Former Facebook teammates raise $10.4M in Sequoia-led round to launch features development

Statsig is taking the A/B testing applications that drive Facebook’s growth and putting similar functionalities into the hands of any product team so that they, too, can make faster, data-informed decisions on building products customers want.

The Seattle-based company on Thursday announced $10.4 million in Series A funding, led by Sequoia Capital, with participation from Madrona Venture Group and a group of individual investors, including Robinhood CPO Aparna Chennapragada, Segment co-founder Calvin French-Owen, Figma CEO Dylan Field, Instacart CEO Fidji Simo, DoorDash exec Gokul Rajaram, Code.org CEO Hadi Partovi and a16z general partner Sriram Krishnan.

Co-founder and CEO Vijaye Raji started the company with seven other former Facebook colleagues in February, but the idea for the company started more than a year ago.

He told TechCrunch that while working at Facebook, A/B testing applications, like Gatekeeper, Quick Experiments and Deltoid, were successfully built internally. The Statsig team saw an opportunity to rebuild these features from scratch outside of Facebook so that other companies that have products to build — but no time to build their own quick testing capabilities — can be just as successful.

Statsig’s platform enables product developers to run quick product experiments and analyze how users respond to new features and functionalities. Tools like Pulse, Experiments+ and AutoTune allow for hundreds of experiments every week, while business metrics guide product teams to build and ship the right products to their customers.

Raji intends to use the new funding to hire folks in the area of design, product, data science, sales and marketing. The team is already up to 14 since February.

“We already have a set of customers asking for features, and that is a good problem, but now we want to scale and build them out,” he added.

Statsig has no subscription or upfront fees and is already serving millions of end-users every month for customers like Clutter, Common Room and Take App. The company will always offer a free tier so customers can try out features, but also offers a Pro tier for 5 cents per event so that when the customer grows, so does Statsig.

Raji sees adoption of Statsig coming from a few different places: developers and engineers that are downloading it and using it to serve a few million people a month, and then through referrals. In fact, the adoption the company is getting is “bottom up,” which is what Statsig wants, he said. Now the company is talking to bigger customers.

There are plenty of competitors for this product, including incumbents in the market, according to Raji, but they mostly focus on features, while Statsig provides insights and ties metrics back to features. In addition, the company has automated analysis where other products require manual set up and analysis.

Sequoia partner Mike Vernal worked at Facebook prior to joining the venture capital firm and had worked with Raji, calling him “a top 1% engineer” that he was happy to work with.

Having sat on many company boards, he has found that many companies spend a long time talking about sales and marketing, but very little on product because there is not an easy way to get precise numbers for planning purposes, just a discussion about what they did and plan to do.

What Vernal said he likes about Statsig is that the company is bringing that measurement aspect to the table so that companies don’t have to hack together a poorer version.

“What Statsig can do, uniquely, is not only set up an experiment and tell if someone likes green or blue buttons, but to answer questions like what the impact this is of the experiment on new user growth, retention and monitorization,” he added. “That they can also answer holistic questions and understand the impact on any single feature on every metric is really novel and not possible before the maturation of the data stack.”

 


By Christine Hall

Buildots raises $30M to put eyes on construction sites

One year after raising $16 million, construction technology company Buildots is back to claim another $30 million, this time in Series B funding.

Lightspeed Venture Partners led the round, with participation from previous investors TLV Partners, Future Energy Ventures and Tidhar Construction Group. This gives the company $46 million in total funding, Roy Danon, co-founder and CEO of Buildots, told TechCrunch.

The three-year-old company, with headquarters in Tel Aviv and London, is leveraging artificial intelligence computer vision technology to address construction inefficiencies. Danon said though construction accounts for 13% of the world’s GDP and employs hundreds of millions of people, construction productivity continues to lag, only growing 1% in the past two decades.

Danon spent six months on construction sites talking to workers to understand what was happening and learned that control was one of the areas where efficiency was breaking down. While construction processes would seem similar to manufacturing processes, building to the design or specs didn’t happen often due to different rules and reliance on numerous entities to get their jobs done first, he said.

Buildots’ technology is addressing this gap using AI algorithms to automatically validate images captured by hardhat-mounted 360-degree cameras, detecting immediately any gaps between the original design, scheduling and what is actually happening on the construction site. Project managers can then make better decisions to speed up construction.

“It even finds events where contractors are installing out of place and streamline payments so that information is transparent and clear,” Danon said. “Buildots also creates a collaborative environment and trust by having a single source telling everyone what is going on. There is no more blaming or cutting corners because the system validates that and also makes construction a healthier industry to work in.”

Buildots went after new funding once it was able to show product market fit and was expanding into other countries. The platform is being utilized on major building projects in countries like the U.S., U.K., Germany, Switzerland, Scandinavia and China. To meet demand, Buildots will use the new funding to continue that expansion; double the size of its global team with a focus on sales, marketing and R&D; and grow on the business side. Danon’s aim is “to get to the point where we are the standard for every construction site.” The company is also looking at areas outside construction where its technology would be applicable.

Tal Morgenstern, partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners, said he keeps an eye on graduates of the Israel Defense Forces, where the three Buildots founders came from. However, in the case of this company, Lightspeed actually passed on both the seed and Series A.

Morgenstern admits the decision was a mistake, but at the time, he thought the technology Buildots was trying to build “first, impossible and second, I knew construction was difficult to sell into.” He felt that Buildots, with such a premium product, would have a challenge selling to a low-margin industry that was late to adopt technology in general.

By the time the Series B came round, he said Buildots had solved both of those issues, proving that it works, but also that customers were adopting the technology without much sales and marketing. In addition, other solutions in construction tech were still relying on lasers or people to manually input or tap photos.

“Buildots is seamlessly capturing images and providing a level of insights that is so high, and that is why the company is able to command the price structure they have and are receiving interesting commercial results,” Morgenstern said.

Walking around today’s construction site, Danon said the adoption of technology is enabling Buildots to move quickly to build processes for the industry.

As such, the company saw more than 50% growth quarter over quarter over the past year in three of the countries in which it operates. It is now working with four of the top 10 construction companies in Europe and around the world.

“We did a good job selling remotely, but now we need local offices,” Danon added. “We are also sitting on piles of data from construction sites. We learn from one project to another and want to look for the challenges where data will help make a financial impact. It’s a natural next step for the company.”

 


By Christine Hall

Product-led revenue startup Correlated launches with $8.3M seed

Correlated on Wednesday announced it raised $8.3 million in seed funding to launch its product-led growth platform for sales teams.

NextView Ventures led the round and was joined by Harrison Metal, Apollo Projects, Attentive co-founders Brian Long and Andrew Jones, Cockroach Labs co-founder Ben Darnell and Atrium’s Pete Kazanjy. The round includes funding raised last year and more recent follow-on funding from both NextView and Harrison, co-founder and CEO Tim Geisenheimer told TechCrunch.

The New York-based company was founded in 2020 by Geisenheimer and Diana Hsieh, who overlapped at TimescaleDB, and John Pena, who Geisenheimer met at Facet. In their previous roles, they saw a need to connect product data to sales tools.

While at Timescale, Geisenheimer said there were thousands of free users to talk to, and he and Hsieh built a similar version of a product-led growth platform there, but secretly wished there was something more like Correlated available.

What they saw was data across multiple tools being stored manually on spreadsheets so that actionable insights could be generated. The data would quickly become outdated. Add in that the way customers use products now is different. Traditionally, customers would not be able to use a product until they talked to the sales team. Today, customers start using products for free and either get value from it or not, but sales teams don’t have real-time data on their experience.

“Sales needs to know how customers are using the product and the right time for sales to engage based on maturity of the experience,” Geisenheimer said. “That was the missing piece of it and sales teams ended up talking to the wrong people. With Correlated, they can close more deals efficiently.”

Correlated’s technology pulls in product usage data from tools and data warehouses and connects to a management platform like Salesforce or HubSpot, stitching it together into a data graph to show how customers are using a product. For example, within a company of 200 to 500 employees, a salesperson can see the frequency employees logged in and be alerted of when the best opportunity is to make the sale.

The company has a SaaS pricing model and is already working with mid-market companies like Ally, Pulumi, ReadMe and LaunchNotes. To support its launch out of beta, Geisenheimer intends to use the new funding for hiring across functions like engineering and go-to-market. The company has 11 employees currently.

There are other product-led growth platforms out there that raised venture capital funding recently, for example, Endgame, and similarly Geisenheimer said the competition is often in-house product teams building their own systems. Correlated’s differentiator is that it has taken on that task itself and enables customers to quickly see value once they are up-and-running, he added.

David Beisel, co-founder and partner at NextView Ventures, said his firm invests in category stage companies and is currently operating out of its fourth fund, infusing business-to-business SaaS and e-commerce companies. Beisel has known Geisenheimer for nearly a decade now, having met him when NextView invested in one of Geisenheimer’s previous companies, TapCommerce.

“At the end of the day with Tim, he knows sales and the company is selling a product that has a strong founder market fit,” Beisel said. “We are moving toward a world where end-user adoption of software — not the initial engagement — is growing over time. Instead, Correlated empowers that initial sale and account expansion and that will align with where the industry is going.”

 


By Christine Hall

Mixlab raises $20M to provide purrfect pharmacy experience for pet parents

Pet pharmacy Mixlab has developed a digital platform enabling veterinarians to prescribe medications and have them delivered — sometimes on the same day — to pet parents.

The New York-based company raised a $20 million Series A in a round of funding led by Sonoma Brands and including Global Founders Capital, Monogram Capital, Lakehouse Ventures and Brand Foundry. The new investment gives Mixlab total funding of $30 million, said Fred Dijols, co-founder and CEO of Mixlab.

Dijols and Stella Kim, chief experience officer, co-founded Mixlab in 2017 to provide a better pharmacy experience, with the veterinarian at the center.

Dijols’ background is in medical devices as well as healthcare investment banking, where he became interested in the pharmacy industry, following TruePill and PillPack, which he told TechCrunch were “creating a modern pharmacy model.”

As more pharmacy experiences revolved around at-home delivery, he found the veterinary side of pharmacy was not keeping up. He met Kim, a user experience expert, whose family owns a pharmacy, and wanted to bring technology into the industry.

“The pharmacy industry is changing a lot, and technology allows us to personalize the care and experience for the veterinarian, pet parent and the pet,” Kim said. “Customer service is important in healthcare as is dignity and empathy. We kept that in mind when starting Mixlab. Many companies use technology to remove the human element, but we use it to elevate it.”

Mixlab’s technology includes a digital service for veterinarians to streamline their daily medication workflow and gives them back time to spend with patient care. The platform manages the home delivery of medications across branded, generic and over-the-counter medications, as well as reduces a clinic’s on-site pharmacy inventories. Veterinarians can write prescriptions in seconds and track medication progress and therapy compliance.

The company also operates its own compound pharmacy where it specializes in making medications on-demand that are flavored and dosed.

On the pet parent side, they no longer have to wait up to a week for medications nor have to drive over to the clinic to pick them up. Medications come in a personalized care package that includes a note from the pharmacist, clear and easy-to-read instructions and a new toy.

Over the past year, adoptions of pets spiked as more people were at home, also leading to an increase in vet visits. This also caused the global pet care industry to boom, and it is now projected to reach $343 billion by 2030, when it had been valued at $208 billion in 2020.

Pet parents are also spending more on their pets, and a Morgan Stanley report showed that they see pets as part of their family, and as a result, 37% of people said they would take on debt to pay for a pet’s medical expenses, while 29% would put a pet’s needs before their own.

To meet the increased demand in veterinary care, the company will use the new funding to improve its technology and expand into more locations where it can provide same-day delivery. Currently it is shipping to 47 states and Dijols expects to be completely national by the end of the year. He also expects to hire more people on both the sales team and in executive leadership positions.

The company is already operating in New York and Los Angeles and growing 3x year over year, though Dijols admits operating during the pandemic was a bit challenging due to “a massive surge of orders” that came in as veterinarians had to shut down their offices.

As part of the investment, Keith Levy, operating partner at Sonoma Brands and former president of pet food manufacturer Royal Canin USA, will join Mixlab’s board of directors. Sonoma Brands is focused on growth sectors of the consumer economy, and pets was one of the areas that investors were interested in.

Over time, Sonoma found that within the veterinary community, there was space for a lot of players. However, veterinarians want to home in on one company they trust, and Mixlab fit that description for many because they were getting medication out faster, Levy said.

“What Mixlab is doing isn’t completely unique, but they are doing it better,” he added. “When we looked at their customer service metrics, we saw they had a good reputation and were relentlessly focused on providing a better experience.”


By Christine Hall

ConverseNow is targeting restaurant drive-thrus with new $15M round

One year after voice-based AI technology company ConverseNow raised a $3.3 million seed round, the company is back with a cash infusion of $15 million in Series A funding in a round led by Craft Ventures.

The Austin-based company’s AI voice ordering assistants George and Becky work inside quick-serve restaurants to take orders via phone, chat, drive-thru and self-service kiosks, freeing up staff to concentrate on food preparation and customer service.

Joining Craft in the Series A round were LiveOak Venture Partners, Tensility Venture Partners, Knoll Ventures, Bala Investments, 2048 Ventures, Bridge Investments, Moneta Ventures and angel investors Federico Castellucci and Ashish Gupta. This new investment brings ConverseNow’s total funding to $18.3 million, Vinay Shukla, co-founder and CEO of ConverseNow, told TechCrunch.

As part of the investment, Bryan Rosenblatt, partner at Craft Ventures, is joining the company’s board of directors, and said in a written statement that “post-pandemic, quick-service restaurants are primed for digital transformation, and we see a unique opportunity for ConverseNow to become a driving force in the space.”

At the time when ConverseNow raised its seed funding in 2020, it was piloting its technology in just a handful of stores. Today, it is live in over 750 stores and grew seven times in revenue and five times in headcount.

Restaurants were some of the hardest-hit industries during the pandemic, and as they reopen, Shukla said their two main problems will be labor and supply chain, and “that is where our technology intersects.”

The AI assistants are able to step in during peak times when workers are busy to help take orders so that customers are not waiting to place their orders, or calls get dropped or abandoned, something Shukla said happens often.

It can also drive more business. ConverseNow said it is shown to increase average orders by 23% and revenue by 20%, while adding up to 12 hours of extra deployable labor time per store per week.

Company co-founder Rahul Aggarwal said more people prefer to order remotely, which has led to an increase in volume. However, the more workers have to multitask, the less focus they have on any one job.

“If you step into restaurants with ConverseNow, you see them reimagined,” Aggarwal said. “You find workers focusing on the job they like to do, which is preparing food. It is also driving better work balance, while on the customer side, you don’t have to wait in the queue. Operators have more time to churn orders, and service time comes down.”

ConverseNow is one of the startups within the global restaurant management software market that is forecasted to reach $6.94 billion by 2025, according to Grand View Research. Over the past year, startups in the space attracted both investors and acquirers. For example, point-of-sale software company Lightspeed acquired Upserve in December for $430 million. Earlier this year, Sunday raised $24 million for its checkout technology.

The new funding will enable ConverseNow to continue developing its line-busting technology and invest in marketing, sales and product innovation. It will also be working on building a database from every conversation and onboarding new customers quicker, which involves inputting the initial menu.

By leveraging artificial intelligence, the company will be able to course-correct any inconsistencies, like background noise on a call, and better predict what a customer might be saying. It will also correct missing words and translate the order better. In the future, Shukla and Aggarwal also want the platform to be able to tell what is going on around the restaurant — what traffic is like, the weather and any menu promotions to drive upsell.

 


By Christine Hall

Homebase raises $70M for a team management platform aimed at SMBs and their hourly workers

Small and medium enterprises have become a big opportunity in the world of B2B technology in the last several years, and today a startup that’s building tools aimed at helping them manage their teams of workers is announcing some funding that underscores the state of that market. Homebase, which provides a platform that helps SMBs manage various services related to their hourly workforces, has closed $70 million in funding, a Series C that values the company at between $500 million and $600 million, according to sources close to the startup.

The round has a number of big names in it that are as much a sign of how large VCs are valuing the SMB market right now, as it is of the strategic interest of the individuals who are also participating. GGV Capital is leading the round, with past backers Bain Capital Ventures, Baseline Ventures, Bedrock, Cowboy Ventures, and Khosla Ventures also participating. Individuals meanwhile include president of Focus Brands Kat Cole, Jocelyn Mangan (a board member at PapaJohns and Chownow and former COO of Snag), former CFO of payroll and benefits company Gusto Mike Dinsdale, Guild Education founder Rachel Carlson, star athletes Jrue and Lauren Holiday and alright alright alright actor and famous everyman and future political candidate Matthew McConaughey.

Homebase has raised $108 million to date.

The funding is coming on the heels of strong growth for Homebase (which is not to be confused with the UK/Irish home improvement chain of the same name, nor the YC-backed Vietnamese proptech startup).

The company now has some 100,000 small businesses, with 1 million employees in total, on its platform, which use Homebase to manage all manner of activities related to workers that are paid hourly, including (most recently) payroll, as well as shift scheduling, timeclocks and timesheets, hiring and onboarding, communication, and HR compliance.

John Waldmann, Homebase’s founder and CEO, said the funding will go towards both continuing to bring on more customers, as well as expand the list of services offered to them, which could include more features geared to front-line and service workers, as well as features for small businesses who might also have some “desk” workers who might still work hourly.

The common thread, Waldmann said, is not the exact nature of those jobs, but the fact that all of them, partly because of that hourly aspect, have been largely underserved by tech up to now.

“From the beginning, our mission was to help local businesses and their teams,” he said. Part of his inspiration he said came from people he knew: a childhood friend who owned an independent, expanding restaurant chain, and was going through the challenges of managing his teams there, carrying out most of his work on paper; and his sister who worked in hospitality, which didn’t look all that different from his restaurant friend’s challenges. She had to call in to see when she was working, writing her hours in a notebook to make sure she got paid accurately. 

“There are a lot of tech companies focused on making work easier for folks that sit at computers or desks, but are building tools for these others,” Waldmann said. “In the world of work, the experience just looks different with technology.”

Homebase currently is focused on the North American market — there are some 5 million small businesses in the U.S. alone, and so there is a lot of opportunity there. The huge pressure that many them have experienced in the last 18 months of Covid-19 living, leading some to shut down altogether, has also focused the mind on how to manage and carry out work much more efficiently and in a more organized way to ensure you know where your staff is, and that your staff knows what it should be doing at all times.

What will be interesting is to see what kinds of services Homebase adds to its platform over time: in a way it’s a sign of how the hourly wage workers are becoming a more sophisticated and salient aspect of the workforce, with their own unique demands. Payroll, which is now live in 27 states, also comes with pay advances, opening the door to other kinds of financial services for Homebase, for example.

“Small businesses are the lifeblood of the American economy, with more than 60% of Americans employed by one of our 30 million small businesses. In a post-pandemic world, technology has never been more important to businesses of all sizes, including SMBs,” said Jeff Richards, managing aartner at GGV Capital and new Homebase board member. “The team at Homebase has worked tirelessly for years to bring technology to SMBs in a way that helps drive increased profitability, better hiring and growth. We’re thrilled to see Homebase playing such an important role in America’s small business recovery and thrilled to be part of the mission going forward.”

It’s interesting to see McConaughey involved in this round, given that he’s most recently made a turn towards politics, with plans to run for governor of Texas in 2022. “Hard working people who work in and run restaurants and local businesses are important to all of us,” he said. “They play an important role in giving our cities a sense of livelihood, identity, and community. This is why I’ve invested in Homebase. Homebase brings small business operations into the modern age and helps folks across the country not only continue to work harder, but work smarter.”


By Ingrid Lunden

Business messaging platform Gupshup raises $240 million from Tiger Global, Fidelity and others

Gupshup, a business messaging platform that began its journey in India 15 years ago, surprised many when it raised $100 million in April this year, roughly 10 years after its last financing round, and attained the coveted unicorn status. Now just three months later, the San Francisco-headquartered startup has secured even more capital from high-profile investors.

On Wednesday, Gupshup said it had raised an additional $240 million as part of the same Series F financing round. The new investment was led by Fidelity Management, Tiger Global, Think Investments, Malabar Investments, Harbor Spring Capital, certain accounts managed by Neuberger Berman Investment Advisers, and White Oak.

Neeraj Arora, formerly a high-profile executive at WhatsApp who played an instrumental role in helping the messaging platform sell to Facebook, also wrote a significant check to Gupshup in the new tranche of investment, which continues to value the startup at $1.4 billion as in April.

In an interview with TechCrunch earlier this week, Beerud Sheth, co-founder and chief executive of Gupshup, said he extended the financing round after receiving too many inbound requests from investors. The round is now closed, he said.

The startup, which operates a conversational messaging platform that is used by over 100,000 businesses and developers today to build their own messaging and conversational experiences to serve their users and customers, is beginning to consider exploring the public markets by next year, said Sheth, though he cautioned a final decision is yet to be made.

The new investment, which includes some secondary transactions (some early investors and employees are selling their stakes), will be deployed into broadening the product offerings of Gupshup, he said. The startup is also eyeing some M&A opportunities and may close some deals this year, he added.

Before Gupshup became so popular with businesses, it existed in a different avatar. For the first six years of its existence, Gupshup was best known for enabling users in India to send group messages to friends. (These cheap texts and other clever techniques enabled tens of millions of Indians to stay in touch with one another on phones a decade ago.)

That model eventually became unfeasible to continue, Sheth told TechCrunch in an earlier interview.

“For that service to work, Gupshup was subsidizing the messages. We were paying the cost to the mobile operators. The idea was that once we scale up, we will put advertisements in those messages. Long story short, we thought as the volume of messages increases, operators will lower their prices, but they didn’t. And also the regulator said we can’t put ads in the messages,” he said earlier this year.

That’s when Gupshup decided to pivot. “We were neither able to subsidize the messages, nor monetize our user base. But we had all of this advanced technology for high-performance messaging. So we switched from consumer model to enterprise model. So we started to serve banks, e-commerce firms, and airlines that need to send high-level messages and can afford to pay for it,” said Sheth, who also co-founder freelance workplace Elance in 1998.

Over the years, Gupshup has expanded to newer messaging channels, including conversational bots and it also helps businesses set up and run their WhatsApp channels to engage with customers.

Sheth said scores of major firms worldwide in banking, e-commerce, travel and hospitality and other sectors are among the clients of Gupshup. These firms are using Gupshup to send their customers transaction information and authentication codes, among other use cases. “These are not advertising or promotional messages. These are core service information,” he said.

This is a developing story. More to follow…


By Manish Singh

Blameless raises $30M to guide companies through their software lifecycle

Site reliability engineering platform Blameless announced Tuesday it raised $30 million in a Series B funding round, led by Third Point Ventures with participation from Accel, Decibel and Lightspeed Venture Partners, to bring total funding to over $50 million.

Site reliability engineering (SRE) is an extension of DevOps designed for more complex environments.

Blameless, based in San Mateo, California, emerged from stealth in 2019 after raising both a seed and Series A round, totaling $20 million. Since then, it has turned its business into a blossoming software platform.

Blameless’ platform provides the context, guardrails and automated workflows so engineering teams are unified in the way they communicate and interact, especially to resolve issues quicker as they build their software systems.

It originally worked with tech-forward teams at large companies, like Home Depot, that were “dipping [their toes] into the space and now [want] to double down,” co-founder and CEO Lyon Wong told TechCrunch.

The company still works with those tech-forward teams, but in the past two years, more companies sought out resident SRE architect Kurt Anderson to advise them, causing Blameless to change up its business approach, Wong said.

Other companies are also seeing a trend of customers asking for support — for example, in March, Google Cloud unveiled its Mission Critical Services support option for SRE to serve in a similar role as a consultant as companies move toward readiness with their systems. And in February, Nobl9 raised a $21 million Series B to provide enterprises with the tools they need to build service-level-objective-centric operations, which is part of a company’s SRE efforts.

Blameless now has interest from more mainstream companies in the areas of enterprise, logistics and healthcare. These companies aren’t necessarily focused on technology, but see a need for SRE.

“Companies recognize the shortfall in reliability, and then the question they come to us with is how do they get from where they are to where they want to be,” Anderson said. “Often companies that don’t have a process respond with ‘all hands on deck’ all the time, but instead need to shift to the right people responding.”

Lyon plans to use the new funding to fill key leadership roles, the company’s go-to-market strategy and product development to enable the company to go after larger enterprises.

Blameless doubled its revenue in the last year and will expand to service all customer segments, adding small and emerging businesses to its roster of midmarket and large companies. The company also expects to double headcount in the next three quarters.

As part of the funding announcement, Third Point Ventures partner Dan Moskowitz will join Blameless’ board of directors with Wong, Accel partner Vas Natarajan and Lightspeed partner Ravi Mhatre.

“Freeing up engineering to focus on shipping code is exactly what Blameless achieves,” said Moskowitz in a written statement. “The Blameless market opportunity is big as we see teams struggle and resort to creating homegrown playbooks and point solutions that are incomplete and costly.”

 


By Christine Hall

Sedna banks $34M for a platform that parses large volumes of email and chat to automatically action items within them

Many have tried, but email refuses to die… although in the process it might be (figuratively speaking) killing some of us with the workload it brings on to triage and use it. A startup called Sedna has built a system to help with that — specifically for enterprise and other business customers — by “reading” the text of emails, and chats, and automatically actioning items within them so that you don’t have to. And today, it’s announcing funding of $34 million to expand its work.

The funding, a Series B, is being led by Insight Partners, with Stride.VC, Chalfen Ventures and the SAP.iO fund (part of SAP) also participating. The funding will be used to continue building out more data science around Sedna’s core functionality, with the aim of moving into a wider set of verticals over time. Currently its main business is in the area of supply chain players, with Glencore, Norden, and Bunge among its customers. Other customers in areas like finance include the neobank Starling. London-based Sedna is not disclosing valuation.

Bill Dobie, Sedna’s CEO and founder, said the idea for the company was hatched out of his own experience. “I spent years building software to help users be more productive, but no matter what we built we never really reduced people’s workload.” The reason: the millstone that is called email, with its endless, unsolicited, inbound messages, some of which (just enough not to ignore) might be important. “What really struck me was how long it spent to move items out of and into email,” he said of the “to-do’s” that arose out of there.

Out of that, Sedna was built to “read” emails and give them more context and direction. Its system removes duplicates of action items and essentially increases the strike rate when it comes people’s inboxes: what’s in there is more likely to be what you really need to see. And it does so at a very quick speed.

“Our main value is the sheer scale at which we operate,” Dobie said. “We read millions or even billions of messages in sub second response times.” Indeed, while many of us are not getting “millions” of emails, there is a world of messaging out there that needs reading beyond that. Think, for example, of the volume of data that will be coming down the pike from IoT-based diagnostics.

“Smart” inboxes have definitely become a thing for consumers — although arguably none work as well as you wish they did. What’s notable about Sedna has been how it’s tuned its particular algorithms to specific verticals, letting them get smarter around the kind of content and work practices in particular organizations.

Right now the work is driven by an API framework, with elements of “low code” formatting to let people shape their own Sedna experiences. The aim will be to make that even easier over time. AN API driven frame work right now, some low code we’re heading into, but mostly its SAP or shipping or trading system that understands the transaction under way, then Sedna uses a decision tree to categories. 

Another area where Sedna might grow is in how it handles the information that it ingests. Currently, the company’s tech can be interconnected by a customer to then hand off certain work to RPA systems, as well as to specific humans. There is an obvious route to developing some of the second stage of software there — or alternatively, it’s a sign of how something like Sedna might get snapped up, or copied by one of the big RPA players.

“Bill started reimagining email where it was most broken and therefore hardest to fix—large teams managing huge volumes and complicated processes,” said Rebecca Liu-Doyle, principal at Insight Partners, in a statement. “Today, Sedna’s power is in its ability to introduce immense speed, simplicity, and delight to any inbox experience, regardless of scale or complexity. We are excited to partner with the Sedna team as they continue to make digital communication more intelligent for teams in global supply chain and beyond.” Liu-Doyle is joining the board with this round.

SAP is a strategic investor in this round, as Sedna potentially helps its customers be more productive while using SAP systems. “SAP continues to partner with SEDNA to deliver value to SAP customers. The ability to turn complex information into simpler intelligent collaboration has been a growing priority for many SAP customers,” said Stefan Sauer, global transport solutions Lead at SAP, in a statement.


By Ingrid Lunden

ActiveFence comes out of the shadows with $100M in funding and tech that detects online harm

Online abuse, disinformation, fraud and other malicious content is growing and getting more complex to track. Today, a startup called ActiveFence, which has quietly built a tech platform to suss out threats as they are being formed and planned, to make it easier for trust and safety teams to combat them on platforms, is coming out of the shadows to announce significant funding on the back of a surge of large organizations using its services.

The startup, co-headquartered in New York and Tel Aviv, has raised $100 million, funding that it will use to continue developing its tools and to continue expanding its customer base. To date, ActiveFence says that its customers include companies in social media, audio and video streaming, file sharing, gaming, marketplaces and other technologies — it has yet to disclose any specific names but says that its tools collectively cover “billions” of users. Governments and brands are two other categories that it is targeting as it continues to expand. It has been around since 2018 and is growing at around 100% annually.

The $100 million being announced today actually covers two rounds: its most recent Series B led by CRV and Highland Europe, as well as a Series A it never announced led by Grove Ventures and Norwest Venture Partners. Vintage Investment Partners, Resolute Ventures and other unnamed backers also participated. It’s not disclosing valuation but I understand it’s between $300 million and $400 million. (I’ll update this if we learn more.)

The increase presence of social media and online chatter on other platforms has put a strong spotlight on how those forums are used by bad actors to spread malicious content. ActiveFence’s particular approach is a set of algorithms that tap into innovations in AI (natural language processing) and to map relationships between conversations. It crawls all of the obvious, and less obvious and harder-to-reach parts of the internet to pick up on chatter that is typically where a lot of the malicious content and campaigns are born — some 3 million sources in all — before they become higher-profile issues.  It’s built both on the concept of big data analytics as well as understanding that the long tail of content online has a value if it can be tapped effectively.

“We take a fundamentally different approach to trust, safety and content moderation,” Noam Schwartz, the co-founder and CEO, said in an interview. “We are proactively searching the darkest corners of the web and looking for bad actors in order to understand the sources of malicious content. Our customers then know what’s coming. They don’t need to wait for the damage, or for internal research teams to identify the next scam or disinformation campaign. We work with some of the most important companies in the world, but even tiny, super niche platforms have risks.”

The insights that ActiveFence gathers are then packaged up in an API that its customers can then feed into whatever other systems they use to track or mitigate traffic on their own platforms.

ActiveFence is not the only company building technology to help platform operators, governments and brands to have a better picture of what is going on in the wider online world. Factmata has built algorithms to better understand and track sentiments online; Primer (which also recently raised a big round) also uses NLP to help its customers track online information, with its customers including government organizations that used its technology to track misinformation during election campaigns; Bolster (formerly called RedMarlin) is another. Some of the bigger platforms have also gotten more proactive in bringing tracking technology and talent in-house: Facebook acquired Bloomsbury AI several years ago for this purpose; Twitter has acquired Fabula (and is working on a bigger efforts like Birdwatch to build better tools), and earlier this year Discord picked up Sentropy, another online abuse tracker.

It may well be that ultimately there will exist multiple companies doing good work in this area, not unlike other corners of the world of security, which ideally need multiple efforts thrown at problems to crack them. In this particular case, the growth of the startup to date, and its effectiveness in identifying early warning signs, is one reason why investors have been interested in ActiveFence.

“We are pleased to support ActiveFence in this important mission” commented Izhar Armony, the lead investor from CRV, in a statement. “We believe they are ready for the next phase of growth and that they can maintain leadership in the dynamic and fast growing trust and safety market.”

“ActiveFence has emerged as a clear leader in the developing online trust and safety category. This round will help the company to accelerate the growth momentum we witnessed in the past few years,” said Dror Nahumi, general partner at Norwest Venture Partners, in a statement.


By Ingrid Lunden

Nium crosses $1B valuation with $200M Riverwood Capital-led round

Business-to-business payments platform Nium announced Monday that it raised more than $200 million in Series D funding and saw its valuation rise above $1 billion.

The company, now Singapore-based but shifting to the Bay Area, touted the investment as making it “the first B2B payments unicorn from Southeast Asia.”

Riverwood Capital led the round, in which Temasek, Visa, Vertex Ventures, Atinum Capital, Beacon Venture Capital and Rocket Capital Investment participated, along with a group of angel investors like DoorDash’s Gokul Rajaram, FIS’ Vicky Bindra and Tribe Capital’s Arjun Sethi. Including the new funding, Nium has raised $300 million to date, Prajit Nanu, co-founder and CEO, told TechCrunch.

The B2B payments sector is already hot, yet underpenetrated, according to some experts. To give an idea just how hot, Nium was seeking $150 million for its Series D round, received commitments of $300 million from eager investors and settled on $200 million, Nanu said.

“This is our fourth or fifth fundraise, but we have never had this kind of interest before — we even had our term sheets in five days,” he added. “I believe this interest is because we’ve successfully managed to create a global platform that is heavily regulated, which gives us access to a lot of networks. This is an environment where payment is visible, and our core is powering frictionless commerce and enabling anyone to use our platform.”

Nium’s new round adds fuel to a fire shared by a number of companies all going after a global B2B payments market valued at $120 trillion annually: last week, Paystand raised $50 million in Series C funding to make B2B payments cashless, while Dwolla raised $21 million for its API that allows companies to build and facilitate fast payments. In March, Higo brought in $3.3 million to do the same in Latin America, while Balance, developing a B2B payments platform that allows merchants to offer a variety of payment methods. raised $5.5 million in February.

Nium’s approach is to provide access to a global payment infrastructure, including card issuance, accounts receivable and payable, and banking-as-a-service through a single API. The company’s network enables customers to then send funds to more than 100 countries, pay out in more than 60 currencies, accept funds in seven currencies and issue cards in more than 40 countries, Nanu said. The company also boasts money transfer, card issuances and banking licenses in 11 jurisdictions.

Francisco Alvarez-Demalde, co-founding partner and managing partner at Riverwood, said in an email that the combination of software — plus regulatory licenses — and operating a fintech infrastructure platform on behalf of neobanks and corporates is a global trend experiencing hyper-growth.

Riverwood followed Nium for many years, and its future vision was what got the firm interested in being a part of this round. Alvarez-Demalde said that “Nium has the incredible combination of a great market opportunity, a talented founder and team, and we believe the company is poised for global growth based on underlying secular technology trends like increasing real-time payment capabilities and the proliferation of cross border commerce.

“As a central payment infrastructure in one API, Nium is a catalyst that unlocks cross-border payments, local accounts and card issuance with a network of local market licenses, partners and banking relationships to facilitate moving money across the world,” he added. “Enterprises of all types are embedding financial services as part of their consumer experience, and Nium is a key global enabler of this trend.”

Nanu said the new funding enables the company to move to the United States, which represents 3% of Nium’s revenue. He wants to increase that to 20% over the next 18 months, as well as expand in Latin America. The investment also gives the company a 12- to 18-month runway for further M&A activity.  In June, Nium acquired virtual card issuance company Ixaris, and in July acquired Wirecard Forex India to expose it to India’s market. He also plans to expand the company’s payments network infrastructure, invest in product development and add to Nium’s 700-person headcount.

Nium already counts hundreds of enterprise companies as clients and plans to onboard thousands more in the next year. The company processes $8 billion in payments annually and has issued more than 30 million virtual cards since 2015. Meanwhile, revenue grew by over 280% year over year.

All of this growth puts the company on a trajectory for an initial public offering, Nanu said. He has already spoken to people who will help the company formally kick off that journey in the first quarter of 2022.

“Unlike other companies that raise money for new products, we aim to expand in the existing sets of what we do,” Nanu said. “The U.S. is a new market, but we have a good brand and will use the new round to provide a better experience to the customer.”

 


By Christine Hall

Payments company Paystone raises $23.8M to help service-based businesses engage with customers

Paystone, a payments and integrated software company, secured another strategic investment this year, this time $23.8 million ($30 million CAD) from Crédit Mutuel Equity, the private equity arm of Crédit Mutuel Alliance Fédérale.

The Canada-based company got its start in 2008 as the payment processing company Zomaron, and rebranded itself as Paystone in 2019. Today it provides electronic payments and customer engagement technology to businesses, particularly those that provide services, CEO Tarique Al-Ansari told TechCrunch.

“Paystone is on a mission to help businesses grow, and we were enthralled by their commitment to that mission and their focus on service-oriented verticals,” said Léa Perge, investor at Crédit Mutuel Equity in Canada, via email.

While most of the company’s peers focus on product companies, Al-Ansari saw how underserved the service side was: their needs are different, and unlike retail, aren’t looking to sell online. Rather, they need an online presence and digital marketing to engage with customers, but their focus is being findable and having content that tells people why they should do business with them.

Paystone provides the marketing through content, help with reviews and with loyalty and rewards programs. However, rather than reward for spending, Paystone rewards for behavior. Refer a friend, get a reward. Write a review, get a reward. Al-Ansari calls it “payments as a benefit.” Referrals and reviews are how businesses become more findable, and the more content that’s out there, the more it helps people consider the business trustworthy, he added.

The new funding gives Canada-based Paystone total funds raised in 2021 of $78.8 million in a mix of debt and equity. It raised $54.9 million in January, funds that were barely touched as of yet, Al-Ansari said.

Though he wasn’t actively seeking new funds, Al-Ansari had been speaking with Crédit Mutuel Equity, which used to be CIC Capital Canada, prior to the pandemic, and their deal was put on hold.

Crédit Mutuel Equity came back with similar interest, and taking into account the kind of talent Paystone wanted to go after and its acquisition strategy — the company has already acquired five companies — Al-Ansari decided to take the additional funds. He said it gives the company options to hire more and double down on building the company, as well as enough capital to look for more acquisitions.

This year, Paystone entered the U.S. market for the first time and will do a proper launch later this year. The company has over 30,000 merchant locations on its platform throughout North America, and Al-Ansari expects that to grow by 5,000 this year. The company has 150 employees currently, and another 50 are expected to come on board by the end of the year.

In addition, Al-Ansari expects growth to accelerate for the rest of the year. The company processes around $6 billion in credit card payments and is on track to bring in $55.7 million in revenue this year. It is cash flow positive, residuals from the company’s origins of being bootstrapped, he said.

“We want to become the go-to destination for service businesses to set up a digital presence to accept payments and provide loyalty and rewards,” Al-Ansari said. “We will do this by solidifying our market position and growing our platform with the tools that customers want.”

 


By Christine Hall

Sendlane raises $20M to convert shoppers into loyal customers

Sendlane, a San Diego-based multichannel marketing automation platform, announced Thursday it raised $20 million in Series A funding.

Five Elms Capital and others invested in the round to give Sendlane total funding of $23 million since the company was founded in 2018.

Though the company officially started three years ago, co-founder and CEO Jimmy Kim told TechCrunch he began working on the idea back in 2013 with two other co-founders.

They were all email marketers in different lines of business, but had some common ground in that they were all using email tools they didn’t like. The ones they did like came with too big of a price tag for a small business, Kim said. They set out to build their own email marketing automation platform for customers that wanted to do more than email campaigns and newsletters.

When two other companies Kim was involved in exited in 2017, he decided to put both feet into Sendlane to build it into a system that maximized revenue based on insights and integrations.

In late 2018, the company attracted seed funding from Zing Capital and decided in 2019 to pivot into e-commerce. “Based on our personal backgrounds and looking at the customers we worked with, we realized that is what we did best,” Kim said.

Today, more than 1,700 e-commerce companies use Sendlane’s platform to convert more than 100 points of their customers’ data — abandoned carts, which products sell the best and which marketing channel is working — into engaging communications aimed at driving customer loyalty. The company said it can increase revenue for customers between 20% and 40% on average.

The company itself is growing 100% year over year and seeing over $7 million in annual recurring revenue. It currently has 54 employees right now, and Kim expects to be at around 90 by the end of the year and 150 by the end of 2022. Sendlane currently has more than 20 open roles, he said.

That current and potential growth was a driver for Kim to go after the Series A funding. He said Sendlane became profitable last year, which is why it has not raised a lot of money so far. However, as the rapid adoption of e-commerce continues, Kim wants to be ready for the next wave of competition coming in, which he expects in the next year.

He considers companies like ActiveCampaign and Klaviyo to be in line with Sendlane, but says his company’s differentiator is customer service, boasting short wait times and chats that answer questions in less than 15 seconds.

He is also ready to go after the next vision, which is to unify data and insights to create meaningful interactions between customers and retailers.

“We want to start carving out a new space,” Kim added. “We have a ton of new products coming out in the next 12 to 18 months and want to be the single source for customer journey data insights that provides flexibility for your business to grow.”

Two upcoming tools include Audiences, which will unify customer data and provide insights, and an SMS product for two-way communications and enabled campaign-level sending.

 


By Christine Hall

Tailor Brands raises $50M, aims to be one-stop shop for small businesses to launch

Tailor Brands, a startup that automates parts of the branding and marketing process for small businesses, announced Thursday it has raised $50 million in Series C funding.

GoDaddy led the round as a strategic partner and was joined by OurCrowd and existing investors Pitango Growth, Mangrove Capital Partners, Armat Group, Disruptive VC and Whip Media founder Richard Rosenblatt. Tailor Brands has now raised a total of $70 million since its inception in 2015.

“GoDaddy is empowering everyday entrepreneurs around the world by providing all of the help and tools to succeed online,” said Andrew Morbitzer, vice president of corporate development at GoDaddy, in a written statement. “We are excited to invest in Tailor Brands — and its team — as we believe in their vision. Their platform truly helps entrepreneurs start their business quickly and easily with AI-powered logo design and branding services.”

When Tailor Brands, which launched at TechCrunch’s Startup Battlefield in 2014, raised its last round, a $15.5 million Series B, in 2018, the company was focused on AI-driven logo creation.

The company, headquartered in New York and Tel Aviv, is now compiling the components for a one-stop SaaS platform — providing the design, branding and marketing services a small business owner needs to launch and scale operations, and within minutes, Yali Saar, co-founder and CEO of Tailor Brands told TechCrunch.

Over the past year, more users are flocking to Tailor Brands; the company is onboarding some 700,000 new users per month for help in the earliest stages of setting up their business. In fact, the company saw a 27% increase in new business incorporations as the creator and gig economy gained traction in 2020, Saar said.

In addition to the scores of new users, the company crossed 30 million businesses using the platform. At the end of 2019, Tailor Brands started monetizing its offerings and “grew at a staggering rate,” Saar added. The company yielded triple-digit annual growth in revenue.

To support that growth, the new funding will be used on R&D, to double the team and create additional capabilities and functions. There may also be future acquisition opportunities on the table.

Saar said Tailor Brands is at a point where it can begin leveraging the massive amount of data on small businesses it gathers to help them be proactive rather than reactive, turning the platform into a “consultant of sorts” to guide customers through the next steps of their businesses.

“Users are looking for us to provide them with everything, so we are starting to incorporate more products with the goal of creating an ecosystem, like WeChat, where you don’t need to leave the platform at all to manage your business,” Saar said.

 


By Christine Hall

Andreessen Horowitz funds Vitally’s $9M round for customer experience software

Customer success company Vitally raised $9 million in Series A funding from Andreessen Horowitz to continue developing its SaaS platform automating customer experiences.

Co-founder and CEO Jamie Davidson got the idea for Vitally while he was at his previous company, Pathgather. As chief customer officer, he was looking at tools and “was underwhelmed” by the available tools to automate repetitive tasks. So he set out to build one.

The global pandemic thrust customer satisfaction into the limelight as brands realized that the same ways they were engaging with customers had to change now that everyone was making the majority of their purchases online. Previously, a customer service representative may have managed a dozen accounts, but nowadays with product-led growth, they tackle a portfolio of thousands of customers, Davidson told TechCrunch.

New York-based Vitally, founded in 2017, unifies all of that customer data into one place and flows it through an engine to provide engagement insights, like what help customers need, which ones are at risk of churning and which to target for expanded revenue opportunities. Its software also provides automation to balance workflow and steer customer success teams to the tasks with the right customers so that they are engaging at the correct time.

Andreessen approached Davidson for the Series A, and he liked the alignment in customer success vision, he said. Including the new funding, Vitally raised a total of $10.6 million, which includes $1.2 million in September 2019.

From the beginning, Vitally was bringing in strong revenue growth, which enabled the company to focus on building its platform and hold off on fundraising.

“A Series A was certainly on our mind and road map, but we weren’t actively fundraising,” Davidson said. “However, we saw a great fit and great backing to help us grow. Tools have lagged in the customer success area and how to manage that. Andreessen can help us scale and grow with our customers as they manage the thousands of their customers.”

Davidson intends to use the new funding to scale Vitally’s team across the board and build out its marketing efforts to introduce the company to the market. He expects to grow to 30 by the end of the year to support the company’s annual revenue growth — averaging 3x — and customer acquisition. Vitally is already working with big customers like Segment, Productboard and Calendly.

As part of the investment, Andreessen general partner David Ulevitch is joining the Vitally board. He saw an opportunity for the reimagining of how SaaS companies delivered customer success, he told TechCrunch via email.

Similar to Davidson, he thought that customer success teams were now instrumental to growing SaaS businesses, but technology lagged behind market need, especially with so many SaaS companies taking a self-serve or product-led approach that attracted more orders than legacy tools.

Before the firm met Vitally, it was hearing “rave reviews” from its customers, Ulevitch said.

“The feedback was overwhelmingly positive and affirmed the fact that Vitally simply had the best product on the market since it actually mapped to how businesses operated and interacted with customers, particularly businesses with a long-tail of paying customers,” he added. “The first dollar into a SaaS company is great, but it’s the renewal and expansion dollars that really set the winners apart from everyone else. Vitally is in the best position to help companies get that renewal, help their customers expand accounts and ultimately win the space.”

 


By Christine Hall