Cape Privacy announces $20M Series A to help companies securely share data

Cape Privacy, the early stage startup that wants to make it easier for companies to share sensitive data in a secure and encrypted way, announced a $20 million Series A today.

Evolution Equity Partners led the round with participation from new investors Tiger Global Management, Ridgeline Partners and Downing Lane. Existing investors Boldstart Ventures, Version One Ventures, Haystack, Radical Ventures and a slew of individual investors also participated. The company has now raised approximately $25 million including a $5 million seed investment we covered last June..

Cape Privacy CEO Ché Wijesinghe says that the product has evolved quite a bit since we last spoke. “We have really focused our efforts on encrypted learning, which is really the core technology, which was fundamental to allowing the multi-party compute capabilities between two organizations or two departments to work and build machine learning models on encrypted data,” Wijesinghe told me.

Wijesinghe says that a key business case involves a retail company owned by a private equity firm sharing data with a large financial services company, which is using the data to feed its machine learning models. In this case, sharing customer data, it’s essential to do it in a secure way and that is what Cape Privacy claims is its primary value prop.

He said that while the data sharing piece is the main focus of the company, it has data governance and compliance components to be sure that entities sharing data are doing so in a way that complies with internal and external rules and regulations related to the type of data.

While the company is concentrating on financial services for now because Wijesinghe has been working with these companies for years, he sees uses cases far beyond a single vertical including pharmaceuticals, government, healthcare telco and manufacturing.

“Every single industry needs this and so we look at the value of what Cape’s encrypted learning can provide as really being something that can be as transformative and be as impactful as what SSL was for the adoption of the web browser,” he said.

Richard Seewald, founding and managing partner at lead investor Evolution Equity Partners likes that ability to expand the product’s markets. “The application in Financial Services is only the beginning. Cape has big plans in life sciences and government where machine learning will help make incredible advances in clinical trials and counter-terrorism for example. We anticipate wide adoption of Cape’s technology across many use cases and industries,” he said.

The company has recently expanded to 20 people and Wijesinghe, who is half Asian, takes DEI seriously. “We’ve been very, very deliberate about our DEI efforts, and I think one of the things that we pride ourselves in is that we do foster a culture of acceptance, that it’s not just about diversity in terms of color, race, gender, but we just hired our first non binary employee,” he said,

Part of making people feel comfortable and included involves training so that fellow employees have a deeper understanding of the cultural differences. The company certainly has diversity across geographies with employees in 10 different time zones.

The company is obviously remote with a spread like that, but once the pandemic is over, Wijesinghe sees bringing people together on occasion with New York City as the hub for the company where people from all over the world can fly in and get together.


By Ron Miller

Docugami’s new model for understanding documents cuts its teeth on NASA archives

You hear so much about data these days that you might forget that a huge amount of the world runs on documents: a veritable menagerie of heterogeneous files and formats holding enormous value yet incompatible with the new era of clean, structured databases. Docugami plans to change that with a system that intuitively understands any set of documents and intelligently indexes their contents — and NASA is already on board.

If Docugami’s product works as planned, anyone will be able to take piles of documents accumulated over the years and near-instantly convert them to the kind of data that’s actually useful to people.

Because it turns out that running just about any business ends up producing a ton of documents. Contracts and briefs in legal work, leases and agreements in real estate, proposals and releases in marketing, medical charts, etc, etc. Not to mention the various formats: Word docs, PDFs, scans of paper printouts of PDFs exported from Word docs, and so on.

Over the last decade there’s been an effort to corral this problem, but movement has largely been on the organizational side: put all your documents in one place, share and edit them collaboratively. Understanding the document itself has pretty much been left to the people who handle them, and for good reason — understanding documents is hard!

Think of a rental contract. We humans understand when the renter is named as Jill Jackson, that later on, “the renter” also refers to that person. Furthermore, in any of a hundred other contracts, we understand that the renters in those documents are the same type of person or concept in the context of the document, but not the same actual person. These are surprisingly difficult concepts for machine learning and natural language understanding systems to grasp and apply. Yet if they could be mastered, an enormous amount of useful information could be extracted from the millions of documents squirreled away around the world.

What’s up, .docx?

Docugami founder Jean Paoli says they’ve cracked the problem wide open, and while it’s a major claim, he’s one of few people who could credibly make it. Paoli was a major figure at Microsoft for decades, and among other things helped create the XML format — you know all those files that end in x, like .docx and .xlsx? Paoli is at least partly to thank for them.

“Data and documents aren’t the same thing,” he told me. “There’s a thing you understand, called documents, and there’s something that computers understand, called data. Why are they not the same thing? So my first job [at Microsoft] was to create a format that can represent documents as data. I created XML with friends in the industry, and Bill accepted it.” (Yes, that Bill.)

The formats became ubiquitous, yet 20 years later the same problem persists, having grown in scale with the digitization of industry after industry. But for Paoli the solution is the same. At the core of XML was the idea that a document should be structured almost like a webpage: boxes within boxes, each clearly defined by metadata — a hierarchical model more easily understood by computers.

Illustration showing a document corresponding to pieces of another document.

Image Credits: Docugami

“A few years ago I drank the AI kool-aid, got the idea to transform documents into data. I needed an algorithm that navigates the hierarchical model, and they told me that the algorithm you want does not exist,” he explained. “The XML model, where every piece is inside another, and each has a different name to represent the data it contains — that has not been married to the AI model we have today. That’s just a fact. I hoped the AI people would go and jump on it, but it didn’t happen.” (“I was busy doing something else,” he added, to excuse himself.)

The lack of compatibility with this new model of computing shouldn’t come as a surprise — every emerging technology carries with it certain assumptions and limitations, and AI has focused on a few other, equally crucial areas like speech understanding and computer vision. The approach taken there doesn’t match the needs of systematically understanding a document.

“Many people think that documents are like cats. You train the AI to look for their eyes, for their tails… documents are not like cats,” he said.

It sounds obvious, but it’s a real limitation: advanced AI methods like segmentation, scene understanding, multimodal context, and such are all a sort of hyper-advanced cat detection that has moved beyond cats to detect dogs, car types, facial expressions, locations, etc. Documents are too different from one another, or in other ways too similar, for these approaches to do much more than roughly categorize them.

And as for language understanding, it’s good in some ways but not in the ways Paoli needed. “They’re working sort of at the English language level,” he said. “They look at the text but they disconnect it from the document where they found it. I love NLP people, half my team is NLP people — but NLP people don’t think about business processes. You need to mix them with XML people, people who understand computer vision, then you start looking at the document at a different level.”

Docugami in action

Illustration showing a person interacting with a digital document.

Image Credits: Docugami

Paoli’s goal couldn’t be reached by adapting existing tools (beyond mature primitives like optical character recognition), so he assembled his own private AI lab, where a multi-disciplinary team has been tinkering away for about two years.

“We did core science, self-funded, in stealth mode, and we sent a bunch of patents to the patent office,” he said. “Then we went to see the VCs, and Signalfire basically volunteered to lead the seed round at $10 million.”

Coverage of the round didn’t really get into the actual experience of using Docugami, but Paoli walked me through the platform with some live documents. I wasn’t given access myself and the company wouldn’t provide screenshots or video, saying it is still working on the integrations and UI, so you’ll have to use your imagination… but if you picture pretty much any enterprise SaaS service, you’re 90 percent of the way there.

As the user, you upload any number of documents to Docugami, from a couple dozen to hundreds or thousands. These enter a machine understanding workflow that parses the documents, whether they’re scanned PDFs, Word files, or something else, into an XML-esque hierarchical organization unique to the contents.

“Say you’ve got 500 documents, we try to categorize it in document sets, these 30 look the same, those 20 look the same, those 5 together. We group them with a mix of hints coming from how the document looked, what it’s talking about, what we think people are using it for, etc,” said Paoli. Other services might be able to tell the difference between a lease and an NDA, but documents are too diverse to slot into pre-trained ideas of categories and expect it to work out. Every set of documents is potentially unique, and so Docugami trains itself anew every time, even for a set of one. “Once we group them, we understand the overall structure and hierarchy of that particular set of documents, because that’s how documents become useful: together.”

Illustration showing a document being turned into a report and a spreadsheet.

Image Credits: Docugami

That doesn’t just mean it picks up on header text and creates an index, or lets you search for words. The data that is in the document, for example who is paying whom, how much and when, and under what conditions, all that becomes structured and editable within the context of similar documents. (It asks for a little input to double check what it has deduced.)

It can be a little hard to picture, but now just imagine that you want to put together a report on your company’s active loans. All you need to do is highlight the information that’s important to you in an example document — literally, you just click “Jane Roe” and “$20,000” and “5 years” anywhere they occur — and then select the other documents you want to pull corresponding information from. A few seconds later you have an ordered spreadsheet with names, amounts, dates, anything you wanted out of that set of documents.

All this data is meant to be portable too, of course — there are integrations planned with various other common pipes and services in business, allowing for automatic reports, alerts if certain conditions are reached, automated creation of templates and standard documents (no more keeping an old one around with underscores where the principals go).

Remember, this is all half an hour after you uploaded them in the first place, no labeling or pre-processing or cleaning required. And the AI isn’t working from some preconceived notion or format of what a lease document looks like. It’s learned all it needs to know from the actual docs you uploaded — how they’re structured, where things like names and dates figure relative to one another, and so on. And it works across verticals and uses an interface anyone can figure out a few minutes. Whether you’re in healthcare data entry or construction contract management, the tool should make sense.

The web interface where you ingest and create new documents is one of the main tools, while the other lives inside Word. There Docugami acts as a sort of assistant that’s fully aware of every other document of whatever type you’re in, so you can create new ones, fill in standard information, comply with regulations, and so on.

Okay, so processing legal documents isn’t exactly the most exciting application of machine learning in the world. But I wouldn’t be writing this (at all, let alone at this length) if I didn’t think this was a big deal. This sort of deep understanding of document types can be found here and there among established industries with standard document types (such as police or medical reports), but have fun waiting until someone trains a bespoke model for your kayak rental service. But small businesses have just as much value locked up in documents as large enterprises — and they can’t afford to hire a team of data scientists. And even the big organizations can’t do it all manually.

NASA’s treasure trove

Image Credits: NASA

The problem is extremely difficult, yet to humans seems almost trivial. You or I could glance through 20 similar documents and a list of names and amounts easily, perhaps even in less time than it takes for Docugami to crawl them and train itself.

But AI, after all, is meant to imitate and excel human capacity, and it’s one thing for an account manager to do monthly reports on 20 contracts — quite another to do a daily report on a thousand. Yet Docugami accomplishes the latter and former equally easily — which is where it fits into both the enterprise system, where scaling this kind of operation is crucial, and to NASA, which is buried under a backlog of documentation from which it hopes to glean clean data and insights.

If there’s one thing NASA’s got a lot of, it’s documents. Its reasonably well maintained archives go back to its founding, and many important ones are available by various means — I’ve spent many a pleasant hour perusing its cache of historical documents.

But NASA isn’t looking for new insights into Apollo 11. Through its many past and present programs, solicitations, grant programs, budgets, and of course engineering projects, it generates a huge amount of documents — being, after all, very much a part of the federal bureaucracy. And as with any large organization with its paperwork spread over decades, NASA’s document stash represents untapped potential.

Expert opinions, research precursors, engineering solutions, and a dozen more categories of important information are sitting in files searchable perhaps by basic word matching but otherwise unstructured. Wouldn’t it be nice for someone at JPL to get it in their head to look at the evolution of nozzle design, and within a few minutes have a complete and current list of documents on that topic, organized by type, date, author, and status? What about the patent advisor who needs to provide a NIAC grant recipient information on prior art — shouldn’t they be able to pull those old patents and applications up with more specificity than any with a given keyword?

The NASA SBIR grant, awarded last summer, isn’t for any specific work, like collecting all the documents of such and such a type from Johnson Space Center or something. It’s an exploratory or investigative agreement, as many of these grants are, and Docugami is working with NASA scientists on the best ways to apply the technology to their archives. (One of the best applications may be to the SBIR and other small business funding programs themselves.)

Another SBIR grant with the NSF differs in that, while at NASA the team is looking into better organizing tons of disparate types of documents with some overlapping information, at NSF they’re aiming to better identify “small data.” “We are looking at the tiny things, the tiny details,” said Paoli. “For instance, if you have a name, is it the lender or the borrower? The doctor or the patient name? When you read a patient record, penicillin is mentioned, is it prescribed or prohibited? If there’s a section called allergies and another called prescriptions, we can make that connection.”

“Maybe it’s because I’m French”

When I pointed out the rather small budgets involved with SBIR grants and how his company couldn’t possibly survive on these, he laughed.

“Oh, we’re not running on grants! This isn’t our business. For me, this is a way to work with scientists, with the best labs in the world,” he said, while noting many more grant projects were in the offing. “Science for me is a fuel. The business model is very simple – a service that you subscribe to, like Docusign or Dropbox.”

The company is only just now beginning its real business operations, having made a few connections with integration partners and testers. But over the next year it will expand its private beta and eventually open it up — though there’s no timeline on that just yet.

“We’re very young. A year ago we were like five, six people, now we went and got this $10M seed round and boom,” said Paoli. But he’s certain that this is a business that will be not just lucrative but will represent an important change in how companies work.

“People love documents. Maybe it’s because I’m French,” he said, “but I think text and books and writing are critical — that’s just how humans work. We really think people can help machines think better, and machines can help people think better.”


By Devin Coldewey

Quiq acquires Snaps to create a combined customer messaging platform

At first glance, Quiq and Snaps might sound like similar startups — they both help businesses talk to their customers via text messaging and other messaging apps. But Snaps CEO Christian Brucculeri said “there’s almost no overlap in what we do” and that the companies are “almost complete complements.”

That’s why Quiq (based in Bozeman, Montana) is acquiring Snaps (based in New York). The entire Snaps team is joining Quiq, with Brucculeri becoming senior vice president of sales and customer success for the combined organization.

Quiq CEO Mike Myer echoed Bruccleri’s point, comparing the situation to dumping two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle on the floor and discovering “the two pieces fit perfectly.” More specifically, he told me that Quiq has generally focused on customer service messaging, with a “do it yourself, toolset approach.” After all, the company was founded by two technical co-founders, and Myer joked, “We can’t understand why [a customer] can’t just call an API.”

Snaps, meanwhile, has focused more on marketing conversations, and on a managed service approach where it handles all of the technical work for its customers. In addition, Myer said that while Quiq has “really focused on platform aspect from beginning” — building integrations with more than a dozen messaging channels including Apple Business Chat, Google’s Business Messages, Instagram, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp — it doesn’t have “a deep natural language or conversational AI capability” the way Snaps does.

Myer added that demand for Quiq’s offering has been growing dramatically, with revenue up 300% year-over-year in the last six months of 2020. At the same time, he suggested that the divisions between marketing and customer service are beginning to dissolve, with service teams increasingly given sales goals, and “at younger, more commerce-focused organizations, they don’t have this differentiation between marketing and customer service” at all.

Apparently the two companies were already working together to create a combined offering for direct messaging on Instagram, which prompted broader discussions about how to bring the two products together. Moving forward, they will offer a combined platform for a variety of customers under the Quiq brand. (Quiq’s customers include Overstock.com, West Elm, Men’s Wearhouse and Brinks Home Security, while Snaps’ane Bryant, Live Nation, General Assembly, Clairol and Nioxin.) Brucculeri said this will give businesses one product to manage their conversations across “the full customer journey.”

“The key term you’re hearing is conversation,” Myer added. “It’s not about a ticket or a case or a question […] it’s an ongoing conversation.”

Snaps had raised $11.3 million in total funding from investors including Signal Peak Ventures. The financial terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.


By Anthony Ha

Kintent nabs $4M seed to automate compliance questionnaire process

Every tech vendor has to pass security muster with customers, typically a tedious activity involving answering long questionnaires. Kintent, a new startup that wants to automate this process, announced a $4 million seed today led by Tola Capital with help from a bunch of tech industry angel investors.

After company co-founder and CEO Sravish Sridhar sold his previous startup Kinvey, which provided Backend as a Service to mobile app developers, he took a couple of years off while he decided what to do next. The sale to Progress Software in 2017 gave him that luxury.

He knew first-hand from his experience at Kinvey, that companies like his had to adhere to a lot of compliance standards and the idea for the next company began to form in his head. He wanted to create a new startup that could make it easier to figure out how to become compliant with a given standard, measure the current state of compliance and get recommendations on how to improve. He created Kintent to achieve that goal.

“So the big picture idea is can we build a system of record for trust and our first use case is information security and data privacy compliance, specifically if you’re a company that is building a SaaS business and you’re storing customer data or PHI, which is health information,” Sridhar explained.

The company’s product is called Trust Cloud. He says that they begin by looking at the lay of your technology land in terms of systems and the types of information you are storing, looking at how compliant each system is with whatever standard you are trying to adhere to.

Then based on how you classify your data, the Trust Cloud generates a list of best practices to stay in compliance with your desired standard, and finally it provides the means to keep testing to validate what you’ve done and that you are remaining in compliance.

The company launched in 2019, spent the first part of 2020 developing the product, and began selling it last October. Today, it has 35 paying customers. “We’re in the high six figures in revenue. We’ve been growing at about 20-30% month-over-month consistently since we launched in October, and the customers are across 11 verticals already,” he said.

With 14 employees and some money in the bank from this funding round, he is thinking ahead to adding people. He says that diversity has to be more than something you just talk about, and he has made it one of the core founding values of the company, and one he takes very seriously.

“I’m very conscious with every hire that we make that we’re really pushing to extend ourselves to [find] people from different walks of life, different statuses and so on,” he said.

The company is also working on a DEI component for the Trust Cloud, which it will be offering for free, which enables companies to provide a set of diversity metrics to measure against and then report on how well you are doing, and how you can improve your numbers.


By Ron Miller

mmhmm introduces usage-based enterprise accounts and a beta for Windows

mmhmm, the software that allows folks to personalize their appearance on video chat, has today announced that its introducing usage-based enterprise accounts.

In a conversation with TechCrunch, founder and CEO Phil Libin said this is a natural evolution, remarking that mmhmm has had hundreds of registrations from users all at the same company.

“It was clear that there was a big demand for enterprise accounts,” said Libin. “Not only for central management, to keep it as easy as possible, but also for getting everything on brand. Companies and organizations of all kinds are realizing video is a permanent part of how we’re going to do business and it needs to be on brand.”

The enterprise accounts are priced the same as individual Pro accounts, at $10/month or $100/year. However, when an organization signs up with an enterprise account, they only pay for the number of users who were active on mmhmm each month, rather than worrying about seats.

Enterprise accounts can also share design system assets built specifically for mmhmm to ‘stay on brand’ as Libin said. Folks who opt in to enterprise can also control employee accounts under one umbrella, invite via link, claim an email domain and enjoy a single bill.

Libin also gave us a glimpse into the financials of the business, explaining that while it’s too early to tell, the conversion rate to Pro accounts is outpacing that of Evernote, one of Libin’s earlier ventures.

He said that, with freemium tools like both mmhmm and Evernote, the likelihood of a user upgrading to premium grows with every month they’re on the platform. At Evernote, it was half a percent after the first month, and then five percent by the end of the first year, and after two years it would jump to 12 percent.

Obviously, mmhmm doesn’t have 24 months worth of data. That said, the product is doing 10x better than Evernote did.

But revenue is not the focus, according to Libin. The company is far more concerned with ensuring the onboarding process is easy for casual users and that they really understand what they can do with the platform. In the spirit of that, mmhmm is launching new interactive tutorial videos on the platform to ensure people are fully aware of the features.

mmhmm first came on the scene in the summer of last year in a closed beta, and eventually opened up to everyone who has a Mac in November 2020. Alongside the launch of enterprise, mmhmm is also launching a Windows version of the app in closed beta.

Libin said that mmhmm is in a growth stage, and that after starting five different companies, he knows the biggest challenge is people.

“I’ve been in some startups now that have been through this hyper growth stage,” said Libin. “The toughest thing at this stage is getting people, keeping people from burning out, and doing career development. This is my fifth startup, so I’m trying to demonstrate some learning behavior and apply lessons learned from previous mistakes. We’ll see how it goes.”


By Jordan Crook

PingPong is a video chat app for product teams working across multiple time zones

From the earliest days of the pandemic, it was no secret that video chat was about to become a very hot space.

Over the past several months investors have bankrolled a handful of video startups with specific niches, ranging from always-on office surveillance to platforms that encouraged plenty of mini calls to avoid the need for more lengthy team-wide meetings. As the pandemic wanes and plenty of startups begin to look towards hybrid office models, there are others who have decided to lean into embracing a fully remote workforce, a strategy that may require new tools.

PingPong, a recent launch from Y Combinator’s latest batch, is building an asynchronous video chat app for the workplace. We selected PingPong as one of our favorite startups that debuted last week.

The company’s central sell is that for remote teams, there needs to be a better alternative to Slack or email for catching up with co-workers across time zones. While Zoom calls might be able to convey a company’s culture better than a post in a company-wide Slack channel, for fully remote teams operating on different continents, scheduling a company-wide meeting is often a non-starter.

PingPong is selling its service as an addendum to Slack that helps remote product teams collaborate and convey what they’re working on. Users can capture a short video of themselves and share their screen in lieu of a standup presentation and then they can get caught up on each other’s progress on their own time. PingPong’s hope is that users find more value in brainstorming, conducting design reviews, reporting bugs and more inside while using asynchronous video than they would with text.

“We have a lot to do before we can replace Slack, so right now we kind of emphasize playing nice with Slack,” PingPong CEO Jeff Whitlock tells TechCrunch. “Our longer term vision is that what young people are doing in their consumer lives, they bring into the enterprise when they graduate into the workforce. You and I were using Instant Messenger all the time in the early 2000s and then we got to the workplace, that was the opportunity for Slack… We believe in the next five or so years, something that’s a richer, more asynchronous video-based Slack alternative will have a lot more interest.”

Building a chat app specifically designed for remote product teams operating in multiple time zones is a tight niche for now, but Whitlock believes that this will become a more common problem as companies embrace the benefits of remote teams post-pandemic. PingPong costs $100 per user per year.


By Lucas Matney

Bevy raises $40M Series C with 20% coming from Black investors

You might expect that a startup that makes community building software would be thriving during a pandemic when it’s so difficult for us to be together. And Bevy, a company whose product powers community sites like Salesforce Trailblazers and Google Developers announced it has raised a $40 million Series C this morning, at least partly due to the growth related to that dynamic.

The round was led by Accel with participation from Upfront Ventures, Qualtrics co-founder Ryan Smith and LinkedIn, but what makes this investment remarkable is that it included 25 Black investors representing 20% of the investment.

One of those investors, James Lowery, who is a management consultant and entrepreneur, and was the first Black employee hired at McKinsey in 1968, sees the opportunity for this approach to be a model to attract investment from other under-represented groups.

“I know for a fact because of my friendship and my network that there are a lot of people, if they had the opportunity to invest in opportunities like this, they will do it, and they have the money to do it. And I think we can be the model for the nation,” Lowery said.

Unfortunately, there has been a dearth of Black VC investment in startups like Bevy. In fact, only around 3% of venture capitalists are Black and 81% of VC firms don’t have a single Black investor.

Kobie Fuller, who is general Partner at investor Upfront Ventures, a Bevy board member and runs his own community called Valence, says that Bevy says that investments like this can lead to a flywheel effect that can lead to increasing Black investment in startups.

“So for me, it’s about how do we get more Black investors on cap tables of companies early in their lifecycle before they go public, where wealth can be created. How do we get key members of executive teams being Black executives who have the ability to create wealth through options and equity. And how do we also make sure that we have proper representation on the boards of these companies, so that we can make sure that the CEOs and the C suite is held accountable towards the diversity goals,” Fuller said.

Fuller sees a software platform like Bevy that facilitates community as a logical starting point for this approach, and the company needs to look like the broader communities it serves. “Making sure that our workforce is appropriately represented from a perspective of having appropriate level of Black employees to the board to the actual investors is just good business sense,” he said.

But the diversity angle doesn’t stop with the investor group. Bevy CEO and co-founder Derek Anderson says that last May when George Floyd was killed, his firm didn’t have a single person of color among the company’s 27 employees and not a single Black investor in his cap table. He wanted to change that, and he found that in diversifying, it not only was the right thing to do from a human perspective, it was also from a business one.

“We realized that if we really started including people from the Black and Brown communities inside of Bevy that the collective bar of a talent was going to go up. We were going to look from a broader pool of candidates, and what we found as we’ve done this is that as the culture has started to change, the customer satisfaction is going up, our profits and our revenues — the trajectory is going up, and I see this thing is completely correlated,” Anderson said.

Last summer the company set a two year goal to get to 20% of employees being Black. While the number of employees is small, Bevy went from zero to 5% in June, 10% by September. Today they are just under 15% and expect to hit the 20% goal by summer, a year ahead of the goal it set last year.

 

Bevy grew out of a community called Startup Grind that Anderson started several years ago. Unable to find software to run and manage the community, he decided to build it himself. In 2017, he spun that product into a separate company that became Bevy, and he has raised $60 million, according to the company.

In addition to Salesforce and Google, other large enterprises are using Bevy to power their communities and events including Adobe, Atlassian, Twilio, Slack and Zendesk.

Today, the startup is valued at $325 million, which is 4x the amount it was valued at when it raised its $15 million Series B in May 2019. It expects to reach $30 million in ARR by the end of this year.


By Ron Miller

OneTrust adds ethics to its privacy platform with Convercent acquisition

OneTrust, a late stage privacy platform startup, announced it was adding ethics and compliance to the mix this morning by acquiring Convercent, a company that was built to help build more ethical organizations. The companies did not share the purchase price.

OneTrust just raised $300 million on a fat $5.1 billion valuation at the end of last year, and it’s putting that money to work with this acquisition. Alan Dabbiere, co-chairman at OneTrust sees this acquisition as a way to add a missing component to his company’s growing platform of services.

“OneTrust instantly brings a proven ethics and compliance technology, team, and customer base into the OneTrust, further aligning the Chief Ethics & Compliance Officer strategy alongside privacy, data governance, third-party risk, GRC (governance, risk and compliance), and ESG (environmental, social and governance) to build trust as a competitive advantage,” he said.

Convercent brings 750 customers and 150 employees to the OneTrust team along with its ethics system, which includes a way for employees to report ethical violations to the company and a tool for managing disclosures.

Convercent can also use data to help surface bad behavior before it’s been reported. As CEO Patrick Quinlan explained in a 2018 TechCrunch article:

“Sometimes you have this interactive code of conduct, where there’s a new vice president in a region and suddenly page views on the sexual harassment section of the Code of Conduct have increased 200% in the 90 days after he started. That’s easy, right? There’s a reason that’s happening, and our system will actually tell you what’s happening.”

Quinlan wrote in a company blog post announcing the deal that joining forces with OneTrust will give it the resources to expand its vision.

“As a part of OneTrust, we’ll be combining forces with the leader across privacy, security, data governance, third-party risk, GRC, ESG—and now—ethics and compliance. Our customers will now be able to build centralized programs across these workstreams to make trust a competitive differentiator,” Quinlan wrote.

Convercent was founded in 2012 and has raised over $100 million, according to Pitchbook data. OneTrust was founded in 2016. It has over 8000 customers and 150 employees and has raised $710 million, according to the company.


By Ron Miller

Customer data platform ActionIQ extends its latest funding round to $100M

ActionIQ, which helps companies use their customer data to deliver personalized experiences, is announcing that it has extended its Series C funding, bringing the round to a total size of $100 million.

That number includes the $32 million that ActionIQ announced in January of last year. Founder and CEO Tasso Argyros said the company is framing this as an extension rather than a separate round because it comes from existing investors — including March Capital — and because ActionIQ still has most of that $32 million in the bank.

Argyros told me that there were two connected reasons to raise additional money now. For one thing, ActionIQ has seen 100% year-over-year revenue growth, allowing it to increase its valuation by more than 250%. (The company isn’t not disclosing the actual valuation.) That growth has also meant that ActionIQ is getting “a lot more ambitious” in its plans for product development and customer growth.

“We raised more money because we can, and because we need to,” Argyros said.

The company continues to develop the core platform, for example by introducing more support for real-time data and analysis. But Argyros suggested that the biggest change has been in the broader market for customer data platforms, with companies like Morgan Stanley, The Hartford, Albertsons, JCPenney and GoPro signing on with ActionIQ in the past year.

Some of these enterprises, he said, “normally would not work with a cutting-edge technology company like us, but because of the pandemic, they’re willing to take some risk and really invest in their customer base and their customer experience.”

Argyros also argued that as regulators and large platforms restrict the ways that businesses can buy and sell third-party data, platforms like ActionIQ, focusing on the first-party data that companies collect for their own use, will become increasingly important. And he said that ActionIQ’s growth comes as the big marketing clouds have “failed” — either announcing products that have yet to launch or launching products that don’t match ActionIQ’s capabilities.

Companies that were already using ActionIQ include The New York Times. In fact, the funding announcement includes a statement from The Times’ senior vices president of data and insights Shane Murray declaring that the newspaper is using ActionIQ to deliver “hundreds of billions of personalized customer experiences” across “mail, in-app, site, and paid media.”

ActionIQ has now raised around $145 million total, according to Crunchbase.


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By Anthony Ha

Ghana’s Redbird raises $1.5M seed to expand access to rapid medical testing in sub-Saharan Africa

For patients and healthcare professionals to properly track and manage illnesses especially chronic ones, healthcare needs to be decentralized. It also needs to be more convenient, with a patient’s health information able to follow them wherever they go.

Redbird, a Ghanaian healthtech startup that allows easy access to convenient testing and ensures that doctors and patients can view the details of those test results at any time, announced today that it has raised a $1.5 million seed investment.  

Investors who participated in the round include Johnson & Johnson Foundation, Newton Partners (via the Imperial Venture Fund), and Founders Factory Africa. This brings the company’s total amount raised to date to $2.5 million.

The healthtech company was launched in 2018 by Patrick Beattie, Andrew Quao and Edward Grandstaff. As a founding scientist at a medical diagnostics startup in Boston, Beattie’s job was to develop new rapid diagnostic tests. During his time at Accra in 2016, he met Quao, a trained pharmacist in Ghana at a hackathon whereupon talking found out that their interests in medical testing overlapped.

Beattie says to TechCrunch that while he saw many exciting new tests in development in the US, he didn’t see the same in Ghana. Quao, who is familiar with how Ghanaians use pharmacies as their primary healthcare point, felt perturbed that these pharmacies weren’t doing more than transactional purchases.

They both settled that pharmacies in Ghana needed to imbibe the world of medical testing. Although both didn’t have a tech background, they realized technology was necessary to execute this. So, they enlisted the help of Grandstaff to be CTO of Redbird while Beattie and Quao became CEO and COO, respectively.

L-R: Patrick Beattie (CEO), Andrew Quao (COO), and Edward Grandstaff (CTO)

Redbird enables pharmacies in Ghana to add rapid diagnostic testing for 10 different health conditions to their pharmacy services. These tests include anaemia, blood sugar, blood pressure, BMI, cholesterol, Hepatitis B, malaria, typhoid, prostate cancer screening, and pregnancy.  

Also, Redbird provides pharmacies with the necessary equipment, supplies and software to make this possible. The software —  Redbird Health Monitoring — is networked across all partner pharmacies and enables patients to build medical testing records after going through 5-minute medical tests offered through these pharmacies.

Rather than employing a SaaS model that Beattie says is not well appreciated by its customers, Redbird’s revenue model is based on the supply of disposable test strips.

“Pharmacies who partner with Redbird gain access to the software and all the ways Redbird supports our partners for free as long as they purchase the consumables through us. This aligns our revenue with their success, which is aligned with patient usage,” said the CEO.

This model is being used with over over 360 pharmacies in Ghana, mainly in Accra and Kumasi. It was half this number in 2019, and Redbird was able to double this number despite the pandemic. These pharmacies have recorded over 125,000 tests in the past three years from more than 35,000 patients registered on the platform.

Redbird will use the seed investment to grow its operations within Ghana and expand to new markets that remain undisclosed.

In 2018, Redbird participated in the Alchemist Accelerator just a few months before launch. It was the second African startup after fellow Ghanaian startup mPharma to take part in the six-month-long program. The company also got into Founders Factory Africa last year April.

According to Beattie, most of the disease burden Africans might experience in the future will be chronic diseases. For instance, diabetes is projected to grow by 156% over the next 25 years. This is why he sees decentralized, digitized healthcare as the next leapfrog opportunity for sub-Saharan Africa.

“Chronic disease is exploding and with it, patients require much more frequent interaction with the healthcare system. The burden of chronic disease will make a health system that is highly centralized impossible,” he said.Like previous leapfrog events, this momentum is happening all over the world, not just in Africa. Still, the state of the current infrastructure means that healthcare systems here will be forced to innovate and adapt before health systems elsewhere are forced to, and therein lies the opportunity,” he said.

But while the promise of technology and data is exciting, it’s important to realize that healthtech only provides value if it matches patient behaviors and preferences. It doesn’t really matter what amazing improvements you can realize with data if you can’t build the data asset and offer a service that patients actually value.

Beattie knows this all too well and says Redbird respects these preferences. For him, the next course of action will be to play a larger role in the world’s developing ecosystem where healthcare systems build decentralised networks and move closer to the average patient.

This decentralised approach is what attracted U.S. and South African early-stage VC firm Newtown Partners to cut a check. Speaking on behalf of the firm, Llew Claasen, the managing partner, had this to say.

“We’re excited about Redbird’s decentralised business model that enables rapid diagnostic testing at the point of primary care in local community pharmacies. Redbird’s digital health record platform has the potential to drive significant value to the broader healthcare value chain and is a vital step toward improving healthcare outcomes in Africa. We look forward to supporting the team as they prove out their  business model and scale across the African continent.”


By Tage Kene-Okafor

ServiceNow takes RPA plunge by acquiring India-based startup Intellibot

ServiceNow became the latest company to take the robotic process automation (RPA) plunge when it announced it was acquiring Intellibot, an RPA startup based in Hyderabad, India. The companies did not reveal the purchase price.

The purchase comes at a time where companies are looking to automate workflows across the organization. RPA provides a way to automate a set of legacy processes, which often involve humans dealing with mundane repetitive work.

The announcement comes on the heels of the company’s no-code workflow announcements earlier this month and is part of the company’s broader workflow strategy, according to Josh Kahn, SVP of Creator Workflow Products at ServiceNow.

“RPA enhances ServiceNow’s current automation capabilities including low code tools, workflow, playbooks, integrations with over 150 out of the box connectors, machine learning, process mining and predictive analytics,” Khan explained. He says that the company can now bring RPA natively to the platform with this acquisition, yet still use RPA bots from other vendors if that’s what the customer requires.

“ServiceNow customers can build workflows that incorporate bots from the pure play RPA vendors such as Automation Anywhere, UiPath and Blue Prism, and we will continue to partner with those companies. There will be many instances where customers want to use our native RPA capabilities alongside those from our partners as they build intelligent, end-to-end automation workflows on the Now Platform,” Khan explained.

The company is making this purchase as other enterprise vendors enter the RPA market. SAP announced a new RPA tool at the end of December and acquired process automation startup Signavio in January. Meanwhile Microsoft announced a free RPA tool earlier this month, as the space is clearly getting the attention of these larger vendors.

ServiceNow has been on a buying spree over the last year or so buying five companies including Element AI, Loom Systems, Passage AI and Sweagle. Khan says the acquisitions are all in the service of helping companies create automation across the organization.

“As we bring all of these technologies into the Now Platform, we will accelerate our ability to automate more and more sophisticated use cases. Things like better handling of unstructured data from documents such as written forms, emails and PDFs, and more resilient automations such as larger data sets and non-routine tasks,” Khan said.

Intellibot was founded in 2015 and will provide the added bonus of giving ServiceNow a stronger foothold in India. The companies expect to close the deal no later than June.

 


By Ron Miller

Box shares rise on report company is exploring sale

Shares of Box, a well-known content-and-collaboration company that went public in 2015, rose today after Reuters reported that the company is exploring a sale. TechCrunch previously discussed rising investor pressure for Box to ignite its share-price after years in the public-market wilderness.

At the close today Box’s equity was worth $23.65 per share, up around 5% from its opening value, but lower than its intraday peak of $26.47, reached after the news broke. The company went public a little over five years ago at $14 per share, only to see its share price rise to around the same level it returned today during its first day’s trading.

Box, famous during its startup phase thanks in part to its ubiquitous CEO and co-founder Aaron Levie, has continued to grow while public, albeit at a declining pace. Dropbox, a long-term rival, has also seen its growth rate decline since going public. Both have stressed rising profitability over revenue expansion in recent quarters.

But the problem that Box has encountered while public, namely hyper-scale platform companies with competing offerings, could also prove a lifeline; Google and Microsoft could be a future home for Levie’s company, after years of the duo challenging Box for deals.

As recently as last week, Box announced a deal for tighter integration with Microsoft Office 365. Given the timing of the release, it was easy to speculate the news could be landing ahead of a potential deal. The Reuters article adds fuel to the possibility.

While we can’t know for sure if the Reuters article is accurate, the possible sale of Box makes sense.

The article indicated that one of the possible acquisition options for Box could be taking it private again via private equity. Perhaps a firm like Vista or Thoma Bravo, two firms that tend to like mature SaaS companies with decent revenue and some issues, could swoop in to buy the struggling SaaS company. By taking companies off the market, reducing investor pressure and giving them room to maneuver, software companies can at times find new vigor.

Consider the case of Marketo, a company that Vista purchased in 2016 for $1.6 billion before turning it around and selling to Adobe in 2018 for $4.75 billion. The end result generated a strong profit for Vista, and a final landing for Marketo as part of a company with a broader platform of marketing tools.

If there are expenses at Box that could be trimmed, or a sales process that could be improved is not clear. But Box’s market value of $3.78 billion could put it within grasp of larger private-equity funds. Or well within the reaches of a host of larger enterprise software companies that might covet its list of business customers, technology, or both.

If the rumors are true, it could be a startling fall from grace for the company, moving from Silicon Valley startup-darling to IPO to sold entity in just six years. While it’s important to note these are just rumors, the writing could be on the wall for the company and it could just be a matter of when and not if.


By Ron Miller

Camunda snares $98M Series B as process automation continues to flourish

It’s clear that automated workflow tooling has become increasingly important for companies. Perhaps that explains why Camunda, a Berlin startup that makes open source process automation software, announced an €82 million Series B today. That translates into approximately $98 million U.S.

Insight Partners led the round with help from A round investor Highland Europe. When combined with the $28 million A investment from December 2018, it brings the total raised to approximately $126 million.

What’s attracting this level of investment says Jakob Freund, co-founder and CEO at Camunda is the company is solving a problem that goes beyond pure automation. “There’s a bigger thing going on which you could call end-to-end automation or end-to-end orchestration of endpoints, which can be RPA bots, for example, but also micro services and manual work [by humans],” he said.

He added, “Camunda has become this endpoint agnostic orchestration layer that sits on top of everything else.” That means that it provides the ability to orchestrate how the automation pieces work in conjunction with one another to create this full workflow across a company.

The company has 270 employees and approximately 400 customers at this point including Goldman Sachs, Lufthansa, Universal Music Group, and Orange. Matt Gatto, managing director at Insight Partners sees a tremendous market opportunity for the company and that’s why his firm came in with such a big investment.

“Camunda’s success demonstrates how an open, standards-based, developer-friendly platform for end-to-end process automation can increase business agility and improve customer experiences, helping organizations truly transform to a digital enterprise,” Gatto said in a statement.

Camunda is not your typical startup. Its history actually dates back to 2008 as a business process management (BPM) consulting firm. It began the Camunda open source project in 2013, and that was the start of pivoting to become an open source software company with a commercial component built on top of that.

It took the funding at the end of 2018 because the market was beginning to catch up with the idea, and they wanted to build on that. It’s going so well that company reports it’s cash-flow positive, and will use the additional funding to continue accelerating the business.


By Ron Miller

Nigeria’s Termii raises $1.4M seed led by Future Africa and Kepple Africa Ventures

Ideally, it is expected of every business to reach its customers effectively. However, that’s not the case as limiting factors that hinder proper digital communication come into play at different growth stages. Termii, a Nigerian communications platform-as-a-service startup that solves this problem for African businesses, announced today that it has closed a $1.4 million seed round.

The round was co-led by African early-stage VC firm Future Africa and Japanese but Africa-focused VC Kepple Africa Ventures. Other investors include Acuity Ventures, Aidi Ventures, Assembly Capital, Kairos Angels, Nama Ventures, RallyCap Ventures, and Remapped Ventures.

Angel investors like Ham Serunjogi, co-founder and CEO of Chipper Cash; Josh Jones, former co-founder and CTO, Dreamhost; and Tayo Oviosu, co-founder and CEO of Paga also participated.

Gbolade Emmanuel and Ayomide Awe launched Termii after Emmanuel’s experience as a digital marketer helped him recognize the need for businesses to have exceptional communication channels. The CEO consulted for these companies and leveraged emails to retain customers, but as he found out that this process was lethargic, he sought other channels as a replacement.

“That got me to start thinking about multichannel messaging. What it meant was that we needed to find how to allow companies to use WhatsApp, voice, SMS effectively,” he said to TechCrunch. “And we had to make the process simple because in the African market, you can’t do complex stuff. You have to be as simple as possible.”

In 2017, the company officially launched and subsequently secured investment from Lagos-based VC Microtraction. Emmanuel says the company found product-market fit two years later after collating enough data from companies in different industries to understand what they really wanted.

Termii found out that in addition to assisting businesses to retain customers, there was a clear need to verify, authenticate and engage them.

“Many of these businesses we started engaging said they required tools to effectively communicate and verify customers because they were losing money at those points. For us, we saw it was a bigger problem,” Emmanuel added.

After making some tweaks, the team began to see an increase in customers numbers, especially amongst fintech startups. Positioning itself in the fast-moving space, Termii created an API-based communication infrastructure that caters to over 500 fintech startups across the continent. That’s not all. More than 1,000 businesses and developers are also using Termii’s API.

Some of these businesses include uLesson, Yassir, Helium Health, Piggyvest, Bankly, Paga, and TeamApt.

Playing in a $3.6 billion B2C communications market estimated to grow 6% annually, Termii runs a B2B2C model. But how does it make money? While a subscription-based model would’ve made sense, the two years spent by the company trying to find PMF made them think otherwise.

So the company leverages a virtual wallet system tied to a bank account and customers can make payments to the platform using mobile money, bank transfer, and credit cards. The startup charges these wallets on a per-message basis. It also does the same on every successful customer verification made towards customers’ contacts.

The Termii team

In early 2020, Termii started seeing immense progress and this coincided with their acceptance into Y Combinator. The growth continued throughout the year, growing its messaging transactions by 1000% and experiencing a 400% increase in its ARR.

Spilling into this year, Emmanuel says the company’s revenue is growing 60% month-on-month as a result of the surge in online financial transactions which to date makes up for 68% of the company’s total messaging transactions.

The seed investment that is coming a year after Termii graduated from the YC will be used for expansion and launch more messaging offerings across Africa.

Emmanuel says the company has its sights on North Africa with a physical presence in Algeria for the expansion. The reason lies behind the fact that in this quarter, Nigeria has accounted for 76% of the company’s messaging transactions, while Algeria currently accounts for 15%.

With this new fundraising, the company plans to tap into the wealth of experience from some of its new investors like Oviosu and Serunjogi who have also taken local companies into expansion phases.

Termii’s round is also noteworthy because it strays away from the usual fintech, mobility, agritech and cleantech sectors that investors typically notice. In fact, there are only a handful of venture-backed communications platform-as-a-service companies on the continent. A notable example is Kenya’s Africa Talking. It might be a stretch to say we might see more funding activity from this segment but one thing is apparent — investors are willing to place bets on less popular sectors.

Another highlight of Termii’s investment is that while foreign investors continue to dominate rounds in African tech startups, local and Africa-focused firms are beginning to step up by leading some which is a good sign for the bubbling ecosystem.

This round is also a big step for Future Africa. According to publicly available information, the firm is leading a million-dollar round for the first time since officially launching last year. This achievement is a continuation of its work over the past three quarters having invested in more than 10 African startups in the last three quarters and 30 startups in general. 

Kepple Africa Ventures, the co-lead, is also an active investor and can be argued to be the most early-stage VC firm on the continent — in terms of the number of deals made. So far, the firm has invested in 79 companies across 11 countries. 

Speaking on the investment for Kepple Africa, Satoshi Shinada, a partner at the firm, said, “Fragmented and unstable communication channels are one of the biggest challenges for the digitization of businesses in Africa. Emmanuel has proven that with his visionary goals and solid implementation of iterations on the ground, his team is unparalleled to build an innovative solution in this space.”


By Tage Kene-Okafor

SecurityScorecard snags $180M Series E to measure a company’s security risk

SecurityScorecard has been helping companies understand the security risk of its vendors since 2014 by providing each one with a letter grade based on a number of dimensions. Today, the company announced a $180 million Series E.

The round includes new investors Silver Lake Waterman, T. Rowe Price, Kayne Anderson Rudnick, and Fitch Venture along with existing investors Evolution Equity Partners, Accomplice, Riverwood Capital, Intel Capital, NGP Capital, AXA Venture Partners, GV (Google Ventures) and Boldstart Ventures. The company reports it has now raised $290 million.

Co-founder and CEO Aleksandr Yampolskiy says the company’s mission has not changed since it launched. “The idea that we started the company was a realization that when I was CISO and CTO I had no metrics at my disposal. I invested in all kinds of solutions where I was completely in the dark about how I’m doing compared to the industry and how my vendors and suppliers were doing compared to me,” Yampolskiy told me.

He and his co-founder COO Sam Kassoumeh likened this to a banker looking at a mortgage application and having no credit score to check. The company changed that by starting a system of scoring the security posture of different companies and giving them a letter grade of A-F just like at school.

Today, it has ratings on more than 2 million companies worldwide, giving companies a way to understand how secure their vendors are. Yampolskiy says that his company’s solution can rate a new company not in the data set in just five minutes. Every company can see its own scorecard for free along with advice on how to improve that score.

He notes that in fact, the disastrous SolarWinds hack was entirely predictable based on SecurityScorecard’s rating system. “SolarWinds’ score has been lagging below the industry average for quite a long time, so we weren’t really particularly surprised about them,” he said.

The industry average is around 85 or a solid B in the letter grade system, whereas SolarWinds was sitting at 70 or a C for quite some time, indicating its security posture was suspect, he reports.

While Yampolskiy didn’t want to discuss valuation or revenue or even growth numbers, he did say the company has 17,000 customers worldwide including 7 of the 10 top pharmaceutical companies in the world.

The company has reached a point where this could be the last private fundraise it does before going public, but Yampolskiy kept his cards close on timing, saying it could happen some time in the next couple of years.


By Ron Miller