OwnBackup lands $50M as backup for Salesforce ecosystem thrives

OwnBackup has made a name for itself primarily as a backup and disaster recovery system for the Salesforce ecosystem, and today the company announced a $50 million investment.

Insight Partners led the round with participation from Salesforce Ventures and Vertex Ventures. This chunk of money comes on top of a $23 million round from a year ago, and brings the total raised to over $100 million, according to the company.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Salesforce Ventures chipped in when the majority of the company’s backup and recovery business involves the Salesforce ecosystem, although the company will be looking to expand beyond that with the new money.

“We’ve seen such growth over the last two and a half years around the Salesforce ecosystem. and the other ISV partners like Veeva and nCino that we’ve remained focused within the Salesforce space. But with this funding, we will expand over the next 12 months into a few new ecosystems,” company CEO Sam Gutmann told TechCrunch.

In spite of the pandemic, the company continues to grow, adding 250 new customers last quarter, bringing it to over 2000 customers and 250 employees, according to Gutmann.

He says that raising the round, which closed at the beginning of May had some hairy moments as the pandemic began to take hold across the world and worsen in the U.S. For a time, he began talking to new investors in case his existing ones got cold feet. As it turned out, when the quarterly numbers came in strong, the existing ones came back and the round was oversubscribed, Gutmann said.

“Q2 frankly was a record quarter for us, adding over 250 new accounts, and we’re seeing companies start to really understand how critical this is,” he said.

The company plans to continue hiring through the pandemic, although he says it might not be quite as aggressively as they once thought. Like many companies, even though they plan to hire, they are continually assessing the market. At this point, he foresees growing the workforce by about another 50 people this year, but that’s about as far as he can look ahead right now.

Gutmann says he is working with his management team to make sure he has a diverse workforce right up to the executive level, but he says it’s challenging. “I think our lower ranks are actually quite diverse, but as you get up into the leadership team, you can see on the website unfortunately we’re not there yet,” he said.

They are instructing their recruiting teams to look for diverse candidates whether by gender or ethnicity, and employees have formed a diversity and inclusion task force with internal training, particularly for managers around interviewing techniques.

He says going remote has been difficult, and he misses seeing his employees in the office. He hopes to have at least some come back, before the end of the summer and slowly add more as we get into the fall, but that will depend on how things go.


By Ron Miller

Tech shares set fresh records despite uncertain economy

Despite record-setting COVID-19 infections, American equities rose today. All major indices gained ground during regular trading, while tech stocks did even better.

The Nasdaq Composite set new 52-week and all-time highs, touching 10,462.0 points before closing at 10,433.65, up 2.21% on the day. Similarly, a basket of SaaS and cloud companies that has risen and fallen more sharply than even the tech-heavy Nasdaq closed this afternoon at 1,908.30 after touching 1,952.39 points. Both results were 52-week and all-time highs.

Such is the mood on Wall Street regarding the health of technology companies. It’s not hard to find bullish sentiment, jockeying to push tech shares higher. Some examples of today’s enthusiasm paint the picture:

  • The recent IPO Lemonade is now worth $4.7 billion, according to Yahoo Finance. That price gives it a Q1-annualized revenue run rate multiple of around 45x. For a SaaS company, that would boggle the mind. As we’ve written, however, Lemonade has very un-SaaS-like gross margins, and has higher churn. The company’s stock rose around 17% today for no clear reason.
  • Tesla rose over 13% today to $1,371.58 per share, another huge day of gains for the company now worth in excess of $250 billion. Analysts expect the firm to report $4.83 billion in revenue in its most recent quarter, according to Yahoo Finance. That’s less than the company reported in its year-ago June quarter when it saw $6.35 billion in revenue. Since July 1, 2019, Tesla shares have appreciated in excess of 450%, despite the company prepping to report what the market anticipates will be revenue declines.
  • Amazon and Netflix also set new records today to toss a few more names into the mix.

You can’t swing your arms without running into a reason why it makes sense for SaaS stocks to be trading at record valuation multiples, or why one company or another is actually reasonably valued over a long-enough time horizon.

It’s worth noting that this putatively rational public investor thinking doesn’t fit at all with what the tech set used to pound into my head about the public markets, namely that they are infamously impatient and thus utter bilge for most long-term value creation. Going public was garbage, I was told; you have to report every three months and no one looks out a few years.

Now, I’m being told by roughly the same people that the market is doing the very thing that they said it didn’t do, namely price firms for future results instead of trailing outcomes. Fine by me either way, frankly, but I’d like to know which story is true.

Happily, we’re about to see if all this high-fiving and enthusiasm is real.

Earnings season beckons, and it should bring with it a dose or two of clarity. If the digital transformation has managed to accelerate sufficiently that most tech companies have managed to greatly boost their near-term value, hats off to the cohort and bully for the startups that must also be enjoying similar revenue upswells.

But that doesn’t have to happen. There are possible earnings result sets that can cause investors to dump tech shares, as Slack learned a month ago.

The background to all of this is that there are good reasons to have some doubts about the current health of the national economy. And, sure, most people are willing to allow that the stock market and the aggregate domestic economy are not perfectly linked — this is no less than partially true — but each day the stock market steps higher and COVID-19 surges again leading to re-closings around the nation makes you to wonder if this is all for real.

Earnings season is here soon. Let’s find out.


By Alex Wilhelm

QuestDB nabs $2.3M seed to build open source time series database

QuestDB, a member of the Y Combinator summer 2020 cohort, is building an open source time series database with speed top of mind. Today the startup announced a $2.3 million seed round.

Episode1 Ventures led the round with assistance from Seedcamp, 7percent Ventures, YCombinator, Kima Ventures and several unnamed angel investors.

The database was originally conceived in 2013 when current CTO Vlad Ilyushchenko was building trading systems for a financial services company and he was frustrated by the performance limitations of the databases available at the time, so he began building a database that could handle large amounts of data and process it extremely fast.

For a number of years, QuestDB was a side project, a labor of love for Ilyushchenko until he met his other co-founders Nicolas Hourcard, who became CEO and Tancrede Collard, who became CPO, and the three decided to build a startup on top of the open source project last year.

“We’re building an open source database for time series data, and time series databases are a multi-billion dollar market because they’re central for financial services, IoT and other enterprise applications. And we basically make it easy to handle explosive amounts of data, and to reduce infrastructure costs massively,” Hourcard told TechCrunch.

He adds that it’s also about high performance. “We recently released a demo that you can access from our website that enables you to query a super large datasets — 1.6 billion rows with sub-second queries, mostly, and that just illustrates how performant the software is,” he said.

He sees open source as a way to build adoption from the bottom up inside organizations, winning the hearts and minds of developers first, then moving deeper in the company when they eventually build a managed cloud version of the product. For now, being open source also helps them as a small team to have a community of contributors help build the database and add to its feature set.

“We’ve got this open source product that is free to use, and it’s pretty important for us to have such a distribution model because we can basically empower developers to solve their problems, and we can ask for contributions from various communities. […] And this is really a way to spur adoption,” Hourcard said.

He says that working with YC has allowed them to talk to other companies in the ecosystem who have built similar open source-based startups and that’s been helpful, but it has also helped them learn to set and meet goals and have access to some of the biggest names in Silicon Valley, including Marc Andreessen, who delivered a talk to the cohort the same day we spoke.

Today the company has 7 employees including the three founders, spread out across the US, EU and South America. He sees this geographic diversity helping when it comes to building a diverse team in the future. “We definitely want to have more diverse backgrounds to make sure that we keep having a diverse team and we’re very strongly committed to that.”

For the short term, the company wants to continue building its community, working on continuing to improve the open source product, while working on the managed cloud product.


By Ron Miller

Vendia raises $5.1M for its multi-cloud serverless platform

When the inventor of AWS Lambda, Tim Wagner, and the former head of blockchain at AWS, Shruthi Rao, co-found a startup, it’s probably worth paying attention. Vendia, as the new venture is called, combines the best of serverless and blockchain to help build a truly multi-cloud serverless platform for better data and code sharing.

Today, the Vendia team announced that it has raised a $5.1 million seed funding round, led by Neotribe’s Swaroop ‘Kittu’ Kolluri. Correlation Ventures, WestWave Capital, HWVP, Firebolt Ventures, Floodgate and Future\Perfect Ventures also participated in this oversubscribed round.

(Image Credits: Vendia)

Seeing Wagner at the helm of a blockchain-centric startup isn’t exactly a surprise. After building Lambda at AWS, he spent some time as VP of engineering at Coinbase, where he left about a year ago to build Vendia.

“One day, Coinbase approached me and said, ‘hey, maybe we could do for the financial system what you’ve been doing over there for the cloud system,’ ” he told me. “And so I got interested in that. We had some conversations. I ended up going to Coinbase and spent a little over a year there as the VP of Engineering, helping them to set the stage for some of that platform work and tripling the size of the team.” He noted that Coinbase may be one of the few companies where distributed ledgers are actually mission-critical to their business, yet even Coinbase had a hard time scaling its Ethereum fleet, for example, and there was no cloud-based service available to help it do so.

Tim Wagner, Vendia co-founder and CEO (Image Credits: Vendia)

“The thing that came to me as I was working there was why don’t we bring these two things together? Nobody’s thinking about how would you build a distributed ledger or blockchain as if it were a cloud service, with all the things that we’ve learned over the course of the last 10 years building out the public cloud and learning how to do it at scale,” he said.

Wagner then joined forces with Rao, who spent a lot of time in her role at AWS talking to blockchain customers. One thing she noticed was that while it makes a lot of sense to use blockchain to establish trust in a public setting, that’s really not an issue for enterprise.

“After the 500th customers, it started to make sense,” she said. “These customers had made quite a bit of investment in IoT and edge devices. And they were gathering massive amounts of data. And they also made investments on the other side, with AI and ML and analytics. And they said, ‘well, there’s a lot of data and I want to push all of this data through these intelligent systems. And I need a mechanism to get this data.’ ” But the majority of that data often comes from third-party services. At the same time, most blockchain proof of concepts weren’t moving into any real production usage because the process was often far too complex, especially enterprises that maybe wanted to connect their systems to those of their partners.

Shruthi Rao, Vendia co-founder and CBO (Image Credits: Vendia)

“We are asking these partners to spin up Kubernetes clusters and install blockchain nodes. Why is that? That’s because for blockchain to bring trust into a system to ensure trust, you have to own your own data. And to own your own data, you need your own node. So we’re solving fundamentally the wrong problem,” she explained.

The first product Vendia is bringing to market is Vendia Share, a way for businesses to share data with partners (and across clouds) in real time, all without giving up control over that data. As Wagner noted, businesses often want to share large data sets but they also want to ensure they can control who has access to that data. For those users, Vendia is essentially a virtual data lake with provenance tracking and tamper-proofing built-in.

The company, which mostly raised this round after the coronavirus pandemic took hold in the U.S., is already working with a couple of design partners in multiple industries to test out its ideas, and plans to use the new funding to expand its engineering team to build out its tools.

“At Neotribe Ventures, we invest in breakthrough technologies that stretch the imagination and partner with companies that have category creation potential built upon a deep-tech platform,” said Neotribe founder and managing director Kolluri. “When we heard the Vendia story, it was a no-brainer for us. The size of the market for multi-party, multi-cloud data and code aggregation is enormous and only grows larger as companies capture every last bit of data. Vendia’s Serverless -based technology offers benefits such as ease of experimentation, no operational heavy lifting and a pay-as-you-go pricing model, making it both very consumable and highly disruptive. Given both Tim and Shruthi’s backgrounds, we know we’ve found an ideal ‘Founder fit’ to solve this problem! We are very excited to be the lead investors and be a part of their journey.”


By Frederic Lardinois

Minneapolis-based VC shop Bread & Butter focuses on its own backyard

While many investors say sheltering in place has broadened their appetite for funding companies located outside major hubs, one firm is doubling down on backing startups in America’s heartland.

Launched in 2016 by Brett Bohl, The Syndicate Fund rebranded to Bread & Butter Ventures earlier this month (a reference to one of Minnesota’s many nicknames). Along with the rebrand, longtime Google executive and Revolution partner Mary Grove joined the team as a general partner and Stephanie Rich came aboard as head of platform.

The growth of the Twin Cities’ startup ecosystem is precisely why The Syndicate Fund rebranded. The firm, which has $10 million in assets under management, will invest in three of Minneapolis’ biggest strengths: agriculture and food, health care and enterprise software.

Agtech interest spans the entire spectrum from farming to restaurants and grocery stores. The firm is also interested in the “messy middle” of supply chain and logistics around food, said Bohl and is interested in a mix of software, hardware and biosciences. Within health care, the firm evaluates solutions focused on prevention versus treatment, female health startups working on maternal health and fertility and software focused on the aging population and millennials.

It’s also looking at enterprise software that can serve large businesses and scale efficiently.


By Natasha Mascarenhas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


By Ron Miller

Hunters raises $15M Series A for its threat-hunting platform

Hunters, a Tel Aviv-based cybersecurity startup that helps enterprises defend themselves from intruders and analyze attacks, today announced that it has raised a $15 million Series A funding round from Microsoft’s M12 and U.S. Venture Partners. Seed investors YL Ventures and Blumberg Captial also participated in this round, as well as new investor Okta Ventures, the venture arm of identity provider Okta. With this, Hunters has now raised a total of $20.4 million.

The company’s SaaS platform basically automates the threat-hunting processes, which has traditionally been a manual process. The general idea here is to take as much data from an enterprise’s various networking and security tools to detect stealth attacks.

“Hunters is basically this layer, a cognitive layer or connective tissue that you put on top of your telemetry stack,” Hunters co-founder and CEO Uri May told me. “So you have your [endpoint detection and response], your firewalls, cloud, production environment sensors — and all of those are shooting telemetry and detections all over the organization, generating huge amounts of data. And, basically, our place in the world depends on our ability to generate that delta. So without being able to find things that you can’t see with a single point solution or without really expediting response procedures and workflows by correlating things in a nontrivial way, we don’t have any excuse to exist. But we got pretty good at those — at showing that delta — and we onboarded customers — nice logos — and that was a very strong validation.”

Image Credits: Hunters

Hunters’ first customer was actually data management service Snowflake, which functioned as the company’s design partner. In addition to being a customer, Snowflake now also features Hunters in its partner marketplace, as does security service CrowdStrike. May also noted that Crowdstrike is a good example for the kind of customer Hunters is going after.

“Not necessarily Global 2000 or Fortune 500. It’s really high-end mid-market organizations, not necessarily tens of thousand employees, but billions of dollars in revenues, a lot of value at risk, born to the cloud, super mature tech stack, not necessarily a big security operation center, but definitely CISO and a team of security engineers and analysts, and they’re looking for the solution, that on-top solution that can make sense of a lot of the data and give them the confidence and also give them results in terms of cybersecurity, posture and their detection and response capabilities.”

Microsoft already has a large security development center in Israel and so it’s no surprise that Hunters appeared on the company’s radar. Hunters also spent some time proactively looking at the Microsoft ecosystem, May told me, but the company’s VCs also made some introductions. All of this culminated in a number of meetings at the Tel Aviv CyberTech conference in January and the RSA Conference in San Francisco in February, just before the coronavirus pandemic essentially shut down travel.

Hunters says it will use the new funding to build out its go-to-market capabilities in the U.S. and expand its R&D team in Israel. As for the product itself, the company will look to broaden its product integration and machine learning capabilities to help it generate better attack stories. May also noted that it plans to give its users capabilities to customize the system for their needs by allowing them to develop their own signals and detections to augment the company’s default tools. This, May argued, will allow the company to go after higher-end enterprise customers that already have threat-hunting teams but that are looking to automate more of the process. With that, it will also look to partner with other security firms to leverage its system to provide better services to their customers as well.


By Frederic Lardinois

Upsolver announces $13M Series A to ease management of cloud data lakes

There’s a lot of complexity around managing data lakes in the cloud that often requires expensive engineering expertise. Upsolver, an early stage startup, wants to simplify all of that, so that a database administrator could handle it. Today the startup announced a $13 million Series A.

Vertex Ventures US was lead investor with participation from Wing Venture Capital and Jerusalem Venture Partners. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $17 million, according to the company.

Co-founder and CEO Ori Rafael says that as companies move data to the cloud and store it in data lakes, it becomes increasingly difficult to manage. The goal of Upsolver is to abstract away a lot of those management tasks and allow users to query the data using SQL, making it a lot more accessible.

“The main criticism of data lakes over the years is they become data swamps. It’s very easy to store data there very cheaply, but making it [easy to query] and valuable is hard. For that you need a lot of engineering, which turns the lake into a swamp. So we take the data that you put into a lake and make it easier to query, and we take the biggest disadvantage of using a lake, which is the complexity of doing that process, and we make that process easy,” Rafael explained.

Investor Sik Rhee, who is general partner and co-founder at Vertex Ventures US sees a company that’s creating a cloud-native standard for data lake computing. “Upsolver succeeded in abstracting away the engineering complexity of data pipeline management so that enterprise customers can quickly solve their modern data challenges in real time and at any scale without having to build another silo of expertise within the organization,” he said in a statement.

The company currently has 22 employees spread out between San Francisco, New York and Israel. Rafael says they hope to expand to 50 employees by the end of next year including adding new engineers for their R&D center in Israel and building sales and customer success teams in the U.S.

Rafael says he and his co-founder sat down early on and wrote down the company’s core values and they see a responsibility of running a diverse company as part of that, as they search for these new hires. Certainly the pandemic has shown them that they can hire from anywhere and that can help contribute to a more diverse workforce as they grow.

He said running the company and raising money has been stressful during these times, but the company has continued to grow through all of this, adding new customers while staying relatively lean and Rafael says that the investors certainly recognized that.

“We had high revenue compared to the low number of employees with [sales] acceleration during COVID — that was our big trio,” he said.


By Ron Miller

Apple has acquired Fleetsmith, a startup that helps IT manage Apple devices remotely

At a time where IT has to help employees set up and manage devices remotely, a service that simplifies those processes could certainly come in handy. Apple recognized that, and acquired Fleetsmith today, a startup that helps companies do precisely that with Apple devices.

While Apple didn’t publicize the acquisition, it has confirmed the deal with TechCrunch, while Fleetsmith announced the deal in a company blog post. Neither company was sharing the purchase price.

The startup has built technology that takes advantage of the Apple’s Device Enrollment Program allowing IT departments to bring devices online as soon as the employee takes it out of the box and powers it up.

At the time of its $30 million Series B funding last year, CEO Zack Blum explained the company’s core value proposition: “From a customer perspective, they can ship devices directly to their employees. The employee unwraps it, connects to Wi-Fi and the device is enrolled automatically in Fleetsmith,” Blum explained at that time.

Over time, the company has layered on other useful pieces beyond automating device registration like updating devices automatically with OS and security updates, while letting IT see a dashboard of the status of all devices under management, all in a pretty slick interface.

While Apple will in all likelihood continue to work with Jamf, the leader in the Apple device management space, this acquisition gives the company a remote management option at a time where it’s essential with so many employees working from home.

Fleetsmith, which has raised over $40 million from investors like Menlo Ventures, Tiger Global Management, Upfront Ventures and Harrison Metal will continue to sell the product through the company website, according to the blog post.

The founders put a happy on the face on the deal, as founders tend to do. “We’re thrilled to join Apple. Our shared values of putting the customer at the center of everything we do without sacrificing privacy and security, means we can truly meet our mission, delivering Fleetsmith to businesses and institutions of all sizes, around the world,” they wrote.


By Ron Miller

Airtable’s Howie Liu to join us at Disrupt 2020

Collaborative enterprise software is absolutely booming, and Airtable is riding that wave in a very real way.

The company, which offers a flexible, collaborative database product, has raised more than $170 million in funding from investors like CRV, Benchmark, Coatue Management, and Thrive Capital. So it should come as no surprise that we’re simply thrilled to have Airtable cofounder and CEO Howie Liu join us at Disrupt 2020.

Liu went to Duke University before starting his first company, eTacts, which was an automated CRM system that received investment from the founders of YouTube, Powerset and Delicious, as well as investors like Ron Conway and Ashton Kutcher.

Liu then went on to lead the social CRM product for Salesforce before leaving to set his own course once again with Airtable .

Airtable was founded back in 2012 with a broad mission of democratizing software. At its essence, Airtable is a relational database. Laymen can think of it as a Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel on steroids, but it actually goes much deeper than that.

Software is built on data — organized data, to be exact — and while many of us can compile and organize data into a spreadsheet, few can make it sing its way to a software product. Airtable aims to make that possible for anyone, even a non-developer.

That said, the company faces several hurdles. Airtable is a product that can be used in many, many ways, from tracking sales goals to organizing product road maps to managing workflows. With this type of open-ended product, it can be difficult to educate the end-user on how to make the most of it, or how to use it to begin with.

We’ll talk with Liu about how to build a very complex product in the most user-friendly way possible. We’ll also ask him about the state of enterprise software sales at a time when most large companies are freezing or decreasing spending, the future of no- and low-code software, and how he thinks about hyper-growth.

Disrupt is all virtual in 2020 and runs September 14 to September 18, and we have several Digital Pass options to be part of the action or to exhibit virtually, which you can check out here.

Liu joins a stellar roster of speakers, including Roelof Botha, Cyan Banister, Charles Hudson, and Mike Cannon-Brookes, with more speakers to be announced soon!


By Jordan Crook

Cape Privacy launches data science collaboration platform with $5.06M seed investment

Cape Privacy emerged from stealth today after spending two years building a platform for data scientists to privately share encrypted data. The startup also announced $2.95 million in new funding and $2.11 million in funding it got when the business launched in 2018 for a total of $5.06 million raised.

Boldstart Ventures and Version One led the round with participation from Haystack, Radical Ventures and Faktory Ventures.

Company CEO Ché Wijesinghe says that data science teams often have to deal with data sets that contain sensitive data and share data internally or externally for collaboration purposes. It creates a legal and regulatory data privacy conundrum that Cape Privacy is trying to solve.

“Cape Privacy is a collaboration platform designed to help focus on data privacy for data scientists. So the biggest challenge that people have today from a business perspective is managing privacy policies for machine learning and data science,” Wijesinghe told TechCrunch.

The product breaks down that problem into a couple of key areas. First of all it can take language from lawyers and compliance teams and convert that into code that automatically generates policies about who can see the different types of data in a given data set. What’s more, it has machine learning underpinnings so it also learns about company rules and preferences over time.

It also has a cryptographic privacy component. By wrapping the data with a cryptographic cypher, it lets teams share sensitive data in a safe way without exposing the data to people who shouldn’t be seeing it because of legal or regulatory compliance reasons.

“You can send something to a competitor as an example that’s encrypted, and they’re able  to process that encrypted data without decrypting it, so they can train their model on encrypted data,” company co-founder and CTO Gavin Uhma explained.

The company closed the new round in April, which means they were raising in the middle of a pandemic, but it didn’t hurt that they had built the product already and were ready to go to market, and that Uhma and his co-founders had already built a successful startup, GoInstant that was acquired by Salesforce in 2012. (It’s worth noting that GoInstant debuted at TechCrunch Disrupt in 2011.)

Uhma and his team brought Wijesinghe on board to build the sales and marketing team because as a technical team, they wanted someone with go to market experience running the company, so they could concentrate on building product.

The company has 14 employees and are already an all remote team, so that the team didn’t have to adjust at all when the pandemic hit. While it plans to keep hiring fairly limited for the foreseeable future, the company has had a diversity and inclusion plan from the start.

“You have to be intentional about about seeking diversity, so it’s something that when we sit down and map out our hiring and work with recruiters in terms of our pipeline, we really make sure that that diversity is one of our objectives. You just have you have it as a goal, as part of your culture, and it’s something that when we see the picture of the team, we want to see diversity,” he said.

Wijesinghe adds, “As a person of color myself, I’m very sensitive to making sure that we have a very diverse team, not just from a color perspective, but a gender perspective as well,” he said.

The company is gearing up to sell the product  and has paid pilots starting in the coming weeks.


By Ron Miller

Lightrun raises $4M for its continuous debugging and observability platform

Lightrun, a Tel Aviv-based startup that makes it easier for developers to debug their production code, today announced that it has raised a $4 million seed round led by Glilot Capital Partners, with participation from a number fo engineering executives from several Fortune 500 firms.

The company, which was co-founded by Ilan Peleg (who, in a previous life, was a competitive 800m runner) and Leonid Blouvshtein, with Peleg taking the CEO role and Blouvshtein the CTO position.

The overall idea behind Lightrun is that it’s too hard for developers to debug their production code. “In today’s world, whenever a developer issues a new software version and deploys it into production, the only way to understand the application’s behavior is based on log lines or metrics which were defined during the development stage,” Peleg explained. “The thing is, that is simply not enough. We’ve all encountered cases of missing a very specific log line when trying to troubleshoot production issues, then having to release a new hotfix version in order to add this specific logline, or –alternatively — reproduce the bug locally to better understand the application’s behavior.”

With Lightrun, as the co-founders showed me in a demo, developers can easily add new logs and metrics to their code from their IDE and then receive real-time data from their real production or development environments. For that to work, they need to have the Lightrun agent installed, but the overhead here is generally low because the agent sits idle until it is needed. In the IDE, the experience isn’t all that different from setting a traditional breakpoint in a debugger — only that there is no break. Lightrun can also use existing logging tools like Datadog to pipe its logging data to them.

While the service’s agent is agnostic about the environment it runs in, the company currently only supports JVM languages. Blouvshtein noted that building JVM language support was likely harder than building support for other languages and the company plans to launch support for more languages in the future.

“We make a point of investing in technologies that transform big industries,” said Kobi Samboursky, founder and managing partner at Glilot Capital Partners . “Lightrun is spearheading Continuous Debugging and Continuous Observability, picking up where CI/CD ends, turning observability into a real-time process instead of the iterative process it is today. We’re confident that this will become DevOps and development best practices, enabling I&O leaders to react faster to production issues.”

For now, there is still a bit of an onboarding process to get started with Lightrun, though that’s generally a very short process, the team tells me. Over time, the company plans to make this a self-service process. At that point, Lightrun will likely also become more interesting to smaller teams and individual developers, though the company is mostly focused on enterprise users and despite only really launching out of stealth today and offering limited language support, the company already has a number of paying customers, including major enterprises.

“Our strategy is based on two approaches: bottom-up and top-down. Bottom-up, we’re targeting developers, they are the end-users and we want to ensure they get a quality product they can trust to help them. We put a lot of effort into reaching out through the developer channels and communities, as well as enabling usage and getting feedback. […] Top-down approach, we are approaching R&D management like VP of R&D, R&D directors in bigger companies and then we show them how Lightrun saves company development resources and improves customer satisfaction.”

Unsurprisingly, the company, which currently has about a dozen employees, plans to use the new funding to add support for more languages and to improve its service with new features, including support for tracing.


By Frederic Lardinois

Ampere announces latest chip with a 128 core processor

In the chip game, more is usually better and to that end, Ampere announced the next chip on its product roadmap today, the Altra Max, a 128 core processor, the company says is designed specifically to handle cloud native, containerized workloads.

What’s more, the company has designed the chip, so that it will fit in the same slot as their 80 core product announced last year (and in production now). That means that engineers can use the same slot when designing for the new chip, which saves engineering time and eases production, says Jeff Wittich, vp of products at the company,

Wittich says that his company is working with manufacturers today to make sure they can build for all of the requirements for the more powerful chip. “The reason we’re talking about it now, versus waiting until Q4 when we’ve got samples going out the door is because it’s socket compatible, so the same platforms that the Altra 80 core go into, this 128 core product can go into,” he said.

He says that containerized workloads, video encoding, large scale out databases and machine learning inference will all benefit from having these additional cores.

While he wouldn’t comment on any additional funding, the company has raised $40 million, according to Crunchbase data, and Wittich says they have enough funding to to into high-volume production later this year on their existing products.

Like everyone, the company has faced challenges keeping a consistent supply chain throughout the pandemic, but when it started to hit in Asia at the beginning of this year, the company set a plan in motion to find backup suppliers for the parts they would need should they run into pandemic-related shortages. He says that it took a lot of work, planning and coordination, but they feel confident at this point in being able to deliver their products in spite of the uncertainty that exists.

“Back in January we actually already went through [our list of suppliers], and we diversified our supply chain and made sure that we had options for everything. So we were able to get in front of that before it ever became a problem,” he said.

“We’ve had normal kinds of hiccups here and there that everyone’s had in the supply chain, where things get stuck in shipping and they end up a little bit late, but we’re right on schedule with where we were.”

The company is already planning ahead for its 2022 release, which is already in development.
“We’ve got a test chip running through five nanometer right now that has the key IP and some of the key features of that product, so that we can start testing those out in silicon pretty soon,” he said.

Finally, the company announced that it’s working with some new partners including Cloudflare, Packet (which was acquired by Equinix in January) Scaleway and Phoenics Electronics, a division of Avnet. These partnerships provide another way for Ampere to expand its market as it continues to develop.

The company was founded in 2017 by former Intel president Renee James.


By Ron Miller

Intercom announces the promotion of Karen Peacock to CEO

Three years ago almost to the day, Intercom announced that it was bringing former Intuit exec Karen Peacock on board as COO. Today, she got promoted to CEO, effective July 1st. Current CEO and company co-founder Eoghan McCabe will become Chairman.

As it turns out, these moves aren’t a coincidence. McCabe had been actively thinking about a succession plan when he hired Peacock. “When I first started talking to Eoghan three years ago, he shared with me that his vision was to hire someone as COO, who could then become the CEO at the right time and he could transition into the chairman role,” Peacock told TechCrunch.

She said while the idea was always there, they didn’t feel the need to rush the process. “We were just looking for whatever the right time was, and it wasn’t something we were expected to do in the first year or two. And now is really the right time to transition with all of the momentum that we’re seeing in the market,” she said.

She said as McCabe makes the transition away from running the company he helped found, he will still be around, and they will continue working together on things like product and marketing strategy, but Peacock brings a pedigree of her own to the new role.

Not only has she been in charge of commercial aspects of the Intercom business for the past three years, prior to that she was SVP at Intuit where she ran small business products that included QuickBooks, and grew it from a $500 million business to a hefty $2.5 billion during her tenure.

McCabe says that experience was one of the reasons he spent six months trying to convince Peacock to become COO at Intercom in 2017. “It’s really hard to find a leader that’s as well rounded, and as unique as Karen is. You know she doesn’t actually fit your typical very experienced operator,” he said. He points to her deep product background, calling her a “product nerd,” and her undergraduate degree in applied mathematics from Harvard as examples.

In spite of the pandemic, she’s taking over a company that’s still managing to grow. The company’s business messenger products, which enable companies to chat with customers online have become increasingly important during the pandemic with many brick and mortar businesses shut down and the majority of business is being conducted digitally.

“Our overall revenue is $150 million in annual recurring revenue, and a supporting data point to what we were just talking about is that our new business to up market customers through our sales teams has doubled year over year. So we’re really seeing some quite nice acceleration there,” she said.

Peacock says she wants to continue building the company and using her role to build a diverse and inclusive culture. “I believe that [diversity and inclusion] is not one person’s job, it’s all of our jobs, but we have one person who’s the center post of that (a head of D&I). And then we work with outside consulting firms as well to just try and stay in a place where we understand all of what’s possible and what we can do in the world.”

She adds, “I will say that we need to make more progress on diversity and inclusion, I wouldn’t step back and, and pat ourselves on the back and say we’ve done this perfectly. There’s a lot more that we need to do, and it’s one of the things that I’m very excited to tackle as CEO.”

According to a February Wall Street Journal article, less than 6% of women hold CEO jobs in the U.S. Peacock certainly sees this and wants to continue to mentor women as she takes over at Intercom. “It is something that I’m very passionate about. I do speak to various different groups of up and coming women leaders, and I mentor a group of women outside of Intercom,” she said. She also sits on the board at Dropbox with other women leaders like Condoleezza Rice and Meg Whitman.

Peacock says that taking over during a pandemic makes it interesting, and instead of visiting the company’s offices, she’ll be doing a lot of video conferences. But neither is she coming in cold to the company having to ramp up on the business side of things, while getting to know everyone.

“I feel very fortunate to have been with Intercom for three years, and so I know all the people and they all know me. And so I think it’s a lot easier to do that virtually than if you’re meeting people for the very first time. Similarly, I also know the business very well, and so it’s not like I’m trying to both ramp up on the business and deal with a pandemic,” she said.


By Ron Miller

Payfone raises $100M for its mobile phone-based digital verification and ID platform

As an increasing number of daily and essential services move to digital platforms — a trend that’s had a massive fillip in the last few months — having efficient but effective ways to verify that people are who they say they are online is becoming ever more important. Now, a startup called Payfone, which has built a B2B2C platform to identify and verify people using data (but no personal data) gleaned from your mobile phone, has raised $100 million to expand its business. Specifically, Rodger Desai, the co-founder and CEO, said in an interview that plan will be to build in more machine learning into its algorithms, expand to 35 more geographies, and to make strategic acquisitions to expand its technology stack.

The funding is being led by Apax Digital, with participation from an interesting list of new and existing backers. They include Sandbox Insurtech Ventures, a division of Sandbox Industries, which connects corporate investment funds with strategic startups in their space); Ralph de la Vega, the former Vice Chairman of AT&T; MassMutual Ventures; Synchrony; Blue Venture Fund (another Sandbox outfit); Wellington Management LLP; and the former CEO of LexisNexis, Andrew Prozes.

Several of these investors have a close link to the startup’s business: Payfone counts carriers, healthcare and insurance companies, and banks among its customers, who use Payfone technology in their backends to help verify users making transactions and logging in to their systems.

Payfone tells me it has now raised $175 million to date, and while it’s not disclosing its valuation with this round, according to PitchBook, in April 2019 when it raised previously it was valued at $270 million. Desai added that Payfone is already profitable and business has been strong lately.

“In 2019 we processed 20 billion authentications, mostly for banks but also healthcare companies and others, and more generally, we’ve been growing 70% year-over-year,” he said. The aim is to boost that up to 100 billion authentications in the coming years, he said.

Payfone was founded in 2008 amongst a throng of mobile payment startups (hence its name) that emerged to help connect consumers, mobile content businesses and mobile carriers with simpler ways to pay using a phone, with a particular emphasis on using carrier billing infrastructure as a way of letting users pay without inputting or using cards (especially interesting in regions where credit and debit card penetration and usage are lower).

That has been an interesting if slowly growing business so around 2015 Payfone starting to move towards using its tech and infrastructure to delve into the adjacent and related space of applying its algorithms, which use authentication data from mobile phones and networks, to help carriers, banks, and many other kinds of businesses verify users on their networks.

(Indeed, the connection between the technology used for mobile payments that bypasses credit/debit cards and the technology that might be used for ID verification is one that others are pursuing, too: Carrier billing startup Boku — which yesterday acquired one of its competitors, Fortumo, in a $41 million deal as part of a wider consolidation play — also acquired one of Payfone’s competitors, Danal, 18 months ago to add user authentication into its own range of services.)

The market for authentication and verification services was estimated to be worth some $6 billion in 2019 and is projected to grow to $12.8 billion by 2024, according to research published by MarketsandMarkets. But within that there seems to be an almost infinite amount of variations, approaches, and companies offering services to carry out the work. That includes authentication apps, password managers, special hardware that generates codes, new innovations in biometrics using fingerprints and eye scans, and more.

While some of these require active participation from consumers (say by punching in passwords or authentication codes or using fingerprints), there’s also a push to develop more seamless and user-friendly, and essentially invisible, approaches, and that’s where Payfone sits.

As Desai describes it, Payfone’s behind-the-scenes solution is used either as a complement to other authentication techniques and on its own, depending on the implementation. In short, it’s based around creating “signal scores” and tokens, and is built on the concept of “data privacy and zero data knowledge architecture.” That is to say, the company’s techniques do not store any personal data and do not need personal data to provide verification information.

As he describes it, while many people might only be in their 20s when getting their first bank account (one of the common use cases for Payfone is in helping authenticate users who are signing up for accounts via mobile), they will have likely already owned a phone, likely with the same phone number, for a decade before that.

“A phone is with you and in your use for daily activities, so from that we can opine information,” he said, which the company in turn uses to create a “trust score” to identify that you are who you say you are. This involves using, for example, a bank’s data and what Desai calls “telecoms signals” against that to create anonymous tokens to determine that the person who is trying to access, say, a bank account is the same person identified with the phone being used. This, he said, has been built to be “spoof proof” so that even if someone hijacks a SIM it can’t be used to work around the technology.

While this is all proprietary to Payfone today, Desai said the company has been in conversation with other companies in the ecosystem with the aim of establishing a consortium that could compete with the likes of credit bureaus in providing data on users in a secure way.

“The trust score is based on our own proprietary signals but we envision making it more like a clearing house,” he said.

The fact that Payfone essentially works in the background has been just as much of a help as a hindrance for some observers. For example, there have been questions raised previously about how data is sourced and used by Payfone and others like it for identification purposes. Specifically, it seems that those looking closer at the data that these companies amass have taken issue not necessarily with Payfone and others like it, but with the businesses using the verification platforms, and whether they have been transparent enough about what is going on.

Payfone does provide an explanation of how it works with secure APIs to carry out its services (and that its customers are not consumers but the companies engaging Payfone’s services to work with consumer customers), and offers a route to opt out of of its services for those that seek to go that extra mile to do so, but my guess that this might not be the end of that story if people continue to learn more about personal data, and how and where it gets used online.

In the meantime, or perhaps alongside however that plays out, there will continue to be interesting opportunities for approaches to verify users on digital platforms that respect their personal data and general right to control how any identifying detail — personal or not — gets used. Payfone’s traction so far in that area has helped it stand out to investors.

“Identity is the key enabling technology for the next generation of digital businesses,” said Daniel O’Keefe, managing partner of Apax Digital, in a statement. “Payfone’s Trust Score is core to the real-time decisioning that enterprises need in order to drive revenue while thwarting fraud and protecting privacy.” O’Keefe and his colleague, Zach Fuchs, a principal at Apax Digital, are both joining the board.

“Payfone’s technology enables frictionless customer experience, while curbing the mounting operating expense caused by manual review,” said Fuchs. 


By Ingrid Lunden