Temporal raises $18.75M for its microservices orchestration platform

Temporal, a Seattle-based startup that is building an open-source, stateful microservices orchestration platform, today announced that it has raised an $18.75 million Series A round led by Sequoia Ventures. Existing investors Addition Ventures and Amplify Partners also joined, together with new investor Madrona Venture Group. With this, the company has now raised a total of $25.5 million.

Founded by Maxim Fateev (CEO) and Samar Abbas (CTO), who created the open-source Cadence orchestration engine during their time at Uber, Temporal aims to make it easier for developers and operators to run microservices in production. Current users include the likes of Box and Snap.

“Before microservices, coding applications was much simpler,” Temporal’s Fateev told me. “Resources were always located in the same place — the monolith server with a single DB — which meant developers didn’t have to codify a bunch of guessing about where things were. Microservices, on the other hand, are highly distributed, which means developers need to coordinate changes across a number of servers in different physical locations.”

Those servers could go down at any time, so engineers often spend a lot of time building custom reliability code to make calls to these services. As Fateev argues, that’s table stakes and doesn’t help these developers create something that builds real business value. Temporal gives these developers access to a set of what the team calls ‘reliability primitives’ that handle these use cases. “This means developers spend far more time writing differentiated code for their business and end up with a more reliable application than they could have built themselves,” said Fateev.

Temporal’s target use is virtually any developer who works with microservices — and wants them to be reliable. Because of this, the company’s tool — despite offering a read-only web-based user interface for administering and monitoring the system — isn’t the main focus here. The company also doesn’t have any plans to create a no-code/low-code workflow builder, Fateev tells me. However, since it is open-source, quite a few Temporal users build their own solutions on top of it.

The company itself plans to offer a cloud-based Temporal-as-a-Service offering soon. Interestingly, Fateev tells me that the team isn’t looking at offering enterprise support or licensing in the near future, though. “After spending a lot of time thinking it over, we decided a hosted offering was best for the open-source community and long term growth of the business,” he said.

Unsurprisingly, the company plans to use the new funding to improve its existing tool and build out this cloud service, with plans to launch it into general availability next year. At the same time, the team plans to say true to its open-source roots and host events and provide more resources to its community.

“Temporal enables Snapchat to focus on building the business logic of a robust asynchronous API system without requiring a complex state management infrastructure,” said Steven Sun, Snap Tech Lead, Staff Software Engineer. “This has improved the efficiency of launching our services for the Snapchat community.”


By Frederic Lardinois

Strike Graph raises $3.9M to help automate security audits

Compliance automation isn’t exactly the most exciting topic, but security audits are big business and companies that aim to get a SOC 2, ISO 207001 or FedRamp certification can often spend six figures to get through the process with the help of an auditing service. Seattle-based Strike Graph, which is launching today and announcing a $3.9 million seed funding round, wants to automate as much of this process as possible.

The company’s funding round was led by Madrona Venture Group, with participation from Amplify.LA, Revolution’s Rise of the Rest Seed Fund and Green D Ventures.

Strike Graph co-founder and CEO Justin Beals tells me that the idea for the company came to him during his time as CTO at machine learning startup Koru (which had a bit of an odd exit last year). To get enterprise adoption for that service, the company had to get a SOC 2 security certification. “It was a real challenge, especially for a small company. In talking to my colleagues, I just recognized how much of a challenge it was across the board. And so when it was time for the next startup, I was just really curious,” he told me.

Image Credits: Strike Graph

Together with his co-founder Brian Bero, he incubated the idea at Madrona Venture Labs, where he spent some time as Entrepreneur in Residence after  Koru.

Beals argues that today’s process tends to be slow, inefficient and expensive. The idea behind Strike Graph, unsurprisingly, is to remove as many of these inefficiencies as is currently possible. The company itself, it is worth noting, doesn’t provide the actual audit service. Businesses will still need to hire an auditing service for that. But Beals also argues that the bulk of what companies are paying for today is pre-audit preparation.

“We do all that preparation work and preparing you and then, after your first audit, you have to go and renew every year. So there’s an important maintenance of that information.”

Image Credits: Strike Graph

When customers come to Strike Graph, they fill out a risk assessment. The company takes that and can then provide them with controls for how to improve their security posture — both to pass the audit and to secure their data. Beals also noted that soon, Strike Graph will be able to help businesses automate the collection of evidence for the audit (say your encryption settings) and can pull that in regularly. Certifications like SOC 2, after all, require companies to have ongoing security practices in place and get re-audited every 12 months. Automated evidence collection will launch in early 2021, once the team has built out the first set of its integrations to collect that data.

That’s also where the company, which mostly targets mid-size businesses, plans to spend a lot of its new funding. In addition, the company plans to focus on its marketing efforts, mostly around content marketing and educating its potential customers.

“Every company, big or small, that sells a software solution must address a broad set of compliance requirements in regards to security and privacy.  Obtaining the certifications can be a burdensome, opaque and expensive process.  Strike Graph is applying intelligent technology to this problem – they help the company identify the appropriate risks, enable the audit to run smoothly, and then automate the compliance and testing going forward,” said Hope Cochran, Managing Director at Madrona Venture Group. “These audits were a necessary pain when I was a CFO, and Strike Graph’s elegant solution brings together teams across the company to move the business forward faster.”


By Frederic Lardinois

WhyLabs brings more transparancy to ML ops

WhyLabs, a new machine learning startup that was spun out of the Allen Institute, is coming out of stealth today. Founded by a group of former Amazon machine learning engineers, Alessya Visnjic, Sam Gracie and Andy Dang, together with Madrona Venture Group principal Maria Karaivanova, WhyLabs’ focus is on ML operations after models have been trained — not on building those models from the ground up.

The team also today announced that it has raised a $4 million seed funding round from Madrona Venture Group, Bezos Expeditions, Defy Partners and Ascend VC.

Visnjic, the company’s CEO, used to work on Amazon’s demand forecasting model.

“The team was all research scientists, and I was the only engineer who had kind of tier-one operating experience,” she told me. “So it was like, ”Okay, how bad could it be?’ I carried the pager for the retail website before it can be bad. But it was one of the first AI deployments that we’d done at Amazon at scale. The pager duty was extra fun because there were no real tools. So when things would go wrong — like we’d order way too many black socks out of the blue — it was a lot of manual effort to figure out why was this happening.”

Image Credits: WhyLabs

But while large companies like Amazon have built their own internal tools to help their data scientists and AI practitioners operate their AI systems, most enterprises continue to struggle with this — and a lot of AI projects simply fail and never make it into production. “We believe that one of the big reasons that happens is because of the operating process that remains super manual,” Visnjic said. “So at WhyLabs, we’re building the tools to address that — specifically to monitor and track data quality and alert — you can think of it as Datadog for AI applications.”

The team has brought ambitions, but to get started, it is focusing on observability. The team is building — and open-sourcing — a new tool for continuously logging what’s happening in the AI system, using a low-overhead agent. That platform-agnostic system, dubbed WhyLogs, is meant to help practitioners understand the data that moves through the AI/ML pipeline.

For a lot of businesses, Visnjic noted, the amount of data that flows through these systems is so large that it doesn’t make sense for them to keep “lots of big haystacks with possibly some needles in there for some investigation to come in the future.” So what they do instead is just discard all of this. With its data logging solution, WhyLabs aims to give these companies the tools to investigate their data and find issues right at the start of the pipeline.

Image Credits: WhyLabs

According to Karaivanova, the company doesn’t have paying customers yet, but it is working on a number of proofs of concepts. Among those users is Zulily, which is also a design partner for the company. The company is going after mid-size enterprises for the time being, but as Karaivanova noted, to hit the sweet spot for the company, a customer needs to have an established data science team with 10 to 15 ML practitioners. While the team is still figuring out its pricing model, it’ll likely be a volume-based approach, Karaivanova said.

“We love to invest in great founding teams who have built solutions at scale inside cutting-edge companies, who can then bring products to the broader market at the right time. The WhyLabs team are practitioners building for practitioners. They have intimate, first-hand knowledge of the challenges facing AI builders from their years at Amazon and are putting that experience and insight to work for their customers,” said Tim Porter, managing director at Madrona. “We couldn’t be more excited to invest in WhyLabs and partner with them to bring cross-platform model reliability and observability to this exploding category of MLOps.”


By Frederic Lardinois

Box CEO Aaron Levie says thrifty founders have more control

Once upon a time, Box’s Aaron Levie was just a guy with an idea for a company: 15 years ago as a USC student, he conceived of a way to simply store and share files online.

It may be hard to recall, but back then, the world was awash with thumb drives and moving files manually, but Levie saw an opportunity to change that.

Today, his company helps enterprise customers collaborate and manage content in the cloud, but when Levie appeared on an episode of Extra Crunch Live at the end of May, my colleague Jon Shieber and I asked him if he had any advice for startups. While he was careful to point out that there is no “one size fits all” advice, he did make one thing clear:

“I would highly recommend to any company of any size that you have as much control of your destiny as possible. So put yourself in a position where you spend as little amount of dollars as you can from a burn standpoint and get as close to revenue being equal to your expenses as you can possibly get to,” he advised.

Don’t let current conditions scare you

Levie also advised founders not to be frightened off by current conditions, whether that’s the pandemic or the recession. Instead, he said if you have an idea, seize the moment and build it, regardless of the economy or the state of the world. If, like Levie, you are in it for the long haul, this too will pass, and if your idea is good enough, it will survive and even thrive as you move through your startup growth cycle.


By Ron Miller

Fauna raises an additional $27M to turn databases into a simple API call

Databases have always been a complex part of the equation for developers requiring a delicate balance to manage inside the application, but Fauna wants to make adding a database a simple API call, and today it announced $27 million in new funding.

The round, which is technically an extension of the company’s 2017 Series A, was led by Madrona Venture Group with participation from Addition, GV, CRV, Quest Ventures and a number of individual investors. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $57 million, according to the company.

While it was at it, the company also added some executive fire power, announcing that it was bringing on former Okta chief product officer Eric Berg as CEO and former Snowflake CEO Bob Muglia as Chairman.

Companies like Stripe for payments and Twilio for communications are the poster children for the move to APIs. Instead of building sophisticated functionality from scratch, a developer can use an API call to a service, and presto, has the tooling built in without any fuss. Fauna does the same thing for databases.

“Within a few lines of code with Fauna, developers can add a full featured globally distributed database to their applications. They can simplify code, reduce costs and ship faster because they never again worry about database issues such as correctness, capacity, scalability, replication, etc,” new CEO Berg told TechCrunch.

To automate the process even further, the database is serverless, meaning that it scales up or down automatically to meet the needs of the application. Company co-founder Evan Weaver, who has moved to CTO with the hiring of Berg, says that Stripe is a good example of how this works. “You don’t think about provisioning Stripe because you don’t have to. […] You sign up for an account and beyond that you don’t have to provision or operate anything,” Weaver explained.

Like most API companies, it’s working at the developer level to build community and developer consensus around it. Today, they have 25,000 developers using the tool. While they don’t have an open source version, they try to attract developer interest with a generous free tier, after which you can pay as you go or set up a fixed monthly pricing as you scale up.

The company has always been 100% remote, so when COVID hit, it didn’t really change anything about the way the company’s 40 employees work. As the company grows Berg says it has aggressive goals around diversity and inclusion.

“Our recruiting and HR team have some pretty aggressive targets in terms of thinking about diversity in our pipelines and in our recruiting efforts, and because we’re a small team today we have the ability to impact that as we grow. If we doubled the size of the company, we could shift those percentages pretty dramatically, so it’s something that is definitely top of mind for us.”

Weaver says that fund raising began last year before COVID hit, but the term sheet wasn’t signed until April. He admits being nervous throughout the process, especially as the pandemic took hold. A company like Fauna is highly technical and takes time to grow, and he worried getting investors to understand that, even without a bleak economic picture, was challenging.

“It’s a deep tech business and it takes real capital to grow and scale. It’s a high risk, high reward bet, which is easier to fund in boom times, but broadly I think the best companies get built during recessions when there’s less competition for talent and there’s more focus on capital.”


By Ron Miller

Freshworks acquires AnsweriQ

Customer engagement platform Freshworks today announced that it has acquired AnsweriQ, a startup that provides AI tools for self-service solutions and agent-assisted use cases where the ultimate goal is to quickly provide customers with answers and make agents more efficient.

The companies did not disclose the acquisition price. AnsweriQ last raised a funding round in 2017, when it received $5 million in a Series A round from Madrona Venture Group.

Freshworks founder and CEO Girish Mathrubootham tells me that he was introduced to the company through a friend, but that he had also previously come across AnsweriQ as a player in the customer service automation space for large clients in high-volume call centers.

“We really liked the team and the product and their ability to go up-market and win larger deals,” Mathrubootham said. “In terms of using the AI/ML customer service, the technology that they’ve built was perfectly complementary to everything else that we were building.”

He also noted the client base, which doesn’t overlap with Freshworks’, and the talent at AnsweriQ, including the leadership team, made this a no-brainer.

AnsweriQ, which has customers that use Freshworks and competing products, will continue to operate its existing products for the time being. Over time, Freshworks, of course, hopes to convert many of these users into Freshworks users as well. The company also plans to integrate AnsweriQ’s technology into its Freddy AI engine. The exact branding for these new capabilities remains unclear, but Mathrubootham suggested FreshiQ as an option.

As for the AnsweriQ leadership team, CEO Pradeep Rathinam will be joining Freshworks as chief customer officer.

Rathinam told me that the company was at the point where he was looking to raise the next round of funding. “As we were going to raise the next round of funding, our choices were to go out and raise the next round and go down this path, or look for a complementary platform on which we can vet our products and then get faster customer acquisition and really scale this to hundreds or thousands of customers,” he said. Rathinam also noted that as a pure AI player, AnsweriQ had to deal with lots of complex data privacy and residency issues, so a more comprehensive platform like Freshworks made a lot of sense.

Freshworks has always been relatively acquisitive. Last year, the company acquired the customer success service Natero, for example. With the $150 million Series H round it announced last November, the company now also has the cash on hand to acquire even more customers. Freshworks is currently valued at about $3.5 billion and has 2,7000 employees in 13 offices. With the acquisition of AnsweriQ, it now also has a foothold in Seattle, which it plans to use to attract local talent to the company.


By Frederic Lardinois

Datacoral raises $10M Series A for its data infrastructure service

Datacoral aims to make it easier for enterprises to build data products by abstracting away all of the complex infrastructure to organize and process data. The company today announced that it has raised a $10 million Series A financing round led by Madrona Venture Group, with participation from Social Capital, which also led its $4 million seed round in 2017.

Datacoral CEO Raghu Murthy tells me that the company plans to use the new funding to grow its business team in order to be able to reach more potential customers and to expand its engineering team.

The promise of Datacoral is to offer enterprises an end-to-end data infrastructure that will allow businesses and their data scientists to focus on generating insights over having to manage and integrate their data sources. Because nobody wants to move large amounts of data between clouds — and take the performance hit that comes with that — Datacoral sits right inside a company’s AWS systems. It’s still a fully managed service, though, but the data is encrypted and never leaves a customer’s virtual private cloud.

“As companies look to their data to deliver value – data practitioners are finding that configuring and managing their own data infrastructure is a time-consuming job that is expensive and fraught with errors,” said Murthy. “We have built a platform that easily and automatically brings together data from different applications and databases, organizes that data in any query engine and acts on insights that are critical to running their business. A crucial component is that it works securely and privately within the customer’s cloud, instead of us ingesting data from their systems.”

Murthy was an early engineer at Facebook and part of the team that was in charge of scaling that company’s data infrastructure and ran a part of the engineering team at Bebop, Diane Greene’s startup that was later acquired by Google.

To scale Datacoral, the team is betting on a serverless platform itself. It’s making extensive use of AWS Lambda and other PaaS solutions on Amazon’s cloud computing platform. That doesn’t mean Datacoral plans to only support AWS, though. Murthy tells me that Azure support is next. “We plan to work across all of the top cloud providers by leveraging their unique services and provide a consistent ‘data-centric interface’ to our customers — essentially be ‘cloud best’ instead of ‘cloud agnostic.’”

Current Datacoral users include Greenhouse, Front, Ezetap, Swing Education, mPharma and Mason Finance.


By Frederic Lardinois

Pulumi raises $15M for its infrastructure as code platform

Pulumi, a Seattle-based startup that lets developers specify and manage their cloud infrastructure using the programming language they already know, today announced that it has raised a $15 million Series A funding round led by Madrona Venture Group. Tola Capital also participated in this round and Tola managing director Sheila Gulati will get a seat on the Pulumi board, where she’ll join former Microsoft exec and Madrona managing director S. Somasegar.

In addition to announcing its raise, the company also today launched its commercial platform, which builds upon Pulumi’s open-source work.

“Since launch, we’ve had a lot of inbound interest, both on the community side — so you’re seeing a lot of open source contributions, and they’re really impactful contributions, including, for example, community-led support for VMware and OpenStack,” Pulumi co-founder and CEO Eric Rudder told me. “So we’re actually seeing a lot of vibrancy in the open-source community. And at the same time, we have a lot of inbound interest on the commercial side of things. That is, teams wanting to operationalize Pulumi and put it into production and wanting to purchase the product.”

So to meet that opportunity, the team decided to raise a new round to scale out both its team and product. And now, that product includes a commercial offering of Pulumi with the company’s new ‘team edition.’ This new enterprise version includes support for unlimited users, integrations with third-party tools like GitHub and Slack, as well as role-based access controls and onboarding and 12×5 support. Like the free, single-user community edition, the team edition is delivered as a SaaS product and supports deployments to all of the major public and private cloud platforms.

“We’re all seeing the same things — the cloud is a foregone conclusion,” Tola’s Gulati told me when I asked her why she was investing in Pulumi. “Enterprises have a lot of complexity as they come over the cloud. And so dealing with VMs, containers and serverless is a reality for these enterprises. And the ability to do that in a way that there’s a single toolset, letting developers use real programming languages, letting them exist where they have skills today, but then allows them to bring the best of cloud into their organization. Frankly, Pulumi really has thought through the existing complexity, the developer reality, the IT and develop a relationship from both a runtime and deployment perspective. And they are the best that we’ve seen.”

Pulumi will, of course, continue to develop its open source tools, too. Indeed, the company noted that it would invest heavily in building out the community around its tools. The team told me that it is already seeing a lot of momentum but with the new funding, it’ll re-double its efforts.

With the new funding, the company will also work on making the onboarding process much easier, up to the point where it will become a full self-serve experience. But that doesn’t work for most large organizations, so Pulumi will also invest heavily in its pre- and post-sales organization. Right now, like most companies at this stage, the team is mostly comprised of engineers.


By Frederic Lardinois