Marvell nabs Innovium for $1.1B as it delves deeper into cloud ethernet switches

Marvell announced this morning it intends to acquire Innovium for $1.1 billion in an all-stock deal. The startup, which raised over $400 million according to Crunchbase data, makes networking ethernet switches optimized for the cloud.

Marvell president and CEO Matt Murphy sees Innovium as a complementary piece to the $10 billion Inphi acquisition last year, giving the company, which makes copper-based chips, more ways to work across modern cloud data centers.

“Innovium has established itself as a strong cloud data center merchant switch silicon provider with a proven platform, and we look forward to working with their talented team who have a strong track record in the industry for delivering multiple generations of highly successful products,” Marvell CEO Matt Murphy said in a statement.

Innovium founder and CEO Rajiv Khemani, who will remain on as an advisor post-close, told a familiar tale from a startup CEO being acquired, seeing the sale as a way to accelerate more quickly as part of a larger organization than it could on its own. “As we engaged with Marvell, it became clear that our data center optimized portfolio combined with Marvell’s scale, leading technology platform and complementary portfolio, can accelerate our growth and vision of delivering breakthrough switch silicon for the cloud and edge,” he wrote in a company blog post announcing the deal.

The company, which was founded in 2014, raised over $143 million last year on a post money valuation of $1.3 billion, according to Pitchbook data. The question is was this a reasonable deal for the company given that valuation?

No company wants to sell for less than it was last valued by its investors. In some cases, such deals can still be accretive for early backers of the selling concern, but not always. In this case TechCrunch is not privy to all the details of the Innovium cap table and what its later investors may have built into their deals with the company in the form of downside protection; such measures can tilt the value of the sale of company more towards its later and final investors. This is usually managed at the expense of its earlier backers and employees.

Still, the Innovium deal should not be seen as a failure. Building a company that sells for north of $1 billion in equity value is impressive. The deal appears to be slightly smaller in enterprise value terms. In the business world, enterprise value is a useful method of valuing the true cost of an acquisition. In the case of Innovium, a large cash position, what was described as “Innovium cash and exercise proceeds expected at closing of approximately $145 million,” lowered the cost of the transaction to a more modest $955 million in net outlays.

Our general perspective is that the sale is probably not the outcome that Innovium’s backers had hoped for, but that it may still prove lucrative to early workers and early investors, and still works at that lower figure. It’s also notable how in today’s market of mega-rounds and surfeit unicorns, an exit north of the $1 billion mark in equity terms can be viewed as a disappointment in any terms. Innovium is selling for around the price that Facebook paid for Instagram in 2012, a deal that at the time was so large that it dominated technology headlines around the world.

But with so much capital available today, private valuations are soaring and mega deals abound. And recent rounds north of $100 million, much like Innovium’s 2020-era, $143 million round, can set companies up with rich valuations and a narrow path in front of them to beat those heightened expectations.

What likely happened? Perhaps Innovium found itself with more cash than opportunities to spend it; perhaps it simply needed a large partner to help it better sell into its market. With expected revenues of $150 million in Marvell’s fiscal 2023, its next fiscal period, Innovium did not fail to reach scale. It may have simply grown well as a private, independent company, and stalled out after its last round.

Regardless, a billion dollar exit is a billion dollar exit. The deal is expected to close by the end of this year. While both company boards have approved the deal, it still must clear regular closing hurdles including approval by Innovium’s private stock holders.


By Ron Miller

ZoomInfo drops $575M on Chorus.ai as AI shakes up the sales market

ZoomInfo announced this morning it intends to acquire conversational sales intelligence tool Chorus.AI for $575 million. Shares of ZoomInfo are unchanged in pre-market trading following the news, per Yahoo Finance data.

Sales intelligence, Chorus’s market, is a hot space that uses AI to “listen” to sales conversations to help improve interactions between salespeople and customers. ZoomInfo is mostly known for providing information about customers, so the acquisition expands the acquiring company’s platform in a significant way.

The company sees an opportunity to bring together different parts of the sales process in a single platform by “combining ZoomInfo’s historic top-of-the-funnel strength with insights driven from the middle of the funnel in the customer conversations that Chorus captures,” it said in a release.

“With Chorus, the entire organization can make better decisions by surfacing insights and analytics that you would only get if you sat in on every sales or customer success call,” ZoomInfo CEO and founder Henry Schuck said in a blog post announcing the deal.

Ahead of the transaction, ZoomInfo was valued at just under $21 billion.

Chorus looks for what it calls “smart themes” in sales calls, which help managers steer sales teams towards the types of conversation and tone that is likely to drive more revenue. In fact, Chorus holds the largest patent portfolio related to conversational intelligence, according to the company.

Chorus was founded in 2015 and raised over $100 million along the way, according to Pitchbook data. The most recent round was a $45 million Series C last year.

Crunchbase News reports that at the time of its Series C round of funding, Chorus had “doubled its headcount to more than 100 employees and tripled its revenue over the past year.” That’s the sort of growth that venture capitalists covet, making the company’s 2020 funding round a non-surprise.

Notably PitchBook data indicates that the company’s final private valuation was around the $150 million mark; if accurate, it would imply that the company’s last private round was expensive in dilution terms. And that its investors did well in the exit, quickly more than trebling the capital that was last invested, with investors who put capital in earlier doing even better.

But we’re slightly skeptical of the company’s available valuation history given the growth that it claimed at the time of its Series C; it feels low. If that’s the case, the company’s exit multiple would decrease, making its final sale price slightly less impressive.

Of course a half-billion dollar exit is always material, even if venture capitalists in today’s red-hot, and expensive market are more interested in $1 billion exits and larger.

Chorus.ai will likely not be the final exit in the conversational intelligence space. Its rival Gong (often known by its URL, Gong.io) is one of the hotter startups in this space, having raised over $500 million. Its most recent raise was $250 million on a $7.25 billion valuation last month.

The implication of the Chrous.ai exit and Gong’s enormous private valuation is that the application of AI to audio data in a sales environment is incredibly useful, given the number of customers the two companies’ aggregate valuation implies.


By Ron Miller

Network security startup ExtraHop skips and jumps to $900M exit

Last year, Seattle-based network security startup ExtraHop was riding high, quickly approaching $100 million in ARR and even making noises about a possible IPO in 2021. But there will be no IPO, at least for now, as the company announced this morning it has been acquired by a pair of private equity firms for $900 million.

The firms, Bain Capital Private Equity and Crosspoint Capital Partners, are buying a security solution that provides controls across a hybrid environment, something that could be useful as more companies find themselves in a position where they have some assets on-site and some in the cloud.

The company is part of the narrower Network Detection and Response (NDR) market. According to Jesse Rothstein, ExtraHop’s chief technology officer and co-founder, it’s a technology that is suited to today’s threat landscape, “I will say that ExtraHop’s north star has always really remained the same, and that has been around extracting intelligence from all of the network traffic in the wire data. This is where I think the network detection and response space is particularly well-suited to protecting against advanced threats,” he told TechCrunch.

The company uses analytics and machine learning to figure out if there are threats and where they are coming from, regardless of how customers are deploying infrastructure. Rothstein said he envisions a world where environments have become more distributed with less defined perimeters and more porous networks.

“So the ability to have this high quality detection and response capability utilizing next generation machine learning technology and behavioral analytics is so very important,” he said.

Max de Groen, managing partner at Bain, says his company was attracted to the NDR space, and saw ExtraHop as a key player. “As we looked at the NDR market, ExtraHop, which […] has spent 14 years building the product, really stood out as the best individual technology in the space,” de Groen told us.

Security remains a frothy market with lots of growth potential. We continue to see a mix of startups and established platform players jockeying for position, and private equity firms often try to establish a package of services. Last week, Symphony Technology Group bought FireEye’s product group for $1.2 billion, just a couple of months after snagging McAfee’s enterprise business for $4 billion as it tries to cobble together a comprehensive enterprise security solution.


By Ron Miller

Netflify snags YC alum FeaturePeek to add design review capabilities

Netlify, the startup that’s bringing a micro services approach to building websites, announced today that it has acquired YC alum FeaturePeek. The two companies did not share the purchase price.

With FeaturePeek, the company gets a major upgrade in its design review capability. While Netlify has had a previewing capability called Deploy Previews in the platform since 2016, it lacked a good way for reviewers to discuss and comment on the design. The preview alone was useful as far as it goes, but having the ability to collaborate on the design remained a missing piece until today.

With FeaturePeek, the company can expand on Deploy Previews to not only preview the design, but also enable all the stakeholders in the design process to add their opinions, edits and changes as the design moves through the creation process instead of having to wait until the end or gather the comments in a separate document or communications channel.

As FeaturePeek co-founder Eric Silverman told me at the time of their seed funding last year, his product removed a lot of frustration when the web coders would get all their review comments at the last minute:

“Right now, there’s no dedicated place to give feedback on that new work until it hits their staging environment, and so we’ll spin up ad hoc deployment previews, either on commit or on pull requests and those fully running environments can be shared with the team. On top of that, we have our overlay where you can file bugs, you can annotate screenshots, record video or leave comments.”

Matt Biilmann, CEO and co-founder, Netlify says that when his company created Deploy Previews, it was in reaction to customers who were kloodging together their own solutions to the issue. They learned that even with their own preview feature, customers craved a communications capability.

In the classic build versus buy debate, the company began building its own, then it met the FeaturePeek team and decided to switch course. “We had a team working on a prototype when the founders of FeaturePeek, Eric and Jason, gave us a demo of their product. As the demo progressed, our jaws got increasingly closer to hitting the floor and we knew straight away that what we had just seen was miles away from both our internal prototypes and any of the other tools we had seen in the space,” Billman told TechCrunch.

He added, “It also quickly became apparent that fully building towards this vision as two different companies, without a deep end-to-end experience from initial Pull Request to a new feature release, would never really allow us to build what we were dreaming of, so we decided to join forces.”

The companies’ combined effort actually comes together today in a new release of Deploy Previews that includes the new FeaturePeek collaboration/commenting capabilities.

FeaturePeek was founded in 2019, went through Y Combinator Summer 2019 batch, and raised around $2 million. Netlify was founded in 2014 and has raised over $97 million, according to Crunchbase. Its last raise was a $53 million Series C in March 2020.


By Ron Miller

Unbounce snags Snazzy.ai to add automated copywriting to platform

Unbounce, a Vancouver startup best known for helping marketers create automated landing pages, added a new wrinkle this morning when it announced it has acquired Snazzy.ai, an early stage automated copywriting startup. The two companies did not share the terms.

Unbounce Chief Strategy Officer Tamara Grominsky says that her company focuses on helping customers convert their customers into sales, and with Snazzy, it gets some pretty nifty technology based on GPT-3 artificial intelligence technology.

“We’re focused right now on building conversion intelligence software that will allow marketers to work with machines to really unlock their true conversion potential, […] and we saw a huge opportunity with Snazzy to focus particularly on the content creation and copy creation space to help us accelerate that strategy,” Grominsky explained.

She points out that the product is really aimed at the marketing generalist charged with overseeing landing pages, and who is responsible for a range of tasks including writing copy. “The average Unbounce customer isn’t a specialized copywriter, so they don’t spend [their work] day writing copy. They’re what we would consider a marketing generalist or really someone who’s responsible for a wide range of marketing responsibilities,” she said.

Snazzy co-founder Chris Frantz says the tech is really about getting people started, and then they can tweak the results as needed. “The hardest part has always been to get that first line, that first page, the first couple of words in — and we eliminate that entirely. That might not always result in amazing copy, but on the plus side you can always click the button again and give it another try,” he said.

Frantz says that with so much competition in the space, he and his co-founder felt they could build a market much faster as part of a larger and broader marketing platform solution like Unbounce.

“I love Tamara’s vision for the future of Unbounce. I think she has a very ambitious vision. She sold me on that very early on in the process. At the same time, there was a lot of competition in the space, and to have a key differentiator with a company like Unbounce, which has a decade of marketing experience and a lot of trust within this community, I think it’s a very powerful wedge that we can use to further grow our audience,” Frantz said.

The tool lets you write a range of copy from landing pages to Google ad copy. The company launched in alpha last October and already had 30,000 customers, which Grominsky says Unbounce hopes to convert into customers. The good news for those customers is that the company plans to leave Snazzy as a stand-alone product, while incorporating the tech into the platform in ways that make sense in the coming year.


By Ron Miller

Cisco strikes again grabbing threat assessment tool Kenna Security as third acquisition this week

Cisco has been busy on the acquisition front this week, and today the company announced it was buying threat assessment platform Kenna Security, the third company it has purchased this week. The two companies did not disclose the purchase price.

With Kenna, Cisco gets a startup that uses machine learning to sort through the massive pile of threat data that comes into a security system on a daily basis and prioritizes the threats most likely to do the most damage. That could be a very useful tool these days when threats abound and it’s not always easy to know where to put your limited security resources. Cisco plans to take that technology and integrate into its SecureX platform.

Gee Rittenhouse, senior vice president and general manager of Cisco’s Security Business Group wrote in a blog post announcing the deal with Kenna, that his company is getting a product that brings together Cisco’s existing threat management capabilities with Kenna’s risk-based vulnerability management skills.

“That is why we are pleased to announce our intent to acquire Kenna Security, Inc., a recognized leader in risk-based vulnerability prioritization with over 14 million assets protected and over 12.7 billion managed vulnerabilities. Using data science and real-world threat intelligence, it has a proven ability to bring data in from a multi-vendor environment and provide a comprehensive view of IT vulnerability risk,” Rittenhouse wrote in the blog post.

The security sphere has been complex for a long time, but with employees moving to work from home because of COVID, it became even more pronounced in the last year. In a world where the threat landscape changes quickly, having a tool that prioritizes what to look at first in its arsenal could be very useful.

Kenna Security CEO Karim Toubba gave a typical executive argument for being acquired: it gives him a much bigger market under Cisco than his company could have built alone.

“Now is our opportunity to change the industry: once the acquisition is complete, we will be one step closer to delivering Kenna’s pioneering Risk-Based Vulnerability Management (RBVM) platform to the more than 7,000 customers using Cisco SecureX today. This single action exponentially increases the impact Kenna’s technology will have on the way the world secures networks, endpoints and infrastructures.,” he wrote in the company blog.

The company, which launched in 2010, claims to be the pioneer in the RBVM space. It raised over $98 million on a $320 million post-money valuation, according to Pitchbook data. Customers include HSBC, Royal Bank of Canada, Mattel and Quest Diagnostics.

For those customers, the product will cease to be stand-alone at some point as the companies work together to integrate Kenna technology into the SecureX platform. When that is complete, the stand-alone customers will have to purchase the Cisco solution to continue using the Kenna tech.

Cisco has had a busy week on the acquisition front. It announced its intent to acquire Sedona Systems on Tuesday, Socio Labs on Wednesday and this announcement today. That’s a lot of activity for any company in a single week. The deal is expected to close in Cisco Q4 FY 2021. The company’s 170 employees will be joining the Security Business Group led by Rittenhouse.


By Ron Miller

Cisco to acquire Indy startup Socio to bring hybrid events to Webex

Cisco announced this morning that it intends to acquire Indianapolis-based startup Socio, which helps plan hybrid in-person and virtual events. The two companies did not share the purchase price.

Socio provides a missing hybrid event management component for the company to add to its Webex platform. The goal appears to be to combine this with the recent purchase of Slido and transform Webex from an application mostly for video meetings into a more comprehensive event platform.

“As part of Cisco Webex’s vision to deliver inclusive, engaging and intelligent meeting and event experiences, the acquisition of Socio Labs complements Cisco’s recent acquisition of Slido, an industry-leading audience engagement tool, which together will create a comprehensive, cost-effective and easy-to-use event management solution […],” the company explained in a statement.

The impact of the pandemic was not lost on Cisco, and it’s clear that as we can foresee going back to go back to live events, having the ability to combine it with a virtual experience means that you can open up your event to a much wider audience beyond those who can attend in person. That’s likely not something that’s going away, even after we get past COVID.

Jeetu Patel, SVP and GM for security and collaboration at Cisco says that the future of work is going to be hybrid, whether it’s for work meetings or larger events and Cisco is making this acquisition to expand the use cases for the Webex platform.

“Whether it’s a 1:1 call, a small team huddle, a group meeting or a large external event, we want to remove friction and help people engage with each other in an inclusive manner. Slido allows for every voice to be heard — even when you’re not talking. Socio allows for getting your voice heard by a large number of people,” Patel said.

And the company believes that Webex provides the platform to make it all happen. “It’s a really potent combination of technology to make human interactions more engaging, no matter the type of conversation,” he added.

Brent Leary, founder and principal analyst at CRM Essentials, says that it’s a smart move to take advantage of the changing events landscape and that this acquisition helps make Cisco a serious player in this space.

“As we get closer to a post-pandemic world, the need to create hybrid event experiences is going to quickly accelerate as people start venturing out to attend physical events. So having an event stack that combines local event support/participation with tools to integrate a broader virtual audience will be the future of event management,” Leary told me.

Socio was founded in 2016 and raised around $7 million in investment capital, according to Crunchbase data. It has a prestigious list of enterprise customers that includes Microsoft, Google, Jet Blue, Greenpeace, PepsiCo and Hyundai

The deal is expected to close in Q4 of FY2021. When it does close, Socio’s 135 employees will be joining Cisco. The plan is to incorporate Socio’s tooling into the Webex platform while allowing it to continue as a stand-alone product, according to a Cisco spokesperson.


By Ron Miller

Jamf snags zero trust security startup Wandera for $400M

Jamf, the enterprise Apple device management company, announced that it was acquiring Wandera, a zero trust security startup, for $400 million at the market close today. Today’s purchase is the largest in the company’s history.

Jamf provides IT at large organizations with a set of management services for Apple devices. It is the leader in the market, and snagging Wandera provides a missing modern security layer for the platform.

Jamf CEO Dean Hager says that Wandera’s zero trust approach fills in an important piece in the Jamf platform tool set. “The combination of Wandera and Jamf will provide our customers a single source platform that handles deployment, application lifecycle management, policies, filtering and security capabilities across all Apple devices while delivering zero trust network access for all mobile workers,” Hager said in a statement.

Zero trust, as the name implies, is an approach to security where you don’t trust anybody regardless of whether they are inside or outside your network. It requires that you force everyone to provide multiple forms of authentication to prove their identity before they can access company resources.

The need for a zero trust approach became even more acute during the pandemic when employees  have often been working from home and have needed access to applications and other company resources from wherever they happened to be, a trend that was happening even prior to COVID, and is likely to continue after it ends.

Wandera, which is based in London, was founded in 2012 by brothers Roy and Eldar Tuvey, who had previously co-founded another security startup called ScanSafe. Cisco acquired that company, which helped protect web gateways as a service for $183 million back in 2009. The brothers raised over $53 million along the way for Wandera. Investors included Bessemer Venture Partners, 83North and Sapphire Ventures.

Sapphire co-founder and managing director Andreas Weiskam had this to say about the deal: “[Wandera] created a unique security product which addresses mobile threats by leveraging the increasingly important zero trust network. By joining the Jamf family, the two will help shape the future of the zero trust cloud. And it goes without saying that this is a big win for the customers, especially for those in the Apple ecosystem.”

Jamf now has access to all of that technology and everything else the company has developed since. Under the terms of the deal, Jamf is paying Wandera $350 million in cash, then paying them two $25 million payments on October 1, 2021 and December 15, 2021. The deal is expected to close in the third quarter assuming it passes regulatory scrutiny.

 


By Ron Miller

DataRobot expands platform and announces Zepl acquisition

DataRobot, the Boston-based automated machine learning startup, had a bushel of announcements this morning as it expanded its platform to give technical and non-technical users alike something new. It also announced it has acquired Zepl, giving it an advanced development environment where data scientists can bring their own code to DataRobot. The two companies did not share the acquisition price.

Nenshad Bardoliwalla, SVP of Product at DataRobot says that his company aspires to be the leader in this market and it believes the path to doing that is appealing to a broad spectrum of user requirements from those who have little data science understanding to those who can do their own machine learning coding in Python and R.

“While people love automation, they also want it to be [flexible]. They don’t want just automation, but then you can’t do anything with it. They also want the ability to turn the knobs and pull the levers,” Bardoliwalla explained.

To resolve that problem, rather than building a coding environment from scratch, it chose to buy Zepl and incorporate its coding notebook into the platform in a new tool called Composable ML. “With Composable ML and with the Zepl acquisition, we are now providing a really first class environment for people who want to code,” he said.

Zepl was founded in 2016 and raised $13 million along the way, according to Crunchbase data. The company didn’t want to reveal the number of employees or the purchase price, but the acquisition gives it advanced capabilities, especially a notebook environment to call its own to attract those more advanced users to the platform.The company plans to incorporate the Zepl functionality into the platform, while also leaving the stand-alone product in place.

Bardoliwalla said that they see the Zepl acquisition as an extension of the automated side of the house, where these tools can work in conjunction with one another with machines and humans working together to generate the best models. “This [generates an] organic mixture of the best of what a system can generate using DataRobot AutoML and the best of what human beings can do and kind of trying to compose those together into something really interesting […],” Bardoliwalla said.

The company is also introducing a no-code AI app builder that enables non-technical users to create apps from the data set with drag and drop components. In addition, it’s adding a tool to monitor the accuracy of the model over time. Sometimes, after a model is in production for a time, the accuracy can begin to break down as the data the model is based is no longer valid. This tool monitors the model data for accuracy and warns the team when it’s starting to fall out of compliance.

Finally the company is announcing a model bias monitoring tool to help root out model bias that could introduce racist, sexist or other assumptions into the model. To avoid this, the company has built a tool to identify when it sees this happening both in the model building phase and in production. It warns the team of potential bias, while providing them with suggestions to tweak the model to remove it.

DataRobot is based in Boston and was founded in 2012. It has raised over $750 million and has a valuation of over $2.8 billion, according to Pitchbook.


By Ron Miller

ServiceNow leaps into applications performance monitoring with Lightstep acquisition

This morning ServiceNow announced that it was acquiring Lightstep, an applications performance monitoring startup that has raised over $70 million, according to Crunchbase data. The companies did not share the acquisition price.

ServiceNow wants to take advantage of Lightstep’s capabilities to enhance its IT operations offerings. With Lightstep, the company should be able to provide customers with a way to monitor the performance of applications with the goal of detecting problems before the grow into major issues that take down a website or application.

“With Lightstep, ServiceNow will transform how software solutions are delivered to customers. This will ultimately make it easier for customers to innovate quickly. Now they’ll be able to build and operate their software faster than ever before and take the new era of work head on with confidence,” Pablo Stern, SVP & GM for IT Workflow Products at ServiceNow said in a statement.

Ben Sigelman, founder and CEO at Lightstep sees the larger organization being a good landing spot for his company. “We’ve always believed that the value of observability should extend across the entire enterprise, providing greater clarity and confidence to every team involved in these modern, digital businesses. By joining ServiceNow, together we will realize that vision for our customers and help transform the world of work in the process […], Sigelman said in a statement.

Lightstep is part of the application performance monitoring market with companies like DataDog, New Relic and AppDynamics, which Cisco acquired in 2017 the week before it was scheduled to IPO for $3.7 billion. It seems to be an area that is catching the interest of larger enterprise vendors, who are picking off smaller startups in the space.

Last November, IBM bought Instana, an APM startup and then bought Turbonomic for $2 billion at the end of last month as a complementary technology. Being able to monitor apps and keep them up and running is crucial, not only from a business continuity perspective, but also from a brand loyalty one. Even if the app isn’t completely down, but is running slowly or generally malfunctioning in some way, it’s likely to annoy users and could ultimately cause users to jump to a competitor. This type of software gives customers the ability to observe and detect problems before they have an impact on large numbers of users.

Lightstep, which is based in San Jose California, was founded in 2015. It raised $70 million from investors like Altimeter Capital, Sequoia, Redpoint and Harrison Metal. Customers include GitHub, Spotify and Twilio. The deal is expected to close this quarter.


By Ron Miller

MessageBird acquires SparkPost for $600M using $800M Series C extension

MessageBird, a communications platform out of the Netherlands, had a busy day today with two huge announcements. For starters, the company got an $800 million extension on its $200 million Series C round announced last October. It then applied $600 million of the extension to buy email marketing platform SparkPost. The company’s C round now totals at least $1 billion.

Let’s start with the acquisition. MessageBird CEO Robert Vis says his company had an email component prior to the acquisition, but the chance to pick up the largest email provider in the world was too good to pass up.

“If you talk about infrastructure, we’re defining largest […] as a matter of interactions, so basically the amount of emails sent. SparkPost sends about 5 trillion emails a year. And the second thing that’s very important to us is to be able to send high scale emails when it’s really critical,” Vis told me.

With the company in the fold, it enables MessageBird, which has mostly been in Europe and Asia, to get a stronger foothold in the U.S. market. “So this is as much for us about the technology around SparkPost as it actually is for us to have market entry into the United States with a significant workforce instead of having to build that from scratch,” Vis said.

Rich Harris, CEO of SparkPost sees the deal as a way to expand SparkPost to multiple channels already available on the MessageBird platform and be a much more powerful combination together than it could have been alone.

“By joining forces with MessageBird, we will be able to bring broader, deeper value to all of our customers through any digital communications,” Harris said in a statement.

Vis agrees saying it gives his company the opportunity to upsell other MessageBird services to SparkPost customers. “SparkPost obviously only offers email. We can offer SmartPost customers way more channels. We can offer them texting, Instagram, WhatsApp or Apple Business Chat. So we feel very excited about leveraging them to go sell much more broad messenger products to their customers,” Vis said.

MessageBird announced its $240 million Series C on a $3 billion valuation last October. The company’s whopping $800 million extension brings the round to around $1 billion. It’s worth noting that the round isn’t completely closed yet, so that’s not an official figure.

“The round isn’t completely closed yet as we are still waiting on some of the funds to come in, so we cannot give you 100% final figures on the round, but we can say with confidence that the round will close at $1B or slightly higher,” a company spokesperson explained. It is announcing the funding before everything is 100% done due to regulatory requirements around the acquisition.

Eurazeo, Tiger Global, BlackRock and Owl Rock participated in the extension along with Bonnier, Glynn Capital, LGT Lightstone, Longbow, Mousse Partners and NewView Capital, as well as existing investors such as Accel, Atomico (they led the Series A and B rounds) and Y Combinator. The mix is 70% equity and 30% debt, according to the company.

Today’s acquisition comes on the heels of two others just last month when the company announced it was acquiring video meeting startup 24Sessions and Hull, a synchronization technology startup. The company also acquired Pusher, a push notification company in January, as MessageBird is using its Series C cash to quickly expand the platform.


By Ron Miller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


By Tage Kene-Okafor

Vista Equity takes minority stake in Canada’s Vena with $242M investment

Vena, a Canadian company focused on the Corporate Performance Management (CPM) software space, has raised $242 million in Series C funding from Vista Equity Partners.

As part of the financing, Vista Equity is taking a minority stake in the company. The round follows $25 million in financing from CIBC Innovation Banking last September, and brings Vena’s total raised since its 2011 inception to over $363 million.

Vena declined to provide any financial metrics or the valuation at which the new capital was raised, saying only that its “consistent growth and…strong customer retention and satisfaction metrics created real demand” as it considered raising its C round.

The company was originally founded as a B2B provider of planning, budgeting and forecasting software. Over time, it’s evolved into what it describes as a “fully cloud-native, corporate performance management platform” that aims to empower finance, operations and business leaders to “Plan to Growtheir businesses. Its customers hail from a variety of industries, including banking, SaaS, manufacturing, healthcare, insurance and higher education. Among its over 900 customers are the Kansas City Chiefs, Coca-Cola Consolidated, World Vision International and ELF Cosmetics.

Vena CEO Hunter Madeley told TechCrunch the latest raise is “mostly an acceleration story for Vena, rather than charting new paths.”

The company plans to use its new funds to build out and enable its go-to-market efforts as well as invest in its product development roadmap. It’s not really looking to enter new markets, considering it’s seeing what it describes as “tremendous demand” in the markets it currently serves directly and through its partner network.

“While we support customers across the globe, we’ll stay focused on growing our North American, U.K. and European business in the near term,” Madeley said.

Vena says it leverages the “flexibility and familiarity” of an Excel interface within its “secure” Complete Planning platform. That platform, it adds, brings people, processes and systems into a single source solution to help organizations automate and streamline finance-led processes, accelerate complex business processes and “connect the dots between departments and plan with the power of unified data.”            

Early backers JMI Equity and Centana Growth Partners will remain active, partnering with Vista “to help support Vena’s continued momentum,” the company said. As part of the raise, Vista Equity Managing Director Kim Eaton and Marc Teillon, senior managing director and co-head of Vista’s Foundation Fund, will join the company’s board.

“The pandemic has emphasized the need for agile financial planning processes as companies respond to quickly-changing market conditions, and Vena is uniquely positioned to help businesses address the challenges required to scale their processes through this pandemic and beyond,” said Eaton in a written statement. 

Vena currently has more than 450 employees across the U.S., Canada and the U.K., up from 393 last year at this time.


By Mary Ann Azevedo

OneTrust adds ethics to its privacy platform with Convercent acquisition

OneTrust, a late stage privacy platform startup, announced it was adding ethics and compliance to the mix this morning by acquiring Convercent, a company that was built to help build more ethical organizations. The companies did not share the purchase price.

OneTrust just raised $300 million on a fat $5.1 billion valuation at the end of last year, and it’s putting that money to work with this acquisition. Alan Dabbiere, co-chairman at OneTrust sees this acquisition as a way to add a missing component to his company’s growing platform of services.

“OneTrust instantly brings a proven ethics and compliance technology, team, and customer base into the OneTrust, further aligning the Chief Ethics & Compliance Officer strategy alongside privacy, data governance, third-party risk, GRC (governance, risk and compliance), and ESG (environmental, social and governance) to build trust as a competitive advantage,” he said.

Convercent brings 750 customers and 150 employees to the OneTrust team along with its ethics system, which includes a way for employees to report ethical violations to the company and a tool for managing disclosures.

Convercent can also use data to help surface bad behavior before it’s been reported. As CEO Patrick Quinlan explained in a 2018 TechCrunch article:

“Sometimes you have this interactive code of conduct, where there’s a new vice president in a region and suddenly page views on the sexual harassment section of the Code of Conduct have increased 200% in the 90 days after he started. That’s easy, right? There’s a reason that’s happening, and our system will actually tell you what’s happening.”

Quinlan wrote in a company blog post announcing the deal that joining forces with OneTrust will give it the resources to expand its vision.

“As a part of OneTrust, we’ll be combining forces with the leader across privacy, security, data governance, third-party risk, GRC, ESG—and now—ethics and compliance. Our customers will now be able to build centralized programs across these workstreams to make trust a competitive differentiator,” Quinlan wrote.

Convercent was founded in 2012 and has raised over $100 million, according to Pitchbook data. OneTrust was founded in 2016. It has over 8000 customers and 150 employees and has raised $710 million, according to the company.


By Ron Miller

ServiceNow takes RPA plunge by acquiring India-based startup Intellibot

ServiceNow became the latest company to take the robotic process automation (RPA) plunge when it announced it was acquiring Intellibot, an RPA startup based in Hyderabad, India. The companies did not reveal the purchase price.

The purchase comes at a time where companies are looking to automate workflows across the organization. RPA provides a way to automate a set of legacy processes, which often involve humans dealing with mundane repetitive work.

The announcement comes on the heels of the company’s no-code workflow announcements earlier this month and is part of the company’s broader workflow strategy, according to Josh Kahn, SVP of Creator Workflow Products at ServiceNow.

“RPA enhances ServiceNow’s current automation capabilities including low code tools, workflow, playbooks, integrations with over 150 out of the box connectors, machine learning, process mining and predictive analytics,” Khan explained. He says that the company can now bring RPA natively to the platform with this acquisition, yet still use RPA bots from other vendors if that’s what the customer requires.

“ServiceNow customers can build workflows that incorporate bots from the pure play RPA vendors such as Automation Anywhere, UiPath and Blue Prism, and we will continue to partner with those companies. There will be many instances where customers want to use our native RPA capabilities alongside those from our partners as they build intelligent, end-to-end automation workflows on the Now Platform,” Khan explained.

The company is making this purchase as other enterprise vendors enter the RPA market. SAP announced a new RPA tool at the end of December and acquired process automation startup Signavio in January. Meanwhile Microsoft announced a free RPA tool earlier this month, as the space is clearly getting the attention of these larger vendors.

ServiceNow has been on a buying spree over the last year or so buying five companies including Element AI, Loom Systems, Passage AI and Sweagle. Khan says the acquisitions are all in the service of helping companies create automation across the organization.

“As we bring all of these technologies into the Now Platform, we will accelerate our ability to automate more and more sophisticated use cases. Things like better handling of unstructured data from documents such as written forms, emails and PDFs, and more resilient automations such as larger data sets and non-routine tasks,” Khan said.

Intellibot was founded in 2015 and will provide the added bonus of giving ServiceNow a stronger foothold in India. The companies expect to close the deal no later than June.

 


By Ron Miller