Blameless raises $30M to guide companies through their software lifecycle

Site reliability engineering platform Blameless announced Tuesday it raised $30 million in a Series B funding round, led by Third Point Ventures with participation from Accel, Decibel and Lightspeed Venture Partners, to bring total funding to over $50 million.

Site reliability engineering (SRE) is an extension of DevOps designed for more complex environments.

Blameless, based in San Mateo, California, emerged from stealth in 2019 after raising both a seed and Series A round, totaling $20 million. Since then, it has turned its business into a blossoming software platform.

Blameless’ platform provides the context, guardrails and automated workflows so engineering teams are unified in the way they communicate and interact, especially to resolve issues quicker as they build their software systems.

It originally worked with tech-forward teams at large companies, like Home Depot, that were “dipping [their toes] into the space and now [want] to double down,” co-founder and CEO Lyon Wong told TechCrunch.

The company still works with those tech-forward teams, but in the past two years, more companies sought out resident SRE architect Kurt Anderson to advise them, causing Blameless to change up its business approach, Wong said.

Other companies are also seeing a trend of customers asking for support — for example, in March, Google Cloud unveiled its Mission Critical Services support option for SRE to serve in a similar role as a consultant as companies move toward readiness with their systems. And in February, Nobl9 raised a $21 million Series B to provide enterprises with the tools they need to build service-level-objective-centric operations, which is part of a company’s SRE efforts.

Blameless now has interest from more mainstream companies in the areas of enterprise, logistics and healthcare. These companies aren’t necessarily focused on technology, but see a need for SRE.

“Companies recognize the shortfall in reliability, and then the question they come to us with is how do they get from where they are to where they want to be,” Anderson said. “Often companies that don’t have a process respond with ‘all hands on deck’ all the time, but instead need to shift to the right people responding.”

Lyon plans to use the new funding to fill key leadership roles, the company’s go-to-market strategy and product development to enable the company to go after larger enterprises.

Blameless doubled its revenue in the last year and will expand to service all customer segments, adding small and emerging businesses to its roster of midmarket and large companies. The company also expects to double headcount in the next three quarters.

As part of the funding announcement, Third Point Ventures partner Dan Moskowitz will join Blameless’ board of directors with Wong, Accel partner Vas Natarajan and Lightspeed partner Ravi Mhatre.

“Freeing up engineering to focus on shipping code is exactly what Blameless achieves,” said Moskowitz in a written statement. “The Blameless market opportunity is big as we see teams struggle and resort to creating homegrown playbooks and point solutions that are incomplete and costly.”

 


By Christine Hall

Nium crosses $1B valuation with $200M Riverwood Capital-led round

Business-to-business payments platform Nium announced Monday that it raised more than $200 million in Series D funding and saw its valuation rise above $1 billion.

The company, now Singapore-based but shifting to the Bay Area, touted the investment as making it “the first B2B payments unicorn from Southeast Asia.”

Riverwood Capital led the round, in which Temasek, Visa, Vertex Ventures, Atinum Capital, Beacon Venture Capital and Rocket Capital Investment participated, along with a group of angel investors like DoorDash’s Gokul Rajaram, FIS’ Vicky Bindra and Tribe Capital’s Arjun Sethi. Including the new funding, Nium has raised $300 million to date, Prajit Nanu, co-founder and CEO, told TechCrunch.

The B2B payments sector is already hot, yet underpenetrated, according to some experts. To give an idea just how hot, Nium was seeking $150 million for its Series D round, received commitments of $300 million from eager investors and settled on $200 million, Nanu said.

“This is our fourth or fifth fundraise, but we have never had this kind of interest before — we even had our term sheets in five days,” he added. “I believe this interest is because we’ve successfully managed to create a global platform that is heavily regulated, which gives us access to a lot of networks. This is an environment where payment is visible, and our core is powering frictionless commerce and enabling anyone to use our platform.”

Nium’s new round adds fuel to a fire shared by a number of companies all going after a global B2B payments market valued at $120 trillion annually: last week, Paystand raised $50 million in Series C funding to make B2B payments cashless, while Dwolla raised $21 million for its API that allows companies to build and facilitate fast payments. In March, Higo brought in $3.3 million to do the same in Latin America, while Balance, developing a B2B payments platform that allows merchants to offer a variety of payment methods. raised $5.5 million in February.

Nium’s approach is to provide access to a global payment infrastructure, including card issuance, accounts receivable and payable, and banking-as-a-service through a single API. The company’s network enables customers to then send funds to more than 100 countries, pay out in more than 60 currencies, accept funds in seven currencies and issue cards in more than 40 countries, Nanu said. The company also boasts money transfer, card issuances and banking licenses in 11 jurisdictions.

Francisco Alvarez-Demalde, co-founding partner and managing partner at Riverwood, said in an email that the combination of software — plus regulatory licenses — and operating a fintech infrastructure platform on behalf of neobanks and corporates is a global trend experiencing hyper-growth.

Riverwood followed Nium for many years, and its future vision was what got the firm interested in being a part of this round. Alvarez-Demalde said that “Nium has the incredible combination of a great market opportunity, a talented founder and team, and we believe the company is poised for global growth based on underlying secular technology trends like increasing real-time payment capabilities and the proliferation of cross border commerce.

“As a central payment infrastructure in one API, Nium is a catalyst that unlocks cross-border payments, local accounts and card issuance with a network of local market licenses, partners and banking relationships to facilitate moving money across the world,” he added. “Enterprises of all types are embedding financial services as part of their consumer experience, and Nium is a key global enabler of this trend.”

Nanu said the new funding enables the company to move to the United States, which represents 3% of Nium’s revenue. He wants to increase that to 20% over the next 18 months, as well as expand in Latin America. The investment also gives the company a 12- to 18-month runway for further M&A activity.  In June, Nium acquired virtual card issuance company Ixaris, and in July acquired Wirecard Forex India to expose it to India’s market. He also plans to expand the company’s payments network infrastructure, invest in product development and add to Nium’s 700-person headcount.

Nium already counts hundreds of enterprise companies as clients and plans to onboard thousands more in the next year. The company processes $8 billion in payments annually and has issued more than 30 million virtual cards since 2015. Meanwhile, revenue grew by over 280% year over year.

All of this growth puts the company on a trajectory for an initial public offering, Nanu said. He has already spoken to people who will help the company formally kick off that journey in the first quarter of 2022.

“Unlike other companies that raise money for new products, we aim to expand in the existing sets of what we do,” Nanu said. “The U.S. is a new market, but we have a good brand and will use the new round to provide a better experience to the customer.”

 


By Christine Hall

Payments company Paystone raises $23.8M to help service-based businesses engage with customers

Paystone, a payments and integrated software company, secured another strategic investment this year, this time $23.8 million ($30 million CAD) from Crédit Mutuel Equity, the private equity arm of Crédit Mutuel Alliance Fédérale.

The Canada-based company got its start in 2008 as the payment processing company Zomaron, and rebranded itself as Paystone in 2019. Today it provides electronic payments and customer engagement technology to businesses, particularly those that provide services, CEO Tarique Al-Ansari told TechCrunch.

“Paystone is on a mission to help businesses grow, and we were enthralled by their commitment to that mission and their focus on service-oriented verticals,” said Léa Perge, investor at Crédit Mutuel Equity in Canada, via email.

While most of the company’s peers focus on product companies, Al-Ansari saw how underserved the service side was: their needs are different, and unlike retail, aren’t looking to sell online. Rather, they need an online presence and digital marketing to engage with customers, but their focus is being findable and having content that tells people why they should do business with them.

Paystone provides the marketing through content, help with reviews and with loyalty and rewards programs. However, rather than reward for spending, Paystone rewards for behavior. Refer a friend, get a reward. Write a review, get a reward. Al-Ansari calls it “payments as a benefit.” Referrals and reviews are how businesses become more findable, and the more content that’s out there, the more it helps people consider the business trustworthy, he added.

The new funding gives Canada-based Paystone total funds raised in 2021 of $78.8 million in a mix of debt and equity. It raised $54.9 million in January, funds that were barely touched as of yet, Al-Ansari said.

Though he wasn’t actively seeking new funds, Al-Ansari had been speaking with Crédit Mutuel Equity, which used to be CIC Capital Canada, prior to the pandemic, and their deal was put on hold.

Crédit Mutuel Equity came back with similar interest, and taking into account the kind of talent Paystone wanted to go after and its acquisition strategy — the company has already acquired five companies — Al-Ansari decided to take the additional funds. He said it gives the company options to hire more and double down on building the company, as well as enough capital to look for more acquisitions.

This year, Paystone entered the U.S. market for the first time and will do a proper launch later this year. The company has over 30,000 merchant locations on its platform throughout North America, and Al-Ansari expects that to grow by 5,000 this year. The company has 150 employees currently, and another 50 are expected to come on board by the end of the year.

In addition, Al-Ansari expects growth to accelerate for the rest of the year. The company processes around $6 billion in credit card payments and is on track to bring in $55.7 million in revenue this year. It is cash flow positive, residuals from the company’s origins of being bootstrapped, he said.

“We want to become the go-to destination for service businesses to set up a digital presence to accept payments and provide loyalty and rewards,” Al-Ansari said. “We will do this by solidifying our market position and growing our platform with the tools that customers want.”

 


By Christine Hall

Sendlane raises $20M to convert shoppers into loyal customers

Sendlane, a San Diego-based multichannel marketing automation platform, announced Thursday it raised $20 million in Series A funding.

Five Elms Capital and others invested in the round to give Sendlane total funding of $23 million since the company was founded in 2018.

Though the company officially started three years ago, co-founder and CEO Jimmy Kim told TechCrunch he began working on the idea back in 2013 with two other co-founders.

They were all email marketers in different lines of business, but had some common ground in that they were all using email tools they didn’t like. The ones they did like came with too big of a price tag for a small business, Kim said. They set out to build their own email marketing automation platform for customers that wanted to do more than email campaigns and newsletters.

When two other companies Kim was involved in exited in 2017, he decided to put both feet into Sendlane to build it into a system that maximized revenue based on insights and integrations.

In late 2018, the company attracted seed funding from Zing Capital and decided in 2019 to pivot into e-commerce. “Based on our personal backgrounds and looking at the customers we worked with, we realized that is what we did best,” Kim said.

Today, more than 1,700 e-commerce companies use Sendlane’s platform to convert more than 100 points of their customers’ data — abandoned carts, which products sell the best and which marketing channel is working — into engaging communications aimed at driving customer loyalty. The company said it can increase revenue for customers between 20% and 40% on average.

The company itself is growing 100% year over year and seeing over $7 million in annual recurring revenue. It currently has 54 employees right now, and Kim expects to be at around 90 by the end of the year and 150 by the end of 2022. Sendlane currently has more than 20 open roles, he said.

That current and potential growth was a driver for Kim to go after the Series A funding. He said Sendlane became profitable last year, which is why it has not raised a lot of money so far. However, as the rapid adoption of e-commerce continues, Kim wants to be ready for the next wave of competition coming in, which he expects in the next year.

He considers companies like ActiveCampaign and Klaviyo to be in line with Sendlane, but says his company’s differentiator is customer service, boasting short wait times and chats that answer questions in less than 15 seconds.

He is also ready to go after the next vision, which is to unify data and insights to create meaningful interactions between customers and retailers.

“We want to start carving out a new space,” Kim added. “We have a ton of new products coming out in the next 12 to 18 months and want to be the single source for customer journey data insights that provides flexibility for your business to grow.”

Two upcoming tools include Audiences, which will unify customer data and provide insights, and an SMS product for two-way communications and enabled campaign-level sending.

 


By Christine Hall

Andreessen Horowitz funds Vitally’s $9M round for customer experience software

Customer success company Vitally raised $9 million in Series A funding from Andreessen Horowitz to continue developing its SaaS platform automating customer experiences.

Co-founder and CEO Jamie Davidson got the idea for Vitally while he was at his previous company, Pathgather. As chief customer officer, he was looking at tools and “was underwhelmed” by the available tools to automate repetitive tasks. So he set out to build one.

The global pandemic thrust customer satisfaction into the limelight as brands realized that the same ways they were engaging with customers had to change now that everyone was making the majority of their purchases online. Previously, a customer service representative may have managed a dozen accounts, but nowadays with product-led growth, they tackle a portfolio of thousands of customers, Davidson told TechCrunch.

New York-based Vitally, founded in 2017, unifies all of that customer data into one place and flows it through an engine to provide engagement insights, like what help customers need, which ones are at risk of churning and which to target for expanded revenue opportunities. Its software also provides automation to balance workflow and steer customer success teams to the tasks with the right customers so that they are engaging at the correct time.

Andreessen approached Davidson for the Series A, and he liked the alignment in customer success vision, he said. Including the new funding, Vitally raised a total of $10.6 million, which includes $1.2 million in September 2019.

From the beginning, Vitally was bringing in strong revenue growth, which enabled the company to focus on building its platform and hold off on fundraising.

“A Series A was certainly on our mind and road map, but we weren’t actively fundraising,” Davidson said. “However, we saw a great fit and great backing to help us grow. Tools have lagged in the customer success area and how to manage that. Andreessen can help us scale and grow with our customers as they manage the thousands of their customers.”

Davidson intends to use the new funding to scale Vitally’s team across the board and build out its marketing efforts to introduce the company to the market. He expects to grow to 30 by the end of the year to support the company’s annual revenue growth — averaging 3x — and customer acquisition. Vitally is already working with big customers like Segment, Productboard and Calendly.

As part of the investment, Andreessen general partner David Ulevitch is joining the Vitally board. He saw an opportunity for the reimagining of how SaaS companies delivered customer success, he told TechCrunch via email.

Similar to Davidson, he thought that customer success teams were now instrumental to growing SaaS businesses, but technology lagged behind market need, especially with so many SaaS companies taking a self-serve or product-led approach that attracted more orders than legacy tools.

Before the firm met Vitally, it was hearing “rave reviews” from its customers, Ulevitch said.

“The feedback was overwhelmingly positive and affirmed the fact that Vitally simply had the best product on the market since it actually mapped to how businesses operated and interacted with customers, particularly businesses with a long-tail of paying customers,” he added. “The first dollar into a SaaS company is great, but it’s the renewal and expansion dollars that really set the winners apart from everyone else. Vitally is in the best position to help companies get that renewal, help their customers expand accounts and ultimately win the space.”

 


By Christine Hall

Commercial real estate lending startup Lev brings in $30M on a $130M valuation

Commercial real estate has been slow to embrace technology; though it has an addressable financing market of more than $40 billion, putting together a deal is still mostly manual, paper-heavy and complicated.

New York-based Lev is taking on this problem by automating workflows online and gathering hundreds of millions of data points into machine learning software to ensure financing accuracy. To do this, the commercial real estate financing transaction platform raised $30 million to give it a $130 million valuation just two years into its inception.

The latest financing comes four months after the company raised $10 million in seed funding led by NFX. Greenspring led the latest round, with participation from First American Title. Existing investors NFX, Canaan Partners, JLL Spark, Animo Ventures and Ludlow Ventures also joined in to give Lev total investments of more than $34 million, according to Crunchbase data.

Lev founder and CEO Yaakov Zar previously co-founded Boston-based Dispatch, which built tools for home services businesses. It was when he and his wife went through the homebuying process — and their mortgage fell through — that Zar decided to look at real estate financing.

He channeled his frustration into becoming a licensed mortgage loan originator. After relocating to New York, Zar was helping a friend at a nonprofit organization refinance their building and got a firsthand look at what he said was a fragmented commercial real estate mortgage industry.

Companies like Blend are addressing the problem of real estate lending, Zar told TechCrunch, but very few are focusing on commercial real estate, where lending is sensitive to interest rates and total amortization. In addition, property owners have a burden of refinancing every five to 10 years.

“Legacy businesses like JLL, which is an investor, Cushman Wakefield and CBRE work on lending, but they are much more ‘relationship focused’ than tech focused,” Zar said. “We think that it is a necessary part because the deals are so large and complex that you need a relationship for them, but transactions less than $1 billion are pretty straightforward. On experience and product, no one is close to us.”

Initially, Zar and his team wanted to build the “Rocket Mortgage of commercial real estate lending,” but found that to be difficult because real estate brokers are putting together their own pitch books for lenders. Instead, Lev is building a technology platform of more than 5,000 lenders with information on what projects they like to finance. It then analyzes a customer’s portfolio and connects them in minutes with the right lender, taking 1% of the loan amount for each transaction as payment. Lev is also working to be able to close deals online.

Zar wasn’t looking for funding when he was approached by investors, but said he was introduced to some people who liked the company’s growth and trajectory and decided to accept the funding offer.

He intends to use the new funding on product development, with the aim of giving a term sheet in seconds and closing a loan in seven days. Right now it can take a week or two to get the term sheet and 45 to 90 days to close a loan.

The company has about 40 employees currently in its New York headquarters, Miami R&D center, Los Angeles outpost and remotely. Continued investments will be made to expand the team.

Lev grew 10 times in volume in the past year, closing approximately $100 million of loans in 2020. Zar expects to close over $1 billion in 2021.

“Customers come back to us repeatedly, and there are a ton of referrals,” Zar said. “We want to be the platform on which capital market transactions are processed. You need an advantage to network and find great deals. I don’t want to mess with that, but when you find it, bring it to us, we will close it and provide the asset management with the best option to close online and manage the deal from a single platform.”

Meanwhile, Pete Flint, general partner at NFX, told TechCrunch that he got to know the Lev team over the last 18 months, checking in on the company during various stages of the global pandemic, and was impressed at how the company navigated it.

As co-founder of Trulia, he saw firsthand the problems in the real estate industry over search and discovery, but as that problem was being solved, the focus shifted to financing. NFX is also an investor in Tomo and Ribbon, which both focus on residential financing.

Wanting to see what opportunities were on the commercial real estate side, Flint heard Lev’s name come up more and more among brokers and industry insiders.

“As we got to know the Lev team, we recognized that they were the best team out there to solve this problem,” Flint said. “We are also among an amazing group of people complementing the round. The folks that are deep industry insiders will put a helpful lens on strategy and business development opportunities.”

 


By Christine Hall

Pillar VC closes $192M for two funds targeting SaaS, crypto, biotech, manufacturing

As its name suggests, venture firm Pillar VC is focused on building “pillar” companies in Boston and across the Northeast.

The Boston-based seed-stage firm closed a raise of $192 million of capital that was split into two funds, $169 million for Pillar III and $23 million for Pillar Select. More than 25 investors are backing the new fund, including portfolio founders.

Jamie Goldstein, Sarah Hodges and Russ Wilcox are Pillar VC’s three partners, and all three lead investments for Pillar. The trio all have backgrounds as entrepreneurs: Goldstein, who has spent the past two decades in VC, co-founded speech recognition company PureSpeech, which was acquired by Voice Control Systems; Hodges was at online learning company Pluralsight; and Wilcox was CEO of electronic paper company E Ink, which he sold in 2009.

Pillar typically invests in a range of enterprise and consumer startups and aims to target Pillar III at startups focused on biology, enterprise SaaS, AI/ML, crypto, fintech, hardware, manufacturing and logistics. The firm will make pre-seed investments of $50,000 to $500,000 and seed-round investments of $2 million to $6 million.

One of the unique aspects of the firm is that it will buy common stock so that it will be aligned with founders and take on the same risks, Goldstein told TechCrunch.

The firm, founded in 2016, already has 50 portfolio companies from its first two funds — Pillar I, which raised $57 million, and Pillar $100 million. These include cryptocurrency company Circle, which announced a SPAC earlier this month, 3D printing company Desktop Metal that went public, also via SPAC, last year, and PillPack, which was bought by Amazon in 2018.

“Pillar is an experiment, answering the question of ‘what would happen if unicorn CEOs came in and helped bootstrap the next generation’,” Wilcox said. “The experience is working, and Pillar does what VCs ought to do, which is back first-of-its-kind ideas.”

In addition to leading investments, Hodges leads the Pillar VC platform for the firm’s portfolio companies. Many of the portfolio companies are spinouts from universities, and need help turning that technology into a company. Pillar provides guidance to recruit a CEO or partner on the business side, leadership development, recruit talent and makes introductions to potential customers.

Pillar also intends to invest a third of the new fund into that biology category, specifically looking at the convergence of life science and technology, Wilcox said.

In its second fund, the firm started Petri, a pre-seed bio accelerator focused on biotech, and brought in founders using computation and engineering to develop technologies around the areas of agriculture, genetics, cell and gene therapies, medical data and drug discovery. The third fund will continue to support the accelerator through both pre-seed and seed investments.

The first investments from Pillar III are being finalized, but Hodges expects to infuse capital into another 50 companies.

“We are super bullish on Boston,” she added. “So many companies here are growing to be household names, and an exciting energy is coming out.”

 


By Christine Hall

Zenput raises $27M Series C to keep multiunit operations flowing no matter the location

Ensuring food safety compliance can be challenging at one restaurant, let alone across thousands of restaurants. Zenput has developed technology aimed at making sure operating procedures are quickly adapted so that businesses maintain quality.

The San Francisco-based operations execution company raised $27 million in Series C financing, led by Golub Capital, to continue developing its application to automate operation procedures like tracking food safety, public health protocols and changing market conditions.

Restaurants, convenience stores and grocery chain customers can use Zenput to update all of their locations — at the same time — with new processes, promotional campaigns and key initiatives while also gathering data and insights from those locations to find opportunities for improvement.

Joining Golub in the round were existing investors, including Jackson Square Ventures, MHS Capital and Goldcrest Capital. This brings the company’s total funding to more than $47 million, co-founder and CEO Vladik Rikhter told TechCrunch.

Greg Gretsch, founding partner and managing director at Jackson Square Ventures, led Zenput’s Series A round in 2016 and had met Rikhter a year prior. At the time, Rikhter was in the early stages of developing what Gretsch called an organization task manager. While he didn’t invest then, he kept in touch with Rikhter and saw “how much of a grinder he was” in expanding the platform.

“When he sees a problem, he works and works to solve it,” Gretsch said. “Whenever you have a multilocation business, you have a remote management problem. You’re trying to manage everything so your weakest link can perform as best as the best link, but you need a platform to manage that so that you can hold stores accountable to improve the end product.”

Front-line workers use Zenput’s mobile app for onboarding at the beginning of the day and to track safety compliance and fresh food checks, something Rikhter said was historically challenging once a business had thousands of locations. The app can also alert when food has been left out too long to assist in lowering food waste rates.

Since its founding in 2012, Zenput is currently used by customers like Chipotle, Domino’s, P.F. Chang’s, Five Guys, Smart & Final and 7-Eleven in over 60,000 locations across more than 100 countries.

The Series C round comes as the company saw 100% revenue growth over the past year. At the same time, product usage more than doubled at stores, and to date, 1.5 billion questions were answered through Zenput, a figure Rikhter expects to double over the next 12 months as locations aim to find ways to do more things remotely.

“The pandemic inadvertently helped us,” he added. “Initially, it was rough, but then a lot of the brands we dealt with needed to expedite technology and saw an opportunity to invest in our technology. We have more products coming because there is more that can be done to make sure every meal is a safe meal.”

Much of the new funding will go toward building those new products and capabilities and into marketing to expand the customer base. The company recently launched an expansion of its Zenput for Franchisors tool and updates to its food prep labeling and temperature monitoring functions.

Rikhter also plans to double Zenput’s employees over the 16 to 18 months, especially in the product engineering and marketing areas.

All of that is to be ready for customer demand as restaurants, convenience stores and grocery chains do more to change up the way they do business in the future.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to show up at a restaurant and see changes made daily on protocols, which will drive a lot more of the journey than before,” Rikhter said. “We see more operators flexing muscles they didn’t know they had, as it relates to promotions and products, so they can grow faster and run totally different operational features and offer more options for customers.”

 


By Christine Hall

Choco bites into $100M Series B, at a $600M valuation, to build a more transparent, sustainable food supply chain

The United States estimates of the food produced here approximately 40% is wasted. Globally, $2.6 trillion annually is lost.

Berlin-based Choco, which has built ordering software for restaurants and their suppliers, is working to digitize the food supply chain and announced $100 million in Series B funding, led by Left Lane Capital, to give it a $600 million post-market valuation. Joining in is new investor Insight Partners and existing investors Coatue Management and Bessemer Venture Partners.

The new round comes just over a year after Choco’s $63.7 million Series A, raised at two different periods, a $33.5 million round in 2019 and a $30.2 million round in 2020 — at a $230 million valuation — to bring total funding to $171.5 million since the company was founded in 2018.

The company’s core food procurement technology digitizes ordering workflow and communications for restaurants and suppliers. During the global pandemic, Khachab said Choco became the go-to tool for operators to be more efficient around procurement processes and reducing expenses as they adapted to the changing market conditions.

With the food industry a $6 trillion market, Choco CEO Daniel Khachab told TechCrunch he aims to make the food supply chain more transparent and sustainable in order to help increase margins in the food service sector and combat climate change.

The company did 14 months of food waste research and found that it was central to a lot of other global problems: Food waste is the third-largest driver of climate change and is causing deforestation — as evident by news from the Amazon last year  — and the extinction of animals.

“It makes sense to try and solve it,” he added. “The food system is highly fragile, and what was shown in the first and second waves of the pandemic is how fragile and inflexible it was. It made the industry realize that it has to step up and that it can’t continue to work on pen and paper.”

Between the farmer and the end point, there are some nine parties involved, Khachab said. None are connected to another, which often means nine data silos and data not collected along the chain. It is important to connect them on one single platform so decision-making can be data-driven, he added.

As uncertainty swept across the food industry at the beginning of the pandemic, Khachab said Choco could either lay low and wait or invest in the company. He chose the latter, pumping up the team, regions and technology. As a result, Choco’s technology is stronger than it was 15 months ago and proved to be flexible amid the inflexible environment.

Choco saw orders quadruple on the platform in the past year, and gross merchandise value grew to $900 million annualized, up from $230 million, Khachab said.

As the company continues to learn how it can provide value to the food supply chain, half of the Series B funding will go into technology development. It will also go toward doubling its headcount, especially on the engineering side. Choco recently brought on ex-Uber and Facebook executive Vikas Gupta as chief technology officer, and Khachab said Gupta’s expertise will enable the company “to build the best technology team in Europe” and scale faster.

Choco is already operating in six markets, including the United States, Germany, France, Spain, Austria and Belgium. Khachab expects to expand in those markets and gain a footprint in new markets like Latin America, the Middle East and Asia.

 


By Christine Hall

JLL, Khosla lead Jones’ $12.5M Series A for real estate vendor compliance

Commercial real estate tenants and property managers have to abide by strict liability rules that any vendor entering the property must have insurance certificates and meet other requirements. The approval process for this currently can take days and is still largely done on paper.

Enter Jones. The New York-based commercial real estate startup is curating a marketplace of pre-approved vendors for tenants and property managers to find and hire the people they need in a compliant way.

To continue advancing its network, the company announced Monday it raised $12.5 million in Series A funding led by JLL Spark and Khosla Ventures that also included strategic investors Camber Creek, Rudin Management, DivcoWest and Sage Realty. This new investment brings Jones’ total raised to $20 million, according to Crunchbase data.

Jones, founded in 2017, also manages certifications and approvals, moving the whole process online. Its technology can process an insurance certificate in less than an hour and reduce the overall vendor approval time to 2.5 days — from 12 days — with 99.9% accuracy, co-founder and CEO Omri Stern told TechCrunch.

The accuracy portion is key. With much of the work being done by hand, current accuracy is at about 30%, he added. In addition, the certifications are lengthy, and it is typically up to property managers to parse through the insurance documents to identify what is missing rather than spending time with tenants.

“In the consumer world, a homeowner expects to go on a marketplace and find a service and hire them,” Stern said. “Office managers and tenants can’t get their preferred vendors through the approval process, so we want to provide a similar digital experience that they can consume and use in real estate.”

He says Jones’ differentiator from competitors is that all of the stakeholders are in place: a group of high-profile real estate customers, including Lincoln Property Co., Prologis, DivcoWest, Rudin Management, Sage Realty and JLL.

Yishai Lerner, co-CEO of JLL Spark, agrees, telling TechCrunch that commercial real estate is one of the largest and last asset classes that is undergoing a technology transformation, similar to what fintech was 20 years ago.

He estimates the U.S. market to be $16 trillion, of which technology could unlock a lot of the value. That opportunity was one of the drivers for JLL to create JLL Spark, where Jones is one of the first investments.

Though Lerner spent time with property management teams on the ground, he became up close and personal with the problem when his wife, while moving offices, found out her vendors were not allowed in the building because they didn’t have the right insurance.

“We learned that property managers spend half of their time just working to verify the compliance of vendors coming into their building,” Lerner said. “We wondered why there wasn’t technology for this. Jones was doing construction at the time, and we brought them into commercial real estate because they had an example of how technology could solve the problem.”

Meanwhile, the Series A comes at a time when Stern is seeing Jones’s SaaS tool take off in the past 10 months. He would not get specific with growth metrics, but did say that what is driving growth is “competing against the status quo” as companies are searching for and adapting workflow solutions.

The company intends to use the new funds on product development in both quicker and easier approvals and bringing on new vendors. Jones already works with tens of thousands of vendors. It will also focus on integration, offering an API that could be used in other industry verticals where compliance is necessary.

Stern would also like to continue building the team. Having brought in real estate experts, he is now also looking for people with backgrounds in fintech, cybersecurity and insurtech to bring in additional perspectives.

“We are building an incredible company with the opportunity to be the next big digital marketplace,” he added.

 


By Christine Hall

Cloud security platform Netskope boosts valuation to $7.5B following $300M raise

Netskope, focused on Secure Access Service Edge architecture, announced Friday a $300 million investment round on a post-money valuation of $7.5 billion.

The oversubscribed insider investment was led by ICONIQ Growth, which was joined by other existing investors, including Lightspeed Venture Partners, Accel, Sequoia Capital Global Equities, Base Partners, Sapphire Ventures and Geodesic Capital.

Netskope co-founder and CEO Sanjay Beri told TechCrunch that since its founding in 2012, the company’s mission has been to guide companies through their digital transformation by finding what is most valuable to them — sensitive data — and protecting it.

“What we had before in the market didn’t work for that world,” he said. “The theory is that digital transformation is inevitable, so our vision is to transform that market so people could do that, and that is what we are building nearly a decade later.”

With this new round, Netskope continues to rack up large rounds: it raised $340 million last February, which gave it a valuation of nearly $3 billion. Prior to that, it was a $168.7 million round at the end of 2018.

Similar to other rounds, the company was not actively seeking new capital, but that it was “an inside round with people who know everything about us,” Beri said.

“The reality is we could have raised $1 billion, but we don’t need more capital,” he added. “However, having a continued strong balance sheet isn’t a bad thing. We are fortunate to be in that situation, and our destination is to be the most impactful cybersecurity company in the world.

Beri said the company just completed a “three-year journey building the largest cloud network that is 15 milliseconds from anyone in the world,” and intends to invest the new funds into continued R&D, expanding its platform and Netskope’s go-to-market strategy to meet demand for a market it estimated would be valued at $30 billion by 2024, he said.

Even pre-pandemic the company had strong hypergrowth over the past year, surpassing the market average annual growth of 50%, he added.

Today’s investment brings the total raised by Santa Clara-based Netskope to just over $1 billion, according to Crunchbase data.

With the company racking up that kind of capital, the next natural step would be to become a public company. Beri admits that Netskope could be public now, though it doesn’t have to do it for the traditional reasons of raising capital or marketing.

“Going public is one day on our path, but you probably won’t see us raise another private round,” Beri said.

 


By Christine Hall

5 investors discuss the future of RPA after UIPath’s IPO

Robotic process automation (RPA) has certainly been getting a lot of attention in the last year, with startups, acquisitions and IPOs all coming together in a flurry of market activity. It all seemed to culminate with UiPath’s IPO last month. The company that appeared to come out of nowhere in 2017 eventually had a final private valuation of $35 billion. It then had the audacity to match that at its IPO. A few weeks later, it still has a market cap of over $38 billion in spite of the stock price fluctuating at points.

Was this some kind of peak for the technology or a flash in the pan? Probably not. While it all seemed to come together in the last year with a big increase in attention to automation in general during the pandemic, it’s a market category that has been around for some time.

RPA allows companies to automate a group of highly mundane tasks and have a machine do the work instead of a human. Think of finding an invoice amount in an email, placing the figure in a spreadsheet and sending a Slack message to Accounts Payable. You could have humans do that, or you could do it more quickly and efficiently with a machine. We’re talking mind-numbing work that is well suited to automation.

In 2019, Gartner found RPA was the fastest-growing category in enterprise software. In spite of that, the market is still surprisingly small, with IDC estimates finding it will reach just $2 billion in 2021. That’s pretty tiny for the enterprise, but it shows that there’s plenty of room for this space to grow.

We spoke to five investors to find out more about RPA, and the general consensus was that we are just getting started. While we will continue to see the players at the top of the market — like UiPath, Automation Anywhere and Blue Prism — jockeying for position with the big enterprise vendors and startups, the size and scope of the market has a lot of potential and is likely to keep growing for some time to come.

To learn about all of this, we queried the following investors:

  • Mallun Yen, founder and partner, Operator Collective
  • Jai Das, partner and president, Sapphire Ventures
  • Soma Somasegar, managing director, Madrona Venture Group
  • Laela Sturdy, general partner, CapitalG
  • Ed Sim, founder and managing partner, Boldstart Ventures

We have seen a range of RPA startups emerge in recent years, with companies like UiPath, Blue Prism and Automation Anywhere leading the way. As the space matures, where do the biggest opportunities remain?

Mallun Yen: One of the fastest-growing categories of software, RPA has been growing at over 60% in recent years, versus 13% for enterprise software generally. But we’ve barely scratched the surface. The COVID-19 pandemic forced companies to shift how they run their business, how they hire and allocate staff.

Given that the workforce will remain at least partially permanently remote, companies recognize that this shift is also permanent, and so they need to make fundamental changes to how they run their businesses. It’s simply suboptimal to hire, train and deploy remote employees to run routine processes, which are prone to, among other things, human error and boredom.

Jai Das: All the companies that you have listed are focused on automating simple repetitive tasks that are performed by humans. These are mostly data entry and data validation jobs. Most of these tasks will be automated in the next couple of years. The new opportunity lies in automating business processes that involve multiple humans and machines within complicated workflow using AI/ML.

Sometimes this is also called process mining. There have been BPM companies in the past that have tried to automate these business processes, but they required a lot of services to implement and maintain these automated processes. AI/ML is providing a way for software to replace all these services.

Soma Somasegar: For all the progress that we have seen in RPA, I think it is still early days. The global demand for RPA market size in terms of revenue was more than $2 billion this past year and is expected to cross $20 billion in the coming decade, growing at a CAGR of more than 30% over the next seven to eight years, according to analysts such as Gartner.

That’s an astounding growth rate in the coming years and is a reflection of how early we are in the RPA journey and how much more is ahead of us. A recent study by Deloitte indicates that up to 50% of the tasks in businesses performed by employees are considered mundane, administrative and labor-intensive. That is just a recipe for a ton of process automation.

There are a lot of opportunities that I see here, including process discovery and mining; process analytics; application of AI to drive effective, more complex workflow automation; and using low code/no code as a way to enable a broader set of people to be able to automate tasks, processes and workflows, to name a few.

Laela Sturdy: We’re a long way from needing to think about the space maturing. In fact, RPA adoption is still in its early infancy when you consider its immense potential. Most companies are only now just beginning to explore the numerous use cases that exist across industries. The more enterprises dip their toes into RPA, the more use cases they envision.

I expect to see market leaders like UiPath continue to innovate rapidly while expanding the breadth and depth of their end-to-end automation platforms. As the technology continues to evolve, we should expect RPA to penetrate even more deeply into the enterprise and to automate increasingly more — and more critical — business processes.

Ed Sim: Most large-scale automation projects require a significant amount of professional services to deliver on the promises, and two areas where I still see opportunity include startups that can bring more intelligence and faster time to value. Examples include process discovery, which can help companies quickly and accurately understand how their business processes work and prioritize what to automate versus just rearchitecting an existing workflow.


By Ron Miller

Evening Fund debuts with $2M micro fund focused on investments between $50K and $100K

We tend to think of venture capital in tens or hundreds of millions, even billions of dollars, so it’s refreshing to find Evening Fund, a new $2 million micro fund that focuses on small investments between $50,000 and $100,000 as it seeks to help young startups that may be struggling to find funding elsewhere.

The new fund was launched by Kat Orekova and Rapha Danilo. Orekova, who started her career as a math professor, is a former Facebook data scientist, who has been dabbling in angel investing and working with young startups for awhile now. They call it Evening Fund because they work as founders by day and investors by night.

She says that she wanted to create something more formal to help early stage startups get off the ground and has help from limited partners that include Sarah Smith at Bain Capital, Lee Linden, general partner at Quiet Capital and a long list of tech industry luminaries.

Orekova says she and her partner invest small sums of money in B2B SaaS companies, who are pre-seed, seed and occasionally A round. They will invest in consumer here and there as well. She says one their key value propositions is that they can help with more than just the money. “One way in which I think Rapha and I can really help our founders is that we give very specific, practical advice, not just kind of super high level,” she told me.

That could be something like how to hire your first designer where the founders may not even know what a designer does. “You’re figuring out how do I hire my first designer, and what does the designer even do because most founders have never hired a designer before. So we give them extremely practical hands-on stuff like here are the competencies or what’s the difference between a graphic designer, a visual designer, a UX designer and a researcher,” she said. They go so far as to give them a list of candidates to help them get going.

She says that she realized while she was at Facebook that she wanted to eventually start a company, so she began volunteering her time to work with companies going through Y Combinator. “I think a lot of people don’t know where to start, but in my case I looked at the YC list, found a company that I thought I could be helpful to. I reached out cold and said ‘Hey, I don’t want money. I don’t want equity. I just want to try to be helpful to you and see where that goes,’” she said.

That lead to scouting for startups for some larger venture capital firms and eventually dabbling in financing some of these startups that she was helping. Today’s announcement is the culmination of these years of work and the groundwork she laid to make herself familiar with how the startup ecosystem works.

The new firm already has its first investment under its belt, Dala, an AI-powered internal search tool that helps connect users to workplace knowledge that’s often locked in applications like Google Suite, Slack and Notion.

As though Evening isn’t enough to keep her and Danilo busy, they are also working on a startup, which she says is very much related to the fund. But she wasn’t ready to share much on that just yet as the company remains in stealth.


By Ron Miller

YL Ventures sells its stake in cybersecurity unicorn Axonius for $270M

YL Ventures, the Israel-focused cybersecurity seed fund, today announced that it has sold its stake cybersecurity asset management startup Axonius, which only a week ago announced a $100 million Series D funding round that now values it at around $1.2 billion.

ICONIQ Growth, Alkeon Capital Management, DTCP and Harmony Partners acquired YL Venture’s stake for $270 million. This marks YL’s first return from its third $75 million fund, which it raised in 2017, and the largest return in the firm’s history.

With this sale, the company’s third fund still has six portfolio companies remaining. It closed its fourth fund with $120 million in committed capital in the middle of 2019.

Unlike YL, which focuses on early-stage companies — though it also tends to participate in some later-stage rounds — the investors that are buying its stake specialize in later-stage companies that are often on an IPO path. ICONIQ Growth has invested in the likes of Adyen, CrowdStrike, Datadog and Zoom, for example, and has also regularly partnered with YL Ventures on its later-stage investments.

“The transition from early-stage to late-stage investors just makes sense as we drive toward IPO, and it allows each investor to focus on what they do best,” said Dean Sysman, co-founder and CEO of Axonius. “We appreciate the guidance and support the YL Ventures team has provided during the early stages of our company and we congratulate them on this successful journey.”

To put this sale into perspective for the Silicon Valley- and Tel Aviv-based YL Ventures, it’s worth noting that it currently manages about $300 million. Its current portfolio includes the likes of Orca Security, Hunters and Cycode. This sale is a huge win for the firm.

Its most headline-grabbing exit so far was Twistlock, which was acquired by Palo Alto Networks for $410 million in 2019, but it has also seen exits of its portfolio companies to Microsoft, Proofpoint, CA Technologies and Walmart, among others. The fund participated in Axonius’ $4 million seed round in 2017 up to its $58 Million Series C round a year ago.

It seems like YL Ventures is taking a very pragmatic approach here. It doesn’t specialize in late-stage firms — and until recently, Israeli startups always tended to sell long before they got to a late-stage round anyway. And it can generate a nice — and guaranteed — return for its own investors, too.

“This exit netted $270 million in cash directly to our third fund, which had $75 million total in capital commitments, and this fund still has 6 outstanding portfolio companies remaining,” Yoav Leitersdorf, YL Ventures’ founder and managing partner, told me. “Returning multiple times that fund now with a single exit, with the rest of the portfolio companies still there for the upside is the most responsible — yet highly profitable path — we could have taken for our fund at this time. And all this while diverting our energies and means more towards our seed-stage companies (where our help is more impactful), and at the same time supporting Axonius by enabling it to bring aboard such excellent late-stage investors as ICONIQ and Alkeon – a true win-win-win situation for everyone involved!”

He also noted that this sale achieved a top-decile return for the firm’s limited partners and allows it to focus its resources and attention toward the younger companies in its portfolio.


By Frederic Lardinois