Espressive lands $30M Series B to build better help chatbots

Espressive, a four-year-old startup from former ServiceNow employees, is working to build a better chatbot to reduce calls to company help desks. Today, the company announced a $30 million Series B investment.

Insight Partners led the round with help from Series A lead investor General Catalyst along with Wing Venture Capital. Under the terms of today’s agreement, Insight founder and managing director Jeff Horing will be joining the Espressive Board. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $53 million, according to the company.

Company founder and CEO Pat Calhoun says that when he was at ServiceNow he observed that, in many companies, employees often got frustrated looking for answers to basic questions. That resulted in a call to a Help Desk requiring human intervention to answer the question.

He believed that there was a way to automate this with AI-driven chatbots, and he founded Espressive to develop a solution. “Our job is to help employees get immediate answers to their questions or solutions or resolutions to their issues, so that they can get back to work,” he said.

They do that by providing a very narrowly focused natural language processing (NLP) engine to understand the question and find answers quickly, while using machine learning to improve on those answers over time.

“We’re not trying to solve every problem that NLP can address. We’re going after a very specific set of use cases which is really around employee language, and as a result, we’ve really tuned our engine to have the highest accuracy possible in the industry,” Calhoun told TechCrunch.

He says what they’ve done to increase accuracy is combine the NLP with image recognition technology. “What we’ve done is we’ve built our NLP engine on top of some image recognition architecture that’s really designed for a high degree of accuracy and essentially breaks down the phrase to understand the true meaning behind the phrase,” he said.

The solution is designed to provide a single immediate answer. If, for some reason, it can’t understand a request, it will open a help ticket automatically and route it to a human to resolve, but they try to keep that to a minimum. He says that when they deploy their solution, they tune it to the individual customers’ buzzwords and terminology.

So far they have been able to reduce help desk calls by 40% to 60% across customers with around 85% employee participation, which shows that they are using the tool and it’s providing the answers they need. In fact, the product understands 750 million employee phrases out of the box.

The company was founded in 2016. It currently has 65 employees and 35 customers, but with the new funding, both of those numbers should increase.


By Ron Miller

SentinelOne raises $200M at a $1.1B valuation to expand its AI-based endpoint security platform

As cybercrime continues to evolve and expand, a startup that is building a business focused on endpoint security has raised a big round of funding. SentinelOne — which provides a machine learning-based solution for monitoring and securing laptops, phones, containerised applications and the many other devices and services connected to a network — has picked up $200 million, a Series E round of funding that it says catapults its valuation to $1.1 billion.

The funding is notable not just for its size but for its velocity: it comes just eight months after SentinelOne announced a Series D of $120 million, which at the time valued the company around $500 million. In other words, the company has more than doubled its valuation in less than a year — a sign of the cybersecurity times.

This latest round is being led by Insight Partners, with Tiger Global Management, Qualcomm Ventures LLC, Vista Public Strategies of Vista Equity Partners, Third Point Ventures, and other undisclosed previous investors all participating.

Tomer Weingarten, CEO and co-founder of the company, said in an interview that while this round gives SentinelOne the flexibility to remain in “startup” mode (privately funded) for some time — especially since it came so quickly on the heels of the previous large round — an IPO “would be the next logical step” for the company. “But we’re not in any rush,” he added. “We have one to two years of growth left as a private company.”

While cybercrime is proving to be a very expensive business (or very lucrative, I guess, depending on which side of the equation you sit on), it has also meant that the market for cybersecurity has significantly expanded.

Endpoint security, the area where SentinelOne concentrates its efforts, last year was estimated to be around an $8 billion market, and analysts project that it could be worth as much as $18.4 billion by 2024.

Driving it is the single biggest trend that has changed the world of work in the last decade. Everyone — whether a road warrior or a desk-based administrator or strategist, a contractor or full-time employee, a front-line sales assistant or back-end engineer or executive — is now connected to the company network, often with more than one device. And that’s before you consider the various other “endpoints” that might be connected to a network, including machines, containers and more. The result is a spaghetti of a problem. One survey from LogMeIn, disconcertingly, even found that some 30% of IT managers couldn’t identify just how many endpoints they managed.

“The proliferation of devices and the expanding network are the biggest issues today,” said Weingarten. “The landscape is expanding and it is getting very hard to monitor not just what your network looks like but what your attackers are looking for.”

This is where an AI-based solution like SentinelOne’s comes into play. The company has roots in the Israeli cyberintelligence community but is based out of Mountain View, and its platform is built around the idea of working automatically not just to detect endpoints and their vulnerabilities, but to apply behavioral models, and various modes of protection, detection and response in one go — in a product that it calls its Singularity Platform that works across the entire edge of the network.

“We are seeing more automated and real-time attacks that themselves are using more machine learning,” Weingarten said. “That translates to the fact that you need defence that moves in real time as with as much automation as possible.”

SentinelOne is by no means the only company working in the space of endpoint protection. Others in the space include Microsoft, CrowdStrike, Kaspersky, McAfee, Symantec and many others.

But nonetheless, its product has seen strong uptake to date. It currently has some 3,500 customers, including three of the biggest companies in the world, and “hundreds” from the global 2,000 enterprises, with what it says has been 113% year-on-year new bookings growth, revenue growth of 104% year-on-year, and 150% growth year-on-year in transactions over $2 million. It has 500 employees today and plans to hire up to 700 by the end of this year.

One of the key differentiators is the focus on using AI, and using it at scale to help mitigate an increasingly complex threat landscape, to take endpoint security to the next level.

“Competition in the endpoint market has cleared with a select few exhibiting the necessary vision and technology to flourish in an increasingly volatile threat landscape,” said Teddie Wardi, MD of Insight Partners, in a statement. “As evidenced by our ongoing financial commitment to SentinelOne along with the resources of Insight Onsite, our business strategy and ScaleUp division, we are confident that SentinelOne has an enormous opportunity to be a market leader in the cybersecurity space.”

Weingarten said that SentinelOne “gets approached every year” to be acquired, although he didn’t name any names. Nevertheless, that also points to the bigger consolidation trend that will be interesting to watch as the company grows. SentinelOne has never made an acquisition to date, but it’s hard to ignore that, as the company to expand its products and features, that it might tap into the wider market to bring in other kinds of technology into its stack.

“There are definitely a lot of security companies out there,” Weingarten noted. “Those that serve a very specific market are the targets for consolidation.”


By Ingrid Lunden

Showpad, a sales enablement platform for presentations and other collateral, raises $70M

Sales teams have long turned to tech solutions to help improve how they source leads, develop relationships and close deals. Now, one of the startups that helps out at a key point in that trajectory is announcing a round of growth funding to help fuel its own rapid growth. Showpad, a sales enablement platform that lets salespeople source and organise relevant content and other collateral that they use in their deals, has raised a Series D of $70 million.

The funding, which brings the total raised by Showpad to $160 million, is coming in the form of debt and equity. The equity part is co-led by Dawn Capital and Insight Partners, with existing investors Hummingbird Ventures, and Korelya Capital also participating. Silicon Valley Bank is providing debt financing. This is one of the first big investments out of Dawn’s Opportunities Fund that we wrote about last week.

The company is not disclosing its valuation but Pieterjan Bouten, the CEO who co-founded the company with Louis Jonckheere (currently CPO), confirmed that it has doubled since the $50 million Series C that it raised in 2016, with the company growing 90% year-on-year at the moment in terms of revenues.

And as a point of reference, another sales enablement player, Seismic, last December raised a Series E of $100 million at a $1 billion valuation.

Founded in Ghent, Belgium, Showpad today operates across two main headquarters, its original European base and Chicago. The latter was the homebase of LearnCore, a company that Showpad acquired last year that focuses on sales coaching and training, which has been used as a strategic acquisition to expand Showpad’s primary product, a platform that acts as a kind of content management system for sales collateral. (Today, while Chicago is where Showpad builds its go-to market efforts and professional services, Ghent focuses on engineering and product, he said.) As it happens, Chicago is also the headquarters of Seismic.

As Bouten sees it, Showpad is part of what he considers to be the fourth pillar of the technology marketing stack: storage (the cloud services where you keep all your data), CRM, marketing automation and sales enablement, where Showpad sits.

While the first three are key to helping to manage a salesperson’s activities and work, the fourth is a crucial one for helping to make sure a salesperson can do his or her job more effectively. Traditionally a lot of the content that salespeople used — presentations, white papers, other materials — to help make their cases and close their deals would be managed offline and directly by individual salespeople. Showpad has taken some of that process and made it digital, which means that now teams of salespeople can more effectively share materials amongst each other; and interestingly the material and its link to successful sales becomes part of how Showpad “learns” what works and what doesn’t.

That, in turn, helps build its own artificial intelligence algorithms, to help suggest the best materials for a particular sales effort either to someone else in that team, or to other salespeople using the platform.

“To date there has been enormous innovation in automating the marketing and sales workflow. However, in the end, sales comes down to one person selling to another,” said Norman Fiore, General Partner at Dawn Capital and member of the Showpad Board, in a statement. “Historically, this has been an offline process that has been wildly inconsistent and opaque. Showpad’s suite of products succeeds in bringing this process online for the first time with data-rich feedback loops on the effectiveness of teams, managers, salespeople and even individual pieces of sales content.”

This is a crowded area of the market with a number of standalone companies building sales enablement solutions, but also other companies within the sales stack also adding on enablement as a value-added service. For now, though, Bouten notes that these are more strategic partners than competitors. Salesforce is a partner, he says, and “We integrate with Salesloft to make sure sure emails that are sent out are using the right content. We become the single source of truth but also are being used for outreach.”

Today, the company has around 1,200 enterprise customers, including Johnson & Johnson, GE Healthcare, Bridgestone, Honeywell, and Merck, and the plan going forward will be to continue building out the services that it offers around its sales enablement software.

“You can equip sales people with the best content, but if they are not trained and coached in the right way, it goes nowhere,” he said.

 


By Ingrid Lunden