BackboneAI scores $4.7M seed to bring order to intercompany data sharing

BackboneAI, an early-stage startup that wants to help companies dealing with lots of data, particularly coming from a variety of external sources, announced a $4.7 million seed investment today.

The round was led by Fika Ventures with participation from Boldstart Ventures, Dynamo Ventures, GGV Capital, MetaProp, Spider VC and several other unnamed investors.

Company founder Rob Bailey says he has spent a lot of time in his career watching how data flows in organizations. There are still a myriad of challenges related to moving data between organizations, and that’s what his company is trying to solve. “BackboneAI is an AI platform specifically built for automating data flows within and between companies,” he said.

This could involve any number of scenarios from keeping large, complex data catalogues up-to-date to coordinating the intricate flow of construction materials between companies or content rights management across an entertainment industry.

Bailey says that he spent 18 months talking to companies before he built the product. “What we found is that every company we talked to was, in some way or another, concerned about an absolute flood of data from all these different applications and from all the companies that they’re working with externally,” he explained.

The BackboneAI platform aims to solve a number of problems related to this. For starters, it automates the acquisition of this data, usually from third parties like suppliers, customers, regulatory agencies and so forth. Then it handles ingestion of the data, and finally it takes care of a lot of actual processing from external sources, while mapping it to internal systems like the company ERP system.

As an example, he uses an industrial supply company that may deal with a million SKUs across a couple of dozen divisions. Trying to track that with manual or even legacy systems is difficult. “They take all this product data in [from external suppliers], and then process the information in their own [internal] product catalog, and then finally present that data about those products to hundreds of thousands of customers. It’s an incredibly large and challenging data problem as you’re processing millions and millions of SKUs and orders, and you have to keep that data current on a regular basis,” he explained.

The company is just getting started. It spent 2019 incubating inside of Boldstart Ventures . Today the company has close to 20 employees in New York City, and it has signed its first Fortune 500 customer. Bailey says they have 15 additional Fortune 500 companies in the pipeline. With the seed money, he hopes to build on this initial success.


By Ron Miller

Netlify nabs $53M Series C as micro services approach to web development grows

Netlify, the startup that wants to kill the web server and change the way developers build websites, announced a $53 million Series C today.

EQT Ventures Fund led the round with contributions from existing investors Andreessen Horowitz and Kleiner Perkins and newcomer Preston-Werner Ventures. Under the terms of the deal Laura Yao, deal partner and investment advisor at EQT Ventures will be joining the Netlify board. The startup has now raised $97 million, according to the company.

Like many startups recently, Netlify’s co-founder Chris Bach says they weren’t looking for new funding, but felt with the company growing rapidly, it would be prudent to take the money to help continue that growth.

While Bach and CEO Matt Biilmann didn’t want to discuss valuation, they said it was “very generous” and in line with how they see their business. Neither did they want to disclose specific revenue figures, but did say that the company has tripled revenue three years running.

One thing fueling that growth is the sheer number of developers joining the platform. When we spoke to the company for its Series B in 2018, it had 300,000 sign-ups. Today that number has ballooned to 800,000.

As we wrote about the company in a 2018 article, it wants to change the way people develop web sites:

“Netlify has abstracted away the concept of a web server, which it says is slow to deploy and hard to secure and scale. By shifting from a monolithic website to a static front end with back-end microservices, it believes it can solve security and scaling issues and deliver the site much faster.”

While developer popularity is a good starting point, getting larger customers on board is the ultimate goal that will drive more revenue, and the company wants to use its new injection of capital to build the enterprise side of the business. Current enterprise customers include Google, Facebook, Citrix and Unilever.

Netlify has grown from 38 to 97 employees since the beginning of last year and hopes to reach 180 by year’s end.


By Ron Miller

Thought Machine nabs $83M for a cloud-based platform that powers banking services

The world of consumer banking has seen a massive shift in the last ten years. Gone are the days where you could open an account, take out a loan, or discuss changing the terms of your banking only by visiting a physical branch. Now, you can do all this and more with a few quick taps on your phone screen — a shift that has accelerated with customers expecting and demanding even faster and more responsive banking services.

As one mark of that switch, today a startup called Thought Machine, which has built cloud-based technology that powers this new generation of services on behalf of both old and new banks, is announcing some significant funding — $83 million — a Series B that the company plans to use to continue investing in its platform and growing its customer base.

To date, Thought Machine’s customers are primarily in Europe and Asia — they include large, legacy outfits like Standard Chartered, Lloyds Banking Group, and Sweden’s SEB through to “challenger” (AKA neo-) banks like Atom Bank. Some of this financing will go towards boosting the startup’s activities in the US, including opening an office in the country later this year and moving ahead with commercial deals.

The funding is being led by Draper Esprit, with participation also from existing investors Lloyds Banking Group, IQ Capital, Backed and Playfair.

Thought Machine, which started in 2014 and now employs 300, is not disclosing its valuation but Paul Taylor, the CEO and founder, noted that the market cap is currently “increasing healthily.” In its last round, according to PitchBook estimates, the company was valued at around $143 million, which at this stage of funding puts this latest round potentially in the range of between $220 million and $320 million.

Thought Machine is not yet profitable, mainly because it is in growth mode, said Taylor. Of note, the startup has been through one major bankruptcy restructuring, although it appears that this was mainly for organisational purposes: all assets, employees and customers from one business controlled by Taylor were acquired by another.

Thought Machine’s primary product and technology is called VaultOS, a platform that contains a range of banking services — they include current/checking accounts; savings accounts; loans; credit cards and mortgages — that Thought Machine does not sell directly to consumers, but sells by way of a B2B2C model.

The services are provisioned by way of smart contracts, which allows Thought Machine and its banking customers to personalise, vary and segment the terms for each bank — and potentially for each customer of the bank.

It’s a little odd to think that there is an active market for banking services that are not built and owned by the banks themselves. After all, aren’t these the core of what banks are supposed to do?

But one way to think about it is in the context of eating out. Restaurants’ kitchens will often make in-house what they sell and serve. But in some cases, when it makes sense, even the best places will buy in (and subsequently sell) food that was crafted elsewhere. For example, a restaurant will re-sell cheese or charcuterie, and the wine is likely to come from somewhere else, too.

The same is the case for banks, whose “Crown Jewels” are in fact not the mechanics of their banking services, but their customer service, their customer lists, and their deposits. Better banking services (which may not have been built “in-house”) are key to growing these other three.

“There are all sorts of banks, and they are all trying to find niches,” said Taylor. Indeed, the startup is not the only one chasing that business. Others include Mambu, Temenos and Italy’s Edera.

In the case of the legacy banks that work with the startup, the idea is that these behemoths can migrate into the next generation of consumer banking services and banking infrastructure by cherry-picking services from the VaultOS platform.

“Banks have not kept up and are marooned on their own tech, and as each year goes by, it comes more problematic,” noted Taylor.

In the case of neobanks, Thought Machine’s pitch is that it has already built the rails to run a banking service, so a startup — “new challengers like Monzo and Revolut that are creating quite a lot of disruption in the market” (and are growing very quickly as a result) — can integrate into these to get off the ground more quickly and handle scaling with less complexity (and lower costs).

It’s not the only company providing a platform for banking services that are in turn

Taylor was new to fintech when he founded Thought Machine, but he has a notable track record in the world of tech that you could argue played a big role in his subsequent foray into banking.

Formerly an academic specialising in linguistics and engineering, his first startup, Rhetorical Systems, commercialised some of his early speech-to-text research and was later sold to Nuance in 2004.

His second entrepreneurial effort, Phonetic Arts, was another speech startup, aimed at tech that could be used in gaming interactions. In 2010, Google approached the startup to see if it wanted to work on a new speech-to-text service it was building. It ended up acquiring Phonetic Arts, and Taylor took on the role of building and launching Google Now, with that voice tech eventually making its way to Google Maps, accessibility services, the Google Assistant and other places where you speech-based interaction makes an appearance in Google products.

While he was working for years in the field, the step changes that really accelerated voice recognition and speech technology, Taylor said, were the rapid increases in computing power and data networks that “took us over the edge” in terms of what a machine could do, specifically in the cloud.

And those are the same forces, in fact, that led to consumers being able to run our banking services from smartphone apps, and for us to want and expect more personalised services overall. Taylor’s move into building and offering a platform-based service to address the need for multiple third-party banking services follows from that, and also is the natural heir to the platform model you could argue Google and other tech companies have perfected over the years.

Draper Esprit has to date built up a strong portfolio of fintech startups that includes Revolut, N26, TransferWise and Freetrade. Thought Machine’s platform approach is an obvious complement to that list. (Taylor did not disclose if any of those companies are already customers of Thought Machine’s, but if they are not, this investment could be a good way of building inroads.)

“We are delighted to be partnering with Thought Machine in this phase of their growth,” said Vinoth Jayakumar, Investment Director, Draper Esprit, in a statement. “Our investments in Revolut and N26 demonstrate how banking is undergoing a once in a generation transformation in the technology it uses and the benefit it confers to the customers of the bank. We continue to invest in our thesis of the technology layer that forms the backbone of banking. Thought Machine stands out by way of the strength of its engineering capability, and is unique in being the only company in the banking technology space that has developed a platform capable of hosting and migrating international Tier 1 banks. This allows innovative banks to expand beyond digital retail propositions to being able to run every function and type of financial transaction in the cloud.”

“We first backed Thought Machine at seed stage in 2016 and have seen it grow from a startup to a 300-person strong global scaleup with a global customer base and potential to become one of the most valuable European fintech companies,” said Max Bautin, Founding Partner of IQ Capital, in a statement. “I am delighted to continue to support Paul and the team on this journey, with an additional £15 million investment from our £100 million Growth Fund, aimed at our venture portfolio outperformers.”


By Ingrid Lunden

Notivize makes it easier for non-technical teams to optimize app notifications

A new startup called Notivize aims to give product teams direct access to one of their most important tools for increasing user engagement — notifications.

The company has been testing the product with select customers since last year and says it has already sent hundreds of thousands of notifications. And this week, it announced that it has raised $500,000 in seed funding led by Heroic Ventures.

Notivize co-founder Matt Bornski has worked at a number of startups including AppLovin and Wink, and he said he has “so many stories I can tell you about the time it takes to change a notification that’s deeply embedded in your stack.”

To be clear, Bornski isn’t talking about a simple marketing message that’s part of a scheduled campaign. Instead, he said that the “most valuable” notifications (e.g., the ones that users actually respond to) are usually driven by activity in an app.

For example, it might sound obvious to send an SMS message to a customer once the product they’ve purchased has shipped, but Bornski said that actually creating a notification like that would normally require an engineer to write new code.

“There’s the traditional way that these things are built: The product team specs out that we need to send this email when this happens, or send this SMS or notification when this happens, then the engineering team will go in and find the part of the code where they detect that such a thing has happened,” he said. “What we really want to do is give [the product team] the toolkit, and I think we have.”

Notivize rule

So with Notivize, non-coding members of the product and marketing team can write “if-then” rules that will trigger a notification. And this, Bornski said, also makes it easier to “A/B test and optimize your copy and your send times and your channels” to ensure that your notifications are as effective as possible.

He added that companies usually don’t build this for themselves, because when they’re first building an app, it’s “not a rational thing to invest your time and effort in when you’re just testing the market or you’re struggling for product market fit.” Later on, however, it can be challenging to “go in and rip out all the old stuff” — so instead, you can just take advantage of what Notivize has already built.

Bornski also emphasized that the company isn’t trying to replace services that provide the “plumbing” for notifications. Indeed, Notivize actually integrates with SendGrid and Twilio to send the notifications.

“The actual sending is not the core value [of what we do],” he said. “We’re improving the quality of what you’re paying for, of what you send.”

Notivize allows customers to send up to 100 messages per month for free. After that, pricing starts at $14.99 per month.

“The steady march of low-code and no-code solutions into the product management and marketing stack continues to unlock market velocity and product innovation,” said Heroic Ventures founder Michael Fertik in a statement. “Having been an early investor in several developer platforms, it is clear that Notivize has cracked the code on how to empower non-technical teams to manage critical yet complex product workflows.”


By Anthony Ha

London-based Gyana raises $3.9M for a no-code approach to data science

Coding and other computer science expertise remain some of the more important skills that a person can have in the working world today, but in the last few years, we have also seen a big rise in a new generation of tools providing an alternative way of reaping the fruits of technology: “no-code” software, which lets anyone — technical or non-technical — build apps, games, AI-based chatbots, and other products that used to be the exclusive terrain of engineers and computer scientists.

Today, one of the newer startups in the category — London-based Gyana, which lets non-technical people run data science analytics on any structured dataset — is announcing a round of £3 million to fuel its next stage of growth.

Led by UK firm Fuel Ventures, other investors in this round include Biz Stone of Twitter, Green Shores Capital and U+I , and it brings the total raised by the startup to $6.8 million since being founded in 2015.

Gyana (Sanskrit for “knowledge”) was co-founded by Joyeeta Das and David Kell, who were both pursuing post-graduate degrees at Oxford: Das, a former engineer, was getting an MBA, and Kell was doing a PhD in physics.

Das said that the idea of building this tool came out of the fact that the pair could see a big disconnect emerging not just in their studies, but also in the world at large — not so much a digital divide, as a digital light year in terms of the distance between the groups of who and who doesn’t know how to work in the realm of data science.

“Everyone talks about using data to inform decision making, and the world becoming data-driven, but actually that proposition is available to less than one percent of the world,” she said.

Out of that, the pair decided to work on building a platform that Das describes as a way to empower “citizen data scientists”, by letting users upload any structured data set (for example, a .CSV file) and running a series of queries on it to be able to visualise trends and other insights more easily.

While the longer term goal may be for any person to be able to produce an analytical insight out of a long list of numbers, the more practical and immediate application has been in enterprise services and building tools for non-technical knowledge workers to make better, data-driven decisions.

To prove out its software, the startup first built an app based on the platform that it calls Neera (Sanskrit for “water”), which specifically parses footfall and other “human movement” metrics, useful for applications in retail, real estate and civic planning — for example to determine well certain retail locations are performing, footfall in popular locations, decisions on where to place or remove stores, or how to price a piece of property.

Starting out with the aim of mid-market and smaller companies — those most likely not to have in-house data scientists to meet their business needs — startup has already picked up a series of customers that are actually quite a lot bigger than that. They include Vodafone, Barclays, EY, Pret a Manger, Knight Frank and the UK Ministry of Defense. It says it has some £1 million in contracts with these firms currently.

That, in turn, has served as the trigger to raise this latest round of funding and to launch Vayu (Sanskrit for “air”) — a more general purpose app that covers a wider set of parameters that can be applied to a dataset. So far, it has been adopted by academic researchers, financial services employees, and others that use analysis in their work, Das said.

With both Vayu and Neera, the aim — refreshingly — is to make the whole experience as privacy-friendly as possible, Das noted. Currently, you download an app if you want to use Gyana, and you keep your data local as you work on it. Gyana has no “anonymization” and no retention of data in its processes, except things like analytics around where your cursor hovers, so that Gyana knows how it can improve its product.

“There are always ways to reverse engineer these things,” Das said of anonymization. “We just wanted to make sure that we are not accidentally creating a situation where, despite learning from anaonyised materials, you can’t reverse engineer what people are analysing. We are just not convinced.”

While there is something commendable about building and shipping a tool with a lot of potential to it, Gyana runs the risk of facing what I think of as the “water, water everywhere” problem. Sometimes if a person really has no experience or specific aim, it can be hard to think of how to get started when you can do anything. Das said they have also identified this, and so while currently Gyana already offers some tutorials and helper tools within the app to nudge the user along, the plan is to eventually bring in a large variety of datasets for people to get started with, and also to develop a more intuitive way to “read” the basics of the files in order to figure out what kinds of data inquiries a person is most likely to want to make.

The rise of “no-code” software has been a swift one in the world of tech spanning the proliferation of startups, big acquisitions, and large funding rounds. Companies like Airtable and DashDash are aimed at building analytics leaning on interfaces that follow the basic design of a spreadsheet; AppSheet, which is a no-code mobile app building platform, was recently acquired by Google; and Roblox (for building games without needing to code) and Uncorq (for app development) have both raised significant funding just this week. In the area of no-code data analytics and visualisation, there are biggies like Tableau, as well as Trifacta, RapidMiner and more.

Gartner predicts that by 2024, some 65% of all app development will be made on low- or no-code platforms, and Forrester estimates that the no- and low-code market will be worth some $10 billion this year, rising to $21.2 billion by 2024.

That represents a big business opportunity for the likes of Gyana, which has been unique in using the no-code approach specifically to tackle the area of data science.

However, in the spirit of citizen data scientists, the intention is to keep a consumer version of the apps free to use as it works on signing up enterprise users with more enhanced paid products, which will be priced on an annual license basis (currently clients are paying between $6,000 and $12,000 depending on usage, she said).

“We want to do free for as long as we can,” Das said, both in relation to the data tools and the datasets that it will offer to users. “The biggest value add is not about accessing premium data that is hard to get. We are not a data marketplace but we want to provide data that makes sense to access,” adding that even with business users, “we’d like you to do 90% of what you want to do without paying for anything.”


By Ingrid Lunden

Lightspeed leads Laiye’s $42M round to bet on Chinese enterprise IT

Laiye, a Chinese startup that offers robotic process automation services to several major tech firms in the nation and government agencies, has raised $42 million in a new funding round as it looks to scale its business.

The new financing round, Series C, was co-led by Lightspeed Venture Partners and Lightspeed China Partners. Cathay Innovation, which led the startup’s Series B+ round and Wu Capital, which led the Series B round, also participated in the new round.

China has been the hub for some of the cheapest labor in the world. But in recent years, a number of companies and government agencies have started to improve their efficiency with the help of technology.

That’s where Laiye comes into play. Robotic process automation (RPA) allows software to mimic several human behaviors such as keyboard strokes and mouse clicks.

“For instance, a number of banks did not previously offer APIs, so humans had to sign in and fetch the data and then feed it into some other software. Processes like these could be automated by our platform,” said Arvid Wang, co-founder and co-chief executive of Laiye, in an interview with TechCrunch.

The four-and-a-half-year-old startup, which has raised more than $100 million to date, will use the fresh capital to hire talent from across the globe and expand its services. “We believe robotic process automation will achieve its full potential when it combines AI and the best human talent,” he said.

Laiye’s announcement today comes as the market for robotic automation process is still in nascent stage in China. There are a handful of startups looking into this space, but Laiye, which counts Microsoft as an investor, and Sequoia-backed UiPath are the two clear leaders in the market currently.

As my colleague Rita Liao wrote last year, it was only recently that some entrepreneurs and investors in China started to shift their attention from consumer-facing products to business applications.

Globally, RPA has emerged as the fastest growing market in enterprise space. A Gartner report found last year that RPA market grew over 63% in 2018. Recent surveys have shown that most enterprises in China today are also showing interest in enhancing their RPA projects and AI capabilities.

Laiye today has more than 200 partners and more than 200,000 developers have registered to use its multilingual UiBot RPA platform. UiBot enables integration with Laiye’s native and third-party AI capabilities such as natural language processing, optical character recognition, computer vision, chatbot and machine learning.

“We are very bullish on China, and the opportunities there are massive,” said Lightspeed partner Amy Wu in an interview. “Laiye is doing phenomenally there, and with this new fundraise, they can look to expand globally,” she said.


By Manish Singh

DSP Concepts raises $14.5M for its Audio Weaver platform

DSP Concepts — a startup whose Audio Weaver software is used by companies as varied as Tesla, Porsche, GoPro and Braun Audio — is announcing that it’s raised $14.5 million in Series B funding.

The startup goal, as explained to me by CEO Chin Beckmann and CTO Paul Beckmann (yep, they’re a husband-and-wife founding team), is to create the standard framework that companies use to develop their audio processing software.

To that end, Chin told me they were “picky about who we wanted on the B round, we wanted it to represent the support and endorsement of the industry.”

So the round was led by Taiwania Capital, but it also includes investments from the strategic arms of DSP Concepts’ industry partners — BMW i Ventures (which led the Series A), the Sony Innovation Growth Fund by Innovation Growth Ventures, MediaTek Ventures, Porsche Ventures and the ARM IoT Fund.

Paul said Audio Weaver started out as the “secret weapon” of the Beckmanns’ consulting business, which he could use to “whip out” the results of an audio engineering project. At a certain point, consulting customers started asking him, “Hey, how about you teach me how to use that?” so they decided to launch a startup focused on the Audio Weaver platform.

Audio Weaver - AWE Designer

Paul described the software as a “graphical block diagram editor.” Basically, it provides a way for audio engineers to combine and customize different software modules for audio processing.

“Audio is still in the Stone Ages compared to other industries,” he said. “Suppose you’re building a product with a touchscreen — are you going write the graphics from scratch or use a framework like Qt?”

Similarly, he suggested that while many audio engineers are still “down in the weeds writing code,” they can take advantage of Audio Weaver’s graphical interface to piece everything together, as well as the company’s “hundreds of different modules — pre-written, pre-tested, pre-optimized functions to build up your system.”

For example, Paul said that by using the Audio Weaver platform, DSP Concepts engineers could test out “hundreds out ideas” for algorithms that for reducing wind noise in the footage captured by GoPro cameras, then ultimately “handed the algorithms over to GoPro,” whose team could them plug the algorithms into their software and modify it themselves.

The Beckmanns said the company also works closely with chip manufacturers to ensure that audio software will work properly on any device powered by a given chipset.

Other modules include TalkTo, which is designed to give voice assistants like Alexa “super-hearing,” so that they can still isolate voice commands and cancel out all the other noise in loud environments, even rock concerts. (You can watch a TalkTo demo in the video below.)

DSP Concepts has now raised more than $25 million in total funding.

 


By Anthony Ha

Ordway lands $10M Series A to bridge gap between sales and finance

Ordway, a Washington, DC startup, is building a platform to deal with all of the stuff that happens after you make sale. It starts with the order and goes all the way to revenue, however that revenue manifests itself — as a one time payment or a recurring subscription. Today the company announced a $10 million Series A.

CRV led the round with participation from Clocktower Ventures and existing investors Lerer Hippeau and Revolution Rise of the Rest fund. The company has now raised a total of $12.5 million, according to Crunchbase data.

Sameer Gulati, founder and CEO at Ordway, says the company wanted to build a flexible tool to sit between the CRM and financial systems of a company. “So in that sense, we do everything for post-sales from billing automation, payment collection, revenue recognition, analytics, all the way to cash. We have a streamlined workflow for managing order to revenue,” Gulati told TechCrunch.

It sounds a lot like the Quote-to-Cash space where companies like Apttus (acquired by Thoma Bravo in 2018) or SteelBrick (acquired by Salesforce in 2015) tried to stake a claim, but Gulati says while his company’s solution handles the quote-to-cash workflow, it can do much more than that.

“We absolutely can handle the workflow from quote to billing to payments to revenue, for sure. But the reason Ordway has a niche is because we are a lot more configurable and a lot more flexible to accommodate any workflow out there,” he said.

He says his company’s solution connects to the CRM system on one side and the financial systems on the other. They are compatible with all the major CRM tools including Salesforce and Dynamics 365. And they support a range of financial tools like NetSuite or QuickBooks.

“In fact, we can work with any back-end small system to a large scale ERP system, but our value add is automating the movement of data into the ERP. So we are the operational framework between sales and traditional ERP. We will handle everything in between,” he said.

As for the funding, Gulati has the kind of plans you would expect with a Series A investment. “The core goal is definitely to accelerate all aspects of our business from sales and marketing to product and engineering, and most importantly, customer success. Basically, in a sense we are doubling down on making sure our customers are successful in solving their core sales to finance business challenges,” he said.

The company launched in 2018 and has 25 employees today. Gulati says his company’s goal is to grow 4X in the next 12 months and grow employees at a similar rate.


By Ron Miller

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