Kandji announces $3.375M seed for sophisticated Apple MDM solution

Kandji, a new Apple MDM solution that promises to go far beyond Apple’s base MDM protocol and other solutions on the market, emerged from stealth today with a $3.375 million seed investment. The product is also publicly available for the first time starting today.

The round, which closed in March, was led by First Round Capital with help from Webb Investment Network, Lee Fixel, John Glynn and other unnamed investors.

Company co-founder and CEO Adam Pettit says the company’s founders have a deep knowledge in Apple. They all worked at Apple before leaving to run an Apple IT consultancy for more than 10 years.

He said that while they were at the consultancy, they developed a proprietary stack of tools to help with highly sophisticated Apple device deployments at large organizations, and it occurred to them that there was an unserved market opportunity to turn that knowledge into a new product.

Two years ago they sold the consultancy, took that knowledge and built Kandji from the ground up. Pettit says the new product gives customers access to a set of management tools that they would have charged six figures to implement at that their old firm.

One of the key differentiators between Kandji and other MDM solutions, or even Apple’s base MDM functionality, is a set of one-click compliance tools. “We’re the only product that has almost 200 of these one click policy frameworks we call parameters. So an organization can go in and browse by compliance framework, or we have pre built templates for companies that don’t necessarily have a specific compliance mandate in mind,” he said.

The parameters have all of the tools built in to automatically deploy a set of policies related to a given compliance framework without having to go through and manually set all of those different switches yourself. On the flip side, if you want to get granular and create your own parameters, you can do that too.

He says one of the reasons he and his partners were willing to give up the big dollar consultancy was because they saw a huge opportunity for firms that couldn’t afford those kind of services, but still had relatively large Apple device deployments. “I mean there’s a big need outside of just the specific kind of sophisticated compliance work we would do [at our previous firm]. We saw this big need in general for an Apple MDM solution like ours,” he said.

After selling their previous firm, the founders bootstrapped for a year while they developed the initial version of Kandji before seeking funding. Today, the company has 16 employees and a set of initial customers, who have been testing the product.


By Ron Miller

Stealthy search startup, Searchable.ai snags $2M seed

Searchable.ai wants to solve an old problem around search in the enterprise. The stealthy startup announced a $2 million seed round.

Defy Partners led the round with a slew of other participants including Paul English, co-founder of Kayak; Wayne Chang, co-founder of Crashlytics; Brian Halligan, co-founder and CEO of HubSpot; Jonathan Kraft, president and COO of the Kraft Group and the New England Patriots; MIT Prof. Edward Roberts; Eric Dobkin, founder and chairman emeritus of Goldman Sachs Global Equity Capital Markets and Susquehanna International Group.

The prestigious group of investors saw that Searchable.ai is trying to solve a big problem around findability. Company co-founder Brian Shin says that knowledge workers have been struggling for years trying to find a way to better utilize all of the information that exists within an organization.

“The problem we’re really solving is that there are a trillion documents created every year in Microsoft Office, Google Docs, etc., and it’s really difficult if you’re a knowledge worker to find what you need in terms of either a document, an asset like a slide or worksheet within a document or the actual answer to a question that you have,” Shin said.

The questioning part could be particularly valuable because it lets you ask a natural language question and find a specific piece of information within a document, rather than just the document itself. “Let’s say you have a giant spreadsheet, you could actually ask a question of all your spreadsheets and find the atomic unit of knowledge that you’re actually looking for,” he said.

The product itself is not quite ready for the big reveal, but if it works as described, it will be a huge boost to knowledge workers who have continually struggled to find a nugget of information they know is out there across the myriad documents in an organization.

Shin is an experienced entrepreneur, who has helped launch and sell three companies. He reports he has raised $100 million in venture capital and most recently has worked as a venture capitalist himself, but he saw this opportunity and decided to jump back into the development side of things.

He admits he’s giving up a lot to go back to the startup lifestyle, but he and his co-founders decided this was worth it. “You know the draw, the compulsion to do another startup is is really what this is about. So my three other colleagues and I have have all started companies before and we’re all giving up big jobs to do this, and I’m so excited about the team and the massive opportunity.”

He promised more details about the company and the solution would be coming early next year.


By Ron Miller

Grafana Labs nabs $24M Series A for open source-based data analytics stack

Grafana Labs, the commercial company built to support the open source Grafana project, announced a healthy $24 million Series A investment today. Lightspeed Venture Partners led the round with participation from Lead Edge Capital.

Company CEO and co-founder Raj Dutt, says the startup started life as a way to offer a commercial layer on top of the open source Grafana tool, but it has expanded and now supports other projects including Loki, an open source monitoring tool, not unlike Prometheus, that the company developed last year.

All of this in the service of connecting to data sources and monitoring data. “Grafana has always been about connecting data together no matter where it lives, whether it’s in a proprietary database, on prem database or cloud database. There are over 42 data sources that Grafana connects together,” Dutt explained.

But the company has expanded far beyond that. As it describes the product set, “Our products have begun to evolve to unify into a single offering: the worlds first composable open-source observability platform for metrics, logs and traces. Centered around Grafana.” This is exactly where other monitoring and logging tools like Elastic, New Relic and Splunk have been heading this year. The term “observability” is a terms that’s been used often to describe these combined capabilities of metrics, logging and tracing.

Grafana Labs is the commercial arm of the open source projects, and offers a couple of products built on top of these tools. First of all it has Grafana Enterprise, a package that includes enterprise-focused data connectors, enhanced authentication and security and enterprise-class support over and above what the open source Grafana tool offers.

The company also offers a SaaS version of the Grafana tool stack, which is fully managed and takes away a bunch of the headaches of trying to download raw open source code, install it, manage it and deal with updates and patches. In the SaaS version, all of that is taken care of for the customer for a monthly fee.

Dutt says the startup took just $4 million in external investment over the first five years, and has been able to build a business with 100 employees and 500 customers. He is particularly proud of the fact that the company is cash flow break even at this point.

Grafana Labs decided the time was right to take this hefty investment and accelerate the startup’s growth, something they couldn’t really do without a big cash infusion. “We’ve seen this really virtuous cycle going with value creation in the community through these open source projects that builds mind share, and that can translate into building a sustainable business. So we really want to accelerate that, and that’s the main reason behind the raise.”


By Ron Miller

Demodesk scores $2.3M seed for sales-focused online meetings

Demodesk, an early stage startup that wants to change how sales meetings are conducted online, announced a $2.3 million seed investment today.

Investors included GFC, FundersClub, Y Combinator, Kleiner Perkins and an unnamed group of angel investors. The company was a member of the Y Combinator Winter 2019 cohort.

CEO and co-founder Veronika Riederle says that the fact it’s so closely focused on sales separates it from other more general meeting tools like Zoom, WebEx or GoToMeeting. “We are building the first intelligent online meeting tool for customer facing conversations. So that is for inside sales and customer service professionals,” Riederle explained.

One of the key pieces of technology is what Riederle calls, “a unique approach to screen sharing.” Whereas most meeting software involves downloading software to use the tool, Demodesk doesn’t do this. You simply click a link and you’re in. The two parties online are seeing a live screen and each can interact with it. It’s not just a show and tell.

What’s more, in a sales scenario with a slide presentation, the customer sees the same live screen as the salesperson, but while the salesperson can see their presentation notes, the customer cannot.

She said while this could work for any number of scenarios from customer service to IT Help desks, at this stage in the company’s development she wants to concentrate on the sales scenario, then expand the vision over time. The service works on a subscription model with tiered-per user pricing starting at $19 per user per month.

When they got to Y Combinator, the company already had a working product and paying customers, but Riederle says that the experience has helped them grow the business to over 100 customers. “YC was extremely important for us because we immediately got access to an extremely valuable network of founders and potential customers, and also just a base for us to really [develop] the business.

Riderle founded the company with CTO Alex Popp in 2017 in Munich. Prior to this seed round, the founders mostly bootstrapped the company,. With the $2.3 million it should be able to hire more people and begin building out the product further, while investing in sales and marketing to expand its customer base.


By Ron Miller

Databricks announces $400M round on $6.2B valuation as analytics platform continues to grow

Databricks is a SaaS business built on top of a bunch of open source tools, and apparently it’s been going pretty well on the business side of things. In fact, the company claims to be one of the fastest growing enterprise cloud companies ever. Today the company announced a massive $400 million Series F funding round on a hefty $6.2 billion valuation. Today’s funding brings the total raised to almost a $900 million.

Andreessen Horowitz’s Late Stage Venture Fund led the round with new investors BlackRock, Inc., T. Rowe Price Associates, Inc. and Tiger Global Management also participating. The institutional investors are particularly interesting here because as a late stage startup, Databricks likely has its eye on a future IPO, and having those investors on board already could give them a head start.

CEO Ali Ghodsi was coy when it came to the IPO, but it sure sounded like that’s a direction he wants to go. “We are one of the fastest growing cloud enterprise software companies on record, which means we have a lot of access to capital as this fundraise shows. The revenue is growing gangbusters, and the brand is also really well known. So an IPO is not something that we’re optimizing for, but it’s something that’s definitely going to happen down the line in the not-too-distant future,” Ghodsi told TechCrunch.

The company announced as of Q3 it’s on a $200 million run rate, and it has a platform that consists of four products, all built on foundational open source: Delta Lake, an open source data lake product; MLflow, an open source project that helps data teams operationalize machine learning; Koalas, which creates a single machine frame work for Spark and Pandos, greatly simplifying working with the two tools; and finally, Spark, the open source analytics engine.

You can download the open source version of all of these tools for free, but they are not easy to use or manage. The way that Databricks make money is by offering each of these tools in the form of Software as a Service. They handle all of the management headaches associated with using these tools and they charge you a subscription price.

It’s a model that seems to be working as the company is growing like crazy. It raised $250 million just last February on a $2.75 billion valuation. Apparently the investors saw room for a lot more growth in the intervening six months, as today’s $6.2 billion valuation shows.


By Ron Miller

Aurora Insight emerges from stealth with $18M and a new take on measuring wireless spectrum

Aurora Insight, a startup that provides a “dynamic” global map of wireless connectivity that it built and monitors in real time using AI combined with data from sensors on satellites, vehicles, buildings, aircraft and other objects, is emerging from stealth today with the launch of its first publicly-available product, a platform providing insights on wireless signal and quality covering a range of wireless spectrum bands, offered as a cloud-based, data-as-a-service product.

“Our objective is to map the entire planet, charting the radio waves used for communications,” said Brian Mengwasser, the co-founder and CEO. “It’s a daunting task.” He said that to do this the company first “built a bunker” to test the system before rolling it out at scale.

With it, Aurora Insight is also announcing that it has raised $18 million in funding — an aggregate amount that reaches back to its founding in 2016 and covering both a seed round and Series A — from an impressive list of investors. Led by Alsop Louie Partners and True Ventures, backers also include Tippet Venture Partners, Revolution’s Rise of the Rest Seed Fund, Promus Ventures, Alumni Ventures Group, ValueStream Ventures, and Intellectus Partners.

The area of measuring wireless spectrum and figuring out where it might not be working well (in order to fix it) may sound like an arcane area, but it’s a fairly essential one.

Mobile technology — specifically, new devices and the use of wireless networks to connect people, objects and services — continues to be the defining activity of our time, with more than 5 billion mobile users on the planet (out of 7.5 billion people) today and the proportion continuing to grow. With that, we’re seeing a big spike in mobile internet usage, too, with more than 5 billion people, and 25.2 billion objects, expected to be using mobile data by 2025, according to the GSMA.

The catch to all this is that wireless spectrum — which enables the operation of mobile services — is inherently finite and somewhat flaky in how its reliability is subject to interference. That in turn is creating a need for a better way of measuring how it is working, and how to fix it when it is not.

“Wireless spectrum is one of the most critical and valuable parts of the communications ecosystem worldwide,” said Rohit Sharma, partner at True Ventures and Aurora Insight board member, in a statement. “To date, it’s been a massive challenge to accurately measure and dynamically monitor the wireless spectrum in a way that enables the best use of this scarce commodity. Aurora’s proprietary approach gives businesses a unique way to analyze, predict, and rapidly enable the next-generation of wireless-enabled applications.”

If you follow the world of wireless technology and telcos, you’ll know that wireless network testing and measurement is an established field, about as old as the existence of wireless networks themselves (which says something about the general reliability of wireless networks). Aurora aims to disrupt this on a number of levels.

Mengwasser — who co-founded the company with Jennifer Alvarez, the CTO who you can see presenting on the company here — tells me that a lot of the traditional testing and measurement has been geared at telecoms operators, who own the radio towers, and tend to focus on more narrow bands of spectrum and technologies.

The rise of 5G and other wireless technologies, however, has come with a completely new playing field and set of challenges from the industry.

Essentially, we are now in a market where there are a number of different technologies coexisting — alongside 5G we have earlier network technologies (4G, LTE, Wifi); a potential set of new technologies. And we have a new breed of companies are building services that need to have close knowledge of how networks are working to make sure they remain up and reliable.

Mengwasser said Aurora is currently one of the few trying to tackle this opportunity by developing a network that is measuring multiples kinds of spectrum simultaneously, and aims to provide that information not just to telcos (some of whom have been working with Aurora while still in stealth) but the others kinds of application and service developers that are building businesses based on those new networks.

“There is a pretty big difference between us and performance measurement, which typically operates from the back of a phone and tells you when have a phone in a particular location,” he said. “We care about more than this, more than just homes, but all smart devices. Eventually, eerything will be connected to network so we are aiming to provide intelligence on that.”

One example are drone operators who are building delivery networks: Aurora has been working with at least one while in stealth to help develop a service, Mengwasser said, although he declined to say which one. (He also, incidentally, specifically declined to say whether the company had talked with Amazon.)

5G is a particularly tricky area of mobile network spectrum and services to monitor and tackle, one reason why Aurora Insight has caught the attention of investors.

“The reality of massive MIMO beamforming, high frequencies, and dynamic access techniques employed by 5G networks means it’s both more difficult and more important to quantify the radio spectrum,” said Gilman Louie of Alsop Louie Partners, in a statement. “Having the accurate and near-real-time feedback on the radio spectrum that Aurora’s technology offers could be the difference between building a 5G network right the first time, or having to build it twice.” Louie is also sitting on the board of the startup.


By Ingrid Lunden

Clari snags $60M Series D on valuation of around $500M

Clari uses AI to help companies find key information like the customers most likely to convert, the state of orders in the sales process or the next big sources of revenue. As its revenue management system continues to flourish, the company announced a $60 million Series D investment today.

Sapphire Ventures led the round with help from new-comer Madrona Venture Group and existing investors Sequoia Capital, Bain Capital Ventures and Tenaya Capital. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $135 million, according to the company.

The valuation, which CEO and co-founder Andy Byrne pegged at around a half a billion, appears to be hefty raise from what the company was likely valued at in 2018 after its $35 million Series C. As TechCrunch’s Ingrid Lunden wrote at the time:

“For some context, Clari, according to Pitchbook, had a relatively modest post-money valuation of $83.5 million in its last round in 2014, so my guess is that it’s now comfortably into hundred-million territory, once you add in this latest $35 million,” Lunden wrote.

Byrne says the company wasn’t even really looking for a new round, but when investors came knocking, he couldn’t refuse. “On the fundraise side, what’s really interesting is how this whole thing went down. We weren’t out looking, but we had a massive amount of interest from a lot of firms. We decided to engage, and we got it done in less than three weeks, which the board was kind of blown away by,” Byrne told TechCrunch.

What’s motivating these companies to invest is that Clari is helping to define this revenue operations category, and has attracted companies like Okta, Zoom and Qualtrics as customers. What they are providing is this AI-fueled way to see where the best sales opportunities are to drive revenue, and that’s what every company is looking for. At the same time, Byrne says that he’s moving companies away from a spreadsheet-driven record keeping system, and enabling them to see the all of the data in one place.

“Clari is allowing a rep to really understand where they should spend time, automating a lot of things for them to close deals faster, while giving managers new insights they’ve never had before to allow them to drive more revenue. And then we’re getting them out of ‘Excel hell.’ They’re no longer in these spreadsheets. They’re in Clari, and have more predictability in their forecasting,” he said.

Clari was founded in 2012 and is headquartered in Sunnyvale, CA. It has over 300 customers and just passed the 200 employee mark, a number that should increase as the company uses this money to begin to accelerate growth and expand the product’s capabilities.


By Ron Miller

India’s Fyle bags $4.5M to expand its expense management platform in US, other international markets

Fyle, a Bangalore-headquartered startup that operates an expense management platform, has extended its previous financing round to add $4.5 million of new investment as it looks to court more clients in overseas markets.

The additional $4.5 million tranche of investment was led by U.S.-based hedge fund Steadview Capital, the startup said. Tiger Global, Freshworks, and Pravega Ventures also participated in the round. The new tranche of investment, dubbed Series A1, means that the three-and-a-half-year old startup has raised $8.7 million as part of its Series A financing round, and $10.5 million to date.

The SaaS startup offers an expense management platform that makes it easier for employees of a firm to report their business expenses. The eponymous service supports a range of popular email providers including G Suite and Office 365, and uses a proprietary technology to scan and fetch details from emails, Yash Madhusudhan, co-founder and CEO of Fyle, demonstrated to TechCrunch last week.

A user, for instance, could open a flight ticket email and click on Fyle’s Chrome extension to fetch all details and report the expense in a single-click in real-time. As part of today’s announcement, Madhusudhan unveiled an integration with WhatsApp . Users will now be able to take pictures of their tickets and other things and forward it to Fyle, which will quickly scan and report expense filings for them.

These integrations come in handy to users. “80%-90% of a user’s spending patterns land on their email and messaging clients. And traditionally it has been a pain point for them to get done with their expense filings. So we built a platform that looks at the challenges faced by them. At the same time, our platform understands frauds and works with a company’s compliances and policies to ensure that the filings are legitimate,” he said.

“Every company today could make use of an intelligent expense platform like Fyle. Major giants already subscribe to ERP services that offer similar capabilities as part of their offerings. But as a company or startup grows beyond 50 to 100 people, it becomes tedious to manage expense filings,” he added.

Fyle maintains a web application and a mobile app, and users are free to use them. But the rationale behind introducing integrations with popular services is to make it easier than ever for them to report filings. The startup retains its algorithms each month to improve their scanning abilities. “The idea is to extend expense filing to a service that people already use,” he said.

International expansion

Until late last year, Fyle was serving customers in India. Earlier this year, it began searching for clients outside the nation. “Our philosophy was if we are able to sell in India remotely and get people to use the product without any training, we should be able to replicate this in any part of the world,” he said.

And that bet has worked. Fyle has amassed more than 300 clients, more than 250 of which are from outside of India. Today, the startup says it has customers in 17 nations including the U.S., and the UK. Furthermore, Fyle’s revenue has grown by five times in the last five months, said Madhusudhan, without disclosing the exact figures.

To accelerate its momentum, the startup is today also launching an enterprise version of Fyle that will serve the needs of major companies. The enterprise version supports a range of additional security features such as IP restriction and single sign-in option.

Fyle will use the new capital to develop more product solutions and integrations and expand its footprint in international markets, Madhusudhan said. The startup, which just recently set up its sales and marketing team would also expand the headcount, he said.

Moving forward, Madhusudhan said the startup would also explore tie-ups with ERP providers and other ways to extend the reach of Fyle.

In a statement, Ravi Mehta, MD at Steadview Capital, said, “intelligent and automated systems will empower businesses to be more efficient in the coming decade. We are excited to partner with Fyle to transform one of the core business processes of expense management through intelligence and automation.”


By Manish Singh

A startup factory? $1.2B-exit team launches $65M super{set}

Think Jack Dorsey’s jobs are tough? Well, Tom Chavez is running six startups. He thinks building businesses can be boiled down to science, so today he’s unveiling his laboratory for founding, funding and operating companies. He and his team have already proven they can do it themselves after selling their startups Rapt to Microsoft and Krux to Salesforce for a combined $1.2 billion. Now they’ve raised a $65 million fund for “super{set}”, an enterprise startup studio with a half-dozen companies currently in motion.

The idea is that {super}set either conceptualizes a company or brings in founders whose dream they can make a reality. The studio provides early funding and expertise while the startup works from their shared space in San Francisco, plus future ones in New York and Boston. The secret sauce is the “super{set} Code,” an execution playbook plus technological tools and building blocks that guide the strategy and eliminate redundant work. “Our belief is that we can make the companies 10x faster and increase capital efficiency by 5X,” says Chavez of his partnership with {super}set co-founders Vivek Vaidya, who acts as CTO, and Jae Lim who manages the fund.

Superset Team

The {super}set team (from left): Tom Chavez, Jae Lim, Jen Elena and Vivek Vaidya

Perhaps the question isn’t whether the portfolio startups can scale, but if the humans behind them can without breaking. It’s stressful running a single company, let alone six. Even with the order of operations nailed down, each encounters unique challenges and no plan is one-size-fits-all. But after delivering 17.5X returns to their past investors, Chavez et al. have proven their power to repeatedly recognize what enterprises need and build admittedly boring but bountiful products in customer data management, and advertising yield.

The studio’s playbooks cover business plan formation, pitch strategies, go to market, revenue, machine learning, management principles, HR processes, sales methods, pipeline measurement, product sequencing, finance, legal and more. There’s also shared engineering code it provides, so each startup doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel. “I don’t think you can systemize it but I do think you can accelerate and de-risk the path,” Chavez explains.

Superset Code 1

{super}set Code

Today, the first {super}set company is coming out of stealth. Eskalera helps enterprises retain top talent by tracking diversity and inclusion stats of employees to engage them with career growth and community programs. Chavez is the CEO, but plans to install a new one shortly so he can focus more time on founding more startups. There are 55 employees across the first six companies, with two already generating revenue and most ready to emerge in the next nine months.

The funding for Eskalera and other {super}set companies comes with unique terms. Because Chavez and the team aren’t just board members you hear from once a quarter but “shoulder to shoulder with the entrepreneurs” as he repeats several times in our interview, the startups pay more equity for the cash.

The hope is having seasoned leadership aboard is worth it. “We’re product people first and foremost,” Chavez tells me. “What are you going to build? Who’s going to buy it? Why? What’s the technical moat? We’re not people doing jazz hands.” The {super}set team has plenty of skin in the game, though, given Chavez himself put in a big chunk of the $65 million, and the fund sticks to a standard management fee.

Eskalera

Eskalera

To supercharge the companies, {super}set brings in expert staffers in artificial intelligence, data science and more, who then align with the most relevant companies in the portfolio. They get equity grants to incentivize them to work hard on the startups’ behalf. “The worry I have about these larger funds is that they have an incentive disconnect where they work for the fees” Chavez says. His fund hopes to win through follow-on funding of its winners.

Tom Chavez Superset

{super}set co-founder Tom Chavez

If portfolio companies hit hard times, Chavez says {super}set will stick with them. “My first company had multiple layoffs and a major pivot. We had an enterperenur that walked away. They lost conviction, but we brought that company to an $180 million exit after people said there was no effing way and that felt really good,” Chavez says of staying the course. “The good entrepreneurs have that demonic energy.” But if everyone involved agrees a project isn’t working, they’ll shutter it. “It comes back to opportunity cost of people’s time.”

Chavez has respect for studios taking different approaches, like Atomic in consumer startups, Science in e-commerce and Pioneer Square Labs, which maintains a larger fund staff. “What excites me is moving entrepreneurship a step forward. Why couldn’t we franchise this in other cities?” He hopes {super}set can attract top talent that “just want to work on cool shit” rather than getting sucked into a single company.

Can {super}set keep all the plates spinning and really lower their risk? “If we’re wrong there will be a giant orange plume streak across the sky. The early returns are promising but we have to prove it,” Chavez says. But after accruing plenty of wealth for himself, he says the thrill that keeps him in the startup game is seeing life-changing outcomes for his teams. “I have spreadsheets showing the wealth generated by employees of companies I’ve built and nothing makes me happier than seeing them pay for tuitions, property, or retiring.”


By Josh Constine

Battlefield vets StrongSalt (formerly OverNest) announces $3M seed round

StrongSalt, then known as OverNest, appeared at the TechCrunch Disrupt NYC Battlefield in 2016, and announced product for searching encrypted code, which remains unusual to this day. Today, the company announced a $3 million seed round led by Valley Capital Partners.

StrongSalt founder and CEO Ed Yu, says encryption remains a difficult proposition, and that when you look at the majority of breaches, encryption wasn’t used. He said that his company wants to simplify adding encryption to applications, and came up with a new service to let developers add encryption in the form of an API. “We decided to come up with what we call an API platform. It’s like infrastructure that allows you to integrate our solution into any existing or any new applications,” he said.

The company’s original idea was to create a product to search encrypted code, but Yu says the tech has much more utility as an API that’s applicable across applications, and that’s why they decided to package it as a service. It’s not unlike Twilio for communications or Stripe for payments, except in this case you can build in searchable encryption.

The searchable part is actually a pretty big deal because, as Yu points out, when you encrypt data it is no longer searchable. “If you encrypt all your data, you cannot search within it, and if you cannot search within it, you cannot find the data you’re looking for, and obviously you can’t really use the data. So we actually solved that problem,” he said.

Developers can add searchable encryption as part of their applications. For customers already using a commercial product, the company’s API actually integrates with popular services, enabling customers to encrypt the data stored there, while keeping it searchable.

“We will offer a storage API on top of Box, AWS S3, Google cloud, Azure — depending on what the customer has or wants. If the customer already has AWS S3 storage, for example, then when they use our API, and after encrypting the data, it will be stored in their AWS repository,” Yu explained.

For those companies who don’t have a storage service, the company is offering one. What’s more, they are using the blockchain to provide a mechanism for the sharing, auditing and managing encrypted data. “We also use the blockchain for sharing data by recording the authorization by the sender, so the receiver can retrieve the information needed to reconstruct the keys in order to retrieve the data. This simplifies key management in the case of sharing and ensures auditability and revocability of the sharing by the sender,” Yu said.

If you’re wondering how the company has been surviving since 2016, while only getting its seed round today, it had a couple of small seed rounds prior to this, and a contract with the US Department of Defense, which replaced the need for substantial earlier funding.

“The DOD was looking for a solution to have secure communication between between computers, and they needed to have a way to securely store data, and so we were providing a solution for them,” he said. In fact, this work was what led them to build the commercial API platform they are offering today.

The company, which was founded in 2015, currently has 12 employees spread across the globe.


By Ron Miller

India’s Darwinbox raises $15M to bring its HR tech platform to more Asian markets

An Indian SaaS startup, which is increasingly courting clients from outside of the country, just raised a significant amount of capital to expand its business.

Hyderabad-based Darwinbox, which operates a cloud-based human resource management platform, said on Thursday it has raised $15 million in a new financing round. The Series B round — which moves the firm’s total raise to $19.7 million — was led by Sequoia India and saw participation from existing investors Lightspeed India Partners, Endiya Partners, and 3one4 Capital.

More than 200 firms including giants such as adtech firm InMobi, fintech startup Paytm, drink conglomerate Bisleri, automobile maker Mahindra, Kotak group, and delivery firms Swiggy and Milkbasket use Darwinbox’s HR platform to serve half a million of their employees in 50 nations, Rohit Chennamaneni, cofounder of Darwinbox, told TechCrunch in an interview.

The startup, which competes with giants such as SAP and Oracle, said its platform enables high level of configurability, ease of use, and understands the needs of modern employees. “The employees today who have grown accustomed to using consumer-focused services such as Uber and Amazon are left disappointed in their experience with their own firm’s HR offerings,” said Gowthami Kanumuru, VP Marketing at Darwinbox, in an interview.

Darwinbox’s HR platform offers a range of features including the ability for firms to offer their employees insurance and early salary as loans. Its platform also features social networks for employees within a company to connect and talk, as well as an AI assistant that allows them to apply for a leave or set up meetings with quick voice commands from their phone.

“The AI system is not just looking for certain keywords. If an employee tells the system he or she is not feeling well today, it automatically applies a leave for them,” she said.

Darwinbox’s platform is built to handle onboarding new employees, keeping a tab on their performance, monitor attrition rate, and maintain an ongoing feedback loop. Or as Kanumuru puts it, the entire “hiring to retiring” cycle.

One of Darwinbox’s clients is L&T, which is tasked with setting up subway in many Indian cities. L&T is using geo-fencing feature of Darwin to log the attendance of employees. “They are not using biometric punch machine that is typically used by other firms. Instead, they just require their 1,200 employees to check-in from the workplace using their phones,” said Kanumuru.

darwinbox event

Additionally, Darwinbox is largely focusing on serving companies based in Asia as it believes Western companies’ solutions are not a great fit for people here, said Kanumuru. The startup began courting clients in Southeast Asian markets last year.

“Our growth is a huge validation for our vision,” she said. “Within six months of operations, we had the delivery giant Delhivery with over 23,000 employees use our platform.”

In a statement to TechCrunch, Dev Khare, a partner at Lightspeed Venture, said, “there is a new trend of SaaS companies targeting the India/SE Asia markets. This trend is gathering steam and is disproving the conventional wisdom that Asia-focused SaaS companies cannot get to be big companies. We firmly believe that Asia-focused SaaS companies can get to large impact value and become large and profitable. Darwinbox is one of these companies.”

Darwinbox’s Chennamaneni said the startup will use the fresh capital to expand its footprints in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and other Southeast Asian markets. Darwinbox will also expand its product offerings to address more of employees’ needs. The startup is also looking to make its platform enable tasks such as booking of flights and hotels.

Chennamaneni, an alum of Google and McKinsey, said Darwinbox aims to double the number of clients it has in the next six to nine months.


By Manish Singh

Netdata, a monitoring startup with 50 year old founder, announces $17M Series A

Nearly everything about Netdata, makers of open source monitoring tool, defies standard thinking about startups. Consider that the founder is a polished, experienced 50-year old executive, who started his company several years ago when he became frustrated by what he was seeing in the monitoring tools space. Like any good founder, he decided to build his own, and today the company announced a $17 million Series A led by Bain Capital.

Marathon Ventures also participated in the round. The company received a $3.7 million seed round earlier this year, which was led by Marathon.

Costa Tsaousis, the company’s founder and CEO, was working as an executive for a company in Greece in 2014 when he decided he had had enough of the monitoring tools he was seeing. “At that time, I decided to do something about it myself — actually, I was pissed off by the industry. So I started writing a tool at night and on weekends to simplify monitoring significantly, and also provide a lot more insights,” Tsaousis told TechCrunch.

Mind you, he was a 45 year old executive, who hadn’t done much coding in years, but he was determined as any startup founder tends to be, and he took two years to create his monitoring tool As he tells it, he released it to open source in 2016 and it just took off. “In 2016, I released this project to the public, and it went viral, I wrote a single Reddit post, and immediately started building a huge community. It grew up about 10,000 GitHub stars in a matter of a week,” he said. Even today, he says that it gets a half million downloads every single day, and hundreds of people are contributing to the open source version of the product, relieving him of the burden of supporting the product himself.

Panos Papadopoulos, who led the investment at Marathon, says Tsaousis is not your typical early stage startup founder. “He is not following many norms. He is 50 years old, and he was a C level executive. His presentation and the depth of his thinking, and even his core materials are unlike anything else have seen in an early stage startup,” he said.

What he created was an open source monitoring tool, one that he says simplifies monitoring significantly, and also provide a lot more insights, offering hundreds of metrics as soon as you install it. He says it is also much faster, providing those insights every second, and it’s distributed, meaning Netdata doesn’t actually collect the data, just provides insights on it wherever it lives.

Screenshot 2019 09 25 09.58.36

Live dashboard on the Netdata website.

Today, the company has 24 employees and Tsaousis has set up shop in San Francisco. In addition, to the open source version of the product, there is a SaaS version, which also has what he calls a “massively free plan.” He says the open source monitoring agent is “a gift to the world.” The SaaS tool is about democratizing monitoring, and finally, the pay version is even different from most monitoring tools, charging by the seat instead of by the amount of infrastructure you are monitoring.

Tsaousis wants no less than to lead the monitoring space eventually, and believes that the free tiers will lead the way. “I think Netdata can change the way people perceive and understand monitoring, but in order to do this, I think that offering free services in a massive way is essential, Otherwise, it will not work. So My aim is to lead monitoring. This may sound arrogant, and Netdata is not there yet, but I think it can be,” he said.


By Ron Miller

Vannevar Labs comes out of stealth to bring best-in-class AI tech to national security agencies

Few organizations have the complex data and analytics problems that challenge the defense and intelligence communities every single day. Whether it is managing petabytes of text, audio, or video data, finding extraordinarily small patterns in the noise, or processing multilingual analytics, the agencies at the heart of America’s national security system confront cutting-edge problems every day.

Despite the desire for better tools though, intelligence analysts are often stymied to procure up-to-date software due to the byzantine rules that drive Pentagon and intelligence procurement.

That’s why a former intelligence official and former intelligence investor are looking to build a new platform that connects the best minds in artificial intelligence, machine learning, and natural language processing and bundling it together into a service purchasable by these government agencies.

Through Palo Alto-based Vannevar, co-founders Brett Granberg and Nini Moorhead are hoping to launch their first product, which is focused on bringing NLP technologies like feature detection to international counterterrorism missions.

Vannevar Labs

Co-founders Nimi Moorhead and Brett Granberg of Vannevar Labs. Photo via Vannevar Labs.

The company is named for Vannevar Bush, who is often credited with inventing an early form of the computer, putting together the Manhattan Project which led to the atom bomb, and for writing a seminal essay that sort of predicted the internet decades before its inception.

The two chose this particular product as an entrée because of their past experiences. Before beginning Vannevar, Granberg spent two years at In-Q-Tel, the non-profit VC firm that works deeply with the intelligence community to supply agencies with the best in startup technology. He also was an advisor at Lilt, a real-time deep learning translation product that spun out of Chris Manning’s famed Stanford NLP research lab.

Meanwhile, Moorhead spent seven years working as a counterterrorism officer within the intelligence community, working to disrupt terrorist networks.

The two met while they overlapped at Stanford GSB and realized they had seen similar problems that they both wanted to solve. While in business school, “top of mind for me was some of the technological challenges that I encountered as an end user [and] analyst in the intelligence community,” Moorhead said. “We immediately connected and shared a lot of experiences in common in terms of seeing gaps between the really hard domain problems that I’d been working on in my career as an analyst and some of the technology that was available to me,” she said. The two actually met the first day of school.

Their approach is to take proven techniques and attempt to translate them into government use cases. “We’re not sort of inventing new math to solve these problems, we’re more taking cutting-edge approaches and just applying them to specific use cases,” Granberg said.

While the project is early, the team raised a $4.5 million seed venture capital funding from fellow GSB alum Katherine Boyle of General Catalyst and Costanoa Ventures. Boyle has made a big push into defense and highly-regulated industries as part of her investment practice, where she previously funded Anduril, the company started by Oculus founder Palmer Luckey that has attempted to apply ML technology to security issues such as battlefield awareness and border control (and gotten into some controversy along the way as well).

She is particularly excited about new ways for startups to secure government contracts at a speed faster than the sun burning out. Talking to me about the potential in this industry, she said:

We’ve been spending a lot of time with companies that are going after what’s known as Other Transaction Authorities, which are a new type of contracting vehicle that was developed in 2015 by former Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, to help tech companies work very quickly with the Department of Defense and with the intelligence community. So what historically might have taken 18 months to get a contract now takes 30 to 60 days for critical pieces of technology

Boyle explained that Vannevar fits directly into her thesis for the future of government procurement. “Our view is that the companies that do best in the space are people who have worked in government or understand how to sell to governments,” she said. She noted that the company is very early, and her investment was primarily focused on the team.

I asked about recent controversies that have hit companies like Google, which saw a revolt by some employees over its involvement with a defense program called Project Maven, which attempted to use machine learning technology and apply that to the battlefield, so that, for instance, drones could increase their effectiveness during strikes.

Granberg said that “we think that the people that defend our country should have access to the best tools and technologies to do their job. We know these people, we used to work with them, and we want to help them.”

He understands the concerns of critics though, and says that Vannevar intends to work with the government to ensure ethics remains core to its product. “We believe it’s our responsibility to sort of shape that technology and help the government think about putting in place policies that … prevent the misuse from happening.”

Boyle agreed. “One of the things that we’ve noticed is that if you’re very transparent and upfront about the types of products you’re going to be building in the beginning, it’s not a recruitment problem, it’s not an ethics problem.” Unlike Google, which had a six-figure large workforce with many employees who don’t want to touch defense-related code, the hope for Granberg and Moorhead is that a company like Vannevar can build a coalition of the willing, as it were, and maybe solve some serious security problems as well.


By Danny Crichton

Arceo.ai raises $37 million to expand cyber insurance coverage and access

Critical cyber attacks on both businesses and individuals have been grabbing headlines at an alarming rate. Cybersecurity has moved from a background risk for enterprises to a critical day-to-day threat to business operations, forcing executive teams to pour time and hundreds of billions in capital into monitoring and prevention efforts.

Yet even as investment in security ticks up, the frequency and cost of cybercrime to businesses continues to rapidly accelerate, with the World Economic Forum estimating the economic loss due to cybercrime could reach $3 trillion by 2020.

More companies are now turning to cyber insurance as a means of mitigating financial exposure. However, for traditional insurers, cybersecurity remains a relatively nascent and unfamiliar issue, requiring risk-assessment data points and methodologies largely different from those seen in traditional insurance products. As a result, businesses often struggle to get the scale of cybersecurity coverage they require.

Arceo.ai is hoping to expand the size and scope of the cyber insurance market for both insurers and companies, by providing insurers with effective real-time data, analytics and context, necessary for safely and efficiently underwrite cyber risk.

This morning, Arceo took a major step in achieving that goal, announcing the company has raised a $37 million round of funding led by Lightspeed Venture Partners and Founders Fund with participation from CRV and  UL Ventures.

Using an expansive set of global sources across a customer’s digital footprint, Arceo.AI collects internal, external and macro cyber risk data which it uses to evaluate a company’s security and cyber risk management behavior. By automating the data collection process and connecting it with insurer underwriting processes, Arceo is able to keep its data and policy assessments up to date in real-time and enable faster, more efficient quotes.

A vital component of Arceo’s platform is its analytics offering. Using patented data science and cyber risk models, Arceo generates analytics-driven insights for insurance carriers, brokers and end-insured customers. For end-insured customers, Arceo helps companies understand whether they’re using the best mitigation strategies by providing policy recommendations and industry benchmarking to help contextualize day-to-day cyber behavior and hygiene. For underwriters, Arceo can provide specific insurance recommendations based on particular policy coverages.

Ultimately, Arceo looks to provide both insurers and the insured with actionable answers to key questions such as how one assesses cyber risk, how one determines what risks can be mitigated with technology alone, how one knows which systems are best and whether those systems are being used appropriately.

Raj Shah

Arceo.ai Chairman Raj Shah. Image via Arceo.ai

In an interview with TechCrunch, Arceo Chairman Raj Shah explained that the company’s background expertise, proprietary data systems, and deep pedigree in both the security and insurance truly differentiate Arceo from competing solutions. For starters, both Shah and Arceo co-founder and CEO Vishaal Hariprasad have spent close to the entirety of their careers in national security and cybersecurity. Hariprasad started his career in the Airforce’s first cohort of cyber warfare officers, before teaming up with Shah to start Morta Security in 2012, a security startup the two sold to Palo Alto networks in just roughly two years.

After selling the company, Shah and Hariprasad remained in the security world before realizing that there was a natural intersection between security and insurance, and a real opportunity for risk transfer solutions.

“Having studied the market, we saw that people are spending more and more dollars on cybersecurity products… There are hundreds of thousands of new vendors every year… Spend is going up, but we don’t feel any safer!” Shah told TechCrunch.

“That’s when we said ‘Hey, we need to move beyond just thinking about technology points and products, and think about holistic cyber risk management.’ And this is where insurance has historically done a great job. Putting a price on behavior and making people think and letting them take risks… From life and death and health to buyers and property and casualty. And so cyber is that next class risk… So that’s really why we started the business. We wanted to provide a real way to manage the cyber stress that they’re facing and that will impact every single one of our digital lives.”

Since the company’s founding, Raj and Vishaal have been joined by a deep network of cyber and insurance experts. Today, Arceo also announced that Hemant Shah, founder and former CEO of catastrophe risk modeling company RMS has joined Arceo’s Board of Directors. Additionally, earlier this month, the company announced that Mario Vitale, the former CEO of publically-traded insurance companies Willis Towers Watson and Zurich Insurance Group, would be joining the Arceo team as the company’s President.

The company noted that participation from high-profile industry vets like Hemant and Mario not only further advance Arceo’s competitive advantage but also acts as another major validation of the company’s future and work to date.

According to Arceo Chairman Raj Shah, after years of investing in R&D, the latest funds will be used towards expansion efforts and scaling Arceo to the broader ecosystem of insurance and brokers. Longer-term, the company hopes to offer the most complete combined cybersecurity and risk transfer solution to insurers and the insured, easing the stress around cyber threats for both enterprises and individuals and ultimately improving broader cyber resiliency.

If you’d like to hear more from Arceo’s Raj Shah, Raj will also be joining us this year on the Extra Crunch stage at TechCrunch Disrupt SF, where he’ll discuss how founders and companies should think about potential US government investment. We hope to see you there!


By Arman Tabatabai

ZenBusiness raises $15m to help founders launch and grow “worry-free”

There are two sides to starting a new business. On one side, entrepreneurs need creativity, imagination — a dream, essentially — to find, build, and market a new product to users and consumers. But on the other side, they have to deal with the regulatory state and all the minutia that comes with running any business in the 21st century.

That includes such delightful topics as choosing a particular model for incorporation, ensuring that a business has the right licenses to operate, and tracking all the legal changes happening in 50 state legislatures every year. It can be inordinately complicated (and expensive!) to ensure that your business is ready and legal.

That’s where ZenBusiness comes in. The Austin-based startup wants to empower entrepreneurs to build businesses large and small by dramatically simplifying the processes required to launch a business and then grow it.

When I last chatted with the company 18 months ago, they had just raised a $4.5 million seed round and had launched its platform. Today, it’s announcing that it has raised a new $15 million series A round led by return backer Greycroft, along with returning investors Lerer Hippeau and Revolution’s Rise of the Rest fund, alongside new investors Rosecliff Venture Partners, Interlock Partners and Recruit Strategic Partners.

The company launched with a product that was essentially an automated registered agent for new entrepreneurs. Under state incorporation laws, companies must designate a so-called “registered agent” to receive official notices from regulatory agencies, and so ZenBusiness chose this strategic point for entry into the market.

When I last chatted with CEO Russ Buhrdorf, he described rolling up this market as one of the key initial targets for the company:

ZenBusiness is the brainchild of Ross Buhrdorf, who joined vacation rental marketplace HomeAway five months after its inception as founding CTO, and stayed for a decade until its acquisition by Expedia in 2015 for $3.9 billion. Buhrdorf intended to take a year off, but “didn’t quite make it a year” he told me.

He explained to me that HomeAway in many ways followed a rollup playbook, “raising $400 million and acquired 26 companies.” Bringing that rollup lens while exploring new spaces, he ran into the corporate legal services market, which offers help to companies to keep them in compliance with the law. Buhrdorf liked what he saw. “It’s different in all 50 states, highly-regulated, which is great for technology, it is overpriced, and they underserve their customers.” He says the space is “completely ripe for disruption.”

Since that time, the company has expanded its product to help entrepreneurs get beyond merely incorporating to actually building out their business by recommending services like banking, lending, tax preparation, website building, and more. The hope is to provide a “worry-free” guarantee to entrepreneurs so that they can get those early critical logistics out of the way and back to actually operating and growing their business.

“Small businesses come through this funnel, they don’t necessarily know exactly what to do. So we curate that solution, and then we provide them with the basics for them to get up and running and to be successful,” Buhrdorf said.

He explained that the company has built out some tools itself such as a simple webpage creator, but in the long run, he hopes to partner with other providers who integrate into the ZenBusiness platform. For instance, ZenBusiness has partnered with Xero as the company’s main accounting provider, while also backstopping that offering with accountants working at ZenBusiness. The idea is that the automated tooling plus a little human touch can help most owners handle the day-to-day challenges of running a business.

TeamPhoto2018

The ZenBusiness team in 2018. Photo via ZenBusiness.

Buhrdorf is particularly focused on keeping the product very self-service and automated to allow it to focus on these smaller customers. “Many of the companies that you cover that are in the enterprise space, who provide solutions for medium-sized businesses, they have to charge, they have to have sales forces, it’s very competitive there,” Buhrdorf said. “What we’re after is the segment that’s underserved, it’s the long tail of the small business segment.”

ZenBusiness has expanded its services, and it is hoping to use the fresh infusion of capital to invest in building out community features that will allow small business owners to swap tips with each other and help one another grow their businesses (presumably with some guidance from ZenBusiness community managers and experts).

The company is now 40 employees predominantly in Austin with a small office in Peru. Since we last checked in, the company has transitioned to become a public benefit corporation, which Buhrdorf said was an attempt to better align the company’s charter with its mission orientation to help small business entrepreneurs.

Update: The funding total was changed from $10m to $15m. Sorry about that.


By Danny Crichton