DREAMTECH NEWS

Dataminr raises $475M on a $4.1B valuation for real-time insights based on 100k sources of public data

Significant funding news today for one of the startups making a business out of tapping huge, noisy troves of publicly available data across social media, news sites, undisclosed filings and more. Dataminr, which ingests information from a mix of 100,000 public data sources, and then based on that provides customers real-time insights into ongoing events and new developments, has closed on $475 million in new funding. Dataminr has confirmed that this Series F values the company at $4.1 billion as it gears up for an IPO in 2023.

This Series F is coming from a mix of investors including Eldridge (a firm that owns the LA Dodgers but also makes a bunch of other sports, media, tech and other investments), Valor Equity Partners (the firm behind Tesla and many tech startups), MSD Capital (Michael Dell’s fund), Reinvent Capital (Mark Pincus and Reid Hoffman’s firm), ArrowMark Partners, IVP, Eden Global and investment funds managed by Morgan Stanley Tactical Value, among others.

To put its valuation into some context, the New York-based company last raised money in 2018 at a $1.6 billion valuation. And with this latest round, it has now raised over $1 billion in outside funding, based on PitchBook data. This latest round has been in the works for a while and was rumored last week at a lower valuation than what Dataminr ultimately got.

The funding is coming at a critical moment, both for the company and for the world at large.

In terms of the company, Dataminr has been seeing a huge surge of business.

Ted Bailey, the founder and CEO, said in an interview that it will be using the money to continue growing its business in existing areas: adding more corporate customers, expanding in international sales and expanding its AI platform as it gears up for an IPO, most likely in 2023. In addition to being used journalists and newsrooms, NGOs and other public organizations, its corporate business today, Bailey said, includes half of the Fortune 50 and a number of large public sector organizations. Over the last year that large enterprise segment of its customers doubled in revenue growth.

“Whether it’s for physical safety, reputation risk or crisis management, or business intelligence or cybersecurity, we’re providing critical insights on a daily basis,” he said. “All of the events of the recent year have created a sense of urgency, and demand has really surged.”

Activity on the many platforms that Dataminr taps to ingest information has been on the rise for years, but it has grown exponentially in the last year especially as more people spend more time at home and online and away from physically interacting with each other: that means more data for Dataminr to crawl, but also, quite possibly, more at stake for all of us as a result: there is so much more out there than before, and as a result so much more to be gleaned out of that information.

That also means that the wider context of Dataminr’s growth is not quite so clear cut.

The company’s data tools have indeed usefully helped first responders react in crisis situations, feeding them data faster than even their own channels might do; and it provides a number of useful, market-impacting insights to businesses.

But Dataminr’s role in helping its customers — which include policing forces — connect the dots on certain issues has not always been seen as a positive. One controversial accusation made last year was that Dataminr data was being used by police for racial profiling. In years past, it has been barred by specific partners like Twitter from sharing data with intelligence agencies. Twitter used to be a 5% shareholder in the company. Bailey confirmed to me that it no longer is but remains a key partner for data. I’ve contacted Twitter to see if I can get more detail on this and will update the story if and when I learn more. Twitter made $509 million in revenues from services like data licensing in 2020, up by about $45 million on the year before.

In defense of Dataminr, Bailey that the negative spins on what it does result from “misperceptions,” since it can’t track people or do anything proactive. “We deliver alerts on events and it’s [about] a time advantage,” he said, likening it to the Associated Press, but “just earlier.”

“The product can’t be used for surveillance,” Bailey added. “It is prohibited.”

Of course, in the ongoing debate about surveillance, it’s more about how Dataminr’s customers might ultimately use the data that they get through Dataminr’s tools, so the criticism is more about what it might enable rather than what it does directly.

Despite some of those persistent questions about the ethics of AI and other tools and how they are implemented by end users, backers are bullish on the opportunities for Dataminr to continue growing.

Eden Global Partners served as strategic partner for the Series F capital round.


Early Stage is the premier ‘how-to’ event for startup entrepreneurs and investors. You’ll hear first-hand how some of the most successful founders and VCs build their businesses, raise money and manage their portfolios. We’ll cover every aspect of company-building: Fundraising, recruiting, sales, product market fit, PR, marketing and brand building. Each session also has audience participation built-in – there’s ample time included for audience questions and discussion. Use code “TCARTICLE” at checkout to get 20 percent off tickets right here.


By Ingrid Lunden

Customer data platform ActionIQ extends its latest funding round to $100M

ActionIQ, which helps companies use their customer data to deliver personalized experiences, is announcing that it has extended its Series C funding, bringing the round to a total size of $100 million.

That number includes the $32 million that ActionIQ announced in January of last year. Founder and CEO Tasso Argyros said the company is framing this as an extension rather than a separate round because it comes from existing investors — including March Capital — and because ActionIQ still has most of that $32 million in the bank.

Argyros told me that there were two connected reasons to raise additional money now. For one thing, ActionIQ has seen 100% year-over-year revenue growth, allowing it to increase its valuation by more than 250%. (The company isn’t not disclosing the actual valuation.) That growth has also meant that ActionIQ is getting “a lot more ambitious” in its plans for product development and customer growth.

“We raised more money because we can, and because we need to,” Argyros said.

The company continues to develop the core platform, for example by introducing more support for real-time data and analysis. But Argyros suggested that the biggest change has been in the broader market for customer data platforms, with companies like Morgan Stanley, The Hartford, Albertsons, JCPenney and GoPro signing on with ActionIQ in the past year.

Some of these enterprises, he said, “normally would not work with a cutting-edge technology company like us, but because of the pandemic, they’re willing to take some risk and really invest in their customer base and their customer experience.”

Argyros also argued that as regulators and large platforms restrict the ways that businesses can buy and sell third-party data, platforms like ActionIQ, focusing on the first-party data that companies collect for their own use, will become increasingly important. And he said that ActionIQ’s growth comes as the big marketing clouds have “failed” — either announcing products that have yet to launch or launching products that don’t match ActionIQ’s capabilities.

Companies that were already using ActionIQ include The New York Times. In fact, the funding announcement includes a statement from The Times’ senior vices president of data and insights Shane Murray declaring that the newspaper is using ActionIQ to deliver “hundreds of billions of personalized customer experiences” across “mail, in-app, site, and paid media.”

ActionIQ has now raised around $145 million total, according to Crunchbase.


Early Stage is the premier ‘how-to’ event for startup entrepreneurs and investors. You’ll hear first-hand how some of the most successful founders and VCs build their businesses, raise money and manage their portfolios. We’ll cover every aspect of company-building: Fundraising, recruiting, sales, product market fit, PR, marketing and brand building. Each session also has audience participation built-in – there’s ample time included for audience questions and discussion. Use code “TCARTICLE” at checkout to get 20 percent off tickets right here.


By Anthony Ha

ServiceNow takes RPA plunge by acquiring India-based startup Intellibot

ServiceNow became the latest company to take the robotic process automation (RPA) plunge when it announced it was acquiring Intellibot, an RPA startup based in Hyderabad, India. The companies did not reveal the purchase price.

The purchase comes at a time where companies are looking to automate workflows across the organization. RPA provides a way to automate a set of legacy processes, which often involve humans dealing with mundane repetitive work.

The announcement comes on the heels of the company’s no-code workflow announcements earlier this month and is part of the company’s broader workflow strategy, according to Josh Kahn, SVP of Creator Workflow Products at ServiceNow.

“RPA enhances ServiceNow’s current automation capabilities including low code tools, workflow, playbooks, integrations with over 150 out of the box connectors, machine learning, process mining and predictive analytics,” Khan explained. He says that the company can now bring RPA natively to the platform with this acquisition, yet still use RPA bots from other vendors if that’s what the customer requires.

“ServiceNow customers can build workflows that incorporate bots from the pure play RPA vendors such as Automation Anywhere, UiPath and Blue Prism, and we will continue to partner with those companies. There will be many instances where customers want to use our native RPA capabilities alongside those from our partners as they build intelligent, end-to-end automation workflows on the Now Platform,” Khan explained.

The company is making this purchase as other enterprise vendors enter the RPA market. SAP announced a new RPA tool at the end of December and acquired process automation startup Signavio in January. Meanwhile Microsoft announced a free RPA tool earlier this month, as the space is clearly getting the attention of these larger vendors.

ServiceNow has been on a buying spree over the last year or so buying five companies including Element AI, Loom Systems, Passage AI and Sweagle. Khan says the acquisitions are all in the service of helping companies create automation across the organization.

“As we bring all of these technologies into the Now Platform, we will accelerate our ability to automate more and more sophisticated use cases. Things like better handling of unstructured data from documents such as written forms, emails and PDFs, and more resilient automations such as larger data sets and non-routine tasks,” Khan said.

Intellibot was founded in 2015 and will provide the added bonus of giving ServiceNow a stronger foothold in India. The companies expect to close the deal no later than June.

 


By Ron Miller

Ghana’s Redbird raises $1.5M seed to expand access to rapid medical testing in sub-Saharan Africa

For patients and healthcare professionals to properly track and manage illnesses especially chronic ones, healthcare needs to be decentralized. It also needs to be more convenient, with a patient’s health information able to follow them wherever they go.

Redbird, a Ghanaian healthtech startup that allows easy access to convenient testing and ensures that doctors and patients can view the details of those test results at any time, announced today that it has raised a $1.5 million seed investment.  

Investors who participated in the round include Johnson & Johnson Foundation, Newton Partners (via the Imperial Venture Fund), and Founders Factory Africa. This brings the company’s total amount raised to date to $2.5 million.

The healthtech company was launched in 2018 by Patrick Beattie, Andrew Quao and Edward Grandstaff. As a founding scientist at a medical diagnostics startup in Boston, Beattie’s job was to develop new rapid diagnostic tests. During his time at Accra in 2016, he met Quao, a trained pharmacist in Ghana at a hackathon whereupon talking found out that their interests in medical testing overlapped.

Beattie says to TechCrunch that while he saw many exciting new tests in development in the US, he didn’t see the same in Ghana. Quao, who is familiar with how Ghanaians use pharmacies as their primary healthcare point, felt perturbed that these pharmacies weren’t doing more than transactional purchases.

They both settled that pharmacies in Ghana needed to imbibe the world of medical testing. Although both didn’t have a tech background, they realized technology was necessary to execute this. So, they enlisted the help of Grandstaff to be CTO of Redbird while Beattie and Quao became CEO and COO, respectively.

L-R: Patrick Beattie (CEO), Andrew Quao (COO), and Edward Grandstaff (CTO)

Redbird enables pharmacies in Ghana to add rapid diagnostic testing for 10 different health conditions to their pharmacy services. These tests include anaemia, blood sugar, blood pressure, BMI, cholesterol, Hepatitis B, malaria, typhoid, prostate cancer screening, and pregnancy.  

Also, Redbird provides pharmacies with the necessary equipment, supplies and software to make this possible. The software —  Redbird Health Monitoring — is networked across all partner pharmacies and enables patients to build medical testing records after going through 5-minute medical tests offered through these pharmacies.

Rather than employing a SaaS model that Beattie says is not well appreciated by its customers, Redbird’s revenue model is based on the supply of disposable test strips.

“Pharmacies who partner with Redbird gain access to the software and all the ways Redbird supports our partners for free as long as they purchase the consumables through us. This aligns our revenue with their success, which is aligned with patient usage,” said the CEO.

This model is being used with over over 360 pharmacies in Ghana, mainly in Accra and Kumasi. It was half this number in 2019, and Redbird was able to double this number despite the pandemic. These pharmacies have recorded over 125,000 tests in the past three years from more than 35,000 patients registered on the platform.

Redbird will use the seed investment to grow its operations within Ghana and expand to new markets that remain undisclosed.

In 2018, Redbird participated in the Alchemist Accelerator just a few months before launch. It was the second African startup after fellow Ghanaian startup mPharma to take part in the six-month-long program. The company also got into Founders Factory Africa last year April.

According to Beattie, most of the disease burden Africans might experience in the future will be chronic diseases. For instance, diabetes is projected to grow by 156% over the next 25 years. This is why he sees decentralized, digitized healthcare as the next leapfrog opportunity for sub-Saharan Africa.

“Chronic disease is exploding and with it, patients require much more frequent interaction with the healthcare system. The burden of chronic disease will make a health system that is highly centralized impossible,” he said.Like previous leapfrog events, this momentum is happening all over the world, not just in Africa. Still, the state of the current infrastructure means that healthcare systems here will be forced to innovate and adapt before health systems elsewhere are forced to, and therein lies the opportunity,” he said.

But while the promise of technology and data is exciting, it’s important to realize that healthtech only provides value if it matches patient behaviors and preferences. It doesn’t really matter what amazing improvements you can realize with data if you can’t build the data asset and offer a service that patients actually value.

Beattie knows this all too well and says Redbird respects these preferences. For him, the next course of action will be to play a larger role in the world’s developing ecosystem where healthcare systems build decentralised networks and move closer to the average patient.

This decentralised approach is what attracted U.S. and South African early-stage VC firm Newtown Partners to cut a check. Speaking on behalf of the firm, Llew Claasen, the managing partner, had this to say.

“We’re excited about Redbird’s decentralised business model that enables rapid diagnostic testing at the point of primary care in local community pharmacies. Redbird’s digital health record platform has the potential to drive significant value to the broader healthcare value chain and is a vital step toward improving healthcare outcomes in Africa. We look forward to supporting the team as they prove out their  business model and scale across the African continent.”


By Tage Kene-Okafor

Jumio raises $150M as its all-in-one ID authentication platform crosses 300M verified identities

Digital identity services — used as a key link between organizations to verify that you are who you say you are online and individuals logging into those services — have come into their own in this past year. Now, one of the companies providing digital identity products is announcing a large round of funding, underscoring both the market size and its ambitions to be a central player in that space.

Jumio, which has built a platform that provides a variety of digital identity tools and technology — using biometrics, machine learning, computer vision, big data, and more to run checks on ID documents, log-ins, to help prevent suspicious financial activity, identity theft and more — has closed a $150 million round of funding. The Palo Alto-based company says it will use the funds to build more tools on its platform, and to double down on customer growth after a big year.

Currently, Jumio’s primary business is B2B: it provides tools to enterprise customers like HSBC to manage digital identity verification. Some of the areas where it will be investing include expanding its AI capabilities to do more anti-money laundering work, and to look at building a B2C product, using the data, tools and network of customers that it has to help individuals better manage their identities online.

“I think the big thing is that the foundation of the internet is identity not anonymity,” said CEO Robert Prigge in an interview, who said the trend of digital transformation has spurred that chane. “It’s been a big shift over the last couple of years. People wanted to originally hide behind anonymity, but now identify is the keystone. Whether it’s online banking or social networks, you need to be able to establish trust remotely.”

Of course, anonymity still is there, just in a different form: data protection regulations are all about making sure that we can stay private if we so choose as we use the tools that are now the norm, and countries like the UK are fleshing that out further with regulations in the works to make sure that services that use or manage digital identities are carried out on a common framework and with adequate oversight from users themselves. That presents the challenge and opportunity for a company like Jumio: how to navigate the push for identity while still providing a way to do that with privacy protections in mind.

The funding is coming from a single investor, Great Hill Partners, which will be joining Centana and Millennium as shareholders in the company. The valuation is not being disclosed but CEO Robert Prigge noted a few details that he believes point to the company’s position right now.

He confirmed that Jumio made $100 million in revenues last year; this is the first money the company has raised in nearly five years after bringing in a modest $16 million in 2016; and this looks to be the largest single round ever raised for a digital identity company.

However, given the market environment and the advances of tech, there has been quite a lot of momentum in the space, and a number of other digital identity and anti-money laundering (AML) prevention startups have been launching, growing and raising money. Just in the last year, they have included ForgeRock ($96 million round), Onfido ($100 million), Payfone ($100 million), ComplyAdvantage ($50 million), Ripjar ($36.8 million) Truework ($30 million), Zeotap ($18 million), Persona ($17.5 million) — so I wouldn’t be surprised if this is not an outlier at the end of the day.

Acquisitions like Equifax buying Kount earlier this year, and Okta acquiring Auth0 for $6.5 billion, meanwhile, point to encroaching competition from other areas of the market such as credit rating agencies and those providing login services for corporates, as well as the bigger consolidation trends.

The pandemic has precipitated a shift where many services we might have used in person are now accessible via the web and apps, but at the same time, the amount of cybercrime aimed at abusing that environment is on the rise, and both trends fuel a stronger demand for ID verification tools.

Jumio is notable among the group of companies providing those services both for being one of the bigger and older players. Prigge said that currently has around 1,000 customers, including some of the very biggest enterprises like the banking group HSBC, United Airlines and the telecoms operator Singtel, and it is active in 200 countries.

It’s also distinctive for having developed a platform approach, where it offers a range of different kinds of tools. This is in contrast to many others, which — partly as newer entrants — are focusing on more specific technology or addressing a narrower aspect of what is a pretty complex problem. That said, the company’s earliest work seems to still be the mainstay of what it does. The number of documents that it can “read” to begin the process of verifying users now numbers about 3,500. That has propelled more than 300 million verifications made on Jumio’s platform.

“Almost all vendors verify you are who you say you are, not that it’s really you. That is why the biometrics is so important.
In our case we see it as a holistic onboarding,” Prigge said. “We are one of the only AML and KYC [know your customer] providers.” The AML tools came by way of an acquisition the company made last year, of Beam Solutions.

This funding round, nevertheless, is a big step up for a company that has, in fact, seen a lot of ups and downs.

To be clear, Prigge is very explicit when he says that the Jumio he runs has nothing to do with an older incarnation of the company.

Jumio the first came into existence around a decade ago and raised nearly $40 million in funding from investors like Andreessen Horowitz and Eduardo Saverin as an early player in mobile payments, with technology that could use the camera on a phone to scan cards and IDs to enable the payments. That business ran into a lot of hot water for mis-stating financial results and mostly likely other related things, and eventually it filed for bankruptcy in March 2016. Saverin apparently wanted to buy the business — if only to encourage other buyers to come out of the woodwork — eventually Centana did, at a bargain price of $850,000.

While that took a portion of the business (mainly branding, a business concept and some employees) out of bankruptcy, the legacy Jumio remained in a bankruptcy process that is, almost exactly five years to the date, still ongoing, partly because the original founder is being accused of destroying documents needed to finally conclude that mess. 

The fact that Great Hill Partners is doing the investing here is notable. It’s mostly a PE firm that has been doing an increasing amount of investing in tech companies, part of a bigger trend where more PE firms are getting involved in rounds for later-stage startups. Its interest is in backing a company that has emerged as a leader in a crowded space but one targeting a big opportunity in digital identity, forecast to be worth some $12.8 billion by 2024, from $6 billion in 2019.

“Jumio has an incredible foundation – an expert management team, deep product roadmap and a global reach that is positioning the company for significant growth as the volume of online transactions and interactions, and associated fraud, is reaching record-highs. In particular, we have deep conviction in the company’s AI-enabled identity verification solution Jumio Go and KYC orchestration platform,” said Nick Cayer, partner at Great Hill Partners, in an emailed interview. “Jumio will need to both keep pace with incredible demand for online identity verification services, and of course outlast new and evolving competition in the space. We have strong conviction that Jumio has the right management team, innovative product roadmap and group of supporting investors to maintain leadership in the space.”


By Ingrid Lunden

Box shares rise on report company is exploring sale

Shares of Box, a well-known content-and-collaboration company that went public in 2015, rose today after Reuters reported that the company is exploring a sale. TechCrunch previously discussed rising investor pressure for Box to ignite its share-price after years in the public-market wilderness.

At the close today Box’s equity was worth $23.65 per share, up around 5% from its opening value, but lower than its intraday peak of $26.47, reached after the news broke. The company went public a little over five years ago at $14 per share, only to see its share price rise to around the same level it returned today during its first day’s trading.

Box, famous during its startup phase thanks in part to its ubiquitous CEO and co-founder Aaron Levie, has continued to grow while public, albeit at a declining pace. Dropbox, a long-term rival, has also seen its growth rate decline since going public. Both have stressed rising profitability over revenue expansion in recent quarters.

But the problem that Box has encountered while public, namely hyper-scale platform companies with competing offerings, could also prove a lifeline; Google and Microsoft could be a future home for Levie’s company, after years of the duo challenging Box for deals.

As recently as last week, Box announced a deal for tighter integration with Microsoft Office 365. Given the timing of the release, it was easy to speculate the news could be landing ahead of a potential deal. The Reuters article adds fuel to the possibility.

While we can’t know for sure if the Reuters article is accurate, the possible sale of Box makes sense.

The article indicated that one of the possible acquisition options for Box could be taking it private again via private equity. Perhaps a firm like Vista or Thoma Bravo, two firms that tend to like mature SaaS companies with decent revenue and some issues, could swoop in to buy the struggling SaaS company. By taking companies off the market, reducing investor pressure and giving them room to maneuver, software companies can at times find new vigor.

Consider the case of Marketo, a company that Vista purchased in 2016 for $1.6 billion before turning it around and selling to Adobe in 2018 for $4.75 billion. The end result generated a strong profit for Vista, and a final landing for Marketo as part of a company with a broader platform of marketing tools.

If there are expenses at Box that could be trimmed, or a sales process that could be improved is not clear. But Box’s market value of $3.78 billion could put it within grasp of larger private-equity funds. Or well within the reaches of a host of larger enterprise software companies that might covet its list of business customers, technology, or both.

If the rumors are true, it could be a startling fall from grace for the company, moving from Silicon Valley startup-darling to IPO to sold entity in just six years. While it’s important to note these are just rumors, the writing could be on the wall for the company and it could just be a matter of when and not if.


By Ron Miller

Google Cloud hires Intel veteran to head its custom chip efforts

There has been a growing industry trend in recent years for large-scale companies to build their own chips. As part of that, Google announced today that it has hired long-time Intel executive Uri Frank as vice president to run its custom chip division.

“The future of cloud infrastructure is bright, and it’s changing fast. As we continue to work to meet computing demands from around the world, today we are thrilled to welcome Uri Frank as our VP of Engineering for server chip design,” Amin Vahdat, Google Fellow and VP of systems infrastructure wrote in a blog post announcing the hire.

With Frank, Google gets an experienced chip industry executive, who spent more than two decades at Intel rising from engineering roles to corporate vice president at the Design Engineering Group, his final role before leaving the company earlier this month.

Frank will lead the custom chip division in Israel as part of Google. As he said in his announcement on LinkedIn, this was a big step to join a company with a long history of building custom silicon.

“Google has designed and built some of the world’s largest and most efficient computing systems. For a long time, custom chips have been an important part of this strategy. I look forward to growing a team here in Israel while accelerating Google Cloud’s innovations in compute infrastructure,” Frank wrote.

Google’s history of building its own chips dates back to 2015 when it launched the first TensorFlow chips. It moved into video processing chips in 2018 and added OpenTitan , an open-source chip with a security angle in 2019.

Frank’s job will be to continue to build on this previous experience to work with customers and partners to build new custom chip architectures. The company wants to move away from buying motherboard components from different vendors to building its own “system on a chip” or SoC, which it says will be drastically more efficient.

“Instead of integrating components on a motherboard where they are separated by inches of wires, we are turning to “Systems on Chip” (SoC) designs where multiple functions sit on the same chip, or on multiple chips inside one package. In other words, the SoC is the new motherboard,” Vahdat wrote.

While Google was early to the “Build Your Own Chip” movement, we’ve seen other large scale companies like Amazon, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft begin building their own custom chips in recent years to meet each company’s unique needs and give more precise control over the relationship between the hardware and software.

It will be Frank’s job to lead Google’s custom chip unit and help bring it to the next level.


By Ron Miller

Camunda snares $98M Series B as process automation continues to flourish

It’s clear that automated workflow tooling has become increasingly important for companies. Perhaps that explains why Camunda, a Berlin startup that makes open source process automation software, announced an €82 million Series B today. That translates into approximately $98 million U.S.

Insight Partners led the round with help from A round investor Highland Europe. When combined with the $28 million A investment from December 2018, it brings the total raised to approximately $126 million.

What’s attracting this level of investment says Jakob Freund, co-founder and CEO at Camunda is the company is solving a problem that goes beyond pure automation. “There’s a bigger thing going on which you could call end-to-end automation or end-to-end orchestration of endpoints, which can be RPA bots, for example, but also micro services and manual work [by humans],” he said.

He added, “Camunda has become this endpoint agnostic orchestration layer that sits on top of everything else.” That means that it provides the ability to orchestrate how the automation pieces work in conjunction with one another to create this full workflow across a company.

The company has 270 employees and approximately 400 customers at this point including Goldman Sachs, Lufthansa, Universal Music Group, and Orange. Matt Gatto, managing director at Insight Partners sees a tremendous market opportunity for the company and that’s why his firm came in with such a big investment.

“Camunda’s success demonstrates how an open, standards-based, developer-friendly platform for end-to-end process automation can increase business agility and improve customer experiences, helping organizations truly transform to a digital enterprise,” Gatto said in a statement.

Camunda is not your typical startup. Its history actually dates back to 2008 as a business process management (BPM) consulting firm. It began the Camunda open source project in 2013, and that was the start of pivoting to become an open source software company with a commercial component built on top of that.

It took the funding at the end of 2018 because the market was beginning to catch up with the idea, and they wanted to build on that. It’s going so well that company reports it’s cash-flow positive, and will use the additional funding to continue accelerating the business.


By Ron Miller

Nigeria’s Termii raises $1.4M seed led by Future Africa and Kepple Africa Ventures

Ideally, it is expected of every business to reach its customers effectively. However, that’s not the case as limiting factors that hinder proper digital communication come into play at different growth stages. Termii, a Nigerian communications platform-as-a-service startup that solves this problem for African businesses, announced today that it has closed a $1.4 million seed round.

The round was co-led by African early-stage VC firm Future Africa and Japanese but Africa-focused VC Kepple Africa Ventures. Other investors include Acuity Ventures, Aidi Ventures, Assembly Capital, Kairos Angels, Nama Ventures, RallyCap Ventures, and Remapped Ventures.

Angel investors like Ham Serunjogi, co-founder and CEO of Chipper Cash; Josh Jones, former co-founder and CTO, Dreamhost; and Tayo Oviosu, co-founder and CEO of Paga also participated.

Gbolade Emmanuel and Ayomide Awe launched Termii after Emmanuel’s experience as a digital marketer helped him recognize the need for businesses to have exceptional communication channels. The CEO consulted for these companies and leveraged emails to retain customers, but as he found out that this process was lethargic, he sought other channels as a replacement.

“That got me to start thinking about multichannel messaging. What it meant was that we needed to find how to allow companies to use WhatsApp, voice, SMS effectively,” he said to TechCrunch. “And we had to make the process simple because in the African market, you can’t do complex stuff. You have to be as simple as possible.”

In 2017, the company officially launched and subsequently secured investment from Lagos-based VC Microtraction. Emmanuel says the company found product-market fit two years later after collating enough data from companies in different industries to understand what they really wanted.

Termii found out that in addition to assisting businesses to retain customers, there was a clear need to verify, authenticate and engage them.

“Many of these businesses we started engaging said they required tools to effectively communicate and verify customers because they were losing money at those points. For us, we saw it was a bigger problem,” Emmanuel added.

After making some tweaks, the team began to see an increase in customers numbers, especially amongst fintech startups. Positioning itself in the fast-moving space, Termii created an API-based communication infrastructure that caters to over 500 fintech startups across the continent. That’s not all. More than 1,000 businesses and developers are also using Termii’s API.

Some of these businesses include uLesson, Yassir, Helium Health, Piggyvest, Bankly, Paga, and TeamApt.

Playing in a $3.6 billion B2C communications market estimated to grow 6% annually, Termii runs a B2B2C model. But how does it make money? While a subscription-based model would’ve made sense, the two years spent by the company trying to find PMF made them think otherwise.

So the company leverages a virtual wallet system tied to a bank account and customers can make payments to the platform using mobile money, bank transfer, and credit cards. The startup charges these wallets on a per-message basis. It also does the same on every successful customer verification made towards customers’ contacts.

The Termii team

In early 2020, Termii started seeing immense progress and this coincided with their acceptance into Y Combinator. The growth continued throughout the year, growing its messaging transactions by 1000% and experiencing a 400% increase in its ARR.

Spilling into this year, Emmanuel says the company’s revenue is growing 60% month-on-month as a result of the surge in online financial transactions which to date makes up for 68% of the company’s total messaging transactions.

The seed investment that is coming a year after Termii graduated from the YC will be used for expansion and launch more messaging offerings across Africa.

Emmanuel says the company has its sights on North Africa with a physical presence in Algeria for the expansion. The reason lies behind the fact that in this quarter, Nigeria has accounted for 76% of the company’s messaging transactions, while Algeria currently accounts for 15%.

With this new fundraising, the company plans to tap into the wealth of experience from some of its new investors like Oviosu and Serunjogi who have also taken local companies into expansion phases.

Termii’s round is also noteworthy because it strays away from the usual fintech, mobility, agritech and cleantech sectors that investors typically notice. In fact, there are only a handful of venture-backed communications platform-as-a-service companies on the continent. A notable example is Kenya’s Africa Talking. It might be a stretch to say we might see more funding activity from this segment but one thing is apparent — investors are willing to place bets on less popular sectors.

Another highlight of Termii’s investment is that while foreign investors continue to dominate rounds in African tech startups, local and Africa-focused firms are beginning to step up by leading some which is a good sign for the bubbling ecosystem.

This round is also a big step for Future Africa. According to publicly available information, the firm is leading a million-dollar round for the first time since officially launching last year. This achievement is a continuation of its work over the past three quarters having invested in more than 10 African startups in the last three quarters and 30 startups in general. 

Kepple Africa Ventures, the co-lead, is also an active investor and can be argued to be the most early-stage VC firm on the continent — in terms of the number of deals made. So far, the firm has invested in 79 companies across 11 countries. 

Speaking on the investment for Kepple Africa, Satoshi Shinada, a partner at the firm, said, “Fragmented and unstable communication channels are one of the biggest challenges for the digitization of businesses in Africa. Emmanuel has proven that with his visionary goals and solid implementation of iterations on the ground, his team is unparalleled to build an innovative solution in this space.”


By Tage Kene-Okafor

Seven months after Drone acquisition, Harness announces significant updates

The running line from any acquired company CEO is that the company can do so much more with resources of the company that acquired it than it could on its own. Just seven months after being acquired, Drone, co-founder Brad Rydzewski says that his company really has benefited greatly from being part of Harness, and today the company announced a significant overhaul of the open source project.

The artist formerly known as Drone is now called ‘Harness CI Community Edition’ and Rydzewski says the Harness CEO and founder Jyoti Bansal kept his word when he said he was 100% committed to continue developing the open source Drone product.

“Over the past seven months since the acquisition, a lot of community work has been around taking advantage of the resources that Harness has been able to afford us as a project — like having access to a designer, having access to professional writers — these are luxuries for most open source projects,” Rydzewski told me.

He says that having access to these additional resources has enabled him to bring a higher level of polish to the project that just wouldn’t have been possible without joining Harness. At the same time, he says the CI team, which has grown from the project’s two co-founders to 15 people, has also been able to build out the professional CI tool as it has become part of the Harness toolset.

Chief among the updates to the community edition is a new sleeker interface that has a much more professional look and feel, according to Rydzewski. In addition, developers can see how projects move along the pipeline in a visualization tool, while benefiting from real-time debugging tools and new governance and security features.

All of this is an embarrassment of riches for Rydzewski, who was used to working on a shoestring budget prior to joining Harness. “Drone came from very humble beginnings as an open source project, but now I think it can hold its own next to any product in the market today, even products that have raised hundreds of millions of dollars,” he said.


By Ron Miller