Datometry snares $17M Series B to help move data and applications to the cloud

Moving data to the cloud from an on-prem data warehouse like Teradata is a hard problem to solve, especially if you’ve built custom applications that are based on the data. Datometry, a San Francisco startup, has developed a solution to solve that issue, and today it announced a $17 million Series B investment.

WRVI Capital led the round with participation from existing investors including Amarjit Gill, Dell Technologies Capital, Redline Capital and Acorn Pacific. The company has raised a total of $28 million, according to Crunchbase data.

The startup is helping move data and applications — lock, stock and barrel — to the cloud. For starters, it’s focusing on Teradata data warehouses and applications built on top of that because it’s a popular enterprise offering, says Mike Waas CEO and co-founder at the company.

“Pretty much all major enterprises are struggling right now with getting their data into the cloud. At Datometry, we built a software platform that lets them take their existing applications and move them over to new cloud technology as is, and operate with cloud databases without having to change any SQL or APIs,” Waas told TechCrunch.

Today, without Datometry, customers would have to hire expensive systems integrators and take months or years rewriting their applications, but Datometry says it has found a way to move the applications to the cloud, reducing the time to migrate from years to weeks or months, by using virtualization.

The company starts by building a new schema for the cloud platform. It supports all the major players including Amazon, Microsoft and Google. It then runs the applications through a virtual database running the schema and connects the old application with a cloud data warehouse like Amazon Redshift.

Waas sees virtualization as the key here as it enables his customers to run the applications just as they always have on prem, but in a more modern context. “Personally I believe that it’s time for virtualization to disrupt the database stack just the way it has disrupted pretty much everything else in the datacenter,” he said.

From there, they can start developing more modern applications in the cloud, but he says that his company can get them to the cloud faster and cheaper than was possible before, and without disrupting their operations in any major way.

Waas founded the company in 2013 and it took several years to build the solution. This is a hard problem to solve, and he was ahead of the curve in terms of trying to move this type of data. As his solution came online in the last 18 months, it turned out to be good timing as companies were looking suddenly for ways to move data and applications to the cloud.

He says he has been able to build a client base of 40 customers with 30 employees because the cloud service providers are helping with sales and walking them into clients, more than they can handle right now as a small startup.

The plan moving forward is to use some of the money from this round to build a partner network with systems integrators to help with implementation, so that they can concentrate on developing the product and supporting other data repositories in the future.


By Ron Miller

Nomagic, a startup out of Poland, picks up $8.6M for its pick-and-place warehouse robots

Factories and warehouses have been two of the biggest markets for robots in the last several years, with machines taking on mundane, if limited, processes to speed up work and free up humans to do other, more complex tasks. Now, a startup out of Poland that is widening the scope of what those robots can do is announcing funding, a sign not just of how robotic technology has been evolving, but of the growing demand for more automation, specifically in the world of logistics and fulfilment.

Nomagic, which has developed way for a robotic arm to identify an item from an unordered selection, pick it up and then pack it into a box, is today announcing that it has raised $8.6 million in funding, one of the largest-ever seed rounds for a Polish startup. Co-led by Khosla Ventures and Hoxton Ventures, the round also included participation from DN Capital, Capnamic Ventures and Manta Ray, all previous backers of Nomagic.

There are a number of robotic arms on the market today that can be programmed to pick up and deposit items from Point A to Point B. But we are only starting to see a new wave of companies focus on bringing these to fulfilment environments because of the limitations of those arms: they can only work when the items are already “ordered” in a predictable way, such as on an assembly line, which has mean that fulfilment of, for example, online orders is usually carried out by humans.

Nomagic has incorporated a new degree of computer vision, machine learning and other AI-based technologies to  elevate the capabilities of those robotic arm. Robots powered by its tech can successfully select items from an “unstructured” group of objects — that is, not an assembly line, but potentially another box — before picking it up and placing it elsewhere.

Kacper Nowicki, the ex-Googler CEO of Nomagic who co-founded the company with Marek Cygan (formerly of Climate Corporation) and Tristan d’Orgeval (an academic), noted that while there has been some work on the problem of unstructured objects and industrial robots — in the US, there are some live implementations taking shape, with one, Covariant, recently exiting stealth mode — it has been mostly a “missing piece” in terms of the innovation that has been done to make logistics and fulfilment more efficient.

That is to say, there has been little in the way of bigger commercial roll outs of the technology, creating an opportunity in what is a huge market: fulfilment services are projected to be a $56 billion market by 2021 (currently the US is the biggest single region, estimated at between $13.5 billion and $15.5 billion).

“If every product were a tablet or phone, you could automate a regular robotic arm to pick and pack,” Nowicki said. “But if you have something else, say something in plastic, or a really huge diversity of products, then that is where the problems come in.”

Nowicki was a longtime Googler who moved from Silicon Valley back to Poland to build the company’s first engineering team in the country. In his years at Google, Nowicki worked in areas including Google Cloud and search, but also saw the AI developments underway at Google’s DeepMind subsidiary, and decided he wanted to tackle a new problem for his next challenge.

His interest underscores what has been something of a fork in artificial intelligence in recent years. While some of the earliest implementations of the principles of AI were indeed on robots, these days a lot of robotic hardware seems clunky and even outmoded, while much more of the focus of AI has shifted to software and “non-physical” systems aimed at replicating and improving upon human thought. Even the word “robot” is now just as likely to be seen in the phrase “robotic process automation”, which in fact has nothing to do with physical robots, but software.

“A lot of AI applications are not that appealing,” Nowicki simply noted (indeed, while Nowicki didn’t spell it out, DeepMind in particular has faced a lot of controversy over its own work in areas like healthcare). “But improvements in existing robotics systems by applying machine learning and computer vision so that they can operate in unstructured environments caught my attention. There has been so little automation actually in physical systems, and I believe it’s a place where we still will see a lot of change.”

Interestingly, while the company is focusing on hardware, it’s not actually building hardware per se, but is working on software that can run on the most popular robotic arms in the market today to make them “smarter”.

“We believe that most of the intellectual property in in AI is in the software stack, not the hardware,” said Orgeval. “We look at it as a mechatronics problem, but even there, we believe that this is mainly a software problem.”

Having Khosla as a backer is notable given that a very large part of the VC’s prolific investing has been in North America up to now. Nowicki said he had a connection to the firm by way of his time in the Bay Area, where before Google, Vinod Khosla backed a startup of his (which went bust in one of the dot-com downturns).

While there is an opportunity for Nomagic to take its idea global, for now Khosla’s interested because of the a closer opportunity at home, where Nomagic is already working with third-party logistics and fulfilment providers, as well as retailers like Cdiscount, a French Amazon-style, soup-to-nuts online marketplace.

“The Nomagic team has made significant strides since its founding in 2017,” says Sven Strohband, Managing Director of Khosla Ventures, in a statement. “There’s a massive opportunity within the European market for warehouse robotics and automation, and NoMagic is well-positioned to capture some of that market share.”

WARSAW, POLAND – Feb 4, 2020 – Nomagic, provider of smart pick & place robots for warehouses, announced today the closing of a $8.6 million Seed investment round led by Khosla Ventures. The round is one of the biggest seed rounds for a Polish startup yet. Hoxton Ventures (London) co-led the round with existing investors DN Capital (London), Capnamic Ventures (Cologne) and Manta Ray (London).

“The Nomagic team has made significant strides since its founding in 2017,” says Sven Strohband, Managing Director of Khosla Ventures. “There’s a massive opportunity within the European market for warehouse robotics and automation, and NoMagic is well-positioned to capture some of that market share.”

Founded on the premise that order fulfillment in warehouses requires repetitive manual tasks for which it is harder and harder to find operators, Nomagic develops AI-based solutions using robotic arms to reliably pick and place millions of different products. Their smart robots are able to determine how to pick never seen products and detect rare anomalies such as robots picking two items at once. In 2019, Nomagic deployed its solution at Cdiscount, the leading French e-commerce platform, to build the first fully automated packing line for e-commerce.


By Ingrid Lunden

Thundra announces $4M Series A to secure and troubleshoot serverless workloads

Thundra, an early stage serverless tooling startup, announced a $4 million Series A today led by Battery Ventures. The company spun out from OpsGenie after it was sold to Atlassian for $295 million in 2018.

York IE, Scale X Ventures and Opsgenie founder Berkay Mollamustafaoglu also participated in the round. Battery’s Neeraj Agarwal is joining the company’s board under the terms of the agreement.

The startup also announced that it had recently hired Ken Cheney as CEO with technical founder Serkan Ozal becoming CTO.

Originally, Thundra helped run the serverless platform at OpsGenie. As a commercial company, it helps monitor, debug and secure serverless workloads on AWS Lambda. These three tasks could easily be separate tools, but Cheney says it makes sense to include them all because they are all related in some way.

“We bring all that together and provide an end-to-end view of what’s happening inside the application, and this is what really makes Thundra unique. We can actually provide a high-level distributed view of that constantly-changing application that shows all of the components of that application, and how they are interrelated and how they’re performing. It can also troubleshoot down to the local service, as well as go down into the runtime code to see where the problems are occurring and let you know very quickly,” Cheney explained.

He says that this enables developers to get this very detailed view of their serverless application that otherwise wouldn’t be possible, helping them concentrate less on the nuts and bolts of the infrastructure, the reason they went serverless in the first place, and more on writing code.

Serverless trace map in Thundra. Screenshot: Thundra

Thundra is able to do all of this in a serverless world, where there isn’t a fixed server and resources are ephemeral, making it difficult to identity and fix problems. It does this by installing an agent at the Lambda (AWS’ serverless offering) level on AWS, or at runtime on the container at the library level,” he said.

Battery’s Neeraj Agarwal says having invested in OpsGenie, he knew the engineering team and was confident in the team’s ability to take it from internal tool to more broadly applicable product.

“I think it has to do with the quality of the engineering team that built OpsGenie. These guys are very microservices oriented, very product oriented, so they’re very quick at iterating and developing products. Even though this was an internal tool I think of it as very much productized, and their ability to now sell it to the broader market is very exciting,” he said.

The company offers a free version, then tiered pricing based on usage, storage and data retention. The current product is a cloud service, but it plans to add an on prem version in the near future.


By Ron Miller

Snyk snags $150M investment as its valuation surpasses $1B

Snyk, the company that wants to help developers secure their code as part of the development process, announced a $150 million investment today. The company indicated the investment brings its valuation to over $1 billion (although it did not share the exact figure).

Today’s round was led by Stripes, a New York City investment firm with help from Coatue, Tiger Global, BoldStart,Trend Forward, Amity and Salesforce Ventures. The company reports it has now raised over $250 million.

The idea behind Snyk is to fit security firmly in the development process. Rather than offloading it to a separate team, something that can slow down a continuous development environment, Snyk builds in security as part of the code commit.

The company offers an open source tool that helps developers find open source vulnerabilities when they commit their code to GitHub, Bitbucket, GitLab or any CI/CD tool. It has built up a community of over 400,000 developers with this approach.

Snyk makes money with a container security product, and by making the underlying vulnerability database they use in the open source product available to companies as a commercial product.

CEO Peter McKay, who came on board last year as the company was making a move to expand into the enterprise, says the open source product drives the revenue-producing products and helped attract this kind of investment. “Getting to [today’s] funding round was the momentum in the open source model from the community to freemium to [land] and expand — and that’s where we are today,” he told TechCrunch.

He said that the company wasn’t looking for this money, but investors came knocking and gave them a good offer, based on Snyk’s growing market momentum. “Investors said we want to take advantage of the market, and we want to make sure you can invest the way you want to invest and take advantage of what we all believe is this very large opportunity,” McKay said.

In fact, the company has been raising money at a rapid rate since it came out of the gate in 2016 with a $3 million seed round. A $7 million Series A and $22 million Series B followed in 2018 with a $70 million Series C last fall.

The company reports over 4X revenue growth in 2019 (without giving exact revenue figures), and some major customer wins including the likes of Google, Intuit, Nordstrom and Salesforce. It’s worth noting that Salesforce thought enough of the company that it also invested in this round through its Salesforce Ventures investment arm.


By Ron Miller

Cyral announces $11M Series A to help protect data in cloud

Cyral, an early stage startup that helps protect data stored in cloud repositories, announced an $11 million Series A today. The company also revealed a previous undisclosed $4.1 million angel investment, making the total $15.1 million.

The Series A was led by Redpoint Ventures. A.Capital Ventures, Costanoa VC, Firebolt, SV Angel and Trifecta Capital also participated in on the round.

Cyral co-founder and CEO Manav Mital says the company’s product acts as a security layer on top of cloud data repositories — whether databases, data lakes, data warehouse or other data repository — helping identify issues like faulty configurations or anomalous activity.

Mital says that unlike most security data products of this ilk, Cyral doesn’t use an agent or watch points to try to detect signals that indicate something is happening to the data. Instead, he says that Cyral is a security layer attached directly to the data.

“The core innovation of Cyral is to put a layer of visibility attached right to the data endpoint, right to the interface where application services and users talk to the data endpoint, and in real time see the communication,” Mital explained.

As an example, he says that Cyral could detect that someone has suddenly started scanning rows of credit card data, or that someone was trying to connect to a database on an unencrypted connection. In each of these cases, Cyral would detect the problem, and depending on the configuration, send an alert to the customer’s security team to deal with the problem, or automatically shut down access to the database before informing the security team.

It’s still early days for Cyral with 15 employees and a handful of early access customers. Mital says for this round he’s working on building a product to market that’s well designed and easy to use.

He says that people get the problem he’s trying to solve. “We could walk into any company and they are all worried about this problem. So for us getting people interested has not been an issue. We just want to make sure we build an amazing product,” he said.


By Ron Miller

BigID bags another $50M round as data privacy laws proliferate

Almost exactly 4 months to the day after BigID announced a $50 million Series C, the company was back today with another $50 million round. The Series D came entirely from Tiger Global Management. The company has raised a total of $144 million.

What warrants $100 million in interest from investors in just four months is BigID’s mission to understand the data a company has and manage that in the context of increasing privacy regulation including GDPR in Europe and CCPA in California, which went into effect this month.

BigID CEO and co-founder Dimitri Sirota admits that his company formed at the right moment when it launched in 2016, but says he and his co-founders had an inkling that there would be a shift in how governments view data privacy.

“Fortunately for us, some of the requirements that we said were going to be critical, like being able to understand what data you collect on each individual across your entire data landscape, have come to [pass],” Sirota told TechCrunch. While he understands that there are lots of competing companies going after this market, he believes that being early helped his startup establish a brand identity earlier than most.

Meanwhile, the privacy regulation landscape continues to evolve. Even as California privacy legislation is taking effect, many other states and countries are looking at similar regulations. Canada is looking at overhauling its existing privacy regulations.

Sirota says that he wasn’t actually looking to raise either the C or the D, and in fact still has B money in the bank, but when big investors want to give you money on decent terms, you take it while the money is there. These investors clearly see the data privacy landscape expanding and want to get involved. He recognizes that economic conditions can change quickly, and it can’t hurt to have money in the bank for when that happens.

That said, Sirota says you don’t raise money to keep it in the bank. At some point, you put it to work. The company has big plans to expand beyond its privacy roots and into other areas of security in the coming year. Although he wouldn’t go into too much detail about that, he said to expect some announcements soon.

For a company that is only four years old, it has been amazingly proficient at raising money with a $14 million Series A and a $30 million Series B in 2018, followed by the $50 million Series C last year, and the $50 million round today. And Sirota said, he didn’t have to even go looking for the latest funding. Investors came to him — no trips to Sand Hill Road, no pitch decks. Sirota wasn’t willing to discuss the company’s valuation, only saying the investment was minimally diluted.

BigID, which is based in New York City, already has some employees in Europe and Asia, but he expects additional international expansion in 2020. Overall the company has around 165 employees at the moment and he sees that going up to 200 by mid-year as they make a push into some new adjacencies.


By Ron Miller

Satori Cyber raises $5.25M to help businesses protect their data flows

The amount of data that most companies now store — and the places they store it — continues to increase rapidly. With that, the risk of the wrong people managing to get access to this data also increases, so it’s no surprise that we’re now seeing a number of startups that focus on protecting this data and how it flows between clouds and on-premises servers. Satori Cyber, which focuses on data protecting and governance, today announced that it has raised a $5.25 million seed round led by YL Ventures.

“We believe in the transformative power of data to drive innovation and competitive advantage for businesses,” the company says. “We are also aware of the security, privacy and operational challenges data-driven organizations face in their journey to enable broad and optimized data access for their teams, partners and customers. This is especially true for companies leveraging cloud data technologies.”

Satori is officially coming out of stealth mode today and launching its first product, the Satori Cyber Secure Data Access Cloud. This service provides enterprises with the tools to provide access controls for their data, but maybe just as importantly, it also offers these companies and their security teams visibility into their data flows across cloud and hybrid environments. The company argues that data is “a moving target” because it’s often hard to know how exactly it moves between services and who actually has access to it. With most companies now splitting their data between lots of different data stores, that problem only becomes more prevalent over time and continuous visibility becomes harder to come by.

“Until now, security teams have relied on a combination of highly segregated and restrictive data access and one-off technology-specific access controls within each data store, which has only slowed enterprises down,” said Satori Cyber CEO and Co-founder Eldad Chai. “The Satori Cyber platform streamlines this process, accelerates data access and provides a holistic view across all organizational data flows, data stores and access, as well as granular access controls, to accelerate an organization’s data strategy without those constraints.”

Both co-founders previously spent nine years building security solutions at Imperva and Incapsula (which acquired Imperva in 2014). Based on this experience, they understood that onboarding had to be as easy as possible and that operations would have to be transparent to the users. “We built Satori’s Secure Data Access Cloud with that in mind, and have designed the onboarding process to be just as quick, easy and painless. On-boarding Satori involves a simple host name change and does not require any changes in how your organizational data is accessed or used,” they explain.

 

 


By Frederic Lardinois

Instagram founders join $30M raise for Loom work video messenger

Why are we all trapped in enterprise chat apps if we talk 6X faster than we type, and our brain processes visual info 60,000X faster than text? Thanks to Instagram, we’re not as camera-shy anymore. And everyone’s trying to remain in flow instead of being distracted by multi-tasking.

That’s why now is the time for Loom. It’s an enterprise collaboration video messaging service that lets you send quick clips of yourself so you can get your point across and get back to work. Talk through a problem, explain your solution, or narrate a screenshare. Some engineering hocus pocus sees videos start uploading before you finish recording so you can share instantly viewable links as soon as you’re done.

“What we felt was that more visual communication could be translated into the workplace and deliver disproportionate value” co-founder and CEO Joe Thomas tells me. He actually conducted our whole interview over Loom, responding to emailed questions with video clips.

Launched in 2016, Loom is finally hitting its growth spurt. It’s up from 1.1 million users and 18,000 companies in February to 1.8 million people at 50,000 businesses sharing 15 million minutes of Loom videos per month. Remote workers are especially keen on Loom since it gives them face-to-face time with colleagues without the annoyance of scheduling synchronous video calls. “80% of our professional power users had primarily said that they were communicating with people that they didn’t share office space with” Thomas notes.

A smart product, swift traction, and a shot at riding the consumerization of enterprise trend has secured Loom a $30 million Series B. The round that’s being announced later today was led by prestigious SAAS investor Sequoia and joined by Kleiner Perkins, Figma CEO Dylan Field, Front CEO Mathilde Collin, and Instagram co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger.

“At Instagram, one of the biggest things we did was focus on extreme performance and extreme ease of use and that meant optimizing every screen, doing really creative things about when we started uploading, optimizing everything from video codec to networking” Krieger says. “Since then I feel like some products have managed to try to capture some of that but few as much as Loom did. When I first used Loom I turned to Kevin who was my Instagram co-founder and said, ‘oh my god, how did they do that? This feels impossibly fast.’”


Systrom concurs about the similarities, saying “I’m most excited because I see how they’re tackling the problem of visual communication in the same way that we tried to tackle that at Instagram.” Loom is looking to double-down there, potentially adding the ability to Like and follow videos from your favorite productivity gurus or sharpest co-workers.

Loom is also prepping some of its most requested features. The startup is launching an iOS app next month with Android coming the first half of 2020, improving its video editor with blurring for hiding your bad hair day and stitching to connect multiple takes. New branding options will help external sales pitches and presentations look right. What I’m most excited for is transcription, which is also slated for the first half of next year through a partnership with another provider, so you can skim or search a Loom. Sometimes even watching at 2X speed is too slow.

But the point of raising a massive $30 million Series B just a year after Loom’s $11 million Kleiner-led Series A is to nail the enterprise product and sales process. To date, Loom has focused on a bottom-up distribution strategy similar to Dropbox. It tries to get so many individual employees to use Loom that it becomes a team’s default collaboration software. Now it needs to grow up so it can offer the security and permissions features IT managers demand. Loom for teams is rolling out in beta access this year before officially launching in early 2020.

Loom’s bid to become essential to the enterprise, though, is its team video library. This will let employees organize their Looms into folders of a knowledge base so they can explain something once on camera, and everyone else can watch whenever they need to learn that skill. No more redundant one-off messages begging for a team’s best employees to stop and re-teach something. The Loom dashboard offers analytics on who’s actually watching your videos. And integration directly into popular enterprise software suites will let recipients watch without stopping what they’re doing.

To build out these features Loom has already grown to a headcount of 45. It’s also hired away former head of growth at Dropbox Nicole Obst, head of design for Slack Joshua Goldenberg, and VP of commercial product strategy for Intercom Matt Hodges.


Still, the elephants in the room remain Slack and Microsoft Teams. Right now, they’re mainly focused on text messaging with some additional screensharing and video chat integrations. They’re not building Loom-style asynchronous video messaging…yet. “We want to be clear about the fact that we don’t think we’re in competition with Slack or Microsoft Teams at all. We are a complementary tool to chat” Thomas insists. But given the similar productivity and communication ethos, those incumbents could certainly opt to compete. Slack already has 12 million daily users it could provide with video tools.

Loom co-founder and CEO Joe Thomas

Hodges, Loom’s head of marketing, tells me “I agree Slack and Microsoft could choose to get into this territory, but what’s the opportunity cost for them in doing so? It’s the classic build vs. buy vs. integrate argument.” Slack bought screensharing tool Screenhero, but partners with Zoom and Google for video chat. Loom will focus on being easily integratable so it can plug into would-be competitors. And Hodges notes that “Delivering asynchronous video recording and sharing at scale is non-trivial. Loom holds a patent on its streaming, transcoding, and storage technology, which has proven to provide a competitive advantage to this day.”

The tea leaves point to video invading more and more of our communication, so I expect rival startups and features to Loom will crop up. Vidyard and Wistia’s Soapbox are already pushing into the space. As long as it has the head start, Loom needs to move as fast as it can. “It’s really hard to maintain focus to deliver on the core product experience that we set out to deliver versus spreading ourselves too thin. And this is absolutely critical” Thomas tells me.

One thing that could set Loom apart? A commitment to financial fundamentals. “When you grow really fast, you can sometimes lose sight of what is the core reason for a business entity to exist, which is to become profitable. . . Even in a really bold market where cash can be cheap, we’re trying to keep profitability at the top of our minds.”


By Josh Constine

Coralogix announces $10M Series A to bring more intelligence to logging

Coralogix, a startup that wants to bring automation and intelligence to logging, announced a $10 million Series A investment today.

The round was led by Aleph with participation from StageOne Ventures, Janvest Capital Partners and 2B Angels. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $16.2 million, according to the company.

CEO and co-founder Ariel Assaraf says his company focuses on two main areas: logging and analysis. The startup has been doing traditional applications performance monitoring up until now, but today, it also announced it was getting into security logging, where it tracks logs for anomalies and shares this information with security information and event management (SEIM) tools.

“We do standard log analytics in terms of ingesting, parsing, visualizing, alerting and searching for log data at scale using scaled, secure infrastructure,” Assaraf said. In addition, the company has developed a set of algorithms to analyze the data, and begin to understand patterns of expected behavior, and how to make use of that data to recognize and solve problems in an automated fashion.

“So the idea is to generally monitor a system automatically for customers plus giving them the tools to quickly drill down into data, understand how it behaves and get context to the issues that they see,” he said.

For instance, the tool could recognize that a certain sequence of events like a user logging in, authenticating that user and redirecting him or her to the application or website. All of those events happen every time, so if there is something different, the system will recognize that and share the information with DevOps team that something is amiss.

The company, which has offices in Tel Aviv, San Francisco and Kiev, was founded in 2015. It already has 1500 customers including Postman, Fiverr, KFC and Caesars Palace. They’ve been able to build the company with just 30 people to this point, but want to expand the sales and marketing team to help build it out the customer base further. The new money should help in that regard.


By Ron Miller

Vivun snags $3M seed round to bring order to pre-sales

Vivun, a startup that wants to help companies keep better track of pre-sales data announced a $3 million seed round today led by Unusual Ventures, the venture firm run by Harness CEO Jyoti Bansal.

Vivun founder and CEO Matt Darrow says that pre-sales team works more closely with the customer than anyone else, delivering demos and proof of concepts, and generally helping sales get over the finish line. While sales has CRM to store knowledge about the customer, pre-sales has been lacking a tool to track info about their interactions with customers, and that’s what his company built.

“The main problem that we solve is we give technology to those pre-sales leaders to run and operate their teams, but then take those insights from the group that knows more about the technology and the customer than anybody else, and we deliver that across the organization to the product team, sales team and executive staff,” Darrow explained.

Darrow is a Zuora alumni, and his story is similar to that company’s founder Tien Tzuo, who built the first billing system for Salesforce, then founded Zuroa to build a subscription billing system for everyone else. Similarly, Darrow built a pre-sales tool for Zuroa after finding there wasn’t anything else out there that was devoted specifically to tracking that kind of information.

“At Zuora, I had to build everything from scratch. After the IPO, I realized that this is something that every tech company can take advantage of because every technology company will really need this role to be of high value and impact,” he said.

The company not only tracks information via a mobile app and browser tool, it also has a reporting dashboard to help companies understand and share the information the pre-sales team is hearing from the customer. For example, they might know that x number of customers have been asking for a certain feature, and this information can be organized and passed onto other parts of the company.

Screenshot: Vivun

Bansal, who was previously CEO and co-founder at AppDynamics, a company he sold to Cisco for $3.7 billion just before its IPO in 2017, saw a company filling a big hole in the enterprise software ecosystem. He is not just an investor, he’s also a customer.

“To be successful, a technology company needs to understand three things: where it will be in five years, what its customers need right now, and what the market wants that it’s not currently providing. Pre-sales has answers to all three questions and is a strategically important department that needs management, analytics, and tools for accelerating deals. Yet, no one was making software for this critical department until Vivun,” he said in a statement.

The company was founded in 2018 and has been bootstrapped until now. It spent the first year building out the product. Today, the company has 20 customers including SignalFx (acquired by Splunk in August for $1.05 billion) and Harness.


By Ron Miller

Linear takes $4.2M led by Sequoia to build a better bug tracker and more

Software will eat the world, as the saying goes, but in doing so, some developers are likely to get a little indigestion. That is to say, building products requires working with disparate and distributed teams, and while developers may have an ever-growing array of algorithms, APIs and technology at their disposal to do this, ironically the platforms to track it all haven’t evolved with the times. Now three developers have taken their own experience of that disconnect to create a new kind of platform, Linear, which they believe addresses the needs of software developers better by being faster and more intuitive. It’s bug tracking you actually want to use.

Today, Linear is announcing a seed round of $4.2 million led by Sequoia, with participation also from Index Ventures and a number of investors, startup founders and others that will also advise Linear as it grows. They include Dylan Field (Founder and CEO, Figma), Emily Choi (COO, Coinbase), Charlie Cheever (Co-Founder of Expo & Quora), Gustaf Alströmer (Partner, Y Combinator), Tikhon Berstram (Co-Founder, Parse), Larry Gadea (CEO, Envoy), Jude Gomila (CEO, Golden), James Smith (CEO, Bugsnag), Fred Stevens-Smith (CEO, Rainforest), Bobby Goodlatte, Marc McGabe, Julia DeWahl and others.

Cofounders Karri Saarinen, Tuomas Artman, and Jori Lallo — all Finnish but now based in the Bay Area — know something first-hand about software development and the trials and tribulations of working with disparate and distributed teams. Saarinen was previously the principal designer of Airbnb, as well as the first designer of Coinbase; Artman had been staff engineer and architect at Uber; and Lallo also had been at Coinbase as a senior engineer building its API and front end.

“When we worked at many startups and growth companies we felt that the tools weren’t matching the way we’re thinking or operating,” Saarinen said in an email interview. “It also seemed that no-one had took a fresh look at this as a design problem. We believe there is a much better, modern workflow waiting to be discovered. We believe creators should focus on the work they create, not tracking or reporting what they are doing. Managers should spend their time prioritizing and giving direction, not bugging their teams for updates. Running the process shouldn’t sap your team’s energy and come in the way of creating.”

Linear cofounders (from left): KarriSaarinen, Jori Lallo, and Tuomas Artma

All of that translates to, first and foremost, speed and a platform whose main purpose is to help you work faster. “While some say speed is not really a feature, we believe it’s the core foundation for tools you use daily,” Saarinen noted.

A ⌘K command calls up a menu of shortcuts to edit an issue’s status, assign a task, and more so that everything can be handled with keyboard shortcuts. Pages load quickly and synchronise in real time (and search updates alongside that). Users can work offline if they need to. And of course there is also a dark mode for night owls.

The platform is still very much in its early stages. It currently has three integrations based on some of the most common tools used by developers — GitHub (where you can link Pull Requests and close Linear issues on merge), Figma designs (where you can get image previews and embeds of Figma designs), and Slack (you can create issues from Slack and then get notifications on updates). There are plans to add more over time.

We started solving the problem from the end-user perspective, the contributor, like an engineer or a designer and starting to address things that are important for them, can help them and their teams,” Saarinen said. “We aim to also bring clarity for the teams by making the concepts simple, clear but powerful. For example, instead of talking about epics, we have Projects that help track larger feature work or tracks of work.”

Indeed, speed is not the only aim with Linear. Saarinen also said another area they hope to address is general work practices, with a take that seems to echo a turn away from time spent on manual management and more focus on automating that process.

“Right now at many companies you have to manually move things around, schedule sprints, and all kinds of other minor things,” he said. “We think that next generation tools should have built in automated workflows that help teams and companies operate much more effectively. Teams shouldn’t spend a third or more of their time a week just for running the process.”

The last objective Linear is hoping to tackle is one that we’re often sorely lacking in the wider world, too: context.

“Companies are setting their high-level goals, roadmaps and teams work on projects,” he said. “Often leadership doesn’t have good visibility into what is actually happening and how projects are tracking. Teams and contributors don’t always have the context or understanding of why they are working on the things, since you cannot follow the chain from your task to the company goal. We think that there are ways to build Linear to be a real-time picture of what is happening in the company when it comes to building products, and give the necessary context to everyone.”

Linear is a late entrant in a world filled with collaboration apps, and specifically workflow and collaboration apps targeting the developer community. These include not just Slack and GitHub, but Atlassian’s Trello and Jira, as well as Asana, Basecamp and many more.

Saarinen would not be drawn out on which of these (or others) that it sees as direct competition, noting that none are addressing developer issues of speed, ease of use and context as well as Linear is.

“There are many tools in the market and many companies are talking about making ‘work better,’” he said. “And while there are many issue tracking and project management tools, they are not supporting the workflow of the individual and team. A lot of the value these tools sell is around tracking work that happens, not actually helping people to be more effective. Since our focus is on the individual contributor and intelligent integration with their workflow, we can support them better and as a side effect makes the information in the system more up to date.”

Stephanie Zhan, the partner at Sequoia whose speciality is seed and Series A investments and who has led this round, said that Linear first came on her radar when it first launched its private beta (it’s still in private beta and has been running a waitlist to bring on new users. In that time it’s picked up hundreds of companies, including Pitch, Render, Albert, Curology, Spoke, Compound and YC startups including Middesk, Catch and Visly). The company had also been flagged by one of Sequoia’s Scouts, who invested earlier this year

Sequoia Logo Natalie Miyake

Although Linear is based out of San Francisco, it’s interesting that the three founders’ roots are in Finland (with Saarinen in Helsinki this week to speak at the Slush event), and brings up an emerging trend of Silicon Valley VCs looking at founders from further afield than just their own back yard.

“The interesting thing about Linear is that as they’re building a software company around the future of work, they’re also building a remote and distributed team themselves,” Zahn said. The company currently has only four employees.

In that vein, we (and others, it seems) had heard that Sequoia — which today invests in several Europe-based startups, including Tessian, Graphcore, Klarna, Tourlane, Evervault  and CEGX — has been considering establishing a more permanent presence in this part of the world, specifically in London.

Sources familiar with the firm, however, tell us that while it has been sounding out VCs at other firms, saying a London office is on the horizon might be premature, as there are as yet no plans to set up shop here. However, with more companies and European founders entering its portfolio, and as more conversations with VCs turn into decisions to make the leap to help Sequoia source more startups, we could see this strategy turning around quickly.


By Ingrid Lunden

SocialRank sells biz to Trufan, pivots to a mobile LinkedIn

What do you do when your startup idea doesn’t prove big enough? Run it as a scrawny but profitable lifestyle business? Or sell it to a competitor and take another swing at the fences? Social audience analytics and ad targeting startup SocialRank chose the latter and is going for glory.

Today, SocialRank announced it’s sold its business, brand, assets, and customers to influencer marketing campaign composer and distributor Trufan which will run it as a standalone product. But SocialRank’s team isn’t joining up. Instead, the full six-person staff is sticking together to work on a mobile-first professional social network called Upstream aiming to nip at LinkedIn.

SocialRank co-founder and CEO Alex Taub

Started in 2014 amidst a flurry of marketing analytics tools, SocialRank had raised $2.1 million from Rainfall Ventures and others before hitting profitability in 2017. But as the business plateaued, the team saw potential to use data science about people’s identity to get them better jobs.

“A few months ago we decided to start building a new product (what has become Upstream). And when we came to the conclusion to go all-in on Upstream, we knew we couldn’t run two businesses at the same time” SocialRank co-founder and CEO Alex Taub tells me. “We decided then to run a bit of a process. We ended up with a few offers but ultimately felt like Trufan was the best one to continue the business into the future.”

The move lets SocialRank avoid stranding its existing customers like the NFL, Netflix, and Samsung that rely on its audience segmentation software. Instead, they’ll continue to be supported by Trufan where Taub and fellow co-founder Michael Schonfeld will become advisors.

“While we built a sustainable business, we essentially knew that if we wanted to go real big, we would need to go to the drawing board” Taub explains.

SocialRank

Two-year-old Trufan has raised $1.8 million Canadian from Round13 Capital, local Toronto startup Clearbanc’s founders, and several NBA players. Trufan helps brands like Western Union and Kay Jewellers design marketing initiatives that engage their customer communities through social media. It’s raising an extra $400,000 USD in venture debt from Round13 to finance the acquisition, which should make Trufan cash-flow positive by the end of the year.

Why isn’t the SocialRank team going along for the ride? Taub said LinkedIn was leaving too much opportunity on the table. While it’s good for putting resumes online and searching for people, “All the social stuff are sort of bolt-ons that came after Facebook and Twitter arrived. People forget but LinkedIn is the oldest active social network out there”, Taub tells me, meaning it’s a bit outdated.

Trufan’s team

Rather than attack head-on, the newly forged Upstream plans to pick the Microsoft-owned professional network apart with better approaches to certain features. “I love the idea of ‘the unbundling of LinkedIn’, ala what’s been happening with Craigslist for the past few years” says Taub. “The first foundational piece we are building is a social professional network around giving and getting help. We’ll also be focused on the unbundling of the groups aspect of LinkedIn.”

Taub concludes that entrepreneurs can shackle themselves to impossible goals if they take too much venture capital for the wrong business. As we’ve seen with SoftBank, investors demand huge returns that can require pursuing risky and unsustainable expansion strategies.

“We realized that SocialRank had potential to be a few hundred million dollar in revenue business but venture growth wasn’t exactly the model for it” Taub says. “You need the potential of billions in revenue and a steep growth curve.” A professional network for the smartphone age has that kind of addressable market. And the team might feel better getting out of bed each day knowing they’re unlocking career paths for people instead of just getting them to click ads.


By Josh Constine

Loop Returns picks up $10 million in Series A led by FirstMark Capital

Loop Returns, the startup that helps brands handle returns from online purchases, has today announced the close of a $10 million Series A funding round led by FirstMark Capital. Lerer Hippeau and Ridge Ventures also participated in the round.

Loop started when Jonathan Poma, a cofounder and COO and President, was working at an agency and consulting with a big Shopify brand on how to improve their system for returns and exchanges. After partnering with long-time friend Corbett Morgan Loop Returns was born.

Loop sits on top of Shopify to handle all of a brand’s returns. It first asks the customer if they’d like a different size in the item they bought, quickly managing an exchange. It then asks if the customer would prefer to exchange for a new item altogether, depositing the credit in that person’s account in real time so they can shop for something new immediately.

If an exchange isn’t in the cards, Loop will ask the customer if they’d prefer credit with this brand over a straight-up refund.

The goal, according to Poma and Morgan, is to turn the point of return into a moment where brands can create a life-loyal customer when handled quickly and properly.

The more we shop online, the more brands extend themselves financially, and returns are a big part of that. Returns account for 20 to 30 percent of ecommerce sales, which can become a terrible financial burden on a growing direct-to-consumer brand. And what’s more, the cost of acquiring those users in the first place also goes down the drain.

Loop Returns hopes to keep that customer in the fold by giving them post-purchase options that are more sticky and more lucrative for the brand than a refund.

The company thinks of it as Connection Infrastructure. Most brands already have a customer acquisition architecture, and Shopify and Amazon are ahead when it comes to the infrastructure around customer convenience. But the ties that bind customers to brands haven’t been optimized for the many D2C brands out there looking to make an impact.

“The big problem we’re trying to solve long term is connection infrastructure,” said Morgan. “Why does this brand matter? Why does it mean something to me? Why does the product matter? We want to enforce more mindfulness and meaning into buying.”

Of course, a more mindful shopper doesn’t yield as many returns. Poma and Morgan admit that the goal of their software is to minimize returns, the very reason for the software’s existence. After all, return volume is one of a handful of variables that help Loop Returns determine what it will charge its brand clients.

But the team is thinking about other layers of the connection infrastructure, with plans to launch a product in 2020 that also focuses on the connection point after purchase. Poma and Morgan believe, with an almost religious reverence, that the brands themselves will help lead shoppers and infrastructure providers to a better, more connected shopping experience.

“Brands are the torch bearers,” said Poma. “They will lead us to a more enlightened era of how we think about buying. Empowerment of the brand will lead us to a better consumerism.”

The cofounders stayed mum on any specific plans for the 2020 product, but did say they will use the funding to expand operations and further build out its current and future products.

Of course, Loop is playing in a crowded space. Not only are there other players thinking about post-purchase connection, but Shopify has itself built out tools to help with exchanges and returns, and even acquired Return Magic, a similar service, in the summer of 2018.

That said, Loop Returns believes that there is a long way to go as it builds the ‘connection infrastructure’ and that one clear path forward is actual personalization. With data from returns and exchanges, Loop Returns is relatively well positioned to take on personalization in a meaningful way.

For now, Loop Returns has more than 200 customers and has handled more than 2 million returns, working with brands like Brooklinen, AllBirds, PuraVida and more.


By Jordan Crook

Lawyers hate timekeeping. Ping raises $13M to fix it with AI

Counting billable time in six minute increments is the most annoying part of being a lawyer. It’s a distracting waste. It leads law firms to conservatively under-bill. And it leaves lawyers stuck manually filling out timesheets after a long day when they want to go home to their families.

Life is already short, as Ping CEO and co-founder Ryan Alshak knows too well. The former lawyer spent years caring for his mother as she battled a brain tumor before her passing. “One minute laughing with her was worth a million doing anything else” he tells me. “I became obsessed with the idea that we spend too much of our lives on things we have no need to do — especially at work.”

That’s motivated him as he’s built his startup Ping, which uses artificial intelligence to automatically track lawyers’ work and fill out timesheets for them. There’s a massive opportunity to eliminate a core cause of burnout, lift law firm revenue by around 10%, and give them fresh insights into labor allocation.

Ping co-founder and CEO Ryan Alshak. Image Credit: Margot Duane

That’s why today Ping is announcing a $13.2 million Series A led by Upfront Ventures, along with BoxGroup, First Round, Initialized, and Ulu Ventures. Adding to Ping’s quiet $3.7 million seed led by First Round last year, the startup will spend the cash to scale up enterprise distribution and become the new timekeeping standard.

I was a corporate litigator at Manatt Phelps down in LA and joke that I was voted the world’s worst timekeeper” Alshak tells me. “I could either get better at doing something I dreaded or I could try and build technology that did it for me.”

The promise of eliminating the hassle could make any lawyer who hears about Ping an advocate for the firm buying the startup’s software, like how Dropbox grew as workers demanded easier file sharing. “I’ve experienced first-hand the grind of filling out timesheets” writes Initialized partner and former attorney Alda Leu Dennis. “Ping takes away the drudgery of manual timekeeping and gives lawyers back all those precious hours.”

Traditionally, lawyers have to keep track of their time by themselves down to the tenth of an hour — reviewing documents for the Johnson case, preparing a motion to dismiss for the Lee case, a client phone call for Sriram case. There are timesheets built into legal software suites like MyCase, legal billing software like Timesolv, and one-off tools like Time Miner and iTimeKeep. They typically offer timers that lawyers can manually start and stop on different devices, with some providing tracking of scheduled appointments, call and text logging, and integration with billing systems.

Ping goes a big step further. It uses AI and machine learning to figure out whether an activity is billable, for which client, a description of the activity, and its codification beyond just how long it lasted. Instead of merely filling in the minutes, it completes all the logs automatically with entries like “Writing up a deposition – Jenkins Case – 18 minutes”. Then it presents the timesheet to the user for review before the send it to billing.

The big challenge now for Alshak and the team he’s assembled is to grow up. They need to go from cat-in-sunglasses logo Ping to mature wordmark Ping.  “We have to graduate from being a startup to being an enterprise software company” the CEO tells meThat means learning to sell to C-suites and IT teams, rather than just build solid product. In the relationship-driven world of law, that’s a very different skill set. Ping will have to convince clients it’s worth switching to not just for the time savings and revenue boost, but for deep data on how they could run a more efficient firm.

Along the way, Ping has to avoid any embarrassing data breaches or concerns about how its scanning technology could violate attorney-client privilege. If it can win this lucrative first business in legal, it could barge into the consulting and accounting verticals next to grow truly huge.

With eager customers, a massive market, a weak status quo, and a driven founder, Ping just needs to avoid getting in over its heads with all its new cash. Spent well, the startup could leap ahead of the less tech-savvy competition.

Alshak seems determined to get it right. “We have an opportunity to build a company that gives people back their most valuable resource — time — to spend more time with their loved ones because they spent less time working” he tells me. “My mom will live forever because she taught me the value of time. I am deeply motivated to build something that lasts . . . and do so in her name.”


By Josh Constine

Alpaca nabs $6M for stocks API so anyone can build a Robinhood

Stock trading app Robinhood is valued at $7.6 billion, but it only operates in the US. Freshly-funded fintech startup Alpaca does the dirty work so developers worldwide can launch their own competitors to that investing unicorn. Like the Stripe of stocks, Alpaca’s API handles the banking, security, and regulatory complexity, allowing other startups to quickly build brokerage apps on top for free. It’s already crossed $1 billion in transaction within a year of launch.

The potential to power the backend of a new generation of fintech apps has attracted a $6 million Series A round for Alpaca led by Spark Capital . Instead of charging developers, Alpaca earns its money through payment for order flow, interest on cash deposits, and margin lending much like Robinhood.

“I want to make sure that people even outside the US have access” to a way of building wealth that’s historically only “available to rich people” Alpaca co-founder and CEO Yoshi Yokokawa tells me.

Alpaca co-founder and CEO Yoshi Yokokawa

Hailing from Japan, Yokokawa followed his friends into the investment banking industry where he worked at Lehman Brothers until its collapse. After his grandmother got sick, he moved into day-trading for three years and realized “all the broker dealer business tools were pretty bad”. But when he heard of Robinhood in 2013 and saw it actually catering to users’ needs, he thought “I need to be involved in this new transformation” of fintech.

Yokokawa ended up first building a business selling deep learning AI to banks and trading firms in the foreign exchange market. Watching clients struggle to quickly integrate new technology revealed the lack of available developer tools. By 2017, he was pivoting the business and applying for FINRA approval. Alpaca launched in late 2018, letting developers paste in code to let their users buy and sell securities.

Now international developers and small hedge funds are building atop the Alpaca API so they don’t have to reinvent the underlying infrastructure themselves right away. Alpaca works with clearing broker NTC, and then marks up margin trading while earning interest and payment for order flow. It also offers products like AlpacaForecast with short-term predictions of stock prices, AlpacaRadar for detecting price swings, and its MarketStore financial database server.

AlpacaForecast

The $6 million from Spark Capital, Social Leverage, Portag3, Fathom Capital, and Zillionize adds to $5.8 million in previous funding from investors including Y Combinator. The startup plans to spend the cash on hiring up to handle partnerships with bigger businesses, supporting its developer community, and ensuring compliance.

One major question is whether fintech businesses that start to grow atop Alpaca and drive its revenues will try to declare independence and later invest in their own technology stack. There’s the additional risk of a security breach that might scare away clients.

Alpaca’s top competitor Interactive Brokers offers trading APIs but other services as well that distract it from fostering a robust developer community, Yokokawa tells me. Alpaca focuses on providing great documentation, open source contribution, and SDKs in different languages that make it more developer-friendly. It will also have to watch out for other fintech services startups like DriveWealth and well-funded Galileo.

There’s a big opportunity to capitalize on the race to integrate stock trading into other finance apps to drive stickiness since it’s a consistent voluntary behavior rather than a chore or something only done a few times a year. Lender Sofi and point-of-sale system Square both recently became broker dealers as well, and Yokokawa predicts more and more apps will push into the space.

Why would we need so many stock trading apps? “Every single person is involved with money so the market is huge. Instead of one-player takes all, there will be different players that can all do well” Yokokawa tells me. “Like banks and investment banks co-exist, it will never be that Bank Of America takes 80% of the pie. I think differentiation will be on customer acquisition, and operations management efficiency.”

The co-founder’s biggest concern is keeping up with all the new opportunities in financial services, from cash management and cryptocurrency that Robinhood already deals in, to security token offerings, and fractional investing. Yokokawa says “I need to make sure I’m on top of everything and that we’re executing with the right timing so we don’t lose.”

The CEO hopes that Alpaca will one day power broader access to the US stock market back in Japan, noting that if a modern nation still lags behind in fintech, the rest of world surely fares even worse. “I want to connect this asset class to as many people as possible on the earth.”


By Josh Constine