Miller
A Canadian startup called Nuula that is aiming to build a superapp to provide a range of financial services to small and medium businesses has closed $120 million of funding, money that it will use to fuel the launch of its app and first product, a line of credit for its users.
The money is coming in the form of $20 million in equity from Edison Partners, and a $100 million credit facility from funds managed by the Credit Group of Ares Management Corporation.
The Nuula app has been in a limited beta since June of this year. The plan is to open it up to general availability soon, while also gradually bringing in more services, some built directly by Nuula itself and but many others following an embedded finance strategy: business banking, for example, will be a service provided by a third party and integrated closely into the Nuula app to be launched early in 2022; and alongside that, the startup will also be making liberal use of APIs to bring in other white-label services such as B2B and customer-focused payment services, starting first in the U.S. and then expanding to Canada and the U.K. before further countries across Europe.
Current products include cash flow forecasting, personal and business credit score monitoring, and customer sentiment tracking; and monitoring of other critical metrics including financial, payments and eCommerce data are all on the roadmap.
“We’re building tools to work in a complementary fashion in the app,” CEO Mark Ruddock said in an interview. “Today, businesses can project if they are likely to run out of money, and monitor their credit scores. We keep an eye on customers and what they are saying in real time. We think it’s necessary to surface for SMBs the metrics that they might have needed to get from multiple apps, all in one place.”
Nuula was originally a side-project at BFS, a company that focused on small business lending, where the company started to look at the idea of how to better leverage data to build out a wider set of services addressing the same segment of the market. BFS grew to be a substantial business in its own right (and it had raised its own money to that end, to the tune of $184 million from Edison and Honeywell). Over time, it became apparent to management that the data aspect, and this concept of a super app, would be key to how to grow the business, and so it pivoted and rebranded earlier this year, launching the beta of the app after that.
Nuula’s ambitions fall within a bigger trend in the market. Small and medium enterprises have shaped up to be a huge business opportunity in the world of fintech in the last several years. Long ignored in favor of building solutions either for the giant consumer market, or the lucrative large enterprise sector, SMBs have proven that they want and are willing to invest in better and newer technology to run their businesses, and that’s leading to a rush of startups and bigger tech companies bringing services to the market to cater to that.
Super apps are also a big area of interest in the world of fintech, although up to now a lot of what we’ve heard about in that area has been aimed at consumers — just the kind of innovation rut that Nuula is trying to get moving.
“Despite the growth in services addressing the SMB sector, overall it still lacks innovation compared to consumer or enterprise services,” Ruddock said. “We thought there was some opportunity to bring new thinking to the space. We see this as the app that SMBs will want to use everyday, because we’ll provide useful tools, insights and capital to power their businesses.”
Nuula’s priority to build the data services that connect all of this together is very much in keeping with how a lot of neobanks are also developing services and investing in what they see as their unique selling point. The theory goes like this: banking services are, at the end of the day, the same everywhere you go, and therefore commoditized, and so the more unique value-added for companies will come from innovating with more interesting algorithms and other data-based insights and analytics to give more power to their users to make the best use of what they have at their disposal.
It will not be alone in addressing that market. Others building fintech for SMBs include Selina, ANNA, Amex’s Kabbage (an early mover in using big data to help loan money to SMBs and build other financial services for them), Novo, Atom Bank, Xepelin, and Liberis, biggies like Stripe, Square and PayPal, and many others.
The credit product that Nuula has built so far is a taster of how it hopes to be a useful tool for SMBs, not just another place to get money or manage it. It’s not a direct loaning service, but rather something that is closely linked to monitoring a customers’ incomings and outgoings and only prompts a credit line (which directly links into the users’ account, wherever it is) when it appears that it might be needed.
“Innovations in financial technology have largely democratized who can become the next big player in small business finance,” added Gary Golding, General Partner, Edison Partners. “By combining critical financial performance tools and insights into a single interface, Nuula represents a new class of financial services technology for small business, and we are excited by the potential of the firm.”
“We are excited to be working with Nuula as they build a unique financial services resource for small businesses and entrepreneurs,” said Jeffrey Kramer, Partner and Head of ABS in the Alternative Credit strategy of the Ares Credit Group, in a statement. “The evolution of financial technology continues to open opportunities for innovation and the emergence of new industry participants. We look forward to seeing Nuula’s experienced team of technologists, data scientists and financial service veterans bring a new generation of small business financial services solutions to market.”
By Ingrid Lunden
We know that large data centers running powerful servers use vast amounts of electricity. Anything that can reduce consumption would be a welcome change, especially in a time of climate upheaval. That’s where the new IBM Power E1080 server, which is powered by the latest Power10 processors, comes into play.
IBM claims it can consolidate the work of 126 competitive servers down to just two E1080s, saving 80% in energy costs, by the company’s estimation. What’s more, the company says, “The new server has set a new world record in a SAP benchmark that measures performance for key SAP applications, needing only half the resources used by x86 competitive servers to beat them by 40%.”
Patrick Moorhead, founder and principal analyst at Moor Insight & Strategy, who closely follows the chip industry, says that the company’s bold claims about what these systems can achieve make sense from a hardware design perspective. “The company’s claims on SAP, Oracle and OpenShift workloads pass initial muster with me as it simply requires less sockets and physical processors to achieve the same performance. These figures were compared to Intel’s Cascade Lake that will be replaced with Sapphire Rapids (in the future),” he said.
Steve Sibley, vice president and business line executive in the Power Systems Group at IBM, says that the new server (and the Power10 chip running it) have been designed for customers looking for a combination of speed, power, efficiency and security. “If you look at what we deliver here with scale and performance, it gives customers even more agility to respond quickly to scale to their highest demands,” he said.
To give customers options, they can buy E1080 servers outright and install them in a company data center. They can buy server access as a service from the IBM cloud (and possibly competitor clouds) or they can rent the servers and install them in their data centers and pay by the minute to help mitigate the cost.
“Our systems are a little bit more expensive on what I call a base cost of acquisition standpoint, but we allow customers to actually purchase [E1080 servers] on an as-a-service basis with a by-the-minute level of granularity of what they’re paying for,” he said.
What’s more, this server, which is the first to be released based on the Power10 chip, is designed to run Red Hat software under the hood, giving the company another outlet for its 2018 $34 billion acquisition.
“Bringing Red Hat’s platform to this platform is a key way to modernize applications, both from just a RHEL (Red Hat Enterprise Linux) operating system environment, as well as OpenShift (the company’s container platform). The other place that has been key with our Red Hat acquisition and our capitalizing on it is that we’re leveraging their Ansible projects and products to drive management and automation on our platform, as well,” Sibley explained.
Since Arvind Krishna took over as CEO at IBM in April 2020, he has been trying to shift the focus of the company to hybrid computing, where some computing exists in the cloud and some on prem, which is the state many companies will find themselves in for many years to come. IBM hopes to leverage Red Hat as a management plane for a hybrid environment, while offering a variety of hardware and software tools and services.
While Red Hat continues to operate as a standalone entity inside IBM, and wants to remain a neutral company for customers, Big Blue is still trying to find ways to take advantage of its offerings whenever possible and using it to run its own systems, and the E1080 provides a key avenue for doing that.
The company says that it is taking orders for the new servers starting immediately and expects to begin shipping systems at the end of the month.
By Ron Miller
Meetings are an inevitable part of the work day, but as workplaces became more distributed over the past 18 months, Vowel CEO Andy Berman says we are steadily moving toward “death by meeting.”
His virtual meeting platform is the latest to receive venture capital funding — $13.5 million — with the goal of making meetings more useful before, during and after.
Vowel is launching a meeting operating system with tools like real-time transcription; integrated agendas, notes and action items; meeting analytics; and searchable, on-demand recordings of meetings. The company has a freemium business model and will also be rolling out a business plan this fall for $16 per user per month. Extra features will include advanced integrations, security and admin controls.
The Series A was led by David Hornik of Lobby Capital, who was joined by existing investors Amity Ventures and Box Group and a group of individual investors, including Calendly CEO Tope Awotona, Intercom co-founder Des Traynor, Slack VP Ethan Eismann, former Yammer executive Viviana Faga, former InVision president David Fraga and Okta co-founder Frederic Kerrest.
Prior to starting Vowel, Berman was one of the founders of baby monitor company Nanit. The company had teams spread out around the world, and communication was tough as a result. In 2018, the company went looking for a tool that would work for synchronous and asynchronous meetings, but there were still a lot of time zones to manage, he said.
Taking a cue from Nanit’s own baby monitors that were streaming video over 17 hours a day, the idea for Vowel was born, and the company began to focus on the hypothesis that distributed work would be prevalent.
“People initially thought we were crazy, but then the pandemic hit, and everyone was learning how to work remotely,” Berman told TechCrunch. “As we now go back to hybrid work, we see this as an opportunity.”
In 2017, Harvard Business Review reported that executives spent 23 hours in meetings each week. Berman now estimates that the average worker spends half of their time each week in meetings.
Vowel is out to bring Slack, Figma and GitHub components to meetings by recording audio and video that can be paused at any time. Users can add notes and see where those notes fall within a real-time transcription that enables people who arrive late or could not make the meeting to catch up easily. After meetings are over, they can be shared, and Vowel has a search function so that users can go back and see where a particular person or topic was discussed.
The new funding will enable the company to grow its team in product, design and engineering. Vowel plans to hire up to 30 new people over the next year. The company recently closed its beta test and has amassed a 10,000-person waitlist. The public launch will happen in the fall, Berman said.
Workplace productivity and office communication tools are not new concepts, but as Berman explained, became increasingly important when homes became offices over the past 18 months.
Competitors took different approaches to solving these problems: focusing on video conferencing or audio or meeting management with plugins. Berman says an area where many have not succeeded yet is integrating meetings into the typical workflow. That’s where Vowel comes in with its “meeting OS,” he added.
“Our goal is to make meetings more inclusive and worthwhile, which includes the prep, the meeting and the follow-up,” Berman said. “We see the future will be about knowledge management, so the difference between what we are doing is ensuring you can catch up quickly and keep that knowledge base. A Garner report said that 75% of workplace meetings will be recorded by 2025, and that is a trend we are reinventing from the ground up.”
David Hornick, founding partner at Lobby Capital, said he became acquainted with Vowel from its existing investor Amity Ventures. Hornick, who sits on the GitLab board, said GitLab was one of the largest distributed companies in the tech space, prior to the pandemic, and saw first-hand the challenge of making distributed teams functionable.
When Hornick heard about Vowell, he said he “jumped quickly” on the opportunity. His firm typically invests in platform businesses that have the capacity to transform business spaces. Many are pure software, like Splunk or GitLab, while others are akin to Bill.com, which transformed how small businesses manage financial operations, he added.
All of those combine into a company, like Vowel, especially given the company’s vision for a meeting OS to transform a meeting space that hadn’t moved forward in decades, he said.
“This was quickly obvious to me because my day is meetings — an eight-Zoom day is a normal day — I just wish I could remember everything,” Hornick said. “Speaking with early customers using the product, when I asked them what they would do if this ever went away, the first thing they said was ‘cry,’ and, because there was no alternative, would return to Zoom or other tools, but it would be a big setback.”
By Christine Hall
Every startup founder faces the same issue — how do you manage your cap table and equity plans in a transparent and lightweight manner? If you’re based in the U.S., chances are you’re using an equity management solution like Carta. But if you’re not based in the U.S., you don’t have a ton of options.
Ledgy wants to become the ownership management tool for the rest of the world. Based in Switzerland, several well-known European startups are already using Ledgy, such as Wefox, Kry, Bitpanda, Gorillas and Trade Republic.
The company recently closed a $10 million Series A funding round led by Sequoia Capital. Other investors in the round include Xavier Niel, Harry Stebbings, Visionaries Club, UiPath's Daniel Dines and Front's Mathilde Collin. Some of Ledgy’s existing investors also invested once again, such as Myke Näf, Paul Sevinç, btov Partners, Creathor Ventures and VI Partners.
A few years ago, when Ledgy co-founder and CEO Yoko Spirig talked with an entrepreneur, the founder showed her how he managed ownership. He opened an Excel spreadsheet and scrolled, scrolled, scrolled… “Each line represented a share. You can imagine how error-prone it is,” she told me.
While the implementation was odd, most companies in Europe are still using Excel spreadsheets to manage ownership. And Ledgy wants to convince those companies that switching to a software solution that has been specifically designed to solve this issue could be beneficial.
“The key has really been to focus on the software infrastructure. What we do is that we have implemented automation workflows that are adaptable depending on countries,” Spirig said. “We’re not focusing on one regulation and we’re really offering the infrastructure layer,” she added.
That’s why Ledgy already supports 32 countries. It has tweaked its product even more specifically for Germany, Austria and Switzerland. There will be more country-specific releases in the near future for startups based in the U.K. and France. 1,500 companies are using Ledgy right now.
When you switch to Ledgy, there are three main advantages. First, like other software-as-a-service products, Ledgy acts as a single source of truth for all stakeholders — the HR team, the finance team, investors, lawyers and employees.
The second selling point is that you can automate some of the most tedious tasks. For instance, Ledgy can automatically generate documents based on templates and different variables. Signed documents are stored on Ledgy. You can export data every quarter or every year for compliance reasons.
Third, it fosters transparency across the company. Employees can check the value of their options. They can see how much their options could be worth if the leadership team is in the process of raising a new round of funding.
With today’s funding round, Ledgy plans to expand into new markets. The company also plans to roll out support for public companies so that some of its existing customers can go public and keep using Ledgy.
By Romain Dillet
The manufacturing industry took a hard hit from the Covid-19 pandemic, but there are signs of how it is slowly starting to come back into shape — helped in part by new efforts to make factories more responsive to the fluctuations in demand that come with the ups and downs of grappling with the shifting economy, virus outbreaks and more. Today, a businesses that is positioning itself as part of that new guard of flexible custom manufacturing — a startup called Fractory — is announcing a Series A of $9 million (€7.7 million) that underscores the trend.
The funding is being led by OTB Ventures, a leading European investor focussed on early growth, post-product, high-tech start-ups, with existing investors Trind Ventures, Superhero Capital, United Angels VC, Startup Wise Guys and Verve Ventures also participating.
Founded in Estonia but now based in Manchester, England — historically a strong hub for manufacturing in the country, and close to Fractory’s customers — Fractory has built a platform to make it easier for those that need to get custom metalwork to upload and order it, and for factories to pick up new customers and jobs based on those requests.
Fractory’s Series A will be used to continue expanding its technology, and to bring more partners into its ecosystem.
To date, the company has worked with more than 24,000 customers and hundreds of manufacturers and metal companies, and altogether it has helped crank out more than 2.5 million metal parts.
To be clear, Fractory isn’t a manufacturer itself, nor does it have no plans to get involved in that part of the process. Rather, it is in the business of enterprise software, with a marketplace for those who are able to carry out manufacturing jobs — currently in the area of metalwork — to engage with companies that need metal parts made for them, using intelligent tools to identify what needs to be made and connecting that potential job to the specialist manufacturers that can make it.
The challenge that Fractory is solving is not unlike that faced in a lot of industries that have variable supply and demand, a lot of fragmentation, and generally an inefficient way of sourcing work.
As Martin Vares, Fractory’s founder and MD, described it to me, companies who need metal parts made might have one factory they regularly work with. But if there are any circumstances that might mean that this factory cannot carry out a job, then the customer needs to shop around and find others to do it instead. This can be a time-consuming, and costly process.
“It’s a very fragmented market and there are so many ways to manufacture products, and the connection between those two is complicated,” he said. “In the past, if you wanted to outsource something, it would mean multiple emails to multiple places. But you can’t go to 30 different suppliers like that individually. We make it into a one-stop shop.”
On the other side, factories are always looking for better ways to fill out their roster of work so there is little downtime — factories want to avoid having people paid to work with no work coming in, or machinery that is not being used.
“The average uptime capacity is 50%,” Vares said of the metalwork plants on Fractory’s platform (and in the industry in general). “We have a lot more machines out there than are being used. We really want to solve the issue of leftover capacity and make the market function better and reduce waste. We want to make their factories more efficient and thus sustainable.”
The Fractory approach involves customers — today those customers are typically in construction, or other heavy machinery industries like ship building, aerospace and automotive — uploading CAD files specifying what they need made. These then get sent out to a network of manufacturers to bid for and take on as jobs — a little like a freelance marketplace, but for manufacturing jobs. About 30% of those jobs are then fully automated, while the other 70% might include some involvement from Fractory to help advise customers on their approach, including in the quoting of the work, manufacturing, delivery and more. The plan is to build in more technology to improve the proportion that can be automated, Vares said. That would include further investment in RPA, but also computer vision to better understand what a customer is looking to do, and how best to execute it.
Currently Fractory’s platform can help fill orders for laser cutting and metal folding services, including work like CNC machining, and it’s next looking at industrial additive 3D printing. It will also be looking at other materials like stonework and chip making.
Manufacturing is one of those industries that has in some ways been very slow to modernize, which in a way is not a huge surprise: equipment is heavy and expensive, and generally the maxim of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” applies in this world. That’s why companies that are building more intelligent software to at least run that legacy equipment more efficiently are finding some footing. Xometry, a bigger company out of the U.S. that also has built a bridge between manufacturers and companies that need things custom made, went public earlier this year and now has a market cap of over $3 billion. Others in the same space include Hubs (which is now part of Protolabs) and Qimtek, among others.
One selling point that Fractory has been pushing is that it generally aims to keep manufacturing local to the customer to reduce the logistics component of the work to reduce carbon emissions, although as the company grows it will be interesting to see how and if it adheres to that commitment.
In the meantime, investors believe that Fractory’s approach and fast growth are strong signs that it’s here to stay and make an impact in the industry.
“Fractory has created an enterprise software platform like no other in the manufacturing setting. Its rapid customer adoption is clear demonstrable feedback of the value that Fractory brings to manufacturing supply chains with technology to automate and digitise an ecosystem poised for innovation,” said Marcin Hejka in a statement. “We have invested in a great product and a talented group of software engineers, committed to developing a product and continuing with their formidable track record of rapid international growth
By Ingrid Lunden
Factorial, a startup out of Barcelona that has built a platform that lets SMBs run human resources functions with the same kind of tools that typically are used by much bigger companies, is today announcing some funding to bulk up its own position: the company has raised $80 million, funding that it will be using to expand its operations geographically — specifically deeper into Latin American markets — and to continue to augment its product with more features.
CEO Jordi Romero, who co-founded the startup with Pau Ramon and Bernat Farrero — said in an interview that Factorial has seen a huge boom of growth in the last 18 months and counts more than anything 75,000 customers across 65 countries, with the average size of each customer in the range of 100 employees, although they can be significantly (single-digit) smaller or potentially up to 1,000 (the “M” of SMB, or SME as it’s often called in Europe).
“We have a generous definition of SME,” Romero said of how the company first started with a target of 10-15 employees but is now working in the size bracket that it is. “But that is the limit. This is the segment that needs the most help. We see other competitors of ours are trying to move into SME and they are screwing up their product by making it too complex. SMEs want solutions that have as much data as possible in one single place. That is unique to the SME.” Customers can include smaller franchises of much larger organizations, too: KFC, Booking.com, and Whisbi are among those that fall into this category for Factorial.
Factorial offers a one-stop shop to manage hiring, onboarding, payroll management, time off, performance management, internal communications and more. Other services such as the actual process of payroll or sourcing candidates, it partners and integrates closely with more localized third parties.
The Series B is being led by Tiger Global, and past investors CRV, Creandum, Point Nine and K Fund also participating, at a valuation we understand from sources close to the deal to be around $530 million post-money. Factorial has raised $100 million to date, including a $16 million Series A round in early 2020, just ahead of the Covid-19 pandemic really taking hold of the world.
That timing turned out to be significant: Factorial, as you might expect of an HR startup, was shaped by Covid-19 in a pretty powerful way.
The pandemic, as we have seen, massively changed how — and where — many of us work. In the world of desk jobs, offices largely disappeared overnight, with people shifting to working at home in compliance with shelter-in-place orders to curb the spread of the virus, and then in many cases staying there even after those were lifted as companies grappled both with balancing the best (and least infectious) way forward and their own employees’ demands for safety and productivity. Front-line workers, meanwhile, faced a completely new set of challenges in doing their jobs, whether it was to minimize exposure to the coronavirus, or dealing with giant volumes of demand for their services. Across both, organizations were facing economics-based contractions, furloughs, and in other cases, hiring pushes, despite being office-less to carry all that out.
All of this had an impact on HR. People who needed to manage others, and those working for organizations, suddenly needed — and were willing to pay for — new kinds of tools to carry out their roles.
But it wasn’t always like this. In the early days, Romero said the company had to quickly adjust to what the market was doing.
“We target HR leaders and they are currently very distracted with furloughs and layoffs right now, so we turned around and focused on how we could provide the best value to them,” Romero said to me during the Series A back in early 2020. Then, Factorial made its product free to use and found new interest from businesses that had never used cloud-based services before but needed to get something quickly up and running to use while working from home (and that cloud migration turned out to be a much bigger trend played out across a number of sectors). Those turning to Factorial had previously kept all their records in local files or at best a “Dropbox folder, but nothing else,” Romero said.
It also provided tools specifically to address the most pressing needs HR people had at the time, such as guidance on how to implement furloughs and layoffs, best practices for communication policies and more. “We had to get creative,” Romero said.
But it wasn’t all simple. “We did suffer at the beginning,” Romero now says. “People were doing furloughs and [frankly] less attention was being paid to software purchasing. People were just surviving. Then gradually, people realized they needed to improve their systems in the cloud, to manage remote people better, and so on.” So after a couple of very slow months, things started to take off, he said.
Factorial’s rise is part of a much, longer-term bigger trend in which the enterprise technology world has at long last started to turn its attention to how to take the tools that originally were built for larger organizations, and right size them for smaller customers.
The metrics are completely different: large enterprises are harder to win as customers, but represent a giant payoff when they do sign up; smaller enterprises represent genuine scale since there are so many of them globally — 400 million, accounting for 95% of all firms worldwide. But so are the product demands, as Romero pointed out previously: SMBs also want powerful tools, but they need to work in a more efficient, and out-of-the-box way.
Factorial is not the only HR startup that has been honing in on this, of course. Among the wider field are PeopleHR, Workday, Infor, ADP, Zenefits, Gusto, IBM, Oracle, SAP and Rippling; and a very close competitor out of Europe, Germany’s Personio, raised $125 million on a $1.7 billion valuation earlier this year, speaking not just to the opportunity but the success it is seeing in it.
But the major fragmentation in the market, the fact that there are so many potential customers, and Factorial’s own rapid traction are three reasons why investors approached the startup, which was not proactively seeking funding when it decided to go ahead with this Series B.
“The HR software market opportunity is very large in Europe, and Factorial is incredibly well positioned to capitalize on it,” said John Curtius, Partner at Tiger Global, in a statement. “Our diligence found a product that delighted customers and a world-class team well-positioned to achieve Factorial’s potential.”
“It is now clear that labor markets around the world have shifted over the past 18 months,” added Reid Christian, general partner at CRV, which led its previous round, which had been CRV’s first investment in Spain. “This has strained employers who need to manage their HR processes and properly serve their employees. Factorial was always architected to support employers across geographies with their HR and payroll needs, and this has only accelerated the demand for their platform. We are excited to continue to support the company through this funding round and the next phase of growth for the business.”
Notably, Romero told me that the fundraising process really evolved between the two rounds, with the first needing him flying around the world to meet people, and the second happening over video links, while he was recovering himself from Covid-19. Given that it was not too long ago that the most ambitious startups in Europe were encouraged to relocate to the U.S. if they wanted to succeed, it seems that it’s not just the world of HR that is rapidly shifting in line with new global conditions.
By Ingrid Lunden
Today, Amazon Web Services is a mainstay in the cloud infrastructure services market, a $60 billion juggernaut of a business. But in 2008, it was still new, working to keep its head above water and handle growing demand for its cloud servers. In fact, 15 years ago last week, the company launched Amazon EC2 in beta. From that point forward, AWS offered startups unlimited compute power, a primary selling point at the time.
EC2 was one of the first real attempts to sell elastic computing at scale — that is, server resources that would scale up as you needed them and go away when you didn’t. As Jeff Bezos said in an early sales presentation to startups back in 2008, “you want to be prepared for lightning to strike, […] because if you’re not that will really generate a big regret. If lightning strikes, and you weren’t ready for it, that’s kind of hard to live with. At the same time you don’t want to prepare your physical infrastructure, to kind of hubris levels either in case that lightning doesn’t strike. So, [AWS] kind of helps with that tough situation.”
An early test of that value proposition occurred when one of their startup customers, Animoto, scaled from 25,000 to 250,000 users in a 4-day period in 2008 shortly after launching the company’s Facebook app at South by Southwest.
At the time, Animoto was an app aimed at consumers that allowed users to upload photos and turn them into a video with a backing music track. While that product may sound tame today, it was state of the art back in those days, and it used up a fair amount of computing resources to build each video. It was an early representation of not only Web 2.0 user-generated content, but also the marriage of mobile computing with the cloud, something we take for granted today.
For Animoto, launched in 2006, choosing AWS was a risky proposition, but the company found trying to run its own infrastructure was even more of a gamble because of the dynamic nature of the demand for its service. To spin up its own servers would have involved huge capital expenditures. Animoto initially went that route before turning its attention to AWS because it was building prior to attracting initial funding, Brad Jefferson, co-founder and CEO at the company explained.
“We started building our own servers, thinking that we had to prove out the concept with something. And as we started to do that and got more traction from a proof-of-concept perspective and started to let certain people use the product, we took a step back, and were like, well it’s easy to prepare for failure, but what we need to prepare for success,” Jefferson told me.
Going with AWS may seem like an easy decision knowing what we know today, but in 2007 the company was really putting its fate in the hands of a mostly unproven concept.
“It’s pretty interesting just to see how far AWS has gone and EC2 has come, but back then it really was a gamble. I mean we were talking to an e-commerce company [about running our infrastructure]. And they’re trying to convince us that they’re going to have these servers and it’s going to be fully dynamic and so it was pretty [risky]. Now in hindsight, it seems obvious but it was a risk for a company like us to bet on them back then,” Jefferson told me.
Animoto had to not only trust that AWS could do what it claimed, but also had to spend six months rearchitecting its software to run on Amazon’s cloud. But as Jefferson crunched the numbers, the choice made sense. At the time, Animoto’s business model was for free for a 30 second video, $5 for a longer clip, or $30 for a year. As he tried to model the level of resources his company would need to make its model work, it got really difficult, so he and his co-founders decided to bet on AWS and hope it worked when and if a surge of usage arrived.
That test came the following year at South by Southwest when the company launched a Facebook app, which led to a surge in demand, in turn pushing the limits of AWS’s capabilities at the time. A couple of weeks after the startup launched its new app, interest exploded and Amazon was left scrambling to find the appropriate resources to keep Animoto up and running.
Dave Brown, who today is Amazon’s VP of EC2 and was an engineer on the team back in 2008, said that “every [Animoto] video would initiate, utilize and terminate a separate EC2 instance. For the prior month they had been using between 50 and 100 instances [per day]. On Tuesday their usage peaked at around 400, Wednesday it was 900, and then 3,400 instances as of Friday morning.” Animoto was able to keep up with the surge of demand, and AWS was able to provide the necessary resources to do so. Its usage eventually peaked at 5000 instances before it settled back down, proving in the process that elastic computing could actually work.
At that point though, Jefferson said his company wasn’t merely trusting EC2’s marketing. It was on the phone regularly with AWS executives making sure their service wouldn’t collapse under this increasing demand. “And the biggest thing was, can you get us more servers, we need more servers. To their credit, I don’t know how they did it — if they took away processing power from their own website or others — but they were able to get us where we needed to be. And then we were able to get through that spike and then sort of things naturally calmed down,” he said.
The story of keeping Animoto online became a main selling point for the company, and Amazon was actually the first company to invest in the startup besides friends and family. It raised a total of $30 million along the way, with its last funding coming in 2011. Today, the company is more of a B2B operation, helping marketing departments easily create videos.
While Jefferson didn’t discuss specifics concerning costs, he pointed out that the price of trying to maintain servers that would sit dormant much of the time was not a tenable approach for his company. Cloud computing turned out to be the perfect model and Jefferson says that his company is still an AWS customer to this day.
While the goal of cloud computing has always been to provide as much computing as you need on demand whenever you need it, this particular set of circumstances put that notion to the test in a big way.
Today the idea of having trouble generating 3,400 instances seems quaint, especially when you consider that Amazon processes 60 million instances every day now, but back then it was a huge challenge and helped show startups that the idea of elastic computing was more than theory.
By Ron Miller
TheCut, a technology platform designed to handle back-end operations for barbers, raised $4.5 million in new funding.
Nextgen Venture Partners led the round and was joined by Elevate Ventures, Singh Capital and Leadout Capital. The latest funding gives theCut $5.35 million in total funding since the company was founded in 2016, founder Obi Omile Jr. told TechCrunch.
Omile and Kush Patel created the mobile app that provides information and reviews on barbers for potential customers while also managing appointments, mobile payments and pricing on the back end for barbers.
“Kush and I both had terrible experiences with haircuts, and decided to build an app to help find good barbers,” Omile said. “We found there were great barbers, but no way to discover them. You can do a Google search, but it doesn’t list the individual barber. With theCut, you can discover an individual barber and discover if they are a great fit for you and won’t screw up your hair.”
The app also enables barbers, perhaps for the first time, to have a list of clients and keep notes and photos of hair styles, as well as track visits and spending. By providing payments, barbers can also leverage digital trends to provide additional services and extras to bring in more revenue. On the customer side, there is a search function with barber profile, photos of their work, ratings and reviews, a list of service offerings and pricing.
Omile said there are 400,000 to 600,000 barbers in the U.S., and it is one of the fastest-growth markets. As a result, the new funding will be used to hire additional talent, marketing and to grow the business across the country.
“We’ve gotten to a place where we are hitting our stride and seeing business catapulting, so we are in hiring mode,” he added.
Indeed, the company generated more than $500 million in revenue for barbers since its launch and is adding over 100,000 users each month. In addition, the app averages 1.5 million appointment bookings each month.
Next up, Omile wants to build out some new features like a digital store and the ability to process more physical payments by rolling out a card reader for in-person payments. TheCut will also focus on enabling barbers to have more personal relationships with their customers.
“We are building software to empower people to be the best version of themselves, in this case barbers,” he added. “The relationship with customers is an opportunity for the barber to make specific recommendations on products and create a grooming experience.”
As part of the investment, Leadout founder and managing partner Ali Rosenthal joined the company’s board of directors. She said Omile and Patel are the kind of founders that venture capitalists look for — experts in their markets and data-driven technologists.
“They had done so much with so little by the time we met them,” Rosenthal added. “They are creating a passionate community and set of modern, tech-driven features that are tailored to the needs of their customers.”
By Christine Hall