Spark fast follows with a $25M Series B round into customer success platform Catalyst

The world has been turned upside down the past few weeks, but one lesson of business remains as important as ever: treating your customers well is the best avenue to future business strength, particularly at a moment of extreme stress.

As businesses come to terms with the economic crisis underway, executives are moving resources from customer acquisition to customer retention — and that’s proving very lucrative to startups that service the customer success market.

Case in point: New York City-based Catalyst, which I profiled just last summer following its $15 million Series A led by Accel’s Vas Natarajan, has seen huge revenue growth the past few months. The data-driven customer success platform has seen its revenue grow by 380% since the Series A financing according to CEO Edward Chiu.

Steep revenue growth is (unsurprisingly) attractive to investors, and in a moment of fortuitous timing, the company signed a $25 million Series B term sheet with Spark Capital just as the COVID-19 crisis was getting underway.

Chiu said Catalyst wasn’t seeking the investment, having much of its Accel round still in the bank, but he ultimately decided that having the extra capital in hand through a looming economic recession was the right decision. The capital officially hit the bank account at the end of March, and was led by the firm’s growth investor Will Reed.

While the company didn’t disclose the valuation, a source with knowledge of the matter quoted a valuation of $125 million. That’s a serious valuation for a company that launched just two years ago in April of 2018.

Outside of more funding, the core story of the company’s product remains the same. Catalyst wants to bring together all the data sources and team members who interact with customers — everyone from designers and engineers to customer success managers — into one dashboard to ensure that everyone has accurate and up-to-date access to all the information they need on the health of every customer.

The one airbrush: the company’s previous URL of getcatalyst.io has become catalyst.io, and officially re-launched this morning.

One growth area that the company is exploring outside of the B2B space of its existing customers is in healthcare, where the company has seen some inbound interest. Chiu says that Catalyst is exploring the steps required to reach HIPAA compliance with its platform, and hopes to expand to more sectors over time with the capital from its Series B.

The Catalyst team. Photo via Catalyst.

When we last checked in with the company, Catalyst had 19 employees and was targeting 40 employees by July 2020. Chiu said that Catalyst is already at 35 employees, and will likely hit 60 to 70 employees by the end of the year.


By Danny Crichton

Tecton.ai emerges from stealth with $20M Series A to build machine learning platform

Three former Uber engineers, who helped build the company’s Michelangelo machine learning platform, left the company last year to form Tecton.ai and build an operational machine learning platform for everyone else. Today the company announced a $20 million Series A from a couple of high-profile investors.

Andreessen Horowitz and Sequoia Capital co-led the round with Martin Casado, general partner at a16z and Matt Miller, partner at Sequoia joining the company board under the terms of the agreement. Today’s investment combined with the seed they used to spend the last year building the product comes to $25 million. Not bad in today’s environment.

But when you have the pedigree of these three founders — CEO Mike Del Balso, CTO Kevin Stumpf and VP of Engineering Jeremy Hermann all helped build the Uber system —  investors will spend some money, especially when you are trying to solve a difficult problem around machine learning.

The Michelangelo system was the machine learning platform at Uber that looked at things like driver safety, estimated arrival time and fraud detection, among other things. The three founders wanted to take what they had learned at Uber and put it to work for companies struggling with machine learning.

“What Tecton is really about is helping organizations make it really easy to build production-level machine learning systems, and put them in production and operate them correctly. And we focus on the data layer of machine learning,” CEO Del Balso told TechCrunch.

Image Credit: Tecton.ai

Del Balso says part of the problem, even for companies that are machine learning-savvy, is building and reusing models across different use cases. In fact, he says the vast majority of machine learning projects out there are failing, and Tecton wanted to give these companies the tools to change that.

The company has come up with a solution to make it much easier to create a model and put it to work by connecting to data sources, making it easier to reuse the data and the models across related use cases. “We’re focused on the data tasks related to machine learning, and all the data pipelines that are related to power those models,” Del Balso said.

Certainly Martin Casado from a16z sees a problem in search of a solution and he likes the background of this team and its understanding of building a system like this at scale. “After tracking a number of deep engagements with top ML teams and their interest in what Tecton was building, we invested in Tecton’s A alongside Sequoia. We strongly believe that these systems will continue to increasingly rely on data and ML models, and an entirely new tool chain is needed to aid in developing them…,” he wrote in a blog post announcing the funding.

The company currently has 17 employees and is looking to hire, particularly data scientists and machine learning engineers, with a goal of 30 employees by the end of the year.

While Del Balso is certainly cognizant of the current economic situation, he believes he can still build this company because he’s solving a problem that people genuinely are looking for help with right now around machine learning.

“From the customers we’re talking to, they need to solve these problems, and so we don’t see things slowing down,” he said.


By Ron Miller

SkyCell raises $62M for smart containers and analytics to transport pharmaceuticals

While human travel has become severely restricted in recent months, the movement of goods has remained a constant priority — and in some cases, has become even more urgent. Today, a startup out of Switzerland that builds hardware and operates a logistics network designed to transport one item in particular — pharmaceuticals — is announcing a significant round to fuel its growth.

SkyCell — a designer of “smart containters” powered by software to maintain constant conditions for drugs that need to be kept at strict temperatures, humidity levels, and levels of vibration, which are in turn used to transport pharmaceuticals around the globe on behalf of drug companies — is today announcing. that it has raised $62 million in growth funding.

This latest round is being led by healthcare investor MVM Partners, with participation also from family offices, a Swiss insurance company that declined to be named, as well as previous investors the Swiss Entrepreneurs Fund (managed by Credit Suisse and UBS), and the BCGE Bank’s growth fund.

The company was founded in 2012 Switzerland when Richard Ettl and Nico Ros were tasked to design a storage facility for one of the big Swiss pharma giants. The exec charged with overseeing the project brainstormed that the work they were putting in could potentially be applied to transportation containers, and thus SkyCell was born.

Today, Ettl (who is the CEO, while Ros is the CTO), said in an interview that the company now works with eight of the world’s biggest pharmaceutical companies and has been in validation trials with a further seven. These use SkyCell’s network of some 22,000 air freight pallets to move their products around the world.

The new capital will be used to expand that reach further, specifically in the U.S. and Asia, and to double its fleet to become the biggest pharmaceutical transportation company globally. With 30 of the 50 biggest-selling drugs in the world being temperature sensitive (and some generics for one of the biggest-selling, the arthritis medication Humira, now also coming out), this makes for a huge opportunity.

And unsurprisingly, several of SkyCell’s customers are working on COVID-19 medications, Ettl said, either to help ease symptoms or potentially to vaccinate or eradicate the virus, and so it’s standing at the ready to play a role in getting drugs to where they need to be.

“We are well positioned in case there is a vaccine developed. Out of the six pharma companies developing these right now, four of them are our customers, so there is a high likelihood we would transport something,” Ettl said.

For now, he said SkyCell has been involved in helping to transport “supportive” medications related to the outbreak, such as flu shots to make sure people are not falling ill with other viral infections at the same time.

SkyCell is not disclosing its valuation but we understand that it’s in the many hundreds of millions of dollars. The company had raised some $36 million in equity and debt before this, bringing the total outside funding now to $98 million.

In a market that’s estimated to be worth some $2.8 billion annually and growing at a rate of between 15% and 20% each year, there are a number of freight businesses that focus on the transportation of pharmaceuticals. They include not only freight companies but airlines themselves, which often buy in containers from third parties. (And for some more context, one of its competitors, Envirotainer, was acquired for over $1 billion in 2918; while another, CSafe, has raised significantly more funding.)

But there was virtually no innovation in the market, and most pharmaceutical companies factored in failure rates of between 4% and 12% depending on where the drugs were headed.

One key differentiator with SkyCell has been its containers, which are able to withstand temperatures as high as 60 degrees Celsius or as low as negative 10 degrees Celsius, and have tracking on them to better monitor their movements from A to B.

These came to the market at a time when incumbents were only able to (and some still are only able to) guarantee insulation for temperatures as high as 40 degrees, which was not as pressing an issue in the past as it is today, in part because of rising temperatures around the globe, and in part because of the growing sophistication of pharmaceuticals.

“We’ve found that the number of days where [one has to consider] temperature extremes has been going up,” Ettl said. “Last year, we had 30 days where it was warmer than 40 degrees Celsius across our network of countries.”

On top of the containers themselves, SkyCell has built a software platform that taps into the kind of big data analytics that are now part and parcel of how modern companies in the logistics industry work today, in order to optimise movement and best routing for packages.

The conditions it considers include not only the obvious ones around temperature, humidity and vibration, but distance and time of travel, as well as overall carbon emissions. SkyCell claims that its failure rate comes out at less than 0.1%, with CO2 emissions reduced by almost half on a typical shipment.

Together, the hardware and software are covered by some 100 patents, the company says.


By Ingrid Lunden

Seed investors take long view on promising enterprise startups

The job of an early-stage startup founder is challenging in good times, never mind a crash like the one we are experiencing today.

While most expect private investing to slow down, it’s clear that some investments are still happening in spite of the pandemic, if the stories we are writing on TechCrunch are any indication.

But the downturn is bound to have an impact on the types of deals that receive funding; any startup that offers a good or service requiring human interaction or installation will face an uphill battle, at least in the short term. That said, enterprise SaaS vendors, especially ones that solve hard problems, help with work-from-home or collaboration, or better yet, help increase efficiency and save money, are still very much in demand.

Nobody can do anything about the CIO who is hunkering down until things improve — but that’s not everyone. Companies might be thinking twice about where they spend money, but some are still helping drive the net-new, post-COVID-19 investments happening from seed to late stage across many sectors.

We looked at data and spoke to a couple of enterprise-focused, NYC-based seed investors to better understand their investing cadence. Nobody painted a rosy picture of today’s climate, but seed investors were never about immediate gratification, especially where enterprise startups are concerned. That means, if a seed-stage investor believes in the founders and their vision and the company can ride out today’s economic upset, there’s still money in the till — at least for now.

Seed investment generally in decline


By Ron Miller

Factorial raises $16M to take on the HR world with a platform for SMBs

A startup that’s hoping to be a contender in the very large and fragmented market of human resources software has captured the eye of a big investor out of the US and become its first investment in Spain.

Barcelona-based Factorial, which is building an all-in-one HR automation platform aimed at small and medium businesses that manages payroll, employee onboarding, time off and other human resource functions, has raised €15 ($16 million) in a Series A round of funding led by CRV, with participation also from existing investors Creandum, Point Nine and K Fund.

The money comes on the heels of Factorial — which has customers in 40 countries — seeing eightfold growth in revenues in 2019, with more than 60,000 customers now using its tools.

Jordi Romero, the CEO who co-founded the company with Pau Ramon (CTO) and Bernat Farrero (head of corporate), said in an interview that the investment will be used both to expand to new markets and add more customers, as well as to double down on tech development to bring on more features. These will include RPA integrations to further automate services, and to move into more back-office product areas such as handling expenses,

Factorial has now raised $18 million and is not disclosing its valuation, he added.

The funding is notable on a couple of levels that speak not just to the wider investing climate but also to the specific area of human resources.

In addition to being CRV’s first deal in Spain, the investment is being made at a time when the whole VC model is under a lot of pressure because of the global coronavirus pandemic — not least in Spain, which has a decent, fledgling technology scene but has been one of the hardest-hit countries in the world when it comes to COVID-19.

“It made the closing of the funding very, very stressful,” Romero said from Barcelona last week (via video conference). “We had a gentleman’s agreement [so to speak] before the virus broke out, but the money was still to be wired. Seeing the world collapse around you, with some accounts closing, and with the bigger business world in a very fragile state, was very nerve wracking.”

Ironically, it’s that fragile state that proved to be a saviour of sorts for Factorial.

“We target HR leaders and they are currently very distracted with furloughs and layoffs right now, so we turned around and focused on how we could provide the best value to them,” Romero said.

The company made its product free to use until lockdowns are eased up, and Factorial has found a new interest from businesses that had never used cloud-based services before but needed to get something quickly up and running to use while working from home. He noted that among new companies signing up to Factorial, most either previously kept all their records in local files or at best a “Dropbox folder, but nothing else.”

The company also put in place more materials and other tools specifically to address the most pressing needs those HR people might have right now, such as guidance on how to implement furloughs and layoffs, best practices for communication policies and more. “We had to get creative,” Romero said.

At $16 million, this is at the larger end of Series A rounds as of January 2020, and while it’s definitely not as big as some of the outsized deals we’ve seen out of the US, it happens to be the biggest funding round so far this year in Spain.

Its rise feels unlikely for another reason, too: it comes at a time when we already have dozens (maybe even hundreds) of human resources software businesses, with many an established name — they include PeopleHR, Workday, Infor, ADP, Zenefits, Gusto, IBM, Oracle, SAP, Rippling, and many others — in a market that analysts project will be worth $38.17 billion by 2027 growing at a CAGR of over 11%.

But as is often the case in tech, status quo breeds disruption, and that’s the case here. Factorial’s approach has been to build HR tools specifically for people who are not HR professionals per se: companies that are small enough not to have specialists, or if they do, they share a lot of the tasks and work with other managers who are not in HR first and foremost.

It’s a formula that Romero said could potentially see the company taking on bigger customers, but for now, investors like it for having built a platform approach for the huge but often under-served SME market.

“Factorial was built for the users, designed for the modern web and workplace,” said Reid Christian, General Partner at CRV, in a statement. “Historically the HR software market has been one of the most lucrative categories for enterprise tech companies, and today, the HR stack looks much different. As we enter the third generation of cloud HR products, with countless point solutions, there’s a strong need for an underlying platform to integrate work across these.”


By Ingrid Lunden

Miro lands $50M Series B for digital whiteboard as demand surges

Miro is a company in the right place at the right time. The makers of a digital whiteboard are seeing usage surge right now as businesses move from the workplace and physical whiteboards. Today, the company announced a hefty $50 million Series B.

Iconiq Capital led the round with help from Accel and a slew of individual investors. Today’s investment brings the total raised to around $75 million, according to the company. Among the company’s angel investors was basketball star Steph Curry.

What’s attracting this level of investment is that this is a product made for a moment when workers are forced to stay home. One of the primary complaints about working at home is the inability to sit in the same room with colleagues and brainstorm around a whiteboard. This reproduces that to an extent.

What’s more, Miro isn’t simply light-weight add-in like you might find built into a collaboration tool like Zoom or Microsoft Teams; it’s more of a platform play designed to integrate with many different enterprise tools, much like Slack does for communications.

Miro co-founder and CEO Andrey Khusid said the company planned the platform idea from its earliest days. “The concept from day one was building something for real-time collaboration and the platform thing is very important because we expect that people will build on top of our product,” Khusid told TechCrunch.

Image Credit: Miro

That means that people can build integrations to other common tools and customize the base tool to meet the needs of an individual team or organization. It’s an approach that seems to be working as the company reports it’s profitable with more than 21,000 customers including 80% of the Fortune 100. Customers include Netflix, Salesforce, PwC, Spotify, Expedia and Deloitte.

Khusid says usage has been skyrocketing among both business and educational customers as the pandemic has forced millions of people to work at home. He says that has been a challenge for his engineering team to keep up with the demand, but one that the company has been able to meet to this point.

The startup just passed the 300 employee mark this week, and it will continue to hire with this new influx of money. Khusid expects to have another 150 employees before the end of the year to keep up with increasing demand for the product.

“We understand that we need to come out strong from this situation. The company is growing much faster than we expected, so we need to have a very strong team to maintain the growth at the same pace after the crisis ends.”


By Ron Miller

Granulate announces $12M Series A to optimize infrastructure performance

As companies increasingly look to find ways to cut costs, Granulate, an early-stage Israeli startup, has come up with a clever way to optimize infrastructure usage. Today it was rewarded with a tidy $12 million Series A investment.

Insight Partners led the round with participation from TLV Partners and Hetz Ventures. Lonne Jaffe, managing director at Insight Partners, will be joining the Granulate board under the terms of the agreement. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $15.6 million, according to the company.

The startup claims it can cut infrastructure costs, whether on-prem or in the cloud, from between 20% and 80%. This is not insignificant if they can pull this off, especially in the economic maelstrom in which we find ourselves.

Asaf Ezra, co-founder and CEO at Granulate, says the company achieved the efficiency through a lot of studying about how Linux virtual machines work. Over six months of experimentation, they simply moved the bottleneck around until they learned how to take advantage of the way the Linux kernel operates to gain massive efficiencies.

It turns out that Linux has been optimized for resource fairness, but Granulate’s founders wanted to flip this idea on its head and look for repetitiveness, concentrating on one function instead of fair allocation across many functions, some of which might not really need access at any given moment.

“When it comes to production systems, you have a lot of repetitiveness in the machine, and you basically want it to do one thing really well,” he said.

He points out that it doesn’t even have to be a VM. It could also be a container or a pod in Kubernetes. The important thing to remember is that you no longer care about the interactivity and fairness inherent in Linux; instead, you want that the machine to be optimized for certain things.

“You let us know what your utility function for that production system is, then our agents. basically optimize all the decision making for that utility function. That means that you don’t even have to do any code changes to gain the benefit,” Ezra explained.

What’s more, the solution uses machine learning to help understand how the different utility functions work to provide greater optimization to improve performance even more over time.

Insight’s Jaffe certainly recognized the potential of such a solution, especially right now.

“The need to have high-performance digital experiences and lower infrastructure costs has never been more important, and Granulate has a highly differentiated offering powered by machine learning that’s not dependent on configuration management or cloud resource purchasing solutions,” Jaffe said in a statement.

Ezra understands that a product like his could be particularly helpful at the moment. “We’re in a unique position. Our offering right now helps organizations survive the downturn by saving costs without firing people,” he said.

The company was founded in 2018 and currently has 20 employees. They plan to double that by the end of 2020.


By Ron Miller

Human Capital is an engineering talent agency and a VC fund all in one

Michael Ovitz didn’t invent the idea of a talent agency, but one might argue that he perfected it. He founded the CAA in 1975, and grew it into the world’s leading talent agency, serving as chairman for 20 years. Now, Ovitz is investing in a brand new type of talent agency called Human Capital.

Human Capital is a hybrid organization, one part VC fund, one part recruiting business, and one part creative agency. (Human Capital did not invest in its agency startup from its VC fund.) The Human Capital VC fund has $210 million in assets under management.

The Human Capital recruitment/agency company, founded by former General Catalyst associate Armaan Ali and Stanford grad Baris Akis, looks to provide for tech engineers the same services that Ovitz provided to actors and creatives back in the 70s, 80s and 90s. Engineers are some of the most sought-after talent in Silicon Valley and across the globe. And while big corporations and high-growth startups duke it out over these young engineers, the candidates themselves have little to no guidance around where they should go, what they should expect during the process, and, in some cases, what they should expect to earn.

Ovitz — alongside Qasar Younis, Founder of Applied Intuition and former Partner & COO of YC, Adam Zoia, Founder and Chairman of Glocap, Stephen Ehikian, cofounder and CEO of Airkit, and other financial institutions and LPs — recently injected $15 million into Human Capital, which is valued in the hundreds of millions according to the company.

Human Capital looks to pair the brightest engineers with the right company for them, while giving startups a new way to approach recruitment. Thus far, the company has 5,000 members (engineers) and has placed them at startups like Brex, Grammarly, Robinhood and more.

Human Capital starts by doing outreach on university campuses with outstanding engineering programs, setting up coffee with engineers who have been recommended or referred by alumni of the program. Once accepted as a member, the engineer explains to Human Capital what type of role they’re interested in, whether it’s at a big corporation, a high-growth startup, or an early-stage company where they have the opportunity to build something from scratch.

The recruitment team at Human Capital then coaches the engineer through the interview process and beyond, helping with decision-making around promotions, understanding equity, and negotiating new offers.

The org never charges the engineer, but rather takes a commission on the engineer’s annual income for the first year from the startup that recruited them.

Ali explained to TechCrunch how Human Capital is operating during the coronavirus pandemic, describing a situation in which the top talent that is in the market right now has a level of uncertainty about the future, leading them to seek positions at huge companies like Facebook and Google.

“Our hypothesis when we started this was that there are amazing businesses that are being run better at an earlier stage and have a proxy for that same type of stability [at a Google or Facebook] via their access to capital, alongside other foundational pieces of business security, such as their business model, unit economics, long-term vision for the company, gross margin rate, and growth opportunities for individuals at those companies.”

He said that Human Capital believed that, if a macro event occurred in the market place — we’re right in the middle of one of the least predictable and most impactful macro economic events ever — some of those ‘stable’ earlier stage businesses wouldn’t be hit in the same way as public companies who have to worry about short-term profitability.

“The issue is that you have to know a lot about those businesses in order to be able to discern that, and that’s our job,” said Ali. “And what we’ve seen is that a number of the companies in that position are actually ramping up recruiting right now.”

There is no mandatory link between Human Capital’s venture capital fund and their recruiting/agency entity, though the fund does like to invest in engineers who have gone through the program and move on to start their own businesses. Those types of investments include Brex, Bolt, and Qualia among others. Human Capital also invests in companies for whom they’ve recruited, such as Livongo, Snowflake, Clumio, Wildlife, and Trackonomy. Human Capital has a preference for leading rounds only for companies that are started by its engineer members.

The model isn’t unlike SignalFire or GloCap, founded by Adam Zoia (investor in Human Capital). The idea is that VC funds are great for capital injections, but with the cut-throat recruiting atmosphere and a finite number of engineers, that money can be relatively useless if it can’t be used to bring on the best talent. So firms like SignalFire (in the tech world) and GloCap (in the business/finance world) put recruitment front and center in their value proposition. (GloCap doesn’t invest, but is the premier recruitment platform in the financial sector.)

Human Capital is also starting to look at potential acquisitions that can beef up its agency business, recently acqui-hiring Khonvo Corporation, a recruitment agency founded by Archit Bhise and Andrew Rising.

Ovitz explained to TechCrunch that his ultra-successful career as an agent stemmed from his ability to make decisions about people and projects quickly. He sees the same type of intuition in Ali and Akis at a much younger age and with less experience than he had.

“It’s a checklist in your head,” said Ovitz. “It’s a combination of when your brain meets your stomach, your intellect meets your gut that lets you know you’ve hit a winner. The thing that’s allowed Ali and Akis to build a company that’s worth the hundreds of millions in such a short period of time is that they had that when I met them without having an enormous amount of experience.”

He added that access to the internet, which he did not have during his agency days, is an amazing learning tool and an ‘epic crutch’ that, when paired with good instincts, can accelerate the learning curve on building a business.

(It’s worth noting that this isn’t Ovitz’ foray into Silicon Valley. The entertainment powerhouse was one of the earliest advisors to Marc Andreesen and Ben Horowitz during the formation of the legendary VC firm A16Z, helping them model the firm after CAA itself. Ovitz has been quietly investing in and advising tech startups for the past 15 years.)


By Jordan Crook

Comet AI nabs $4.5M for more efficient machine learning model management

As we get further along in the new way of working, the new normal if you will, finding more efficient ways to do just about everything is becoming paramount for companies looking at buying new software services. To that end, Comet AI announced a $4.5 million investment today as it tries to build a more efficient machine learning platform.

The money came from existing investors Trilogy Equity Partners, Two Sigma Ventures and Founder’s Co-op. Today’s investment comes on top of an earlier $2.3 million seed.

“We provide a self-hosted and cloud-based meta machine learning platform, and we work with data science AI engineering teams to manage their work to try and explain and optimize their experiments and models,” company co-founder and CEO Gideon Mendels told TechCrunch.

In a growing field with lots of competitors, Mendels says his company’s ability to move easily between platforms is a key differentiator.

“We’re essentially infrastructure agnostic, so we work whether you’re training your models on your laptop, your private cluster or on many of the cloud providers. It doesn’t actually matter, and you can switch between them,” he explained.

The company has 10,000 users on its platform across a community product and a more advanced enterprise product that includes customers like Boeing, Google and Uber.

Mendels says Comet has been able to take advantage of the platform’s popularity to build models based on data customers have made publicly available. The first one involves predicting when a model begins to show training fatigue. The Comet model can see when this happening and signal data scientists to shut the model down 30% faster than this kind of fatigue would normally surface.

The company launched in Seattle at TechStars/Alexa in 2017. The community product debuted in 2018.


By Ron Miller

Confluent lands another big round with $250M Series E on $4.2B valuation

The pandemic may feel all-encompassing at the moment, but Confluent announced a $250 million Series E today, showing that major investment continues in spite of the dire economic situation at the moment.

Today’s round follows last year’s $125 million Series D. At that point the company was valued a mere $2.5 billion. Investors obviously see a lot of potential here.

Coatue Management led the round with help from Altimeter Capital and Franklin Templeton. Existing investors Index Ventures and Sequoia Capital also participated. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $456 million.

The company is based on Apache Kafka, the open source streaming data project that emerged from LinkedIn in 2011. Confluent launched in 2014 and has gained steam, funding and gaudy valuations along the way.

CEO and co-founder Jay Kreps reports that growth continued last year when sales grew 100% over the previous year. A big part of that is the cloud product the company launched in 2017. It added a free tier last September, which feels pretty prescient right about now.

But the company isn’t making money giving stuff away, so much as attracting users, who can become customers at some point as they make their way through the sales funnel. The beauty of the cloud product is that you can buy by the sip.

The company has big plans for the product this year. Although Kreps was loath to go into detail, he says that there will be a series of changes coming up this year that will add significantly to the product’s capabilities.

“As part of this we’re going to have a major new set of capabilities for our cloud service, and for open source Kafka, and for our product that we’re going to announce every month for the rest of the year,” Kreps told TechCrunch. These will start rolling out the first week in May.

While he wouldn’t get specific, he says that it relates to the changing nature of cloud infrastructure deployment. “This whole infrastructure area is really evolving as it moves to the cloud. And so it has to become much, much more elastic and scalable as it really changes how it works. And we’re going to have announcements around what we think are the core capabilities of event streaming in the cloud,” he said.

While a round this big with a valuation this high and an institutional investor like Franklin Tempeton involved typically means an IPO could be the next step, Kreps was not ready to talk about that, except to say the company does plan to begin behaving in the cadence of a public company with a set of quarterly earnings, just not for public consumption yet.

The company was founded in 2014. It has 1000 employees and has plans to continue to hire and to expand the product. Kreps sees plenty of opportunity here in spite of the current economics.

“I don’t think you want to just turtle up and hang on to your existing customers and not expand if you’re in a market that’s really growing. What really got this round of investors excited is the fact that we’re onto something that has a huge market, and we want to continue to advance, even in these really weird uncertain times,” he said.


By Ron Miller

ForgeRock nabs $93.5M for its ID management platform, gears up next for an IPO

For better or worse, digital identity management services — the process of identifying and authenticating users on networks to access services — has become a ubiquitous part of interacting on the internet, all the more so in the recent weeks as we have been asked to carry out increasingly more of our lives online.

Used correctly, they help ensure that it’s really you logging into your online banking service; used badly, you feel like you can’t innocently watch something silly on YouTube without being watched yourself. Altogether, they are a huge business: worth $16 billion today according to Gartner but growing at upwards of 30% and potentially as big as $30.5 billion by 2024, according to the latest forecasts.

Now, a company called ForgeRock, which has built a platform that is used to help make sure that those accessing services really are who they say are, and help organizations account for how their services are getting used, is announcing a big round of funding to continue expanding its business amid a huge boost in demand.

The company is today announcing that it has raised $93.5 million in funding, a Series E it will use to continue expanding its product and take it to its next step as a business, specifically investing in R&D, cloud services and its ForgeRock Identity Cloud, and general global business development.

The round is being led by Riverwood Capital, and Accenture Ventures, as well as previous investors Accel, Meritech Capital, Foundation Capital and KKR Growth, also participated.

Fran Rosch, the startup’s CEO, said in an interview that this will likely be its final round of funding ahead of an IPO, although given the current static of affairs with a lot of M&A, there is no timing set for when that might happen. (Notably, the company had said its last round of funding — $88 million in 2017 — would be its final ahead of an IPO, although that was under a different CEO.)

This Series E brings the total raised by the company to $230 million. Rosch confirmed it was raised as a material upround, although he declined to give a valuation. For some context, the company’s last post-money valuation was $646.50 million per PitchBook, and so this round values the company at more than $730 million.

ForgeRock has annual recurring revenues of more than $100 million, with annual revenues also at over $100 million, Rosch said. It operates in an industry heavy with competition, with some of the others vying for pole position in the various aspects of identity management including Okta, LastPass, Duo Serurity and Ping Identity.

But within that list it has amassed some impressive traction. In total it has 1,100 enterprise customers, who in turn collectively manage 2 billion identities through ForgeRock’s platform, with considerably more devices also authenticated and managed on top of that.

Customers include the likes of the BBC — which uses ForgeRock to authenticate and log not just 45 million users but also the devices they use to access its iPlayer on-demand video streaming service — Comcast, a number of major banks, the European Union and several other government organizations. ForgeRock was originally founded in Norway about a decade ago, and while it now has its headquarters in San Francisco, it still has about half its employees and half its customers on the other side of the Atlantic.

Currently ForgeRock provides services to businesses related to identity management including password and username creation, identity governance, directory services, privacy and consent gates, which they in turn provide both to their human customers as well as to devices accessing their services, but we’re in a period of change right now when it comes to identity management. It stays away from direct-to-consumer password management services and Rosch said there are no plans to move into that area.

These days, we’ve become more aware of privacy and data protection. Sometimes, it’s been because of the wrong reasons, such as giant security breaches that have leaked some aspect of our personal information into a giant database, or because of a news story that has uncovered how our information has unwittingly been used in ‘legit’ commercial schemes, or other ways we never imagined it would.

Those developments, combined with advances in technology, are very likely to lead us to a place over time where identity management will become significantly more shielded from misuse. These could include more ubiquitous use of federated identities, “lockers” that store our authentication credentials that can be used to log into services but remain separate from their control, and potentially even applications of blockchain technology.

All of this means that while a company like ForgeRock will continue to provide its current services, it’s also investing big in what it believes will be the next steps that we’ll take as an industry, and society, when it comes to digital identity management — something that has had a boost of late.

“There are a lot of interesting things going on, and we are working closely behind the scenes to flesh them out,” Rosch said. “For example, we’re looking at how best to break up data links where we control identities to get access for a temporary period of time but then pull back. It’s a powerful trend that is still about four to five years out. But we are preparing for this, a time when our platform can consume decentralised identity, on par with logins from Google or Facebook today. That is an interesting area.”

He notes that the current market, where there has been an overall surge for all online services as people are staying home to slow the speed of the coronavirus pandemic, has seen big boosts in specific verticals.

Its largest financial services and banking customers have seen traffic up by 50%, and digital streaming has been up by 300%, and government services have also been spiking, in part because many services that hadn’t been online are now developing online presences or seeing much more traffic from digital channels than before. Unsurprisingly, its customers in hotel and travel, as well as retail, have seen drops, he added.

“ForgeRock’s comprehensive platform is very well-positioned to capitalize on the enormous opportunity in the Identity & Access Management market,” said Jeff Parks, co-founder and managing partner of Riverwood Capital, in a statement. “ForgeRock is the leader in solving a wide range of workforce and consumer identity use cases for the Global 2000 and is trusted by some of the largest companies to manage millions of user identities. We have seen the growth acceleration and are thrilled to partner with this leadership team.” Parks is joining the board with this round.


By Ingrid Lunden

Bridgecrew announces $14M Series A to automate cloud security

In today’s grim economic climate, companies are looking for ways to automate wherever they can. Bridgecrew, an early-stage startup that makes automated cloud security tooling aimed at engineers, announced a $14 million Series A today.

Battery Ventures led the round with participation from NFX, the company’s $4 million seed investor. Sorensen Ventures, DNX Ventures, Tectonic Ventures, and Homeward Ventures also participated. A number of individual investors also helped out. The company has raised a total of $18 million.

Bridgecrew CEO and co-founder Idan Tendle says that it is becoming easier to provision cloud resources, but that security tends to be more challenging. “We founded Bridgecrew because we saw that there was a huge bottleneck in security engineering, in DevSecOps, and how engineers were running cloud infrastructure security,” Tendle told TechCrunch.

They found that a lot issues involved misconfigurations, and while there were security solutions out there to help, they were expensive, and they weren’t geared towards the engineers who were typically being charged with fixing the security issues, he said.

The company decided to solve that problem by coming up with a solution geared specifically for the way engineers think and operate. “We do that by codifying the problem, by codifying what the engineers are doing. We took all the tasks that they needed to do to protect around remediation of their cloud environment and we built a playbook,” he explained.

The playbooks are bits of infrastructure as code that can resolve many common problems quickly. When they encounter a new problem, they build a playbook and then that becomes part of the product. He says that 90% of the issues are fairly generic like following AWS best practices or ensuring SOC-2 compliance, but the engineers are free to tweak the code if they need to.

Tendle says he is hiring and sees his product helping companies looking to reduce costs through automation. “We are planning to grow fast. The need is huge and the COVID-19 implications mean that more and more companies will be moving to cloud and trying to reduce costs, and we help them do that by reducing the barriers and bottlenecks for cloud security.”

The company was founded 14 months ago and has 100 playbooks available. It’s keeping the crew lean for now with 16 employees, but it has plans to double that by the end of the year.


By Ron Miller

Anodot grabs $35M Series C to help monitor business operations

Anodot, a startup that helps customers monitor business operations against a set of KPIs, announced a $35 million Series C investment today.

Intel Capital led this round with a lot of help. New investors SoftBank Ventures Asia, Samsung NEXT and La Maison also participated along with existing investors Disruptive Technologies L.P., Aleph Venture Capital and Redline Capital. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $62.5 million, according to the company.

Anodot lets you take any kind of data, whatever your company finds important, and it tracks it automatically and reports on changes that would have an impact on the business, according to David Drai, CEO and co-founder.

“We take any kind of normalized data into our platform and learn all the behavior of the data against normal behavior. When I say normal behavior, it means any time-based data in what is called a time series. And we understand all the trends of that data, and we do this autonomously without any configuration, except defining what is interesting for you,” Drai explained.

That means that the platform will let you know, for example, of any drop in your business, any drop in your conversions, any spike in your costs — and so forth. What you track depends on your vertical and what’s important to your business.

He compares it to applications performance monitoring, but instead of monitoring the company’s technology systems, it’s monitoring the systems that run the business. Just as you don’t want to miss signals that your servers could be going down, neither do you want to let factors that could cost your business money go unnoticed.

This dashboard lets you monitor unusual changes in cloud costs. Image Credit: Anodot

The way it works is you connect to the systems that matter, and Anodot can review those systems, learn what constitutes a level of normal behavior, then identify when anomalies occur. It does this by mapping against your KPIs, and this can involve thousands or even tens of thousands of KPIs based on an individual company.

As Drai points out, an eCommerce company with 1000 products in 50 countries, will have 50,000 KPIs, one for each product in each country, and you can track these in Anodot.

He says that under the current economic conditions, he is taking a two-pronged approach to building his business involving both offense and defense. On defense, he will take a cautious approach to hiring, but he sees his product helping companies understand and control costs, so he will continue to sell the product as a cost-saving device at a time when that is of increasing importance to businesses everywhere.

The company was founded in 2014. It currently has 70 employees and 100 paying customers including Atlassian, T Mobile, Lyft and Pandora.


By Ron Miller

VAST Data lands $100M Series C on $1.2B valuation to turn storage on its head

VAST Data, a startup that has come up with a cost-effective way to deliver flash storage, announced a $100 million Series C investment today on a $1.2 billion valuation, both unusually big numbers for an enterprise startup in Series C territory.

Next47, the investment arm of Siemens, led the round with participation from existing investors 83North, Commonfund Capital, Dell Technologies Capital, Goldman Sachs, Greenfield Partners, Mellanox Capital and Norwest Venture Partners. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $180 million.

That’s a lot of cash any time, but especially in the middle of a pandemic. Investors believe that VAST is solving a difficult problem around scaled storage. It’s one where customers tend to deal with petabytes of data and storage price tags beginning at a million dollars, says company founder and CEO Renen Hallak.

As Hallak points out, traditional storage is delivered in tiers with fast, high-cost flash storage at the top of the pyramid all the way down to low-cost archival storage at the bottom. He sees this approach as flawed, especially for modern applications driven by analytics and machine learning that rely on lots of data being at the ready.

VAST built a system they believe addresses these issues around the way storage has traditionally been delivered.”We build a single system. This as fast or faster than your tier one, all-flash system today and as cost effective, or more so, than your lowest tier five hard drives. We do this at scale with the resilience of the entire [traditional storage] pyramid. We make it very, very easy to use, while breaking historical storage trade-offs to enable this next generation of applications,” Hallak told TechCrunch.

The company, which was founded in 2016 and came to market with its first solution in 2018, does this by taking advantage of some modern tools like Intel 3D XPoint technology, a kind of modern non-volatile memory along with consumer-grade QLT flash, NVMe over Fabrics protocol and containerization.

“This new architecture, coupled with a lot of algorithmic work in software and types of metadata structures that we’ve developed on top of it, allows us to break those trade-offs and allows us to make much more efficient use of media, and also allows us to move beyond scalability limits, resiliency limits and problems that other systems have in terms of usability and maintainability,” he said.

They have a large average deal size; as a result, the company can keep its cost of sales and marketing to revenue ratio low. They intend to use the money to grow quickly, which is saying something in the current economic climate.

But Hallak sees vast opportunity for the kinds of companies with large amounts of data who need this kind of solution, and even though the cost is high, he says ultimately switching to VAST should save companies money, something they are always looking to do at this kind of scale, but even more so right now.

You don’t often see a unicorn valuation at Series C, especially right now, but Hallak doesn’t shy away from it at all. “I think it’s an indication of the trust that our investors put in our growth and our success. I think it’s also an indication of our very fast growth in our first year [with a product on the market], and the unprecedented adoption is an indication of the product-market fit that we have, and also of our market efficiency,” he said.

They count The National Institute of Health, General Dynamics and Zebra as customers.


By Ron Miller

Frame AI raises $6.3M Series A to help understand customers across channels

Frame AI, a New York City startup that uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to help companies understand their customers better across multiple channels, announced a $6.3 million Series A investment today.

G20 Ventures and Greycroft led the round together. Bill Wiberg, co-founder and partner at G20, will join Frame’s board under the terms of the deal. The total raised with an earlier seed round is over $10 million, according to the company.

“Frame is basically an early warning system and continuous monitoring tool for your customer voice,” Frame CEO and co-founder George Davis told TechCrunch. What that means, in practice, is the tool plugs into help desk software, call center tooling, CRM systems and anywhere else in a company that communicates with a customer.

“We then use natural language understanding to pull out emerging themes and basically aggregate them to account and segment levels so that customer experience leaders can prioritize taking actions to improve their relationships,” Davis explained.

He believes that customer experience leaders are being asked to do more and more in terms of talking to customers on ever more channels and digesting that into useful information for the rest of their company to be responsive to customer needs, and he says that there isn’t a lot of tooling to help with this particular part of the customer experience problem.

“We don’t think they have the right tools to do either the listening in the first place or the analysis. We’re trying to make it possible for them to hear their customers everywhere they’re already talking to them, and then act on that information,” he said.

He says they work alongside customer data platforms (CDPs) like Segment, Salesforce Customer 360 and Adobe Real-time CDP. “We can take the customer voice information from all of these unstructured sources, all these natural language sources and turn it into moments that can be contributed back to one of these structured data platforms.”

Davis certainly recognizes that his company is getting this money in the middle of a health and economic crisis, and he hopes that a tool like his that can help take the pulse of the customer across multiple channels can help companies succeed at a time when a data-driven approach to customer experience is more important than ever.

He says that by continuing to hire through this and building his company, he can contribute to restarting the economic engine, even if in some small way.

“It’s a bleak time, but I have a lot of confidence in New York and in the country, in the customer experience community and in the world’s ability to bounce back strong from this. I think it’s actually created a lot of solidarity that we’re all going to find a lot of new opportunities, and we’re going to just keep building Frame as fast as we can.”


By Ron Miller