TestBox launches with $2.7M seed to make it easier to test software before buying

When companies are considering buying a particular software service, they typically want to test it in their own environments, a process that can be surprisingly challenging. TestBox, a new startup, wants to change that by providing a fully working package with pre-populated data to give the team a way to test and collaborate on the product before making a buying decision.

Today the company announced it was making the product widely available and a $2.7 million seed round from SignalFire and Firstminute Capital along with several other investors and industry angels.

Company co-founder Sam Senior says he and his co-founder Peter Holland recognized that it was challenging for companies buying software to test it in a realistic way. “So TestBox is the very first time that companies are going to be able to test drive multiple pieces of enterprise software with an insanely easy-to-use live environment that’s uniquely configured to them with guided walk-throughs to make it really easy for them to get up to speed,” Senior explained.

He says that up until now, even with free versions or free testing periods, it was hard to test and collaborate in that kind of environment with key stakeholders in the company. TestBox comes pre-populated with data generated by GPT-3 OpenAI to test how the software behaves and lets participants grade different features on a simple star rating system and provide comments as needed. All the feedback is recorded in a “notebook,” giving the company a central place to gather all the data.

What’s more, it puts the company buying the software more in control of the process instead of being driven by the vendor, which is typically the case. “Actually, now [the customer gets to] be the one who defines the experience, making them lead the process, while making it collaborative, and giving them more confidence [in their decision],” he said.

For now, the company plans to concentrate on customer support software and is working with Zendesk, Hubspot and Freshdesk, but has plans to expand and add additional partners over time. It has been talking with Salesforce about adding Service Cloud and hopes to have them in some form on the platform later this year. It also plans to expand into other verticals over time like CRM, Martech and IT help desks.

Senior is a former Bain consultant who worked with companies buying enterprise software, and saw the issues first-hand that they faced when it came to testing software before buying. He quit his job last summer, and began by talking to 70 customers, vendors and experts to get a real sense of what they were looking for in a solution.

He then teamed up with Holland and built the first version of the software before raising their seed money last October. The company began hiring in February and has 8 employees to this point, but he wants to keep it pretty lean through the early stage of the company’s development.

Even at this early stage, the company is already taking a diverse approach to hiring. “Already when we have been working with recruiting firms, we’ve been saying that they need to split the pipeline as much as they can, and that’s been something we have spent a long, long time on. […] We spent actually six months with an open role on the front end because we are looking to build more diversity in our team as quickly as possible,” he said.

He reports that the company has a fairly equitable gender and ethnic split to this point, and holds monthly events to raise awareness internally about different groups, letting employees lead the way when it makes sense.

At least for now, he’s planning on running the company in a distributed manner, but acknowledges that as it gets bigger, he may have to look at having a centralized office as a home base, at least.


By Ron Miller

That dreadful VPN might finally be dead thanks to Twingate, a new startup built by Dropbox alums

VPNs, or virtual private networks, are a mainstay of corporate network security (and also consumers trying to stream Netflix while pretending to be from other countries). VPNs create an encrypted channel between your device (a laptop or a smartphone) and a company’s servers. All of your internet traffic gets routed through the company’s IT infrastructure, and it’s almost as if you are physically located inside your company’s offices.

Despite its ubiquity though, there are significant flaws with VPN’s architecture. Corporate networks and VPN were designed assuming that most workers would be physically located in an office most of the time, and the exceptional device would use VPN. As the pandemic has made abundantly clear, fewer and fewer people work in a physical office with a desktop computer attached to ethernet. That means the vast majority of devices are now outside the corporate perimeter.

Worse, VPN can have massive performance problems. By routing all traffic through one destination, VPNs not only add latency to your internet experience, they also transmit all of your non-work traffic through your corporate servers as well. From a security perspective, VPNs also assume that once a device joins, it’s reasonably safe and secure. VPNs don’t actively check network requests to make sure that every device is only accessing the resources that it should.

Twingate is fighting directly to defeat VPN in the workplace with an entirely new architecture that assumes zero trust, works as a mesh, and can segregate work and non-work internet traffic to protect both companies and employees. In short, it may dramatically improve the way hundreds of millions of people work globally.

It’s a bold vision from an ambitious trio of founders. CEO Tony Huie spent five years at Dropbox, heading up international and new market expansion in his final role at the file-sharing juggernaut. He’s most recently been a partner at venture capital firm SignalFire . Chief Product Office Alex Marshall was a product manager at Dropbox before leading product at lab management program Quartzy. Finally, CTO Lior Rozner was most recently at Rakuten and before that Microsoft.

Twingate founders Alex Marshall, Tony Huie, and Lior Rozner. Photo via Twingate.

The startup was founded in 2019, and is announcing today the public launch of its product as well as its Series A funding of $17 million from WndrCo, 8VC, SignalFire and Green Bay Ventures. Dropbox’s two founders, Drew Houston and Arash Ferdowsi, also invested.

The idea for Twingate came from Huie’s experience at Dropbox, where he watched its adoption in the enterprise and saw first-hand how collaboration was changing with the rise of the cloud. “While I was there, I was still just fascinated by this notion of the changing nature of work and how organizations are going to get effectively re-architected for this new reality,” Huie said. He iterated on a variety of projects at SignalFire, eventually settling on improving corporate networks.

So what does Twingate ultimately do? For corporate IT professionals, it allows them to connect an employee’s device into the corporate network much more flexibly than VPN. For instance, individual services or applications on a device could be setup to securely connect with different servers or data centers. So your Slack application can connect directly to Slack, your JIRA site can connect directly to JIRA’s servers, all without the typical round-trip to a central hub that VPN requires.

That flexibility offers two main benefits. First, internet performance should be faster, since traffic is going directly where it needs to rather than bouncing through several relays between an end-user device and the server. Twingate also says that it offers “congestion” technology that can adapt its routing to changing internet conditions to actively increase performance.

More importantly, Twingate allows corporate IT staff to carefully calibrate security policies at the network layer to ensure that individual network requests make sense in context. For instance, if you are salesperson in the field and suddenly start trying to access your company’s code server, Twingate can identify that request as highly unusual and outright block it.

“It takes this notion of edge computing and distributed computing [and] we’ve basically taken those concepts and we’ve built that into the software we run on our users’ devices,” Huie explained.

All of that customization and flexibility should be a huge win for IT staff, who get more granular controls to increase performance and safety, while also making the experience better for employees, particularly in a remote world where people in, say, Montana might be very far from an East Coast VPN server.

Twingate is designed to be easy to onboard new customers according to Huie, although that is almost certainly dependent on the diversity of end users within the corporate network and the number of services that each user has access to. Twingate integrates with popular single sign-on providers.

“Our fundamental thesis is that you have to balance usability, both for end users and admins, with bulletproof technology and security,” Huie said. With $17 million in the bank and a newly debuted product, the future is bright (and not for VPNs).


By Danny Crichton

Andreessen pours $22M into PlanetScale’s database-as-a-service

PlanetScale’s founders invented the technology called Vitess that scaled YouTube and Dropbox. Now they’re selling it to any enterprise that wants their data both secure and consistently accessible. And thanks to its ability to re-shard databases while they’re operating, it can solve businesses’ troubles with GDPR, which demands they store some data in the same locality as the user it belongs to.

The potential to be a computing backbone that both competes with and complements Amazon’s AWS has now attracted a mammoth $22 million Series A for PlanetScale. Led by Andreessen Horowitz and joined by the firm’s Cultural Leadership Fund, head of the US Digital Service Matt Cutts plus existing investor SignalFire, the round is a tall step up from the startup’s $3 million seed it raised a year ago.

“What we’re discovering is that people we thought were at one point competitors, like AWS and hosted relational databases — we’re discovering they may be our partners instead since we’re seeing a reasonable demand for our services in front of AWS’ hosted databases” says CEO Jitendra Vaidya.

PlanetScale co-founders (from left): Jiten Vaidya and Sugu Sougoumarane

Vitess, a predescessor to Kubernetes, is a horizontal scaling sharding middleware built for MySQL. It lets businesses segment their database to boost memory efficiency without sacrificing reliable access speeds. PlanetScale sells Vitess in four ways: hosting on its database-as-a-service, licensing of the tech that can be run on-premises for clients or through another cloud provider, professional training for using Vitess, and on-demand support for users of the open-source version of Vitess.

“We don’t have any concerns about the engineering side of things, but we need to figure out a go-to-market strategy for enterprises” Vaidya explains. “As we’re both technical co-founders, about half of our funding is going towards hiring those functions [outside of engineering], and making that part of our organization work well and get results.”


By Josh Constine