Work Life Ventures raises $5M for debut enterprise SaaS seed fund

Brianne Kimmel had no trouble transitioning from angel investor to general partner.

Initially setting out to garner $3 million in capital commitments, Kimmel, in just two weeks’ time, closed on $5 million for her debut venture capital fund Work Life Ventures. The enterprise SaaS-focused vehicle boasts an impressive roster of limited partners, too, including the likes of Zoom chief executive officer Eric Yuan, InVision CEO Clark Valberg, Twitch co-founder Kevin Lin, Cameo CEO Steven Galanis, Andreessen Horowitz general partners’ Marc Andreessen and Chris Dixon, Initialized Capital GP Garry Tan and fund-of-funds Slow Ventures, Felicis Ventures and NFX.

At the helm of the new fund, Kimmel joins a small group of solo female general partners. Dream Machine’s Alexia Bonatsos is targeting $25 million for her first fund. Day One Ventures’ Masha Drokova raised an undisclosed amount for her debut effort last year. Sarah Cone launched Social Impact Capital, a fund specializing in impact investing, in 2016, among others.

Meanwhile, venture capital fundraising is poised to reach all-time highs in 2019. In the first half of the year, a total of $20.6 billion in new capital was introduced to the startup market across more than 100 funds.

For most, the process of raising a successful venture fund can be daunting and difficult. For well-connected and established investors in the Bay Area, like Kimmel, raising a fund can be relatively seamless. Given the speed and ease of fund one in Kimmel’s case, she plans to raise her second fund with a $25 million target in as little as 12 months.

“The desire for the fund is to take a step back and imagine how do we build great consumer experiences in the workplace,” Kimmel tells TechCrunch.

Kimmel has been an active angel investor for years, sourcing top enterprise deals via SaaS School, an invite-only workshop she created to educate early-stage SaaS founders on SaaS growth, monetization, sales and customer success. Prior to launching SaaS School, which will continue to run twice a year, Kimmel led go-to-market strategy at Zendesk, where she built the Zendesk for Startups program.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

✔ available offline #google #remote

A post shared by Work Life Ventures (@worklifevc) on

“You start by advising, then you start with very small angel checks,” Kimmel explains. “I reached this inflection point and it felt like a great moment to raise my own fund. I had friends like Ryan Hoover, who started Weekend Fund focused on consumer, and Alexia is one of my friends as well and I saw what she was doing with Dream Machine, which is also consumer. It felt like it was the right time to come out with a SaaS-focused fund.”

Emerging from stealth today, Work Life Ventures will invest up to $150,000 per company. To date, Kimmel has backed three companies with capital from the fund: Tandem, Dover and Command E. The first, Tandem, was amongst the most coveted deals in Y Combinator’s latest batch of companies. The startup graduated from the accelerator with millions from Andreessen Horowitz at a valuation north of $30 million.

Dover, another recent YC alum, provides recruitment software and is said to be backed by Founders Fund in addition to Work Life. Command E, currently in beta, is a tool that facilities search across multiple desktop applications. Kimmel is also an angel investor in Webflow, Girlboss, TechCrunch Disrupt 2018 Startup Battlefield winner Forethought, Voyage and others.

Work Life is betting on the consumerization of the enterprise, or the idea that the next best companies for modern workers will be consumer-friendly tools. In her pitch deck to LPs, she cites the success of Superhuman and Notion, a well-designed email tool and a note-taking app, respectively, as examples of the heightened demand for digestible, easy-to-use B2B products.

“The next generation of applications for the workplace sees people spinning out of Uber, Coinbase and Airbnb,” Kimmel said. “They’ve faced these challenges inside their highly efficient tech company so we are seeing more consumer product builders deeply passionate about the enterprise space.”

But Kimmel doesn’t want to bury her thesis in jargon, she says, so you won’t find any B2B lingo on Work Life’s website or Instagram.

She’s focusing her efforts on a more important issue often vacant from conversations surrounding investment in the future of work: diversity & inclusion.

Kimmel meets with every new female hire of her portfolio companies. Though it’s “increasingly non-scalable,” she admits, it’s part of a greater effort to ensure her companies are thoughtful about D&I from the beginning: “Because I have a very focused fund, it’s about maintaining this community and ensuring that people feel like their voices are heard,” she said.

“I want to be mindful that I am a female GP and I feel honored to have that title.”


By Kate Clark

VCs bet $12M on Troops, a Slackbot for sales teams

Slack wants to be the new operating system for teams, something it has made clear on more than one occasion, including in its recent S-1 filing. To accomplish that goal, it put together an in-house $80 million venture fund in 2015 to invest in third-party developers building on top of its platform.

Weeks ahead of its direct listing on The New York Stock Exchange, it continues to put that money to work.

Troops is the latest to land additional capital from the enterprise giant. The New York-based startup helps sales teams communicate with a customer relationship management tool plugged directly into Slack. In short, it automates routine sales management activities and creates visibility into important deals through integrations with employee emails and Salesforce.

Troops founder and chief executive officer Dan Reich, who previously co-founded TULA Skincare, told TechCrunch he opted to build a Slackbot rather than create an independent platform because Slack is a rocket ship and he wanted a seat on board: “When you think about where Slack will go in the future, it’s obvious to us that companies all over the world will be using it,” he said.

Troops has raised $12 million in Series B funding in a round led by Aspect Ventures, with participation from the Slack Fund, First Round Capital, Felicis Ventures, Susa Ventures, Chicago Ventures, Hone Capital, InVision founder Clark Valberg and others. The round brings Troops’ total raised to $22 million.

Launched in 2015 by New York tech veterans Reich, Scott Britton and Greg Ratner, the trio weren’t initially sure of Slack’s growth trajectory. It wasn’t until Slack confirmed its intent to support the developer ecosystem with a suite of developer tools and a fund that the team focused its efforts on building a Slackbot.

“People sometimes thought of us, at least in the early days, as a little bit crazy,” Reich said. “But now Slack is the fastest-growing SaaS company ever.”

“We think the biggest opportunity in the [enterprise SaaS] category is going to be tools oriented around the customer-facing employee (CRM), and that’s where we are innovating,” he added.

Troops’ tools are helpful for any customer-facing team, Reich explains. Envoy, WeWork, HubSpot and a few hundred others are monthly paying subscribers of the tool, using it to interact with their CRM in a messaging interface and to receive notifications when a deal has closed. Troops integrates with Salesforce, so employees can use it to search records, schedule automatic reports and celebrate company wins.

Slack, in partnership with a number of venture capital funds, including Accel, Kleiner Perkins and Index, has also deployed capital to a number of other startups, like Lattice, Drafted and Loom.

With Slack’s direct listing afoot, the Troops team is counting on the imminent and long-term growth of the company’s platform.

“We think it’s still early days,” Reich said. “In the future, we see every company using something like Troops to manage their day-to-day.”


By Kate Clark

HyperScience, the machine learning startup tackling data entry, raises $30 million Series B

HyperScience, the machine learning company that turns human readable data into machine readable data, has today announced the close of a $30 million Series B funding round led by Stripes Group, with participation from existing investors FirstMark Capital and Felicis Ventures as well as new investors Battery Ventures, Global Founders Fund, TD Ameritrade, and QBE.

HyperScience launched out of stealth in 2016 with a suite of enterprise products focused on the healthcare, insurance, finance and government industries. The original products were HSForms (which handled data-entry by converting hand-written forms to digital), HSFreeForm (which did a similar function for hand-written emails or other non-form content) and HSEvaluate (which could parse through complex data on a form to help insurance companies approve or deny claims by pulling out all the relevant info).

Now, the company has combined all three of those products into a single product called HyperScience. The product is meant to help companies and organizations reduce their data-entry backlog and better serve their customers, saving money and resources.

The idea is that many of the forms we use in life or in the workplace are in an arbitrary format. My bank statements don’t look the same as your bank statements, and invoices from your company might look different than invoices from my company.

HyperScience is able to take those forms and pipe them into the system quickly and easily, without help from humans.

Instead of charging by seat, HyperScience charges by documents, as the mere use of HyperScience should mean that fewer humans are actually ‘using’ the product.

The latest round brings HyperScience’s total funding to $50 million, and the company plans to use a good deal of that funding to grow the team.

“We have a product that works and a phenomenally good product market fit,” said CEO Peter Brodsky. “What will determine our success is our ability to build and scale the team.”


By Jordan Crook

Juniper Square lines up $25M for its real estate investment platform

Juniper Square, a four-year-old startup at the intersection of enterprise software, real estate and financial technology, has brought in an additional $25 million in Series B funding to fuel the growth of its commercial real estate investment platform. Ribbit Capital led the round, with participation from Felicis Ventures.

Founded in 2014 by Alex Robinson, Yonas Fisseha and Adam Ginsburg, the startup’s chief executive officer, vice president of engineering and VP of product, respectively, Juniper has raised a total of $33 million to date.

The company operates a software platform for commercial real estate investment firms — an industry that has been slower to adopt the latest and greatest technology. Robinson tells TechCrunch those firms raise money from pension funds, endowments and elsewhere to purchase and then manage commercial real estate, using Juniper’s software as a tool throughout that process. Juniper supports fundraising and capital management with a suite of customer relationship management (CRM) and productivity tools for its users.

The San Francisco-based company says it currently has hundreds of customers and manages half a trillion dollars in real estate.

“The private markets are just as big as the public markets … but the private markets have typically not been accessible to everyday investors, and that’s part of what we are trying to do with Juniper Square,” Robinson told TechCrunch. “It’s a tremendously large market that almost nobody knows anything about.”

Juniper will use its latest investment to double headcount from 60 to 120 in the year ahead, with plans to beef up its engineering, product and sales teams specifically as the company expects to continue experiencing massive growth. Robinson said it’s grown between 3x and 4x every year for the last three years.

Felicis Ventures managing director Sundeep Peechu said in a statement that Juniper “is one of the fastest growing real estate tech companies” the firm has ever seen: “They are building technology for an industry that touches nearly every human and every corner of the economy. It’s a hard problem that takes time to solve, but the benefits of making these huge markets work better are tremendous.”

Existing in a relatively niche intersection, Juniper’s job now is to prove itself more efficient and user-friendly than Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, which, Robinson says, are still its biggest competitor.

“Our goal is to be the de facto platform for real estate investment and we are well on our way to becoming that.”


By Kate Clark

Okera raises $12M to simplify data governance within companies

As companies start to gather more and more data on their users and customers, including a firehose of information from a nigh-endless flow of tests, managing and maintaining that data isn’t the only place companies are hitting a wall — and figuring out who can actually access it is becoming just as big of a problem.

That was the experience Amandeep Khurana had throughout his career and as he kept talking to more and more larger companies. So he and his co-founder decided to start Okera, which is looking to make it easier for stewards of various sets of data to ensure the right people have the right access. With data coming in from a myriad of sources — and hopefully ending up in the same database — it can be increasingly complex to track who has access to what, and the hope is that Okera can reduce that problem to flipping a few switches.

Okera is coming out of stealth mode and said it has raised a new $12 million financing round led by Bessemer Venture Partners, with existing investors Felicis Ventures and Capital One Growth Ventures participating. Bessemer’s Ethan Kurzweil and Felicis’ Wesley Chan are joining the company’s board of directors, and Okera has raised $14.6 million to date.

“I was very underwhelmed by what other vendors were offering, there was pretty much nothing happening,” co-founder Khurana said. “There were not a lot of good solutions, and no vendor was incentivized to solve the problem. What we’d hear is, [employees] were spending so much time in data management and plumbing. We saw a trend — as more and more enterprises are moving into the cloud, so they can be agile, these problems amplified. There is a lot of friction around data management, and people spent a lot of time and resources and money making one-off solutions.”

Part of the problem stems from larger companies looking to move their operations into the cloud. Those companies can run into the problem of data coming in from various discrete locations, where everyone is handling something differently, and everyone has varying levels of access to that data. For example, an analyst might be trying to dig into some customer usage data in order to tweak a product, but they only have access to half of the records they need. To fix that, they would need to hunt down the people that are in control of the rest of the information they need and get the right copies or permissions to access it. All of this includes a robust audit trail for those handling security within the company.

it is going to be an increasingly crowded space just by virtue of the problem, especially as companies collect more and more data while they look to better train various machine learning models. There are startups like Collibra also looking to improve the data governance experience for companies, and Collibra raised an additional $58 million in January this year.

But streamlining all this, in theory, reduces the overhead of just how much time it takes for those employees to hunt down the right people, and also make sure it’s easier to access everything and get to work faster. For modern systems, it’s an all-or-nothing approach, Khurana said, and the goal is to try to make it easier for the right people to get access to the right data when they need it. That isn’t necessarily limited to analysts, as employees in sales, marketing, and other various roles might also need access to certain databases in their day-to-day jobs.


By Matthew Lynley