BigChange raises $102M for a platform to help manage service fleets

We talk a lot these days about the future of work and the proliferation of new and better tools for distributed workforces, but companies focused on developing fleet management software — even if they have not really been viewed as “tech startups” — have been working on this problem for many years already. Today, one of the older players in the field is announcing its first significant round of investment, a sign both of how investors are taking more notice of these B2B players, and how the companies themselves are seeing a new opportunity for growth.

BigChange, a UK startup that builds fleet management software to help track and direct jobs to those on the go whose “offices” tend to be vehicles, has closed a round of £75 million ($102 million at today’s rates). U.S. investor Great Hill Partners.

The company has built a business by tapping into the advances of technology to build apps for field service engineers and those who manage their jobs, workers who in the past might have used phone calls and paperwork to manage how they work.

“I founded BigChange to revolutionise mobile workforce management and bring it into the 21st century. Our platform eliminates paperwork, dramatically cuts carbon, creates efficiency, promotes safer driving and means that engineers are spending less time on the roads or filling out forms and more time completing jobs,” said founder and CEO Martin Port in a statement. “We are incredibly excited to partner with Great Hill and leverage their successful track-record scaling vertical and enterprise software companies both in the UK and overseas.”

BigChange said that Great Hill’s stake values the company at £100 million (or $136 million). One report points to part of that funding being a secondary transaction, with Port pocketing £48 million of that. The company has been around since 2012 and appears to be profitable. It has raised very little in funding (around $2 million) before this, at one point trying to raise an angel round but cancelling the process before it completed, according to filings tracked by PitchBook.

As the technology industry continues to become essentially a part of every other industry in the world, this deal is notable as a sign of how its boundaries are expanding and getting more blurred.

BigChange is not a London startup, nor from the Cambridge or Oxford areas, nor from Bristol or anywhere in the south. It’s from the north, specifically Leeds — a city that has an impressive number of startups in it even if these have not had anything like the funding or attention that startups in cities and areas in the South have attracted. (One eye-catching exception is the online store Pharmacy2U: the Leeds startup has been backed by Atomico, BGF and others: given the interest of companies like Amazon to grow in this space, it’s likely one to watch.)

One of the big themes in technology right now is how a lot of the action is getting decentralised — a result of many of us now working remotely to stave off the spread of Covid-19, many people using that situation to reconsider whether they need to be living in any specific place at all, and subsequently choosing to relocate from expensive regions like the Bay Area to other places for better quality of life.

There are of course other cities like Manchester, Edinburg, Cardiff and more in the U.K. with technology ecosystems (just as there have been across many cities in the U.S. for years). But when one of these, this time out of Leeds, attracts a significant funding round, it points to the potential of something similar playing out in the U.K., too, with not just talent but more money going into regions beyond the usual suspects.

The other part of the decentralisation story here focuses on what BigChange is actually building.

Here, it’s one of the many companies that have dived into the area of building apps and larger pieces of software aimed not at “knowledge workers” but those who do not sit at desks, are on the move, and tend to work with their hands. For those who are on the road, it has apps to better manage their jobs and routes (which it calls JourneyWatch). For those back in the dispatch part of the operations, it has an app to track them better and use the software to balance the jobs and gain further analytics from the work (sold as JobWatch). These work on ruggedised devices and lean on SaaS architecture for distribution, and there are some 50,000 people across some 1,500 organizations using its apps today, with those customers located around the world, but with a large proportion of them in the U.K. itself.

BigChange is not the only company targeting workers in the field. We covered a significant funding round for another one of them out of North America, Jobber, which builds software for service professionals, just last month. Others tapping into the opportunity of bringing tech to a wider audience beyond knowledge workers include Hover (technology and a wider set of tools for home repair people to source materials, make pricing and work estimates, and run the administration of their businesses) and GoSite (a platform to help all kinds of SMBs — the key factor being that many of them are coming online for the first time — build out and run their businesses). Others in this specific area include Klipboard, Azuga, ServiceTitan, ServiceMax and more.

You might recognise the name Great Hill Partners as the PE firm that has taken majority stakes in a range of media companies like Gizmodo, Ziff Davis (way back when) and Storyblocks, and backed companies like The Real Real and Wayfair. In this case, the company was attracted by how BigChange was being adopted by a very wide range of industries that fall under “field service” as part of their workload.

“Unlike niche players that focus on smaller customers and specific sub-verticals, Martin and his accomplished team have built a flexible, all-in-one platform for field service professionals and operators,” said Drew Loucks, a partner at Great Hill Partners, in a statement. “BigChange’s technology is differentiated not only by its ability to serve commercial and residential clients of nearly any scale or vertical, but also by its award-winning product development and customer service capabilities.”


By Ingrid Lunden

Proxyclick visitor management system adapts to COVID as employee check-in platform

Proxyclick began life by providing an easy way to manage visitors in your building with an iPad-based check-in system. As the pandemic has taken hold, however, customer requirements have changed, and Proxyclick is changing with them. Today the company announced Proxyclick Flow, a new system designed to check in employees during the time of COVID.

“Basically when COVID hit our customers told us that actually our employees are the new visitors. So what you used to ask your visitors, you are now asking your employees — the usual probing question, but also when are you coming and so forth. So we evolved the offering into a wider platform,” Proxyclick co-founder and CEO Gregory Blondeau explained.

That means instead of managing a steady flow of visitors — although it can still do that — the company is focusing on the needs of customers who want to open their offices on a limited basis during the pandemic, based on local regulations. To help adapt the platform for this purpose, the company developed the Provr smartphone app, which employees can use to check in prior to going to the office, complete a health checklist, see who else will be in the office and make sure the building isn’t over capacity.

When the employee arrives at the office, they get a temperature check, and then can use the QR code issued by the Provr app to enter the building via Proxyclick’s check-in system or whatever system they have in place. Beyond the mobile app, the company has designed the system to work with a number of adjacent building management and security systems so that customers can use it in conjunction with existing tooling.

They also beefed up the workflow engine that companies can adapt based on their own unique entrance and exit requirements. The COVID workflow is simply one of those workflows, but Blondeau recognizes not everyone will want to use the exact one they have provided out of the box, so they designed a flexible system.

“So the challenge was technical on one side to integrate all the systems, and afterwards to group workflows on the employee’s smartphone, so that each organization can define its own workflow and present it on the smartphone,” Blondeau said.

Once in the building, the systems registers your presence and the information remains on the system for two weeks for contact tracing purposes should there be an exposure to COVID. You check out when you leave the building, but if you forget, it automatically checks you out at midnight.

The company was founded in 2010 and has raised $19.6 million. The most recent raise was a $15 million Series B in January.


By Ron Miller

Friday app, a remote work tool, raises $2.1 million led by Bessemer

Friday, an app looking to make remote work more efficient, has announced the close of a $2.1 million seed round led by Bessemer Venture Partners. Active Capital, Underscore, El Cap Holdings, TLC Collective, and New York Venture Partners also participated in the round, among others.

Founded by Luke Thomas, Friday sits on top of the tools that teams already use — Github, Trello, Asana, Slack, etc. — to surface information that workers need when they need it and keep them on top of what others in the organization are doing.

The platform offers a Daily Planner feature, so users can roadmap their day and share it with others, as well as a Work Routines feature, giving users the ability to customize and even automate routine updates. For example, weekly updates or daily standups done via Slack or Google Hangouts can be done via Friday app, eliminating the time spent by managers, or others, jotting down these updates or copying that info over from Slack.

Friday also lets users set goals across the organization or team so that users’ daily and weekly work aligns with the broader OKRs of the company.

Plus, Friday users can track their time spent in meetings, as well as team morale and productivity, using the Analytics dashboard of the platform.

Friday has a free forever model, which allows individual users or even organizations to use the app for free for as long as they want. More advanced features like Goals, Analytics and the ability to see past three weeks of history within the app, are paywalled for a price of $6/seat/month.

Thomas says that one of the biggest challenges for Friday is that people automatically assume it’s competing with an Asana or Trello, as opposed to being a layer on top of these products that brings all that information into one place.

“The number one problem is that we’re in a noisy space,” said Thomas. “There are a lot of tools that are saying they’re a remote work tool when they’re really just a layer on top of Zoom or a video conferencing tool. There is certainly increased amount of interest in the space in a good and positive way, but it also means that we have to work harder to cut through the noise.”

The Friday team is small for now — four full-time staff members — and Thomas says that he plans to double the size of the team following the seed round. Thomas declined to share any information around the diversity breakdown of the team.

Following a beta launch at the beginning of 2020, Friday says it is used by employees at organizations such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Quizlet, Red Hat, and EA, among others.

This latest round brings the company’s total funding to $2.5 million.


By Jordan Crook

Undock raises $1.6M to help solve your group scheduling nightmares

Over the past decade, many startups have tried (and many have failed) to rethink the way we schedule our meetings and calls. But we seem to be in a calendrical renaissance, with incumbents like Google and Outlook getting smarter and smarter and newcomers like Calendly growing significantly.

Undock, an Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator-backed startup, is looking to enter the space.

The startup recently closed a $1.6 million seed round with investors that include Lightship Capital, Bessemer Venture Partners, Lerer Hippeau, Alumni Ventures Group, Active Capital, Arlan Hamilton of Backstage Capital, Sarah Impach of Paypal/LinkedIn, and several other angel investors.

For now, Undock is a Chrome extension that allows users to seamlessly see mutual availability across a group, whether or not all users in the group have Undock, all from within their email. Founder and CEO Nash Ahmed wouldn’t go into too much detail about the technology that allows Undock to accomplish this. But, on the surface, users who don’t yet have Undock can temporarily link their calendar to the individual meeting request to automatically find times that work for everyone in the group. Otherwise, they can see the suggested times of the rest of the group and mark the ones that work for them.

This is just the beginning of the journey for Undock. The company plans to launch a full-featured calendar in Q1 of 2021, that would include collaborative editing right within calendar events, and embedded video conferencing.

According to Ahmed, the most important differentiating features of Undock are that it focuses on mutual availability (not just singular availability) and that it does so right within the email client.

Image Credits: undock

Scheduling will always be free within Undock, but the full calendar (when it’s released publicly) will have a variety of tiers starting at $10/month per user. Undock will also borrow from the Slack model and charge more for retention of information.

“The greatest challenge is definitely customer education,” said Ahmed, explaining that early on some users were confused by the product’s simplicity. “We messaged it by saying it’s like autocomplete. And early users would get into their email and then ask what to do next, or if they had to go back to Undock or to the Chrome extension. And we’d have to say ‘no, just keep typing.’”

The Undock team, which is Black- and female-founded, numbers 18 people. Twenty-eight percent of the team is female, 22 percent are Black, and 11 percent are LGBTQ, and the diversity of the leadership team is even higher.


By Jordan Crook

mmhmm videochat software is now available to all on the Mac App Store

mmhmm, the presentation software developed by Evernote founder Phil Libin, is today coming out of beta. The mmhmm app is now officially available in the Mac App Store.

The software allows folks to spice up their video calls with the ability to add different backgrounds, play videos, add images, and use filters, among other cool effects. The app has been invite only since its inception, but today it becomes available to all.

Alongside the launch of the free app, mmhmm is also introducing Premium Tools.

This includes customizable rooms, presenter controls and extra add-ons like laser pointers. Users can get a free seven-day trial of the Premium Tools, and after the trial will have access to these tools for one hour per day. The Premium Tools will cost $99/year or $9.99/month, but free users will still be able to videochat, record, collaborate and use the basic present with a default background and simple presenter mode.

Another important note: mmhmm has decided to make its Premium Tools free to students and educators for one year.

The public launch also brings a handful of new features, including Big Hand Mode (which lets folks in the video call visually react), improvements to the appearance of mmhmm’s virtual green screen, and mmhmm Creative Services.

Big Hand Mode is only available on Apple’s new M1-powered Macs.

Creative Services represent another revenue channel for the company, which will now offer white-glove bespoke services to folks running large events or experiences.

For now, mmhmm is only available on MacOS, but the company is working on a Windows beta as we speak.


By Jordan Crook

12 Paris-based VCs look at the state of their city

Four years after the Great Recession, France’s newly elected socialist president François Hollande raised taxes and increased regulations on founder-led startups. The subsequent flight of entrepreneurs to places like London and Silicon Valley portrayed France as a tough place to launch a company. By 2016, France’s national statistics bureau estimated that about three million native-born citizens had moved abroad.

Those who remained fought back: The Family was an early accelerator that encouraged French entrepreneurs to adopt Silicon Valley’s startup methodology, and the 2012 creation of Bpifrance, a public investment bank, put money into the startup ecosystem system via investors. Organizers founded La French Tech to beat the drum about native startups.

When President Emmanuel Macron took office in May 2017, he scrapped the wealth tax on everything except property assets and introduced a flat 30% tax rate on capital gains. Station F, a giant startup campus funded by billionaire entrepreneur Xavier Niel on the site of a former railway station, began attracting international talent. Tony Fadell, one of the fathers of the iPod and founder of Nest Labs, moved to Paris to set up investment firm Future Shape; VivaTech was created with government backing to become one of Europe’s largest startup conference and expos.

Now, in the COVID-19 era, the government has made €4 billion available to entrepreneurs to keep the lights on. According to a recent report from VC firm Atomico, there are 11 unicorns in France, including BlaBlaCar, OVHcloud, Deezer and Veepee. More appear to be coming; last year Macron said he wanted to see “25 French unicorns by 2025.”

According to Station F, by the end of August, there had been 24 funding rounds led by international VCs and a few big transactions. Enterprise artificial intelligence and machine-learning platform Dataiku raised a $100 million Series D round, and Paris-based gaming startup Voodoo raised an undisclosed amount from Tencent Holdings.

We asked 12 Paris -based investors to comment on the state of play in their city:

Alison Imbert, Partech

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?

All the fintechs addressing SMBs to help them to focus more on their core business (including banks disintermediation by fintech, new infrastructures tech that are lowering the barrier to entry to nonfintech companies).

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?

77foods (plant-based bacon) — love that alternative proteins trend as well. Obviously, we need to transform our diet toward more sustainable food. It’s the next challenge for humanity.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
Impact investment: Logistic companies tackling the life cycle of products to reduce their carbon footprint and green fintech that reinvent our spending and investment strategy around more sustainable products.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
D2C products.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
100% investing in France as I’m managing Paris Saclay Seed Fund, a €53 million fund, investing in pre-seed and seed startups launched by graduates and researchers from the best engineering and business schools from this ecosystem.

Which industries in your city and region seem well-positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Deep tech, biotech and medical devices. Paris, and France in general, has thousands of outstanding engineers that graduate each year. Researchers are more and more willing to found companies to have a true impact on our society. I do believe that the ecosystem is more and more structured to help them to build such companies.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
Paris is booming for sure. It’s still behind London and Berlin probably. But we are seeing more and more European VC offices opening in the city to get direct access to our ecosystem. Even in seed rounds, we start to have European VCs competing against us. It’s good — that means that our startups are moving to the next level.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
For sure startups will more and more push for remote organizations. It’s an amazing way to combine quality of life for employees and attracting talent. Yet I don’t think it will be the majority. Not all founders are willing/able to build a fully remote company. It’s an important cultural choice and it’s adapted to a certain type of business. I believe in more flexible organization (e.g., tech team working remotely or 1-2 days a week for any employee).

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19? What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?
Travel and hospitality sectors are of course hugely impacted. Yet there are opportunities for helping those incumbents to face current challenges (e.g., better customer care and services, stronger flexibility, cost reduction and process automation).

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
Cash is king more than ever before. My only piece of advice will be to keep a good level of cash as we have a limited view on events coming ahead. It’s easy to say but much more difficult to put in practice (e.g., to what extend should I reduce my cash burn? Should I keep on investing in the product? What is the impact on the sales team?). Startups should focus only on what is mission-critical for their clients. Yet it doesn’t impact our seed investments as we invest pre-revenue and often pre-product.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
There is no reason to be hopeless. Crises have happened in the past. Humanity has faced other pandemics. Humans are resilient and resourceful enough to adapt to a new environment and new constraints.


By Mike Butcher

Eden intros SaaS tools in a bid to become a more comprehensive office management platform

Eden, the office management platform founded by Joe du Bey, is today announcing the launch of several new enterprise software features. The company, which offers a marketplace for office managers to procure services like office cleaning, repairs, etc., is looking to offer a more comprehensive platform.

The software features include a COVID team safety tool that tracks who is coming into the office, and lets them reserve a specific desk to help ensure social distancing precautions are being taken.

“For us, the pandemic really accelerated our plans around enterprise tools,” said Joe du Bey. “We realized by talking to our clients that what they need right now isn’t services. Services are important, but what they really want in this moment is to have software so they can get back into the office.”

Eden is also introducing a service desk ticketing tool to allow workers to make requests or file a ticket for a broken piece of equipment from their own desktop, as well as a visitor management tool and a room booking tool.

The company’s acquisition of Managed By Q, its biggest competitor in the services space, also greatly accelerated its ability to deliver software. Managed By Q, which was acquired by WeWork in 2019 for $220 million, was already on the trajectory of building out software well before its acquisition by Eden, and had itself acquired companies like Hivy to offer SaaS-based tools to customers.

As Eden grows its product portfolio, competition still abounds. Envoy (with just under $60 million in funding) has been in the visitor management space since its inception and is looking to broaden its product portfolio beyond office visitors. UpKeep is charging into the service ticket space with a mobile app to make it easier for service workers within an office to do their job and move seamlessly from task to task. Meanwhile, Robin is in the mix with its own room booking platform.

The point? There is clearly a rush to build out a platform that helps folks manage the physical space of an office and the people within it. Eden, with $40 million in total funding, is well positioned to duke it out for the top spot among a variety of competitors who are angling to ‘do it all.’

“This is a board meeting question: are we fighting too many battles or is comprehensiveness our most important asset?” said du Bey. “We have a completeness to our vision. A lot of our customers are saying they want a few tools from one place versus the very fragmented experience they have today. But there are trade offs in comprehensiveness. It means that someone can can spend all day building a hundred integrations for their app that for us might not be possible. So, there are some really interesting trade offs.”

That’s not without hardship, however. Eden had to layoff about 40 percent of its workforce amid the coronavirus pandemic. And though COVID has slowed growth, du Bey says that revenue in April 2020 was still higher than it was the year prior.

Alongside trying to support marketplace partners and customers through the pandemic, Eden has also introduced new ways to search for service providers, including a way to solicit a bid from black-owned businesses in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement.

The Eden team is 52 percent female. Black employees represent 12 percent of the workforce, and Latinx employees represent 8 percent of the workforce.


By Jordan Crook

Mode raises $33M to supercharge its analytics platform for data scientists

Data science is the name of the game these days for companies that want to improve their decision making by tapping the information they are already amassing in their apps and other systems. And today, a startup called Mode Analytics, which has built a platform incorporating machine learning, business intelligence and big data analytics to help data scientists fulfil that task, is announcing $33 million in funding to continue making its platform ever more sophisticated.

Most recently, for example, the company has started to introduce tools (including SQL and Python tutorials) for less technical users, specifically those in product teams, so that they can structure queries that data scientists can subsequently execute faster and with more complete responses — important for the many follow up questions that arise when a business intelligence process has been run. Mode claims that its tools can help produce answers to data queries in minutes.

This Series D is being led by SaaS specialist investor H.I.G. Growth Partners, with previous investors Valor Equity Partners, Foundation Capital, REV Venture Partners, and Switch Ventures all participating. Valor led Mode’s Series C in February 2019, while Foundation and REV respectively led its A and B rounds.

Mode is not disclosing its valuation, but co-founder and CEO Derek Steer confirmed in an interview that it was “absolutely” an up-round.

For some context, PitchBook notes that last year its valuation was $106 million. The company now has a customer list that it says covers 52% of the Forbes 500, including Anheuser Busch, Zillow, Lyft, Bloomberg, Capital One, VMWare, and Conde Nast. It says that to date it has processed 830 million query runs and 170 million notebook cell runs for 300,000 users. (Pricing is based on a freemium model, with a free “Studio” tier and Business and Enterprise tiers priced based on size and use.)

Mode has been around since 2013, when it was co-founded by Steer, Benn Stancil (Mode’s current president) and Josh Ferguson (initially the CTO and now chief architect).

Steer said the impetus for the startup came out of gaps in the market that the three had found through years of experience at other companies.

Specifically, when all three were working together at Yammer (they were early employees and stayed on after the Microsoft acquisition), they were part of a larger team building custom data analytics tools for Yammer. At the time, Steer said Yammer was paying $1 million per year to subscribe to Vertica (acquired by HP in 2011) to run it.

They saw an opportunity to build a platform that could provide similar kinds of tools — encompassing things like SQL Editors, Notebooks, and reporting tools and dashboards — to a wider set of users.

“We and other companies like Facebook and Google were building analytics internally,” Steer recalled, “and we knew that the world wanted to work more like these tech companies. That’s why we started Mode.”

All the same, he added, “people were not clearly exactly about what a data scientist even was.”

Indeed, Mode’s growth so far has mirrored that of the rise of data science overall, as the discipline of data science, and the business case for employing data scientists to help figure out what is “going on” beyond the day to day, getting answers by tapping all the data that’s being amassed in the process of just doing business. That means Mode’s addressable market has also been growing.

But even if the trove of potential buyers of Mode’s products has been growing, so has the opportunity overall. There has been a big swing in data science and big data analytics in the last several years, with a number of tech companies building tools to help those who are less technical “become data scientists” by introducing more intuitive interfaces like drag-and-drop features and natural language queries.

They include the likes of Sisense (which has been growing its analytics power with acquisitions like Periscope Data), Eigen (focusing on specific verticals like financial and legal queries), Looker (acquired by Google) and Tableau (acquired by Salesforce).

Mode’s approach up to now has been closer to that of another competitor, Alteryx, focusing on building tools that are still aimed primary at helping data scientists themselves. You have any number of database tools on the market today, Steer noted, “Snowflake, Redshift, BigQuery, Databricks, take your pick.” The key now is in providing tools to those using those databases to do their work faster and better.

That pitch and the success of how it executes on it is what has given the company success both with customers and investors.

“Mode goes beyond traditional Business Intelligence by making data faster, more flexible and more customized,” said Scott Hilleboe, MD, H.I.G. Growth Partners, in a statement. “The Mode data platform speeds up answers to complex business problems and makes the process more collaborative, so that everyone can build on the work of data analysts. We believe the company’s innovations in data analytics uniquely position it to take the lead in the Decision Science marketplace.”

Steer said that fundraising was planned long before the coronavirus outbreak to start in February, which meant that it was timed as badly as it could have been. Mode still raised what it wanted to in a couple of months — “a good raise by any standard,” he noted — even if it’s likely that the valuation suffered a bit in the process. “Pitching while the stock market is tanking was terrifying and not something I would repeat,” he added.

Given how many acquisitions there have been in this space, Steer confirmed that Mode too has been approached a number of times, but it’s staying put for now. (And no, he wouldn’t tell me who has been knocking, except to say that it’s large companies for whom analytics is an “adjacency” to bigger businesses, which is to say, the very large tech companies have approached Mode.)

“The reason we haven’t considered any acquisition offers is because there is just so much room,” Steer said. “I feel like this market is just getting started, and I would only consider an exit if I felt like we were handicapped by being on our own. But I think we have a lot more growing to do.”


By Ingrid Lunden

Macro just raised $4.3M to make your never-ending Zoom calls more useful

In this pandemic world, in-person meetings are a thing of the past. Most meetings these days are done via video conference, and no company has capitalized on the shift quite like Zoom.

Macro, a new FirstMark-backed company, is looking to capitalize on the capitalization. To Capitalism!

Sorry. Let’s get back on track. Macro is a native app that employs the Zoom SDK to add depth and analysis to your daily work meetings.

There are two modes. The first is essentially focused on collaboration, which turns the usual Zoom meeting into a light overlay, where folks are shown in small, circular bubbles at the top of the screen. This mode is to be used when folks are working on the same project, such as a wireframe or a collaborative document. The UI is meant to kind of fade into the background, allowing users to click on taps or objects behind other attendees’ bubbles.

The other mode is an Arena or Stadium mode, which is meant for hands-on meetings and presentations. It has two distinct features. The first is an Airtime feature, which shows how much different participants have ‘had the floor’ for the past five minutes, thirty minutes, or in total during the meeting. The second is a text-input system on the right side of the UI that lets people enter Questions, Takeaways, Action Items and Insights from the call.

Macro automatically adds that text to a Google Doc, and formats it into something instantly shareable.

There is no extra hassle involved in getting Macro up and running. When a user installs Macro on their computer, they’re instantly loaded into Macro each time they click a Zoom link, whether it’s in an email, a calendar invite, or in Slack.

Macro cofounders Ankith Harathi and John Keck explained to TechCrunch that this isn’t your usual enterprise play. The product is free to use and, with the Google Doc export, is still useful even as a single-player product. The Google Doc is auto-formatted with Macro messaging, explaining that it was compiled by the company with a link to the product.

In other words, Harathi and Keck want to see individuals within organizations get Macro for themselves and let the product grow organically within an organization, rather than trying to sell to large teams right off the bat.

“A lot of collaborative productivity SaaS applications need your whole team to switch over to get any value out of them,” said Harathi. “That’s a pretty big barrier, especially since so many new products are coming out and teams are constantly switching and that creates a lot of noise. So our plan was to ensure one person can use this and get value out of it, and nobody else is affected. They get the better interface and other team members will want to switch over without any requirement to do so.”

This is possible in large part to the cost of the Zoom SDK, which is $0. The heavy lifting of audio and video is handled by Zoom, as is the high compute cost. This means that Macro can offer its product for free at a relatively low cost to the company as it tries to grow.

Of course, there is some risk involved with building on an existing platform. Namely, one Zoom platform change could wreak havoc on Macro’s product or model. However, the team has plans to expand beyond Zoom to other video conferencing platforms like Google, BlueJeans, WebEx, etc. Roelof Botha told TechCrunch back in May that businesses built on other platforms have a much greater chance of success when there is platform across that sector, as there certainly is here.

And there seems to be some competition for Macro in particular — for one, Microsoft Teams just added some new features to its video conferencing UI to relieve brain fatigue and Hello is looking to offer app-free video chat via browser.

Macro is also looking to add additional functionality to the platform, such as the ability to integrate an agenda into the meeting and break up the accompanying Google doc by agenda item.

The company has raised a total of $4.8 million since launch, including a new $4.3 million seed round from FirstMark Capital, General Catalyst and Underscore VC. Other investors include NextView Ventures, Jason Warner (CTO GitHub), Julie Zhuo (former VP Design Facebook), Harry Stebbings (Founder/Host of 20minVC), Adam Nash (Dropbox, Wealthfront, LinkedIn), Clark Valberg (CEO Invision), among others.

Macro has more than 25,000 users and has been a part of 50,000 meetings to date.


By Jordan Crook

Verizon partners with Airtel to launch BlueJeans in India

Bharti Airtel announced on Tuesday it has partnered with Verizon* to launch BlueJeans video-conferencing service in India to serve business customers in the world’s second largest internet market.

The video conferencing service, branded as Airtel BlueJeans in India, offers “enterprise-grade security” (which includes encrypted calls, ability to lock and password protect a meeting and generate randomized meeting IDs), a cloud point presence in India to enable low latency, HD video and Dolby Voice, and can accommodate up to 50,000 participants on a call.

Gopal Vittal, chief executive of Airtel, said in a call with reporters Tuesday that the Indian telecom operator is exploring ways to bring Airtel BlueJeans to home customers as well, though he cautioned that any such offering would take at least a few weeks to hammer out.

Airtel BlueJeans is being offered to businesses at no charge for the first three months, after which the video conferencing service will be offered at a “very competitive” price, said Vittal. Airtel will offer customized pricing plans for large businesses and small businesses, he added.

Airtel, the third largest telecom operator in India with 300 million subscribers, already maintains a partnership with G Suite and Cisco Webex, and Zoom. However, Vittal said that its collaboration with Verizon was “special” and enabled it to host data in India itself.

Verizon acquired BlueJeans in April this year. At the time, BlueJeans had over 15,000 business customers. Hans Vestberg, chief executive of Verizon, said on Tuesday that the American telecom giant was hopeful that Airtel BlueJeans would make major inroads in the Indian market, though he declined to share any figures.

Vestberg said Verizon is open to extending this partnership with Airtel to serve the Indian telecom operator’s business in African market, though both are currently focused on serving clients in India.

Tuesday’s announcement comes as video conferencing services have gained impressive momentum in India in recent months. Zoom app, which is also available to consumers, has already amassed over 35 million monthly active users in the country, according to mobile insights firm App Annie — data of which an industry executive shared with TechCrunch.

Reliance Jio Platforms, the top telecom operator in India with nearly 400 million subscribers, launched its video conferencing service JioMeet earlier this month. JioMeet is currently available to both consumers and business customers at no charge and a session on the service can last for up to 24 hours.

“We know we are not the first to launch a video conferencing in India, but we are confident that our differentiated offerings and brand value would stand out,” said Vittal.

Airtel BlueJeans, which includes BlueJeans’ Meetings, Events, Rooms, and Gateway for Microsoft Teams functionalities, will go live in India Tuesday evening.

*Verizon is TechCrunch’s parent company.


By Manish Singh

Watchful is a mobile product intelligence startup that surfaces unreleased features

Meet Watchful, a Tel Aviv-based startup coming out of stealth that wants to help you learn more about what your competitors are doing when it comes to mobile app development. The company tries to identify features that are being tested before getting rolled out to everyone, giving you an advantage if you’re competing with those apps.

Mobile app development has become a complex task, especially for the biggest consumer apps, from social to e-commerce. Usually, mobile development teams work on a new feature and try it out on a small subset of users. That process is called A/B testing as you separate your customers in two buckets — bucket A or bucket B.

For instance, Twitter is trying out its own version of Stories called Fleets. The company first rolled it out in Brazil to track the reaction and get some data from its user base. If you live anywhere else in the world, you’re not going to see that feature.

There are other ways to select a group of users to try out a new feature — you could even take part in a test because you’ve been randomly picked.

“When you open the app, you’ll probably see a different version from the app I see. You’re in a different region, you have a different device,” co-founder and CEO Itay Kahana told me. He previously founded popular to-do app Any.do.

For product designers, it has become a nightmare as you can’t simply open an app and look at what your competitors are doing. At any point in time, there are many different versions of the same app as there are multiple A/B tests going on at the same time.

Watchful lets you learn from competition by analyzing all those different versions and annotating changes in user flows, flagging unreleased features and uncovering design changes.

It is different from other mobile intelligence startups, such as App Annie or Sensor Tower. Those services mostly let you track downloads and rankings on the App Store and Play store to uncover products that are doing well.

“We’re focused on everything that is open and visible to the users,” Kahana said.

Like other intelligence startups, Watchful needs data. App Annie acquired a VPN app called Distimo and a data usage monitoring app called Mobidia. When you activate those apps, App Annie captures data about your phone usage, such as the number of times you open an app and how much time you spend in those apps.

According to a BuzzFeed News report, Sensor Tower has operated at least 20 apps on iOS and Android to capture data, such as Free and Unlimited VPN, Luna VPN, Mobile Data and Adblock Focus. Some of those apps have been removed from the stores following BuzzFeed’s story.

I asked a lot of questions about Watchful’s source of data. “It’s all real users that give us access to this information. It’s all running on real devices, real users. We extract videos and screenshots from them,” Kahana said.

“It’s more like a panel of users that we have access to their devices. It’s not an SDK that is hidden in some app and collects information and do shady stuff,” he added.

You’ll have to trust him as the company didn’t want to elaborate further. Kahana also said that data is anonymized in order to remove all user information.

Images are then analyzed by a computer vision algorithm focused on differential analysis. The startup has a team in the Philippines that goes through all that data and annotates it. It is then sent to human analysts so that they can track apps and write reports.

Watchful shared one of those reports with TechCrunch earlier this year. Thanks to this process, the startup discovered that TikTok parent company ByteDance has been working on a deepfake maker. The feature was spotted in both TikTok and its Chinese sister app Douyin.

But Watchful’s customers aren’t news organizations. The company sells access to its service to big companies working in the mobile space. Kahana didn’t want to name them, but it said it is already working with “the biggest social network players and the biggest e-commerce players, mainly in the U.S.”

The startup sells annual contracts based on the number of apps that you want to track. It has raised a $3 million seed round led by Vertex Ventures.


By Romain Dillet

Is Zoom the next Android, or the next BlackBerry?

In business, there’s nothing so valuable as having the right product at the right time. Just ask Zoom, the hot cloud-based video conferencing platform experiencing explosive growth thanks to its sudden relevance in the age of sheltering in place.

Having worked at BlackBerry in its heyday in the early 2000s, I see a lot of parallels to what Zoom is going through right now. As Zooming into a video meeting or a classroom is today, so too was pulling out your BlackBerry to fire off an email or check your stocks circa 2002. Like Zoom, the company then known as Research in Motion had the right product for enterprise users that increasingly wanted to do business on the go.

Of course, BlackBerry’s story didn’t have a happy ending.

From 1999 to 2007, BlackBerry seemed totally unstoppable. But then Steve Jobs announced the iPhone, Google launched Android and all of the chinks in the BlackBerry armor started coming undone, one by one. How can Zoom avoid the same fate?

As someone who was at both BlackBerry and Android during their heydays, my biggest takeaway is that product experience trumps everything else. It’s more important than security (an issue Zoom is getting blasted about right now), what CIOs want, your user install base and the larger brand identity.

When the iPhone was released, many people within BlackBerry rightly pointed out that we had a technical leg up on Apple in many areas important to business and enterprise users (not to mention the physical keyboard for quickly cranking out emails)… but how much did that advantage matter in the end? If there is serious market pull, the rest eventually gets figured out… a lesson I learned from my time at BlackBerry that I was lucky enough to be able to immediately apply when I joined Google to work on Android.


By Walter Thompson

India’s richest man built a telecom operator everyone wants a piece of

As investors’ appetites sour in the midst of a pandemic, a three-and-a-half-year-old Indian firm has secured $10.3 billion in a month from Facebook and four U.S.-headquartered private equity firms.

The major deals for Reliance Jo Platforms have sparked a sudden interest among analysts, executives and readers at a time when many are skeptical of similar big check sizes that some investors wrote to several young startups, many of which are today struggling to make sense of their finances.

Prominent investors across the globe, including in India, have in recent weeks cautioned startups that they should be prepared for the “worst time” as new checks become elusive.

Elsewhere in India, the world’s second-largest internet market and where all startups together raised a record $14.5 billion last year, firms are witnessing down rounds (where their valuations are slashed). Miten Sampat, an angel investor, said this week that startups should expect a 40%-50% haircut in their valuations if they do get an investment offer.

Facebook’s $5.7 billion investment valued the company at $57 billion. But U.S. private equity firms Silver Lake, Vista, General Atlantic, and KKR — all the other deals announced in the past five weeks — are paying a 12.5% premium for their stake in Jio Platforms, valuing it at $65 billion.

How did an Indian firm become so valuable? What exactly does it do? Is it just as unprofitable as Uber? What does its future look like? Why is it raising so much money? And why is it making so many announcements instead of one.

It’s a long story.

Run up to the launch of Jio

Billionaire Mukesh Ambani gave a rundown of his gigantic Indian empire at a gathering in December 2015 packed with 35,000 people including hundreds of Bollywood celebrities and industry titans.

“Reliance Industries has the second-largest polyester business in the world. We produce one and a half million tons of polyester for fabrics a year, which is enough to give every Indian 5 meters of fabric every year, year-on-year,” said Ambani, who is Asia’s richest man.


By Manish Singh

Health APIs usher in the patient revolution we have been waiting for

If you’ve ever been stuck using a health provider’s clunky online patient portal or had to make multiple calls to transfer medical records, you know how difficult it is to access your health data.

In an era when control over personal data is more important than ever before, the healthcare industry has notably lagged behind — but that’s about to change. This past month, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) published two final rules around patient data access and interoperability that will require providers and payers to create APIs that can be used by third-party applications to let patients access their health data.

This means you will soon have consumer apps that will plug into your clinic’s health records and make them viewable to you on your smartphone.

Critics of the new rulings have voiced privacy concerns over patient health data leaving internal electronic health record (EHR) systems and being surfaced to the front lines of smartphone apps. Vendors such as Epic and many health providers have publicly opposed the HHS rulings, while others, such as Cerner, have been supportive.

While that debate has been heated, the new HHS rulings represent a final decision that follows initial rules proposed a year ago. It’s a multi-year win for advocates of greater data access and control by patients.

The scope of what this could lead to — more control over your health records, and apps on top of it — is immense. Apple has been making progress with its Health Records app for some time now, and other technology companies, including Microsoft and Amazon, have undertaken healthcare initiatives with both new apps and cloud services.

It’s not just big tech that is getting in on the action: startups are emerging as well, such as Commure and Particle Health, which help developers work with patient health data. The unlocking of patient health data could be as influential as the unlocking of banking data by Plaid, which powered the growth of multiple fintech startups, including Robinhood, Venmo and Betterment.

What’s clear is that the HHS rulings are here to stay. In fact, many of the provisions require providers and payers to provide partial data access within the next 6-12 months. With this new market opening up, though, it’s time for more health entrepreneurs to take a deeper look at what patient data may offer in terms of clinical and consumer innovation.

The incredible complexity of today’s patient data systems


By Walter Thompson