DREAMTECH NEWS

Bright Machines wants to put AI-driven automation in every factory

There’s a mythology around today’s factories that says everything is automated by robotics, and while there is some truth to that, it’s hard to bring that level of sophistication to every facility, especially those producing relatively small runs. Today, Bright Machines, a San Francisco startup announced its first product designed to put intelligence and automation in reach of every manufacturer, regardless of its size.

The startup, which emerged last fall with $179 million in Series A funding, has a mission to make every aspect of manufacturing run in a software-defined automated fashion. Company CEO Amar Hanspal understands it’s a challenging goal, and today’s announcement is about delivering version 1.0 of that vision.

“We have this ambitious idea to fundamentally change the way factories operate, and what we are all about is to get to autonomous programmable factories,” he said. To start on that journey, since getting its initial funding in October, the company has been building a team that includes manufacturing, software and artificial intelligence expertise. It brought in people from Autodesk, Amazon and Google and opened offices in Seattle and Tel Aviv.

The product it is releasing today is called the Software Defined Microfactory and it consists of hardware and software components that work in tandem. “What the Software Defined Microfactory does is package together robotics, computer vision, machine handling and converged systems in a modular way with hardware that you can plug and play, then the software comes in to instruct the factory on what to build and how to build it,” Hanspal explained.

Obviously, this is not an easy thing to do, and it’s taken a great deal of expertise to pull it together over the last months since the funding. It’s also required having testing partners. “We have about 20 product brands around the world and about 25 production lines in seven countries that have been iterating with us toward version one, what we are releasing today,” Hanspal said.

The company is concentrating on the assembly line for starters, especially when building smaller runs like say a specialized computer board or a network appliance where the manufacturer might produce just 50,000 in total, and could benefit from automation, but couldn’t justify the cost before.

“The idea here is going after the least automated part inside of factory, which is the assembly line, which is typically where people have to throw bodies at the problem and assembly lines have been hard to automate. The operations around assembly typically require human dexterity and judgment, trying to align things or plug things in,” Hanspal said.

The hope is to create a series of templates for different kinds of tooling, where they can get the majority of the way there with the software and robotics, and eventually just have to work on the more customized bits. It is an ambitious goal, and it’s not going to be easy to pull off, but today’s release is a first step.


By Ron Miller

Vulcan Cyber announces $10M Series A to automate security patching efforts

Many software vulnerabilities are already known, and vendors have even issued patches, but the problem is there are so many patches that it’s often difficult for companies to keep up. Vulcan Cyber wants to help by bringing a level of automation to the patching operation, and in the process reduce exposure to known risks.

Today, it announced a $10 million Series A round from Ten Eleven Ventures and YL Ventures .

In a typical scenario, security researchers find vulnerabilities, the vendors disclose them and patch them. From there it’s up to individual companies to take care of downloading and installing the patch, but Vulcan Cyber co-founder and CEO Yaniv Bar-Dayan says the number of patches has been growing at a furious pace with 6000 patches in 2016, 16,000 in 2017 and 18,000 last year. And that growth trajectory is continuing this year, he says.

Vulcan’s ultimate mission is to help companies remediate security vulnerabilities from their infrastructure. They do this by bringing a level of automation to the process, recognizing that humans can’t keep up with these numbers. “We automate the process of prioritization and deployment to remediate more vulnerabilities faster,” Bar-Dayan explained. What’s more, he said that Vulcan does this without risking business operations, while reducing risk and costs.

Highest risk packages

Vulcan Cyber risk prioritization view. Screenshot: Vulcan Cyber

The company raised a $4 million seed round last year, bringing the total raised to $14 million so far. As TechCrunch’s Frederic Lardinois pointed out while writing about that seed round, it’s able to achieve this level of automation, while working with the tools developers and security teams typically work with anyway.

“Vulcan Cyber plays nicely with all of the major cloud platforms, as well as tools like Puppet, Chef and Ansible, as well as GitHub and Bitbucket. It also integrates with a number of major security testing tools and vulnerability scanners, including Black Duck, Nessus, Fortify, Tripwire, Checkmarx, Rapid7 and Veracode,” Lardinois wrote.

The company was founded last year and has 25 employees. It plans to continue building its engineering team in Israel with the money from this round, as well as opening an office in San Francisco for sales, marketing and customer success.


By Ron Miller

WeWork acquires Waltz, an app that lets users access different spaces with a single credential

WeWork announced today that it will acquire Waltz, a building access and security management startup, for an undisclosed amount. Waltz’s smartphone app and reader allows users to enter different properties with a single credential and will make it easier for WeWork’s enterprise clients, such as GE Healthcare and Microsoft, to manage their employees’ on-demand memberships to WeWork spaces.

WeWork’s announcement said “with deep expertise in mobile access and system integrations, Waltz has the most advanced and sophisticated products to provide that single credential to our members and to help us better connect them with our spaces.” Waltz was founded in 2015 by CEO Matt Kopel and has offices in New York and Montreal. After the acquisition, Waltz will be integrated into WeWork, but maintain its current customer base.

WeWork has been on an acquisition spree over the past year as it evolves from co-working spaces to a software-as-a-service provider. Companies it has bought include office management platforms Teem (for $100 million) and Managed by Q, as well as Euclid, a “spatial analytics platform” that allows companies to analyze the use of workspaces by their employees and participation at meetings and other events.

Likewise, Waltz isn’t just an alternative to keys or access cards. Its cloud-based management portal gives companies data about who enters and exits their buildings and also allows teams to set “Door Groups,” which restricts the use of some spaces to certain people. According to Waltz’s help site, it can also be used to make revenue through ads displayed in its app.


By Catherine Shu

Snowflake co-founder and president of product Benoit Dageville is coming to TC Sessions: Enterprise

When it comes to a cloud success story, Snowflake checks all the boxes. It’s a SaaS product going after industry giants. It has raised bushels of cash and grown extremely rapidly — and the story is continuing to develop for the cloud data lake company.

In September, Snowflake’s co-founder and president of product Benoit Dageville will join us at our inaugural TechCrunch Sessions: Enterprise event on September 5 in San Francisco.

Dageville founded the company in 2012 with Marcin Zukowski and Thierry Cruanes with a mission to bring the database, a market that had been dominated for decades by Oracle, to the cloud. Later, the company began focusing on data lakes or data warehouses, massive collections of data, which had been previously stored on premises. The idea of moving these elements to the cloud was a pretty radical notion in 2012.

It began by supporting its products on AWS, and more recently expanded to include support for Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud.

The company started raising money shortly after its founding, modestly at first, then much, much faster in huge chunks. Investors included a Silicon Valley who’s who such as Sutter Hill, Redpoint, Altimeter, Iconiq Capital and Sequoia Capital .

Snowflake fund raising by round. Chart: Crunchbase

Snowflake fund raising by round. Chart: Crunchbase

The most recent rounds came last year, starting with a massive $263 million investment in January. The company went back for more in October with an even larger $450 million round.

It brought on industry veteran Bob Muglia in 2014 to lead it through its initial growth spurt. Muglia left the company earlier this year and was replaced by former ServiceNow chairman and CEO Frank Slootman.

TC Sessions: Enterprise (September 5 at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center) will take on the big challenges and promise facing enterprise companies today. TechCrunch’s editors will bring to the stage founders and leaders from established and emerging companies to address rising questions, like the promised revolution from machine learning and AI, intelligent marketing automation and the inevitability of the cloud, as well as the outer reaches of technology, like quantum computing and blockchain.

Tickets are now available for purchase on our website at the early-bird rate of $395.

Student tickets are just $245 – grab them here.

We have a limited number of Startup Demo Packages available for $2,000, which includes four tickets to attend the event.

For each ticket purchased for TC Sessions: Enterprise, you will also be registered for a complimentary Expo Only pass to TechCrunch Disrupt SF on October 2-4.


By Ron Miller

Orderful nabs $10M from A16Z to modernise the B2B supply chain network

The march of globalization continues unabated, and with it comes a growing demand for companies of all sizes to communicate with and sell to each other, regardless of the distance or any other barrier. Now, a startup that has built a platform to help them do that better and more cheaply is announcing a round of funding to capitalize on the opportunity. Orderful, which aims to modernize supply chain management through an API-based cloud service, has raised $10 million in a Series A from Andreessen Horowitz.

The new funding comes on the back of a previous seed round from Initialized Capital and a period of time mostly bootstrapping the business. It will be used to continue building out more functionality on the platform and to continue to expand the network of partners using it. Today there are 1,000 retailers, 10,000 vendors and 5,000 carriers on Orderful’s platform, but even that still only represents a small part of the wider industry of businesses that buy, sell and transport components and full products from A to B.

To understand the problem that Orderful is trying to fix, a little rundown on how supply chain management works today is helpful. In the old, pre-computer days, all information exchange happened by way of phone, fax, post, and documents that often were delivered along with goods, which all required manual assessment and recording.

The rise of computers and the internet did push that system into the digital world, but only just: electronic data interchange (EDI), as this general area is known, is a loosely organised set of technical standards to use computers to communicate this data between businesses to enable purchases, make accounting reconciliations, and transfer shipping details.

It’s a business that has boomed with the growth of globalization and companies trading with each other at an increasing pace. Supply chain management software is a market that ballooned to $14 billion in value in 2018, according to Gartner. Incumbent leaders include the likes of SAP, Oracle and JDA.

The problem is that EDI is actually not as easy as it ought to be. It’s a hodge-podge of standards, you usually need a team of specialists to integrate the services at each end point, and it doesn’t allow for a wider network effect that you might get from being “online” with one supplier already. All of that translates to it being actually quite slow and expensive.

Erik Kiser, the founder and CEO of Orderful, found and identified this inefficiency while he was working as one of those specialists, realizing that with the rise of APIs, large database technology and cloud-based software-as-a-service, there was an opportunity to build a new kind of platform that could do everything that EDI did, but on a supercharged basis.

Marc Andreessen (co-founder of A16Z) coined the phrase ‘software will eat the world,’ Kiser noted to me, “But actually software eats software sometimes, too.”

The idea behind Orderful is that it has created a series of APIs that can adapt to whatever systems a business is already using, in turn “translating” that business’s product and other data into information that can be imported into the Orderful platform to in turn be picked up by buyers, sellers, and shippers.

(In other words, there is no expectation of ripping out legacy systems, but simply creating bridges to migrate what is already there to newer and better platforms.) This also brings down the operational costs of hiring teams to build and potentially run EDI integrations.

“EDI predates the internet, and there are not many digital protocols that we use today that are pre-internet,” David Ulevitch, the partner at Andreessen Horowitz who led the investment and joined the board, said in an interview.

“Orderful, and Erik, recognised that as more commerce was becoming digital, there needed to be a better way to do all this. There is currently no SaaS company out there addressing this and removing the friction. It provides velocity between distributors and producers because when you connect once you can then trade with a number of partners. Time is up for EDI.”

While there may be no direct competitor to Orderful at the moment, there are a lot of potential players that I can see posing a challenge down the line (or potentially working with or even buying Orderful if not). They include the incumbents in supply-chain management like Oracle, SAP and the rest.

But also companies like Amazon, which has built its own EDI alternative (or version, you might say) that is used for its own management of suppliers. The company is very well known for building for itself, and then productizing, but for now Kiser says that it’s a partner, and customers can interface and sell to Amazon on Orderful using its APIs.

One thing that Amazon is instructive about, though, is when considering how Orderful’s data trove could be used for more analytics and business intelligence down the line.

“I don’t think companies not doing business with Amazon will be inclined to use its platform for trading,” Kiser said. “But they do have a lot of information about their network.”

Indeed, he pointed out that it’s been said there are some 30 economists at the company looking at its B2B supply chain data, and considering how it can be parsed for example to predict inflation.

“They are already using the data. With Orderful we have the opportunity to be the most influential software company if we can be the plumbing that connects companies,” Kiser said. “There are a ton of services that we can add on the platform and that’s where we are going even if right now we are focused on the plumbing and simply making it easy to trade data.”

 


By Ingrid Lunden

Tundra, the zero-fee wholesale marketplace, picks up $12 million

Tundra, a new zero-commission wholesale marketplace, has today announced the close of $12 million in Series A funding. The round was led by Redpoint’s Annie Kadavy, with participation from investors such as Initialized Capital, Peterson Ventures, FJ Labs, Switch Ventures, and Background Capital.

Tundra was founded by married couple Arnold and Katie Engel, who previously ran a global supply chain company called Vox Supply Chain. In that world, they quickly realized just how much inefficiency is built into the wholesale market, from disorganized trade shows to transaction fees from the incumbents to a business that’s largely done on phone with pen and paper.

That’s where Tundra comes in.

Tundra allows suppliers to list their product on the platform, which is built to look and feel like a B2C marketplace. Buyers can come on the platform and shop for products, complete with ratings and reviews, supplier performance metrics, and free shipping with easy tracking.

“The wholesale market is set up to benefit big businesses, with other platforms and distributors charging anywhere from 5 percent to 30 percent commission,” said Engel. “That can be particularly pronounced for small businesses.”

Plus, it can be perilous for small players to depend on big platforms like Amazon. Just a few weeks ago, there were rumors that Amazon would focus its attention on big brands like P&G and purge smaller suppliers from the platforms. Amazon denied the rumors, saying it evaluates suppliers on an individual basis.

For Tundra, the hope is to eliminate both the time-consuming and tedious process of negotiating deals at trade shows as well as the cost of simply buying and selling wholesale products online. And, importantly, Tundra has a zero-fee model, which means that buyers and suppliers can operate on the platform without spending a penny, if they so choose.

Of course, the company has to generate revenue in some way, which is why Tundra offers premium options at checkout, such as faster shipping, order insurance, and additional custom clearance and logistics services for international orders.

Having spent a year serving as Head of Strategic Operations growing Uber Freight, Redpoint Managing Director Annie Kadavy saw first-hand just how gargantuan the whole sale market is. During a phone interview, she reminded me that almost every item within view at any given moment was shipped on a truck and purchased at a whole sale price before it was purchased by a consumer in a store.

“Tundra’s greatest challenge ahead id execution because the market opportunity here is very obvious,” said Kadavy. “It’s a huge business that is currently transacted by fax, phone call, and pen and paper, so the opportunity is very clear.”

There is clearly movement in the space. Just last month, Shopify acquired Handshake to handle B2B ecommerce directly for customers. That followed its acquisition of Oberlo, a dropshipping platform, in 2017, signaling that existing platforms realize the opportunity of wholesale ecommerce, as well.

And a recent report stated that B2B ecommerce passed the $1 trillion mark for the first time in 2018.

The opportunity is there, as is the competition, but Tundra comes to the table armed with fresh capital.


By Jordan Crook

Showpad, a sales enablement platform for presentations and other collateral, raises $70M

Sales teams have long turned to tech solutions to help improve how they source leads, develop relationships and close deals. Now, one of the startups that helps out at a key point in that trajectory is announcing a round of growth funding to help fuel its own rapid growth. Showpad, a sales enablement platform that lets salespeople source and organise relevant content and other collateral that they use in their deals, has raised a Series D of $70 million.

The funding, which brings the total raised by Showpad to $160 million, is coming in the form of debt and equity. The equity part is co-led by Dawn Capital and Insight Partners, with existing investors Hummingbird Ventures, and Korelya Capital also participating. Silicon Valley Bank is providing debt financing. This is one of the first big investments out of Dawn’s Opportunities Fund that we wrote about last week.

The company is not disclosing its valuation but Pieterjan Bouten, the CEO who co-founded the company with Louis Jonckheere (currently CPO), confirmed that it has doubled since the $50 million Series C that it raised in 2016, with the company growing 90% year-on-year at the moment in terms of revenues.

And as a point of reference, another sales enablement player, Seismic, last December raised a Series E of $100 million at a $1 billion valuation.

Founded in Ghent, Belgium, Showpad today operates across two main headquarters, its original European base and Chicago. The latter was the homebase of LearnCore, a company that Showpad acquired last year that focuses on sales coaching and training, which has been used as a strategic acquisition to expand Showpad’s primary product, a platform that acts as a kind of content management system for sales collateral. (Today, while Chicago is where Showpad builds its go-to market efforts and professional services, Ghent focuses on engineering and product, he said.) As it happens, Chicago is also the headquarters of Seismic.

As Bouten sees it, Showpad is part of what he considers to be the fourth pillar of the technology marketing stack: storage (the cloud services where you keep all your data), CRM, marketing automation and sales enablement, where Showpad sits.

While the first three are key to helping to manage a salesperson’s activities and work, the fourth is a crucial one for helping to make sure a salesperson can do his or her job more effectively. Traditionally a lot of the content that salespeople used — presentations, white papers, other materials — to help make their cases and close their deals would be managed offline and directly by individual salespeople. Showpad has taken some of that process and made it digital, which means that now teams of salespeople can more effectively share materials amongst each other; and interestingly the material and its link to successful sales becomes part of how Showpad “learns” what works and what doesn’t.

That, in turn, helps build its own artificial intelligence algorithms, to help suggest the best materials for a particular sales effort either to someone else in that team, or to other salespeople using the platform.

“To date there has been enormous innovation in automating the marketing and sales workflow. However, in the end, sales comes down to one person selling to another,” said Norman Fiore, General Partner at Dawn Capital and member of the Showpad Board, in a statement. “Historically, this has been an offline process that has been wildly inconsistent and opaque. Showpad’s suite of products succeeds in bringing this process online for the first time with data-rich feedback loops on the effectiveness of teams, managers, salespeople and even individual pieces of sales content.”

This is a crowded area of the market with a number of standalone companies building sales enablement solutions, but also other companies within the sales stack also adding on enablement as a value-added service. For now, though, Bouten notes that these are more strategic partners than competitors. Salesforce is a partner, he says, and “We integrate with Salesloft to make sure sure emails that are sent out are using the right content. We become the single source of truth but also are being used for outreach.”

Today, the company has around 1,200 enterprise customers, including Johnson & Johnson, GE Healthcare, Bridgestone, Honeywell, and Merck, and the plan going forward will be to continue building out the services that it offers around its sales enablement software.

“You can equip sales people with the best content, but if they are not trained and coached in the right way, it goes nowhere,” he said.

 


By Ingrid Lunden

Comscore raises $20M with an option to bump it to $50M, in a bid to rebuild its digital measurement business

Comscore’s name is usually in the news because of its widely-cited research and stats around media traffic and other analysis charting digital consumer behavior. More recently, it’s been coming up for another reason: ongoing corporate upheaval and its tumbling stock price. Today comes the latest development in that story: the company announced that it has raised $20 million, with the option of increasing the sum to $50 million, from a firm called CVI Investments.

“This transaction strengthens our balance sheet and positions us to pursue our refocused growth strategy while providing the flexibility to better apply resources to meet our business objectives, and ultimately drive long-term value for our stockholders,” Dale Fuller, Interim Chief Executive Officer of Comscore, said in a statement.

As explained in the 8-K, the money is coming in the form of a share purchase that is expected to close around June 26.

Comscore did not give more specifics about how it plans to use the funding, but it comes at a tricky time, with the stock today at one point dipping to a 52-week low at $7.39/share. Earlier this year, it lost both its CEO and its president, and then this month its COO departed after less than a month with the company. Counting its current interim CEO, it has been through five CEOs in the last five years. In May, the loss-making company also announced that it would be reducing headcount by 10%, or 180 people, as part of a restructuring and effort to move into profitability.

Comscore competes with the likes of Nielsen in measuring media consumption and patterns of digital consumers, but that is not its only challenge.

The company, and others like it, have traditionally been a key component in the world of advertising, as they provide an inportant, third-party assessment of audience data, necessary for helping to plan media spend and campaigns. But the rise of adtech and marketing tech, and a new array of places where ad inventory is placed beyond websites, has created a new level of more granular measurements and customer demands, so part of the challenge for Comscore has been to build new products to meet those new scenarios.

Its most recent series of executive departures and workforce reductions have not been the first faced by the company: it has also been the subject of an SEC investigation into its accounting practices, having admitted in 2018 that it overstated revenues by some $127 million resulting from a long-term WPP partnership. Prior to that, longtime CEO Gian Fulgoni left the company over the same problem.

Last year, it was reported that Comscore had engaged Goldman Sachs to reach out to parties potentially interested in acquiring it, including strategic acquirers operating in a similar space and buyout firms. The talks were never confirmed and nothing ever materialised at the time.

The company’s market cap is now at around $460 million, having seen its share price decline drastically since 2015.

 


By Ingrid Lunden

Gartner finds RPA is fastest growing market in enterprise software

If you asked the average person on the street what Robotic Process Automation is, most probably wouldn’t have a clue. Yet new data from Gartner finds the RPA market grew over 63% last year, making it the fastest growing enterprise software category. It is worth noting, however, that the overall market value of $846.2 million remains rather modest compared to other multi-billion dollar enterprise software categories.

RPA helps companies automate a set of highly manual processes.The beauty of RPA, and why companies like it so much, is that it enables customers to bring a level of automation to legacy processes without having to rip and replace the legacy systems.

As Gartner points out, this plays well in companies with large amounts of legacy infrastructure like banks, insurance companies, telcos and utilities.”The ability to integrate legacy systems is the key driver for RPA projects. By using this technology, organizations can quickly accelerate their digital transformation initiatives, while unlocking the value associated with past technology investments,” Fabrizio Biscotti, research vice president at Gartner said in a statement.

The biggest winner in this rapidly growing market is UIPath, the startup that raised $225 million on a fat $3 billion valuation last year. One reason it’s attracted so much attention is its incredible growth trajectory. Consider that UIPath brought in $15.7 million in revenue in 2017 and increased that by a whopping 629.5% to $114.8 million last year. That kind of growth tends to get you noticed. It was good for 13.6% marketshare and first place, all the way up from fifth place in 2017, according to Gartner.

Another startup nearly as hot as UIPath is Automation Anywhere, which grabbed $300M from SoftBank at a $2.6B valuation last year. The two companies have raised a gaudy $1.5 billion between them with UIPath bringing in an even $1 billion and Automation Anywhere getting $550 million, according to Crunchbase.

Chart: Gartner

Automation Anywhere revenue grew from $74 million to $108.4 million, a growth clip of 46.5%, good for second place and 12.8 percent marketshare. Automation Anywhere was supplanted in first place by UIPath last year.

Blue Prism, which went public in 2016, issued $130 million in stock last year to raise some more funds, probably to help keep up with UIPath and Automation Anywhere. Whatever the reason, it more than doubled its revenue from $34.6 million to $71 million, a healthy growth rate of 105 percent, good for third place with 8.4 percent marketshare.

For now, everyone it seems is winning as the market grows in leaps and bounds. In fact, the growth numbers down the line are impressive with NTT-ATT growing 456% and Kofax growing 256% year over year as two prime examples, but even with those growth numbers, the marketshare begins to fragment into much smaller bites.

While the market is still very much in a development phase, which could account for this level of growth and jockeying for market position, at some point that fragmentation at the bottom of the market might lead to consolidation as companies try to buy additional marketshare.


By Ron Miller

Three years after moving off AWS, Dropbox infrastructure continues to evolve

Conventional wisdom would suggest that you close your data centers and move to the cloud, not the other way around, but in 2016 Dropbox undertook the opposite journey. It (mostly) ended its long-time relationship with AWS and built its own data centers.

Of course, that same conventional wisdom would say, it’s going to get prohibitively expensive and more complicated to keep this up. But Dropbox still believes it made the right decision and has found innovative ways to keep costs down.

Akhil Gupta, VP of Engineering at Dropbox, says that when Dropbox decided to build its own data centers, it realized that as a massive file storage service, it needed control over certain aspects of the underlying hardware that was difficult for AWS to provide, especially in 2016 when Dropbox began making the transition.

“Public cloud by design is trying to work with multiple workloads, customers and use cases and it has to optimize for the lowest common denominator. When you have the scale of Dropbox, it was entirely possible to do what we did,” Gupta explained.

Alone again, naturally

One of the key challenges of trying to manage your own data centers, or build a private cloud where you still act like a cloud company in a private context, is that it’s difficult to innovate and scale the way the public cloud companies do, especially AWS. Dropbox looked at the landscape and decided it would be better off doing just that, and Gupta says even with a small team — the original team was just 30 people — it’s been able to keep innovating.


By Ron Miller