Trade promotion management startup Cresicor raises $5.6M to keep tabs on customer spend

Cresicor, a consumer packaged goods trade management platform startup, raised $5.6 million in seed funding to further develop its tools for more accurate data and analytics.

The company, based remotely, focuses on small to midsize CPG companies, providing them with an automated way to manage their trade promotion, a process co-founder and CEO Alexander Whatley said is done primarily manually using spreadsheets.

Here’s what happens in a trade promotion: When a company wants to run a discount on one of their slower-selling items, the company has to spend money to do this — to have displays set up in a store or have that item on a certain shelf. If it works, more people will buy the item at the lower price point. Essentially, a trade promotion is the process of spending money to get more money in the future, Whatley told TechCrunch.

Figuring out all of the trade promotions is a complicated process, Whatley explained. Companies receive data feeds on the promotions from several different places, revenue data from retailers, accounting source data to show how many units were shipped and then maybe data directly from retailers. All of that has to be matched against the promotion.

“No API is bringing this data back to brands, so our software helps to automate and track these manual processes so companies can do analytics to see how the promotions are doing,” he added. “It also helps the finance team understand expenses, including which are valid and those that are not.”

What certain companies spend on trade promotions can represent their second-largest cost behind manufacturing, and companies often end up reinvesting between 20% and 30% of their revenue into trade promotions, Whatley said. This is a big market, representing untapped growth, especially with U.S. CPG sales topping $720 billion in 2020.

“You can see how messy the whole industry is, which is why we have a bright future and huge TAM,” he added. “With this new funding, we can target other parts of the P&L like supply chain and salaries. We also provide analytics for their strategy and where they should be spending it — which store, on which supply. By allocating resources the right way, companies typically see a 10% boost in sales as a result.”

Whatley started the company in 2017 with his brother, Daniel, Stuart Kennedy and Nikki McNeil while a Harvard undergrad. Since raising the funding back in February, the company has grown 2.5x in revenue, while employee headcount grew 4x over the past 12 months to 20.

Costanoa Ventures led the investment and was joined by Torch Capital and a group of angel investors including Fivestars CTO Matt Doka and Hu’s Kitchen CEO Mark Ramadan.

John Cowgill, partner at Costanoa, said though Cresicor raised a seed round, the company was already acquiring brands and capital before releasing a product and grew to almost a Series A company without any outside capital, saying it “blew me away.”

Cresicor is the “perfect example” of a company that Costanoa would get excited about — a vertical software company using data or machine learning to augment a pain point, Cowgill added.

“The CPG industry is in the middle of a rapid change where we see all of these emerging, digital native and mission-driven brands rapidly eating share from incumbents,” he added. “For the next generation of brands to compete, they have to win in trade promotion management. Cresicor’s opportunity to go beyond trade is significant. It is just a starting point to build a company that is the core enabler of great brands.”

The new funding will be used mainly to hire more talent in the areas of engineering and customer success so the company can hit its next benchmarks, Alexander Whatley said. He also intends to use the funding to acquire new brands and on software development. Cresicor boasts a list of customers including Perfect Snacks, Oatly and Hint Water.

The retail industry is valued at $5.5 trillion, and one-fifth of it is CPG, Whatley said. As a result, he has his eye on going after other verticals within CPG, like electronics and pet food, and then expanding into other areas.

“We are also going to work with enterprise companies — we see an opportunity to work with companies like P&G and General Mills, and we also want to build an ecosystem around trade promotion and launch into other profit and loss areas,” Whatley said.


By Christine Hall

Web building platform Duda snaps up e-commerce cart tool Snipcart

Duda announced Wednesday that it acquired Canada-based Snipcart, a startup that enables businesses to add a shopping cart to their websites.

The acquisition is Palo Alto-based Duda’s first deal, and follows the website development platform’s $50 million Series D round in June that brings its total funding to $100 million to date. Duda co-founder and CEO Itai Sadan declined to comment on the acquisition amount.

Duda, which works with digital agencies and SaaS companies, has approximately 1 million published paying sites, and the acquisition was driven by the company seeing a boost in e-commerce websites as a result of the global pandemic, he told TechCrunch.

This was not just about a technology acquisition for Duda, but also a talented team, Sadan said. The entire Snipcart team of 12 is staying on, including CEO Francois Lanthier Nadeau; the companies will be fully integrated by 2022 and the first collaborative versions will come out.

When he met the Snipcart team, Sadan thought they were “super experienced and held the same values.”

“We share many of the same types of customers, many of which are API-first,” he added. “If our customers need more headless commerce, they can build their own front end using Snipcart. Their customers will benefit from us growing the team — we plan to double it in the next year and roll out more features at a faster pace.”

The global retail e-commerce market is estimated to grow by 50% to $6.3 trillion by 2024, according to Statista. Duda itself has experienced a year over year increase of 265% in e-commerce sites being built on its platform, which Sadan said was what made Snipcart an attractive acquisition to further accelerate and manage its growth that includes over 17,000 customers.

Together, the companies will offer new capabilities, like payment and membership tools inside of the Duda platform. Many of Duda’s customers come with inventory and don’t want to manage it on another e-commerce platform, so Snipcart will be that component for taking their inventory and making it shoppable on the web.

“Everyone is thinking about how to introduce transactions into their websites and web experiences, and that is what we were looking for in an e-commerce platform,” Sadan said.

 


By Christine Hall

PayEm comes out of stealth with $27M and its answer to the expense report

Itamar Jobani was a software developer working for a medical company and “hated that time of the month” when he had to use the company’s chosen reimbursement tool.

“It was full of friction and as part of the company’s wellness team, I felt an urge to take care of the employee experience and find a better tool,” Jobani told TechCrunch. “I looked for something, but didn’t find it, so I tried to build it myself.”

What resulted was PayEm, an Israeli company he founded with Omer Rimoch in 2019 to be a spend and procurement platform for high-growth and multinational organizations. Today, it announced $27 million in funding that includes $7 million in seed funding, led by Pitango First and NFX, with participation by LocalGlobe and Fresh Fund, as well as $20 million in Series A funding led by Glilot+.

The company’s technology automates the reimbursement, procurement, accounts payable and credit card workflows to manage all of the requests and invoices, while also creating bills and sending payments to over 200 territories in 130 currencies.

It gives company finance teams a real-time look at what items employees are asking for funds to buy, and what is actually being spent. For example, teams can submit a request and go through an approval flow that can be customized with purchasing codes tied to a description of the transaction. At the same time, all transactions are continuously reconciled versus having to spend hours at the end of the month going through paperwork.

“Organizations are running in a more democratized way with teams buying things on behalf of the organization,” Jobani said. “We built a platform to cater to those needs, so it’s like a disbursement platform instead of a finance team always being in charge.”

The global B2B payments market is valued at $120 trillion annually and is expected to reach $200 trillion by 2028, according to payment industry newsletter Nilson Report. PayEm is among many B2B payments startups attracting venture capital — for example, last month, Nium announced a $200 million in Series D funding at a $1 billion valuation. Paystand raised $50 million in Series C funding to make B2B payments cashless, while Dwolla raised $21 million for its API that allows companies to build and facilitate fast payments.

Meanwhile, PayEm itself saw accelerated growth in the second quarter of 2021, including increasing its transaction volume by four times over the previous quarter and generating millions of dollars in revenue. It now boasts a list of hundreds of customers like Fiverr, JFrog and Next Insurance. It also launched new features like the ability to create corporate cards.

The company, which also has an office in New York, has 40 employees currently, and the new funds will enable the company to triple its headcount, focusing on hiring in the United States, and to bring additional features and payment capabilities to market.

“Each person can have a budget and a time frame for making the purchase, while accounting still feels in control,” Jobani added. “Everyone now has the full context and the right budget line item.”


By Christine Hall

Zeal banks $13M to offer employers a ‘build your own’ payroll product infrastructure

Embedded fintech company Zeal secured $13 million in Series A funding to continue developing its platform for building individualized payroll products.

Spark Capital led the Series A, with participation from Commerce Ventures and a group of individual investors, including Marqeta CEO Jason Gardner and CRO Omri Dahan, Robinhood founder Vlad Tenev, UltimateSoftware executives Mitch Dauerman and Bob Manne and Namely founder Matt Straz. The latest round now gives the company $14.6 million in total funding, which includes a $1.6 million seed round in 2020, CEO Kirti Shenoy told TechCrunch.

The Bay Area company’s origin was as Puzzl, a payment processing startup for the gig economy, founded in 2018 by Shenoy and CTO Pranab Krishnan. It was part of Y Combinator’s 2019 cohort. The pair had to pivot the company after needing to move some of its thousands of 1099 contractors to W2 employee status.

They went looking for payroll processors that could handle high volumes of payroll automatically, like ADP or Paycor, but found they didn’t match some of the capabilities Shenoy and Krishnan wanted, including to pay workers daily and customize earning components.

To ensure other companies didn’t run into the same problem, they decided to build a payroll API that enables their customers to build their own payroll products, even being able to pay their workers everyday. Traditionally, companies would layer together antiquated third-party payroll tools and spend millions of dollars on consulting fees. Zeal’s API tool modernizes the payroll process and takes on the payroll liability while managing the back-end payment logistics, Shenoy said.

Currently, enterprises use Zeal to pay large volumes of workers and keep payment data on their own native systems, while software platforms that sell business-to-business services use Zeal to build their own payroll product to sell to their customers.

“Our mission is to touch every American paycheck with our tax and payment technology, ensuring that American employees are paid correctly and efficiently,” Krishnan said.

And that is a complex goal: there are 200 million American employees, over $8.8 trillion of payroll is processed annually in the U.S. and the country’s 11,000 tax jurisdictions produce over 25,000 income tax code changes a year.

Meanwhile, Shenoy cited IRS data that showed more than 40% of small and medium businesses pay at least one payroll penalty per year. That was one of the drivers for Zeal’s latest product, the Abacus gross-to-net calculator, which payroll companies can use to ensure they are compliant in paying their income taxes.

The co-founders intend to use the new funding to build out their team and strengthen compliance measures to ensure its track record with enterprises.

“We are starting to win more enterprise deals and moving millions of dollars each day,” Shenoy said. “This has been a legacy space for so long, so companies want to work with a provider to move fast.”

Shenoy predicts that more companies will shift to hyper-customized experiences in the next five to 10 years. Whereas the default was a company like ADP, companies will want to control their own data and build products so their customers can do everything payroll-related from one platform.

As part of the investment, Spark Capital’s partner Natalie Sandman has joined Zeal’s board of directors. She previously invested in other embedded fintech companies like Affirm and Marqeta and thinks there are new experiences in the sector that APIs can unlock.

Sandman felt the payroll-building pain points herself when she worked at Zenefits. At the time, the company was trying to do the same thing, but there were no APIs to connect with. There were all of these spreadsheets to transfer data, but one wrong deduction would trickle down and cause a tax penalty.

Shenoy and Krishnan are both “customer-obsessed,” she said, and are balancing speed with thoughtfulness when it comes to understanding how their customers want to build payroll products.

She is seeing a macro shift to audience-driven human resources where bringing new employees online will mean embedding them into products that will be more valuable versus the traditional spreadsheet.

“To me, it is a no-brainer that APIs provide flexibility in the way wages and deductions need to be made,” Sandman said. “You can lose trust in your employer. Payroll is at the deepest trust point and where you want transparency and a robust solution to solve that need.”


By Christine Hall

Ramp and Brex draw diverging market plans with M&A strategies

Earlier today, spend management startup Ramp said it has raised a $300 million Series C that valued it $3.9 billion. It also said it was acquiring Buyer, a “negotiation-as-a-service” platform that it believes will help customers save money on purchases and SaaS products.

The round and deal were announced just a week after competitor Brex shared news of its own acquisition — the $50 million purchase of Israeli fintech startup Weav. That deal was made after Brex’s founders invested in Weav, which offers a “universal API for commerce platforms”.

From a high level, all of the recent deal-making in corporate cards and spend management shows that it’s not enough to just help companies track what employees are expensing these days. As the market matures and feature sets begin to converge, the players are seeking to differentiate themselves from the competition.

But the point of interest here is these deals can tell us where both companies think they can provide and extract the most value from the market.

These differences come atop another layer of divergence between the two companies: While Brex has instituted a paid software tier of its service, Ramp has not.

Earning more by spending less

Let’s start with Ramp. Launched in 2019, the company is a relative newcomer in the spend management category. But by all accounts, it’s producing some impressive growth numbers. As our colleague Mary Ann Azevedo wrote this morning:

Since the beginning of 2021, the company says it has seen its number of cardholders on its platform increase by 5x, with more than 2,000 businesses currently using Ramp as their “primary spend management solution.” The transaction volume on its corporate cards has tripled since April, when its last raise was announced. And, impressively, Ramp has seen its transaction volume increase year over year by 1,000%, according to CEO and co-founder Eric Glyman.

Ramp’s focus has always been on helping its customers save money: It touts a 1.5% cashback reward for all purchases made through its cards, and says its dashboard helps businesses identify duplicitous subscriptions and license redundancies. Ramp also alerts customers when they can save money on annual vs. monthly subscriptions, which it says has led many customers to do away with established T&E platforms like Concur or Expensify.

All told, the company claims that the average customer saves 3.3% per year on expenses after switching to its platform — and all that is before it brings Buyer into the fold.


By Ryan Lawler

Moesif secures $12M to provide user behavior insights on API usage

As more companies provide more API-first services, Moesif has developed a way for those companies to learn how their customers are utilizing them.

The San Francisco-based startup is adding to its capital raise Monday with the announcement of a $12 million Series A round led by David Sacks and Arra Malekzadeh of Craft Ventures. Existing investor Merus Capital, which led Moesif’s $3.5 million seed round in 2019, also participated in the round, bringing the company’s total raise to $15.5 million, Moesif co-founder and CEO Derric Gilling told TechCrunch.

Gilling and Xing Wang founded Moesif in 2017 and went through the Alchemist Accelerator in 2018.

Companies seeking data around API usage and workflow traditionally had to build that capability in-house on top of a tech like Snowflake, Gilling said. One of the problems with that was if someone wanted a report, the process was ad hoc, meaning they would file a ticket and wait until a team had time to run the report. In addition, companies find it difficult to accurately bill customers on usage or manage when someone exceeds the rate limits.

“We started to see people build on top of our platform and pull data on APIs, and they started asking us how to directly serve customers, like making them aware if they are hitting a rate limit,” Gilling added. “We started to build new functionality and a way to customize the look and feel of the platform.”

Moesif provides self-service analytics that can be accessed daily and features to scale analytics in a more cost-effective manner. Customers use it to monitor features to better understand when there are issues with the API, and there are additional capabilities to understand who is using the API, how often and who may be likely to stop using a product based on how they are using it.

The company is also now seeing its revenue grow over 20% month over month this year and adoption by more diverse use cases and larger companies. At the time of the seed round, the company was just getting started with analytics and user trials, Gilling said. Today, it boasts a customer list that includes UPS, Tomorrow.io, Symbl.ai and Deloitte.

The company has also gone from a team of two to nine employees, and Gilling expects to use the new funding to bolster that roster across engineering, sales, developer relations and customer success.

He is also focusing on being a thought leader in the space and is pushing go-to-market and building out a new set of features to monetize APIs and improve its dashboard to better differentiate Moesif from competitors, which he said focus more on server health versus customer usage.

As part of the investment, Craft Ventures’ Malekzadeh is joining Moesif’s board. She was introduced to Gilling by another portfolio company and felt Moesif fit into Crafts’ thesis on SaaS companies.

Malekzadeh’s particular interest is in developer tools, and while in her previous position working at a startup developing APIs, she felt firsthand the pain point of not being able to know how those APIs were being used, how much customers should be billed and “was always bugging the product and engineering teams for reports.”

Moesif didn’t exist at the time she worked at the startup, and instead, her company had to build it own tools that turned out to be clunky, while at the same time recruiting top engineers that didn’t want to take up their time with building something that wasn’t the company’s core product.

“The two founders are highly technical, but they provided great content on their website that helped me learn about them,” Malekzadeh added. “One of the interesting things about them is that even though they are technical, they speak the same language as a business user, which makes them special as a developer-first company. Just the growth in their revenue was super impressive, and their customer references were glowing.”


By Christine Hall

Rutter comes out of stealth with $1.5M in funding for its e-commerce API

Rutter, a remote-first company, is developing a unified e-commerce API that enables companies to connect with data across any platform.

On Friday the company announced it was emerging from stealth with $1.5 million in funding from a group of investors including Haystack, Liquid 2 and Basis Set Ventures.

Founders Eric Yu and Peter Zhou met in school and started working on Rutter, which Zhou called “Plaid for commerce,” in 2017 before going through the summer 2019 Y Combinator cohort.

They stumbled upon the e-commerce API idea while working in education technology last year. The pair were creating subscription kits and learning materials for parents concerned about how their children would be learning during the global pandemic. Then their vendor customers had problems listing their storefronts on Amazon, so they wrote scripts to help them, but found that they had to write separate scripts for each platform.

With Rutter, customers only need one script to connect anywhere. Its APIs connect to e-commerce platforms like Shopify, Walmart and Amazon so that tech customers can build functions like customer support and chatbots, Yu told TechCrunch.

Lan Xuezhao, founding and managing partner of Basis Set Ventures, said via email that she was “super excited” about Rutter first because of the founders’ passion, grit and speed of iteration to a product. She added it reminded her of another team that successfully built a business from zero to over $7 billion.

“After watching them (Rutter) for a few years, it’s clear what they built is powerful: it’s the central nervous system of online commerce,” Xuezhao added.

As the founders see it, there are two big explosions going on in e-commerce: the platform side with the adoption of headless commerce — the separating of front end and back end functions of an e-commerce site, and new companies coming in to support merchants.

The new funding will enable Yu and Zhou to build up their team, including hiring more engineers.

Due to the company officially launching at the beginning of the year, Yu did not disclose revenue metrics, but did say that Rutter’s API volume was doubling and tripling in the last few months. It is also supporting merchants that connect with over 5,000 stores.

Some of Rutter’s competitors are building one aspect of commerce, like returns, warranties and checkouts, but Yu said that since Shopify represents just 10% of e-commerce, the company’s goal is to take merchants beyond the marketplace by being “that unified app store for merchants to find products.”

“We think that in the future, the e-commerce stack of a merchant will look like the SaaS stack of a software company,” Zhou added. “We want to be the glue that holds that stack together for merchants.”

 


By Christine Hall

Tiger Global backs Nacelle with $50M for its e-commerce infrastructure

Consumer shift to buying online during the global pandemic — and keeping that habit — continues to boost revenue for makers of developer tools that help e-commerce sites provide better shopping experiences.

LA-based Nacelle is one of the e-commerce infrastructure companies continuing to attract investor attention, and at a speedy clip, too. It closed on a $50 million Series B round from Tiger Global. This is just six months after its $18 million Series A round, led by Inovia, and follows a $4.8 million seed round in 2020.

The company is working in “headless” commerce, which means it is disconnecting the front end of a website, a.k.a. the storefront, from the back end, where all of the data lives, to create a better shopping experience, CEO Brian Anderson told TechCrunch. By doing this, the back end of the store, essentially where all the magic happens, can be updated and maintained without changing the front end.

“Online shopping is not new, but how the customer relates to it keeps changing,” he said. “The technology for online shopping is not up to snuff — when you click on something, everything has to reload compared to an app like Instagram.”

More people shopping on their mobile devices creates friction due to downloading an app for each brand. That is “sucking the fun out of shopping online,” because no one wants that many apps on their phone, Anderson added.

Steven Kramer, board member and former EVP of Hybris, said via email that over the past two decades, the e-commerce industry went through several waves of innovation. Now, maturing consumer behaviors and expectations are accelerating the current phase.

“Retailers and brands are struggling with adopting the latest technologies to meet today’s requirements of agility, speed and user experience,” Kramer added. “Nacelle gives organizations a future-proof way to accelerate their innovation, leverage existing investments and do so with material ROI.”

Data already shows that COVID-era trends accelerated e-commerce by roughly five years, and Gartner predicts that 50% of new commerce capabilities will be incorporated as API-centric SaaS services by 2023.

Those kinds of trends are bringing in competitors that are also attracting investor attention — for example, Shopistry, Swell, Fabric, Commerce Layer and Vue Storefront are just a few of the companies that raised funding this year alone.

Anderson notes that the market continues to be hot and one that can’t be ignored, especially as the share of online retail sales grows. He explained that some of his competitors force customers to migrate off of their current tech stack and onto their respective platforms so that their users can get a good customer experience. In contrast, Nacelle enables customers to keep their tech stack and put components together as they see fit.

“That is painful in any vertical, but especially for e-commerce,” he said. “That is your direct line to revenue.”

Meanwhile, Nacelle itself grew 690% in the past year in terms of revenue, and customers are signing multiyear contracts, Anderson said.

Anderson, who is an engineer by trade, wants to sink his teeth into new products as adoption of headless commerce grows. These include providing a dynamic layer of functionality on top of the tech stack for storefronts that are traditionally static, and even introducing some livestream capabilities later this year.

As such, Nacelle will invest the new round into its go-to-market strategy and expand its customer success, partner relations and product development. He said Nacelle is already “the de facto standard” for Shopify Plus merchants going headless.

“We want to put everything in a tailor-made API for e-commerce that lets front-end developers do their thing with ease,” Anderson added. “We also offer starter kits for merchants as a starting point to get up-and-running.”


By Christine Hall

Nium crosses $1B valuation with $200M Riverwood Capital-led round

Business-to-business payments platform Nium announced Monday that it raised more than $200 million in Series D funding and saw its valuation rise above $1 billion.

The company, now Singapore-based but shifting to the Bay Area, touted the investment as making it “the first B2B payments unicorn from Southeast Asia.”

Riverwood Capital led the round, in which Temasek, Visa, Vertex Ventures, Atinum Capital, Beacon Venture Capital and Rocket Capital Investment participated, along with a group of angel investors like DoorDash’s Gokul Rajaram, FIS’ Vicky Bindra and Tribe Capital’s Arjun Sethi. Including the new funding, Nium has raised $300 million to date, Prajit Nanu, co-founder and CEO, told TechCrunch.

The B2B payments sector is already hot, yet underpenetrated, according to some experts. To give an idea just how hot, Nium was seeking $150 million for its Series D round, received commitments of $300 million from eager investors and settled on $200 million, Nanu said.

“This is our fourth or fifth fundraise, but we have never had this kind of interest before — we even had our term sheets in five days,” he added. “I believe this interest is because we’ve successfully managed to create a global platform that is heavily regulated, which gives us access to a lot of networks. This is an environment where payment is visible, and our core is powering frictionless commerce and enabling anyone to use our platform.”

Nium’s new round adds fuel to a fire shared by a number of companies all going after a global B2B payments market valued at $120 trillion annually: last week, Paystand raised $50 million in Series C funding to make B2B payments cashless, while Dwolla raised $21 million for its API that allows companies to build and facilitate fast payments. In March, Higo brought in $3.3 million to do the same in Latin America, while Balance, developing a B2B payments platform that allows merchants to offer a variety of payment methods. raised $5.5 million in February.

Nium’s approach is to provide access to a global payment infrastructure, including card issuance, accounts receivable and payable, and banking-as-a-service through a single API. The company’s network enables customers to then send funds to more than 100 countries, pay out in more than 60 currencies, accept funds in seven currencies and issue cards in more than 40 countries, Nanu said. The company also boasts money transfer, card issuances and banking licenses in 11 jurisdictions.

Francisco Alvarez-Demalde, co-founding partner and managing partner at Riverwood, said in an email that the combination of software — plus regulatory licenses — and operating a fintech infrastructure platform on behalf of neobanks and corporates is a global trend experiencing hyper-growth.

Riverwood followed Nium for many years, and its future vision was what got the firm interested in being a part of this round. Alvarez-Demalde said that “Nium has the incredible combination of a great market opportunity, a talented founder and team, and we believe the company is poised for global growth based on underlying secular technology trends like increasing real-time payment capabilities and the proliferation of cross border commerce.

“As a central payment infrastructure in one API, Nium is a catalyst that unlocks cross-border payments, local accounts and card issuance with a network of local market licenses, partners and banking relationships to facilitate moving money across the world,” he added. “Enterprises of all types are embedding financial services as part of their consumer experience, and Nium is a key global enabler of this trend.”

Nanu said the new funding enables the company to move to the United States, which represents 3% of Nium’s revenue. He wants to increase that to 20% over the next 18 months, as well as expand in Latin America. The investment also gives the company a 12- to 18-month runway for further M&A activity.  In June, Nium acquired virtual card issuance company Ixaris, and in July acquired Wirecard Forex India to expose it to India’s market. He also plans to expand the company’s payments network infrastructure, invest in product development and add to Nium’s 700-person headcount.

Nium already counts hundreds of enterprise companies as clients and plans to onboard thousands more in the next year. The company processes $8 billion in payments annually and has issued more than 30 million virtual cards since 2015. Meanwhile, revenue grew by over 280% year over year.

All of this growth puts the company on a trajectory for an initial public offering, Nanu said. He has already spoken to people who will help the company formally kick off that journey in the first quarter of 2022.

“Unlike other companies that raise money for new products, we aim to expand in the existing sets of what we do,” Nanu said. “The U.S. is a new market, but we have a good brand and will use the new round to provide a better experience to the customer.”

 


By Christine Hall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Termii team

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


By Tage Kene-Okafor

Microsoft Azure expands its NoSQL portfolio with Managed Instances for Apache Cassandra

At its Ignite conference today, Microsoft announced the launch of Azure Managed Instance for Apache Cassandra, its latest NoSQL database offering and a competitor to Cassandra-centric companies like Datastax. Microsoft describes the new service as a ‘semi-managed offering that will help companies bring more of their Cassandra-based workloads into its cloud.

“Customers can easily take on-prem Cassandra workloads and add limitless cloud scale while maintaining full compatibility with the latest version of Apache Cassandra,” Microsoft explains in its press materials. “Their deployments gain improved performance and availability, while benefiting from Azure’s security and compliance capabilities.”

Like its counterpart, Azure SQL Manages Instance, the idea here is to give users access to a scalable, cloud-based database service. To use Cassandra in Azure before, businesses had to either move to Cosmos DB, its highly scalable database service which supports the Cassandra, MongoDB, SQL and Gremlin APIs, or manage their own fleet of virtual machines or on-premises infrastructure.

Cassandra was originally developed at Facebook and then open-sourced in 2008. A year later, it joined the Apache Foundation and today it’s used widely across the industry, with companies like Apple and Netflix betting on it for some of their core services, for example. AWS launched a managed Cassandra-compatible service at its re:Invent conference in 2019 (it’s called Amazon Keyspaces today), Microsoft only launched the Cassandra API for Cosmos DB last November. With today’s announcement, though, the company can now offer a full range of Cassandra-based servicer for enterprises that want to move these workloads to its cloud.


By Frederic Lardinois

Mirantis brings extensions to its Lens Kubernetes IDE, launches a new Kubernetes distro

Earlier this year, Mirantis, the company that now owns Docker’s enterprise business, acquired Lens, a desktop application that provides developers with something akin to an IDE for managing their Kubernetes clusters. At the time, Mirantis CEO Adrian Ionel told me that the company wants to offer enterprises the tools to quickly build modern applications. Today, it’s taking another step in that direction with the launch of an extensions API for Lens that will take the tool far beyond its original capabilities

In addition to this update to Lens, Mirantis also today announced a new open-source project: k0s. The company describes it as “a modern, 100% upstream vanilla Kubernetes distro that is designed and packaged without compromise.”

It’s a single optimized binary without any OS dependencies (besides the kernel). Based on upstream Kubernetes, k0s supports Intel and Arm architectures and can run on any Linux host or Windows Server 2019 worker nodes. Given these requirements, the team argues that k0s should work for virtually any use case, ranging from local development clusters to private datacenters, telco clusters and hybrid cloud solutions.

“We wanted to create a modern, robust and versatile base layer for various use cases where Kubernetes is in play. Something that leverages vanilla upstream Kubernetes and is versatile enough to cover use cases ranging from typical cloud based deployments to various edge/IoT type of cases.,” said Jussi Nummelin, Senior Principal Engineer at Mirantis and founder of k0s. “Leveraging our previous experiences, we really did not want to start maintaining the setup and packaging for various OS distros. Hence the packaging model of a single binary to allow us to focus more on the core problem rather than different flavors of packaging such as debs, rpms and what-nots.”

Mirantis, of course, has a bit of experience in the distro game. In its earliest iteration, back in 2013, the company offered one of the first major OpenStack distributions, after all.

As for Lens, the new API, which will go live next week to coincide with KubeCon, will enable developers to extend the service with support for other Kubernetes-integrated components and services.

“Extensions API will unlock collaboration with technology vendors and transform Lens into a fully featured cloud native development IDE that we can extend and enhance without limits,” said Miska Kaipiainen, the co-founder of the Lens open-source project and senior director of engineering at Mirantis. “If you are a vendor, Lens will provide the best channel to reach tens of thousands of active Kubernetes developers and gain distribution to your technology in a way that did not exist before. At the same time, the users of Lens enjoy quality features, technologies and integrations easier than ever.”

The company has already lined up a number of popular CNCF projects and vendors in the cloud-native ecosystem to build integrations. These include Kubernetes security vendors Aqua and Carbonetes, API gateway maker Ambassador Labs and AIOps company Carbon Relay. Venafi, nCipher, Tigera, Kong and StackRox are also currently working on their extensions.

“Introducing an extensions API to Lens is a game-changer for Kubernetes operators and developers, because it will foster an ecosystem of cloud-native tools that can be used in context with the full power of Kubernetes controls, at the user’s fingertips,” said Viswajith Venugopal, StackRox software engineer and developer of KubeLinter. “We look forward to integrating KubeLinter with Lens for a more seamless user experience.”


By Frederic Lardinois

Kong launches Kong Konnect, its cloud-native connectivity platform

At its (virtual) Kong Summit 2020, API platform Kong today announced the launch of Kong Konnect, its managed end-to-end cloud-native connectivity platform. The idea here is to give businesses a single service that allows them to manage the connectivity between their APIs and microservices and help developers and operators manage their workflows across Kong’s API Gateway, Kubernetes Ingress and King Service Mesh runtimes.

“It’s a universal control plane delivery cloud that’s consumption-based, where you can manage and orchestrate API gateway runtime, service mesh runtime, and Kubernetes Ingress controller runtime — and even Insomnia for design — all from one platform,” Kong CEO and co-founder Augusto ‘Aghi’ Marietti told me.

The new service is now in private beta and will become generally available in early 2021.

Image Credits: Kong

At the core of the platform is Kong’s new so-called ServiceHub, which provides that single pane of glass for managing a company’s services across the organization (and make them accessible across teams, too).

As Marietti noted, organizations can choose which runtime they want to use and purchase only those capabilities of the service that they currently need. The platform also includes built-in monitoring tools and supports any cloud, Kubernetes provider or on-premises environment, as long as they are Kubernetes-based.

The idea here, too, is to make all these tools accessible to developers and not just architects and operators. “I think that’s a key advantage, too,” Marietti said. “We are lowering the barrier by making a connectivity technology easier to be used by the 50 million developers — not just by the architects that were doing big grand plans at a large company.”

To do this, Konnect will be available as a self-service platform, reducing the friction of adopting the service.

Image Credits: Kong

This is also part of the company’s grander plan to go beyond its core API management services. Those services aren’t going away, but they are now part of the larger Kong platform. With its open-source Kong API Gateway, the company built the pathway to get to this point, but that’s a stable product now and it’s now clearly expanding beyond that with this cloud connectivity play that takes the company’s existing runtimes and combines them to provide a more comprehensive service.

“We have upgraded the vision of really becoming an end-to-end cloud connectivity company,” Marietti said. “Whether that’s API management or Kubernetes Ingress, […] or Kuma Service Mesh. It’s about connectivity problems. And so the company uplifted that solution to the enterprise.”

 


By Frederic Lardinois

Hasura raises $25 million Series B and adds MySQL support to its GraphQL service

Hasura, a service that provides developers with an open-source engine that provides them a GraphQL API to access their databases, today announced that it has raised a $25 million Series B round led by Lightspeed Venture Partners. Previous investors Vertex Ventures US, Nexus Venture Partners, Strive VC and SAP.iO Fund also participated in this round.

The new round, which the team raised after the COVID-19 pandemic had already started, comes only six months after the company announced its $9.9 million Series A round. In total, Hasura has now raised $36.5 million.

“We’ve been seeing rapid enterprise traction in 2020. We’ve wanted to accelerate our efforts investing in the Hasura community and our cloud product that we recently launched and to ensure the success of our enterprise customers. Given the VC inbound interest, a fundraise made sense to help us step on the gas pedal and give us room to grow comfortably,” Hasura co-founder and CEO Tanmai Gopa told me.

In addition to the new funding, Hasura also today announced that it has added support for MySQL databases to its service. Until now, the company’s service only worked with PostgreSQL databases.

Rajoshi Ghosh, co-founder and COO (left) and Tanmai Gopal, co-founder and CEO (right).

Rajoshi Ghosh, co-founder and COO (left) and Tanmai Gopal, co-founder and CEO (right).

As the company’s CEO and co-founder Tanmai Gopal told me, MySQL support has long been at the top of the most requested features by the service’s users. Many of these users — who are often in the health care and financial services industry — are also working with legacy systems they are trying to connect to modern applications and MySQL plays an important role there, given how long it has been around.

In addition to adding MySQL support, Hasura is also adding support for SQL Server to its line-up, but for now, that’s in early access.

“For MySQL and SQL Server, we’ve seen a lot of demand from our healthcare and financial services / fin-tech users,” Gopa said. “They have a lot of existing online data, especially in these two databases, that they want to activate to build new capabilities and use while modernizing their applications.

Today’s announcement also comes only a few months after the company launched a fully-managed managed cloud service for its service, which complements its existing paid Pro service for enterprises.

“We’re very impressed by how developers have taken to Hasura and embraced the GraphQL approach to building applications,” said Gaurav Gupta, partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners and Hasura board member. “Particularly for front-end developers using technologies like React, Hasura makes it easy to connect applications to existing databases where all the data is without compromising on security and performance. Hasura provides a lovely bridge for re-platforming applications to cloud-native approaches, so we see this approach being embraced by enterprise developers as well as front-end developers more and more.”

The company plans to use the new funding to add support for more databases and to tackle some of the harder technical challenges around cross-database joins and the company’s application-level data caching system. “We’re also investing deeply in company building so that we can grow our GTM and engineering in tandem and making some senior hires across these functions,” said Gopa.


By Frederic Lardinois

Google Cloud launches its Business Application Platform based on Apigee and AppSheet

Unlike some of its competitors, Google Cloud has recently started emphasizing how its large lineup of different services can be combined to solve common business problems. Instead of trying to sell individual services, Google is focusing on solutions and the latest effort here is what it calls its Business Application Platform, which combines the API management capabilities of Apigee with the no-code application development platform of AppSheet, which Google acquired earlier this year.

As part of this process, Google is also launching a number of new features for both services today. The company is launching the beta of a new API Gateway, built on top of the open-source Envoy project, for example. This is a fully-managed service that is meant o makes it easier for developers to secure and manage their API across Google’s cloud computing services and serverless offerings like Cloud Functions and Cloud Run. The new gateway, which has been in alpha for a while now, offers all the standard features you’d expect, including authentication, key validation and rate limiting.

As for its low-code service AppSheet, the Google Cloud team is now making it easier to bring in data from third-party applications thanks to the general availability to Apigee as a data source for the service. AppSheet already supported standard sources like MySQL, Salesforce and G Suite, but this new feature adds a lot of flexibility to the service.

With more data comes more complexity, so AppSheet is also launching new tools for automating processes inside the service today, thanks to the early access launch of AppSheet Automation. Like the rest of AppSheet, the promise here is that developers won’t have to write any code. Instead, AppSheet Automation provides a visual interface, that according to Google, “provides contextual suggestions based on natural language inputs.” 

“We are confident the new category of business application platforms will help empower both technical and line of business developers with the core ability to create and extend applications, build and automate workflows, and connect and modernize applications,” Google notes in today’s announcement. And indeed, this looks like a smart way to combine the no-code environment of AppSheet with the power of Apigee .


By Frederic Lardinois