Rockset announces $40M Series B as data analytics solution gains momentum

Rockset, a cloud-native analytics company, announced a $40 million Series B investment today led by Sequoia with help from Greylock, the same two firms that financed its Series A. The startup has now raised a total of $61.5 million, according to the company.

As co-founder and CEO Venkat Venkataramani told me at the time of the Series A in 2018, there is a lot of manual work involved in getting data ready to use and it acts as a roadblock to getting to real insight. He hoped to change that with Rockset.

“We’re building out our service with innovative architecture and unique capabilities that allows full-featured fast SQL directly on raw data. And we’re offering this as a service. So developers and data scientists can go from useful data in any shape, any form to useful applications in a matter of minutes. And it would take months today,” he told me in 2018.

In fact, “Rockset automatically builds a converged index on any data — including structured, semi-structured, geographical and time series data — for high-performance search and analytics at scale,” the company explained.

It seems to be resonating with investors and customers alike as the company raised a healthy B round and business is booming. Rockset supplied a few metrics to illustrate this. For starters, revenue grew 290% in the last quarter. While they didn’t provide any foundational numbers for that percentage growth, it is obviously substantial.

In addition, the startup reports adding hundreds of new users, again not nailing down any specific numbers, and queries on the platform are up 313%. Without specifics, it’s hard to know what that means, but that seems like healthy growth for an early stage startup, especially in this economy.

Mike Vernal, a partner at Sequoia, sees a company helping to get data to work faster than other solutions, which require a lot of handling first. “Rockset, with its innovative new approach to indexing data, has quickly emerged as a true leader for real-time analytics in the cloud. I’m thrilled to partner with the company through its next phase of growth,” Vernal said in a statement.

The company was founded in 2016 by the creators of RocksDB. The startup had previously raised a $3 million seed round when they launched the company and the $18.5 million A round in 2018.


By Ron Miller

Lightyear scores $3.7M seed to digitize networking infrastructure procurement

Lightyear, a New York City startup that wants to make it easier for large companies to procure networking infrastructure like internet and SD-WAN, announced a $3.7 million seed round today. While it was at it, the company announced that it was emerging from stealth and offering its solution in public beta.

Amplo led the round with help from Susa Ventures, Ludlow Ventures, Mark Cuban, David Adelman and Operator Partners.

Company CEO and co-founder Dennis Thankachan says that while so much technology buying has moved online, networking technology procurement still involves phone calls for price quotes that could sometimes take weeks to get. Thankachan says that when he was working at a hedge fund specializing in telecommunications he witnessed this first hand and saw an opportunity for a startup to fill the void.

“Our objective is to make the process of buying telecom infrastructure, kind of like buying socks on Amazon, providing a real consumer-like experience to the enterprise and empowering buyers with data because information asymmetry and a lack of transparent data on what things should cost, where providers are available, and even what’s existing already in your network is really at the core of the problem for why this is frustrating for enterprise buyers,” Thankachan explained.

The company offers the ability to simply select a service and find providers in your area with costs and contract terms if it’s a simple purchase, but he recognizes that not all enterprise purchases will be that simple and the startup is working to digitize the corporate buying process into the Lightyear platform.

To provide the data that he spoke of, the company has already formed relationships with over 400 networking providers worldwide. The pricing model is in flux, but could involve a monthly subscription or a percentage of the sale. That is something they are working out, but they are using the latter during Beta testing to keep the product free for now.

The company already has 10 employees and flush with the new investment, it plans to double that in the next year. Thankachan says as he builds the company, particularly as a person of color himself, he takes diversity and inclusion extremely seriously and sees it as part of the company’s core values.

“Trying to enable people from non-traditional backgrounds to succeed will be really important to us, and I think providing economic opportunity to people that traditionally would not have been afforded several aspects of economic opportunity is the biggest ways to fix the opportunity gap in this country,” he said.

The company, which launched a year ago has basically grown up during the pandemic. That means he has yet to meet any of his customers or investors in person, but he says he has learned to adapt to that approach. While he is based in NYC, his investors are are in the Bay Area and so that remote approach will remain in place for the time being.

As he makes his way from seed to a Series A, he says that it’s up to him to stay focused and execute with the goal of showing product-market fit across a variety of company types. He believes if the startup can do this, it will have the data to take to investors when it’s time to take the next step.


By Ron Miller

SimilarWeb raises $120M for its AI-based market intelligence platform for sites and apps

Israeli startup SimilarWeb has made a name for itself with an AI-based platform that lets sites and apps track and understand traffic not just on their own sites, but those of its competitors. Now, it’s taking the next step in its growth. The startup has raised $120 million, funding it will use to continue expanding its platform both through acquisitions and investing in its own R&D, with a focus on providing more analytics services to larger enterprises alongside its current base of individuals and companies of all sizes that do business on the web.

Co-led by ION Crossover Partners and Viola Growth, the round doubles the total amount that the startup has raised to date to $240 million. Or Offer, SimilarWeb’s founder and CEO, said in an interview that it was not disclosing its valuation this time around except to say that his company is now “playing in the big pool.” It counts more than half of the Fortune 100 as customers, with Walmart, P&G, Adidas and Google, among them.

For some context, it hit an $800 million valuation in its last equity round, in 2017.

SimilarWeb’s technology competes with other analytics and market intelligence providers ranging from the likes of Nielsen and ComScore through to the Apptopias of the world in that, at its most basic level, it provides a dashboard to users that provides insights into where people are going on desktop and mobile. Where it differs, Offer said, is in how it gets to its information, and what else it’s doing in the process.

For starters, it focuses not just how many people are visiting, but also a look into what is triggering the activity — the “why”, as it were — behind the activity. Using a host of AI tech such as machine learning algorithms and deep learning — like a lot of tech out of Israel, it’s being built by people with deep expertise in this area — Offer says that SimilarWeb is crunching data from a number of different sources to extrapolate its insights.

He declined to give much detail on those sources but told me that he cheered the arrival of privacy gates and cookie lists for helping ferret out, expose and sometimes eradicate some of the more nefarious “analytics” services out there, and said that SimilarWeb has not been affected at all by that swing to more data protection, since it’s not an analytics service, strictly speaking, and doesn’t sniff data on sights in the same way. It’s also exploring widening its data pool, he added:

“We are always thinking about what new signals we could use,” he said. “Maybe they will include CDNs. But it’s like Google with its rankings in search. It’s a never ending story to try to get the highest accuracy in the world.”

The global health pandemic has driven a huge amount of activity on the web this year, with people turning to sites and apps not just for leisure — something to do while staying indoors, to offset all the usual activities that have been cancelled — but for business, whether it be consumers using e-commerce services for shopping, or workers taking everything online and to the cloud to continue operating.

That has also seen a boost of business for all the various companies that help the wheels turn on that machine, SimilarWeb included.

“Consumer behavior is changing dramatically, and all companies need better visibility,” said Offer. “It started with toilet paper and hand sanitizer, then moved to desks and office chairs, but now it’s not just e-commerce but everything. Think about big banks, whose business was 70% offline and is now 70-80% online. Companies are building and undergoing a digital transformation.”

That in turn is driving more people to understand how well their web presence is working, he said, with the basic big question being: “What is my marketshare, and how does that compare to my competition? Everything is about digital visibility, especially in times of change.”

Like many other companies, SimilarWeb did see an initial dip in business, Offer said, and to that end the company has taken on some debt as part of Israel’s Paycheck Protection Program, to help safeguard some jobs that needed to be furloughed. But he added that most of its customers prior to the pandemic kicking off are now back, along with customers from new categories that hadn’t been active much before, like automotive portals.

That change in customer composition is also opening some doors of opportunity for the company. Offer noted that in recent months, a lot of large enterprises — which might have previously used SimilarWeb’s technology indirectly, via a consultancy, for example — have been coming to the company direct.

“We’ve started a new advisory service [where] our own expert works with a big customer that might have more deep and complex questions about the behaviour we are observing. They are questions all big businesses have right now.” The service sounds like a partly-educational effort, teaching companies that are not necessarily digital-first be more proactive, and partly consulting.

New customer segments, and new priorities in the world of business, are two of the things that drove this round, say investors.

“SimilarWeb was always an incredible tool for any digital professional,” said Gili Iohan of ION Crossover Partners, in a statement. “But over the last few months it has become apparent that traffic intelligence — the unparalleled data and digital insight that SimilarWeb offers — is an absolute essential for any company that wants to win in the digital world.”

As for acquisitions, SimilarWeb has historically made these to accelerate its technical march. For example, in 2015 it acquired Quettra to move deeper into mobile analytics and it acquired Swayy to move into content discovery insights (key for e-commerce intelligence). Offer would not go into too much detail about what it has identified as a further target but given that there are quite a lot of companies building tech in this area currently, that there might be a case for some consolidation around bigger platforms to combine some of the features and functionality. Offer said that it was looking at “companies with great data and digital intelligence, with a good product. There are a lot of opportunities right now on the table.”

The company will also be doing some hiring, with the plan to be to add 200 more people globally by January (it has around 600 employees today).

“Since we joined the company three years ago, SimilarWeb has executed a strategic transformation from a general-purpose measurement platform to vertical-based solutions, which has significantly expanded its market opportunity and generated immense customer value,” said Harel Beit-On, Founder and General Partner at Viola Growth, in a statement. “With a stellar management team of accomplished executives, we believe this round positions the company to own the digital intelligence category, and capitalize on the acceleration of the digital era.”


By Ingrid Lunden

Contrast launches its security observability platform

Contrast, a developer-centric application security company with customers that include Liberty Mutual Insurance, NTT Data, AXA and Bandwidth, today announced the launch of its security observability platform. The idea here is to offer developers a single pane of glass to manage an application’s security across its lifecycle, combined with real-time analysis and reporting, as well as remediation tools.

“Every line of code that’s happening increases the risk to a business if it’s not secure,” said Contrast CEO and chairman Alan Nauman. “We’re focused on securing all that code that businesses are writing for both automation and digital transformation.”

Over the course of the last few years, the well-funded company, which raised a $65 million Series D round last year, launched numerous security tools that cover a wide range of use cases from automated penetration testing to cloud application security and now DevOps — and this new platform is meant to tie them all together.

DevOps, the company argues, is really what necessitates a platform like this, given that developers now push more code into production than ever — and the onus of ensuring that this code is secure is now also often on that.

Image Credits: Contrast

Traditionally, Nauman argues, security services focused on the code itself and looking at traffic.

“We think at the application layer, the same principles of observability apply that have been used in the IT infrastructure space,” he said. “Specifically, we do instrumentation of the code and we weave security sensors into the code as it’s being developed and are looking for vulnerabilities and observing running code. […] Our view is: the world’s most complex systems are best when instrumented, whether it’s an airplane, a spacecraft, an IT infrastructure. We think the same is true for code. So our breakthrough is applying instrumentation to code and observing for security vulnerabilities.”

With this new platform, Contrast is aggregating information from its existing systems into a single dashboard. And while Contrast observes the code throughout its lifecycle, it also scans for vulnerabilities whenever a developers check code into the CI/CD pipeline, thanks to integrations with most of the standard tools like Jenkins. It’s worth noting that the service also scans for vulnerabilities in open-source libraries. Once deployed, Contrast’s new platform keeps an eye on the data that runs through the various APIs and systems the application connects to and scans for potential security issues there as well.

The platform currently supports all of the large cloud providers like AWS, Azure and Google Cloud, and languages and frameworks like Java, Python, .NET and Ruby.

Image Credits: Contrast


By Frederic Lardinois

Lessons from Datto’s IPO pricing and revenue multiple

Last night Datto priced its IPO at $27 per share, the top end of its range that TechCrunch covered last week. The data and security-focused software company had targeted a $24 to $27 per-share IPO price range, meaning that its final per-share value was at the top of its estimates.


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The Datto IPO won’t draw lots of attention; its business is somewhat dull, as selling software to managed service providers rarely excites. But, the public offering matters for a different reason: it gives us a fresh lens into today’s IPO market.

That lens is the perspective of slower, more profitable growth. What is that worth?

The value of quickly-growing and unprofitable software and cloud companies is well known. Snowflake made a splash earlier this year on the back of huge growth and enormous losses. Investors ate its shares up, pushing its valuation to towering heights. And this year we’ve even seen rapid growth and profits valued by public investors in the form of JFrog’s IPO.

But slower growth, software margins and profitability? Datto’s financial picture feels somewhat unique among the IPOs that TechCrunch has covered this year.

It’s a similar bet to the one that Egnyte is making; the enterprise software company crested $100 million ARR last year and announced that it grew by around 22% in the first half of 2020. And, it is profitable on an EBITDA basis. Therefore, the Datto IPO could provide a clue as to what companies like Egnyte and the rest of the late-stage startup crop content to grow more slowly, but with the benefit of actually making money.

Lessons from Datto’s IPO pricing and revenue multiple

Here are the deal’s nuts and bolts:


By Alex Wilhelm

Call analytics platform Invoca expands into sales, e-commerce and customer experience

Invoca, which helps companies extract and use data from customer phone calls, is expanding today with the launch of products for e-commerce, customer experience and sales teams, as well as a new Invoca Exchange, where businesses can find all of the platform’s third-party integrations.

The company is making these announcements as part of its virtual Invoca Summit. Ahead of the event, CEO Gregg Johnson (previously an executive at Salesforce) told me that customers have been asking Invoca to expand beyond its previous focus on providing “conversation intelligence” to marketing teams.

“‘We need to get aligned on how we support the revenue journey,’” Johnson recalled businesses telling him. “We were already going down this path, but when COVID hit, we tripled down on it.”

He argued that the data that Invoca provides has become even more important during the pandemic and related lockdowns, when businesses only had “two sources of feedback” — digital interactions and customer conversations. And while there are plenty of analytics tools for tracking online behavior, Johnson said, “Customer conversations are really important because they get at why” people are behaving in a certain way.

And at the same time, Johnson said call center teams have had to shift to working at home, which meant that they had to switch to online software and “everything broke,” while supervisors “no longer had any visibility into how agents were performing.”

Invoca platform

Image Credits: Invoca

Invoca is trying to address these issues by making sure that marketing, sales, customer experience and e-commerce teams all have access to the same call data.

For example, he said that agents at Invoca customer BBQGuys need data to understand what products to recommend for their customers if the specific grill that they want isn’t available. Or a healthcare provider might use call data to predict and prepare when COVID cases might be rising in their area.

“We’ve always viewed ourselves as an application and a platform,” Johnson added. “We already give you ability to use this data at Invoca to automatically apply these insights without any human intervention at all. So for us, we thought through use cases to feed this data into other tools and created four solutions … that are really joined at the hip.”

Invoca for eCommerce, Invoca for Sales and the existing Invoca for Marketing product are all available now, while Invoca for Sales is currently signing up beta testers for NOvember.

The Invoca Exchange, meanwhile, already includes more than 40 integrations, including Google, Salesforce, Facebook, Adobe, Tealium, and Five9. The company is also announcing new partnerships with FullStory and Criteo.

 


By Anthony Ha

Stampli, an invoice management software startup, launches a payments product

Stampli, a collaborative invoice management software company, introduced a payments product today called Stampli Direct Pay.

The startup launched back in 2015 with a mission to simplify invoice management through collaboration (and a dash of AI). Interestingly, Stampli said it was uninterested at the time in providing a payments product alongside its collaborative suite, focusing instead on the process of procure to pay.

This latest announcement marks a shift in the company’s thinking. Cofounder and CEO Eyal Feldman explained that conversations with customers revealed just how frustrated many organizations are with the current B2B payments landscape.

Organizations have several options: cut and mail their own paper checks, use ACH, or sign on with a payments provider to use ‘e-payments.’

Cutting and mailing checks is a pre-historic, time-intensive activity that doesn’t really belong in 2020, while ACH (which comes at a very low, flat cost) often groups multiple transactions into a single sum, making it difficult for accounting to reconcile individual line item purchases.

“Under the misleading banner of “e-payments,” [payments providers] offer AP departments a rebate and promise vendors faster payment,” explained Feldman in a blog post. “However, in order for vendors to get the payment, they must accept payments as virtual credit cards, which come with up to a 3.5% credit card fee per transaction.”

And many payments providers do not provide the data extracted from invoices and transactions back to the organization as a way to stay sticky.

Stampli’s customers illuminated these problems for the startup, which used to be payments agnostic. With the launch of Stampli Direct Pay, the company is still payments flexible, letting organizations work with their existing or different payments providers. But Stampli now offers an option that aims to resolve many of these industry issues.

Because Stampli’s core product already tracks all the contextual and relevant info for every transaction, that information is readily available during payment approval. Direct Pay also offers ACH as a payment option, but separates individual transactions out for easy reconciliation. And for customers who want to stick with checks, Stampli Direct Pay offers a service that allows customers to approve digital checks which come directly from their bank account with their signature, with Stampli handling printing, stamping, and mailing.

Stampli also offers a vendor payment portal that extracts the needed data for each vendor and lets the customer own that data, which can be downloaded and taken to another payment provider.

The company has spent the last four years solving an entirely different problem.

Usually, teams purchase products or services and those invoices end up in the finance department with little to no context, setting off a game of duck duck goose within the organization as accountants try to get the information and approvals they need to pay out that vendor.

Stampli, which has raised $32 million to date, built out a collaborative platform that allows non-accountants to participate in the invoice management process in a way that’s straightforward and simple. Each invoice becomes a communications hub, allowing folks across various departments fill in the blanks and. answer questions about the purchase. Stampli also uses machine learning to recognize patterns around allocating costs, managing approval workflows, and the data that needs to be extracted from invoices.

Each invoice is turned into its own communications hub, allowing people across departments to fill in the blanks and answer questions so that payments are handled as efficiently as possible. Moreover, Stampli uses machine learning to recognize patterns around how the organization allocates cost, manages approval workflows and what data is extracted from invoices.

With the launch of Direct Pay, Stampli is poised to take on a variety of new competitors with an obvious differentiator. The company has processed more than $13 billion in invoices annually.

The team has also grown to more than 100 employees. Fifty-six percent of the company’s US workforce is non-white and 33 percent of the executive leadership team is female, according to Feldman.


By Jordan Crook

Juniper Networks acquires Boston-area AI SD-WAN startup 128 Technology for $450M

Today Juniper Networks announced it was acquiring smart wide area networking startup 128 Technology for $450 million.

This marks the second AI-fueled networking company Juniper has acquired in the last year and a half after purchasing Mist Systems in March 2019 for $405 million. With 128 Technology, the company gets more AI SD-WAN technology. SD-WAN is short for software-defined wide area networks, which means networks that cover a wide geographical area such as satellite offices, rather than a network in a defined space.

Today, instead of having simply software-defined networking, the newer systems use artificial intelligence to help automate session and policy details as needed, rather than dealing with static policies, which might not fit every situation perfectly.

Writing in a company blog post announcing the deal, executive vice president and chief product officer Manoj Leelanivas sees 128 Technology adding great flexibility to the portfolio as it tries to transition from legacy networking approaches to modern ones driven by AI, especially in conjunction with the Mist purchase.

“Combining 128 Technology’s groundbreaking software with Juniper SD-WAN, WAN Assurance and Marvis Virtual Network Assistant (driven by Mist AI) gives customers the clearest and quickest path to full AI-driven WAN operations — from initial configuration to ongoing AIOps, including customizable service levels (down to the individual user), simple policy enforcement, proactive anomaly detection, fault isolation with recommended corrective actions, self-driving network operations and AI-driven support,” Leelanivas wrote in the blog post.

128 Technologies was founded in 2014 and raised over $97 million, according to Crunchbase data. Its most recent round was a $30 million Series D investment in September 2019 led by G20 Ventures and The Perkins Fund.

In addition to the $450 million, Juniper has asked 128 Technology to issue retention stock bonuses to encourage the startup’s employees to stay on during the transition to the new owners. Juniper has promised to honor this stock under the terms of the deal. The deal is expected to close in Juniper’s fiscal fourth quarter subject to normal regulatory review.


By Ron Miller

Lawmatics raises $2.5M to help lawyers market themselves

Lawmatics, a San Diego startup that’s building marketing and CRM software for lawyers, is announcing that it has raised $2.5 million in seed funding.

CEO Matt Siegel used to practice law himself, and he told me that even though tech companies have a wide range of marketing tools to choose from, “lawyers have not been able to adopt them,” because they need a product that’s tailored to their specific needs.

That’s why Siegel founded Lawmatics with CTO Roey Chasman. He said that a law firm’s relationship with its clients can be divided into three phases — intake (when a client is deciding whether to hire a firm); the active legal case; and after the case has been resolved. Apparently most legal software is designed to handle phase two, while Lawmatics focuses on phases one and three.

The platform includes a CRM system to manage the initial client intake process, as well as tools that can automate a lot of what Siegel called the “blocking and tackling” of marketing, like sending birthday messages to former clients — which might sound like a minor task, but Siegel said it’s crucial for law firms to “nurture” those relationships, because most of their business comes from referrals.

Lawmatics’ early adopters, Siegel added, have consisted of the firms in areas where “if you need a lawyer, you go to Google and start searching ‘personal injury,’ ‘bankruptcy,’ ‘estate planning,’ all these consumer-driven law firms.” And the pandemic led to accelerated the startup’s growth, because “lawyers are at home now, their business is virtual and they need more tools.”

Siegel’s had success selling technology to lawyers in the past, with his practice management software startup MyCase acquired by AppFolio in 2012 (AppFolio recently sold MyCase to a variety of funds for $193 million). He said that the strategies for growing both companies are “almost identical” — the products are different, but “it’s really the same segment, running the same playbook, only with additional go-to-market strategies.”

The funding was led by Eniac Ventures and Forefront Venture Partners, with participation from Revel Ventures and Bridge Venture Partners.

“In my 10 years investing I have witnessed few teams more passionate, determined, and capable of revolutionizing an industry,” said Eniac’s Tim Young in a statement. “They have not only created the best software product the legal market has seen, they have created a movement.”

 


By Anthony Ha

Application security platform NeuraLegion raises $4.7 million seed led by DNX Ventures

A video call group photo of NeuraLegion's team working remotely around the world

A video call group photo of NeuraLegion’s team working remotely around the world

Application security platform NeuraLegion announced today it has raised a $4.7 million seed round led by DNX Ventures, an enterprise-focused investment firm. The funding included participation from Fusion Fund, J-Ventures and Incubate Fund. The startup also announced the launch of a new self-serve, community version that allows developers to sign up on their own for the platform and start performing scans within a few minutes.

Based in Tel Aviv, Israel, NeuraLegion also has offices in San Francisco, London, and Mostar, Bosnia. It currently offers NexDAST for dynamic application security testing, and NexPLOIT to integrate application security into SDLC (software development life-cycle). It was launched last year by a founding team that includes chief executive Shoham Cohen, chief technology officer Bar Hofesh, chief scientist Art Linkov, and president and chief commercial officer Gadi Bashvitz.

When asked who NeuraLegion views as its closest competitors, Bashvitz said Invicti Security and WhiteHat Security. Both are known primarily for their static application security testing (SAST) solutions, which Bashvitz said complements DAST products like NeuraLegion’s.

“These are complementary solutions and in fact we have some information partnerships with some of these companies,” he said.

Where NeuraLegion differentiates from other application security solutions, however, is that it was created for specifically for developers, quality assurance and DevOps workers, so even though it can also be used by security professionals, it allows scans to be run much earlier in the development process than usual while lowering costs.

Bashvitz added that NeuraLegion is now used by thousands of developers through their organizations, but it is releasing its self-serve, community product to make its solutions more accessible to developers, who can sign up on their own, run their first scans and get results within fifteen minutes.

In a statement about the funding, DNX Ventures managing partner Hiro Rio Maeda said, “The DAST market has been long stalled without any innovative approaches. NeuraLegion’s next-generation platform introduces a new way of conducting robust testing in today’s modern CI/CD environment.”


By Catherine Shu

With a new focus on marketing software, NewsCred relaunches as Welcome

The company formerly known as NewsCred has a new name and a new product: Welcome.

Co-founder and CEO Shafqat Islam explained that this follows a broader shift in the company’s strategy. While previously known as a content marketing business, Islam said NewsCred has been increasingly focused on building a broader software platform for marketers (a platform that it used itself).

Eventually, this led the company to sell its content services business to business journalism company Industry Dive and its owner Falfurrias Capital Partners over the summer. Now Welcome is officially unveiling its new brand, whcih it’s also using for its new marketing orchestration software.

“It’s not often not often that startups like ours get to close one chapter and open another chapter,” Islam said. “We kind of went back to being a Series A, Series B startup, iterating and working very closely with our customers.”

While today is the official launch of Welcome platform, Islam said the company has been moving the software in this direction for the past year, and that this side of the business has already seen significant growth, with daily average users up 300% year-over-year.

Islam also suggested that while this was the right time to come up with a new company name, it’s something that’s been discussed repeatedly in the past.

Welcome Gantt Calendar

Image Credits: Welcome

“Every time we raised money ever in last 10 years, the new investor would say, ‘What about the name? Can we change it?’” he recalled. “We could never do it, because we had this content heritage built up and enough brand equity. Finally, with this deal, and with the launch of the new software … we came up with the name Welcome.”

While there’s no shortage of marketing software out there already, Islam said marketers need an orchestration system to manage their projects and workflows — most of them, he said, are stuck using “horizontal” project management tools that aren’t really built for their needs, such as Asana or Jira.

“Marketers have very specific needs,” Islam said. “It could be a simple thing like … marketers work with campaigns, so what are your specific campaigns, marketing briefs or marketing-specific workflows? Our approach was: How do we create something that’s really specific to marketers versus all horizontal solutions out there?”

He also noted that “close to half the engineering team works on the interoperability problem,” so that Welcome can integrate all the other tools that marketers are using, like HubSpot and Marketo. The goal, Islam said, is to become “something marketers standardize on,” the way that salespeople log into their Salesforce accounts every day.

Islam also argued Welcome will take advantage of the way that the pandemic has accelerated changes in the enterprise sales process.

“I personally believe the way people buy software is changing,” he said. “The days of wining and dining and selling to the CMO, that still exists, but that’s not how everyone wants to buy anymore.”

To adapt to this new world, Islam said the startup is adopting a more “bottoms up” sales approach, with a free version of the platform due for release next month.


By Anthony Ha

Vivun announces $18M Series A to keep growing pre-sales platform

Vivun’s co-founder and CEO, Matt Darrow used to run pre-sales at Zuora and he saw that pre-sales team members had a lot of insight into customers. He believed if he could capture that insight, it would turn into valuable data to be shared across the company. He launched Vivun to build upon that idea in 2018, and today the company announced an $18 million Series A.

Accel led the round with participation from existing investor Unusual Ventures. With today’s investment, Vivun has raised a total of $21 million, according to the company.

Darrow says that the company has caught the attention of investors because this is a unique product category and there has been a lot of demand for it. “It turns out that businesses of all sizes, startups and enterprises, are really craving a solution like Vivun, which is dedicated to pre-sales. It’s a big, expensive department, and there’s never been software for it before,” Darrow told TechCrunch.

He says that a couple of numbers stand out in the company’s first year in business. First of all, the startup grew annual recurring revenue (ARR) six fold (although he wouldn’t share specific numbers) and tripled the workforce growing from 10 to 30, all while doing business as an early stage startup in the midst of a pandemic.

Darrow said while the business has grown this year, he found smaller businesses in the pipeline were cutting back due to the impact of COVID’s, but larger businesses like Okta, Autodesk and Dell Secureworks have filled in nicely, and he says the product actually fits well in larger enterprise organizations.

“If we look at our value proposition and what we do, it increases exponentially with the size of the company. So the larger the team, the larger the silos are, the larger the organization is, the bigger the value of solving the problem for pre-sales becomes,” he said.

After going from a team of 10 to 30 employees in the last year, Darrow wants to double the head count to reach around 60 employees in the next year, fueled in part by the new investment dollars. As he builds the company, the founding team, which is made up of two men and two women, is focused on building a diverse and inclusive employee base.

“It is something that’s really important to us, and we’ve been working at it. Even as we went from 10 to 30, we’ve worked to pay close attention to [diversity and inclusion], and we continue to do so just as part of the culture of how we build the business,” he said.

He’s been having to build that workforce in the middle of COVID, but he says that even before the pandemic shut down offices, he and his founding partners were big on flexibility in terms of time spent in the office versus working from home. “We knew that for mental health strength and stability, that being in the office nine to five, five days a week wasn’t really a modern model that would cut it,” he said.

Even pre-COVID the company was offering two quiet periods a year to let people refresh their batteries. In the midst of COVID, he’s trying to give people Friday afternoons off to go out and exercise and relax their minds.

As the startup grows, those types of things may be harder to do, but it’s the kind of culture Darrow and his founding partners hope to continue to foster as they build the company.


By Ron Miller

Armory nabs $40M Series C as commercial biz on top of open source Spinnaker project takes off

As companies continue to shift more quickly to the cloud, pushed by the pandemic, startups like Armory that work in the cloud native space are seeing an uptick in interest. Armory is a company built to be commercial layer on top of the open source continuous delivery project Spinnaker. Today, it announced a $40 million Series C.

B Capital led the round with help from new investors Lead Edge Capital and Marc Benioff along with previous investors Insight Partners, Crosslink Capital, Bain Capital Ventures, Mango Capital, Y Combinator and Javelin Venture Partners. Today’s investment brings the total raised to more than $82 million.

“Spinnaker is an open source project that came out of Netflix and Google, and it is a very sophisticated multi-cloud and software delivery platform,” company co-founder and CEO Daniel R. Odio told TechCrunch.

Odio points out that this project has the backing of industry leaders including the three leading public cloud infrastructure vendors Amazon, Microsoft and Google, as well as other cloud players like CloudFoundry and HashiCorp. “The fact that there is a lot of open source community support for this project means that it is becoming the new standard for cloud native software delivery,” he said.

In the days before the notion of continuous delivery, companies moved forward slowly, releasing large updates over months or years. As software moved to the cloud, this approach no longer made sense and companies began delivering updates more incrementally adding features when they were ready. Adding a continuous delivery layer helped facilitate this move.

As Odio describes it, Armory extends the Spinnaker project to help implement complex use cases at large organizations including around compliance and governance and security. It is also in the early stages of implementing a SaaS version of the solution, which should be available next year.

While he didn’t want to discuss customer numbers, he mentioned JPMorgan Chase and Autodesk as customers along with less specific allusions to a “a Fortune Five technology company, a Fortune 20 Bank, a Fortune 50 retailer and a Fortune 100 technology company.

The company currently has 75 employees, but Odio says business has been booming and he plans to double the team in the next year. As he does, he says that he is deeply committed to diversity and inclusion.

“There’s actually a really big difference between diversity and inclusion, and there’s a great Vernā Myers quote that diversity is being asked to the party and inclusion is being asked to dance, and so it’s actually important for us not only to focus on diversity, but also focus on inclusion because that’s how we win. By having a heterogeneous company, we will outperform a homogeneous company,” he said.

While the company has moved to remote work during COVID, Odio says they intend to remain that way, even after the current crisis is over. “Now obviously COVID been a real challenge for the world including us. We’ve gone to a fully remote-first model, and we are going to stay remote first even after COVID. And it’s really important for us to be taking care of our people, so there’s a lot of human empathy here,” he said.

But at the same time, he sees COVID opening up businesses to move to the cloud and that represents an opportunity for his business, one that he will focus on with new capital at his disposal. “In terms of the business opportunity, we exist to help power the transformation that these enterprises are undergoing right now, and there’s a lot of urgency for us to execute on our vision and mission because there is a lot of demand for this right now,” he said.


By Ron Miller

Twilio is buying customer data startup Segment for between $3B and $4B

Sources have told TechCrunch that Twilio intends to acquire customer data startup Segment for between $3 and $4 billion. Forbes broke the story on Friday night, reporting a price tag of $3.2 billion.

We have heard from a couple of industry sources that the deal is in the works and could be announced as early as Monday.

Twilio and Segment are both API companies. That means they create an easy way for developers to tap into a specific type of functionality without writing a lot of code. As I wrote in a 2017 article on Segment, it provides a set of APIs to pull together customer data from a variety of sources:

Segment has made a name for itself by providing a set of APIs that enable it to gather data about a customer from a variety of sources like your CRM tool, customer service application and website and pull that all together into a single view of the customer, something that is the goal of every company in the customer information business.

While Twilio’s main focus since it launched in 2008 has been on making it easy to embed communications functionality into any app, it signaled a switch in direction when it released the Flex customer service API in March 2018. Later that same year, it bought SendGrid, an email marketing API company for $2 billion.

Twilio’s market cap as of Friday was an impressive $45 billion. You could see how it can afford to flex its financial muscles to combine Twilio’s core API mission, especially Flex, with the ability to pull customer data with Segment and create customized email or ads with SendGrid.

This could enable Twilio to expand beyond pure core communications capabilities and it could come at the cost of around $5 billion for the two companies, a good deal for what could turn out to be a substantial business as more and more companies look for ways to understand and communicate with their customers in more relevant ways across multiple channels.

As Semil Shah from early stage VC firm Haystack wrote in the company blog yesterday, Segment saw a different way to gather customer data, and Twilio was wise to swoop in and buy it.

Segment’s belief was that a traditional CRM wasn’t robust enough for the enterprise to properly manage its pipe. Segment entered to provide customer data infrastructure to offer a more unified experience. Now under the Twilio umbrella, Segment can continue to build key integrations (like they have for Twilio data), which is being used globally inside Fortune 500 companies already.

Segment was founded in 2011 and raised over $283 million, according to Crunchbase data. Its most recent raise was $175 million in April on a $1.5 billion valuation.

Twilio stock closed at $306.24 per share on Friday up $2.39%.

Segment declined to comment on this story. We also sent a request for comment to Twilio, but hadn’t heard back by the time we published.  If that changes, we will update the story.


By Ron Miller

Headroom, which uses AI to supercharge videoconferencing, raises $5M

Videoconferencing has become a cornerstone of how many of us work these days — so much so that one leading service, Zoom, has graduated into verb status because of how much it’s getting used.

But does that mean videoconferencing works as well as it should? Today, a new startup called Headroom is coming out of stealth, tapping into a battery of AI tools — computer vision, natural language processing and more — on the belief that the answer to that question is a clear — no bad WiFi interruption here — “no.”

Headroom not only hosts videoconferences, but then provides transcripts, summaries with highlights, gesture recognition, optimised video quality, and more, and today it’s announcing that it has raised a seed round of $5 million as it gears up to launch its freemium service into the world.

You can sign up to the waitlist to pilot it, and get other updates here.

The funding is coming from Anna Patterson of Gradient Ventures (Google’s AI venture fund); Evan Nisselson of LDV Capital (a specialist VC backing companies buidling visual technologies); Yahoo founder Jerry Yang, now of AME Cloud Ventures; Ash Patel of Morado Ventures; Anthony Goldbloom, the cofounder and CEO of Kaggle.com; and Serge Belongie, Cornell Tech associate dean and Professor of Computer Vision and Machine Learning.

It’s an interesting group of backers, but that might be because the founders themselves have a pretty illustrious background with years of experience using some of the most cutting-edge visual technologies to build other consumer and enterprise services.

Julian Green — a British transplant — was most recently at Google, where he ran the company’s computer vision products, including the Cloud Vision API that was launched under his watch. He came to Google by way of its acquisition of his previous startup Jetpac, which used deep learning and other AI tools to analyze photos to make travel recommendations. In a previous life, he was one of the co-founders of Houzz, another kind of platform that hinges on visual interactivity.

Russian-born Andrew Rabinovich, meanwhile, spent the last five years at Magic Leap, where he was the head of AI, and before that, the director of deep learning and the head of engineering. Before that, he too was at Google, as a software engineer specializing in computer vision and machine learning.

You might think that leaving their jobs to build an improved videoconferencing service was an opportunistic move, given the huge surge of use that the medium has had this year. Green, however, tells me that they came up with the idea and started building it at the end of 2019, when the term “Covid-19” didn’t even exist.

“But it certainly has made this a more interesting area,” he quipped, adding that it did make raising money significantly easier, too. (The round closed in July, he said.)

Given that Magic Leap had long been in limbo — AR and VR have proven to be incredibly tough to build businesses around, especially in the short- to medium-term, even for a startup with hundreds of millions of dollars in VC backing — and could have probably used some more interesting ideas to pivot to; and that Google is Google, with everything tech having an endpoint in Mountain View, it’s also curious that the pair decided to strike out on their own to build Headroom rather than pitch building the tech at their respective previous employers.

Green said the reasons were two-fold. The first has to do with the efficiency of building something when you are small. “I enjoy moving at startup speed,” he said.

And the second has to do with the challenges of building things on legacy platforms versus fresh, from the ground up.

“Google can do anything it wants,” he replied when I asked why he didn’t think of bringing these ideas to the team working on Meet (or Hangouts if you’re a non-business user). “But to run real-time AI on video conferencing, you need to build for that from the start. We started with that assumption,” he said.

All the same, the reasons why Headroom are interesting are also likely going to be the ones that will pose big challenges for it. The new ubiquity (and our present lives working at home) might make us more open to using video calling, but for better or worse, we’re all also now pretty used to what we already use. And for many companies, they’ve now paid up as premium users to one service or another, so they may be reluctant to try out new and less-tested platforms.

But as we’ve seen in tech so many times, sometimes it pays to be a late mover, and the early movers are not always the winners.

The first iteration of Headroom will include features that will automatically take transcripts of the whole conversation, with the ability to use the video replay to edit the transcript if something has gone awry; offer a summary of the key points that are made during the call; and identify gestures to help shift the conversation.

And Green tells me that they are already also working on features that will be added into future iterations. When the videoconference uses supplementary presentation materials, those can also be processed by the engine for highlights and transcription too.

And another feature will optimize the pixels that you see for much better video quality, which should come in especially handy when you or the person/people you are talking to are on poor connections.

“You can understand where and what the pixels are in a video conference and send the right ones,” he explained. “Most of what you see of me and my background is not changing, so those don’t need to be sent all the time.”

All of this taps into some of the more interesting aspects of sophisticated computer vision and natural language algorithms. Creating a summary, for example, relies on technology that is able to suss out not just what you are saying, but what are the most important parts of what you or someone else is saying.

And if you’ve ever been on a videocall and found it hard to make it clear you’ve wanted to say something, without straight-out interrupting the speaker, you’ll understand why gestures might be very useful.

But they can also come in handy if a speaker wants to know if he or she is losing the attention of the audience: the same tech that Headroom is using to detect gestures for people keen to speak up can also be used to detect when they are getting bored or annoyed and pass that information on to the person doing the talking.

“It’s about helping with EQ,” he said, with what I’m sure was a little bit of his tongue in his cheek, but then again we were on a Google Meet, and I may have misread that.

And that brings us to why Headroom is tapping into an interesting opportunity. At their best, when they work, tools like these not only supercharge videoconferences, but they have the potential to solve some of the problems you may have come up against in face-to-face meetings, too. Building software that actually might be better than the “real thing” is one way of making sure that it can have staying power beyond the demands of our current circumstances (which hopefully won’t be permanent circumstances).


By Ingrid Lunden