Fivetran hauls in $565M on $5.6B valuation, acquires competitor HVR for $700M

Fivetran, the data connectivity startup, had a big day today. For starters it announced a $565 million investment on $5.6 billion valuation, but it didn’t stop there. It also announced its second acquisition this year, snagging HVR, a data integration competitor that had raised over $50M, for $700 million in cash and stock.

The company last raised a $100 million Series C on a $1.2 billion valuation, increasing the valuation by over 5x. As with that Series C, Andreessen Horowitz was back leading the round with participation from other double dippers General Catalyst, CEAS Investments, Matrix Partners and other unnamed firms or individuals. New investors ICONIQ Capital, D1 Capital Partners and YC Continuity also came along for the ride. The company reports it has now raised $730 million.

The HVR acquisition represents a hefty investment for the startup, grabbing a company for a price that is almost equal to all the money it has raised to date, but it provides a way to expand its market quickly by buying a competitor. Earlier this year Fivetran acquired Teleport Data as it continues to add functionality and customers via acquisition.

“The acquisition — a cash and stock deal valued at $700 million — strengthens Fivetran’s market position as one of the data integration leaders for all industries and all customer types,” the company said in a statement.

While that may smack of corporate marketing speak, there is some truth to it, as pulling data from multiple sources, sometimes in siloed legacy systems is a huge challenge for companies and both Fivetran and HVR have developed tools to provide the pipes to connect various data sources and put it to work across a business.

Data is central to a number of modern enterprise practices including customer experience management, which takes advantage of customer data to deliver customized experiences based on what you know about them, and data is the main fuel for machine learning models, which use it to understand and learn how a process works. Fivetran and HVR provide the nuts and bolts infrastructure to move the data around to where it’s needed, connecting to various applications like Salesforce, Box or Airtable, databases like Postgres SQL or data repositories like Snowflake or Databricks.

Whether bigger is better remains to be seen, but Fivetran is betting that it will be in this case as it makes its way along the startup journey. The transaction has been approved by both company’s boards. The deal is still subject to standard regulatory approval, but Fivetran is expecting it to close in October


By Ron Miller

Stacker raises $20M Series A to help business units build software without coding

No code platforms have developed into a hot market, and Stacker, a London-based no-code platform is attempting to bring the concept to a new level. Not only can you create a web application from a spreadsheet, you can pull data from a variety of sources to create a sophisticated business application automatically (although some tweaking may be required).

Today the company announced a $20 million Series A led by Andreessen Horowitz with participation from existing investors Initialized Capital, Y Combinator and Pentech. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $23 million, according to Crunchbase data.

Michael Skelly, CEO and co-founder at Stacker, says that the idea is to take key business data and turn it into a useful app to help someone do their job more efficiently. “[We enable] people in business to create apps to help them in their working life — so things like customer portals, internal tools and things that take the data they’re already using, often to run a process, and turn that into an app,” Skelly explained.

“We really think that in order to actually be useful for business, you need to be hooked into the data that a business cares about. And so we let people bring their spreadsheets, SQL databases, Salesforce data, bring all the data that they use to run their business, and automatically turn it into an app,” he said.

Once the company pulls that data in and creates an app, the user can begin to tweak how things look, but Stacker gives them a big head start toward creating something usable from the get-go, Skelly said.

Jennifer Li,  a partner at lead investor Andreessen Horowitz likes the startup’s approach to no code. “We’ve been watching the no-code space for a while, and Stacker stands apart from the rest because of its thoughtful product approach, allowing business operators to instantly generate a functional app that perfectly fits existing business processes,” she said in a blog post announcing the funding round.

The company currently has 19 employees with plans to put the new capital to work to reach 30-40 by the end of the year. Skelly sees building a diverse company as a key goal and is proactive and thoughtful about finding ways to achieve that. In fact, he has identified three ways to approach diversity.

“Firstly is just making sure that we get a diverse pipeline of people. I really think that the ratio of the people you talk to is probably going to be the biggest indicator of the people you hire. Secondly we try to find ways we can hire people who are maybe further down their career profile, but [looking] to grow,” he said.

Thirdly, and I think this is something that is not talked about enough, there are plenty of people who would like to get into programming roles, and who are under represented, and so we have members of our team who are converting from various non-technical roles to DevOps — and I think it’s just like a really great route to add to the overall pool [of diverse candidates],” he said.

The company is remote first with Skelly in London and his co-founder based in Geneva and they intend to stay that way. They founded the company in 2017 and originally created a different product that was much more complex and required a lot of hand holding before eventually concluding that making it simple was the way to go, They released the first version of the current product at the end of 2019.

The company has a big vision to be the software development tool for business units. “We really think that in the future just like everyone’s got email, a chat tool, a spreadsheet and a video conferencing tool nowadays, they will also have a software tool, where they write and run the custom software that they run their business on,” he said.


By Ron Miller

Apeel bites into another $250M funding round, at a $2B valuation, to accelerate fresh food supply chains

Apeel Sciences, a food system innovation company, is out to prevent food produced globally from ending up in the landfill, especially as pressures from the global pandemic affect the food supply chain.

The company just added $250 million in Series E funding, giving it a valuation of $2 billion, to speed up the availability of its longer-lasting produce in the U.S. (where approximately 40% of food is wasted), the U.K. and Europe.

Existing investor Temasek led the round and was joined by a group of new and existing investors, including Mirae Asset Global Investments, GIC, Viking Global Investors, Disruptive, Andreessen Horowitz, Tenere Capital, Sweetwater Private Equity, Tao Capital Partners, K3 Ventures, David Barber of Almanac Insights, Michael Ovitz of Creative Artists Agency, Anne Wojcicki of 23andMe, Susan Wojcicki of YouTube and Katy Perry.

With the new funding, Apeel has now raised over $635 million since the company was founded in 2012. Prior to this round, the company brought in $250 million in Series D funding in May 2020.

Santa Barbara-based Apeel developed a plant-based layer for the surface of fruits and vegetables that is tasteless and odorless and that keeps moisture in while letting oxygen out. It is those two factors in particular that lead to grocery produce lasting twice as long, James Rogers, CEO of Apeel, told TechCrunch.

Apeel installs its application at the supplier facilities where the produce is packed into boxes. In addition to that technology, the company acquired ImpactVision earlier this year to add another layer of quality by integrating imaging systems on individual pieces as they move through the supply chain to optimize routing so more produce that is grown is eaten.

“One in nine people are going hungry, and if three in nine pieces of produce are being thrown away, we can be better stewards of the food we are throwing away,” Rogers said. “This is a solvable problem, we just have to get the pieces to the right place at the right time.”

The company is not alone in tackling food waste. For example, Shelf Engine, Imperfect Foods, Mori and Phood Solutions are all working to improve the food supply chain and have attracted venture dollars to go after that mission.

Prior to the pandemic, the amount of food people were eating was growing each year, but that trend is reversed, Rogers explained. Consumers are more aware of the food they eat, they are shopping less frequently, buying more per visit and more online. At the same time, grocery stores are trying to sort through all of that.

“We can’t create these supply networks alone, we do it in concert with supply and retail partners,” he said. “Grocery stores are looking at the way shoppers want to buy things, while we look at how to partner to empower the supply chain. What started with longer-lasting fruits and vegetables, is becoming how we provide information to empower them to do it without adding to food waste.”

Since 2019, Apeel has prevented 42 million pieces of fruit from going to waste at retail locations; that includes up to 50% reduction in avocado food waste with corresponding sales growth. Those 42 million pieces of saved fruit also helped conserve nearly 4.7 billion liters of water, Rogers said.

Meanwhile, over the past year, Apeel has amassed a presence in eight countries, operating 30 supply networks and  distributing produce to 40 retail partners, which then goes out to tens of thousands of stores around the world.

The new funding will accelerate the rollout of those systems, as well as co-create another 10 supply networks with retail and supply partnerships by the end of the year. Rogers also expects to use the funding to advance Apeel’s data and insights offerings and future acquisitions.

Thomas Park, president and head of alternative investments at Mirae Asset Global Investments, said his firm has been investing in environmental, social and governance-related companies for awhile, targeting companies that “make a huge impact globally and in a way that is easy for us to understand.”

The firm, which is part of Mirae Asset Financial Group, often partners with other investors on venture rounds, and in Apeel’s case with Temasek. It also invested with Temasek in Impossible Foods, leading its Series F round last year.

“When we saw them double-down on their investment, it gave us confidence to invest in Apeel and an opportunity to do so,” Park said. “Food waste is a global problem, and after listening to James, we definitely feel like Apeel is the next wave of how to attack these huge problems in an impactful way.”

 


By Christine Hall

Andreessen Horowitz funds Vitally’s $9M round for customer experience software

Customer success company Vitally raised $9 million in Series A funding from Andreessen Horowitz to continue developing its SaaS platform automating customer experiences.

Co-founder and CEO Jamie Davidson got the idea for Vitally while he was at his previous company, Pathgather. As chief customer officer, he was looking at tools and “was underwhelmed” by the available tools to automate repetitive tasks. So he set out to build one.

The global pandemic thrust customer satisfaction into the limelight as brands realized that the same ways they were engaging with customers had to change now that everyone was making the majority of their purchases online. Previously, a customer service representative may have managed a dozen accounts, but nowadays with product-led growth, they tackle a portfolio of thousands of customers, Davidson told TechCrunch.

New York-based Vitally, founded in 2017, unifies all of that customer data into one place and flows it through an engine to provide engagement insights, like what help customers need, which ones are at risk of churning and which to target for expanded revenue opportunities. Its software also provides automation to balance workflow and steer customer success teams to the tasks with the right customers so that they are engaging at the correct time.

Andreessen approached Davidson for the Series A, and he liked the alignment in customer success vision, he said. Including the new funding, Vitally raised a total of $10.6 million, which includes $1.2 million in September 2019.

From the beginning, Vitally was bringing in strong revenue growth, which enabled the company to focus on building its platform and hold off on fundraising.

“A Series A was certainly on our mind and road map, but we weren’t actively fundraising,” Davidson said. “However, we saw a great fit and great backing to help us grow. Tools have lagged in the customer success area and how to manage that. Andreessen can help us scale and grow with our customers as they manage the thousands of their customers.”

Davidson intends to use the new funding to scale Vitally’s team across the board and build out its marketing efforts to introduce the company to the market. He expects to grow to 30 by the end of the year to support the company’s annual revenue growth — averaging 3x — and customer acquisition. Vitally is already working with big customers like Segment, Productboard and Calendly.

As part of the investment, Andreessen general partner David Ulevitch is joining the Vitally board. He saw an opportunity for the reimagining of how SaaS companies delivered customer success, he told TechCrunch via email.

Similar to Davidson, he thought that customer success teams were now instrumental to growing SaaS businesses, but technology lagged behind market need, especially with so many SaaS companies taking a self-serve or product-led approach that attracted more orders than legacy tools.

Before the firm met Vitally, it was hearing “rave reviews” from its customers, Ulevitch said.

“The feedback was overwhelmingly positive and affirmed the fact that Vitally simply had the best product on the market since it actually mapped to how businesses operated and interacted with customers, particularly businesses with a long-tail of paying customers,” he added. “The first dollar into a SaaS company is great, but it’s the renewal and expansion dollars that really set the winners apart from everyone else. Vitally is in the best position to help companies get that renewal, help their customers expand accounts and ultimately win the space.”

 


By Christine Hall

Australian startup Pyn raises $8M seed to bring targeted communication in-house

Most marketers today know how to send targeted communications to customers, and there are many tools to help, but when it comes to sending personalized in-house messages, there aren’t nearly as many options. Pyn, an early stage startup based in Australia wants to change that, and today it announced an $8 million seed round.

Andreesen Horowitz led the investment with help from Accel and Ryan Sanders, the co-founder of BambooHR and Scott Farquar, co-founder and co-CEO at Atlassian.

That last one isn’t a coincidence as Pyn co-founder and CEO Joris Luijke used to run HR at the company and later at Squarespace and other companies, and he saw a common problem trying to provide more targeted messages when communicating internally.

“I’ve been trying to do this my entire professional life, trying to personalize the communication that we’re sending to our people. So that’s what Pyn does. In a nutshell, we radically personalize employee communications,” Luijke explained. His co-founder Jon Williams was previously a co-founder at Culture Amp, an employee experience management platform he helped launch in 2011 (and which raised over $150 million), so the two of them have been immersed in this idea.

They bring personalization to Pyn by tracking information in existing systems that companies already use such as Workday, BambooHR, Salesforce or Zendesk, and they can use this data much in the same way a marketer uses various types of information to send more personalized messages to customers.

That means you can cut down on the company-wide emails that might not be relevant to everyone and send messages that should matter more to the people receiving them. And as with a marketing communications tool, you can track how many people have opened the emails and how successful you were in hitting the mark.

David Ulevitch, general partner at a16z, and lead investor in this deal points out that Pyn also provides a library of customizable communications materials to help build culture and set policy across an organization.”It also treats employee communication channels as the rails upon which to orchestrate management practices across an organization [by delivering] a library of management playbooks,” Ulevitch wrote in a blog post announcing the investment.

The startup, which launched in 2019, currently has 10 employees with teams working in Australia and the Bay Area in California. Williams says that already half the team is female and the plan is to continue putting diversity front and center as they build the company.

“Joris has mentioned ‘radical personalization’ as this specific mantra that we have, and I think if you translate that into an organization, that is all about inclusion in reality, and if we want to be able to cater for all the specific needs of people, we need to understand them. So [diversity is essential] to us,” Williams said.

While the company isn’t ready to discuss specifics in terms of customer numbers, it cites Shopify, Rubrik and Carta as early customers, and the founders say that there was a lot of interest when the pandemic hit last year and the need for more frequent and meaningful types of communication became even more paramount.

 


By Ron Miller

Zoom fatigue no more: Rewatch raises $20M to index, transcribe and store enterprise video content

We don’t hear as much these days about “Zoom fatigue” as we did in the first months after the Covid-19 pandemic kicked off last year, but what’s less clear is whether people became more tolerant to the medium, or if they’d found ways of coping with it better, or if they were hopeful that tools for coping would soon be around the corner.

Today, a startup that has come up with a solution to handling all that video is announcing some funding to grow, on the understanding that whatever people are doing with video today, there will be a lot more video to handle in the future, and they will need more than just a good internet connection, microphone and video camera to deal with it.

Rewatch, which has built a set of tools for organizations to create a “system of record” for their internal video archives — not just a place to “rewatch” all of their older live video calls, but to search and organise information arising from those calls — has closed a $20 million round of funding.

Along with this, Rewatch from today is opening up its platform from invite-only to general availability.

This latest round is a Series A and is being led by Andreessen Horowitz, with Semil Shah at Haystack and Kent Goldman at Upside Partners, as well as a number of individuals, also participating.

It comes on the heels of Rewatch announcing a $2 million seed round only in January of this year. But it’s had some buzz in the intervening months: customers that have started using Rewatch include GitHub (where co-founders Connor Sears and Scott Goldman previously worked together), Brex, Envoy, and The Athletic.

The issue that Rewatch is tackling is the fact that a lot more of our work communications are happening over video. But while video calling has been hailed as a great boost to productivity — you can work wherever you are now, as long as you have a video connection — in fact, it’s not.

Yes, we are talking to each other a lot, but we are also losing information from those calls because they’re not being tracked as well as they could be. And, by spending all of our time talking, many of us are working on other things less, or are confined into more rigid times when we can.

Rewatch has built a system that plugs into Zoom and Google Meet, two of the most-used video tools in the workplace, and automatically imports all of your office’s or team’s video chats into a system. This lets you browse libraries of video-based conversations or meetings to watch them on-demand, on your time. It also provides transcripts and search tools for finding information in those calls.

You can turn off the automatic imports, or further customize how meetings are filed or accessibility. Sears said that Rewatch can be used for any video created on any platform, for now those require manually importing the videos into the Rewatch system.

Sears also said that over time it will also be adding in ways to automatically turn items from meetings into, say, work tickets to follow them up.

While there are a number of transcription services available on tap these days, as well as any number of cloud-based storage providers where you can keep video archives, what is notable about Rewatch’s is that it’s identified the pain point of managing and indexing those archives and keeping them in a single place for many to use.

In this way, Rewatch is highlighting and addressing what I think of as the crux of the productivity paradox.

Essentially, it is this: the tech industry has given us a lot of tools to help us work better, but actually, the work required to use those tools can outweigh the utility of the tools themselves.

(And I have to admit, this is one of the reasons why I’ve grown to dislike Slack. Yes, we all get to communicate on it, and it’s great to have something to connect all of us, but it just takes up so much damn time to read through everything and figure out what’s useful and what is just watercooler chat.)

“We go to where companies already are, and we automate, pull in video so that you don’t have to think about it,” Sears said. “The effort around a lot of this takes a lot of diligence to make sure people are recording and transcribing and distributing and removing. We are making this seamless and effortless.”

It sometimes feels like we are on the cusp, technologically, of leaning on tools by way of AI and other innovations that might finally cross that chasm and give us actual productivity out of our productivity apps. Dooly, which raised funding last week, is looking to do the same in the world of sales software (automatically populating various sales software with data from your phone, video and text chats, and other sources), is another example of how this is playing out.

Similarly, we’re starting to see an interesting wave of companies emerge that are looking for better ways to manage and tap into all that video content that we now have swimming around us. AnyClip, which announced funding yesterday, is also applying better analytics and search to internal company video libraries, but also has its sights on a wider opportunity: organizing any video trove. That points, too, to the bigger opportunity for Rewatch.

For now, though, enterprises and businesses are an opportunity enough.

“As investors we get excited about founders first and foremost, and Connor and Scott immediately impressed us with their experience, clear articulation of the problem, and their vision for how Rewatch could be the end-all solution for video and knowledge management in an organization,” noted David Ulevitch, a general partner at Andreessen Horowitz, in a blog post. “They both worked at GitHub in senior roles from the early days, as a Senior Director of Product Design and a Principal Engineer, respectively, and have first-hand experience scaling a product. Since founding Rewatch in early 2020, they have very quickly built a great product, sold it to large-scale customers, and hired top-tier talent, demonstrating rapid founder and company velocity that is key to building an enduring company.”


By Ingrid Lunden

Tecton.ai nabs $35M Series B as it releases machine learning feature store

Tecton.ai, the startup founded by three former Uber engineers who wanted to bring the machine learning feature store idea to the masses, announced a $35 million Series B today, just seven months after announcing their $20 million Series A.

When we spoke to the company in April, it was working with early customers in a beta version of the product, but today, in addition to the funding they are also announcing the general availability of the platform.

As with their Series A, this round has Andreessen Horowitz and Sequoia Capital coming back to co-lead the investment. The company has now raised $60 million.

The reason these two firms are so committed to Tecton is the specific problem around machine learning the company is trying to solve. “We help organizations put machine learning into production. That’s the whole goal of our company, helping someone build an operational machine learning application, meaning an application that’s powering their fraud system or something real for them […] and making it easy for them to build and deploy and maintain,” company CEO and co-founder Mike Del Balso explained.

They do this by providing the concept of a feature store, an idea they came up with and which is becoming a machine learning category unto itself. Just last week, AWS announced the Sagemaker Feature store, which the company saw as major validation of their idea.

As Tecton defines it, a feature store is an end-to-end machine learning management system that includes the pipelines to transform the data into what are called feature values, then it stores and manages all of that feature data and finally it serves a consistent set of data.

Del Balso says this works hand-in-hand with the other layers of a machine learning stack. “When you build a machine learning application, you use a machine learning stack that could include a model training system, maybe a model serving system or an MLOps kind of layer that does all the model management, and then you have a feature management layer, a feature store which is us — and so we’re an end-to-end lifecycle for the data pipelines,” he said.

With so much money behind the company it is growing fast, going from 17 employees to 26 since we spoke in April with plans to more than double that number by the end of next year. Del Balso says he and his co-founders are committed to building a diverse and inclusive company, but he acknowledges it’s not easy to do.

“It’s actually something that we have a primary recruiting initiative on. It’s very hard, and it takes a lot of effort, it’s not something that you can just make like a second priority and not take it seriously,” he said. To that end, the company has sponsored and attended diversity hiring conferences and has focused its recruiting efforts on finding a diverse set of candidates, he said.

Unlike a lot of startups we’ve spoken to, Del Balso wants to return to an office setup as soon as it is feasible to do so, seeing it as a way to build more personal connections between employees.


By Ron Miller

Fishtown Analytics raises $29.5M Series B for its data engineering platform

Fishtown Analytics, the Philadelphia-based company behind the dbt open-source data engineering tool, today announced that it has raised a $29.5 million Series B round led by Sequoia Captial, with participation from previous investors Andreessen Horowitz and Amplify Partners.

The company is building a platform that allows data analysts to more easily create and disseminate organizational knowledge. Its focus is on data modeling, with its dbt tool allowing anybody who knows SQL to build data transformation workflows. Dbt also features support for automatically testing data quality and documenting changes, but maybe most importantly, it uses standard software engineering techniques to help engineers collaborate on code and integrate changes continuously.

If this all sounds a bit familiar, it’s probably because you saw that Fishtown Analytics also announced a $12.9 million Series A round in April. It’s not often we see both a Series A and B round within half a year, but that goes to show how the market for Fishtown’s service is expanding as companies continue to grapple with how to best make use of their data — and how much investors want to be part of that. 

Image Credits: Fishtown

“This was a very productive thing for us,” Fishtown Analytics co-founder and CEO Tristan Handy told me when I asked him why he raised again so quickly. “It’s standard best practice to do quarterly catch-ups with investors and eventually you’ll be ready to fundraise. And Matt Miller from Sequoia showed up to one of these quarterly catch-ups and he shared the 40-page memo that he had written to the Sequoia partnership — and he came with the term sheet.”

Initially, Handy declined. “We’re very bullheaded people, I think, as many founders are. It took some real reflection and thinking about, ‘is this what we want to be doing right now?’”

In the end, though, the team decided to go ahead with this round — mostly because this round allowed the team to think long-term and provided stability and certainty.

One thing Handy has always been very clear about is that he did not found Fishtown to purely build the largest possible company but to solve its users’ problems, even as the market looked at companies like Databricks and Snowflake — and their financial success — as potential analogs. “My worry was that the financial markets were driving things that weren’t necessarily going to be good for our users,” Handy said.


By Frederic Lardinois

VC’s largest funds make big bets on vertical B2B marketplaces

During the waning days of the first dot-com boom, some of the biggest names in venture capital invested in marketplaces and directories whose sole function was to consolidate information and foster transparency in industries that had remained opaque for decades.

The thesis was that thousands of small businesses were making specialized products consumed by larger businesses in huge industries, but the reach of smaller players was limited by their dependence on a sales structure built on conferences and personal interactions.

Companies making pharmaceuticals, chemicals, construction materials and medical supplies represented trillions in sales, but those huge aggregate numbers hide how fragmented these supply chains are — and how difficult it is for buyers to see the breadth of sellers available.

Now, similar to the way business models popularized by Kozmo.com and Webvan in decades past have since been reincarnated as Postmates and DoorDash, the B2B directory and marketplace rises from the investment graveyard.

The first sign of life for the directory model came with the success of GoodRX back in 2011. The company proved that when information about pricing in a previously opaque industry becomes available, it can unleash a torrent of new demand.


By Jonathan Shieber

Figma raises $50 million Series D led by Andreessen Horowitz

Figma, the design platform that lets folks work collaboratively and in the cloud, has today announced the close of a $50 million Series D financing. The round was led by Andreessen Horowitz, with partner Peter Levine and cofounding partner Marc Andreessen managing the deal for the firm. New angel investors, including Henry Ellenbogen from Durable Capital, also participated in the round alongside existing investors Index, Greylock, KPCB, Sequoia and Founders Fund.

Forbes reports that the latest funding round values Figma at $2 billion.

Figma launched in 2015 after nearly six years of development in stealth. The premise was to create a collaborative, cloud-based design tool that would be the Google Docs of design.

Since, Figma has built out the platform to expand access and usability for individual designers, small firms and giant enterprise companies alike. For example, the company launched plug-ins in 2019, allowing developers to build in their own tools to the app, such as a plug-in for designers to automatically rename and organize their layers as they work (Rename.it) and one that gives users the ability to add placeholder text that they can automatically find and replace later (Content Buddy).

The company also launched an educational platform called Community, which gives designers the ability to share their work and let other users ‘remix’ that design, or simply check out how it was built, layer by layer.

A spokesperson told TechCrunch that this deal was “opportunistic,” and that the company was in a strong cash position pre-financing. The new funding expands Figma’s runway during these uncertain times, with coronavirus halting a lot of enterprise purchasing and ultimately slowing growth of some rising enterprise players.

Figma says that one interesting change they’ve seen in the COVID era is a significant jump in user engagement from teams to collaborate more in Figma. The firm has also seen an uptick in whiteboarding, note taking, slide deck creation and diagramming, as companies start using Figma as a collaborative tool across an entire organization rather than just within a team of designers.


By Jordan Crook

Tecton.ai emerges from stealth with $20M Series A to build machine learning platform

Three former Uber engineers, who helped build the company’s Michelangelo machine learning platform, left the company last year to form Tecton.ai and build an operational machine learning platform for everyone else. Today the company announced a $20 million Series A from a couple of high-profile investors.

Andreessen Horowitz and Sequoia Capital co-led the round with Martin Casado, general partner at a16z and Matt Miller, partner at Sequoia joining the company board under the terms of the agreement. Today’s investment combined with the seed they used to spend the last year building the product comes to $25 million. Not bad in today’s environment.

But when you have the pedigree of these three founders — CEO Mike Del Balso, CTO Kevin Stumpf and VP of Engineering Jeremy Hermann all helped build the Uber system —  investors will spend some money, especially when you are trying to solve a difficult problem around machine learning.

The Michelangelo system was the machine learning platform at Uber that looked at things like driver safety, estimated arrival time and fraud detection, among other things. The three founders wanted to take what they had learned at Uber and put it to work for companies struggling with machine learning.

“What Tecton is really about is helping organizations make it really easy to build production-level machine learning systems, and put them in production and operate them correctly. And we focus on the data layer of machine learning,” CEO Del Balso told TechCrunch.

Image Credit: Tecton.ai

Del Balso says part of the problem, even for companies that are machine learning-savvy, is building and reusing models across different use cases. In fact, he says the vast majority of machine learning projects out there are failing, and Tecton wanted to give these companies the tools to change that.

The company has come up with a solution to make it much easier to create a model and put it to work by connecting to data sources, making it easier to reuse the data and the models across related use cases. “We’re focused on the data tasks related to machine learning, and all the data pipelines that are related to power those models,” Del Balso said.

Certainly Martin Casado from a16z sees a problem in search of a solution and he likes the background of this team and its understanding of building a system like this at scale. “After tracking a number of deep engagements with top ML teams and their interest in what Tecton was building, we invested in Tecton’s A alongside Sequoia. We strongly believe that these systems will continue to increasingly rely on data and ML models, and an entirely new tool chain is needed to aid in developing them…,” he wrote in a blog post announcing the funding.

The company currently has 17 employees and is looking to hire, particularly data scientists and machine learning engineers, with a goal of 30 employees by the end of the year.

While Del Balso is certainly cognizant of the current economic situation, he believes he can still build this company because he’s solving a problem that people genuinely are looking for help with right now around machine learning.

“From the customers we’re talking to, they need to solve these problems, and so we don’t see things slowing down,” he said.


By Ron Miller

Fishtown Analytics raises $12.9M Series A for its open-source analytics engineering tool

Philadelphia-based Fishtown Analytics, the company behind the popular open-source data engineering tool dbt, today announced that it has raised a $12.9 million Series A round led by Andreessen Horowitz, with the firm’s general partner Martin Casada joining the company’s board.

“I wrote this blog post in early 2016, essentially saying that analysts needed to work in a fundamentally different way,” Fishtown founder and CEO Tristan Handy told me, when I asked him about how the product came to be. “They needed to work in a way that much more closely mirrored the way the software engineers work and software engineers have been figuring this shit out for years and data analysts are still like sending each other Microsoft Excel docs over email.”

The dbt open-source project forms the basis of this. It allows anyone who can write SQL queries to transform data and then load it into their preferred analytics tools. As such, it sits in-between data warehouses and the tools that load data into them on one end, and specialized analytics tools on the other.

As Casada noted when I talked to him about the investment, data warehouses have now made it affordable for businesses to store all of their data before it is transformed. So what was traditionally “extract, transform, load” (ETL) has now become “extract, load, transform” (ELT). Andreessen Horowitz is already invested in Fivetran, which helps businesses move their data into their warehouses, so it makes sense for the firm to also tackle the other side of this business.

“Dbt is, as far as we can tell, the leading community for transformation and it’s a company we’ve been tracking for at least a year,” Casada said. He also argued that data analysts — unlike data scientists — are not really catered to as a group.

Before this round, Fishtown hadn’t raised a lot of money, even though it has been around for a few years now, except for a small SAFE round from Amplify.

But Handy argued that the company needed this time to prove that it was on to something and build a community. That community now consists of more than 1,700 companies that use the dbt project in some form and over 5,000 people in the dbt Slack community. Fishtown also now has over 250 dbt Cloud customers and the company signed up a number of big enterprise clients earlier this year. With that, the company needed to raise money to expand and also better service its current list of customers.

“We live in Philadelpha. The cost of living is low here and none of us really care to make a quadro-billion dollars, but we do want to answer the question of how do we best serve the community,” Handy said. “And for the first time, in the early part of the year, we were like, holy shit, we can’t keep up with all of the stuff that people need from us.”

The company plans to expand the team from 25 to 50 employees in 2020 and with those, the team plans to improve and expand the product, especially its IDE for data analysts, which Handy admitted could use a bit more polish.


By Frederic Lardinois

$75M legal startup Atrium shuts down, lays off 100

Justin Kan’s hybrid legal software and law firm startup Atrium is shutting down today after failing to figure out how to deliver better efficiency than a traditional law firm, the CEO tells TechCrunch exclusively. The startup has now laid off all its employees, which totaled just over 100. It will return some of its $75.5 million in funding to investors, including Series B lead Andreessen Horowitz. The separate Atrium law firm will continue to operate.

“I’m really grateful to the customers and the team members who came along with me and our investors. It’s unfortunate that this wasn’t the outcome that we wanted but we’re thankful to everyone that came with us on the journey” said Kan. He’d previously founded Justin.tv which pivoted to become Twitch and later sold to Amazon for $970 million. “We decided to call it and wind down the startup operations. There will be some capital returned to investors post wind-down” Kan told me.

Atrium had attempted a pivot back in January, laying off its in-house lawyers to become a more pure software startup with better margins. Some of its lawyers formed a separate standalone legal firm and took on former Atrium clients. But Kan tells me that it was tough to regain momentum coming out of that change, which some Atrium customers tell me felt chaotic and left them unsure of their legal representation.

More layoffs quietly ensued as divisions connected to those lawyers were eliminated. But trying to build software for third-party lawyers, many of which have entrenched processes and older leadership, proved difficult. The streamlined workflows may not have seemed worth the thrash of adopting new technology.

“If you look at our original business model with the veritcalized law firm, a lot of these companies that have this kind of full stack model are not going to survive” Kan explained. “A lot of these companies, Atrium included, did not figure out how to make a dent in operational efficiency.”

Disrupting Law Firms Proves Difficult

Founded in 2017, Atrium built software for startups to navigate fundraising, hiring, acquisition deals, and collaboration with their legal team. Atrium also offered in-house lawyers that could provide counsel and best practices in these matters. The idea was that the collaboration software would make its lawyers more efficient than a traditional law firm so they could get work done faster, translating to savings for clients and Atrium.

Atrium’s software included Records, a Dropbox-esque system for keeping track of legal documents, and Hiring, which instantly generated employment offer letters based on details punched into a form while keeping track of signatures. The startup hoped it could prevent clients and lawyers from wasting time digging through email chains or missing a sign-off that could put them in legal jeopardy.

The company tried to generate client leads by hosting fundraising workshops for startups, starring Kan and his stories from growing Twitch. A charismatic leader with a near-billion dollar exit under his belt, investors and founders alike were quick to buy into Kan’s vision and advice. Startups saw Atrium as an ally with industry expertise that could help them avoid dirty term sheets or botched hires.

But keeping a large squad of lawyers on staff proved costly. Atrium priced packages of its software and legal assistance under subscriptions, with momentous deals like acquisitions incurring add-on fees. The model relied less on milking clients with steep hourly rates measured down to six-minute increments like most law firms.

Yet eliminating the busy work for lawyers through its software didn’t materialize into bountiful profits. The pivot saught to create a professional services network where Atrium could route clients to attorneys. The layoffs had shaken faith in the startup as clients demanded stability lest they be caught without counsel at a tough time

Rather than trudge on, Kan decided to fold the company. The standalone Atrium law firm will continue to operate under partners Michel Narganes and Matthew Melville, but the startup developing legal software is done.

Atrium’s implosion could send ripples through the legaltech scene, and push other entrepreneurs to start with a more focused software-only approach.


By Josh Constine

ChartHop grabs $5M seed led by a16z to automate the org chart

ChartHop, a startup that aims to modernize and automate the organizational chart, announced a $5 million seed investment today led by Andreessen Horowitz.

A big crowd of other investors also participated including Abstract Ventures, the a16z Cultural Leadership Fund, CoFound, Cowboy Ventures, Flybridge Capital, Shrug Capital, Work Life Ventures and a number of unnamed individual investors, as well.

Founder, CEO and CTO, Ian White says that at previous jobs including as CTO and co-founder at Sailthru, he found himself frustrated by the available tools for organizational planning, something that he says every company needs to get a grip on.

White did what any good entrepreneur would do. He left his previous job and spent the last couple of years building the kind of software he felt was missing in the market. “ChartHop is the first org management platform. It’s really a new type of HR software that brings all the different people data together in one place, so that companies can plan, analyze and visualize their organizations in a completely new way,” White told TechCrunch.

While he acknowledges that among his early customers, the Head of HR is a core user, White doesn’t see this as purely an HR issue. “It’s a problem for any executive, leader or manager in any organization that’s growing and trying to plan what the organization is going to look like more strategically,” he explained.

Lead investor at a16z David Ulevitch, also sees this kind of planning as essential to any organization. “How you structure and grow your organization has a tremendous amount of influence on how your company operates. This sounds so obvious, and yet most organizations don’t act thoughtfully when it comes to organizational planning and design,” Ulevitch wrote in a blog post announcing the investment.

The way it works is that out of the box it connects to 15 or 20 standard types of company systems like BambooHR, Carta, ADP and Workday, and based on this information it can build an organizational chart. The company can then slice and dice the data by department, open recs, gender, salary, geography and so forth. There is also a detailed reporting component that gives companies insight into the current makeup and future state of the organization.

The visual org chart itself is set up so that you can scrub through time to see how your company has changed. He says that while it is designed to hide sensitive information like salaries, he does see it as a way of helping employees across the organization understand where they fit and how they relate to other people they might not even know because the size of the company makes that impossible.

ChartHop org chart organized by gender. Screenshot: ChartHop

White says that he has dozens of customers already, who are paying ChartHop by the employee on a subscription basis. While his target market is companies with more than 100 employees, at some point he may offer a version for early-stage startups who could benefit from this type of planning, and could then have a complete history of the organization over the life of the company.

Today, the company has 9 employees, and he only began hiring in the fall when this seed money came through. He expects to double that number in the next year.


By Ron Miller

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