GitLab raises $195M in secondary funding on $6B valuation

GitLab has confirmed with TechCrunch that it raised a $195 million secondary round on a $6 billion valuation. CNBC broke the story earlier today.

The company’s impressive valuation comes after its most recent 2019 Series E in which it raised $268 million on a 2.75 billion valuation, an increase of $3.25 billion in under 18 months. Company co-founder and CEO Sid Sijbrandij believes the increase is due to his company’s progress adding functionality to the platform.

“We believe the increase in valuation over the past year reflects the progress of our complete DevOps platform towards realizing a greater share of the growing, multi-billion dollar software development market,” he told TechCrunch.

While the startup has raised over $434 million, this round involved buying employee stock options, a move that allows the company’s workers to cash in some of their equity prior to going public. CNBC reported that the firms buying the stock included Alta Park, HMI Capital, OMERS Growth Equity, TCV and Verition.

The next logical step would be appear to be IPO, something the company has never shied away from. In fact, it actually at one point included the proposed date of November 18, 2020 as a target IPO date on the company wiki. While they didn’t quite make that goal, Sijbrandij still sees the company going public at some point. He’s just not being so specific as in the past, suggesting that the company has plenty of runway left from the last funding round and can go public when the timing is right.

“We continue to believe that being a public company is an integral part of realizing our mission. As a public company, GitLab would benefit from enhanced brand awareness, access to capital, shareholder liquidity, autonomy and transparency,” he said.

He added, “That said, we want to maximize the outcome by selecting an opportune time. Our most recent capital raise was in 2019 and contributed to an already healthy balance sheet. A strong balance sheet and business model, enables us to select a period that works best for realizing our long term goals.”

GitLab has not only published IPO goals on its Wiki, but it’s entire company philosophy, goals and OKRs for everyone to see. Sijbrandij told TechCrunch’s Alex Wilhelm at a TechCrunch Disrupt panel in September, he believes that transparency helps attract and keep employees. It doesn’t hurt that the company was and remains a fully remote organization, even pre-COVID.

“We started [this level of] transparency to connect with the wider community around GitLab, but it turned out to be super beneficial for attracting great talent as well,” Sijbrandij told Wilhelm in September.

The company, which launched in 2014, offers a DevOps platform to help move applications through the programming lifecycle.


By Ron Miller

Harness snags $85M Series C on $1.7B valuation as revenue grows 3x

Harness, the startup that wants to create a suite of engineering tools to give every company the kind of technological reach that the biggest companies have, announced an $85 million Series C today on a $1.7 billion valuation.

Today’s round comes after 2019’s $60 million Series B, which had a $500 million valuation, showing a company rapidly increasing in value. For a company that launched just three years ago, this is a fairly remarkable trajectory.

Alkeon Capital led the round with help from new investors Battery Ventures, Citi Ventures, Norwest Venture Partners, Sorenson Capital and Thomvest Ventures. The startup also revealed a previously unannounced $30 million B-1 round raised after the $60 million round, bringing the total raised to date to $195 million.

Company founder and CEO Jyoti Bansal previously founded AppDynamics, which he sold to Cisco in 2017 for $3.7 billion. With his track record, investors came looking for him this round. It didn’t hurt that revenue grew almost 3x last year.

“The business is doing very well, so the investor community has been proactively reaching out and trying to invest in us. We were not actually planning to raise a round until later this year. We had enough capital to get through that, but there were a lot of people wanting to invest,” Bansal told me.

In fact, he said there is so much investor interest that he could have raised twice as much, but didn’t feel a need to take on that much capital at this time. “Overall, the investor community sees the value in developer tools and the DevOps market. There are so many big public companies now in that space that have gone out in the last three to five years and that has definitely created even more validation of this space,” he said.

Bansal says that he started the company with the goal of making every company as good as Google or Facebook when it comes to engineering efficiency. Since most companies lack the engineering resources of these large companies, that’s a tall task, but one he thinks he can solve through software.

The company started by building a continuous delivery module. A cloud cost efficiency module followed. Last year the company bought open source continuous integration company Drone.io and they are working on building that into the platform now with it currently in beta. There are additional modules on the product roadmap coming this year, according to Bansal.

As the company continued to grow revenue and build out the platform in 2020, it also added a slew of new employees, growing from 200 to 300 during the pandemic. Bansal says that he has plans to add another 200 by the end of this year. Harness has a reputation of being a good place to work, recently landing on Glassdoor’s best companies list.

As an experienced entrepreneur, Bansal takes building a diverse company with a welcoming culture very seriously. “Yes, you have to provide equal opportunity and make sure that you are open to hiring people from diverse backgrounds, but you have to be more proactive about it in the sense that you have to make sure that your company environment and company culture feels very welcoming to everyone,” he said.

It’s been a difficult time building a company during the pandemic, adding so many new employees, and finding a way to make everyone feel welcome and included. Bansal says he has actually seen productivity increase during the pandemic, but now has to guard against employee burnout.

He says that people didn’t know how to draw boundaries when working at home. One thing he did was introduce a program to give everyone one Friday a month off to recharge. The company also recently announced it would be a ‘work from anywhere’ company post-COVID, but Bansal still plans on having regional offices where people can meet when needed.


By Ron Miller

Germany’s Xentral nabs $20M led by Sequoia to help online-facing SMBs run back offices better

Small enterprises remain one of the most underserved segments of the business market, but the growth of cloud-based services — easier to buy, easier to provision — has helped that change in recent years. Today, one of the more promising startups out of Europe building software to help SMEs run online businesses is announcing some funding to better tap into both the opportunity to build these services, and to meet a growing demand from the SME segment.

Xentral, a German startup that develops enterprise resource planning software covering a variety of back-office functions for the average online small business, has picked up a Series A of $20 million.

The company’s platform today covers services like order and warehouse management, packaging, fulfillment, accounting and sales management, and the majority of its 1,000 customers are in Germany — they include the likes of direct-to-consumer brands like YFood, KoRo, the Nu Company and Flyeralarm.

But Benedikt Sauter, the co-founder and CEO of Xentral, said the ambition is to expand into the rest of Europe, and eventually other geographies, and to fold in more services to its ERP platform, such as a more powerful API to allow customers to integrate more services — for example in cases where a business might be selling on their own site, but also Amazon, eBay, social platforms and more — to bring their businesses to a wider market.

Mainly, he said, the startup wants “to build a better ecosystem to help our customers run their own businesses better.”

The funding is being led by Sequoia Capital, with Visionaires Club (a B2B-focused VC out of Berlin) also participating.

The deal is notable for being the prolific, high-profile VC’s first investment in Europe since officially opening for business in the region. (Sequoia has backed a number of startups in Europe before this, including Graphcore, Klarna, Tessian, Unity, UiPath, n8n and Evervault — but all of those deals were done from afar.)

Augsburg-based Xentral has been around as a startup since 2018, and “as a startup” is the operative phrase here.

Sauter and his co-founder Claudia Sauter (who is also his co-founder in life: she is his wife) built the early prototype for the service originally for themselves.

The pair were running a business of their own — a hardware company they founded in 2008, selling not nails, hammers and wood, but circuit boards they they designed, along with other hardware to build computers and other connected objects. Around 2013, as the business was starting to pick up steam, they decided that they really needed better tools to manage everything at the backend so that they would have more time to build their actual products.

But Bene Sauter quickly discovered a problem in the process: smaller businesses may have Shopify and its various competitors to help manage e-commerce at the front end, but when it came to the many parts of the process at the backend, there really wasn’t a single, easy solution (remember this was eight years ago, at a time before the Shopifys of the world were yet to expand into these kinds of tools). Being of a DIY and technical persuasion — Sauter had studied hardware engineering at university — he decided that he’d try to build the tools that he wanted to use himself.

The Sauters used those tools for for years, until without much outbound effort, they started to get a some inbound interest from other online businesses to use the software, too. That led to the Sauters balancing both their own hardware business and selling the software on the side, until around 2017/2018 when they decided to wind down the hardware operation and focus on the software full-time. And from then, Xentral was born. It now has, in addition to 1,000 customers, some 65 employees working on developing the platform.

The focus with Xentral is to have a platform that is easy to implement and use, regardless of what kind of SME you might be as long as you are selling online. But even so, Sauter pointed out that the other common thread is that you need at least one person at the business who champions and understands the value of ERP. “It’s really a mindset,” he said.

The challenge with Xentral in that regard will be to see how and if they can bring more businesses to the table and tap into the kinds of tools that it provides, at the same time that a number of other players also eye up the same market. (Others in the same general category of building ERP for small businesses include online payments provider Sage, Netsuite and Acumatica.) ERP overall is forecast to become a $49.5 billion market by 2025.

Sequoia and its new partner in Europe Luciana Lixandru — who is joining Xentral’s board along with Luciana Lixandru and Visionaries’ Robert Lacher — believe however that there remains a golden opportunity to build a new kind of provider from the ground up and out of Europe specifically to target the opportunity in that region.

“I see Xentral becoming the de facto platform for any SMEs to run their businesses online,” she said in an interview. “ERP sounds a bit scary especially because it makes one think of companies like SAP, long implementation cycles, and so on. But here it’s the opposite.” She describes Xentral as “very lean and easy to use because you an start with one module and then add more. For SMEs it has to be super simple. I see this becoming like the Shopify for ERP.”


By Ingrid Lunden

‘Brandtech’ company You and Mr. Jones adds $60M to its Series B

You & Mr. Jones announced today that it has added $60 million in new funding from Merian Chrysalis, bringing the Series B round announced in December to a total of $260 million.

The round values the company at $1.36 billion, post-money.

You & Mr. Jones takes its name from CEO David Jones, who founded the company in 2015. After having served as the CEO of ad giant Havas, Jones told me that his goal in starting what he called “a brandtech group” was to provide marketers with something that neither traditional agencies nor technology companies could give them.

“At that moment, the choices were to go work with an agency group, which is great at brand and marketing, but they don’t understanding tech, or with a tech company, which will only ever recommend their platform and don’t have the same [brand and marketing] expertise,” he said.

So You & Mr. Jones has built its own technology platform to help marketers with their digital, mobile and e-commerce needs, while also investing in companies like Pinterest and Niantic. And it makes acquisitions — last year, for example, it bought influencer marketing company Collectively.

You & Mr. Jones has grown to 3,000 employees, and its clients include Unilever, Accenture, Google, Adidas, Marriott and Microsoft. In fact, Jones said that as of the third quarter of 2020, its net revenue had grown 27% year-over-year.

That’s particularly impressive given the impact of the pandemic on ad spending, but Jones said that’s one of the key distinctions between digital advertising and the broader brandtech category, with he said has grown steadily, even during the pandemic, and which also sets the company apart from agencies that are “digital and tech in press release only.”

“We’re not an ad agency, we’ll never acquire agencies,” he said. “We have the technology platform, process and people to deliver all of your end-to-end, always-on content — social, digital, e-commerce, community management.”

In addition to the funding, company is announcing that it has hired Paulette Forte, who was previously senior director of human services at the NBA, as its first chief people officer.

“The Brandtech category didn’t even exist before You & Mr Jones was established,” Forte said in a statement. “The company became a true industry disruptor in short order, and growth has been swift. In order to keep up with the momentum, it’s critical to have systems in place that help talent develop their skills, encourage diversity and creativity, and find pathways to improving workflow. I am excited to join the leadership team to drive this crucial work forward.”


By Anthony Ha

Slim.ai announces $6.6M seed to build container DevOps platform

We are more than seven years into the notion of modern containerization, and it still requires a complex set of tools and a high level of knowledge on how containers work. The DockerSlim open source project developed several years ago from a desire to remove some of that complexity for developers.

Slim.ai, a new startup that wants to build a commercial product on top of the open source project, announced a $6.6 million seed round today from Boldstart Ventures, Decibel Partners, FXP Ventures and TechAviv Founder Partners.

Company co-founder and CEO John Amaral says he and fellow co-founder and CTO Kyle Quest have worked together for years, but it was Quest who started and nurtured DockerSlim. “We started coming together around a project that Kyle built called DockerSlim. He’s the primary author, inventor and up until we started doing this company, the sole proprietor of that of that community,” Amaral explained.

At the time Quest built DockerSlim in 2015, he was working with Docker containers and he wanted a way to automate some of the lower level tasks involved in dealing with them. “I wanted to solve my own pain points and problems that I had to deal with, and my team had to deal with dealing with containers. Containers were an exciting new technology, but there was a lot of domain knowledge you needed to build production-grade applications and not everybody had that kind of domain expertise on the team, which is pretty common in almost every team,” he said.

He originally built the tool to optimize container images, but he began looking at other aspects of the DevOps lifecycle including the author, build, deploy and run phases. He found as he looked at that, he saw the possibility of building a commercial company on top of the open source project.

Quinn says that while the open source project is a starting point, he and Amaral see a lot of areas to expand. “You need to integrate it into your developer workflow and then you have different systems you deal with, different container registries, different cloud environments and all of that. […] You need a solution that can address those needs and doing that through an open source tool is challenging, and that’s where there’s a lot of opportunity to provide premium value and have a commercial product offering,” Quinn explained.

Ed Sim, founder and general partner at Boldstart Ventures, one of the seed investors sees a company bringing innovation to an area of technology where it has been lacking, while putting some more control in the hands of developers. “Slim can shift that all left and give developers the power through the Slim tools to answer all those questions, and then, boom, they can develop containers, push them into production and then DevOps can do their thing,” he said.

They are just 15 people right now including the founders, but Amaral says building a diverse and inclusive company is important to him, and that’s why one of his early hires was head of culture. “One of the first two or three people we brought into the company was our head of culture. We actually have that role in our company now, and she is a rock star and a highly competent and focused person on building a great culture. Culture and diversity to me are two sides of the same coin,” he said.

The company is still in the very early stages of developing that product. In the meantime, they continue to nurture the open source project and to build a community around that. They hope to use that as a springboard to build interest in the commercial product, which should be available some time later this year.


By Ron Miller

Lacework lands $525M investment as revenue grows 300%

As the pandemic took hold in 2020, companies accelerated their move to cloud services. Lacework, the cloud security startup, was in the right place at the right time as customers looked for ways to secure their cloud native workloads. The company reported that revenue grew 300% year over year for the second straight year.

It was rewarded for that kind of performance with a $525 million Series D today. It did not share an exact valuation, only saying that it exceeded $1 billion, which you would expect on such a hefty investment. Sutter Hill and Altimeter Capital led the round with help from D1, Coatue, Dragoneer Investment Group, Liberty Global Ventures, Snowflake Ventures and Tiger Capital. The company has now raised close to $600 million.

Lacework CEO Dan Hubbard says one of the reasons for such widespread interest from investors is the breadth of the company’s security solution. “We enable companies to build securely in the cloud, and we span across multiple different categories of markets, which enable the customers to do that,” he said.

He says that encompasses a range of services including configuration and compliance, security for infrastructure as code, build time and runtime vulnerability scanning and runtime security for cloud native environments like Kubernetes and containers.

As the company has grown revenue, it has been adding employees quickly. It started the year with 92 employees and closed with over 200 with plans to double that by the end of this year. As he looks at hiring, Hubbard is aware of the need to build a diverse organization, but acknowledges that tech in general hasn’t done a great job so far.

He says they are working with the various teams inside the company to try and change that, while also working to support outside organizations that are helping educate under represented groups to get the skills they need and then building from that. “If you can help solve the problem at an earlier stage, then I think you’ve got a bigger opportunity [to have a base of people to hire] there,” he said.

The company was originally nurtured inside Sutter Hill and is built on top of the Snowflake platform. It reports that $20 million of today’s total comes from Snowflake’s new venture arm, which is putting some money into an early partner.

“We were an alpha Snowflake customer, and they were an alpha customer of ours. Our platform is built on top of the Snowflake data cloud and their new venture arm has also joined the round with an investment to further strengthen the partnership there,” Hubbard said.

As for Sutter Hill, investor Mike Speiser sees Lacework as one of his firm’s critical investments. “[Much] like Snowflake at a similar point in its evolution, Lacework is growing revenue at over 300% per year making Lacework one of Sutter Hill Ventures’ most important and promising portfolio companies,” he said in a statement.


By Ron Miller

Chronosphere nabs $43M Series B to expand cloud native monitoring tool

Chronosphere, the scalable cloud native monitoring tool launched in 2019 by two former Uber engineers, announced a $43.4 million Series B today. The company also announced that their service was generally available starting today.

Greylock, Lux Capital and venture capitalist Lee Fixel, all of whom participated in the startup’s $11 million Series A in 2019, led the round with participation from new investor General Atlantic. The company has raised $54.4 million.

The two founders, CEO Martin Mao and CTO Rob Skillington, created the open source M3 monitoring project while they were working at Uber, and left in 2019 to launch Chronosphere, a startup based on that project. As Mao told me at the time of the A round, the company wanted to simplify the management of running the open source project:

“M3 itself is a fairly complex piece of technology to run. It is solving a fairly complex problem at large scale, and running it actually requires a decent amount of investment to run at large scale, so the first thing we’re doing is taking care of that management,” Mao said.

He said that the company spent most of last year iterating the product and working with beta customers, adding that they certainly benefited from building the commercial service on top of the open source project.

“I think we’re lucky that we have the foundation already from the open source project, but we really wanted to focus a lot on building a product on top of that technology and really have this product be differentiated, so that was most of the focus of 2020 for us,” he said.

Mao points out that he and Skillington weren’t looking for this new round of funding as they still had money left from the A round, but the company’s previous investors approached them and they decided to strike to add additional money to the balance sheet, which would help grow the company, attract employees and help reassure customers they had plenty of capital to continue building the product and the company.

As the company has developed over the last year, it has been adding employees at a rapid clip, growing from 13 at the time of the A round in 2019 to 50 today with plans to double that by the end of next year. Mao says the founders have been thinking about how to build a diverse company from its early days.

“So […] beginning last year we were making sure we were hiring the right leaders, and the right recruiting team who also care about diversity, then following that we made company-wide goals and targets for both gender and ethnic diversity, and then [we have been] holding ourselves accountable on these particular goals and tracking against them,” Mao said.

The company has been spread out from the beginning, even before COVID, with offices in Seattle, New York and Lithuania, and that has helped in terms of having a broader base to recruit from. Mao wants to remain mostly remote whenever it’s possible to return to the office, but maintain hubs on each coast where employees can meet and see each other in person.

With the product generally available today, the company will look to expand its customer base, and with the open source project to drive interest, they have a proven way to attract new customers to the commercial product.


By Ron Miller

OneTrust nabs $300M Series C on $5.1B valuation to expand privacy platform

OneTrust, the 4-year old privacy platform startup from the folks who brought you AirWatch (which was acquired by VMWare for $1.5B in 2014), announced a $300 million Series C on an impressive $5.1 billion valuation today.

The company has attracted considerable attention from investors in a remarkably short time. It came out of the box with a $200 million Series A on a $1.3 billion valuation in July 2019. Those are not typical A round numbers, but this has never been a typical startup. The Series B was more of the same — $210 million on a $2.7 billion valuation this past February.

That brings us to today’s Series C. Consider that the company has almost doubled its valuation again, and has raised $710 million in a mere 18 months, some of it during a pandemic. TCV led today’s round joining existing investors Insight Partners and Coatue.

So what are they doing to attract all this cash? In a world where privacy laws like GDPR and CCPA are already in play with others are in the works in the U.S. and around the world, companies need to be sure they are compliant with local laws wherever they operate. That’s where OneTrust comes in.

“We help companies ensure that they can be trusted, and that they make sure that they’re compliant to all laws around privacy, trust and risk,” OneTrust Chairman Alan Dabbiere told me.

That involves a suite of products that the company has already built or acquired, moving very quickly to offer a privacy platform to cover all aspects of a customer’s privacy requirements including privacy management, discovery, third-party risk assessment, risk management, ethics and compliance and consent management.

The company has already attracted 7500 customers to the platform — and is adding1000 additional customers per quarter. Dabbiere says that the products are helping them be compliant without adding a lot of friction to the building or buying process. “The goal is that we don’t slow the process down, we speed it up. And there’s a new philosophy called privacy by design,” he said. That means building privacy transparency into products, while making sure they are compliant with all of the legal and regulatory requirements.

The startup hasn’t been shy about using its investments to buy pieces of the platform, having made five acquisitions already in just four years since it was founded. It already has 1500 employees and plans to add around 900 more in 2021.

As they build this workforce, Dabbiere says being based in a highly diverse city like Atlanta has helped in terms of building a diverse group of employees. “By finding the best employees and doing it in an area like Atlanta, we are finding the diversity comes naturally,” he said, adding, “We are thoughtful about it.” CEO Kabir Barday, also launched a diversity, equity and inclusion council internally this past summer in response to the Black Lives Matter movement happening in the Atlanta community and around the country.

OneTrust had relied heavily on trade shows before the pandemic hit. In fact, Dabbiere says that they attended as many as 700 a year. When that avenue closed as the pandemic hit, they initially lowered their revenue guidance, but as they moved to digital channels along with their customers, they found that revenue didn’t drop as they expected.

He says that OneTrust has money in the bank from its prior investments, but they had reasons for taking on more cash now anyway. “The number one reason for doing this was the currency of our stock. We needed to revalue it for employees, for acquisitions, and the next steps of our growth,” he said.


By Ron Miller

BigID keeps rolling with $70M Series D on $1B valuation

BigID has been on the investment fast track, raising $94 million over three rounds that started in January 2018. Today, that investment train kept rolling as the company announced a $70 million Series D on a valuation of $1 billion.

Salesforce Ventures and Tiger Global co-led the round with participation from existing investors Bessemer Venture Partners, Scale Venture Partners and Boldstart Ventures. The company has raised almost $165 million in just over two years.

BigID is attracting this kind of investment by building a security and privacy platform. When I first spoke to CEO and co-founder Dimitri Sirota in 2018, he was developing a data discovery product aimed at helping companies coping with GDPR find the most sensitive data, but since then the startup has greatly expanded the vision and the mission.

“We started shifting I think when we spoke back in September from being this kind of best of breed data discovery privacy to being a platform anchored in data intelligence through our kind of unique approach to discovery and insight,” he said.

That includes the ability for BigID and third parties to build applications on top of the platform they have built, something that might have attracted investor Salesforce Ventures. Salesforce was the first cloud company to offer the ability for third parties to build applications on its platform and sell them in a marketplace. Sirota says that so far their marketplace includes just apps built by BigID, but the plan is to expand it to third party developers in 2021.

While he wasn’t ready to talk about specific revenue growth, he said he expects a material uplift in revenue for this year, and he believes that his investors are looking at the vast market potential here.

He has 235 employees today with plans to boost it to 300 next year. While he stopped hiring for a time in Q2 this year as the pandemic took hold, he says that he never had to resort to layoffs. As he continues hiring in 2021, he is looking at diversity at all levels from the makeup of his board to the executive level to the general staff.

He says that the ability to use the early investments to expand internationally has given them the opportunity to build a more diverse workforce. “We have staff around the world and we did very early […] so we do have diversity within our broader company. But clearly not enough when it came to the board of directors and the executives. So we realized that, and we are trying to change that,” he said.

As for this round, Sirota says like his previous rounds in this cycle he wasn’t necessarily. looking for additional money, but with the pandemic economy still precarious, he took it to keep building out the BigID platform. “We actually have not purposely gone out to raise money since our seed. Every round we’ve done has been preemptive. So it’s been fairly easy,” he told me. In fact, he reports that he now has five years of runway and a much more fully developed platform. He is aiming to accelerate sales and marketing in 2021.

The company’s previous rounds included $14 million Series A in January 2018, a $30 million B in June that year and a $50 million C in Sept 2019.


By Ron Miller

German Bionic raises $20M led by Samsung for exoskeleton tech to supercharge human labor

Exoskeleton technology has been one of the more interesting developments in the world of robotics: instead of building machines that replace humans altogether, build hardware that humans can wear to supercharge their abilities. Today, German Bionic, one of the startups designing exoskeletons specifically aimed at industrial and physical applications — it describes its Cray X robot as “the world’s first connected exoskeleton for industrial use,” that is, to help people lifting and working with heavy objects with more power, precision and safety — is announcing a funding round that underscores the opportunity ahead.

The Augsburg, Germany-based company has raised $20 million, funding that it plans to use to continue building out its business, as well as its technology, both in terms of the hardware and the cloud-based software platform, German Bionic IO, that works with the exoskeletons to optimize them and help them “learn” to work better.

The Cray X currently can compensate up to 30 kg for each lifting movement, the company says.

“With our groundbreaking robotic technology that combines human work with the industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), we literally strengthen the shop floor workers’ backs in an immediate and sustainable way. Measurable data underscores that this ultimately increases productivity and the efficiency of the work done,” says Armin G. Schmidt, CEO of German Bionic, in a statement. “The market for smart human-machine systems is huge and we are now perfectly positioned to take a major share and substantially improve numerous working lives.”

The Series A is being co-led by Samsung Catalyst Fund, a strategic investment arm from the hardware giant, and German investor MIG AG, one of the original backers of BioNtech, the breakthrough company that’s developed the first Covid-19 vaccine to be rolled out globally.

Storm Ventures, Benhamou Global Ventures (founded and led by Eric Benhamou, who was the founding CEO of Palm and before that the CEO of 3com), and IT Farm all also participated. Previously, German Bionic had only raised $3.5 million in seed funding (with IT Farm, Atlantic Labs, and individual investors participating).

German Bionic’s rise comes at an interesting moment in terms of how automation and cloud technology are sweeping the world of work. When people talk about the next generation of industrial work, the focus is usually on more automation and the rise of robots to replace humans in different stages of production.

But at the same time, some robotics technologists have worked on another idea. Since we’re still probably still a long way away unable to make robots that are just like humans but better in terms of cognition and all movements, instead, create hardware that doesn’t replace, but augments, live laborers, to help make them stronger while still being able to retain the reliable and fine-tuned expertise of those humans.

The argument for more automation in industrial settings has taken on a more pointed urgency in recent times, with the rise of the Covid-19 global health pandemic: factories have been one of the focus points for outbreaks, and the tendency has been to reduce physical contact and proximity to reduce the spread of the virus.

Exoskeletons don’t really address that aspect of Covid-19 — even if you might require less of them as a result of using exoskeletons, you still require humans to wear them, after all — but the general focus that automation has had has brought more attention to the opportunity of using them.

And in any case, even putting the pandemic to one side, we are still a long way away from cost-effective robots that completely replace humans in all situations. So, as we roll out vaccinations and develop a better understanding of how the virus operates, this still means a strong market for the exoskeleton concept, which analysts (quoted by German Bionic) predict could be worth as much as $20 billion by 2030.

In that context, it’s interesting to consider Samsung as an investor: the company itself, as one of the world’s leading consumer electronics and industrial electronics providers, is a manufacturing powerhouse in its own right. But it also makes equipment for others to use in their industrial work, both as a direct brand and through subsidiaries like Harman. It’s not clear which of these use cases interests Samsung: whether to use the Cray X in its own manufacturing and logistics work, or whether to become a strategic partner in manufacturing these for others. It could easily be both.

“We are pleased to support German Bionic in its continued development of world-leading exoskeleton technology,” says Young Sohn, Corporate President and Chief Strategy Officer for Samsung Electronics and Chairman of the Board, Harman, in a statement. “Exoskeleton technologies have great promise in enhancing human’s health, wellbeing and productivity. We believe that it can be a transformative technology with mass market potential.”

German Bionic describes its Cray X as a “self-learning power suit” aimed primarily at reinforcing lifting movements and to safeguard the wearer from making bad calls that could cause injuries. That could apply both to those in factories, or those in warehouses, or even sole trader mechanics working in your local garage. The company is not disclosing a list of customers, except to note that it includes, in the words of a spokesperson, “a big logistics player, industrial producers and infrastructure hubs.” One of these, the Stuttgart Airport, is highlighted on its site.  

“Previously, efficiency gains and health promotion in manual labor were often at odds with one another. German Bionic Systems managed to not only break through this paradigm, but also to make manual labor a part of the digital transformation and elegantly integrate it into the smart factory,” says Michael Motschmann, managing partner with MIG in a statement. “We see immense potential with the company and are particularly happy to be working together with a first-class team of experienced entrepreneurs and engineers.”

Exoskeletons as a concept have been around for over a decade already — MIT developed its first exoskeleton, aimed to help soldiers carrying heavy loads — back in 2007, but advancements in cloud computing, smaller processors for the hardware itself, and artificial intelligence have really opened up the idea of where and how these might augment humans. In addition to industry, some of the other applications have included helping people with knee injuries (or looking to avoid knee injuries!) ski better, and for medical purposes, although the recent pandemic has put a strain on some of these use cases, leading to indefinite pauses in production.


By Ingrid Lunden

Arthur.ai snags $15M Series A to grow machine learning monitoring tool

At a time when more companies are building machine learning models, Arthur.ai wants to help by ensuring the model accuracy doesn’t begin slipping over time, thereby losing its ability to precisely measure what it was supposed to. As demand for this type of tool has increased this year, in spite of the pandemic, the startup announced a $15 million Series A today.

The investment was led by Index Ventures with help from new comers Acrew and Plexo Capital along with previous investors Homebrew, AME Ventures and Work-Bench.The round comes almost exactly a year after its $3.3 million seed round.

As CEO and co-founder Adam Wenchel explains, data scientists build and test machine learning models in the lab under ideal conditions, but as these models are put into production, the performance can begin to deteriorate under real world scrutiny. Arthur.AI is designed to root out when that happens.

Even as COVID has wreaked havoc throughout much of this year, the company has grown revenue 300% in the last six months smack dab in the middle of all that. “Over the course of 2020, we have begun to open up more and talk to [more] customers. And so we are starting to get some really nice initial customer traction, both in traditional enterprises as well as digital tech companies,” Wenchel told me. With 15 customers, the company is finding that the solution is resonating with companies.

It’s interesting to note that AWS announced a similar tool yesterday at re:Invent called SageMaker Clarify, but Wenchel sees this as more of a validation of what his startup has been trying to do, rather than an existential threat. “I think it helps create awareness, and because this is our 100% focus, our tools go well beyond what the major cloud providers provide,” he said.

Investor Mike Volpi from Index certainly sees the value proposition of this company. “One of the most critical aspects of the AI stack is in the area of performance monitoring and risk mitigation. Simply put, is the AI system behaving like it’s supposed to?,” he wrote in a blog post announcing the funding.

When we spoke a year ago, the company had 8 employees. Today it has 17 and it expects to double again by the end of next year. Wenchel says that as a company whose products looks for different types of bias, it’s especially important to have a diverse workforce. He says that starts with having a diverse investment team and board makeup, which he has been able to achieve, and goes from there.

“We’ve sponsored and work with groups that focus on both general sort of coding for different underrepresented groups as well as specifically AI, and that’s something that we’ll continue to do. And actually I think when we can get together for in person events again, we will really go out there and support great organizations like AI for All and Black Girls Code,” he said. He believes that by working with these groups, it will give the startup a pipeline to underrepresented groups, which they can draw upon for hiring as the needs arise.

Wenchel says that when he can go back to the office, he wants to bring employees back, at least for part of the week for certain kinds of work that will benefit from being in the same space.


By Ron Miller

Tecton.ai nabs $35M Series B as it releases machine learning feature store

Tecton.ai, the startup founded by three former Uber engineers who wanted to bring the machine learning feature store idea to the masses, announced a $35 million Series B today, just seven months after announcing their $20 million Series A.

When we spoke to the company in April, it was working with early customers in a beta version of the product, but today, in addition to the funding they are also announcing the general availability of the platform.

As with their Series A, this round has Andreessen Horowitz and Sequoia Capital coming back to co-lead the investment. The company has now raised $60 million.

The reason these two firms are so committed to Tecton is the specific problem around machine learning the company is trying to solve. “We help organizations put machine learning into production. That’s the whole goal of our company, helping someone build an operational machine learning application, meaning an application that’s powering their fraud system or something real for them […] and making it easy for them to build and deploy and maintain,” company CEO and co-founder Mike Del Balso explained.

They do this by providing the concept of a feature store, an idea they came up with and which is becoming a machine learning category unto itself. Just last week, AWS announced the Sagemaker Feature store, which the company saw as major validation of their idea.

As Tecton defines it, a feature store is an end-to-end machine learning management system that includes the pipelines to transform the data into what are called feature values, then it stores and manages all of that feature data and finally it serves a consistent set of data.

Del Balso says this works hand-in-hand with the other layers of a machine learning stack. “When you build a machine learning application, you use a machine learning stack that could include a model training system, maybe a model serving system or an MLOps kind of layer that does all the model management, and then you have a feature management layer, a feature store which is us — and so we’re an end-to-end lifecycle for the data pipelines,” he said.

With so much money behind the company it is growing fast, going from 17 employees to 26 since we spoke in April with plans to more than double that number by the end of next year. Del Balso says he and his co-founders are committed to building a diverse and inclusive company, but he acknowledges it’s not easy to do.

“It’s actually something that we have a primary recruiting initiative on. It’s very hard, and it takes a lot of effort, it’s not something that you can just make like a second priority and not take it seriously,” he said. To that end, the company has sponsored and attended diversity hiring conferences and has focused its recruiting efforts on finding a diverse set of candidates, he said.

Unlike a lot of startups we’ve spoken to, Del Balso wants to return to an office setup as soon as it is feasible to do so, seeing it as a way to build more personal connections between employees.


By Ron Miller

Jitsu nabs $2M Seed to build open source data integration platform

Jitsu, a graduate of the Y Combinator Summer 2020 cohort, is developing an open source data integration platform that helps developers send data to a data warehouse. Today, the startup announced a $2 million seed investment.

Costanoa Ventures led the round with participation from YCombintaor, The House Fund and SignalFire.

In addition to the open source version of the software, the company has developed a hosted version that companies can pay to use, which shares the same name as the company. Peter Wysinski, Jitsu’s co-founder and CEO, says a good way to think about his company is an open source Segment, the customer data integration company that was recently sold to Twilio for $3.2 billion.

But he says, it goes beyond what Segment by allowing you to move all kinds of data whether customer data, connected device data or other types. “If you look at the space in general, companies want more granularity. So let’s say for example, a couple years ago you wanted to sync just your transactions from QuickBooks to your data warehouse, now you want to capture every single sale at the point of sale. What Jitsu lets you do is capture essentially all of those events, all of those streams, and send them to your data warehouse,” Wysinski explained.

Among the data warehouses it currently supports include Amazon Redshift, Google BigQuery, PostGres and Snowflake.

The founders built the open source project called EventNative to help solve problems they themselves were having moving data around at their previous jobs. After putting the open source version on GitHub a few months ago, they quickly attained 1000 stars, proving that they had delivered something that solved a common problem for data teams. They then built the hosted version, Jitsu, which went live a couple of weeks ago.

For now, the company is just the two co-founders, Wysinski and CTO Vladimir Klimontovich, but they intend to do some preliminary hiring over the next year to grow the company, most likely adding engineers. As they begin to build out the startup, Wysinski says that being open source will help drive diversity and inclusion in their hiring.

“The goal is essentially to go after that open source community and hire people from anywhere because engineers aren’t just […] one color or one race, they’re everywhere, and being open source, and especially being in a remote world, makes it so so much simpler [to build a diverse workforce], and a lot of companies I feel are going down that road,” he said.

He says along that line, the plan is to be a fully remote company, even after the pandemic ends, as they hire from anywhere. The goal is to have quarterly offsite meetings to check in with employees, but do the majority of the work remotely.


By Ron Miller

Materialize scores $40 million investment for SQL streaming database

Materialize, the SQL streaming database startup built on top of the open source Timely Dataflow project, announced a $32 million Series B investment today led by Kleiner Perkins with participation from Lightspeed Ventures.

While it was at it, the company also announced a previously unannounced $8 million Series A from last year that had been led by Lightspeed, bringing the total raised to $40 million.

These firms see a solid founding team that includes CEO Arjun Narayan, formerly of Cockroach Labs, and chief scientist Frank McSherry, who created the Timely Flow project on which the company is based.

Narayan says that the company believes fundamentally that every company needs to be a real-time company and it will take a streaming database to make that happen. Further, he says the company is built using SQL because of its ubiquity, and the founders wanted to make sure that customers could access and make use of that data quickly without learning a new query language.

“Our goal is really to help any business to understand streaming data and build intelligent applications without using or needing any specialized skills. Fundamentally what that means is that you’re going to have to go to businesses using the technologies and tools that they understand, which is standard SQL,” Narayan explained.

Bucky Moore, the partner at Kleiner Perkins leading the B round sees this standard querying ability as a key part of the technology. “As more businesses integrate streaming data into their decision making pipelines, the inability to ask questions of this data with ease is becoming a non-starter. Materialize’s unique ability to provide SQL over streaming data solves this problem, laying the foundation for them to build the industry’s next great data platform,” he said.

They would naturally get compared to Confluent, a streaming database built on top of the Apache Kafka open source streaming database project, but Narayan says his company uses straight SQL for querying, while Confluent uses its own flavor.

The company still is working out the commercial side of the house and currently provides a typical service offering for paying customers with support and a service agreement (SLA). The startup is working on a SaaS version of the product, which it expects to release some time next year.

They currently have 20 employees with plans to double that number by the end of next year as they continue to build out the product. As they grow, Narayan says the company is definitely thinking about how to build a diverse organization.

He says he’s found that hiring in general has been challenging during the pandemic, and he hopes that changes in 2021, but he says that he and his co-founders are looking at the top of the hiring funnel because otherwise, as he points out, it’s easy to get complacent and rely on the same network of people you have been working with before, which tends to be less diverse.

“The KPIs and the metrics we really want to use to ensure that we really are putting in the extra effort to ensure a diverse sourcing in your hiring pipeline and then following that through all the way through the funnel. That’s I think the most important way to ensure that you have a diverse [employee base], and I think this is true for every company,” he said.

While he is working remotely now, he sees having multiple offices with a headquarters in NYC when the pandemic finally ends. Some employees will continue to work remotely, but the majority coming into one of the offices.


By Ron Miller

Cast.ai nabs $7.7M seed to remove barriers between public clouds

When you launch an application in the public cloud, you usually put everything on one provider, but what if you could choose the components based on cost and technology and have your database one place and your storage another?

That’s what Cast.ai says that it can provide, and today it announced a healthy $7.7 million seed round from TA Ventures, DFX, Florida Funders and other unnamed angels to keep building on that idea. The round closed in June.

Company CEO and co-founder Yuri Frayman says that they started the company with the idea that developers should be able to get the best of each of the public clouds without being locked in. They do this by creating Kubernetes clusters that are able to span multiple clouds.

“Cast does not require you to do anything except for launching your application. You don’t need to know  […] what cloud you are using [at any given time]. You don’t need to know anything except to identify the application, identify which [public] cloud providers you would like to use, the percentage of each [cloud provider’s] use and launch the application,” Frayman explained.

This means that you could use Amazon’s RDS database and Google’s ML engine, and the solution decides how to make that work based on your requirements and price. You set the policies when you are ready to launch and Cast will take care of distributing it for you in the location and providers that you desire, or that makes most sense for your application.

The company takes advantage of cloud native technologies, containerization and Kubernetes to break the proprietary barriers that exist between clouds, says company co-founder Laurent Gil. “We break these barriers of cloud providers so that an application does not need to sit in one place anymore. It can sit in several [providers] at the same time. And this is great for the Kubernetes application because they’re kind of designed with this [flexibility] in mind,” Gil said.

Developers use the policy engine to decide how much they want to control this process. They can simply set location and let Cast optimize the application across clouds automatically, or they can select at a granular level exactly the resources they want to use on which cloud. Regardless of how they do it, Cast will continually monitor the installation and optimize based on cost to give them the cheapest options available for their configuration.

The company currently has 25 employees with four new hires in the pipeline, and plans to double to 50 by the end of 2021. As they grow, the company is trying keep diversity and inclusion front and center in its hiring approach and they currently have women in charge of HR, marketing and sales at the company.

“We have very robust processes on the continuous education inside of our organization on diversity training. And a lot of us came from organizations where this was very visible and we took a lot of those processes [and lessons] and brought them here,” Frayman said.

Frayman has been involved with multiple startups including Cujo.ai, a consumer firewall startup that participated in TechCrunch Disrupt Battlefield in New York in 2016.


By Ron Miller