Hashicorp soars above $5B valuation in new $175M venture round

The rise of the cloud over the past decade has forced software developers and DevOps engineers to completely rearchitect the modern web application, ensuring scalability, performance, and security. That’s a really painful proposition when done manually, which is where Hashicorp comes in to play. The company’s suite of products helps everyone in the tech workforce from IT admins to software developers operate in the cloud (mostly) effortlessly and natively.

The company’s products have long garnered rave reviews from technical staffs, and now the company is looking at a brand new massive valuation.

The SF-based startup announced today that it has raised $175 million in Series E financing from Franklin Templeton Investments at a scorching $5.1 billion valuation. For context, when we last covered the company back in late 2018, its valuation was only a “paltry” $1.9 billion following a $100 million round led by growth investor IVP.

The company in its release today touted its success in doubling revenues and customers every year for four straight years as the key reason behind the flush valuation. The company is making a (not so) subtle point that David McJannet, who joined the company as CEO in mid-2016 following a stint as an EIR at Greylock, has seen some success in his new role.

Hashicorp CEO David McJannet. Photo via Hashicorp

The company, founded by Mitchell Hashimoto and Armon Dadgar in 2012, is one of the major pioneers in helping companies build high-quality infrastructure that’s a mix of multi-cloud providers, private cloud, and even legacy systems.

It’s most well-known product is Terraform, which allows developers to write repeatable rules around enterprise infrastructure rather than a patchwork of different scripts that might not work as its writers intended. The idea is that with a consistent framework, Hashicorp’s product can help companies reduce costs (by protecting against, say, over-provisioning of resources) while also helping to balance scale and performance. The company’s other products include Consul around network automation, Vault for security, and Nomad for application deployment.

Hashicorp touches on a bunch of competitive products, but its cohesive set of tools and strong outreach to the developer community has set itself apart from the competition in recent years.

Franklin Templeton is a fairly late stage investor that has funded such enterprise companies as Cloudflare, which went public last year, logs management platform SumoLogic, and cybersecurity business Tanium, all according to Crunchbase.

With a hefty $5.1 billion valuation, the company narrowly missed the catastrophic decline of SaaS stocks over the past few weeks, which have been buffeted by the rapidly spreading global pandemic. But with a new war chest and a focus on a popular and growing enterprise market, the company seems poised to continue its growth.


By Danny Crichton

To make locks touchless, Proxy bluetooth ID raises $42M

We need to go hands-off in the age of coronavirus. That means touching fewer doors, elevators, and sign-in iPads. But once a building is using phone-based identity for security, there’s opportunities to speed up access to WIFI networks and printers, or personalize conference rooms and video call set-ups. Keyless office entry startup Proxy wants to deliver all of this while keeping your phone in your pocket.

The door is just a starting point” Proxy co-founder and CEO Denis Mars tells me. “We’re . . . empowering a movement to take back control of our privacy, our sense of self, our humanity, our individuality.”

With the contagion concerns and security risks of people rubbing dirty, cloneable, stealable key cards against their office doors, investors see big potential in Proxy. Today it’s announcing here a $42 million Series B led by Scale Venture Partners with participation from former funders Kleiner Perkins and Y Combinator plus new additions Silicon Valley Bank and West Ventures.

The raise brings Proxy to $58.8 million in funding so it can staff up at offices across the world and speed up deployments of its door sensor hardware and access control software. “We’re spread thin” says Mars. “Part of this funding is to try to grow up as quickly as possible and not grow for growth sake. We’re making sure we’re secure, meeting all the privacy requirements.”

How does Proxy work? Employers get their staff to install an app that knows their identity within the company, including when and where they’re allowed entry. Buildings install Proxy’s signal readers, which can either integrate with existing access control software or the startup’s own management dashboard.

Employees can then open doors, elevators, turnstiles, and garages with a Bluetooth low-energy signal without having to even take their phone out. Bosses can also opt to require a facial scan or fingerprint or a wave of the phone near the sensor. Existing keycards and fobs still work with Proxy’s Pro readers. Proxy costs about $300 to $350 per reader, plus installation and a $30 per month per reader subscription to its management software.

Now the company is expanding access to devices once you’re already in the building thanks to its SDK and APIs. Wifi router-makers are starting to pre-provision their hardware to automatically connect the phones of employees or temporarily allow registered guests with Proxy installed — no need for passwords written on whiteboards. Its new Nano sensors can also be hooked up to printers and vending machines to verify access or charge expense accounts. And food delivery companies can add the Proxy SDK so couriers can be granted the momentary ability to open doors when they arrive with lunch.

Rather than just indiscriminately beaming your identity out into the world, Proxy uses tokenized credentials so only its sensors know who you are. Users have to approve of new networks’ ability to read their tokens, Proxy has SOC-2 security audit certification, and complies with GDPR. “We feel very strongly about where the biometrics are stored . . . they should stay on your phone” says Mars.

Yet despite integrating with the technology for two-factor entry unlocks, Mars says “We’re not big fans of facial recognition. You don’t want every random company having your face in their database. The face becomes the password you were supposed to change every 30 days.”

Keeping your data and identity safe as we see an explosion of Internet Of Things devices was actually the impetus for starting Proxy. Mars had sold his teleconferencing startup Bitplay to Jive Software where he met his eventually co-founder Simon Ratner, who’d joined after his video annotation startup  Omnisio was acquired by YouTube. Mars was frustrated about every IoT lightbulb and appliance wanting him to download an app, set up a profile, and give it his data.

The duo founded Proxy in 2013 as a universal identity signal. Today it has over 60 customers. While other apps want you to constantly open them, Proxy’s purpose is to work silently in the background and make people more productive. “We believe the most important technologies in the world don’t seek your attention. They work for you, they empower you, and they get out of the way so you can focus your attention on what matters most — living your life.”

Now Proxy could actually help save lives. “The nature of our product is contactless interactions in commercial buildings and workplaces so there’s a bit of an unintended benefit that helps prevent the spread of the virus” Mars explains. “We have seen an uptick in customers starting to set doors and other experiences in longer-range hands-free mode so that users can walk up to an automated door and not have to touch the handles or badge/reader every time.”

The big challenge facing Proxy is maintaining security and dependability since it’s a mission-critical business. A bug or outage could potentially lock employees out of their workplace (when they eventually return from quarantine). It will have to keep hackers out of employee files. Proxy needs to stay ahead of access control incumbents like ADT and Honeywell as well as smaller direct competitors like $10 million-funded Nexkey and $28 million-funded Openpath.

Luckily, Proxy has found a powerful growth flywheel. First an office in a big building gets set up, then they convince the real estate manager to equip the lobby’s turnstiles and elevators with Proxy. Other tenants in the building start to use it, so they buy Proxy for their office. Then they get their offices in other cities on board…starting the flywheel again. That’s why Proxy is doubling down on sales to commercial real estate owners.

The question is when Proxy will start knocking on consumers’ doors. While leveling up into the enterprise access control software business might be tough for home smartlock companies like August, Proxy could go down market if it built more physical lock hardware. Perhaps we’ll start to get smart homes that know who’s home, and stop having to carry pointy metal sticks in our pockets.


By Josh Constine

This startup got a meeting with Mark Suster by getting clever with Google ads

Startups have done some wild things to get the attention of VCs. In fact, Instacart founder Apoorva Mehta sent YC partner (at the time) Garry Tan a six-pack of beer through the service after missing the deadline for Y Combinator by two months.

Yesterday, the ingenuity of startups struck again.

Tadabase.io, an enterprise startup that offers no-code tools to help businesses automate their processes, has had an ad running that was… well, hyper targeted.

ProductHunt founder and WeekendFund investor Ryan Hoover discovered the ad and shared it on Twitter.

Hoover told TechCrunch he was Googling Mark Suster to facilitate an introduction between Suster and one of Hoover’s portfolio companies. Instead, he found a Google ad directed squarely at Suster from Tadabase.io.

“Mark Suster, you haven’t invested in nocode” read the paid listing. “Therefore, we put this ad here to get your attention. If you’re not Mark, please don’t click here and save us some money.”

I reached out to Suster, managing partner at UpFront Ventures, to see what he thought of the ad. He told me he “loved it” and has already contacted the CEO to set up a call for next week.

Whether this clever Google ad will result in an actual investment is yet to be determined. Also unclear: will Ryan Hoover get in on the deal?

I reached out to Tadabase founder and CEO Moe Levine via email to ask about the ad, how they went about targeting, and how he feels about his upcoming phone call next week. He hasn’t responded yet. I’ll update if/when he does.


By Jordan Crook

Pentagon asks court for time to reconsider JEDI award to Microsoft

The JEDI contract award process might never be done. Following legal challenges from Amazon after the Pentagon’s massive, $10 billion cloud contract was awarded to Microsoft in October, the Pentagon indicated in court documents last night that it wishes to reconsider the award.

It’s just the latest plot twist in an epic government procurement saga.

Here’s what we know. The Pentagon filing is based on Amazon’s complaints about the technical part of the deal only. Amazon has said that it believes political interference influenced the awarding of the contract. However, the cloud computing giant also believes it beat Microsoft on the technical merits in a majority of instances required in the request for proposals issued by the Pentagon.

In fact, sources told TechCrunch, “AWS’s protest identified evaluation errors, clear deficiencies and unmistakable bias in six of the eight evaluation factors.”

Obviously Amazon was happy to hear this news. “We are pleased that the DoD has acknowledged ‘substantial and legitimate’ issues that affected the JEDI award decision, and that corrective action is necessary,” a spokesperson stated.

“We look forward to complete, fair, and effective corrective action that fully insulates the re-evaluation from political influence and corrects the many issues affecting the initial flawed award.”

The court granted the Pentagon 120 days to review the results again, but indicated it could take longer. In the mean time, the project is at a standstill.

On Friday, the court issued a ruling that Amazon was likely to succeed on its complaint on merit, and that could have been the impetus of this latest action by the Pentagon.

 

While the political influence piece might not be overtly part of this filing, it does lurk in the background. The president has made it clear that he doesn’t like Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, who also owns the Washington Post. As we wrote last year:

Amazon, for instance, could point to Jim Mattis’ book where he wrote that the president told the then Defense Secretary to “screw Bezos out of that $10 billion contract.” Mattis says he refused, saying he would go by the book, but it certainly leaves the door open to a conflict question.

As we previously reported, AWS CEO Andy Jassy, stated at a press event at AWS re:Invent in December that the company believed there was political bias at play in the decision-making process.

“What I would say is that it’s fairly obvious that we feel pretty strongly that it was not adjudicated fairly,” he said. He added, “I think that we ended up with a situation where there was political interference. When you have a sitting president, who has shared openly his disdain for a company, and the leader of that company, it makes it really difficult for government agencies, including the DoD, to make objective decisions without fear of reprisal.”

We have requested comment from Microsoft and DoD and will update the story should they respond.


By Ron Miller

Yext aims to deliver more coronavirus-related answers by making its site search free

Yext says that in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s making its Yext Answers site search product free for 90 days.

You might not see an obvious connection between site search and a worldwide pandemic. You might even think this sounds like a marketing gimmick. But Yext CEO Howard Lerman said that for the past 10 days, the company has seen a spike in coronavirus-related searches across sites that use Yext Answers.

After all, Lerman said Yext has a lot of customers in the healthcare industry, such as the IHA medical group. But even beyond that, companies are getting related questions, whether it’s a hotel getting asked about their cleaning procedures, or an airline being asked whether it’s safe to fly or a vodka company getting asked about whether vodka can be used as hand sanitizer.

Businesses could try to answer those questions on a single web page or blog post, but that’s probably not going to be comprehensive. Yext Answers offers a way to present and save this information in a much more structured way, so that a visitor can jump to the exact answer that interests them. In addition, it provides data on what visitors are searching for, so companies can answer the questions that people are actually asking.

Yext Answers

Yext is also offering a free plugin that includes frequently asked questions about the coronavirus, with answers sourced directly form the the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We have a product that could be pretty useful right now,” Lerman said. “We don’t want people to be getting wrong answers in the time of a global pandemic.”

He added said that the company would normally charge around $100,000 for three months of Yext Answers. However, the free offering will be limited to 1,000 entities (which can be FAQs, locations or anything else), and Lerman said most paying customers are already using more than that.

While the product is free, the company will still schedule an initial setup call with a Yext administrator and provide ongoing email support. You can read more on Yext’s new website.


By Anthony Ha

Assembled raises $3.1M led by Stripe to build ‘the operating system for support teams’

CRM software accounts for one-quarter of all enterprise IT spend. But ironically, while a lot of money is spent on platforms like Salesforce or SAP to manage incoming calls and outgoing marketing and sales activity, not a lot of attention is given to the issue of how to help the teams using all that software work better.

What are the peak times for calls? What are the most common questions? Which staff are best skilled at what kinds of questions? And who is actually working at any given time? These are just some of the issues, but in many cases, there isn’t much in the way of tools used to help with these at all — organisations often just hack a spreadsheet platform like Google Sheets or a calendar app to get by, or do nothing at all.

Today, a startup called Assembled is coming out of stealth mode to address that gap in the market, with a platform that’s built specifically to address the kinds of questions and issues that customer support teams encounter and — answered well — can help them work much better.

Out of the gate, Assembled is announcing $3.1 million in seed funding led by Stripe — where the founding team previously worked — with participation also from Basis Set Ventures, Signalfire, and several angel investors (who are also mostly former Stripe employees).

Assembled’s longer-term ambition is to build tools for what co-founder Ryan Wang describes as “the logistics of customer support.”

“We want to become the operating system for support teams,” he said. Most immediately, the company’s focus will be on agent performance. “Teams to want to learn about their top performers and how they spend their time, and offer data to empower their decision-making.”

Stripe — the payments and related services provider that is now valued at $35 billion — has developed a sizeable operation funding startups adjacent to its own interests in cultivating relationships with startups and other smaller businesses. You could consider it a strategic investor in Assembled: alongside Grammarly, Gofundme, Hopper and Harry’s, Stripe is one of Assembled’s marquee customers.

Wang, an ex-Stripe engineer who co-founded Assembled with his brother John and Assembled’s CEO Brian Sze (both also ex-Stripe), said in an interview that the idea for the startup came directly out of the pair’s experiences as early employees at Stripe.

The approach at the startup in its early days was very grass-roots: employees would get together outside the office to go through support tickets as a way of identifying trends and to talk through them to figure out what might need fixing, how to handle issues in the future, and so on.

It was probably a great way for the team to really stay in touch with what customers needed and wanted. But eventually this approach presented a problem: how do you scale this kind of process? To a tech person, the solution would be obvious: build a platform that can help you do this.

“Within the landscape of CRM, we could see that tech hadn’t really been applied to the business of supporting customer support,” Wang said. “That is why we left. We’d understood that it was a broad problem.”

A tool to help improve workforce management for customer support teams is a no brainer for a company already trying to address these issues through its own home-baked solutions. Wang noted that one of its current customers had built out such an extensive map of data on Google Sheets trying to address customer support workforce management that “they broke Google Sheets. It was just too big.”

Indeed, Bob van Winden, Stripe’s head of operations, noted: “Millions of businesses rely on Stripe every day. To support them, we obsess over every detail of delivering fast, reliable customer service, including free 24×7 phone and chat support. This led us to Assembled, which our global support teams are using to stay coordinated and focused on helping Stripe’s users thrive.”

Less obvious is the use case when a company has never identified these issues, or sees them but haven’t made efforts to try to solve them because it seems too difficult. (The classic issues here are that Assembled is “too clever by half”, or “too ahead of its time.”) That presents both an open market for Assembled, but also a greenfield challenge.

One route to customers has been to integrate with more established CRM packages. Currently Assembled integrates with Salesforce, Kustomer and Zendesk, so that it can source data from these to provide more insights to users.

Another is to provide a set of tools that speak to the wider trend for analytics and data-based insights that can be used to improve how a company works. Indeed, just as Kustomer has disrupted the idea of a CRM being focused a narrow funnel of inbound requests, Assembled also is rethinking how to parse data to figure out what a customer support person should be doing and when. 

The startup provides a way to forecast inbound support query volumes, and to map that into staffing plans that cover multiple channels like chat, email, phone and social media. The staffing plan, in turn, also acts as a scheduling tool to set up group and single calendars for individuals.

A team’s activity, meanwhile, is tracked through a set of metrics that whole team can see and use to calibrate their work better.

Going forward, you can imagine Assembled expanding in a couple of different directions. One might be to offer workforce management to more teams beyond customer support, but that also have to work out how to manage inbound requests and turn them into more efficient work plans. Another might be to continue expanding the kinds of tools it might provide to customer support teams to continue complementing basic CRMs, in particular as customer support comes to mean different things, depending on who the “customer” actually is.

“We see the term ‘customer support’ evolving,” Wang said. “The big struggle is what is the encompassing term should be instead. Generally, our view is that we want to transform and elevate what customer support means. It’s not just about call centers, but any drivers of customer experience related to your products.”


By Ingrid Lunden

AWS launches Bottlerocket, a Linux-based OS for container hosting

AWS has launched its own open-source operating system for running containers on both virtual machines and bare metal hosts. Bottlerocket, as the new OS is called, is basically a stripped-down Linux distribution that’s akin to projects like CoreOS’s now-defunct Container Linux and Google’s container-optimized OS. The OS is currently in its developer preview phase, but you can test it as an Amazon Machine Image for EC2 (and by extension, under Amazon EKS, too).

As AWS chief evangelist Jeff Barr notes in his announcement, Bottlerocket supports Docker images and images that conform to the Open Container Initiative image format, which means it’ll basically run all Linux-based containers you can throw at it.

One feature that makes Bottleneck stand out is that it does away with a package-based update system. Instead, it uses an image-based model that, as Barr notes, “allows for a rapid & complete rollback if necessary.” The idea here is that this makes updates easier. At the core of this update process is “The Update Framework,” an open-source project hosted by the Cloud Native Computing Foundation.

AWS says it will provide three years of support (after General Availability) for its own builds of Bottlerocket. As of now, the project is very much focused on AWS, of course, but the code is available on GitHub and chances are we will see others expand on AWS’ work.

The company is launching the project in cooperation with a number of partners, including Alcide, Armory, CrowdStrike, Datadog, New Relic, Sysdig, Tiger, Trend Micro and Waveworks.

“Container-optimized operating systems will give dev teams the additional speed and efficiency to run higher throughput workloads with better security and uptime,” said Michael Gerstenhaber, Director of Product Management at Datadog.” We are excited to work with AWS on Bottlerocket, so that as customers take advantage of the increased scale they can continue to monitor these ephemeral environments with confidence.”

 


By Frederic Lardinois

Hitachi Vantara acquires what’s left of Containership

Hitachi Vantara, the wholly-owned subsidiary of Hitachi that focuses on building hardware and software to help companies manage their data, today announced that it has acquired the assets of Containership, one of the earlier players in the container ecosystem, which shut down its operations last October.

Containership, which launched as part of our 2015 Disrupt New York Startup Battlefield, started out as a service that helped businesses move their containerized workloads between clouds, but as so many similar startups, it then moved on to focus solely on Kubernetes and helping enterprises manage their Kubernetes infrastructure. Before it called it quits, the company’s specialty was managing multi-cloud Kubernetes deployments. The company wasn’t able to monetize its Kubernetes efforts quickly enough, though, the company said at the time in a blog post that it has now removed from its website.

Containership enables customers to easily deploy and manage Kubernetes clusters and containerized applications in public cloud, private cloud, and on-premise environments,” writes  Bobby Soni, the COO for digital infrastructure at Hitachi Vantara. “The software addresses critical cloud native application issues facing customers working with Kubernetes such as persistent storage support, centralized authentication, access control, audit logging, continuous deployment, workload portability, cost analysis, autoscaling, upgrades, and more.”

The companies did not disclose the price of the acquisition. Pittsburgh-based Containership only raised about $2.6 million since it was founded in 2014, though, and things had become pretty quiet around the company in the last year or two before its early demise. Chances are then that the price wasn’t all that high. Investors include Birchmere Ventures, Draper Triangle and Innovation Works.

Hitachi Vantara says it will continue to work with the Kubernetes community. Containership was a member of the Cloud Native Computing Foundation. Hitachi never was, but after this acquisition, that may change.


By Frederic Lardinois

Dell spent $67B buying EMC — more than 3 years later, was it worth the debt?

Dell’s 2015 decision to buy EMC for $67 billion remains the largest pure tech deal in history, but a transaction of such magnitude created a mountain of debt for the Texas-based company and its primary backer, Silver Lake.

Dell would eventually take on close to $50 billion in debt. Years later, where are they in terms of paying that back, and has the deal paid for itself?

When EMC put itself up for sale, it was under pressure from activist investors Elliott Management to break up the company. In particular, Elliott reportedly wanted the company to sell one of its most valuable parts, VMware, which it believed would help boost EMC’s share price. (Elliott is currently turning the screws on Twitter and SoftBank.)

Whatever the reason, once the company went up for sale, Dell and private equity firm Silver Lake came ‘a callin with an offer EMC CEO Joe Tucci couldn’t refuse. The arrangement represented great returns for his shareholders, and Tucci got to exit on his terms, telling Elliott to take a hike (even if it was Elliott that got the ball rolling in the first place).

Dell eventually took itself public again in late 2018, probably to help raise some of the money it needed to pay off its debts. We are more than three years past the point where the Dell-EMC deal closed, so we decided to take a look back and see if Dell was wise to take on such debt or not.

What it got with EMC


By Ron Miller

MessageBird launches Inbox.ai to ‘disrupt’ the customer service market

MessageBird, the Amsterdam-headquartered cloud communications platform backed by Accel in the U.S. and Europe’s Atomico, is unveiling another new product today, this time taking aim at the $350 billion customer service market.

Dubbed Inbox.ai and positioned as “Slack for external communications,” the new product — which is to be offered largely for free — enables customers to communicate with businesses via practically any channel of their choosing. This includes WhatsApp, SMS, Voice, Messenger, Instagram, WeChat, Apple Business Chat, RCS, Line and Telegram — in a bid to meet customers on their own digital, “messaging-first” turf. In terms of message content, at launch there is already support for text, images, video, geolocation and more.

And perhaps crucially, regardless of channel, incoming messages and customer conversations are presented in a single thread for easy ticketing and collaboration amongst support agents. There’s some built in intelligence, too, with “AI” promising to analyse keywords and anticipate customer needs, including providing a list of suggested replies. Agents can also drag and drop components to create auto-replies, and there’s support for things like automated NPS surveys, or rules for message routing.

As you’d expect from a company that has primarily targeted developers, Inbox.ai leverages webhooks for integration with various third-party tools used by enterprises and also comes pre-loaded with support for Shopify, Slack, Salesforce, Jira, and more. This includes the ability to have content created within Inbox.ai synced with other software used by a company for its various communication, sales and other business processes — even if over time, and for some companies, Inbox.ai may become all they need.

In a video call with MessageBird founder and CEO Robert Vis, he gave me a personal demo of Inbox.ai, including showing how quick the on-boarding process can be for a new business but also for a new customer. He had me WhatsApp a company’s support number and I could instantly see my message show up within the software and was able to send a photo to help with my request and receive other rich media in return.

Vis explained that the impetus for the new offering was his own frustration with customer support from companies in general, who, he says, haven’t adapted to the new world where customers expect to have their issues solved digitally and where it is no longer acceptable to queue for hours on hold or wait 24 hours or more for an email reply.

He says that a quick back of a napkin calculation suggests that, at the age of 35, he has already spent 2 weeks of his life on hold. He also said Inbox.ai wants to solve the continuity of support problem that typically sees customers having to re-explain their issue each time they are handed off to a different support agent or department.

“From a MessageBird perspective, we built these APIs and people [already] have the possibility to build these experiences, so why am I not living in this world?” Vis says rhetorically, after recalling a recent bad experience with his mobile telephone service provider. “I want to live in a world where I can text and have my problems easily solved… What I don’t want is for them to drop me a note into my email and then have to call them”.

So, rather than simply providing developer hooks and carrying out the infrastructure heavy-lifting, MessageBird is betting on its first user-facing product, which, I’m told, raised a few eyebrows amongst the board.

To that end, Vis told me that Inbox.ai was developed by the MessageBird team in 12 months and followed extensive research with customers, support agents and managers. Prior to launch, the software has been tested and is currently used by, HelloFresh and Deliveroo in Europe, Zilingo in Asia, and Join Buggy and Tix Telecom in Latin America.

Challenged on why nobody has really cracked this problem so far, despite a number of attempts to create a single source of customer support “truth,” Vis told me “everybody is talking about it but nobody is doing it”. That’s because you need to understand and then solve three related and difficult problems.

The first is ingesting data from all the various communication channels, for which MessageBird has previous form. The second is “experience generation”: the ability for support agents to easily communicate via rich experiences, such as images, videos, geolocation, tracking codes, discounts etc. That’s something most companies don’t have the developer resources to create, argues Vis. And thirdly is the UI, which has to allow agents to communicate and track tickets seamlessly across channels in a way that is agnostic to where those messages originate from.

“I think this is a new category, I think this is where things converge together,” adds the MessageBird CEO. “We compete with a lot of tools but we’re not any of them. We’re how we think in five years every tool is going to be”.


By Steve O’Hear

YC-backed Snapboard is a no-code platform for building internal tools

No code tools are on the rise, and a YC-backed company called Snapboard is looking to join the fight.

Snapboard, led by solo founder Calum Moore, started when Moore decided to build one product a week for a year as a personal challenge. In the second week, he realized just how many apps and services it took not only to build the product, but to post about it on social media.

He wanted a way to manage all those apps and tools from one dashboard. So he built Snapboard.

Snapboard allows users to link together and manage a wide variety of apps and platforms in a single, customizable dashboard. Users can create boards that act as internal tools without getting the product or engineering team involved for an internal project. Moore describes it as “Airtable, but with all of your data already in there.”

Right now, more than 50 apps are available on the Snapboard platform, including Shopify, Dropbox, Google Analytics, MailChimp, MongoDB, MySQL, Trello, Zendesk, and many more. Moore isn’t concerned with onboarding new integrated apps for Snapboard as most of the popular tools used by startups and tech firms are API supported.

The use cases are innumerable, which is just as challenging as it is beneficial. Moore detailed a few examples, including building boards for each individual customer, combining Stripe data with emails sent through Mail Chimp to try and target behavior.

However, the flexibility of the platform means that it can do almost anything, but only if you know what you want to do with it. It can be difficult to evangelize for something that is so nebulous, and can be used so many ways.

Moore says the key is to sprint on building out the template library for Snapboard, offering new users a multitude of options as inspiration.

Snapboard offers a free tier, and then charges $10/month/seat for more advanced features. Thus far, the company has 3,000 registered users and around 230 WAUs.

The company is targeting tech companies but sees the potential for other industries to tap into Snapboard’s internal tool-making platform.

Beyond the difficulty of messaging a platform that can be used in countless ways, Moore identifies UX design as one of the company’s greatest challenges.

“We’re taking something only developers used to be able to do and making it available for everyone else,” said Moore. “If you give a developer a platform, they’ll work their way through it. They’ll find some way to make it work. Whereas, with less technical people, they want products to be very obvious and easy to use. So, for us, it’s about delivering that kind of technical experience in a really non-technical way.”

Snapboard has raised a total of $150K from Y Combinator and will present in the upcoming demo day.


By Jordan Crook

Electric reopens Series B to make room for Dick Costolo and Adam Bain

Electric, the platform that delivers IT services to small and medium businesses, has today announced that it has raised an additional $14.5 million on its Series B from 01 Advisors, the fund led by Twitter alums Dick Costolo and Adam Bain.

Though the funding is a part of the company’s Series B financing, founder Ryan Denehy explained that the deal was signed on a uptick in valuation, though wouldn’t elaborate further.

Electric raised a $25 million Series B led by GGV in January of 2019.

The company allows businesses with small IT teams, or no IT team, to get on the platform and either automate or manage with one click the various administrative facets of that role. Most IT tasks are focused on administration, distribution and maintenance of software programs.

Electric customers ensure that the software is installed on every corporate machine, effectively giving the top IT employee or decision-maker an easy way to grant and revoke permissions, assign roles, and make sure software is up to date on various machines.

The hope is that this allows IT specialists to focus on the jobs that are best suited to their skills, such as troubleshooting, hardware installation and other more difficult tasks.

Denehy said that this new fundraise was all about bringing strategic operators under the tent, not cash. He explained that at the close of last year, VCs started reaching out to get in on the company’s Series C. The team sat down for a board meeting where they weighed their options, one of which being a $40 million Series C.

“We have no immediate use for most of that money,” said Denehy. “Is it going to make our customers happy or is it going to make us a better run company? It’s kind of a philosophical question. A lot of founders sort of equate success to the fact that they raised two rounds within six months of each other, and I just took the contrarian view. I wondered what we could actually do to make our company run better and the conclusion was to get the best business leaders and operators in tech to get around the table at our company.”

This brings Electric’s total funding to just over $50 million. Denehy says part of the reluctance around fundraising stemmed from the fact that Electric had tripled top line growth over the past two years. But that doesn’t mean he had all the answers when it comes to hyper growth and scaling the business.

Costolo recalled when Bain first met Ryan Denehy, and came back excited about his willingness to learn.

“Ryan is a really enthusiastic founder/CEO,” said Costolo. “Some founders know they don’t have the answers to everything and that there’s still a lot to learn, and they want to learn. And Ryan is right down the middle for that.”

Costolo also explained that he’s excited about how well Electric fits in to the dogma of ‘software is eating the world’, automating these low-level tasks to free up resources and energy for higher-order tasks.

Costolo and Bain operate slightly unusually for a growth-stage fund (01 Advisors writes checks for later A rounds and B rounds). The duo don’t want to take board seats, as they’d rather be “sitting next to the founder instead of across the table from the founder.”

This results in a hands-on approach based on their experience as operators. Remember, Costolo grew Twitter to a market cap of $23.4 billion before stepping down, and Bain spent six years at Twitter as President of Global Revenue and Partnerships before stepping into the COO role.

Costolo and Bain have already brought their hands-on approach to Electric, having conversations with the Head of HR around how to introduce HR business partners to different departments and how to scale and set goals for the enterprise sales team.


By Jordan Crook

BackboneAI scores $4.7M seed to bring order to intercompany data sharing

BackboneAI, an early-stage startup that wants to help companies dealing with lots of data, particularly coming from a variety of external sources, announced a $4.7 million seed investment today.

The round was led by Fika Ventures with participation from Boldstart Ventures, Dynamo Ventures, GGV Capital, MetaProp, Spider VC and several other unnamed investors.

Company founder Rob Bailey says he has spent a lot of time in his career watching how data flows in organizations. There are still a myriad of challenges related to moving data between organizations, and that’s what his company is trying to solve. “BackboneAI is an AI platform specifically built for automating data flows within and between companies,” he said.

This could involve any number of scenarios from keeping large, complex data catalogues up-to-date to coordinating the intricate flow of construction materials between companies or content rights management across an entertainment industry.

Bailey says that he spent 18 months talking to companies before he built the product. “What we found is that every company we talked to was, in some way or another, concerned about an absolute flood of data from all these different applications and from all the companies that they’re working with externally,” he explained.

The BackboneAI platform aims to solve a number of problems related to this. For starters, it automates the acquisition of this data, usually from third parties like suppliers, customers, regulatory agencies and so forth. Then it handles ingestion of the data, and finally it takes care of a lot of actual processing from external sources, while mapping it to internal systems like the company ERP system.

As an example, he uses an industrial supply company that may deal with a million SKUs across a couple of dozen divisions. Trying to track that with manual or even legacy systems is difficult. “They take all this product data in [from external suppliers], and then process the information in their own [internal] product catalog, and then finally present that data about those products to hundreds of thousands of customers. It’s an incredibly large and challenging data problem as you’re processing millions and millions of SKUs and orders, and you have to keep that data current on a regular basis,” he explained.

The company is just getting started. It spent 2019 incubating inside of Boldstart Ventures . Today the company has close to 20 employees in New York City, and it has signed its first Fortune 500 customer. Bailey says they have 15 additional Fortune 500 companies in the pipeline. With the seed money, he hopes to build on this initial success.


By Ron Miller

TFLiving, with $4.8M in seed funding, wants to be the Uber for amenities

TFLiving, looking to bring amenities to residential and commercial spaces, has today announced the close of a $4.8 million seed financing led by Camber Creek. Courtside Ventures, and other strategic investors, also participated in the round.

TFLiving uses technology to connect service providers, like massage therapists, yoga instructors and dog walkers, with property managers and their residents. The service allows residents to sign up for classes or services, as well as request other community events or services, directly from an app.

The most popular use case of the service is fitness, both classes and individual trainings, but TFLiving offers a relatively broad variety of services and experiences to residents at its 300 partnered properties.

Here’s how it works.

TFLiving signs partnerships with property managers of buildings that don’t currently offer amenities, or want to complement existing amenity offerings. After checking out the building, TFLiving determines if there is any under-utliized space in the building, such as a rooftop or a vacant unit, that could be repurposed for community classes.

After evaluating the space, TFLiving surveys residents and determines what they’re interested in via the app, which then serves up options from actual service providers on the service within the guidelines of the property manager’s financial guidelines.

One of the strengths of the business, according to founder and CEO Devin Wirt, is that the cost structure of the platform is highly customizable. Who pays is a question that can be answered by the property manager. If the building has a huge budget for community engagement and the property manager sees value in offering 5 classes/month and unlimited on-demand massage, they can choose to do so. The property manager can also grant TFLiving access to the building without paying a dime, passing on the full cost of the service to residents.

In most cases, property managers will foot the bill for community events, while residents pay for their own individual services like massage and dog walking.

Because TFLiving’s pricing is based on service and not calculated by number of units, the product can be priced at an affordable cost within the budget of the property and based on demand from the residents.

TFLiving also allows property managers to mark up the class or service and keep a cut of the profit. For example, if a property manager doesn’t have the budget for community classes or services, but doesn’t mind letting residents book individual personal training in the on-site gym, that property manager can mark up the cost of fitness classes by 20 percent and generate some revenue that could eventually go toward community events.

“One of the things that we stay pretty stringent on is just how far they’re able to market the prices,” said Wirt. “As a core mission of staying affordable to all asset classes, we understand that because we’re not paying a lease, we’re able to charge below market pricing. We still want to stay true to our core mission that we want to provide affordable services.”

Unlike ClassPass, which also connects service providers to users in the fitness space, TFLiving does not dynamically price its various classes and services based on popularity or quality. Fitness classes, for example, are always between $50 and $80, with geography being the main determining factor on specific price.

The company declined to share the revenue breakdown between the company and service providers, but noted that it varies by vertical and that service providers receive a majority of the revenue.

TFLiving currently has agreements with properties across 29 states, with contracts at over 800 properties, soon covering more than 200,000 units.

Wirt says that he sees the potential to implement TFLiving in commercial spaces as well, such as offices.

Moreover, TFLiving has worked on the tech side to be as useful, not necessarily as prominent, as possible. TFLiving integrates with a variety of property management platforms, from mobile doorman apps to platforms for paying rent to maintenance requests. Residents using those apps can request and book TFLiving amenities straight from those platforms.


By Jordan Crook

Box is now letting all staff work from home to reduce coronavirus risk

Box has joined a number of tech companies supporting employees to work remotely from home in response  the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, known as COVID-19.

It’s applying the policy to all staff, regardless of location.

Late yesterday Box co-founder Aaron Levie tweeted a statement detailing the cloud computing company’s response to COVID-19 — to, as he put it, “ensure the availability of our service and safety of our employees”.

In recent days Twitter has similarly encouraged all staff members to work from home. While companies including Amazon, Google, LinkedIn and Microsoft have also advised some staff to work remotely to reduce the risk of exposure to the virus.

In its response statement Box writes that it’s enacted its business continuity plans “to ensure core business functions and technology are operational in the event of any potential disruption”.

“We have long recognized the potential risks associated with service interruptions due to adverse events, such as an earthquake, power outage or a public health crisis like COVID-19, affecting our strategic, operational, stakeholder and customer obligations. This is why we have had a Business Continuity program in place to provide the policies and plans necessary for protecting Box’s operations and critical business functions,” the company writes.

In a section on “workforce resilience and business continuity” it notes that work from home practices are a normal part of its business operations but says it’s now extending the option to all its staff, regardless of the office or location they normally work out of — saying it’s doing so “out of an abundance of caution during COVID-19”.

Other measures the company says it’s taken to further reduce risk include suspending all international travel and limiting non-essential domestic travel; reducing large customer events and gatherings; and emphasizing health and hygiene across all office locations — “by maintaining sanitation supplies and encouraging an ‘if you are sick, stay home’ mindset”.

It also says it’s conducting all new hire orientation and candidate interviews virtually.

Box names a number of tools it says it routinely uses to support mobility and remote working, including its own service for secure content collaboration; Zoom’s video communication tool; the Slack messaging app; Okta for secure ID; plus additional unnamed “critical cloud tools” for ensuring “uninterrupted remote work for all employees”.

Clearly spying the opportunity to onboard new users, as more companies switch on remote working as a result of COVID-19 concerns, Box’s post also links to free training resources for its own cloud computing tools.


By Natasha Lomas