Zenput raises $27M Series C to keep multiunit operations flowing no matter the location

Ensuring food safety compliance can be challenging at one restaurant, let alone across thousands of restaurants. Zenput has developed technology aimed at making sure operating procedures are quickly adapted so that businesses maintain quality.

The San Francisco-based operations execution company raised $27 million in Series C financing, led by Golub Capital, to continue developing its application to automate operation procedures like tracking food safety, public health protocols and changing market conditions.

Restaurants, convenience stores and grocery chain customers can use Zenput to update all of their locations — at the same time — with new processes, promotional campaigns and key initiatives while also gathering data and insights from those locations to find opportunities for improvement.

Joining Golub in the round were existing investors, including Jackson Square Ventures, MHS Capital and Goldcrest Capital. This brings the company’s total funding to more than $47 million, co-founder and CEO Vladik Rikhter told TechCrunch.

Greg Gretsch, founding partner and managing director at Jackson Square Ventures, led Zenput’s Series A round in 2016 and had met Rikhter a year prior. At the time, Rikhter was in the early stages of developing what Gretsch called an organization task manager. While he didn’t invest then, he kept in touch with Rikhter and saw “how much of a grinder he was” in expanding the platform.

“When he sees a problem, he works and works to solve it,” Gretsch said. “Whenever you have a multilocation business, you have a remote management problem. You’re trying to manage everything so your weakest link can perform as best as the best link, but you need a platform to manage that so that you can hold stores accountable to improve the end product.”

Front-line workers use Zenput’s mobile app for onboarding at the beginning of the day and to track safety compliance and fresh food checks, something Rikhter said was historically challenging once a business had thousands of locations. The app can also alert when food has been left out too long to assist in lowering food waste rates.

Since its founding in 2012, Zenput is currently used by customers like Chipotle, Domino’s, P.F. Chang’s, Five Guys, Smart & Final and 7-Eleven in over 60,000 locations across more than 100 countries.

The Series C round comes as the company saw 100% revenue growth over the past year. At the same time, product usage more than doubled at stores, and to date, 1.5 billion questions were answered through Zenput, a figure Rikhter expects to double over the next 12 months as locations aim to find ways to do more things remotely.

“The pandemic inadvertently helped us,” he added. “Initially, it was rough, but then a lot of the brands we dealt with needed to expedite technology and saw an opportunity to invest in our technology. We have more products coming because there is more that can be done to make sure every meal is a safe meal.”

Much of the new funding will go toward building those new products and capabilities and into marketing to expand the customer base. The company recently launched an expansion of its Zenput for Franchisors tool and updates to its food prep labeling and temperature monitoring functions.

Rikhter also plans to double Zenput’s employees over the 16 to 18 months, especially in the product engineering and marketing areas.

All of that is to be ready for customer demand as restaurants, convenience stores and grocery chains do more to change up the way they do business in the future.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to show up at a restaurant and see changes made daily on protocols, which will drive a lot more of the journey than before,” Rikhter said. “We see more operators flexing muscles they didn’t know they had, as it relates to promotions and products, so they can grow faster and run totally different operational features and offer more options for customers.”

 


By Christine Hall

mmhmm, the video conferencing software, kicks off summer with a bunch of new features

mmhmm, the communications platform developed by Phil Libin and the All Turtles team, is getting a variety of new features. According to Libin, there are parts of communication today that can not only match what we get in the real world, but exceed it.

That’s how this next iteration of mmhmm is meant to deliver.

The new headline feature is mmhmm Chunky, which allows the presenter to break up their script and presentation into ‘chunks’. Think of the presenter the same way you think of slides in a deck. Each one gets the full edit treatment and final polish. With Chunky, mmhmm users can break up their presentation into chunks to perfect each individual bit of information.

A presenter can switch between live and pre-recorded chunks in a presentation. So you can imagine a salesman making a pitch and switching over to his explanation of the pricing as a pre-recorded piece of his pitch, or a teacher who has a pre-recorded chunk on a particular topic can throw to that mid-class.

But mmhmm didn’t just think about the creation side, but the consumption side. Folks in the audience can jump around between chunks and slides to catch up, or even view in a sped up mode to consume more quickly. Presenters can see where folks in the audience are as they present or later on.

Libin sees this feature as a way to supercharge time.

“At mmhmm, we stopped doing synchronous updates with our fully distributed team,” said Libin. “We don’t have meetings anymore where people take turns updating each other because it’s not very efficient. Now the team just sends around their quick presentations, and I can watch it in double speed because people can listen faster than people can talk. But we don’t have to do it at the same time. Then, when we actually talk synchronously, it’s reserved for that live back-and-forth about the important stuff.”

mmhmm is also announcing that it has developed its own video player, allowing folks to stream their mmhmm presentations to whatever website they’d like. As per usual, mmhmm will still work with Zoom, Google Meet, etc.

The new features list also includes an updated version of Copilot. For folks who remember, Copilot allowed one person to present and another person to ‘drive,’ or art direct, the presentation from the background. Copilot 2.0 lets two people essentially video chat side by side, in whatever environment they’d like.

Libin showed me a presentation/conversation he did with a friend where they were both framed up in Libin’s house. He clarified that this feature works best with one-on-one conversations, or, one-on-one conversations in front of a large audience, such as a fireside chat.

Alongside mmhmm Chunky, streaming, and Copilot 2.0, the platform is also doing a bit of spring cleaning with regards to organization. Users will have a Presentation Library where they can save and organize their best takes, and organizations can also use ‘Loaf’ to store all the best videos and presentations company wide for consumption later. The team also revamped Presets to make it easier to apply a preset to a bunch of slides at once or switch between presets more easily.

A couple other notes: mmhmm is working to bring the app to both iOS and Android very soon, and launch out of beta on Windows.

Libin explained that not every single feature described here will launch today, but rather you’ll see features trickle out each week as we head into summer. He’ll be giving a keynote on the new features here at 10am PT/1pm ET.


By Jordan Crook

Pitch, a platform for making and sharing presentations, raises $85M on a $600M valuation

Powerpoint may still dominate the landscape for presentations in many people’s minds, but some might say that legacy status also makes Microsoft’s software ripe for disruption. Now, a startup out of Berlin called Pitch has just picked up a substantial Series B of $85 million to take it on with what it believes is a more dynamic approach.

The round is being led by Lakestar and Tiger Global, with previous backers Index Ventures and Thrive Capital also participating. We understand from sources close to the company that the valuation is now at $600 million for the Berlin-based startup.

In the words of CEO and co-founder Christian Reber, the ambition is to create the “YouTube for presentations” with the ability for people to create, create, collaborate on, and share presentations with each other through an online-based interface.

His interest, meanwhile, in taking on Microsoft has a deeper story to it. As we have covered before, Reber’s previous startup, the planning startup Wunderlist, was acquired by Microsoft and folded into its productivity suite, only to eventually be killed off, much to Reber’s disbelief and disappointment.

Not to dwell too much in the past, the funding Pitch has now raised will be used in several areas, including hiring more people and reach. The startup has already seen good progress on the latter front. Pitch is already being used by tens of thousands of teams, it ways, who have created some 125,000 workspaces on the platform. Customers include (ironically) a number of other trailblazers in the world of business productivity: Intercom, Superhuman and Notion are among the list.

The plan will be to work on bringing on more users into its freemium universe, while converting more to its Pitch Pro $10/user/month paid tier, which includes more extensions like unlimited storage, video uploads, version history, and advanced permissioning. Pro already has a “couple of thousand” subscribers, Reber said, enough to prove out that “we definitely see our business model working.” Pitch is also working on rolling out an enterprise version so that it can sell Pitch into the bigger businesses and deployments that dominate usage of Powerpoint.

And the other way that Pitch plans to bring more people into the fold will be with more functionality. Along with the funding, Pitch is rolling out some new features that will include the beginnings of an ecosystem, where presentation designers and creators will be able to upload both presentation templates, as well as presentations themselves, to help other people get started in creating their own presentations.

The idea here is to celebrate creators, Reber said, but it’s (at least for now) stopping short of paying them, seeing this more as a way of sharing designs and ideas in a more collaborative exchange with each other. Both, however, seem to me to be ripe opportunities down the line for building a marketplace. Creating a great pitch deck for a startup is great to share as a resource, but if you are also, say, a leadership coach who makes a living out of giving people inspiring direction on how to handle something, a pitch deck with that IP in it perhaps might not be something you’d always be willing to part with for free. (Reber says his inspiration here was the world of design forums like Dribble where an exchange of ideas has thrived.)

Initially, the user-generated content will be selected by Pitch itself, although the plan over time will be to make it something that will be open to everyone, Reber said.

Another new feature will be presentation analytics. This will not be unlike the kind of data that people currently can apply to, say, email or web traffic to measure what people are clicking on, how long they are spending looking at content, and where they are dropping off. Pitch will apply the same to its presentations — which are HTML-coded — so that those who are making them and sending them around can get a better idea of how they are performing, and even begin the process of A-B testing to try out different approaches.

Reber points out that analytics will be opt-in only: if users choose not to share that tracking it won’t be shared, he said.

“As a German business, we have a special relationship with data privacy in the greatest sense,” he said. “We care deeply about making sure we approach features in a privacy-first way.” The idea is to make it less like spyware, and more like the kind of analytics one might have on YouTube for videos there.

Finally, it’s adding in more video features to bring in narrative recording and playback. These first will be “recorded” around the presentations themselves, but longer term, it’s likely that the feature will also have a live element, which makes a lot of sense since a lot of presentations have had their most highly trafficked exposure by way of webinars or live presentations (say, around an earnings call), where you might not only have multiple presenters talking along a slide deck, but also people feeding back, asking questions in relation to the presentation and so on.

If this all sounds a little WordPress-like, that’s not a coincidence. Reber noted that website building is something else that Pitch wants to bring into the platform. “We are experimenting with that,” he said. “In my opinion, presentations are collections of information and we want to publish them in various ways. Slides just happens to be one format. But if it’s all already written in HTML, why not build it also into a site? That will be another feature coming, and something that we will be also using the funding for.”

Indeed that may not work for deeper content efforts (such as publications like the one you are reading right now) but would be perfectly adequate for, say, basic sites along the kind that are built on sites like Squarespace to lay out some online real estate for a small business. The scope of what you can already do, and what Pitch wants you to do, is precisely what makes this all so interesting to investors, they say.

“The exciting vision that Christian and the team at Pitch have is beyond just being a superior alternative to legacy presentation software,” said Stephen Nundy, partner at Lakestar, in a statement. “A reimagining of the entire workflow surrounding presentations is very much overdue, and when coupled with the ability to harness new data and media integrations, Pitch will lead the way in changing how stories are told. I’m very proud to be joining the board of a European company with its sights set on a truly global opportunity.”

“We are incredibly impressed by the quality of Pitch’s offering today and Christian’s vision for the future. Pitch will be a true productivity platform, and we are excited to become investors in this special company,” John Curtius, partner at Tiger Global, added.

Reber’s take on the new tools also here:


By Ingrid Lunden

How Expensify got to $100M in revenue by hiring “stem cells” and not “cogs in a wheel”

The influence of a founder on their company’s culture cannot be overstated. Everything from their views on the product and business to how they think about people affects how their company’s employees will behave, and since behavior in turn informs culture, the consequences of a founder’s early decisions can be far-reaching.

So it’s not very surprising that Expensify has its own take on almost everything it does when you consider what its founder and CEO David Barrett learned early in his life: “Basically everyone is wrong about basically everything.” As we saw in part 1 of this EC-1, this led him to the revelation that it’s easier to figure things out for yourself than finding advice that applies to you. Eventually, these insights — and the adventurous P2P hacker attitude he nurtured alongside his colleagues and Travis Kalanick at Red Swoosh — would inform how he would go about shaping Expensify.

Expensify’s culture can’t be separated from its hiring and growth processes — by joining the company, employees self-select into a group that isn’t likely to get hung up about trade-offs.

It’s striking how Expensify has managed to maintain this character 13 years later, even on the threshold of an IPO. How did this happen? During a series of interviews in February and early March, we found the answer is tied to the level of thought and effort this expense management business puts into its culture.

You see, the people at Expensify are prepared to invent their own playbook, develop it and, if needed, rewrite it completely. Its HR policies and strategy are tailored to find people who would have fun building an expense management product. It has a unique growth and recognition scheme to offset the drawbacks of a flat organizational structure. It’s even got a “Senate” that vets all major decisions. No kidding.

All this, and more, has ultimately helped Expensify reach more than 10 million users and achieve $100 million in annual revenue with just 130 employees. Let’s take a closer look at how Expensify makes it happen.

“We want the fewest people necessary to get the job done”

It’s clear Expensify’s unusually high employee-to-revenue ratio is intentional: “We want the fewest people necessary to get the job done,” Barrett says. But how do you actually achieve it? How do you hire and keep people who can deliver such results? Barrett had to learn how the hard way.

Expensify’s first team was based in San Francisco and comprised Barrett’s old Red Swoosh and Akamai colleagues, who joined a few months after Akamai fired him. A small team was enough to get started, but it was much more difficult to hire additional people. Barrett is eager to clarify the Valley is not really the best place to recruit talent: “Sure, Silicon Valley has a ton of really awesome people, but all of them have jobs!,” he says.


By Anna Heim

n8n raises $12M for its ‘fair code’ approach to low-code workflow automation

As businesses continue to look for better ways to work more efficiently, a pioneer in the space of low-code tools to help automate how apps work together is announcing a round of funding on the back of impressive early traction.

Berlin-based n8n — which provides a framework for both technical and non-technical people to synchronize and integrate data and workflows — has raised a $12 million in a Series A round of funding.

The startup plans to use the money to continue expanding its team, which now numbers 60 people, and to expand its platform and the services it provides to users.

Currently, n8n can help link up and integrate data and functions between more than 200 established applications, as well as any custom apps or services that you might be using in your specific organization. And since launching in October 2019, the startup has picked up an impressive 16,000 users — including both developers and “citizen developers” (those whose jobs might be described as non-technical but they are not afraid to be more hands-on in trying to build in ways to work better).

Now it wants to make the service easier for more of the latter group to get stuck in with using it.

“We are still seen as a technical product and less of one for citizen developers,” founder and CEO Jan Oberhauser said in an interview. “Our plan is to make n8n simpler to use, so that it’s much easier to adopt. We want to give everyone technical superpowers, whether it’s the marketing team or the IT department.” That means for example building not just chatbots but more intelligent ones, or creating new ways of visualizing data in Slack or something else altogether. And n8n’s platform can also be used to build automation within products for example to monitor performance and flag when something might need maintenance.

The round is being led by Felicis Ventures, with Sequoia Capital, firstminute Capital and Harpoon Ventures also participating. Sequoia and firstminute co-led n8n’s seed round about a year ago, which also included participation from Eventbrite’s Kevin Hartz, Supercell’s Ilkka Paananen, and unnamed early employees of Google and Zendesk, among others. The startup has now raised around $14 million and is not disclosing valuation.

There are a number of low-code and no-code startups on the market today and many of them have been seeing a surge of in interest in the last year. It’s a trend I suspect was brought about in no small part by the arrival of Covid-19.

The pandemic not only led to more people working remotely and relying on apps and other cloud-based services to get what they needed to do done, but in many cases it led organizations to refocus on how they were working, and what could be improved. In some cases, it also has meant a severe tightening of belts, and so companies are needing to do more with less human power, another factor leading to more proactive efforts to use software to get more out of… software.

That’s meant more strain on IT teams, and that too has led to more people within departments themselves getting proactive in improving their own workflows.

Other startups in the space include Bryter (which raised a $66 million Series B earlier this month) and Genesis (which raised $45 million in March), along with Zapier, Airtable, Rows, GyanaUshurCreatio, EasySend and CapivateIQ, some of which are coming to the market with a variety of solutions targeting a set of generic tools, while others are building solutions for more narrow use cases.

In the case of n8n, the company might be considered a “pioneer” in the space not just because of its focus on the growing area of low-code tools, but because of how it views the world of software.

The basic approach n8n is taking is around the idea of “fair code.” This is somewhat similar to open-source, and is analogous to a freemium-style model for the concept. The code is available in a public repository and the idea is that this will never disappear (one issue many enterprises face on the bleeding edge of tech: companies and their services sometimes shut down). However, n8n itself limits how much it can be used for free, before users start to pay to use it so that n8n can monetize its work, which it does in the form of consulting and integration services. (In the case of n8n, that limit looks to be up to a limit of $30,000 in support services revenues.)

Oberhauser was an early proponent of the concept of n8n and he runs a site dedicated to spreading the word. (You can also read about the different approaches to fair code, and some of what led to the creation of the concept, here.)

While basic and limited access to the code will remain free, and even as a company like n8n aims to make it easier and easier for non-developers to build integrations, there will be areas that need attention to make those services accessible to the people within an organization. For starters, there is the issue of setting up the basic integration connectors, especially in cases where the software a company is using is proprietary or customized.

There is also another issue that is likely to become more prominent as low-code and no-code tools continue to grow in popularity, and that is security. While IT departments may not have oversight of every single integration, but neither will the security teams, which means that new data vulnerabilities might well become more commonplace, too. For all of these reasons, n8n is betting that there will still be some integration and consulting involved in implementation.

“Almost every company needs help connecting outside and internal systems, to make it easier for people to get started,” Oberhauser said.

Aydin Senkut, founder and managing partner of Felicis Ventures, who led the round, said that what attracted him to n8n was the extensibility of the platform — that it could be applied not just for app integration and workflow automation in those apps but a much wider set of use cases — and the very early traction of 16,000 users that it’s picked up with very little fanfare, a sign that the service has some stickiness and usefulness to it.

And the fact that it lets developers — “citizen” or otherwise — play with so many options is also a key part of it.

“We feel that data is the new oil, and one of the special things here is not just low or no-code per se, but how n8n is making it seamless and easy to connect tens or even hundreds of apps.” Senkut said that it reminded him a little of Felicis’ early investment in Plaid. “Essentially, the more data and APIs you have the more valuable the company can be. I think to measure the potential of a company, look at the APIs. If you can connect disparate things together, that is key.”


By Ingrid Lunden

Figma introduces a whiteboard tool called FigJam

Figma spent years in stealth before launching its web-based collaborative design tool. Since coming into the light, the company has been iterating quickly. Today, Figma launches its biggest product update to date.

Meet FigJam, Figma’s new whiteboarding tool.

The entire concept of Figma stemmed from the fact that designers were taking up much more space at the figurative table and needed a place to collaborate efficiently. That is only more true today, especially during the last year of working from home, which is why Figma is extending itself throughout the workflow of designers with whiteboarding.

Not only does FigJam give designers a place to come up with ideas together, but it also gives nondesigners a place to participate in the brainstorm.

FigJam functionality includes sticky notes, emojis and drawing tools, as well as shapes, pre-built lines and connectors, stamps and cursor chats. As expected, FigJam works with Figma so components or other design objects breathed into life on FigJam can easily be moved into Figma.

“Our point of view here was focusing on how to make FigJam work as the first step in the design process, before you go into actually doing design work,” said Figma founder and CEO Dylan Field. “We see people looking for a better, more fluid experience, but we also wanted to make it simple enough to bring other people into the tool.”

To take that a step further, Figma is also introducing voice chat into all of its products. That means users who are designing alongside one another in Figma or brainstorming in FigJam don’t need to hop into a separate Zoom call or Google Meet, but can just toggle on chat in Figma to use audio.

Figma didn’t build its voice chat from scratch, but rather worked with a partner to bring this to market. Figma did not specify which partner/tech it’s working with on voice chat.

Alongside the release of FigJam and voice chat, Figma is also releasing a more full-featured mobile app, which will be in beta through TestFlight at launch.

Image Credits: Figma

One final update that Figma is announcing today is branching and merging in Figma. This allows designers who are updating the design system, for example, to branch out and do their work and then merge that work with the existing design system, rather than updating a shared component or resource and affecting everyone else’s workflow.


By Jordan Crook

mmhmm introduces usage-based enterprise accounts and a beta for Windows

mmhmm, the software that allows folks to personalize their appearance on video chat, has today announced that its introducing usage-based enterprise accounts.

In a conversation with TechCrunch, founder and CEO Phil Libin said this is a natural evolution, remarking that mmhmm has had hundreds of registrations from users all at the same company.

“It was clear that there was a big demand for enterprise accounts,” said Libin. “Not only for central management, to keep it as easy as possible, but also for getting everything on brand. Companies and organizations of all kinds are realizing video is a permanent part of how we’re going to do business and it needs to be on brand.”

The enterprise accounts are priced the same as individual Pro accounts, at $10/month or $100/year. However, when an organization signs up with an enterprise account, they only pay for the number of users who were active on mmhmm each month, rather than worrying about seats.

Enterprise accounts can also share design system assets built specifically for mmhmm to ‘stay on brand’ as Libin said. Folks who opt in to enterprise can also control employee accounts under one umbrella, invite via link, claim an email domain and enjoy a single bill.

Libin also gave us a glimpse into the financials of the business, explaining that while it’s too early to tell, the conversion rate to Pro accounts is outpacing that of Evernote, one of Libin’s earlier ventures.

He said that, with freemium tools like both mmhmm and Evernote, the likelihood of a user upgrading to premium grows with every month they’re on the platform. At Evernote, it was half a percent after the first month, and then five percent by the end of the first year, and after two years it would jump to 12 percent.

Obviously, mmhmm doesn’t have 24 months worth of data. That said, the product is doing 10x better than Evernote did.

But revenue is not the focus, according to Libin. The company is far more concerned with ensuring the onboarding process is easy for casual users and that they really understand what they can do with the platform. In the spirit of that, mmhmm is launching new interactive tutorial videos on the platform to ensure people are fully aware of the features.

mmhmm first came on the scene in the summer of last year in a closed beta, and eventually opened up to everyone who has a Mac in November 2020. Alongside the launch of enterprise, mmhmm is also launching a Windows version of the app in closed beta.

Libin said that mmhmm is in a growth stage, and that after starting five different companies, he knows the biggest challenge is people.

“I’ve been in some startups now that have been through this hyper growth stage,” said Libin. “The toughest thing at this stage is getting people, keeping people from burning out, and doing career development. This is my fifth startup, so I’m trying to demonstrate some learning behavior and apply lessons learned from previous mistakes. We’ll see how it goes.”


By Jordan Crook

SoundCloud adjusts revenue model for indie artists

We’ve known for a long time that music streaming royalties are fundamentally broken. As revenue has shifted away from sales of physical music, it’s become increasingly difficult for many independent artists to make a living off recorded music. But all of that has come to a head as the pandemic has stripped live music out of the equation entirely.

Some services have looked to buck the trend. The immensely popular Bandcamp Fridays are a notable example, offering all revenue to artists and labels one day a month. And now SoundCloud is looking to shake up how it pays its own independent creators — a move that could prove a nice boon for musicians on a service that’s lent its name to at least one popular musical subgenre.

The site will institute a new revenue structure at the beginning of next month. Soundcloud breaks down “Fan-powered” royalties thusly,

Fan-powered royalties are a more equitable and transparent way for independent artists who monetize directly with SoundCloud to get paid. The more fans listen on SoundCloud, and listen to your music, the more you get paid.

Under the old model, money from your dedicated fans goes into a giant pool that’s paid out to artists based on their share of total streams. That model mostly benefits mega stars.

Under fan-powered royalties, you get paid based on your fans’ actual listening habits. The more of their time your dedicated fans listen to your music, the more you get paid. This model benefits independent artists.

The service is available for independent artists who monetize their pages through select Pro accounts. There are a number of factors that go into the final payment (the first of which will arrive in May), including whether listeners have a subscription, the amount they’ve listened to one artist relative to others and ads they’ve listened to. The fine print is available here.

Musicians have become increasingly vocal about their inability to live off of streaming revenue as the pandemic has cut off major income sources over the past year. Spotify, in particular, has drawn harsh criticism as the company has spent hundreds of millions on podcast acquisitions while maintaining old revenue models for musicians.


By Brian Heater

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