Defy Partners leads $3M round into sales intelligence platform Aircover

Aircover raised $3 million in seed funding to continue developing its real-time sales intelligence platform.

Defy Partners led the round with participation from Firebolt Ventures, Flex Capital, Ridge Ventures and a group of angel investors.

The company, headquartered in the Bay Area, aims to give sales teams insights relevant to closing the sale as they are meeting with customers. Aircover’s conversational AI software integrates with Zoom and automates parts of the sales process to lead to more effective conversations.

“One of the goals of launching the Zoom SDK was to provide developers with the tools they need to create valuable and engaging experiences for our mutual customers and integrations ecosystem,” said Zoom’s CTO Brendan Ittelson via email. “Aircover’s focus on building sales intelligence directly into the meeting, to guide customer-facing teams through the entire sales cycle, is the type of innovation we had envisioned when we set out to create a broader platform.”

Aircover’s founding team of Andrew Levy, Alex Young and Andrew’s brother David Levy worked together at Apteligent, a company co-founded and led by Andrew Levy, that was sold to VMware in 2017.

Chatting about pain points on the sales process over the years, Levy said it felt like the solution was always training the sales team more. However, by the time everyone was trained, that information would largely be out-of-date.

Instead, they created Aircover to be a software tool on top of video conferencing that performs real-time transcription of the conversation and then analysis to put the right content in front of the sales person at the right time based on customer issues and questions. This means that another sales expert doesn’t need to be pulled in or an additional call scheduled to provide answers to questions.

“We are anticipating that knowledge and parsing it out at key moments to provide more leverage to subject matter experts,” Andrew Levy told TechCrunch. “It’s like a sales assistant coming in to handle any issue.”

He considers Aircover in a similar realm with other sales team solutions, like Chorus.ai, which was recently scooped up by ZoomInfo, and Gong, but sees his company carving out space in real-time meeting experiences. Other tools also record the meetings, but to be reviewed after the call is completed.

“That can’t change the outcome of the sale, which is what we are trying to do,” Levy added.

The new funding will be used for product development. Levy intends to double his small engineering team by the end of the month.

He calls what Aircover is doing a “large interesting problem we are solving that requires some difficult technology because it is real time,” which is why the company was eager to partner with Bob Rosin, partner at Defy Partners, who joins Aircover’s board of directors as part of the investment.

Rosin joined Defy in 2020 after working on the leadership teams of Stripe, LinkedIn and Skype. He said sales and customer teams need tools in the moment, and while some are useful in retrospect, people want them to be live, in front of the customer.

“In the early days, tools helped before and after, but in the moment when they need the most help, we are not seeing many doing it,” Rosin added. “Aircover has come up with the complete solution.”

 


By Christine Hall

Zonos banks $69M to develop APIs for democratizing cross-border commerce

Cross-border commerce company Zonos raised $69 million in a Series A, led by Silversmith Capital Partners, to continue building its APIs that auto classify goods and calculate an accurate total landed cost on international transactions.

St. George, Utah-based Zonos is classifying the round as a minority investment that also included individual investors Eric Rea, CEO of Podium, and Aaron Skonnard, co-founder and CEO of Pluralsight. The Series A is the first outside capital Zonos has raised since it was founded in 2009, Clint Reid, founder and CEO, told TechCrunch.

As Reid explained it, “total landed cost” refers to the duties, taxes, import and shipping fees someone from another country might pay when purchasing items from the U.S. However, it is often difficult for businesses to figure out the exact cost of those fees.

Global cross-border e-commerce was estimated to be over $400 billion in 2018, but is growing at twice the rate of domestic e-commerce. This is where Zonos comes in: The company’s APIs, apps and plugins simplify cross-border sales by providing an accurate final price a consumer pays for an item on an international purchase. Businesses can choose which one or multiple shipping carriers they want to work with and even enable customers to choose at the time of purchase.

“Businesses can’t know all of a country’s laws,” Reid added. “Our mission is to create trust in global trade. If you are transparent, you bring trust. This was traditionally thought to be a shipping problem, but it is really a technology problem.”

As part of the investment Todd MacLean, managing partner at Silversmith Capital Partners, joined the Zonos board of directors. One of the things that attracted MacLean to the company was that Reid was building a company outside of Silicon Valley and disrupting global trade far from any port.

He says while looking into international commerce, he found people wound up being charged additional fees after they have already purchased the item, leading to bad customer experiences, especially when a merchant is trying to build brand loyalty.

Even if someone chooses not to purchase the item due to the fees being too high, MacLean believes the purchasing experience will be different because the pricing and shipping information was provided up front.

“Our diligence said Zonos is the only player to take the data that exists out there and make sense of it,” MacLean said. “Customers love it — we got the most impressive customer references because this demand is already out there, and they are seeing more revenue and their customers have more loyalty because it just works.”

In fact, it is common for companies to see 25% to 30% year over year increase in sales, Reid added. He went on to say that due to fees associated with shipping, it doesn’t always mean an increase in revenue for companies. There may be a small decrease, but a longer lifetime value with customers.

Going after venture capital at this time was important to Reid, who saw global trade becoming more complex as countries added new tax laws and stopped using other trade regulations. However, it was not just about getting the funding, but finding the right partner that recognizes that this problem won’t be solved in the next five years, but will need to be in it for the long haul, which Reid said he saw in Silversmith.

The new investment provides fuel for Zonos to grow in product development and go-to-market while also expanding its worldwide team into Europe and Asia Pacific. Eighteen months ago, the company had 30 employees, and now there are over 100. It also has more than 1,500 customers around the world and provides them with millions of landed cost quotes every day.

“Right now, we are the leader for APIs in cross-border e-commerce, but we need to also be the technology leader regardless of the industry,” Reid added. “We can’t just accept that we are good enough, we need to be better at doing this. We are looking at expanding into additional markets because it is more than just servicing U.S. companies, but need to be where our customers are.”

 


By Christine Hall

EverAfter closes $13M to help companies ride off into the sunset with their customers

EverAfter secured $13 million in seed funding to continue developing its no-code customer-facing tool that streamlines onboarding and retention and enables business-to-business clients to embed personalized customer portals within any product.

The Tel Aviv-based company was founded in 2020 by Noa Danon and Tal Shemesh. CEO Danon, who comes from a project management background, said they saw a disconnect between the user and product experience.

The company’s name, EverAfter, comes from the concept that in SaaS companies, someone has to be in charge of the “EverAfter,” with customers, even as the relationship changes, Danon told TechCrunch.

Via its no-code platform, customer success teams are able to build a website in weeks using drop-and-drag widgets like training materials, timelines, task management and meeting summaries, and then configure what each user sees. Then there is a snippet of code that is embedded into the product.

EverAfter also integrates with existing customer relationship management, project management and service ticket tools, while also updating Salesforce and HubSpot directly through an interface.

“It’s like the customer owns a piece of real estate inside the product,” Danon said.

TLV Partners and Vertex Ventures co-led the round and were joined by angel investors Benny Shneider, Zohar Gilon and Amit Gilon.

Yanai Oron, general partner at Vertex Ventures, said he is seeing best-in-breed companies try to solve customer churn or improve the relationship process on their own and failing, which speaks to the complexity of the problem.

Startups in this space are coming online and raising money, but with EverAfter, they are differentiating themselves by not only putting a dashboard on their product, but launching with the capabilities to manage thousands of customers using the product, he added.

“I’ve been tracking the customer success space over the past few years, and it is a growing field with the least sophisticated tools,” Oron said. “During COVID, companies realized it was easier to retain customers rather than get new ones. We are all used to more self-service and wanting to get the answer ourselves, and customers are the same. Companies also started to be more at ease in letting customers develop things on their own and leave R&D departments to do other things.”

Clients include Taboola, AppsFlyer and Verbit, with Verbit reporting its company’s customer success managers save 10 hours a week managing ongoing customer communication by using EverAfter, Danon added. This comes as CallMiner reports that unplanned customer churn costs companies $35.3 billion in the U.S. alone.

EverAfter offers both customer success and partner management software and clients can choose a high-touch service or kits and templates for self-service.

The new funding will enable the company to focus on integration and expansion into additional use cases. Since being founded, EverAfter has grown to 20 employees and 30 customers. The founders also want to utilize the data they are collecting on what works and doesn’t work for each customer.

“There are so many interesting things that happen between companies and customers, from onboarding to business reviews, and we are going to expand on those,” Danon said. “We want to be the first thing companies put inside their product to figure out the relationship between customers and customer success teams and managers.”

 


By Christine Hall

Medical supply marketplace startup bttn. sews up additional $5M seed

Coming off a $1.5 million seed round in June, bttn. announced Thursday that it secured another $5 million extension, led by FUSE, to the round to give it a $26.5 million post-money valuation.

The Seattle-based company was founded in March 2021 by JT Garwood and Jack Miller after seeing the challenges medical organizations had during the global pandemic to not only find supplies, but also get fair prices for them.

“We went into this building on the pain points customers had dealing with a system that is so archaic and outdated — most were still faxing in order forms and keeping closets full of supplies, but not knowing what was there,” Garwood, CEO, told TechCrunch.

Bttn. is going after the U.S. wholesale medical supply market, which is predicted to be valued at $243.3 billion by the end of 2021, according to IBISWorld. The company created a business-to-business e-commerce platform with a variety of high-quality medical supplies, saving customers an average of between 20% and 40%, while providing a better ordering and shipping experience, Garwood said.

It now boasts more than 300 customers, including individual practices and surgical centers, and multiple government contracts. It is also currently the preferred supplier for over 17 healthcare associations across the country, Garwood said. In addition to expanding into dental supplies, bttn. is also attracting customers like senior living facilities and home and hospice care.

Garwood intends to use the funds to expand bttn.’s technology, sales and operations teams, and increase its partnerships. The company is also adding new features like a portal to track shipments more easily, better order automation and improve the ability to control when supplies will get to them.

Bttn. is also analyzing more of the data coming in from its marketplace to recognize where the trends are coming from, including hospitalization rates, to share with customers. For example, if hospitals are overcrowded, supply shortages will follow, Garwood said.

“The medical supply industry was built on inequity, and we have a sense of duty to build a product that enables a better future for our customers,” he added. “We can proactively let customers know that spikes are expected, provide them with correct information and give that power back to the consumers and healthcare providers in ways they never had before.”

Whereas bttn.’s first seed round was “about pouring gas on the fire,” partnering with FUSE this time around was an easy decision for Garwood, who said the firm is bringing new assets to the table.

Brendan Wales, general partner at FUSE, said via email that his firm backs promising entrepreneurs building businesses in the Pacific Northwest and discovered bttn. before they announced any funding.

He said there is massive consumerization of healthcare, most evident on the patient side for years, but now becoming so on the provider side. Medical office employees are looking for the same type of customer experience they get from online businesses they frequently shop at, and bttn. “has a relentless drive to provide the same type of experiences and interactions to health providers.”

“We fell in love with the idea of providing a transparent and delightful customer experience to health providers, something that has been sorely lacking,” Wales added. “That, tied in with a young and ambitious team, made it so that our entire partnership worked tirelessly to partner with them.”

 


By Christine Hall

Upscribe, raising $4M, wants to drive subscription-first DTC brand growth

Upscribe founder and CEO Dileepan Siva watched the retail industry make a massive shift to subscription e-commerce for physical products over the past decade, and decided to get in it himself in 2019.

The Los Angeles-based company, developing subscription software for direct-to-consumer e-commerce merchants, is Siva’s fourth startup experience and first time as founder. He closed a $4 million seed round to go after two macro trends he is seeing: buying physical products, like consumer-packaged goods, on a recurring basis, and new industries offering subscriptions, like car and fashion companies.

Merchants use Upscribe’s technology to drive subscriber growth, reduce churn and enable their customers to personalize a subscription experience, like skipping shipments, swapping out products and changing the order frequency. Brands can also feature products for upsell purposes throughout the subscriber lifecycle, from checkout to post-purchase.

Upscribe also offers APIs for merchants to integrate tools like Klaviyo, Segment and Shopify — a new subscription offering for checkouts.

Uncork Capital led the seed round and was joined by Leaders Fund, The House Fund, Roach Capitals’ Fahd Ananta and Shippo CEO Laura Behrens Wu.

“As the market for D2C subscriptions booms, there is a need for subscription-first brands to grow and scale their businesses,” said Jeff Clavier, founder and managing partner of Uncork Capital, in a written statement. “We have spent a long time in the e-commerce space, working with D2C brands and companies who are solving common industry pain points, and Upscribe’s merchant-centric approach raised the bar for subscription services, addressing the friction in customer experiences and enabling merchants to engage subscribers and scale recurring revenue growth.”

Siva bootstrapped the company, but decided to go after venture capital dollars when Upscribe wanted to create a more merchant-centric approach, which required scaling with a bigger team. The “real gems are in the data layer and how to make the experience exceptional,” he added.

The company is growing 43% quarter over quarter and is close to profitable, with much of its business stemming from referrals, Siva said. It is already working with customers like Athletic Greens, Four Sigmatic and True Botanicals and across multiple verticals, including food and beverage, health and wellness, beauty and cosmetics and home care.

The new funding will be used to “capture the next wave of brands that are going to grow,” he added. Siva cites the growth will come as the DTC subscription market is forecasted to reach $478 billion by 2025, and 75% of those brands are expected to offer subscriptions in the next two years. As such, the majority of the funding will be used to bring on more employees, especially in the product, customer success and go-to-market functions.

Though there is competition in the space, many of those are focused on processing transactions, while Siva said Upscribe’s approach is customer relationships. The cost of acquiring new customers is going up, and subscription services will be the key to converting one-time buyers into loyal customers.

“It is really about customer relationships and the ongoing engagement between merchants and subscribers,” he added. “We are in a different world now. The first wave could play the Facebook game, advertising on social media with super low acquisition and scale. That is no longer the case anymore.”

 


By Christine Hall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


By Christine Hall

Segment launches customer journey tool to build fine-grained personal experiences

Twilio Segment announced a tool, which is available starting today, to help marketers create fine-grained customer journeys. Up until now the company has enabled marketers to build buyer personas and broader audiences, but this enables users to have much greater control of their interactions with a customer.

Company co-founder and CEO Peter Reinhardt says that marketers have been craving the ability to build more customized customer journeys and this tool gives them that. “It’s basically taking the power that existed in personas and audiences and actually putting it fully in marketers’ hands to build their dream journeys across every channel with the best data,” he said.

This enables marketers to stitch together a whole sequence of audiences. “Say when someone comes to the top of the funnel, they want to do X, then if they want to branch it and use X or Y, then do two different things, and you can keep branching and personalizing via this whole journey to cover the whole lifecycle.”

He says this capability has existed in some tools, but the Twilio Segment offering enables it to be used in more than 300 tools in the Segment ecosystem. “This is the first time that we’re going to be able to really do that and orchestrate this way, not just for a limited subset of channels, but across all of the channels,” he said.

Marketers can build branching by dragging and dropping journey components to send people on different paths depending on things like if they are a regular customer or a first-time customer or just about anything you can think of. Reinhardt says that flexibility is a key attribute of the new feature.

While it’s competing with some major players like Adobe and Salesforce in this space, Reinhardt believes this capability really gives Twilio a leg up over the competitors. “I think if you look at more of the legacy journey builders, [their products] are not built on real time data, meaning that they’re actually missing basically all of the interesting behavioral data that marketers actually build on,” he said.

Segment was acquired by Twilio last year for $3.2 billion, and part of the reason for that was to increase its customer engagement capabilities. Segment gives Twilio a customer data platform to build on top of its other communications tooling, and today’s announcement expands on that capability.


By Ron Miller

Breinify announces $11M seed to bring data science to the marketing team

Breinify is a startup working to apply data science to personalization, and do it in a way that makes it accessible to nontechnical marketing employees to build more meaningful customer experiences. Today the company announced a funding round totaling $11 million.

The investment was led by Gutbrain Ventures and PBJ Capital with participation from Streamlined Ventures, CXO Fund, Amino Capital, Startup Capital Ventures and Sterling Road.

Breinify co-founder and CEO Diane Keng says that she and co-founder and CTO Philipp Meisen started the company to bring predictive personalization based on data science to marketers with the goal of helping them improve a customer’s experience by personalizing messages tailored to individual tastes.

“We’re big believers that the world, especially consumer brands, really need strong predictive personalization. But when you think about consumer big brands or the retailers that you buy from, most of them aren’t data scientists, nor do they really know how to activate [machine learning] at scale,” Keng told TechCrunch.

She says that she wanted to make this type of technology more accessible by hiding the complexity behind the algorithms powering the platform. “Instead of telling you how powerful the algorithms are, we show you [what that means for the] consumer experience, and in the end what that means for both the consumer and you as a marketer individually,” she said.

That involves the kind of customizations you might expect around website messaging, emails, texts or whatever channel a marketer might be using to communicate with the buyer. “So the AI decides you should be shown these products, this offer, this specific promotion at this time, [whether it’s] the web, email or SMS. So you’re not getting the same content across different channels, and we do all that automatically for you, and that’s [driven by the algorithms],” she said.

Breinify launched in 2016 and participated in the TechCrunch Disrupt Startup Battlefield competition in San Francisco that year. She said it was early days for the company, but it helped them focus their approach. “I think it gave us a huge stage presence. It gave us a chance to test out the idea just to see where the market was in regards to needing a solution like this. We definitely learned a lot. I think it showed us that people were interested in personalization,” she said. And although the company didn’t win the competition, it ended up walking away with a funding deal.

Today the startup is growing fast and has 24 employees, up from 10 last year. Keng, who is an Asian woman, places a high premium on diversity.

“We partner with about four different kinds of diversity groups right now to source candidates, but at the end of the day, I think if you are someone that’s eager to learn, and you might not have all the skills yet, and you’re [part of an under-represented] group we encourage everyone to apply as much as possible. We put a lot of work into trying to create a really well-rounded group,” she said.


By Ron Miller

Kenya’s Ajua acquires WayaWaya to consolidate consumer experience play in African SMEs

Kenyan consumer experience platform for businesses in Africa, Ajua today announced that it has acquired WayaWaya, a Kenya-based AI and ML messaging and payments company.

WayaWaya’s customers and partners include the likes of I&M Bank, Interswitch and MTN. The company offers a range of services, from digital banking and payment services to financial services APIs and payment bots.

According to Ajua, the acquisition is primarily focused on WayaWaya’s payments bots system known as Janja. The platform, which has customers like Airtel, Ezee Money, Housing Finance Company of Kenya (HF Group), enables borderless banking and payments across apps and social media platforms. Teddy Ogallo, the entrepreneur who founded WayaWaya, joins Ajua as VP of Product APIs and Integrations.

Per Crunchbase, WayaWaya has just raised $75,000. Although the two companies did not disclose the financial details of the acquisition, Ajua is expected to have paid 10 times more than WayaWaya’s total raise.

Ajua, formerly mSurvey, was founded in 2012 by Kenfield Griffith. The company is solving a consumer data problem for African businesses to understand their business better and drive growth.

“There’s a lot of commerce happening on the continent and Ajua wants companies to move from transaction numbers to the customers behind such transaction,” Griffith told TechCrunch. “Imagine if we knew what drove consumer habits for businesses. I mean, that’s a huge exponential curve for African businesses.”

Teddy Ogallo (Founder, WayaWaya) & Kenfield Griffith (CEO, Ajua)

Teddy Ogallo (Founder, WayaWaya) & Kenfield Griffith (CEO, Ajua)

Nigeria’s SME market alone is valued at $220 billion annually. And while businesses, mostly big enterprises, can afford customer communication tools, a large segment of small businesses are being left out. Ajua’s play is to use data and analytics to connect companies with their customers in real time. “We’ve taken what makes enterprise customers successful, and we’re capturing it in a simple format so SMEs can have the same tools,” Griffith added

Since most consumer behavior for these SMEs happens offline, Ajua gives businesses unique USSD codes to receive payments, get feedback and offer discounts to their customers. It is one of the products Ajua has launched over the years for customer feedback at the point of service to businesses that cumulatively have over 45 million customers.

The company’s partners and clients also include Coca-Cola, FBNQuest, GoodLife Pharmacy, Java House, Safaricom, Standard Chartered and Total.

As an intelligent messaging bot, Janja is used by individuals and businesses across WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Telegram to automate customer support and make cross-border payments. So, Janja’s integration into Ajua’s product stack will close much of the acquirer’s customer experience loop by automating responses and giving customers what they want, when they want it.

This acquisition comes a month after Ajua announced that it partnered with telecom operator MTN Nigeria to launch a customer management product for Nigerian businesses. The product called MTN EnGauge carries the same features present in Ajua but, in this case, is tailored solely for businesses using the MTN network. The roll-out is expected to generate more data for Ajua’s thousands of users. It will also be upgraded to incorporate Janja and other services.

In hindsight, it appears Ajua could have created a product like Janja in-house due to its vast experience in the consumer experience space. However, the company chose an acquisition and Griffith gave two reasons why — building a similar product would have taken a long time and Ogallo seemed to know Janja’s business and operations so well, it just made sense to get him on board. 

“Teddy was going the same direction we’re going. We just thought to acquire WayaWaya instead and make a really good company out of both products attempting to solve the same problem. To me, it’s all about solving the problem together rather than going alone,” said the CEO. 

On why he accepted the acquisition, Ogallo, who now has a new role, noted that Ajua’s ability to scale customer service and experience and also help businesses was one reason and earned admiration from him. “Seeing how WayaWaya’s technology can complement Ajua’s innovative products and services, and help scale and monetize businesses, is an exciting opportunity for us, and we are happy that our teams will be collaborating to build something unique for the continent,” he added

This is a solid infrastructure play from Ajua coming from a founder who is a massive advocate of acquisition and consolidation. Griffith believes that the two are strategies for a speedier route to new markets and channels in Africa

I think there are lots of ways we can build the ecosystem. There are lots of young talent building stuff, and they don’t have access to capital to get to the next stage. The question is if they want to race to the finish line or take off time and get acquired. I think there’s a huge opportunity in Africa if you want to solve complex problems by acquisition.”

There has been an uptick in local acquisitions in Africa from startups within a single country and between two countries in the past three years. For the former, Nigerian recruitment platform Jobberman’s acquisition of NGCareers last year comes to mind. And there are pan-African instances like Lagos-based hub CcHub’s acquisition of iHub, its Nairobi counterpart; Ethiopian software provider Apposit sell-off to Nigerian fintech Paga; and Johannesburg-based fintech MFS Africa acquiring Uganda’s Beyonic.

The common theme among the acquisitions (and most African acquisitions) is their undisclosed sums. For Ajua, Griffith cited regulatory issues as one reason why the company is keeping the figure under wraps.

Since launching nine years ago, Ajua has raised a total of $3.5 million, according to Crunchbase. Given the nature of this acquisition and partnership with MTN, the company might set sights on another fundraise to scale aggressively into Nigeria (a market it entered in 2019) and other African countries.


By Tage Kene-Okafor

Customer experience startup Sprinklr files confidential S-1 with SEC

Sprinklr, a New York-based customer experience company, announced today it has filed a confidential S-1 ahead of a possible IPO.

“Sprinklr today announced that it has confidentially submitted a draft registration statement on Form S-1 with the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”) relating to the proposed initial public offering of its common stock,” the company said in a statement.

It also indicated that it will determine the exact number of shares and the price range at a later point after it receives approval from the SEC to go public.

The company most recently raised $200 million on a $2.7 billion valuation last year. It was its first fundraise in 4 years. At the time, founder and CEO Ragy Thomas said his company expected to end 2020 with $400 million in ARR, certainly a healthy number on which to embark as a public company.

He also said that Sprinklr’s next fundraise would be an IPO, making him true to his word. “I’ve been public about the pathway around this, and the path is that the next financial milestone will be an IPO,” he told me at the time of the $200 million round. He said that with COVID, it probably was a year or so away, but the timing appears to have sped up.

Sprinklr sees customer experience management as a natural extension of CRM, and as such a huge market potentially worth a $100 billion, according to Thomas. But he also admitted that he was up against some big competitors like Salesforce and Adobe, helping explain why he fundraised last year.

Sprinklr was founded in 2009 with a focus on social media listening, but it announced a hard push into customer experience in 2017 when it added marketing, advertising, research, customer and e-commerce to its social efforts.

The company has raised $585 million to-date, and has also been highly acquisitive buying 11 companies along the way as it added functionality to the base platform, according to Crunchbase data.


By Ron Miller

Following acquisition, Episerver rebrands as Optimizely

After acquiring Optimizely last fall, content management company Episerver is adopting the Optimizely name for the entire organization.

CEO Alex Atzberger told me that the company will be rolling out new branding in the next coming months, as well as renaming its entire product suite to reflect the Optimizely brand.

“We believe it’s no longer just about personalizing the experience or driving recommendations,” Atzberger said. “The brand and word Optimizely really signifies optimal performance. Companies today of any size, any scale [need to be] much more sophisticated in terms of how they digitally connect with their customers. It’s a never-ending story.”

At the same time, he emphasized that Episerver is making the change from “a position of strength,” with the combined company seeing double-digit revenue growth last year and going live with more than 250 new customers.

Asked whether adopting the Optimizely name was always part of the post-acquisition plan, Atzberger replied, “When we acquired Optimizely, we knew that we would be acquiring not just a great product, not just a great customer base, but also acquiring a very well-known brand. We had not yet decided on [rebranding], but it was certainly something that, for me, was part of the consideration.”

In addition to announcing the new company name, Episerver/Optimizely is also announcing a new platform that it’s calling Optimization-as-a-Service, which integrates aspects of Optimizely and Episerver products to offer web targeting, testing and recommendations. As Atzberger put it, this new platform allows customers to determine “who to show something to, what content to show and how to actually show this content.”


By Anthony Ha

Salesforce applies AI to workflow with Einstein Automate

While Salesforce made a big splash yesterday with the announcement that it’s buying Slack for $27.7 billion, it’s not the only thing going on for the CRM giant this week. In fact Dreamforce, the company’s customer extravaganza is also on the docket. While it is virtual this year, there are still product announcements aplenty and today the company announced Einstein Automate, a new AI-fueled set of workflow solutions.

Sarah Franklin, EVP & GM of Platform, Trailhead and AppExchange at Salesforce says that she is seeing companies facing a digital imperative to automate processes as things move ever more quickly online, being driven there even faster by the pandemic. “With Einstein Automate, everyone can change the speed of work and be more productive through intelligent workflow automation,” she said in a statement.

Brent Leary, principal analyst at CRM Essentials says that combined these tools are designed to help customers get to work more quickly. “It’s not only about identifying the insight, it’s about making it easier to leverage it at the the right time. And this should make it easier for users to do it without spending more time and effort,” Leary told TechCrunch.

Einstein is the commercial name given to Salesforce’s artificial intelligence platform that touches every aspect of the company’s product line, bringing automation to many tasks and making it easier to find the most valuable information on customers, which is often buried in an avalanche of data.

Einstein Automate encompasses several products designed to improve workflows inside organizations. For starters, the company has created Flow Orchestrator, a tool that uses a low-code, drag and drop approach for building workflows, but it doesn’t stop there. It also relies on AI to provide help suggest logical next steps to speed up workflow creation.

Salesforce is also bringing Mulesoft, the integration company it bought for $6.5 billion in 2018 into the mix. Instead of processes like a mortgage approval workflow, the Mulesoft piece lets IT build complex integrations between applications across the enterprise, and the Salesforce family of products more easily.

To make it easier to build these workflows, Salesforce is announcing the Einstein Automate collection page available in AppExchange, the company’s application marketplace. The collection includes over 700 pre-built connectors so customers can grab and go as they build these workflows, and finally it’s updating the OmniStudio, their platform for generating customer experiences. As Salesforce describes it, “Included in OmniStudio is a suite of resources and no-code tools, including pre-built guided experiences, templates and more, allowing users to deploy digital-first experiences like licensing and permit applications quickly and with ease. ”

Per usual with Salesforce Dreamforce announcements, the Flow Orchestrator being announced today won’t be available in beta until next summer. The Mulesoft component will be available in early 2021, but the OmniStudio updates and the Einstein connections collection are available today.


By Ron Miller

Vista acquires Gainsight for $1.1B, adding to its growing enterprise arsenal

Vista Equity Partners hasn’t been shy about scooping up enterprise companies over the years, and today it added to a growing portfolio with its purchase of Gainsight.  The company’s software helps clients with customer success, meaning it helps create a positive customer experience when they interact with your brand, making them more likely to come back and recommend you to others. Sources pegged the price tag at $1.1 billion.

As you might expect, both parties are putting a happy face on the deal, talking about how they can work together to grow Gainsight further. Certainly, other companies like Ping Identity seem to have benefited from joining forces with Vista. Being part of a well capitalized firm allowed them to make some strategic investments along the way to eventually going public last year.

Gainsight and Vista are certainly hoping for a similar outcome in this case. Monti Saroya, co-head of the Vista Flagship Fund and senior managing director at the firm sees a company with a lot of potential that could expand and grow with help from Vista’s consulting arm, which helps portfolio companies with different aspects of their business like sales, marketing and operations.

“We are excited to partner with the Gainsight team in its next phase of growth, helping the company to expand the category it has created and deliver even more solutions that drive retention and growth to businesses across the globe,” Saroya said in a statement.

Gainsight CEO Nick Mehta likes the idea of being part of Vista’s portfolio of enterprise companies, many of whom are using his company’s products.

“We’ve known Vista for years, since 24 of their portfolio companies use Gainsight. We’ve seen Gainsight clients like JAMF and Ping Identity partner with Vista and then go public. We believe we are just getting started with customer success, so we wanted the right partner for the long term and we’re excited to work with Vista on the next phase of our journey,” Mehta told TechCrunch.

Brent Leary, principle analyst at CRM Essentials, who covers the sales and marketing space says that it appears that Vista is piecing together a sales and marketing platform that it could flip or go public in a few years.

“It’s not only the power that’s in the platform, it’s also the money. And Vista seems to be piecing together an engagement platform based on the acquisitions of Gainsight, Pipedrive and even last year’s Acquia purchase. Vista isn’t afraid to spend big money, if they can make even bigger money in a couple years if they can make these pieces fit together,” Leary told me.

While Gainsight exits as a unicorn, the deal might not have been the outcome it was looking for. The company raised over $187 million, according to Pitchbook data, though its fundraising had slowed in recent years. Gainsight raised $50 million in April of 2017 at a post-money valuation of $515 million, again per Pitchbook. In July of 2018 it added $25 million to its coffers, and the final entry was a small debt investment raised in 2019.

It could be that the startup saw its growth slow down, leaving it somewhere between ready for new venture investment and profitability. That’s a gap that PE shops like Vista look for, write a check, shake up a company and hopefully exit at an elevated price.

Gainsight hired a new chief revenue officer last month, notably. Per Forbes, the company was on track to reach “about” $100 million ARR by the end of 2020, giving it a revenue multiple of around 11x in the deal. That’s under current market norms, which could imply that Gainsight had either lower gross margins than comparable companies, or as previously noted, that its growth had slowed.

A $1.1 billion exit is never something to bemoan — and every startup wants to become a unicorn — but Gainsight and Mehta are well known, and we were hoping for the details only an S-1 could deliver. Perhaps one day with Vista’s help that could happen.


By Ron Miller

Grouparoo snares $3M seed to build open source customer data integration framework

Creating a great customer experience requires a lot of data from a variety of sources, and pulling that disparate data together has captured the attention of companies and big and small from Salesforce and Adobe to Segment and Klaviyo. Today, Grouparoo, a new startup from three industry vets is the next company up with an open source framework designed to make it easier for developers to access and make use of customer data.

The company announced a $3 million seed investment led by Eniac Ventures and Fuel Capital with participation from Hack VC, Liquid2, SCM Advisors and several unnamed angel investors.

Grouparoo CEO and co-founder Brian Leonard says that his company has created this open source customer data framework based on his own experience and difficulty getting customer data into the various tools he has been using since he was technical founder at TaskRabbit in 2008.

“We’re an open source data framework that helps companies easily sync their customer data from their database or warehouse to all of the SaaS tools where they need it. [After you] install it, you teach it about your customers, like what properties are important in each of those profiles. And then it allows you to segment them into the groups that matter,” Leonard explained.

This could be something like high earners in San Francisco along with names and addresses. Grouparoo can grab this data and transfer it to a marketing tool like Marketo or Zendesk and these tools could then learn who your VIP customers are.

For now the company is just the three founders Leonard, CTO Evan Tahler and COO Andy Jih, and while he wasn’t ready to commit to how many people he might hire in the next 12 months, he sees it being less than 10. At this early stage, the three co-founders have already been considering how to build a diverse and inclusive company, something he helped contribute to while he was at TaskRabbit.

“So, coming from [what we built at TaskRabbit] and starting something new, it’s important to all three of us to start [building a diverse company] from the beginning, and especially combined with this notion that we’re building something open source. We’ve been talking a lot about being open about our culture and what’s important to us,” he said.

TaskRabbit also comes into play in their investment where Fuel GP Leah Solivan was also founder of TaskRabbit. “Grouparoo is solving a real and acute issue that companies grapple with as they scale — giving every member of the team access to the data they need to drive revenue, acquire customers and improve real-time decision making. Brian, Andy and Evan have developed an elegant solution to an issue we experienced firsthand at TaskRabbit,” she said.

For now the company is taking an open source approach to build a community around the tool. It is still pre-revenue, but the plan is to find a way to build something commercial on top of the open source tooling. They are considering an open core license where they can add features or support or offer the tool as a service. Leonard says that is something they intend to work out in 2021.


By Ron Miller

Adobe acquires marketing workflow startup Workfront for $1.5B

Adobe just announced that it is acquiring marketing workflow management startup Workfront for $1.5 billion. Bloomberg first reported the sale would be happening earlier today.

Workfront was founded back in 2001, making it a bit long in tooth for a private company that has raised $375 million, according to Crunchbase. But it gives Adobe more online marketing tooling to fit into its Experience Cloud. This one helps companies manage complex projects inside the marketing department.

“The combination of Adobe and Workfront will further accelerate Adobe’s leadership in customer experience management, providing a pioneering solution that spans the entire lifecycle of digital experiences, from ideation to activation,” Anil Chakravarthy, executive vice president and general manager for Adobe’s digital experience business and worldwide field operations said in a statement.

Holger Mueller, an analyst at Constellation Research says the acquisition will help Adobe customers manage the complexities of marketing project management. “Scheduling and managing work had gotten orders of mangnitude more complex for enterprises, and Adobe is accounting for that with the acquisition of Workfront, providing better tool support for the new future of work,” Mueller told TechCrunch.

The two companies are actually partners and work together frequently sharing 1000 common customers among Workfront’s 3000 total customer base. In fact, Workfront has APIs that connect to Adobe Creative Cloud and Experience Cloud, two parts of the company’s product family that marketers frequently access. As Adobe battles Salesforce, SAP and Oracle in the marketing automation space, it’s been using its checkbook to acquire additional fire power in recent years.

This acquisition comes after Adobe spent $1.6 billion for Magento and $4.75 billion for Marketo in 2018. That’s almost $8 billion for three companies in under two years, even as it builds out parts of its Adobe Experience Cloud in-house. Combined, it shows just how serious the company is about making headway in this valuable area.

Customer experience has always been an essential element of online and in-person transactions, making sure the customer feels good about the interactions it has with a brand. It not only keeps them coming back, but it encourages them to act as ambassadors on behalf of a company, something that has incredible value.

Conversely a bad experience can lead to the opposite impact, causing a prospective or even loyal customer to abandon a brand and speak badly about it to friends online and in person. Adobe hopes that by bringing another marketing tool into the fold, it can help its customers increase the likelihood of a positive online customer experience. This one should allow company marketing personnel working at a company to move marketing projects through a workflow from idea to online.

The deal is expected to close in the first quarter of Adobe’s fiscal year. Per usual, it will be subject to typical regulatory scrutiny.

This is a breaking story. We will continue to update as we get additional information.


By Ron Miller