Workera.ai, a precision upskilling platform, taps $16M to close enterprise skills gap

Finding the right learning platform can be difficult, especially as companies look to upskill and reskill their talent to meet demand for certain technological capabilities, like data science, machine learning and artificial intelligence roles.

Workera.ai’s approach is to personalize learning plans with targeted resources — both technical and nontechnical roles — based on the current level of a person’s proficiency, thereby closing the skills gap.

The Palo Alto-based company secured $16 million in Series A funding, led by New Enterprise Associates, and including existing investors Owl Ventures and AI Fund, as well as individual investors in the AI field like Richard Socher, Pieter Abbeel, Lake Dai and Mehran Sahami.

Kian Katanforoosh, Workera’s co-founder and CEO, says not every team is structured or feels supported in their learning journey, so the company comes at the solution from several angles with an assessment on mentorship, where the employee wants to go in their career and what skills they need for that, and then Workera will connect those dots from where the employee is in their skillset to where they want to go. Its library has more than 3,000 micro-skills and personalized learning plans.

“It is what we call precision upskilling,” he told TechCrunch. “The skills data then can go to the organization to determine who are the people that can work together best and have a complementary skill set.”

Workera was founded in 2020 by Katanforoosh and James Lee, COO, after working with Andrew Ng, Coursera co-founder and Workera’s chairman. When Lee first connected with Katanforoosh, he knew the company would be able to solve the problem around content and basic fundamentals of upskilling.

It raised a $5 million seed round last October to give the company a total of $21 million raised to date. This latest round was driven by the company’s go-to-market strategy and customer traction after having acquired over 30 customers in 12 countries.

Over the past few quarters, the company began working with Fortune 500 companies, including Accenture and Siemens Energy, across industries like professional services, medical devices and energy, Lee said. As spending on AI skills is expected to exceed $79 billion by 2022, he says Workera will assist in closing the gap.

“We are seeing a need to measure skills,” he added. “The size of the engagements are a sign as is the interest for tech and non-tech teams to develop AI literacy, which is a more pressing need.”

As a result, it was time to increase the engineering and science teams, Katanforoosh said. He plans to use the new funding to invest in more talent in those areas and to build out new products. In addition, there are a lot of natural language processes going on behind the scenes, and he wants the company to better understand it at a granular level so that the company can assess people more precisely.

Carmen Chang, general partner and head of Asia at NEA, said she is a limited partner in Ng’s AI fund and in Coursera, and has looked at a lot of his companies.

She said she is “very excited” to lead the round and about Workera’s concept. The company has a good understanding of the employee skill set, and with the tailored learning program, will be able to grow with company needs, Chang added.

“You can go out and hire anyone, but investing in the people that you have, educating and training them, will give you a look at the totality of your employees,” Chang said. “Workera is able to go in and test with AI and machine learning and map out the skill sets within a company so they will be able to know what they have, and that is valuable, especially in this environment.”

 


By Christine Hall

After bootstrapping since 2002, Articulate raises $1.5B on $3.75B valuation

Most companies don’t announce their first venture investment after almost 20 years in the business, nor do they announce that round is the equivalent of a good startup’s entire private fundraising history. But Articulate, a SaaS training and development platform, is not your typical company and today it announced a whopping $1.5 billion investment on a $3.75 billion valuation.

You can call it Series A if you must label it, but whatever it is, it’s a hefty investment by any measure. General Atlantic led the round with participation from Blackstone Growth and Iconiq Growth. GA claims it’s one of the largest A rounds ever, and I’m willing to bet it’s right.

CEO Adam Schwartz founded the company with his life savings in 2002 and hasn’t taken a dime of outside investment since. “Our software enables organizations to develop, deliver, and analyze online training that is engaging and [interesting] for enterprises and SMBs,” Schwartz explained.

He says that the company started back in 2002 as a plug-in for PowerPoint. Today it is a software service with the goal of helping enable everyone to deliver training, even if they aren’t a training professional. Articulate actually has two main products, one is a set of tools for companies building training that connects to an enterprise learning management system or LMS. The other is aimed at SMBs or departments in an enterprise.

Its approach seems to be working with the company reporting it has 106,000 customers across 161 countries including every single one of the Fortune 100. Schwartz was loath to share any additional metrics, but did say they hope to use this money to grow 10x over the next several years.

Company president Lucy Suros, who has been with the organization for a decade, says even with this success, they see plenty of opportunity for growth and they felt taking this capital now would really enable them to accelerate.

“We are the most dominant player by far in course offering apps, but when you look at that whole ecosystem and you think about where companies are in transforming from instructor-led training to online training, they’re still really in the early innings so there’s a lot of opportunity,” she said.

Anton Levy, co-president and managing director at General Atlantic, who is leading the investment for the firm, says that this is a “big, bold, incredible business” and that’s why they’re making an investment of this size and scope. “The reason we’re stepping up in such a large way, and what’s such a large check for us, is because of the business they’ve built, the team they’ve built, and frankly the market opportunity that they’re playing in and their ambition,” he said.

Today the company has 300 employees and they have been working as a remote company long before COVID. With the new capital, that number could triple over the next several years. Suros says that when she started at the company, there were 50 employees, mostly male engineers and she went to work to make it a more diverse work environment.

“We’ve put emphasis and a lot of just structural things in place to ensure that we are bringing more [diverse] people to the table, and then supporting folks once they’re here,” she said. With the new capital, the company announced a lot of new benefits and she said those were developed with the idea of helping break down barriers for under-represented groups in their ranks including covering gender transition-related costs.

She says that one of the benefits of becoming more visible as a company is being able to talk about and their human-centered organization framework, the set of principles the company put in place to define its values. “[We think about] how that can impact the employees and drive human flourishing for its own sake, and that also happens to lead to better business outcomes. But we’re really also interested in it from [the standpoint that] we want to be good and do good in the world and promote human flourishing at work,” she said.

The company seems to have been doing just fine up until now, but with this kind of capital, it aims to take the business to another level, while trying to be good corporate citizens as they do that.


By Ron Miller

Extra Crunch roundup: Edtech VC survey, 5 founder mistakes, fintech liquidity, more

Edtech is so widespread, we already need more consumer-friendly nomenclature to describe the products, services and tools it encompasses.

I know someone who reads stories to their grandchildren on two continents via Zoom each weekend. Is that “edtech?”

Similarly, many Netflix subscribers sought out online chess instructors after watching “The Queen’s Gambit,” but I doubt if they all ran searches for “remote learning” first.

Edtech needs to reach beyond underfunded public school systems to become more sustainable, which is why more investors and founders are focusing on lifelong learning.

Besides serving traditional students with field trips and art classes, a maturing sector is now branching out to offer software tutors, cooking classes and singing lessons.

For our latest investor survey, Natasha Mascarenhas polled 13 edtech VCs to learn more about how “employer-led up-skilling and a renewed interest in self-improvement” is expanding the sector’s TAM.

Here’s who she spoke to:

  • Deborah Quazzo, managing partner, GSV Ventures
  • Ashley Bittner, founding partner, Firework Ventures (a future of work fund with portfolio companies LearnIn and TransfrVR)
  • Jomayra Herrera, principal, Cowboy Ventures (a generalist fund with portfolio companies Hone and Guild Education)
  • John Danner, managing partner, Dunce Capital (an edtech and future of work fund with portfolio companies Lambda School and Outschool)
  • Mercedes Bent and Bradley Twohig, partners, Lightspeed Venture Partners (a multistage generalist fund with investments including Forage, Clever and Outschool)
  • Ian Chiu, managing director, Owl Ventures (a large edtech-focused fund backing highly valued companies including Byju’s, Newsela and Masterclass)
  • Jan Lynn-Matern, founder and partner, Emerge Education (a leading edtech seed fund in Europe with portfolio companies like Aula, Unibuddy and BibliU)
  • Benoit Wirz, partner, Brighteye Ventures (an active edtech-focused venture capital fund in Europe that backs YouSchool, Lightneer and Aula)
  • Charles Birnbaum, partner, Bessemer Venture Partners (a generalist fund with portfolio companies including Guild Education and Brightwheel)
  • Daniel Pianko, co-founder and managing director, University Ventures (a higher ed and future of work fund that is backing Imbellus and Admithub)
  • Rebecca Kaden, managing partner, Union Square Ventures (a generalist fund with portfolio companies including TopHat, Quizlet, Duolingo)
  • Andreata Muforo, partner, TLCom Capital (a generalist fund backing uLesson)

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In other news: Extra Crunch Live, a series of interviews with leading investors and entrepreneurs, returns next month with a full slate of guests. This year, we’re adding a new feature: Our guests will analyze pitch decks submitted by members of the audience to identify their strengths and weaknesses.

If you’d like an expert eye on your deck, please sign up for Extra Crunch and join the conversation.

Thanks very much for reading! I hope you have a fantastic weekend — we’ve all earned it.

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch
@yourprotagonist

13 investors say lifelong learning is taking edtech mainstream

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin

Rising African venture investment powers fintech, clean tech bets in 2020

After falling into yesterday’s wild news cycle, Alex Wilhelm returned to The Exchange this morning with a close look at venture capital activity across Africa in 2020.

“Comparing aggregate 2020 figures to 2019 results, it appears that last year was a somewhat robust year for African startups, albeit one with fewer large rounds,” he found.

For more context, he interviewed Dario Giuliani, the director of research firm Briter Bridges, which focuses on emerging markets in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Talent and capital are shifting cybersecurity investors’ focus away from Silicon Valley

A road sign that says "Leaving California."

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New cybersecurity ecosystems are popping up in different parts of the world.

Some of of that growth has been fueled by an exodus from the Bay Area, but many early-stage security startups already have deep roots in East Coast cities like Boston and New York.

In the United Kingdom and Europe, government innovation programs have helped entrepreneurs close higher numbers of Series A and B rounds.

Investor interest and expertise is migrating out of Silicon Valley: This post will help you understand where it’s going.

Will Apple’s spectacular iPhone 12 sales figures boost the smartphone industry in 2021?

On Wednesday, 20 January, 2021, in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Image Credits: NurPhoto (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Today’s smartphones are unfathomably feature-rich and durable, so it’s logical that sales have slowed.

A phone purchased 18 months ago is probably “good enough” for many consumers, especially in times of economic uncertainty.

Then again, of the record $111.4 billion in revenue Apple earned last quarter, $65.68 billion came from phone sales, largely driven by the release of the iPhone 12.

Even though “Apple’s success this quarter was kind of a perfect storm,” writes Hardware Editor Brian Heater, “it’s safe to project a rebound for the industry at large in 2021.”

The 5 biggest mistakes I made as a first-time startup founder

Boy Standing with Dropped Ice Cream Cone

Image Credits: Randy Faris (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Finmark co-founder and CEO Rami Essaid wrote a post for Extra Crunch that candidly describes the traps he laid for himself that made him a less-effective entrepreneur.

As someone who’s worked closely with founders at several startups, each of the points he raised resonated deeply with me.

In my experience, many founders have a hard time delegating, which can quickly create cultural and operational problems. Rami’s experience bears this out:

“I became a human GPS: People could follow my directions, but they struggled to find the way themselves. Independent thinking suffered.”

Dear Sophie: How can I sponsor my mom and stepdad for green cards?

lone figure at entrance to maze hedge that has an American flag at the center

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Dear Sophie:

I just got my U.S. citizenship! My husband and I want to bring my mom and her husband to the U.S. to help us take care of our preschooler and toddler.

My biological dad passed away several years ago when I was an adult and my mom has since remarried.

Can they get green cards?

— Appreciative in Aptos

Check out the amazing speakers joining us on Extra Crunch Live in February

Extra Crunch Live February Schedule: February 3 Gaurav Gupta Lightspeed Venture Partners Raj Dutt Grafana Labs February 10 Aydin Senkut Felicis Kevin Busque Guideline February 17 Steve Loughlin Accel Jason Boehmig Ironclad February 24 Matt Harris Bain Capital Isaac Oates Justworks

Next month, Extra Crunch Live returns with a lineup of guests who are extremely well-qualified to discuss early-stage startups.

Each Wednesday at noon PPST/3 p.m. EST, join a conversation with founders and the investors who backed their companies:

February 3:

Gaurav Gupta (Lightspeed Venture Partners) + Raj Dutt (Grafana Labs)

February 10:

Aydin Senkut (Felicis Ventures) + Kevin Busque (Guideline)

February 17:

Steve Loughlin (Accel) + Jason Boehmig (Ironclad)

February 24:

Matt Harris (Bain Capital) + Isaac Oates (Justworks)

Also, we’re adding a new feature to Extra Crunch Live — our guests will offer advice and feedback on pitch decks submitted by Extra Crunch members in the audience!

10 VCs say interactivity, regulation and independent creators will reshape digital media in 2021

Photo of a young woman watching TV in the bedroom of her apartment; eating sushi and enjoying her night at home alone.

Image Credits: Aleksandar Nakic (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Since the pandemic disrupted the social rhythms of work and school, many of us have compensated by changing our relationship to digital media.

For instance, I purchased a new sofa and thicker living room curtains several months ago when I realized we have no idea when movie theaters will reopen.

Last year, podcast sponsors spent almost $800 million to reach listeners, but ad revenue is estimated to surpass $1 billion this year. Clearly, I’m not the only person who used a discount code to buy a new product in 2020.

At this point, I can scarcely keep track of the multiple streaming platforms I’m subscribed to, but a new voice-activated remote control that comes with my basic cable plan makes it easier to browse my options.

Media reporter Anthony Ha spoke to10 VCs who invest in media startups to learn more about where they see digital media heading in the months ahead. For starters, how much longer can we expect traditional advertising models to persist?

And in a world with hundreds of channels, how are creators supposed to compete for our attention? What sort of discovery tools can we expect to help us navigate between a police procedural set in a Scandinavian village and a 90s sitcom reboot?

Here’s who Anthony interviewed:

  • Daniel Gulati, founding partner, Forecast Fund
  • Alex Gurevich, managing director, Javelin Venture Partners
  • Matthew Hartman, partner, Betaworks Ventures
  • Jerry Lu, senior associate, Maveron
  • Jana Messerschmidt, partner, Lightspeed Venture Partners
  • Michael Palank, general partner, MaC Venture Capital (with additional commentary from MaC’s Marlon Nichols)
  • Pär-Jörgen Pärson, general partner, Northzone
  • M.G. Siegler, general partner, GV
  • Laurel Touby, managing director, Supernode Ventures
  • Hans Tung, managing partner, GGV Capital

Normally, we list each investor’s responses separately, but for this survey, we grouped their responses by question. Some readers say they use our surveys to study up on an individual VC before pitching them, so let us know which format you prefer.

Does a $27 billion or $29 billion valuation make sense for Databricks?

Data analytics platform Databricks is reportedly raising new capital that could value the company between $27 billion and $29 billion.

By the end of Q3 2020, Databricks had surpassed a $350 million run rate — a $150 million YoY increase, reports Alex Wilhelm.

At the time, he described the company as “an obvious IPO candidate” with “broad private-market options.”

Which begs the question: “Can we come up with a set of numbers that help make sense of Databricks at $27 billion?”

End-to-end operators are the next generation of consumer business

Tourist route to the top of the mountain. Rope bridge in the clouds. Crimea. Ai-Petri

Image Credits: Natalia Timchenko (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Rapid shifts in the way we buy goods and services disrupted old-school marketplaces like local newspapers and the Yellow Pages.

Today, I can use my phone to summon a plumber, a week’s worth of groceries or a ride to a doctor’s office.

End-to-end operators like Netflix, Peloton and Lemonade take a lot of time and energy to reach scale, but “the additional capital required is often outweighed by the value captured from owning the entire experience.”

Unpacking Chamath Palihapitiya’s SPAC deals for Latch and Sunlight Financial

On January 25, Social Capital CEO Chamath Palihapitiya tweeted that he was making two blank-check deals.

Enterprise SaaS company Latch makes keyless entry systems; Sunlight Financial helps consumers finance residential solar power installations.

“There are nearly 300 SPACs in the market today looking for deals,” noted Alex Wilhelm, who unpacked both transactions.

“There’s no escaping SPACs for a bit, so if you are tired of watching blind pools rip private companies into the public markets, you are not going to have a very good next few months.”

Fintechs could see $100 billion of liquidity in 2021

Long exposure spillway shines water and light. Copy space.

Image Credits: dan tarradellas (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

On Monday, we published the Matrix Fintech Index, a three-part study that weighs liquidity, public markets and e-commerce trends to create a snapshot of an industry in perpetual flux.

For four years running, the S&P 500 and incumbent financial services companies have been outperformed by companies like Afterpay, Square and Bill.com.

In light of steady VC investment, increasing consumer adoption and a crowded IPO pipeline, “fintech represents one of the most exciting major innovation cycles of this decade.”

Drupal’s journey from dorm-room project to billion-dollar exit

Dries Buytaert, co-founder and CTO at Acquia

Image Credits: Acquia

On January 15, 2001, then-college student Dries Buytaert released Drupal 1.0.0, an open-source content-management platform. At the time, about 7% of the world’s population was online.

After raising more than $180 million, Buytaert exited to Vista Equity Partners for $1 billion in 2019.

Enterprise reporter Ron Miller interviewed Buytaert to learn more about his 18-year journey.

“His story is compelling, but it also offers lessons for startup founders who also want to build something big,” says Ron.


By Walter Thompson

Extra Crunch roundup: Digital health VC survey, edtech M&A, deep tech marketing, more

I had my first telehealth consultation last year, and there’s a high probability that you did, too. Since the pandemic began, consumer adoption of remote healthcare has increased 300%.

Speaking as an unvaccinated urban dweller: I’d rather speak to a nurse or doctor via my laptop than try to remain physically distanced on a bus or hailed ride traveling to/from their office.

Even after things return to (rolls eyes) normal, if I thought there was a reliable way to receive high-quality healthcare in my living room, I’d choose it.

Clearly, I’m not alone: a May 2020 McKinsey study pegged yearly domestic telehealth revenue at $3 billion before the coronavirus, but estimated that “up to $250 billion of current U.S. healthcare spend could potentially be virtualized” after the pandemic abates.

That’s a staggering number, but in a category that includes startups focused on sexual health, women’s health, pediatrics, mental health, data management and testing, it’s clear to see why digital-health funding topped more than $10 billion in the first three quarters of 2020.

Drawing from The TechCrunch List, reporter Sarah Buhr interviewed eight active health tech VCs to learn more about the companies and industry verticals that have captured their interest in 2021:

  • Bryan Roberts and Bob Kocher, partners, Venrock
  • Nan Li, managing director, Obvious Ventures
  • Elizabeth Yin, general partner, Hustle Fund
  • Christina Farr, principal investor and health tech lead, OMERS Ventures
  • Ursheet Parikh, partner, Mayfield Ventures
  • Nnamdi Okike, co-founder and managing partner, 645 Ventures
  • Emily Melton, founder and managing partner, Threshold Ventures

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Since COVID-19 has renewed Washington’s focus on healthcare, many investors said they expect a friendly regulatory environment for telehealth in 2021. Additionally, healthcare providers are looking for ways to reduce costs and lower barriers for patients seeking behavioral support.

“Remote really does work,” said Elizabeth Yin, general partner at Hustle Fund.

We’ll cover digital health in more depth this year through additional surveys, vertical reporting, founder interviews and much more.

Thanks very much for reading Extra Crunch this week; I hope you have a relaxing weekend.

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch
@yourprotagonist

8 VCs agree: Behavioral support and remote visits make digital health a strong bet for 2021

Woman having a medicine video conferencing with her doctor using digital tablet. Senior woman on a video call with a doctor using her tablet computer at home.

Image Credits: Luis Alvarez (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Lessons from Top Hat’s acquisition spree

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin

In the last year, edtech startup Top Hat acquired three publishing companies: Fountainhead Press, Bludoor and Nelson HigherEd.

Natasha Mascarenhas interviewed CEO and founder Mike Silagadze to learn more about his content acquisition strategy, but her story also discussed “some rumblings of consolidation and exits in edtech land.”

How VCs invested in Asia and Europe in 2020

Last year, U.S.-based VCs invested an average of $428 million each day in domestic startups, with much of the benefits flowing to fintech companies.

This morning, Alex Wilhelm examined Q4 VC totals for Europe, which had its lowest deal count since Q1 2019, despite a record $14.3 billion in investments.

Asia’s VC industry, which saw $25.2 billion invested across 1,398 deals is seeing “a muted recovery,” says Alex.

“Falling seed volume, lots of big rounds. That’s 2020 VC around the world in a nutshell.”

Decrypted: With more SolarWinds fallout, Biden picks his cybersecurity team

Image Credits: Treedeo (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

In this week’s Decrypted, security reporter Zack Whittaker covered the latest news in the unfolding SolarWinds espionage campaign, now revealed to have impacted the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and Malwarebytes.

In other news, the controversy regarding WhatsApp’s privacy policy change appears to be driving users to encrypted messaging app Signal, Zack reported. Facebook has put changes at WhatsApp on hold “until it could figure out how to explain the change without losing millions of users,” apparently.

Hot IPOs hang onto gains as investors keep betting on tech

A big IPO debut is a juicy topic for a few news cycles, but because there’s always another unicorn ready to break free from its corral and leap into the public markets, it doesn’t leave a lot of time to reflect.

Alex studied companies like Lemonade, Airbnb and Affirm to see how well these IPO pop stars have retained their value. Not only have most held steady, “many have actually run up the score in the ensuing weeks,” he found.

Dear Sophie: What are Biden’s immigration changes?

lone figure at entrance to maze hedge that has an American flag at the center

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch

Dear Sophie:

I work in HR for a tech firm. I understand that Biden is rolling out a new immigration plan today.

What is your sense as to how the new administration will change business, corporate and startup founder immigration to the U.S.?

—Free in Fremont

Hello, Extra Crunch community!

Hello in Different Languages

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I began my career as an avid TechCrunch reader and remained one even when I joined as a writer, when I left to work on other things and now that I’ve returned to focus on better serving our community.

I’ve been chatting with some of the folks in our community and I’d love to talk to you, too. Nothing fancy, just 5-10 minutes of your time to hear more about what you want to see from us and get some feedback on what we’ve been doing so far.

If you would be so kind as to take a minute or two to fill out this form, I’ll drop you a note and hopefully we can have a chat about the future of the Extra Crunch community before we formally roll out some of the ideas we’re cooking up.

Drew Olanoff
@yoda

In 2020, VCs invested $428m into US-based startups every day

Last year was a disaster across the board thanks to a global pandemic, economic uncertainty and widespread social and political upheaval.

But if you were involved in the private markets, however, 2020 had some very clear upside — VCs flowed $156.2 billion into U.S.-based startups, “or around $428 million for each day,” reports Alex Wilhelm.

“The huge sum of money, however, was itself dwarfed by the amount of liquidity that American startups generated, some $290.1 billion.”

Using data sourced from the National Venture Capital Association and PitchBook, Alex used Monday’s column to recap last year’s seed, early-stage and late-stage rounds.

How and when to build marketing teams at deep tech companies

Pole lifting rubber duck with hook in its head

Image Credits: Andy Roberts (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Building a marketing team is one of the most opaque parts of spinning up a startup, but for a deep tech company, the stakes couldn’t be higher.

How can technical founders working on bleeding-edge technology find the right people to tell their story?

If you work at a post-revenue, early-stage deep tech startup (or know someone who does), this post explains when to hire a team, whether they’ll need prior industry experience, and how to source and evaluate talent.

Bustle CEO Bryan Goldberg explains his plans for taking the company public

Bustle Digital Group CEO Bryan Goldberg

Bustle Digital Group CEO Bryan Goldberg. Image Credits: Bustle Digital Group

Senior Writer Anthony Ha interviewed Bustle Digital Group CEO Bryan Goldberg to get his thoughts on the state of digital media.

Their conversation covered a lot of ground, but the biggest news it contained focuses on Goldberg’s short-term plans.

“Where do I want to see the company in three years? I want to see three things: I want to be public, I want to see us driving a lot of profits and I want it to be a lot bigger, because we’ve consolidated a lot of other publications,” he said.

It may not be as glamorous as D2C, but beauty tech is big money

Directly Above Shot Of Razors On Green Background

Image Credits: Laia Divols Escude/EyeEm (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission is not a huge fan of personal-care D2C brands merging with traditional consumer product companies.

This month, razor startup Billie and Proctor & Gamble announced they were calling off their planned merger after the FTC filed suit.

For similar reasons, Edgewell Personal Care dropped its plans last year to buy Harry’s for $1.37 billion.

In a harsher regulatory environment, “the path to profitability has become a more important part of the startup story versus growth at all costs,” it seems.

Twilio CEO says wisdom lies with your developers

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – SEPTEMBER 12: Founder and CEO of Twilio Jeff Lawson speaks onstage during TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2016 at Pier 48 on September 12, 2016 in San Francisco, California. Image Credits: Steve Jennings/Getty Images for TechCrunch

Companies that build their own tools “tend to win the hearts, minds and wallets of their customers,” according to Twilio CEO Jeff Lawson.

In an interview with enterprise reporter Ron Miller for his new book, “Ask Your Developer,” Lawson says founders should use developer teams as a sounding board when making build-versus-buy decisions.

“Lawson’s basic philosophy in the book is that if you can build it, you should,” says Ron.


By Walter Thompson

Vista’s $3.5B purchase of Pluralsight signals a maturing edtech market

On Monday, Pluralsight, a Utah-based startup that sells software development courses to enterprises, announced that it has been acquired by Vista for $3.5 billion.

The deal, yet to close, is one of the largest enterprise buys of the year: Vista is getting an online training company that helps retrain techies with in-demand skills through online courses in the midst of a booming edtech market. Additionally, the sector is losing one of its few publicly traded companies just two years after it debuted on the stock market.

The Pluralsight acquisition is largely a positive signal that shows the strength of edtech’s capital options as the pandemic continues.

Investors and founders told Techcrunch that the Pluralsight acquisition is largely a positive signal that shows the strength of edtech’s capital options as the pandemic continues.

“What’s happening in edtech is that capital markets are liquidating,” said Deborah Quazzo, managing partner of GSV Advisors.

Quazzo, a seed investor in Pluralsight, said the ability to move fluidly between privately held and publicly held companies is a characteristic of tech sectors with deep capital markets, which is different from edtech’s “old days, where the options to exit were very narrow.”


By Natasha Mascarenhas

The No-Code Generation is arriving

In the distant past, there was a proverbial “digital divide” that bifurcated workers into those who knew how to use computers and those who didn’t.[1] Young Gen Xers and their later millennial companions grew up with Power Macs and Wintel boxes, and that experience made them native users on how to make these technologies do productive work. Older generations were going to be wiped out by younger workers who were more adaptable to the needs of the modern digital economy, upending our routine notion that professional experience equals value.

Of course, that was just a narrative. Facility with using computers was determined by the ability to turn it on and login, a bar so low that it can be shocking to the modern reader to think that a “divide” existed at all. Software engineering, computer science, and statistics remained quite unpopular compared to other academic programs, even in universities, let alone in primary through secondary schools. Most Gen Xers and millennials never learned to code, or frankly, even to make a pivot table or calculate basic statistical averages.

There’s a sociological change underway though, and it’s going to make the first divide look quaint in hindsight.

Over the past two or so years, we have seen the rise of a whole class of software that has been broadly (and quite inaccurately) dubbed “no-code platforms.” These tools are designed to make it much easier for users to harness the power of computing in their daily work. That could be everything from calculating the most successful digital ad campaigns given some sort of objective function, or perhaps integrating a computer vision library into a workflow that calculates the number of people entering or exiting a building.

The success and notoriety of these tools comes from the feeling that they grant superpowers to their users. Projects that once took a team of engineers some hours to build can now be stitched together in a couple of clicks through a user interface. That’s why young startups like Retool can raise at nearly a $1 billion and Airtable at $2.6 billion, while others like Bildr, Shogun, Bubble, Stacker, and dozens more are getting traction among users.

Of course, no-code tools often require code, or at least, the sort of deductive logic that is intrinsic to coding. You have to know how to design a pivot table, or understand what a machine learning capability is and what might it be useful for. You have to think in terms of data, and about inputs, transformations, and outputs.

The key here is that no-code tools aren’t successful just because they are easier to use — they are successful because they are connecting with a new generation who understands precisely the sort of logic required by these platforms to function. Today’s students don’t just see their computers and mobile devices as consumption screens and have the ability to turn them on. They are widely using them as tools of self-expression, research and analysis.

Take the popularity of platforms like Roblox and Minecraft. Easily derided as just a generation’s obsession with gaming, both platforms teach kids how to build entire worlds using their devices. Even better, as kids push the frontiers of the toolsets offered by these games, they are inspired to build their own tools. There has been a proliferation of guides and online communities to teach kids how to build their own games and plugins for these platforms (Lua has never been so popular).

These aren’t tiny changes. 150 million play Roblox games across 40 million user-created experiences, and the platform has nearly 350,000 developers. Minecraft for its part has more than 130 million active users. These are generation-defining experiences for young people today.

That excitement to harness computers is also showing up in educational data. Advanced Placement tests for Computer Science have grown from around 20,000 in 2010 to more than 70,000 this year according to the College Board, which administers the high school proficiency exams. That’s the largest increase among all of the organization’s dozens of tests. Meanwhile at top universities, computer science has emerged as the top or among the top majors, pulling in hundreds of new students per campus per year.

The specialized, almost arcane knowledge of data analysis and engineering is being widely democratized for this new generation, and that’s precisely where a new digital divide is emerging.

In business today, it’s not enough to just open a spreadsheet and make some casual observations anymore. Today’s new workers know how to dive into systems, pipe different programs together using no-code platforms, and answer problems with much more comprehensive — and real-time — answers.

It’s honestly striking to see the difference. Whereas just a few years ago, a store manager might (and strong emphasis on might) put their sales data into Excel and then let it linger there for the occasional perusal, this new generation is prepared to connect multiple online tools together to build an online storefront (through no-code tools like Shopify or Squarespace), calculate basic LTV scores using a no-code data platform, and prioritize their best customers with marketing outreach through basic email delivery services. And it’s all reproducible, since it is in technology and code and not produced by hand.

There are two important points here. First is to note the degree of fluency these new workers have for these technologies, and just how many members of this generation seem prepared to use them. They just don’t have the fear to try new programs out, and they know they can always use search engines to find answers to problems they are having.

Second, the productivity difference between basic computer literacy and a bit more advanced expertise is profound. Even basic but accurate data analysis on a business can raise performance substantially compared to gut instinct and expired spreadsheets.

This second digital divide is only going to get more intense. Consider students today in school, who are forced by circumstance to use digital technologies in order to get their education. How many more students are going to become even more capable of using these technologies? How much more adept are they going to be at remote work? While the current educational environment is a travesty and deeply unequal, the upshot is that ever more students are going to be forced to become deeply fluent in computers.[2]

Progress in many ways is about raising the bar. This generation is raising the bar on how data is used in the workplace, in business, and in entrepreneurship. They are better than ever at bringing together various individual services and cohering them into effective experiences for their customers, readers, and users. The No-Code Generation has the potential to finally fill that missing productivity gap in the global economy, making our lives better while saving time for everyone.

[1] Probably worth pointing out that the other “digital divide” at the time was describing households who had internet access and households who did not. That’s a divide that unfortunately still plagues America and many other rich, industrialized countries.

[2] Important to note that access to computing is still an issue for many students and represents one of the most easily fixable inequalities today in America. Providing equal access to computing should be an absolute imperative.


By Danny Crichton

Dublin’s LearnUpon raises $56M for its online learning management system for enterprises

One big technology by-product of the Covid-19 pandemic has been a much stronger focus on online education solutions — providing the tools for students to continue learning when the public health situation is preventing them from going into physical classrooms. As it happens, that paradigm also applies to the business world.

Today, a startup out of Dublin called LearnUpon, which has been building e-learning solutions not for schools but corporates to use for development and training, has raised $56 million to feed a growth in demand for its tools, particularly in the U.S. market, which currently accounts for 70% of LearnUpon’s sales.

The funding is coming from a single investor, Summit Partners. LearnUpon’s CEO and co-founder Brendan Noud said the capital will be used in two areas. First, to add more people to the startup’s engineering and product teams (it has 180 employees currently) to continue expanding in areas like data analytics, providing more insights to its customers on how their training materials are used on via its learning management system (commonly referred to as LMS in the industry). Second, to bring on more people to help sell the product particularly in countries where it is currently growing fast, like the U.S., to larger corporate clients.

LearnUpon already has some 1,000 customers globally, including Booking.com, Twilio, USA Football and Zendesk. And notably, eight-year-old LearnUpon was profitable and had only raised $1.5 million before now.

“We’ve been growing organically pretty fast since we started but especially for the last 4-5 years using a SaaS model, but now we’re at a scale where the opportunity is vast, especially with more people working from home,” he said. “We want to give ourselves firepower.”

Corporate learning has followed similar but not identical trajectory to that of online education for K-12 and higher learning. In common, especially in the last 8 months. has been a growing need to engage and connect with learners at a time when it’s been challenging, or in some cases impossible, to see each other in person.

What’s different is that corporate learning was already a very established market, with organizations widely investing in online tools to manage training and personal development for years before any pandemic necessitated it.

Areas like employee onboarding, personnel development, customer training, training on new products, partner training, sales development, compliance, and building training services that you then sell to third parties are all areas that count as corporate learning. One researcher estimated that the corporate learning market was valued at an eye-watering $64 billion in 2019, with LMS investments alone at over $9 billion that year, and both are growing.

That has been a boost for companies like LearnUpon, which provides services in all of those categories and says that annual recurring revenues have grown by more than 50% year-on-year for each of the last 12 quarters.

But that also underscores the challenge in the market.

“It’s definitely a very crowded space, with maybe over 1000 LMS’s out there,” said Noud, although he added that it only has about 10-15 actually direct competitors (which to me still sounds like quite a lot). They include the likes of Cornerstone, TalentLMS from the Greek startup Epignosis, the Candian publicly-traded Docebo, and 360Learning from France.

But also consider those that have moved into corporate learning from other directions. LinkedIn has made big moves into learning to complement its bigger recruitment and professional development profile; and companies originally built to target the education sector, such as Coursera and Kahoot, have also expanded into business training and education. Both represent further competitive fronts for companies like LearnUpon natively built to service the business market.

Noud said that one reason why LearnUpon is finding some traction against the rest of the pack, and why it’s better, is because it’s a more comprehensive platform. Users can run live or asynchronous (on-demand) learning or training, and the SaaS LMS is designed to handle material and learning environments for multiple “students” — be they internal users, partners of the organization, or customers. In contrast, he said that many other solutions are more narrow in their scope, requiring organizations to manage multiple systems.

“And the legacy platforms are overly bloated, with bad customer support, which was a key area for us,” he said, recalling back to eight years ago when he and co-founder Des Anderson were first starting LearnUpon. “Our first hire was in customer support, and that has carried through to how we have grown.”

One area where LearnUpon not doing anything right now is in content development. It does offer tools to construct tests and surveys, but users can also import content created with other e-learning authoring tools, Noud said. Similarly, it’s not in the business of building its own live teaching platforms: you can import links from others like Zoom to provide the platform where people will teach and engage.

That’s not going to be a focus for now for the company, but given that others it competes with are providing a one-stop shop, for those that are looking to simplify procurement and have a more direct hand in building training as well as managing it, you can see how this might be an area that LearnUpon might develop down the line.

“In today’s knowledge economy, we believe corporate learning has become a key requirement for all organizations of scale – and the added challenge of remote working has only accelerated the importance of delivering learning digitally,” said Antony Clavel, a Principal with Summit Partners, in a statement. “With its modern, cloud-based learning management system, strong product development organization, demonstrated dedication to customer success and capital efficient go-to-market model, we believe LearnUpon is strongly positioned to serve this growing and increasingly critical market need. We are thrilled to support Brendan and the LearnUpon team in this next phase of growth.”

Clavel is joining the LearnUpon Board of Directors with this round. The startup is not disclosing its valuation.


By Ingrid Lunden

User-generated e-learning site Kahoot acquires Actimo for up to $33M to double down on corporate sector

Norwegian company Kahoot originally made its name with a platform the lets educators and students create and share game-based online learning lessons, in the process building up a huge public catalogue of gamified lessons created by its community. Today the startup — now valued at over $2 billion — is announcing an acquisition to give a boost to another segment of its business: corporate customers.

Kahoot has acquired Danish startup Actimo, which provides a platform for businesses to train and engage with employees. Kahoot said that the purchase is being made with a combination of cash and shares, and works to to a total enterprise value of between $26 million and $33 million for the smaller company, with the sale expected to be completed in October 2020.

It may sound like a modest sum in a tech market where companies are currently and regularly seeing paper valuations in the hundreds of millions at Series A stage, but it also presents a different kind of trajectory both for founders and their investors.

This is actually a strong exit for Actimo, which had raised less than $500,000, according to data from PitchBook. And it puts Actimo under the wing of a company that has been scaling globally fast, finding — like others in the areas of online education and remote working — that the current state of social distancing due to Covid-19 is resulting in a boost to its business.

To give you an idea of the scale and growth of Kahoot, the company says that currently it has over 1 billion active users, on top of some 4.4 billion users in aggregate since first launching the platform in 2013. In the last 12 months, some 200 games have been played on its platform. In June, when Kahoot announced that it had raised $28 million in funding, it told us that 100 million games had been played.

In light of its growth and the future opportunity — even putting aside the progression of the coronavirus, it looks like remote work and remote learning will at the least become a lot more common as a longer-term option — the company has also seen a rise in its valuation. With some of its shares traded on the Merkur Market in Norway, the company currently has a market cap of 18.716 billion Norwegian Krone, which at today’s rates is about $2.08 billion. That figure was $1.4 billion in June.

Kahoot’s targeting of the corporate sector is not new. The company has been building a business in this space for years. It says that in the last 12 months, it logged 2 million sessions across 20 million participating “players” of its corporate training “games”, with some 97% of the Fortune 500 among those users. Customers include the likes of Facebook (for sales training), Oyo (hospitality training and onboarding) and Qualys (for taking polls during a conference), among others.

Critically, while a lot of Kahoot’s audience is in education, its corporate most of the revenues come in, one reason why it’s keen to grow that segment with more services and users.

The aim with Actimo, Kahoot says, is to build out a product set aimed at helping organisations with company culture — which, with many organisations now going on eight months and counting of entire teams working regularly outside of their physical offices, has grown as a priority.

Keeping a team feeling like a team, and an individual feeling more than a transactional regard for an employer, is not a simple thing in the best of times. Now, as we continue to work physically away from each other, it will take even more tools and efforts to get the balance right.

In that context, Actimo’s solution is just one aspect, but potentially an interesting one: it has built a platform where employees can track the training that they have done or need to do, engage with other co-workers, and provide feedback, and employers can use it to generally track and encourage how employees are engaging across the company and its various efforts. It counts some 200 enterprises, including Circle K, Hi3G, and Compass Group, among its customers, and has current ARR of $5 million.

For comparison, Kahoot, in its Q2 financials published in August, reported ARR of $25 million, with invoiced revenue for the quarter at $9.6 million, growing some 317% on the same quarter a year before. The company has also raised some $110 million in private funding from the likes of Microsoft and Disney.

As Kahoot looks to find more than just a transient place in a company’s IT and software fabric — transience of attention always being a risk with anything gaming-based — it makes a lot of sense to pick up Actimo and work on ways of coupling the platform with its other corporate work. You can also imagine a time when it might create a similar kind of dashboard for the educational sector.

“We are excited to welcome the Actimo team to be part of the fast-growing Kahoot! family,” said Kahoot! CEO, Eilert Hanoa, in a statement. “This acquisition will further extend Kahoot!’s corporate learning offerings, by providing solutions tailored for the frontline segment, as well as to solidify company culture and engagement among remote and distributed teams in companies of all types and sizes. This continues our expressed ambition to also grow through M&A by adding strategic capabilities that we can leverage across our global platform.”

“We are thrilled to join forces with Kahoot! in our mission to develop next-level solutions that connect remote employees and boost employee engagement and productivity,” said Eske Gunge, CEO at Actimo, in a statement. “Being part of Kahoot! and with our experience from working with innovative and ambitious enterprises across industries, we can together set a new standard for corporate learning and engagement.”


By Ingrid Lunden

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

GO1, an enterprise learning platform, picks up $40M from Microsoft, Salesforce and more

With a large proportion of knowledge workers doing now doing their jobs from home, the need for tools to help them feel connected to their profession can be as important as tools to, more practically, keep them connected. Today, a company whose platform helps do precisely that is announcing a growth round of funding after seeing engagement on the platform triple in the last month.

GO1.com, an online learning platform focused specifically on professional training courses (both those to enhance a worker’s skills as well as those needed for company compliance training), is today announcing that it has raised $40 million in funding, a Series C that it plans to use to continue expanding its business, which started out in Brisbane, Australia and now has its operations also based out of San Francisco. (It was part of a Y Combinator cohort back in 2015.) Specifically, it wants to continue growth in North America, and to continue expanding its partner network.

It’s not disclosing its valuation but we are asking. It’s worth pointing out that not only has GO1 seen engagement triple in the last month as people turn to online learning as one way of keeping users connected to their professional lives as they work among children and house pets, noisy neighbours, dirty laundry, sourdough starters, and the rest — and that’s before you count the harrowing news we are hit with on a regular basis. But even beyond that, longer term GO1 has shown some strong signs that speak of its traction.

It counts the likes of the University of Oxford, Suzuki, Asahi and Thrifty among its 3,000+ customers, with more than 1.5 million users overall able to access over 170,000 courses and other resources provided by some 100 vetted content partners. Overall usage has grown five-fold over the last 12 months. (GO1 works both with in-house learning management systems or provides its own.)

“GO1’s growth over the last couple of months has been unprecedented and the use of online tools for training is now undergoing a structural shift,” said Andrew Barnes, CEO of GO1, in a statement. “It is gratifying to fill an important void right now as workers embrace online solutions. We are inspired about the future that we are building as we expand our platform with new mediums that reach millions of people every day with the content they need.”

The funding is coming from a very strong list of backers: it’s being co-led by Madrona and SEEK — the online recruitment and course directory company that has backed a number of edtech startups, including FutureLearn and Coursera — with participation also from Microsoft’s venture arm M12; new backer Salesforce Ventures, the investing arm of the CRM giant; and Our Innovation Fund.

Microsoft is a strategic backer: GO1 integrated with Teams, so now users can access GO1 content directly via Microsoft’s enterprise-facing video and messaging platform.

“GO1 has been critical for business continuity as organizations navigate the remote realities of COVID-19,” said Nagraj Kashyap, Microsoft Corporate Vice President and Global Head of M12, in a statement. “The GO1 integration with Microsoft Teams offers a seamless learning experience at a time when 75 million people are using the application daily. We’re proud to invest in a solution helping keep employees learning and businesses growing through this time.”

Similarly, Salesforce is also coming in as a strategic, integrating this into its own online personal development products and initiatives.

“We are excited about partnering with GO1 as it looks to scale its online content hub globally. While the majority of corporate learning is done in person today, we believe the new digital imperative will see an acceleration in the shift to online learning tools. We believe GO1 fits well into the Trailhead ecosystem and our vision of creating the life-long learner journey,” said Rob Keith, Head of Australia, Salesforce Ventures, in a statement.

Working remotely has raised a whole new set of challenges for organizations, especially those whos employees typically have not worked for days, weeks and months outside of the office. Some of these have been challenges of a more basic IT nature: getting secure access to systems on the right kinds of machines and making sure people can communicate in the ways that they need to to get work done.

But others are more nuanced and long-term: making sure people remain focused and motivated and in a healthy state of mind about work. Education is one way of getting them focused in the latter way: professional development is not only useful for the person to do her or his job better, but it’s a way to motivate them and focus their minds, and rest from routine, in a way that still remains relevant to work.

GO1 is absolutely not the only company pursuing this opportunity. Others include Udemy and Coursera, which have both come to enterprise after initially focusing more on traditional education plays. And LinkedIn Learning (which used to be known as Lynda, before LinkedIn acquired it and shifted the branding) was a trailblazer in this space.

For these, enterprise training sits in a different strategic place to GO1, which started out with compliance training and onboarding of employees before gravitating into a much wider set of topics that range from photography and design, through to Java, accounting, and even yoga and mindfulness training and everything in between.

It’s perhaps the directional approach, alongside its success, that have set GO1 apart from the competition and that has attracted the investment, which seems to have come ahead even of the current boost in usage.

“We met GO1 many months before COVID-19 was on the tip of everyone’s tongue and were impressed then with the growth of the platform and the ability of the team to expand their corporate training offering significantly in North America and Europe,” commented S. Somasegar, managing director, Madrona Venture Group, in a statement. “The global pandemic has only increased the need to both provide training and retraining – and also to do it remotely. GO1 is an important link in the chain of recovery.” As part of the funding Somasegar will join the GO1 board of directors.

Notably, GO1 is currently making all COVID-19 related learning resources available for free “to help teams continue to perform and feel supported during this time of disruption and change,” the company said.


By Ingrid Lunden

In the wake of COVID-19, UK puts up £20M in grants to develop resilient tech for critical industries

Most of the world — despite the canaries in the coal mine — was unprepared to cope with the coronavirus outbreak that’s now besieging us. Now, work is starting to get underway both to help manage what is going on now and better prepare us in the future. In the latest development, the UK government today announced that it will issue £20 million ($24.5 million) in grants of up to £50,000 each to startups and other businesses that are developing tools to improve resilience for critical industries — in other words, those that need to keep moving when something cataclysmic like a pandemic hits.

You can start your application here. Unlike a lot of other government efforts, this one is aimed at a quick start: you need to be ready to kick of your project using the grant no later than June 2020, but earlier is okay, too.

Awarded through Innovate UK, which part of UK Research and Innovation (itself a division of the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), the grants will be available to businesses of any size as long as they are UK-registered, and aim to cover a wide swathe of industries that form the core fabric of how society and the economy can continue to operate.

“The Covid-19 situation is not just a health emergency, but also one that effects the economy and society. With that in mind, Innovate UK has launched this rapid response competition today seeking smart ideas from innovators,” said Dr Ian Campbell Executive Chair, Innovate UK, in a statement. “These could be proposals to help the distribution of goods, educate children remotely, keep families digitally connected and even new ideas to stream music and entertainment. The UK needs a great national effort and Innovate UK is helping by unleashing the power of innovation for people and businesses in need.”

These include not just what are typically considered “critical” industries like healthcare and food production and distribution, but also those that are less tangible but equally important in keeping society running smoothly, like entertainment and wellbeing services:

  • community support services
  • couriers and delivery (rural and/or city based)
  • education and culture
  • entertainment (live entertainment, music, etc.)
  • financial services
  • food manufacture and processing
  • healthcare
  • hospitality
  • personal protection equipment
  • remote working
  • retail
  • social care
  • sport and recreation
  • transport
  • wellbeing

The idea is to introduce new technologies and processes that will support existing businesses and organizations, not use the funding to build new startups from scratch. Those getting the funding could already be businesses in these categories, or building tools to help companies that fall under these themes.

The grants were announced at a time where we are seeing a huge surge of companies step up to the challenge of helping communities and countries cope with COVID-19. That’s included not only those that already made medical supplies increase production, but a number of other businesses step in and try to help where they can, or recalibrate what they normally do to make their factories or other assets more useful. (For example, in the UK, Rolls Royce, Airbus and the Formula 1 team are all working on ventilators and other hospital equipment, a model of industry retooling that has been seen in many other countries, too.)

That trend is what helped to inspire this newest wave of non-equity grants.

“The response of researchers and businesses to the coronavirus outbreak have been remarkable,” said Science Minister Amanda Solloway in a statement. “This new investment will support the development of technologies that can help industries, communities and individuals adapt to new ways of working when situations like this, and other incidents, arise.”

The remit here is intentionally open-ended but will likely be shaped by some of the shortcomings and cracks that have been appearing in recent weeks while systems get severely stress-tested.

So, unsurprisingly, the sample innovations that UK Innovate cites appear to directly relate to that. They include things like technology to help respond to spikes in online consumer demand — every grocery service in the online and physical world has been overwhelmed by customer traffic, leading to sites crashing, people leaving stores disappointed at what they cannot find, and general panic. Or services for families to connect with and remotely monitor vulnerable relatives: while Zoom and the rest have seen huge surges in traffic, there are still too many people on the other side of the digital divide who cannot access or use these. And better education tools: again, there are thousands of edtech companies in the world, but in the UK at least, I wouldn’t say that the educational authorities had done even a small degree of disaster planning, leaving individual schools to scramble and figure out ways to keep teaching remotely that works for everyone (again not always easy with digital divides, safeguarding and other issues).

None of this can cure coronavirus or stop another pandemic from happening — there are plenty of others that are working very squarely on that now, too — but these are equally critical to get right to make sure that a health disaster doesn’t extend into a more permanent economic or societal one.

More information and applications are here.


By Ingrid Lunden

Torch & Everwise merge into affordable exec coaching for all

While companies might pay for a CEO coach, lower level employees often get stuck with lame skill-building worksheets or no mentorship at all. Not only does that limit their potential productivity, but it also makes them feel stagnated and undervalued, leading them to jump ship.

Therapy…err…executive coaching is finally becoming destigmatized as entrepreneurs and their teams realize that everyone can’t be crushing it all the time. Building a business is hard. It’s okay to cry sometimes. But the best thing you can do is be vulnerable and seek help.

Torch emerged from stealth last year with $18 million in funding to teach empathy to founders and C-suite execs. Since 2013, Everwise has raised $26 million from Sequoia and others for its peer-to-peer mentorship marketplace that makes workplace guidance accessible to rank-and-file staffers.  Tomorrow they’ll official announce their merger under the Torch name to become a full-stack career coach for every level of employee.

“As human beings, we face huge existential challenges in the form of pandemics, climate change, the threats coming down the pipe from automation and AI” says Torch co-founder and CEO Cameron Yarbrough. “We need to create leaders at every single level of an organization and ignite these people with tools and human support in order to level up in the world.”

Startup acquisitions and mergers can often be train wrecks because companies with different values but overlapping products are jammed together. But apparently it’s gone quite smoothly since the products are so complementary, with all 70 employees across the two companies keeping their jobs. “Everwise is much more bottom up whereas Torch is about the upper levels, and it just sort of made sense” says Garry Tan, partner and co-founder of Initialized Capital that funded Torch’s Series A and is also a client of its coaching.

How does each work? Torch goes deep, conducting extensive 360-interviews with an executive as well as their reports, employees, and peers to assess their empathy, communication, vision, conflict resolution, and collaboration.  clients’ executives do extensive 360-interviews. It establishes quantifiable goals that executives work towards through video call sessions with Torch’s coaches. They learn about setting healthy workplace boundaries, stay calm amidst arguments, motivating staff without seeming preachy, and managing their own ego.

This coaching can be exceedingly valuable for the leaders setting a company’s strategy and tone. But the one-on-one sessions are typically too expensive to buy for all levels of employees. That’s where Everwise comes in.

Everwise goes wide, offers a marketplace with 6000 mentors across different job levels and roles that can provider more affordable personal guidance or group sessions with 10 employees all learning from each other. It also provides a mentorship platform where bigger companies can let their more senior staffers teach junior employees exactly what it takes to succeed. That’s all stitched together with a curated and personalized curriculum of online learning materials. Meanwhile, a company’s HR team can track everyone’s progress and performance through its Academy Builder dashboard.

“We know Gen Z has grown up with mentors by their side from SAT prep” says Torch CMO Cari Jacobs. Everwise lets them stay mentored, even at early stages of their professional life. “As they advance through their career, they might notch up to more executive private coaching.” Post-merger, Torch can keep them sane and ambitious throughout the journey. 

“It really allows us to move up market without sacrificing all the traction we’ve built working with startups and mid-market companies” Yarbrough tells me. Clients have included Reddit and ZenDesk, but also giants like Best Buy, Genentech, and T-Mobile.

The question is whether Everwise’s materials are engaging enough to not become just another employee handbook buried on an HR site that no one ever reads. Otherwise, it could just feel like bloat tacked onto Torch. Meanwhile, scaling up to bigger clients pits Torch against long-standing pillars of the executive coaching industry like Aon and Korn Ferry that have been around for decades and have billions in revenue. Meanwhile, new mental health and coaching platforms are emerging like BetterUp and Sounding Board.

But the market is massive since so few people get great coaching right now. “No one goes to work and is like ‘man, I wish my boss was less mindful’” Tan jokes. When Yarbrough was his coach, the Torch CEO taught the investor that while many startup employees might think they thrive on flexibility, “people really want high love and high structure.” In essence, that’s what Torch is trying to deliver — a sense of emotional comradery mixed with a prod in the direction of fulfilling their destiny.


By Josh Constine

Cyber-skills platform Immersive Labs raises $40M in North America expansion

Immersive Labs, a cybersecurity skills platform, has raised $40 million in its Series B, the company’s second round of funding this year following an $8 million Series A in January.

Summit Partners led the fundraise with Goldman Sachs participating, the Bristol, U.K.-based company confirmed.

Immersive, led by former GCHQ cybersecurity instructor James Hadley, helps corporate employees learn new security skills by using real, up-to-date threat intelligence in a “gamified” way. Its cybersecurity learning platform uses a variety of techniques and psychology to build up immersive and engaging cyber war games to help IT and security teams learn. The platform aims to help users better understand cybersecurity threats, like detecting and understanding phishing and malware reverse-engineering.

It’s a new take on cybersecurity education, which the company’s founder and chief executive Hadley said the ever-evolving threat landscape has made traditional classroom training “obsolete.”

“It creates knowledge gaps that increase risk, offer vulnerabilities and present opportunities for attackers,” said Hadley.

The company said it will use the round to expand further into the U.S. and Canadian markets from its North American headquarters in Boston, MA.

Since its founding in 2017, Immersive already has big customers to its name, including Bank of Montreal and Citigroup, on top of its U.K. customers, including BT, the National Health Service, and London’s Metropolitan Police.

Goldman Sachs, an investor and customer, said it was “impressed” by Immersive’s achievements so far.

“The platform is continually evolving as new features are developed to help address the gap in cyber skills that is impacting companies and governments across the globe,” said James Hayward, the bank’s executive director.

Immersive said it has 750% year-over-year growth in annual recurring revenues and over 100 employees across its offices.


By Zack Whittaker

LinkedIn launches skills assessments, tests that let you beef up your credentials for job hunting

LinkedIn, the social networking service for the working world, is today taking the wraps off its latest effort to provide its users with better tools for presenting their professional selves, and to make the process of recruitment on the platform more effective. It will now offer a new feature called Skills Assessments: short, multiple-choice tests that users can take to verify their knowledge in areas like computer languages, software packages and other work-related skills.

The feature is being rolled out globally today but in a small test mode, LinkedIn says that 2 million tests have already been taken and applied across the platform, a sign of how it might well be a very popular, and needed, feature. First up are English-language tests covering some 75 different skills, all free to take, but the plan, according to Emrecan Dogan, the group product manager in its talent solutions division, is to “ramp that up agressively” in the near future, both adding in different languages and more test areas.

(Important sidenote: Dogan joined LinkedIn when his company ScoreBeyond was quietly acquired by LinkedIn last year. ScoreBeyond was an online testing service to help students prep for college entrance exams. Given LinkedIn’s efforts to get closer to younger users — again, in part because of competitive pressure — I suspect that is one area where LinkedIn will likely want to expand this assessment tool longer term, if it takes off.)

The skills assessment tool is coming at an important moment for LinkedIn.

The Microsoft-owned company now has nearly 650 million people around the world using its social networking tools to connect with each other for professional purposes, most often to network, talk about work, or find work.

That makes for a fascinating and lucrative economy of scale when it comes to rolling out its products. But it comes with a major drawback, too: the bigger the platform gets, the harder it is to track and verify details about each and every individual on it. The skills assessment becomes one way of at least being able to verify certain people’s skills in specific areas, and for that information to start feeding into other channels and products on the platform.

It’s also a critical competitive move: the company is by far the biggest platform of its kind on the internet today, but smaller rivals are building interesting products to chip away at that lead in specific areas. Triplebyte, for example, has created a platform for those looking to hire engineers, and engineers looking for new roles, to connect by way of the engineers — yes — taking online tests to measure their skills and match them up with compatible job opportunities. Triplebyte is focused on just one field — software engineering — but the template is a disruptive one that, if replicated in other verticals, could slowly start to chip away at LinkedIn’s hegemony.

And testing on actual skills is just one area where verification has fallen short on LinkedIn: another big trend in recruitment is the push for more diverse workforces. The thinking is that traditionally too many of the parameters that have been used up to now to assess people — what college was attended, or where people have worked already — have been essentially cutting many already-disenfranchised groups out of the process. Given that LinkedIn currently has no way of ascertaining when people on its platform are from minority backgrounds, a skills assessment — and especially a good result on one — might potentially help tip the balance in favor of meritrocracy (if not proactive diversity focused hiring as such).

For regular users, the option to take skills assessments and add them to your profile will appear for users as a button in the skills and endorsements area of their profiles. Users take short tests — currently only multiple choice — which Dogan says are created by professionals who are subject area experts that already work with LinkedIn, for example to write content for LinkedIn learning.

These tests measure your knowledge in specific areas, and if you pass, you are given a badge that you can apply to your profile page, and potentially broadcast out to those who are looking for people with the skills you’ve just verified you have. (This is presuming that you are not cheating and having someone else take the test for you, or taking it while looking up answers elsewhere.) You can opt out of sharing the information anywhere else, if you choose.

If you fail, you have three months to wait before taking it again, and in the meantime LinkedIn will use the moment to upsell you on its other content: you get offered LinkedIn Learning tests to improve your skills.

For those who pass, they will need to retake tests every year to keep their badges and credentials.

On the side of recruiters, they are able to use the data that gets amassed through the tests as a way of better filtering out users when sourcing candidate pools for job openings. This is a huge issue on a platform like LinkedIn: while having a large group of people on there is a boost for finding matches, in fact there can be too many, and too much of a challenge and time suck to figure out who is genuinely suitable for a particular role.

There is another angle where the skills are being used to help LinkedIn monetise: those who are putting in ads for jobs can now buy ads that are targeted specifically to people with certain skills that have been verified through assessments.

There are still some shortfalls in the skills assessment tool as it exists now. For example, coding tests are all multiple choice, but that’s not how many coding environments work these days. (Triplebyte for example offers collaborative assessments.) And of course, skills is just one aspect of how people might fit into a particular working environment. (Currently there are no plans to bring in psychometric or similar assessments, Dogan said.) This is an interesting start, however, and worth testing the waters as more interesting variations in recruitment and connecting professionals online continue to proliferate.

 


By Ingrid Lunden

Why it just might make sense that Salesforce.com is buying Salesforce.org

Yesterday, Salesforce .com announced its intent to buy its own educational/non-profit arm, Salesforce.org for $300 million. On its face, this feels like a confusing turn of events, but industry experts say it’s really about aligning educational and non-profit verticals across the entire organization.

Salesforce has always made a lot of hay about being a responsible capitalist. It’s something it highlights at events and really extends with the 1-1-1 model that it created, which gives one percent of profit, time and resources (product) to education and non-profits. Its employees are given time off and are encouraged to work in the community. Salesforce.org has been the driver behind this, but something drove the company to bring Salesforce.org into the fold.

While it’s easy to be cynical about the possible motivations, it could be a simple business reason, says Ray Wang, founder and principal analyst at Constellation Research. As he pointed out, it didn’t make a lot of sense from a business perspective to be running two separate entities with separate executive teams, bookkeeping systems and sales teams. What’s more, he said there was some confusion over lack of alignment and messaging between the Salesforce.com education sales team and what was happening at Salesforce.org. Finally, he says because Salesforce.org couldn’t issue Salesforce.com stock options, it might not have been attracting the best talent.

“It allows them to get better people and talent, and it’s also eliminating redundancies with the education vertical. That was really the big driver behind this,” Wang told TechCrunch.

Tony Byrne, founder and principal analyst at Real Story Group agreed. “My guess is that they were struggling to align roadmaps between the offerings (.com and .org), and they see .org as more strategic now and want to make sure they’re in the fold,” he said.

Focusing on the charity arm

Brent Leary, principal and co-founder at CRM Essentials says it’s also about keeping that charitable focus front and center, while pulling that revenue into the Salesforce.com revenue stream. “It seems like doing good is set to be really good for business, making it a potentially very good idea to included as part of Salesforce’s top line revenue numbers, Leary said.

For many, this was simply about keeping up with Microsoft and Google in the non-profit space, and being part of Salesforce.com makes more sense in terms of competing. “I believe Salesforce’s move to bring Salesforce.org in house was a well-timed strategic move to have greater influence on the company’s endeavors into the Not for Profit (NFP) space. In the wake of Microsoft’s announcements of significantly revamping and adding resources to its Dynamics 365 Nonprofit Accelerator, Salesforce would be well-served to also show greater commitment on their end to helping NFP’s acquire greater access to technologies that enable them to carry out their mission,” Daniel Newman, founder and principal analyst at Futurum Research said.

Good or bad idea?

But not everyone sees this move in a positive light. Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst and founder at Moor Insights and Strategies, says it could end up being a public relations nightmare for Salesforce if the general public doesn’t understand the move. Salesforce could exacerbate that perception, if it ends up raising prices for non-profits and education.

“Salesforce and Benioff’s move with Salesforce.org is a big risk and could blow up in its face. The degree of negative reaction will be dependent on how large the price hikes are and how much earnings get diluted. We won’t know that until more details are released,” Moorhead said.

The deal is still in progress, and will take some months to close but if it’s simply an administrative move designed to create greater efficiencies, it could make sense. The real question remains is how this will affect educational and non-profit institutions as the company combines Salesforce.org and Salesforce.com.

Salesforce did not wish to comment for this story.


By Ron Miller