Rippling starts billboard battle with Gusto

Remember when Zenefits imploded, and kicked out CEO Parker Conrad. Well, Conrad launched a new employee onboarding startup called Rippling, and now he’s going after another HR company called Gusto with a new billboard, “Outgrowing Gusto? Presto change-o.”

The problem is, Gusto got it taken down by issuing a cease & desist order to Rippling and the billboard operator Clear Channel Outdoor. That’s despite the law typically allowing comparative advertising as long as it’s accurate. Gusto sells HR, benefits, and payroll software, while Rippling does the same but adds in IT management to tie together an employee identity platform.

Rippling tells me that outgrowing Gusto is the top reasons customers say they’re switching to Rippling. Gusto’s customer stories page lists no customers larger than 61 customers, and Enlyft research says the company is most often used by 10 to 50 person staffs. “We were one of Gusto’s largest customers when we left the platform last year. They were very open about the fact that the product didn’t work for businesses of our size. We moved to Rippling last fall and have been extremely happy with it” says Compass Coffee co-founder Michael Haft.

That all suggests the Rippling ad’s claim is reasonable. But the C&D claims that “Gusto counts as customers multiple companies with 100 or more employees and does not state the businesses will ‘outgrow’ their platfrom at a certain size.”

In an email to staff provided to TechCrunch, Rippling CMO Matt Epstein wrote “We take legal claims seriously, but this one doesn’t pass the laugh test. As Gusto says all over their website, they focus on small businesses.”

So rather than taking Gusto to court or trying to change Clear Channel’s mind, Conrad and Rippling did something cheeky. They responded to the cease & desist order in Shakespeare-style iambic pentameter.

Our billboard struck a nerve, it seems. And so you phoned your legal teams,
who started shouting, “Cease!” “Desist!” and other threats too long to list.

Your brand is known for being chill. So this just seems like overkill.
But since you think we’ve been unfair, we’d really like to clear the air:

Rippling’s general counsel Vanessa Wu wrote the letter which goes on to claim that “When Gusto tried to scale itself, we saw what you took off the shelf. Your software fell a little short. You needed Workday for support”, asserting that Gusto’s own HR tool couldn’t handle its 1000-plus employees and needed to turn to a bigger enterprise vendor. The letter concludes with the implication that Gusto should drop the cease-and-desist, and instead compete on merit:

So Gusto, do not fear our sign. Our mission and our goals align.
Let’s keep this conflict dignified—and let the customers decide.

Rippling CMO Matt Epstein tells me that “While the folks across the street may find competition upsetting, customers win when companies push each other to do better. We hope our lighthearted poem gets this debate back down to earth, and we look forward to competing in the marketplace.”

Rippling might think this whole thing was slick or funny, but it comes off a bit lame and try-hard. These are far from 8 Mile-worthy battle rhymes. If it really wanted to let customers decide, it could have just accepted the C&D and moved on…or not run the billboard at all. It still has four others that don’t slam competitors running. That said, Gusto does look petty trying to block the billboard and hide that it’s unequipped to support massive teams.

We reached out to Gusto over the weekend and again today asking for comment, whether it will drop the C&D, if it’s trying to get Rippling’s bus ads dropped too, and if it does in fact use Workday internally.

Given Gusto has raised $516 million10X what Rippling has — you’d think it could just outspend Rippling on advertising or invest in building the enterprise HR tools so customers really couldn’t outgrow it. They’re both Y Combinator companies with Kleiner Perkins as a major investor (conflict of interest?), so perhaps they can still bury the hatchet.

At least they found a way to make the HR industry interesting for an afternoon.


By Josh Constine

Google closes $2.6B Looker acquisition

When Google announced that it was acquiring data analytics startup Looker for $2.6 billion, it was a big deal on a couple of levels. It was a lot of money and it represented the first large deal under the leadership of Thomas Kurian. Today, the company announced that deal has officially closed and Looker is part of the Google Cloud Platform.

While Kurian was happy to announce that Looker was officially part of the Google family, he made it clear in a blog post that the analytics arm would continue to support multiple cloud vendors beyond Google.

“Google Cloud and Looker share a common philosophy around delivering open solutions and supporting customers wherever they are—be it on Google Cloud, in other public clouds, or on premises. As more organizations adopt a multi-cloud strategy, Looker customers and partners can expect continued support of all cloud data management systems like Amazon Redshift, Azure SQL, Snowflake, Oracle, Microsoft SQL Server and Teradata,” Kurian wrote.

As is typical in a deal like this, Looker CEO Frank Bien sees the much larger Google giving his company the resources to grow much faster than it could have on its own. “Joining Google Cloud provides us better reach, strengthens our resources, and brings together some of the best minds in both analytics and cloud infrastructure to build an exciting path forward for our customers and partners. The mission that we undertook seven years ago as Looker takes a significant step forward beginning today,” Bien wrote in his post.

At the time the deal was announced in June, the company shared a slide, which showed where Looker fits in what they call their “Smart Analytics Platform,” which provides ways to process, understand, analyze and visualize data. Looker fills in a spot in the visualization stack while continuing to support other clouds.

Slide: Google

Looker was founded in 2011 and raised more than $280 million, according to Crunchbase. Investors included Redpoint, Meritech Capital Partners, First Round Capital, Kleiner Perkins, CapitalG and PremjiInvest. The last deal before the acquisition was a $103 million Series E investment on a $1.6 billion valuation in December 2018.


By Ron Miller

Datometry snares $17M Series B to help move data and applications to the cloud

Moving data to the cloud from an on-prem data warehouse like Teradata is a hard problem to solve, especially if you’ve built custom applications that are based on the data. Datometry, a San Francisco startup, has developed a solution to solve that issue, and today it announced a $17 million Series B investment.

WRVI Capital led the round with participation from existing investors including Amarjit Gill, Dell Technologies Capital, Redline Capital and Acorn Pacific. The company has raised a total of $28 million, according to Crunchbase data.

The startup is helping move data and applications — lock, stock and barrel — to the cloud. For starters, it’s focusing on Teradata data warehouses and applications built on top of that because it’s a popular enterprise offering, says Mike Waas CEO and co-founder at the company.

“Pretty much all major enterprises are struggling right now with getting their data into the cloud. At Datometry, we built a software platform that lets them take their existing applications and move them over to new cloud technology as is, and operate with cloud databases without having to change any SQL or APIs,” Waas told TechCrunch.

Today, without Datometry, customers would have to hire expensive systems integrators and take months or years rewriting their applications, but Datometry says it has found a way to move the applications to the cloud, reducing the time to migrate from years to weeks or months, by using virtualization.

The company starts by building a new schema for the cloud platform. It supports all the major players including Amazon, Microsoft and Google. It then runs the applications through a virtual database running the schema and connects the old application with a cloud data warehouse like Amazon Redshift.

Waas sees virtualization as the key here as it enables his customers to run the applications just as they always have on prem, but in a more modern context. “Personally I believe that it’s time for virtualization to disrupt the database stack just the way it has disrupted pretty much everything else in the datacenter,” he said.

From there, they can start developing more modern applications in the cloud, but he says that his company can get them to the cloud faster and cheaper than was possible before, and without disrupting their operations in any major way.

Waas founded the company in 2013 and it took several years to build the solution. This is a hard problem to solve, and he was ahead of the curve in terms of trying to move this type of data. As his solution came online in the last 18 months, it turned out to be good timing as companies were looking suddenly for ways to move data and applications to the cloud.

He says he has been able to build a client base of 40 customers with 30 employees because the cloud service providers are helping with sales and walking them into clients, more than they can handle right now as a small startup.

The plan moving forward is to use some of the money from this round to build a partner network with systems integrators to help with implementation, so that they can concentrate on developing the product and supporting other data repositories in the future.


By Ron Miller

Tozny introduces encrypted identity tool as part of security service platform

Tozny, a Portland, Oregon startup that wants to help companies more easily incorporate encryption into their programs and processes, introduced TozID today. It is an identity and access control tool that can work independently or in conjunction with the company’s other encryption tools.

“Basically we have a Security as a Service platform, and it’s designed to help developers and IT departments add defense in depth by [combining] centralized user management with an end-to-end encryption platform,” Tozny CEO and founder Isaac Potoczny-Jones told TechCrunch.

The company is introducing an identity and access solution today with the hope of moving beyond its core developer and government audience to a broader enterprise customer base.

Under the hood, TozID uses standards identity constructs like single sign-on, SAML and OpenID, and can plug into any existing identity framework, but the key here is that it’s encryption-based and uses Zero Knowledge identification. This allows a user (or application) to control information with a password, while reducing the risk of sharing data because Tozny does not store passwords or send them over the network.

In this tool, the password acts as the encryption key, which enables users or applications to control access to data in a very granular way, only unlocking information for people or applications they want to be able to access that information — and nobody else.

As Potoczny-Jones points out, this can be as simple as one-to-one communication in an encrypted messaging app, but it can be more complex at the application layer, depending on how it’s set up. “It’s really powerful to have a user make that decision, but that’s not the only use case. There are many different ways to enable who gets access to data, and this tool enforces those kinds of decisions with encryption,” he explained.

Regardless of how this is implemented, the user never has to understand encryption, or even know that encryption is in play in the application. All they need to do is enter a password as they always have, and Tozny deals with the complex parts under the hood, using standard open source encryption algorithms.

The company also has a data privacy tool geared towards developers to build in end-to-end encryption into applications, whether that’s web, mobile, server and so forth. Developers can use the Tozny SDK to add encryption to their applications without a lot of encryption knowledge.

The company has been around since 2013 and hasn’t taken any private investment. Instead, it has developed an encryption toolkit for government agencies, including NIST and DARPA, that has acted as a de facto kind funding mechanism.

“This is an open source toolkit on the client side, so that folks can vet it for security — cryptographers like that — and on the server side it’s a SaaS-type platform,” he said. The latter is how the company makes money, by selling the service.

“Our goal really here is to bring the kind of cybersecurity that we’ve been building for government agencies into the commercial market, so this is really work on our side to try to, you might say, bring it down market as the threat landscape moves up market,” he said.


By Ron Miller

Google backs productivity startup building algorithmic inbox for Slacks, emails and texts

There have been plenty of stories written about the so-called “Slack-lash” and the growing unrest among workers dealing with DM interruptions that take their attention away from the task at hand. Slack is a poster boy for the problem, but VCs have invested heavily in a number of collaboration tools over the past several years that have compartmentalized chat and commenting systems and have left workers reeling.

It seems fairly likely that we’ve reached peak VC interest in collaboration, but VCs are dealing with any slowdown by betting more heavily on tools that help workers make sense of the panoply of slick interfaced messaging tools. The latest bet, ’nuffsaid, is, yes, yet another productivity startup, though one that seems devoted to making the messaging realities of 2020 employment a bit more tolerable.

The Utah startup is emerging from stealth, launching the first element of their productivity platform in early access, and disclosing that they’ve raised $4.3 million in seed funding from General Catalyst, Google’s Gradient Ventures, Global Founders Capital, Work Life Ventures, SV Angel and Wasabi Ventures.

The oddly-named company is releasing its first oddly-named product, ‘nflow, into early access, bringing multiple collaboration platforms and a calendar into a single inbox.  Just as the algorithmic timeline shaped how we digest the firehose of social media content, algorithmic inboxes might be the solution to a Slack-lash. ’nuffsaid is taking this algorithmic approach for prioritizing Slack messages, as well as emails, texts and Zoom messages with ‘nflow. The searchable unified inbox brings all of your messages into a single app, letting you know what’s urgent and what can probably wait until you’re finished taking care of the task at hand.

“We think there’s going to be an entire category of products that are all about adding AI into existing workflows. With ‘nflow, we think we’re taking our first baby step to our vision of that future,” CEO and co-founder Chris Hicken tells TechCrunch. Hicken was previously COO of UserTesting.

One of the more exciting elements of ‘nflow is the way it brings the calendar inside the communications hub. Google Calendar is still among the more estranged elements of productivity workflows. Using messages and emails as the basis for calendar events has always been a wishlist item, but the integration is rarely tight enough. ’nuffsaid’s drag-and-drop interface for creating calendar events while tagging team members and adding additional info showcases seems to be a pretty attractive solution, though I’ll wait until I can poke around the app myself before making any full-throated endorsements.

The ’nuffsaid team says ‘nflow will launch commercially at (a rather pricey) $25 per month, but that people who sign up for their early access waitlist will unlock a lifetime rate of $10 per month.

The team of 18 has bigger near-term ambitions than the product they’re launching in early access today. If ‘nflow represents a more mass-market approach to delivering a productivity tool to workers frustrated by a messaging overload, their future launches signify a desire to dig deeper into specific enterprise workflows and bring specific types of teams onboard.

Over the summer, the company plans to roll out a separate AI-driven customer success module which integrates with a variety of apps to give workers more actionable insights on what tasks are the most critical to maintaining and building customer relationships. The startup plans to build and roll out dedicated versions of the module for engineering, product and marketing as well.

“There are so many collaboration tools, what I like about ’nuffsaid is that it’s where the work is actually happening and they’re not asking users to change their procedures,” General Catalyst Managing Director Niko Bonatsos tells TechCrunch. “Users still have the same email address, they’re still contacting their customers the same ways, they don’t have to start doing unnatural things that disrupt their workflows.”


By Lucas Matney

Negotiatus, looking to help businesses optimize purchasing, raises $10 million

Negotiatus, a SaaS business meant to optimize and streamline the purchasing and procurement process for businesses, has today announced the close of a $10 million Series A round.

The funding was led by Rally Ventures, with participation from ERA, 645 Ventures, Green Visor Capital and Stage 2 Capital. This brings the company’s total funding to nearly $20 million.

Negotiatus was founded by Zach Garippa and Tom Jaklitsch with an idea to detangle the process of purchasing supplies for a business. Garippa told TechCrunch that most solutions to this problem focus on one piece of the puzzle, serving finance or operations or the purchasers themselves, but ultimately making the process more difficult for the other functions in the business.

Negotiatus pulls all of those stakeholders into a single platform where they can shop, place orders, track delivery information and manage spend all from one place.

For example, finance departments often have to manually review and remit payment for thousands of invoices a month, normally across at least several vendors and various formats. Negotiatus allows the finance department to view all of that in a weekly or monthly invoice.

Before Negotiatus, purchasers had to cross-reference approved brands, vendors and products each time they needed a new set of pens or toilet paper, jumping from one website to another and tracking shipments across multiple websites. Negotiatus scrapes your past purchase history to show purchasers what they want in a single place. And, of course, users can track those products directly from the Negotiatus dashboard.

Operations can centralize order requests and approvals within the Negotiatus platform, and leverage analytics provided by the company to make better purchasing decisions. Negotiatus scrapes the SKUs themselves, across vendors, to make sure that businesses are making the smartest possible decision with their budget.

The company says that it takes less than a day to get going on the platform.

Negotiatus generates revenue in two ways. The first is a regular subscription model that charges on a monthly basis for each location on the platform. The second is based on spend volume on the platform (which comes from the vendor side).

Thus far, Negotiatus has 300 customers, with a particular popularity among health and wellness businesses (SoulCycle, Orangetheory, CorePower Yoga) and coworking businesses (WeWork, Zeus, Domio). The company hopes to soon expand beyond physical products into software services.


By Jordan Crook

Fb Workplace co-founder launches downtime fire alarm Kintaba

“It’s an open secret that every company is on fire” says Kintaba co-founder John Egan. “At any given moment something is going horribly wrong in a way that it has never gone wrong before.” Code failure downtimes, server outages, and hack attacks plague engineering teams. Yet the tools for waking up the right employees, assembling a team to fix the problem, and doing a post-mortem to assess how to prevent it from happening again can be as chaotic as the crisis itself.

Text messages, Slack channels, task managers, and Google Docs aren’t sufficient for actually learning from mistakes. Alerting systems like PagerDuty focus on the rapid response, but not the educational process in the aftermath. Finally there’s a more holistic solution to incident response with today’s launch of Kintaba.

The Kintaba team experienced these pains first hand while working at Facebook after Egan and Zac Morris’ Y Combinator-backed data transfer startup Caffeinated Mind was acqui-hired in 2012. Years later when they tried to build a blockchain startup and the whole stack was constantly in flames, they longed for a better incident alert tool. So they built one themselves and named it after the Japanese art of Kintsugi, where gold is used to fill in cracked pottery “which teaches us to embrace the imperfect and to value the repaired” Egan says.

With today’s launch, Kintaba offers a clear dashboard where everyone in the company can see what major problems have cropped up, plus who’s responding and how. Kintaba’s live activity log  and collaboration space for responders let them debate and analyze their mitigation moves. It integrates with Slack, and lets team members subscribe to different levels of alerts or search through issues with categorized hashtags.

“The ability to turn catastrophes into opportunities is one of the biggest differentiating factors between successful and unsuccessful teams and companies” says Egan. That’s why Kintaba doesn’t stop when your outage does.

Kintaba Founders (from left): John Egan Zac Morris Cole Potrocky

As the fire gets contained, Kintaba provides a rich text editor connected to its dashboard for quickly constructing a post-mortem of what went wrong, why, what fixes were tried, what worked, and how to safeguard systems for the future. Its automated scheduling assistant helps teams plan meetings to internalize the post-mortem.

Kintaba’s well-pedigreed team and their approach to an unsexy but critical software-as-a-service attracted $2.25 million in funding led by New York’s FirstMark Capital.

“All these features add up to Kintaba taking away all the annoying administrative overhead and organization that comes with running a successful modern incident management practice” says Egan, “so you can focus on fixing the big issues and learning from the experience.”

Egan, Morris and Cole Potrocky met while working at Facebook, which is known for spawning other enterprise productivity startups based on its top-notch internal tools. Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz built a task management system to reduce how many meetings he had to hold, then left to turn that into Asana which filed to go public this week.

The trio had been working on internal communication and engineering tools as well as the procedures for employing them. “We saw first hand working at companies like Facebook how powerful those practices can be and wanted to make them easier for anyone to implement without having to stitch a bunch of tools together” Egan tells me. He stuck around to co-found Facebook’ enterprise collaboration suite Workplace while Potrocky built engineering architecture there and Morris became a mobile security lead at Uber.

Like many blockchain projects, Kintaba’s predecessor, crypto collectibles wallet Vault, proved an engineering nightmare without clear product market fit. So the team ditched it, pivoted to build out the internal alerting tool they’d been tinkering with. That origin story sounds a lot like Slack’s, which began as a gaming company that pivoted to turn its internal chat tool into a business.

So what’s the difference between Kintaba and just using Slack and email or a monitoring tool like PagerDuty, Splunk’s VictorOps, or Atlassian’s OpsGenie? Here’s how Egan breaks a sit downtime situation handled with Kintaba:

“You’re on call and your pager is blowing up because all your servers have stopped serving data. You’re overwhelmed and the root cause could be any of the multitude of systems sending you alerts. With Kintaba, you aren’t left to fend for yourself. You declare an incident with high severity and the system creates a collaborative space that automatically adds an experienced IMOC (incident manager on call) along with other relevant on calls. Kintaba also posts in a company-wide incident Slack channel. Now you can work together to solve the problem right inside the incident’s collaborative space or in Slack while simultaneously keeping stakeholders updated by directing them to the Kintaba incident page instead of sending out update emails. Interested parties can get quick info from the stickied comments and #tags. Once the incident is resolved, Kintaba helps you write a postmortem of what went wrong, how it was fixed, and what will be done to prevent it from happening. Kintaba then automatically distributes the postmortem and sets up an incident review on your calendar.”

Essentially, instead of having one employee panicking about what to do until the team struggles to coordinate across a bunch of fragmented messaging threads, a smoother incident reporting process and all the discussion happens in Kintaba. And if there’s a security breach that a non-engineer notices, they can launch a Kintaba alert and assemble the legal and PR team to help too.

Alternatively, Egan describes the downtime  fiascos he’d experience without Kintaba like this:

The on call has to start waking up their management chain to try and figure out who needs to be involved. The team maybe throws a Slack channel together but since there’s no common high severity incident management system and so many teams are affected by the downtime, other teams are also throwing slack channels together, email threads are happening all over the place, and multiple groups of people are trying to solve the problem at once. Engineers begin stepping all over each other and sales teams start emailing managers demanding to know what’s happening. Once the problem is solved, no one thinks to write up a postmortem and even if they do it only gets distributed to a few people and isn’t saved outside that email chain. Managers blame each other and point fingers at people instead of taking a level headed approach to reviewing the process that led to the failure. In short: panic, thrash, and poor communication.

While monitoring apps like PagerDuty can do a good job of indicating there’s a problem, they’re weaker at the collaborative resolution and post-mortem process, and designed just for engineers rather than everyone like Kintaba. Egan says “It’s kind of like comparing the difference between the warning lights on a piece of machinery and the big red emergency button on a factory floor.  We’re the big red button . . . That also means you don’t have to rip out PagerDuty to use Kintaba” since it can be the trigger that starts the Kintaba flow.

Still, Kintaba will have to prove that it’s so much better than a shared Google Doc, an adequate replacement for monitoring solutions, or a necessary add-on that companies should pay $12 per user per month. PagerDuty’s deeper technical focus helped it go public a year ago, though it’s fallen about 60% since to a market cap of $1.75 billion. Still, customers like Dropbox, Zoom, and Vodafone rely on its SMS incident alerts, while Kintaba’s integration with Slack might not be enough to rouse coders from their slumber when something catches fire.

If Kintaba can succeed in incident resolution with today’s launch, the four-person team sees adjacent markets in task prioritization, knowledge sharing, observability, and team collaboration, though those would pit it against some massive rivals. If it can’t, perhaps Slack or Microsoft Teams could be suitable soft landings for Kintaba, bringing more structured systems for dealing with major screwups to their communication platforms.

When asked why he wanted to build a legacy atop software that might seem a bit boring on the surface, Egan concluded that “Companies using Kintaba should be learning faster than their competitors . . . Everyone deserves to work within a culture that grows stronger through failure.”


By Josh Constine

Nomagic, a startup out of Poland, picks up $8.6M for its pick-and-place warehouse robots

Factories and warehouses have been two of the biggest markets for robots in the last several years, with machines taking on mundane, if limited, processes to speed up work and free up humans to do other, more complex tasks. Now, a startup out of Poland that is widening the scope of what those robots can do is announcing funding, a sign not just of how robotic technology has been evolving, but of the growing demand for more automation, specifically in the world of logistics and fulfilment.

Nomagic, which has developed way for a robotic arm to identify an item from an unordered selection, pick it up and then pack it into a box, is today announcing that it has raised $8.6 million in funding, one of the largest-ever seed rounds for a Polish startup. Co-led by Khosla Ventures and Hoxton Ventures, the round also included participation from DN Capital, Capnamic Ventures and Manta Ray, all previous backers of Nomagic.

There are a number of robotic arms on the market today that can be programmed to pick up and deposit items from Point A to Point B. But we are only starting to see a new wave of companies focus on bringing these to fulfilment environments because of the limitations of those arms: they can only work when the items are already “ordered” in a predictable way, such as on an assembly line, which has mean that fulfilment of, for example, online orders is usually carried out by humans.

Nomagic has incorporated a new degree of computer vision, machine learning and other AI-based technologies to  elevate the capabilities of those robotic arm. Robots powered by its tech can successfully select items from an “unstructured” group of objects — that is, not an assembly line, but potentially another box — before picking it up and placing it elsewhere.

Kacper Nowicki, the ex-Googler CEO of Nomagic who co-founded the company with Marek Cygan (formerly of Climate Corporation) and Tristan d’Orgeval (an academic), noted that while there has been some work on the problem of unstructured objects and industrial robots — in the US, there are some live implementations taking shape, with one, Covariant, recently exiting stealth mode — it has been mostly a “missing piece” in terms of the innovation that has been done to make logistics and fulfilment more efficient.

That is to say, there has been little in the way of bigger commercial roll outs of the technology, creating an opportunity in what is a huge market: fulfilment services are projected to be a $56 billion market by 2021 (currently the US is the biggest single region, estimated at between $13.5 billion and $15.5 billion).

“If every product were a tablet or phone, you could automate a regular robotic arm to pick and pack,” Nowicki said. “But if you have something else, say something in plastic, or a really huge diversity of products, then that is where the problems come in.”

Nowicki was a longtime Googler who moved from Silicon Valley back to Poland to build the company’s first engineering team in the country. In his years at Google, Nowicki worked in areas including Google Cloud and search, but also saw the AI developments underway at Google’s DeepMind subsidiary, and decided he wanted to tackle a new problem for his next challenge.

His interest underscores what has been something of a fork in artificial intelligence in recent years. While some of the earliest implementations of the principles of AI were indeed on robots, these days a lot of robotic hardware seems clunky and even outmoded, while much more of the focus of AI has shifted to software and “non-physical” systems aimed at replicating and improving upon human thought. Even the word “robot” is now just as likely to be seen in the phrase “robotic process automation”, which in fact has nothing to do with physical robots, but software.

“A lot of AI applications are not that appealing,” Nowicki simply noted (indeed, while Nowicki didn’t spell it out, DeepMind in particular has faced a lot of controversy over its own work in areas like healthcare). “But improvements in existing robotics systems by applying machine learning and computer vision so that they can operate in unstructured environments caught my attention. There has been so little automation actually in physical systems, and I believe it’s a place where we still will see a lot of change.”

Interestingly, while the company is focusing on hardware, it’s not actually building hardware per se, but is working on software that can run on the most popular robotic arms in the market today to make them “smarter”.

“We believe that most of the intellectual property in in AI is in the software stack, not the hardware,” said Orgeval. “We look at it as a mechatronics problem, but even there, we believe that this is mainly a software problem.”

Having Khosla as a backer is notable given that a very large part of the VC’s prolific investing has been in North America up to now. Nowicki said he had a connection to the firm by way of his time in the Bay Area, where before Google, Vinod Khosla backed a startup of his (which went bust in one of the dot-com downturns).

While there is an opportunity for Nomagic to take its idea global, for now Khosla’s interested because of the a closer opportunity at home, where Nomagic is already working with third-party logistics and fulfilment providers, as well as retailers like Cdiscount, a French Amazon-style, soup-to-nuts online marketplace.

“The Nomagic team has made significant strides since its founding in 2017,” says Sven Strohband, Managing Director of Khosla Ventures, in a statement. “There’s a massive opportunity within the European market for warehouse robotics and automation, and NoMagic is well-positioned to capture some of that market share.”

WARSAW, POLAND – Feb 4, 2020 – Nomagic, provider of smart pick & place robots for warehouses, announced today the closing of a $8.6 million Seed investment round led by Khosla Ventures. The round is one of the biggest seed rounds for a Polish startup yet. Hoxton Ventures (London) co-led the round with existing investors DN Capital (London), Capnamic Ventures (Cologne) and Manta Ray (London).

“The Nomagic team has made significant strides since its founding in 2017,” says Sven Strohband, Managing Director of Khosla Ventures. “There’s a massive opportunity within the European market for warehouse robotics and automation, and NoMagic is well-positioned to capture some of that market share.”

Founded on the premise that order fulfillment in warehouses requires repetitive manual tasks for which it is harder and harder to find operators, Nomagic develops AI-based solutions using robotic arms to reliably pick and place millions of different products. Their smart robots are able to determine how to pick never seen products and detect rare anomalies such as robots picking two items at once. In 2019, Nomagic deployed its solution at Cdiscount, the leading French e-commerce platform, to build the first fully automated packing line for e-commerce.


By Ingrid Lunden

HPE acquires cloud native security startup Scytale

HPE announced today that it has acquired Scytale, a cloud native security startup that is built on the open source Secure Production Identity Framework for Everyone (SPIFFE) protocol. The companies did not share the acquisition price.

Specifically, Scytale looks at application-to-application identity and access management, something that is increasingly important as more transactions take place between applications without any human intervention. It’s imperative that the application knows it’s OK to share information with the other application.

This is an area that HPE wants to expand into, Dave Husak, HPE fellow and GM of cloudless initiative wrote in a blog post announcing the acquisition. “As HPE progresses into this next chapter, delivering on our differentiated, edge to cloud platform as-a-service strategy, security will continue to play a fundamental role. We recognize that every organization that operates in a hybrid, multi-cloud environment requires 100% secure, zero trust systems, that can dynamically identify and authenticate data and applications in real-time,” Husak wrote.

He was also careful to stress that HPE would continue to be good stewards of the SPIFFE and SPIRE (the SPIFFE Runtime Environment) projects, both of which are under the auspices of the Cloud Native Computing Foundation.

Scytale co-founder Sunil James, writing in a blog post about the deal, indicated that this was important to the founders that HPE respect the startup’s open source roots. “Scytale’s DNA is security, distributed systems, and open-source. Under HPE, Scytale will continue to help steward SPIFFE. Our ever-growing and vocal community will lead us. We’ll toil to maintain this transparent and vendor-neutral project, which will be fundamental in HPE’s plans to deliver a dynamic, open, and secure edge-to-cloud platform,” he wrote.

Scytale was founded in 2017 and has raised $8 million to-date, according to PitchBook data. The bulk of that was in a $5 million Series A last March led by Bessemer.


By Ron Miller

What Nutanix got right (and wrong) in its IPO roadshow

Back in 2016, Nutanix decided to take the big step of going public. Part of that process was creating a pitch deck and presenting it during its roadshow, a coming-out party when a company goes on tour prior to its IPO and pitches itself to investors of all stripes.

It’s a huge moment in the life of any company, and after talking to CEO Dheeraj Pandey and CFO Duston Williams, one we better understood. They spoke about how every detail helped define their company and demonstrate its long-term investment value to investors who might not have been entirely familiar with the startup or its technology.

Pandey and Williams reported going through more than 100 versions of the deck before they finished the one they took on the road. Pandey said they had a data room checking every fact, every number — which they then checked yet again.

In a separate Extra Crunch post, we looked at the process of building that deck. Today, we’re looking more closely at the content of the deck itself, especially the numbers Nutanix presented to the world. We want to see what investors did more than three years ago and what’s happened since — did the company live up to its promises?

Plan of attack


By Ron Miller

OpsRamp raises $37.5M for its hybrid IT operations platform

OpsRamp, a service that helps IT teams discover, monitor, manage and — maybe most importantly — automate their hybrid environments, today announced that it has closed a $37.5 million funding round led by Morgan Stanley Expansion Capital, with participation from existing investor Sapphire Ventures and new investor Hewlett Packard Enterprise.

OpsRamp last raised funding in 2017, when Sapphire led its $20 million Series A round.

At the core of OpsRamp’s services is its AIOps platform. Using machine learning and other techniques, this service aims to help IT teams manage increasingly complex infrastructure deployments, provide intelligent alerting, and eventually automate more of their tasks. The company’s overall product portfolio also includes tools for cloud monitoring and incident management.

The company says its annual recurrent revenue increased by 300 percent in 2019 (though we obviously don’t know what number it started 2019 with). In total, OpsRamp says it now has 1,400 customers on its platform and alliances with AWS, ServiceNow, Google Cloud Platform and Microsoft Azure.

OpsRamp co-founder and CEO Varma Kunaparaju

According to OpsRamp co-founder and CEO Varma Kunaparaju, most of the company’s customers are mid to large enterprises. “These IT teams have large, complex, hybrid IT environments and need help to simplify and consolidate an incredibly fragmented, distributed and overwhelming technology and infrastructure stack,” he said. “The company is also seeing success in the ability of our partners to help us reach global enterprises and Fortune 5000 customers.”

Kunaparaju told me that the company plans to use the new funding to expand its go-to-market efforts and product offerings. “The company will be using the money in a few different areas, including expanding our go-to-market motion and new pursuits in EMEA and APAC, in addition to expanding our North American presence,” he said. “We’ll also be doubling-down on product development on a variety of fronts.”

Given that hybrid clouds only increase the workload for IT organizations and introduce additional tools, it’s maybe no surprise that investors are now interested in companies that offer services that rein in this complexity. If anything, we’ll likely see more deals like this one in the coming months.

“As more of our customers transition to hybrid infrastructure, we find the OpsRamp platform to be a differentiated IT operations management offering that aligns well with the core strategies of HPE,” said Paul Glaser, Vice President and Head of Hewlett Packard Pathfinder. “With OpsRamp’s product vision and customer traction, we felt it was the right time to invest in the growth and scale of their business.”


By Frederic Lardinois

As SaaS stocks set new records, Atlassian’s earnings show there’s still room to grow

Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between.

SaaS stocks had a good run in late 2019. TechCrunch covered their ascent, a recovery from early-year doldrums and a summer slowdown. In 2020 so far, SaaS and cloud stocks have surged to all-time highs. The latest records are only a hair higher than what the same companies saw in July of last year, but they represent a return to form all the same.

Given that public SaaS companies have now managed to crest their prior highs and have been rewarded for doing so with several days of flat trading, you might think that there isn’t much room left for them to rise. Not so, at least according to Atlassian . The well-known software company reported earnings after-hours yesterday and the market quickly pushed its shares up by more than 10%.

Why? It’s worth understanding, because if we know why Atlassian is suddenly worth lots more, we’ll better grok what investors — public and private — are hunting for in SaaS companies and how much more room they may have to rise.


By Alex Wilhelm

Crisp, the demand forecast platform for the food industry, goes live

The food industry may be the biggest industry in the world, but it’s also one of the least efficient. BCG says 1.6 billions tons of food, worth $1.2 trillion, is wasted in food every year and those numbers are only expected to go up.

A number of players have stepped up to try and solve their own portion of the problem, and one such solution is Crisp. The company, which received $14 million in Series A funding last year led by FirstMark Capital, is today going live with its platform (which has been in beta).

Crisp aims to solve the global food waste problem via demand forecasts. Founder and CEO Are Traasdahl, a serial founder, believes that a lack of communication and data flow between the many players in the supply chain is a main cause for all this waste, a great deal of which happens long before the food reaches the consumer.

Right now, forecasting demand is no where close to a perfect science for many of these players. From food brands to distributors to grocery stores, the problem is usually solved by looking at a spreadsheet from last year’s sales for hours to try to determine the signals that played into this or that SKU’s sales performance.

And then there was Crisp.

Integrated with almost any ERP software a company might have, Crisp ingests historical data from these food brands and combines that data with signals around other demand drivers, such as seasonality, holidays, price sensitivity and other pricing information, marketing campaigns, competitive landscape, weather that might affect the sale or shipment of certain produce or other ingredients.

Using these data points, and historical sales data, Crisp believes it can give a much more accurate picture of demand over the next day, week, month or year.

But Crisp isn’t just for food brands, such as Nounós Creamery, a Crisp customer that says its reduced scrapped inventory by 80 percent since switching to the platform. Crisp serves almost every player in the food supply chain, from retailers to distributors to brands to brokers.

And the more customers it gets, the better it is at predicting demand on a very specific level. For instance, the demand forecasting Crisp offers for a particular grocery store, based on external data, will obviously get much better once that grocery store is a customer on the platform.

Traasdahl was initially concerned that his customers would be reluctant to hand over this type of sensitive sales data, and also that players within the industry might be anxious to hand over such data to a platform that’s aggregating everyone’s data, including their competitors. Turns out, the food industry has more of a “better together” mentality.

“Other industries are not as dependent on each other,” said Traasdahl. “If I am a creamery and need to buy blueberries for my yogurt, I may have five different vendors for those blueberries. And if they don’t get delivered on the right day, Costco will yell at me for being late with the yogurt. Everyone in the supply chain is somewhat dependent on each other.”

For that reason, it’s been easier to attract clients to the platform than expected. The prospect of a collaborative demand forecast platform, that’s pulling signals from across the entire industry, is going to be more accurate than siloed demand forecasts produced by a single vendor or brand.

During the beta program, which launched in October, Crisp brought on more than 30 companies to the platform, including Gilbert’s Craft Sausages, SunFed Perfect Produce, Nounós Creamery, Hofseth, REMA and Superior Farms.


By Jordan Crook

Proxyclick raises $15M Series B for its visitor management platform

If you’ve ever entered a company’s office as a visitor or contractor, you probably know the routine: check in with a receptionist, figure out who invited you, print out a badge and get on your merry way. Brussels, Belgium- and New York-based Proxyclick aims to streamline this process, while also helping businesses keep their people and assets secure. As the company announced today, it has raised a $15 million Series B round led by Five Elms Capital, together with previous investor Join Capital.

In total, Proxyclick says it’s systems have now been used to register over 30 million visitors in 7,000 locations around the world. In the UK alone, over 1,000 locations use the company’s tools. Current customers include L’Oreal, Vodafone, Revolut, PepsiCo and Airbnb, as well as a number of other Fortune 500 firms.

Gregory Blondeau, founder and CEO of Proxyclick, stresses that the company believes that paper logbooks, which are still in use in many companies, are simply not an acceptable solution anymore, not in the least because that record is often permanent and visible to other visitors.

Proxyclick’s founding team.

“We all agree it is not acceptable to have those paper logbooks at the entrance where everyone can see previous visitors,” he said. “It is also not normal for companies to store visitors’ digital data indefinitely. We already propose automatic data deletion in order to respect visitor privacy. In a few weeks, we’ll enable companies to delete sensitive data such as visitor photos sooner than other data. Security should not be an excuse to exploit or hold visitor data longer than required.”

What also makes Proxyclick stand out from similar solutions is that it integrates with a lot of existing systems for access control (including C-Cure and Lenel systems). With that, users can ensure that a visitor only has access to specific parts of a building, too.

In addition, though, it also supports existing meeting rooms, calendaring and parking systems and integrates with Wi-Fi credentialing tools so your visitors don’t have to keep asking for the password to get online.

Like similar systems, Proxyclick provides businesses with a tablet-based sign-in service that also allows them to get consent and NDA signatures right during the sign-in process. If necessary, the system can also compare the photos it takes to print out badges with those on a government-issued ID to ensure your visitors are who they say they are.

Blondeau noted that the whole industry is changing, too. “Visitor management is becoming mainstream, it is transitioning from a local, office-related subject handled by facility managers to a global, security and privacy driven priority handled by Chief Information Security Officers. Scope, decision drivers and key people involved are not the same as in the early days,” he said.

It’s no surprise then that the company plans to use the new funding to accelerate its roadmap. Specifically, it’s looking to integrate its solution with more third-party systems with a focus on physical security features and facial recognition, as well as additional new enterprise features.


By Frederic Lardinois

Shared inbox startup Front raises $59 million round led by other tech CEOs

Front is raising a $59 million Series C funding round. Interestingly, the startup hasn’t raised with a traditional VC firm leading the round. A handful of super business angels are investing directly in the productivity startup and leading the round.

Business angels include Atlassian co-founder and co-CEO Mike Cannon-Brookes, Atlassian President Jay Simons, Okta co-founder and COO Frederic Kerrest, Qualtrics co-founders Ryan Smith and Jared Smith and Zoom CEO Eric Yuan. Existing investors including Sequoia Capital, Initialized Capital and Anthos Capital are participating in this round as well.

While Front doesn’t share its valuation, the company says that the valuation has quadrupled compared to the previous funding round. Annual recurring venue has also quadrupled over the same period.

The structure of this round is unusual, but it’s on purpose. Front, like many other startups, is trying to redefine the future of work. That’s why the startup wanted to surround itself with leaders of other companies who share the same purpose.

“First, because we didn't need to raise (we still had two years of runway), and it's always better to raise when we don't need it. The last few months have given me much more clarity into our go-to-market strategy,” Front co-founder and CEO Mathilde Collin told me.

Front is a collaborative inbox for your company. For instance, if you want to share an email address with your coworkers ([email protected] or [email protected]), you can integrate those shared inboxes with Front and work on those conversations as a team.

It opens up a ton of possibilities. You can assign conversations to a specific person, @-mention your coworkers to send them a notification, start a conversation with your team before you hit reply, share a draft with other people, etc.

Front also supports other communication channels, such as text messages, WhatsApp messages, a chat module on your website and more. As your team gets bigger, Front helps you avoid double replies by alerting other users when you’re working on a reply.

In addition to those collaboration features, Front helps you automate your workload as much as possible. You can set up automated workflows so that a specific conversation ends up in front of the right pair of eyes. You can create canned responses for the entire team as well.

Front also integrates with popular third-party services, such as Salesforce, HubSpot, Clearbit and dozens of others. Front customers include MailChimp, Shopify and Stripe.

While Front supports multiple channels, email represents the biggest challenge. If you think about it, email hasn’t changed much over the past decade. The last significant evolution was the rise of Gmail, G Suite and web-based clients. In other words, Front wants to disrupt Outlook and Gmail.

With today’s funding round, the company plans to iterate on the product front with Office 365 support for its calendar, an offline mode and refinements across the board. The company also plans to scale up its sales and go-to-market team with an office in Phoenix and a new CMO.


By Romain Dillet