Amagi tunes into $100M for cloud-based video content creation, monetization

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

Blameless raises $30M to guide companies through their software lifecycle

Site reliability engineering platform Blameless announced Tuesday it raised $30 million in a Series B funding round, led by Third Point Ventures with participation from Accel, Decibel and Lightspeed Venture Partners, to bring total funding to over $50 million.

Site reliability engineering (SRE) is an extension of DevOps designed for more complex environments.

Blameless, based in San Mateo, California, emerged from stealth in 2019 after raising both a seed and Series A round, totaling $20 million. Since then, it has turned its business into a blossoming software platform.

Blameless’ platform provides the context, guardrails and automated workflows so engineering teams are unified in the way they communicate and interact, especially to resolve issues quicker as they build their software systems.

It originally worked with tech-forward teams at large companies, like Home Depot, that were “dipping [their toes] into the space and now [want] to double down,” co-founder and CEO Lyon Wong told TechCrunch.

The company still works with those tech-forward teams, but in the past two years, more companies sought out resident SRE architect Kurt Anderson to advise them, causing Blameless to change up its business approach, Wong said.

Other companies are also seeing a trend of customers asking for support — for example, in March, Google Cloud unveiled its Mission Critical Services support option for SRE to serve in a similar role as a consultant as companies move toward readiness with their systems. And in February, Nobl9 raised a $21 million Series B to provide enterprises with the tools they need to build service-level-objective-centric operations, which is part of a company’s SRE efforts.

Blameless now has interest from more mainstream companies in the areas of enterprise, logistics and healthcare. These companies aren’t necessarily focused on technology, but see a need for SRE.

“Companies recognize the shortfall in reliability, and then the question they come to us with is how do they get from where they are to where they want to be,” Anderson said. “Often companies that don’t have a process respond with ‘all hands on deck’ all the time, but instead need to shift to the right people responding.”

Lyon plans to use the new funding to fill key leadership roles, the company’s go-to-market strategy and product development to enable the company to go after larger enterprises.

Blameless doubled its revenue in the last year and will expand to service all customer segments, adding small and emerging businesses to its roster of midmarket and large companies. The company also expects to double headcount in the next three quarters.

As part of the funding announcement, Third Point Ventures partner Dan Moskowitz will join Blameless’ board of directors with Wong, Accel partner Vas Natarajan and Lightspeed partner Ravi Mhatre.

“Freeing up engineering to focus on shipping code is exactly what Blameless achieves,” said Moskowitz in a written statement. “The Blameless market opportunity is big as we see teams struggle and resort to creating homegrown playbooks and point solutions that are incomplete and costly.”

 


By Christine Hall

Pillar VC closes $192M for two funds targeting SaaS, crypto, biotech, manufacturing

As its name suggests, venture firm Pillar VC is focused on building “pillar” companies in Boston and across the Northeast.

The Boston-based seed-stage firm closed a raise of $192 million of capital that was split into two funds, $169 million for Pillar III and $23 million for Pillar Select. More than 25 investors are backing the new fund, including portfolio founders.

Jamie Goldstein, Sarah Hodges and Russ Wilcox are Pillar VC’s three partners, and all three lead investments for Pillar. The trio all have backgrounds as entrepreneurs: Goldstein, who has spent the past two decades in VC, co-founded speech recognition company PureSpeech, which was acquired by Voice Control Systems; Hodges was at online learning company Pluralsight; and Wilcox was CEO of electronic paper company E Ink, which he sold in 2009.

Pillar typically invests in a range of enterprise and consumer startups and aims to target Pillar III at startups focused on biology, enterprise SaaS, AI/ML, crypto, fintech, hardware, manufacturing and logistics. The firm will make pre-seed investments of $50,000 to $500,000 and seed-round investments of $2 million to $6 million.

One of the unique aspects of the firm is that it will buy common stock so that it will be aligned with founders and take on the same risks, Goldstein told TechCrunch.

The firm, founded in 2016, already has 50 portfolio companies from its first two funds — Pillar I, which raised $57 million, and Pillar $100 million. These include cryptocurrency company Circle, which announced a SPAC earlier this month, 3D printing company Desktop Metal that went public, also via SPAC, last year, and PillPack, which was bought by Amazon in 2018.

“Pillar is an experiment, answering the question of ‘what would happen if unicorn CEOs came in and helped bootstrap the next generation’,” Wilcox said. “The experience is working, and Pillar does what VCs ought to do, which is back first-of-its-kind ideas.”

In addition to leading investments, Hodges leads the Pillar VC platform for the firm’s portfolio companies. Many of the portfolio companies are spinouts from universities, and need help turning that technology into a company. Pillar provides guidance to recruit a CEO or partner on the business side, leadership development, recruit talent and makes introductions to potential customers.

Pillar also intends to invest a third of the new fund into that biology category, specifically looking at the convergence of life science and technology, Wilcox said.

In its second fund, the firm started Petri, a pre-seed bio accelerator focused on biotech, and brought in founders using computation and engineering to develop technologies around the areas of agriculture, genetics, cell and gene therapies, medical data and drug discovery. The third fund will continue to support the accelerator through both pre-seed and seed investments.

The first investments from Pillar III are being finalized, but Hodges expects to infuse capital into another 50 companies.

“We are super bullish on Boston,” she added. “So many companies here are growing to be household names, and an exciting energy is coming out.”

 


By Christine Hall

Bevy raises $40M Series C with 20% coming from Black investors

You might expect that a startup that makes community building software would be thriving during a pandemic when it’s so difficult for us to be together. And Bevy, a company whose product powers community sites like Salesforce Trailblazers and Google Developers announced it has raised a $40 million Series C this morning, at least partly due to the growth related to that dynamic.

The round was led by Accel with participation from Upfront Ventures, Qualtrics co-founder Ryan Smith and LinkedIn, but what makes this investment remarkable is that it included 25 Black investors representing 20% of the investment.

One of those investors, James Lowery, who is a management consultant and entrepreneur, and was the first Black employee hired at McKinsey in 1968, sees the opportunity for this approach to be a model to attract investment from other under-represented groups.

“I know for a fact because of my friendship and my network that there are a lot of people, if they had the opportunity to invest in opportunities like this, they will do it, and they have the money to do it. And I think we can be the model for the nation,” Lowery said.

Unfortunately, there has been a dearth of Black VC investment in startups like Bevy. In fact, only around 3% of venture capitalists are Black and 81% of VC firms don’t have a single Black investor.

Kobie Fuller, who is general Partner at investor Upfront Ventures, a Bevy board member and runs his own community called Valence, says that Bevy says that investments like this can lead to a flywheel effect that can lead to increasing Black investment in startups.

“So for me, it’s about how do we get more Black investors on cap tables of companies early in their lifecycle before they go public, where wealth can be created. How do we get key members of executive teams being Black executives who have the ability to create wealth through options and equity. And how do we also make sure that we have proper representation on the boards of these companies, so that we can make sure that the CEOs and the C suite is held accountable towards the diversity goals,” Fuller said.

Fuller sees a software platform like Bevy that facilitates community as a logical starting point for this approach, and the company needs to look like the broader communities it serves. “Making sure that our workforce is appropriately represented from a perspective of having appropriate level of Black employees to the board to the actual investors is just good business sense,” he said.

But the diversity angle doesn’t stop with the investor group. Bevy CEO and co-founder Derek Anderson says that last May when George Floyd was killed, his firm didn’t have a single person of color among the company’s 27 employees and not a single Black investor in his cap table. He wanted to change that, and he found that in diversifying, it not only was the right thing to do from a human perspective, it was also from a business one.

“We realized that if we really started including people from the Black and Brown communities inside of Bevy that the collective bar of a talent was going to go up. We were going to look from a broader pool of candidates, and what we found as we’ve done this is that as the culture has started to change, the customer satisfaction is going up, our profits and our revenues — the trajectory is going up, and I see this thing is completely correlated,” Anderson said.

Last summer the company set a two year goal to get to 20% of employees being Black. While the number of employees is small, Bevy went from zero to 5% in June, 10% by September. Today they are just under 15% and expect to hit the 20% goal by summer, a year ahead of the goal it set last year.

 

Bevy grew out of a community called Startup Grind that Anderson started several years ago. Unable to find software to run and manage the community, he decided to build it himself. In 2017, he spun that product into a separate company that became Bevy, and he has raised $60 million, according to the company.

In addition to Salesforce and Google, other large enterprises are using Bevy to power their communities and events including Adobe, Atlassian, Twilio, Slack and Zendesk.

Today, the startup is valued at $325 million, which is 4x the amount it was valued at when it raised its $15 million Series B in May 2019. It expects to reach $30 million in ARR by the end of this year.


By Ron Miller

The Series A deal that launched a near unicorn: Meet Accel’s Steve Loughlin and Ironclad’s Jason Boehmig

The only people who truly understand a relationship are the ones who are in it. Luckily for us, we’re going to have a candid conversation with both parties in the relationship between Ironclad CEO and cofounder Jason Boehmig and his investor and board member Accel partner Steve Loughlin.

Loughlin led Ironclad’s Series A deal back in 2017, making it one of his first Series A deals after returning to Accel.

This episode of Extra Crunch Live goes down on Wednesday at 3pm ET/12pm PT, just like usual.

We’ll talk to the duo about how they met, what made them ‘choose’ each other, and how they’ve operated as a duo since. How they built trust, maintain honesty, and talk strategy are also on the table as part of the discussion.

Loughlin was an entrepreneur before he was an investor, founding RelateIQ (an Accel-backed company) in 2011. The company was acquired by Salesforce in 2014 for $390 million and later became Salesforce IQ. Loughlin then “came back home” to Accel in 2016, and has led investments in companies like Airkit, Ascend.io, Clockwise, Ironclad, Monte Carlo, Nines, Productiv, Split.io, and Vivun.

Not entirely unsurprising for a man who has dominated the legal tech sphere, Jason Boehmig is a California barred attorney who practiced law at Fenwick & West and was also an adjunct professor of law at Notre Dame Law School. Ironclad launched in 2014 and today the company has raised more than $180 million and, according to reports, is valued just under $1 billion.

Not only will we peel back the curtain on how this investor/founder relationship works, but we’ll also hear from these two tech leaders on their thoughts around bigger enterprise trends in the ecosystem.

Then, it’s time for the Pitch Deck Teardown. On each episode of Extra Crunch Live, we take a look at pitch decks submitted by the audience and our experienced guests give their live feedback. If you want to throw your hat pitch deck in the ring, you can hit this link to submit your deck for a future episode.

As with just about everything we do here at TechCrunch, audience members can also ask their own questions to our guests.

Extra Crunch Live has left room for you to network (you gotta network to get work, amirite?). Networking is open starting at 2:30pm ET/11:30am PT and stays open a half hour after the episode ends. Make a friend!

As a reminder, Extra Crunch Live is a members-only series that aims to give founders and tech operators actionable advice and insights from leaders across the tech industry. If you’re not an Extra Crunch member yet, what are you waiting for?

Loughlin and Boehmig join a stellar cast of speakers on Extra Crunch Live, including Lightspeed’s Gaurav Gupta and Grafana’s Raj Dutt, as well as Felicis’ Aydin Senkut and Guideline’s Kevin Busque. Extra Crunch members can catch every episode of Extra Crunch Live on demand right here.

You can find details for this episode (and upcoming episodes) after the jump below.

See you on Wednesday!


By Jordan Crook

Marketing automation platform Klaviyo scores $200M Series C on $4.15B valuation

Boston-based marketing automation firm Klaviyo wants to change the way marketers interact with data, giving them direct access to their data and their customers. It believes that makes it easier to customize the messages and produce better results. Investors apparently agree, awarding the company a $200 million Series C on a hefty $4.15 billion valuation today.

The round was led by Accel with help from Summit Partners. It comes on the heels of last year’s $150 million Series B, and brings the total raised to $385.5 million, according the company. Accel’s Ping Li will also be joining the company board under the terms of today’s announcement.

Marketing automation and communication takes on a special significance as we find ourselves in the midst of this pandemic and companies need to find ways to communicate in meaningful ways with customers who can’t come into brick and mortar establishments. Company CEO and co-founder Andrew Bialecki says that his company’s unique use of data helps in this regard.

“I think our success is because we are a hybrid customer data and marketing platform. We think about what it takes to create these owned experiences. They’re very contextual and you need all of that customer data, not some of it, all of it, and you need that to be tightly coupled with how you’re building customer experiences,” Bialecki explained.

Andrew Bialecki, CEO and co-founder at Klaviyo

Andrew Bialecki, CEO and co-founder at Klaviyo Image Credits: Klaviyo

He believes that by providing a platform of this scope that combines the data, the ability to customize messages and the use of machine learning to keep improving that, it will help them compete with the largest platforms. In fact his goal is to help companies understand that they don’t have to give up their customer data to Amazon, Google and Facebook.

“The flip side of that is growing through Amazon where you give up all your customer data, or Facebook or Google where you kind of are delegated to wherever their algorithms decide where you get to show up,” he said. With Klaviyo, the company retains its own data, and Ping Li, who is leading the investment at Accel says that it where the e-commerce market is going.

“So the question is, is there a tool that allows you to do that as easily as going on Facebook and Google, and I think that’s the vision and the promise that Klaviyo is delivering on,” Li said.  He believes that this will allow their customers to actually build that kind of fidelity with their customers by going directly to them, instead of through a third-party intermediary.

The company has seen some significant success with 50,000 customers in 125 countries along with that lofty valuation. The customer number has doubled year over year, even during the economic malaise brought on by the pandemic.

Today, the company has 500 employees with plans to double that in the next year. As he grows his company, Bialecki believes diversity is not just the right thing to do, it’s also smart business. “I think the competitive advantages that tech companies are going to have going forward, especially for the tech companies that are not the leaders today, but [could be] leaders in the coming decades, it’s because they have the most diverse teams and inclusive culture and those are both big focuses for us,” he said.

As they move forward flush with this cash, the company wants to continue to build out the platform, giving customers access to a set of tools that allow them to know their own customers on an increasingly granular level, while delivering more meaningful interactions. “It’s all about accelerating product development and getting into new markets,” Bialecki said. They certainly have plenty of runway to do that now.


By Ron Miller

Slintel grabs $4.2M seed to grow sales intelligence platform

As the pandemic rages on, companies are looking for an edge when it comes to sales. Having the right data about the customers most likely to convert can be a huge boost right now. Slintel, an early stage startup building a sales intelligence tool, announced a $4.2 million seed round today.

The investment was led by Accel with help from Sequoia Capital India and existing investor Stellaris Venture Partners. The company reports it has now raised $5.7 million including a pre-seed round last year.

Deepak Anchala, company founder and CEO, says that while sales and marketing teams are trying to target a broad market, most of the time their emails and other forms of communication with customers fall flat. As a sales person in previous startups, Eightfold and Tracxn, this was a problem Anchala experienced first hand. He believed with data, he could improve this, and he started Slintel to build a tool to provide the sales data that he was missing in these previous positions.

“We focus on helping our customers solve that [lack of data] by identifying people with high buying intent. So we are able to tell sales and marketing teams, for example, who is most likely to buy your product or your service, and who is most likely to buy your product today, as opposed to two months or six months from now,” Anchala explained.

They do this by looking at signals that might not be obvious, but which let sales teams know key information about these companies and their likelihood of buying soon. He says that every company leaves a technology footprint. This could be data from SEC filings, annual reports, job openings and so forth.

“In today’s world there is an enormous amount of footprint left online when a company uses a certain product. So what our algorithms do is we map that at scale for about 15 million companies to all the products that they’re using from the different sources we are able to identify — and we track it all from week to week,” he said.

The company has 45 employees today and expects to double that number by the end of 2021. As he builds the company, especially as an immigrant founder, Anchala wants to build a diverse and inclusive organization.

“I think one of the key successes for companies today is having diversity. We have a global workforce, so we have a workforce in the U.S. and India and we want to capitalize on that. In the next phase of hires we are looking at hiring more more diverse candidates, more female employees and people of different nationalities,” he said.

The company, which was founded in 2018, and emerged from stealth last year, has amassed 100 enterprise customers and has seen most of the customers actually come on board this year as COVID has forced companies to find ways to be more efficient with their sales processes.


By Ron Miller

Donut launches Watercooler, an easy way to socialize online with coworkers

If you miss hanging out with your coworkers but don’t want to spend a single second more on Zoom, the latest product from Donut might be the answer.

The startup is launching its new Watercooler product today while also announcing that it has raised $12 million in total funding, led by Accel and with participation from Bloomberg Beta, FirstMark, Slack Fund and various angel investors.

Co-founder and CEO Dan Manian told me that this is actually money that the startup raised before the pandemic, across multiple rounds. It just didn’t announce the fundraising until now.

The startup’s vision, Manual said, is “to create human connection between people at work.” Its first product, Introductions, connects teammates who didn’t already know each via Slack, often with the goal of setting up quick coffee meetings (originally in-person and now virtual).

Donut says it has facilitated 4 million connections across 12,000 companies (including The New York Times, Toyota and InVision), with 1 million of those connections made since the beginning of the pandemic.

However, Manian said customers have been asking Donut to facilitate more frequent interactions, especially since most people aren’t going to have these coffee meetings every day. At the same time, people face are the duelling issues of isolation and Zoom fatigue, where “the antidote to one thing makes the other pain worse.” And he suggested that one of the hardest things to recreate while so many of us are working remotely are “all the little microinteractions that you have while you’re working.”

That’s where Watercooler comes in — as the name suggests, it’s designed to replicate the feeling of hanging out at the office watercooler, having brief, low-key conversations. Like Introductions, it integrates with Slack, creating a new channel where Watercooler will post fun, conversation-starting questions like “‘What’s your favorite form of potato?” or “What’s one thing you’ve learned in your career that you wish you knew sooner?”

Talking about these topics shouldn’t take much time, but Manian argued that brief conversations are important: “Those things add up to friendship over time, they’re what actually transform you from coworker to friend.” And those friendships are important for employers too, because they help with team cohesion and retention.

I fully endorse the idea of a Slack watercooler — in fact, the TechCrunch editorial team has a very active “watercooler” channel and I’m always happy to waste time there. My big question was: Why do companies need to purchase a product for this?

Donut Watercooler

Donut Watercooler

Manian said that there were “a bunch of our early adopters” who had tried doing this manually, but it was always in the “past tense”: “It got too hard to come up with the questions, or it took real work coming up with them, whoever was doing it already had a it full time job.”

With Watercooler, on the other hand, the company can choose from pre-selected topics and questions, set the frequency with which those questions are posted and then everything happens automatically.

Manian also noted that different organizations will focus on different types of questions. There are no divisive political questions included, but while some teams will stick to easy questions about things like potatoes and breakfast foods, others will get into more substantive topics like the ways that people prefer to receive feedback.

And yes, Manian thinks companies will still need these tools after the pandemic is over.

“Work has fundamentally changed,” he said. “I don’t think we’ll put remote work back in the bottle. I think it’s here to stay.”

At the same time, he described the past few months as “training wheels” for a hybrid model, where some team members go back to the office while others continue working remotely. In his view, teams will face an even bigger challenge then: To keep their remote members feeling like they’re connected and in-the-loop.

 


By Anthony Ha

Vivun announces $18M Series A to keep growing pre-sales platform

Vivun’s co-founder and CEO, Matt Darrow used to run pre-sales at Zuora and he saw that pre-sales team members had a lot of insight into customers. He believed if he could capture that insight, it would turn into valuable data to be shared across the company. He launched Vivun to build upon that idea in 2018, and today the company announced an $18 million Series A.

Accel led the round with participation from existing investor Unusual Ventures. With today’s investment, Vivun has raised a total of $21 million, according to the company.

Darrow says that the company has caught the attention of investors because this is a unique product category and there has been a lot of demand for it. “It turns out that businesses of all sizes, startups and enterprises, are really craving a solution like Vivun, which is dedicated to pre-sales. It’s a big, expensive department, and there’s never been software for it before,” Darrow told TechCrunch.

He says that a couple of numbers stand out in the company’s first year in business. First of all, the startup grew annual recurring revenue (ARR) six fold (although he wouldn’t share specific numbers) and tripled the workforce growing from 10 to 30, all while doing business as an early stage startup in the midst of a pandemic.

Darrow said while the business has grown this year, he found smaller businesses in the pipeline were cutting back due to the impact of COVID’s, but larger businesses like Okta, Autodesk and Dell Secureworks have filled in nicely, and he says the product actually fits well in larger enterprise organizations.

“If we look at our value proposition and what we do, it increases exponentially with the size of the company. So the larger the team, the larger the silos are, the larger the organization is, the bigger the value of solving the problem for pre-sales becomes,” he said.

After going from a team of 10 to 30 employees in the last year, Darrow wants to double the head count to reach around 60 employees in the next year, fueled in part by the new investment dollars. As he builds the company, the founding team, which is made up of two men and two women, is focused on building a diverse and inclusive employee base.

“It is something that’s really important to us, and we’ve been working at it. Even as we went from 10 to 30, we’ve worked to pay close attention to [diversity and inclusion], and we continue to do so just as part of the culture of how we build the business,” he said.

He’s been having to build that workforce in the middle of COVID, but he says that even before the pandemic shut down offices, he and his founding partners were big on flexibility in terms of time spent in the office versus working from home. “We knew that for mental health strength and stability, that being in the office nine to five, five days a week wasn’t really a modern model that would cut it,” he said.

Even pre-COVID the company was offering two quiet periods a year to let people refresh their batteries. In the midst of COVID, he’s trying to give people Friday afternoons off to go out and exercise and relax their minds.

As the startup grows, those types of things may be harder to do, but it’s the kind of culture Darrow and his founding partners hope to continue to foster as they build the company.


By Ron Miller

Scratchpad announces $3.6M seed to put work space on top of Salesforce

One thing that annoys sales people is entering data into a CRM like Salesforce because it’s time spent not selling. Part of the problem is Salesforce is a database and as such is not necessarily designed for speed. Scratchpad wants to simplify that process by creating a workspace on top of the CRM to accelerate the administrative side of the job.

Today, the company announced a $3.6 million seed round led by Accel with participation from Shrug Capital and Sound Ventures, the firm run by Ashton Kutcher and Guy Oseary, as well as several individual investors. The round, which closed at the end of last year, hadn’t been previously announced.

Last year, company co-founder and CEO Pouyan Salehi had just stepped down from his previous company PersistIQ, a sales enablement startup that came out of Y Combinator in 2014. He and his co-founder Cyrus Karbassiyoon began researching a new company, and the idea for Scratchpad came to them when they simply sat down and watched how salespeople were working. They noted that they were using a hodgepodge of tools like taking notes in Evernote or Google Docs, tracking their pipeline in Excel or Google Sheets and tracking tasks with paper lists or sticky notes.

They recognized that these tools were disconnected from Salesforce and required hours of manual work copying and pasting this data. That’s when they saw there was an opportunity here to build a tool to track all of this information in one place and connect it to Salesforce to automate a lot of this grunt work.

“It eventually evolved into this idea that we’re calling “The Workspace” because everyone has Salesforce, but they are working with all of these other tools that then they just have to literally spend hours — and we saw some reps block off four hour chunks on their calendar — just to copy and paste from their documents, spreadsheets or notes into Salesforce for their pipeline reviews. And that’s how the idea for Scratchpad came to be,” Salehi told TechCrunch.

Today, a salesperson can install Scratchpad as a Chrome plug-in, connect to Salesforce with their log-in credentials and create a two-way connection between the tools. Scratchpad pulls all of their pipeline data into the WorkSpace. They can cycle through the various fields to enter information quickly, enter notes and track tasks (which can be pulled from email and calendar) all in one place.

What’s more, because all of this information is linked to Salesforce, anything you enter in Scratchpad updates the corresponding fields and sections in Salesforce automatically. And any new opportunities that start in Salesforce update in Scratchpad.

The company has been operating for about a year and has 1000s of users, although many are currently using the free tier. It has 7 employees with plans to hire more over the next year. As he builds his second company, Salehi says he and his co-founder are building on a foundation of diversity and inclusion.

“By nature, we are very diverse in many different perspectives that you can look at including gender, age, location and backgrounds,” he said. He adds that building a diverse and inclusive workforce is important to the company.

“And so even in our hiring process, we incorporated certain elements just to make sure that we’re not introducing bias in any sort of way, or at least recognizing that the natural bias and thoughts we might have. We look at things like doing blind looks at resumes and it’s something that we take very, very seriously,” he said.

While the company is built on top of Salesforce today, he says it could expand to include other databases or sources of information where the product could also work. For now though, he sees an opportunity to build another company in the sales arena to help reduce the amount of work associated with updating the CRM database.


By Ron Miller

Altinity grabs $4M seed to build cloud version of ClickHouse open source data warehouse

Earlier this month, cloud data warehouse Snowflake turned heads when it debuted on the stock market. Today, Altinity, the commercial company behind the open source ClickHouse data warehouse announced a $4 million seed round from Accel along with a new cloud service, Altinity.Cloud.

“Fundamentally, the company started out as an open source services bureau offering support, training and [custom] engineering features into ClickHouse. And what we’re doing now with this investment from Accel is we’re extending it to offer a cloud platform in addition to the other things that we already have,” CEO Robert Hodges told TechCrunch.

As the company describes it, “Altinity.Cloud offers immediate access to production-ready ClickHouse clusters with expert enterprise support during every aspect of the application lifecycle.” It also helps with application design and implementation and production assistance in essence combining the consulting side of the house with the cloud service.

The company was launched in 2017 by CTO Alexander Zaitsev, who had created and open sourced ClickHouse. Up until now the startup has been bootstrapped with revenue from the services business.

Hodges came on board last year after a stint at VMware because he saw a company with tremendous potential, and his background in cloud services made him a good person to lead the company as it built the cloud product and moved into its next phase.

ClickHouse at its core is a relational database that can run in the cloud or on-prem with big improvements in performance, Hodges says. And he says that developers are enamored with it because you can start a project on a laptop and scale it up from there.

“We’re very simple to operate, just a single binary. You can start from a Docker image. You can run it anywhere, literally anywhere that Linux runs from an Intel Nuc all the way up to clusters with hundreds of nodes,” Hodges explained.

The investment from Accel should help them finish building the cloud product, which has been in private beta since July, while helping them build a sales and marketing operation to help sell it to the target enterprise market. The startup currently has 27 people with plans to hire 15 more.

Hodges says that he wants to build a diverse and inclusive company, something he says the tech industry in general has failed at achieving. He believes that one of the reasons for that is the requirement of a computer science degree, which he says has created “a gate for women and people of color,” and he thinks by hiring people with more diverse backgrounds, you can build a more diverse company.

“So one of the things that’s high up on my list is to get back to a more equitable and diverse population of people working on this thing,” he said.

Over time, the company sees the cloud business overtaking the consulting arm in terms of revenue, but that aspect of the business will always have a role in the revenue mix because this is complex by its nature even with a cloud service.

“Customers can’t just do it entirely by having a push button interface. They will actually need humans that work with them, and help them understand how to frame problems, help them understand how to build applications that take care of that […] And then finally, help them deal with problems that naturally arise when you’re when you’re in production,” he said.


By Ron Miller

Couchbase raises $105M Series G funding round

Couchbase. the Santa Clara-based company behind the eponymous NoSQL cloud database service, today announced that it has raised a $105 million all-equity Series G round “to expand product development and global go-to-market capabilities.”

The oversubscribed round was led by GPI Capital, with participation from existing investors Accel, Sorenson Capital, North Bridge Venture Partners, Glynn Capital, Adams Street Partners and Mayfield. With this, the company has now raised a total of $251 million, according to Crunchbase.

Back in 2016, Couchbase raised a $30 million down round, which at the time was meant to be the company’s last round before an IPO. That IPO hasn’t materialized, but the company continues to grow, with 30 percent of the Fortune 100 now using its database. Couchbase also today announced that, over the course of the last fiscal year, it saw 70 percent total contract value growth, more than 50 percent new business growth and over 35 percent growth in average subscription deal size. In total, Couchbase said today, it is now seeing almost $100 million in committed annual recurring revenue.

“To be competitive today, enterprises must transform digitally, and use technology to get closer to their customers and improve the productivity of their workforces,” said Couchbase President and CEO Matt Cain in today’s announcement. “To do so, they require a cloud-native database built specifically to support modern web, mobile and IoT applications.  Application developers and enterprise architects rely on Couchbase to enable agile application development on a platform that performs at scale, from the public cloud to the edge, and provides operational simplicity and reliability. More and more, the largest companies in the world truly run their businesses on Couchbase, architecting their most business-critical applications on our platform.”

The company is playing in a large but competitive market, with the likes of MongoDB, DataStax and all the major cloud vendors vying for similar customers in the NoSQL space. One feature that has always made Couchbase stand out is Couchbase Mobile, which extends the service to the cloud. Like some of its competitors, the company has also recently placed its bets on the Kubernetes container orchestration tools with, for example the launch of its Autonomous Operator for Kubernetes 2.0. More importantly, though, the company also introduced its fully-managed Couchbase Cloud Database-as-a-Service in February, which allows businesses to run the database within their own virtual private cloud on public clouds like AWS and Microsoft Azure.

“We are excited to partner with Couchbase and view Couchbase Server’s highly performant, distributed architecture as purpose-built to support mission-critical use cases at scale,” said Alex Migon, a partner at GPI Capital and a new member of the company’s board of directors. “Couchbase has developed a truly enterprise-grade product, with leading support for cutting-edge application development and deployment needs.  We are thrilled to contribute to the next stage of the company’s growth.”

The company tells me that it plans to use the new funding to continue its “accelerated trajectory with investment in each of their three core pillars: sustained differentiation, profitable growth, and world class teams.” Of course, Couchbase will also continue to build new features for its NoSQL server, mobile platform and Couchbase Cloud — and in addition, the company will continue to expand geographically to serve its global customer operations.


By Frederic Lardinois

Symantec’s Sheila Jordan named to Slack’s board of directors

Workplace collaboration software business Slack (NYSE: WORK) has added Sheila Jordan, a senior vice president and chief information officer of Symantec, as an independent member of its board of directors. The hiring comes three months after the business completed a direct listing on the New York Stock Exchange.

Jordan, responsible for driving information technology strategy and operations for Symantec, brings significant cybersecurity expertise to Slack’s board. Prior to joining Symantec in 2014, Jordan was a senior vice president of IT at Cisco and an executive at Disney Destination for nearly 15 years.

With the new appointment, Slack appears to be doubling down on security. In addition to the board announcement, Slack recently published a blog post outlining the company’s latest security strategy in what was likely part of a greater attempt to sway potential customers — particularly those in highly regulated industries — wary of the company’s security processes. The post introduced new features, including the ability to allow teams to work remotely while maintaining compliance to industry and company-specific requirements.

Jordan joins Slack co-founder and chief executive officer Stewart Butterfield, former Goldman Sachs executive Edith Cooper, Accel general partner Andrew Braccia, Nextdoor CEO Sarah Friar, Andreessen Horowitz general partner John O’Farrell, Social Capital CEO Chamath Palihapitiya and former Salesforce chief financial officer Graham Smith on Slack’s board of directors.

“I believe there is nothing more critical than driving organizational alignment and agility within enterprises today,” Jordan said in a statement. “Slack has developed a new category of enterprise software to help unlock this potential and I’m thrilled to now be a part of their story.”

Slack closed up nearly 50% on its first day of trading in June but has since stumbled amid reports of increased competition from Microsoft, which operates a Slack-like product called Teams.

Slack co-founder and chief technology officer Cal Henderson will join us onstage at TechCrunch Disrupt San Francisco next week to discuss the company’s founding, road to the public markets and path forward. Buy tickets here.


By Kate Clark

ReadMe scores $9M Series A to help firms customize API docs

Software APIs help different tools communicate with one another, let developers access essential services without having to code it themselves, and are critical components for driving a platform-driven strategy. Yet they require solid documentation to help make the best use of them. ReadMe, a startup that helps companies customize their API documentation, announced a $9 million Series A today led by Accel with help from Y Combinator. The company was part of the Y Combinator Winter 2015 cohort.

Prior to today’s funding announcement, the company had taken just a $1.2 million Seed round in 2014. Today, it reports 3000 paying customers and that it’s been profitable for the last several years, an unusual position for a startup. In spite of this success, co-founder and CEO Gregory Koberger said as the company has taken on larger customers, they have more sophisticated requirements, and that prompted them to take this round of funding.

In addition, it has expanded the platform to use a company’s API logs to help create more dynamic documentation and improve customer support kinds of scenarios. But by taking on data from other companies, it needs to make sure the data is secure, and today’s funding will help in that regard.

“We’re going to still build the company traditionally by hiring more engineers, more support people, more designers, the obvious stuff, but the main impetus for doing this was that we started working with bigger companies with more secure data. So a lot of the money is going to help make sure that we handle that right,” Koberger explained.

Screenshot 2019 08 28 10.55.38

Image: ReadMe

He says this ability to make use of the API logs has opened up all kinds of possibilities for the company as the data provides a valuable window into how people use the APIs. “It’s amazing how much you get by just actually seeing what the server sees. When people are having problems with an API, they can debug it themselves because they can actually see the problems, The support team can see it as well,” Koberger said.

Accel’s Dan Levine, whose firm is leading the investment believes that having good documentation is the difference between making and breaking an API. “APIs don’t just create technical integration, they create ecosystems around core services and underpin corporate partnerships that generate billions of dollars. ReadMe is as much a strategy as it is a service for businesses. Providing clean, interactive, data-driven API documentation to make developers love working with you can be the difference between 100 partnerships or 1000 partnerships,” Levine said.

ReadMe was founded in 2014. It has 22 employees in their San Francisco offices, a number that should increase with today’s funding.


By Ron Miller

Sam Lessin and Andrew Kortina on their voice assistant’s workplace pivot

Sam Lessin, a former product management executive at Facebook and old friend to Mark Zuckerberg, incorporated his latest startup under the name “Fin Exploration Company.”

Why? Well, because he wanted to explore. The company — co-founded alongside Andrew Kortina, best known for launching the successful payments app Venmo — was conceived as a consumer voice assistant in 2015 after the two entrepreneurs realized the impact 24/7 access to a virtual assistant would have on their digital to-do lists.

The thing is, developing an AI assistant capable of booking flights, arranging trips, teaching users how to play poker, identifying places to purchase specific items for a birthday party and answering wide-ranging zany questions like “can you look up a place where I can milk a goat?” requires a whole lot more human power than one might think. Capital-intensive and hard-to-scale, an app for “instantly offloading” chores wasn’t the best business. Neither Lessin nor Kortina will admit to failure, but Fin‘s excursion into B2B enterprise software eight months ago suggests the assistant technology wasn’t a billion-dollar idea.

Staying true to its name, the Fin Exploration Company is exploring again.


By Kate Clark