Dec
18
2018
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Ex-Googlers meld humans & machines at new cobotics startup Formant

Our distinct skill sets and shortcomings mean people and robots will join forces for the next few decades. Robots are tireless, efficient and reliable, but in a millisecond through intuition and situational awareness, humans can make decisions machine can’t. Until workplace robots are truly autonomous and don’t require any human thinking, we’ll need software to supervise them at scale. Formant comes out of stealth today to “help people speak robot,” says co-founder and CEO Jeff Linnell. “What’s really going to move the needle in the innovation economy is using humans as an empowering element in automation.”

Linnell learned the grace of uniting flesh and steel while working on the movie Gravity. “We put cameras and Sandra Bullock on dollies,” he bluntly recalls. Artistic vision and robotic precision combined to create gorgeous zero-gravity scenes that made audiences feel weightless. Google bought his startup Bot & Dolly, and Linnell spent four years there as a director of robotics while forming his thesis.

Now with Formant, he wants to make hybrid workforce cooperation feel frictionless.

The company has raised a $6 million seed round from SignalFire, a data-driven VC fund with software for recruiting engineers. Formant is launching its closed beta that equips businesses with cloud infrastructure for collecting, making sense of and acting on data from fleets of robots. It allows a single human to oversee 10, 20 or 100 machines, stepping in to clear confusion when they aren’t sure what to do.

“The tooling is 10 years behind the web,” Linnell explains. “If you build a data company today, you’ll use AWS or Google Cloud, but that simply doesn’t exist for robotics. We’re building that layer.”

A beautiful marriage

“This is going to sound completely bizarre,” Formant CTO Anthony Jules warns me. “I had a recurring dream [as a child] in which I was a ship captain and I had a little mechanical parrot on my should that would look at situations and help me decide what to do as we’d sail the seas trying to avoid this octopus. Since then I knew that building intelligent machines is what I would do in this world.”

So he went to MIT, left a robotics PhD program to build a startup called Sapient Corporation that he built into a 4,000-employee public company, and worked on the Tony Hawk video games. He too joined Google through an acquisition, meeting Linnell after Redwood Robotics, where he was COO, got acquired. “We came up with some similar beliefs. There are a few places where full autonomy will actually work, but it’s really about creating a beautiful marriage of what machines are good at and what humans are good at,” Jules tells me.

Formant now has SaaS pilots running with businesses in several verticals to make their “robot-shaped data” usable. They range from food manufacturing to heavy infrastructure inspection to construction, and even training animals. Linnell also foresees retail increasingly employing fleets of robots not just in the warehouse but on the showroom floor, and they’ll require precise coordination.

What’s different about Formant is it doesn’t build the bots. Instead, it builds the reins for people to deftly control them.

First, Formant connects to sensors to fill up a cloud with LiDAR, depth imagery, video, photos, log files, metrics, motor torques and scalar values. The software parses that data and when something goes wrong or the system isn’t sure how to move forward, Formant alerts the human “foreman” that they need to intervene. It can monitor the fleet, sniff out the source of errors, and suggest options for what to do next.

For example, “when an autonomous digger encounters an obstacle in the foundation of a construction site, an operator is necessary to evaluate whether it is safe for the robot to proceed or stop,” Linnell writes. “This decision is made in tandem: the rich data gathered by the robot is easily interpreted by a human but difficult or legally questionable for a machine. This choice still depends on the value judgment of the human, and will change depending on if the obstacle is a gas main, a boulder, or an electrical wire.”

Any single data stream alone can’t reveal the mysteries that arise, and people would struggle to juggle the different feeds in their minds. But not only can Formant align the data for humans to act on, it also can turn their choices into valuable training data for artificial intelligence. Formant learns, so next time the machine won’t need assistance.

The industrial revolution, continued

With rock-star talent poached from Google and tides lifting all automated boats, Formant’s biggest threat is competition from tech giants. Old engineering companies like SAP could try to adapt to the new real-time data type, yet Formant hopes to out-code them. Google itself has built reliable cloud scaffolding and has robotics experience from Boston Dynamics, plus buying Linnell’s and Jules’ companies. But the enterprise customization necessary to connect with different clients isn’t typical for the search juggernaut.

Linnell fears that companies that try to build their own robot management software could get hacked. “I worry about people who do homegrown solutions or don’t have the experience we have from being at a place like Google. Putting robots online in an insecure way is a pretty bad problem.” Formant is looking to squash any bugs before it opens its platform to customers in 2019.

With time, humans will become less and less necessary, and that will surface enormous societal challenges for employment and welfare. “It’s in some ways a continuation of the industrial revolution,” Jules opines. “We take some of this for granted but it’s been happening for 100 years. Photographer — that’s a profession that doesn’t exist without the machine that they use. We think that transformation will continue to happen across the workforce.”

Dec
18
2018
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Seismic scores $100 million Series E investment on $1 billion valuation

Seismic has been helping companies create and manage their sales and marketing collateral since 2010. Today the company announced a $100 million Series E investment on a $1 billion valuation.

The round was led by Lightspeed Venture Partners and T. Rowe Price. Existing investors General Atlantic, JMI Equity and Jackson Square Ventures also participated in the round. The company has now raised $179 million since inception.

What is attracting this level of investment is Seismic’s sales enablement tools, a kind of content management for sales and marketing. “What we’re trying to do with our technology is to help marketers who are striving to create the right content to help the sellers, and help sellers navigate all of the content out there and put together the right pieces and the right materials that are going to help them move the sales cycle along,” Seismic CEO and co-founder Doug Winter explained.

The inclusion of an investor like T. Rowe Price often is a signal of IPO ambitions, and Winter acknowledged the connection, while pointing out that T. Rowe Price is also a customer. “We do have a goal to be public-ready as a company that we are aiming for. We are the leader of the space, and we do feel like striving to be a public company and to be the first one in our space to go public. It’s a goal we are going to push for,” Winter told TechCrunch.

But he says taking this investment is more about taking advantage of market opportunity. The money gives Seismic the ability to expand to meet growing sales. Today, the company has more than 600 customers averaging more than $200,000 in spending, according to Winter.

The company acquired the Savo Group in May to help expand its market position. Seismic is based in San Diego with offices in Boston and Chicago (from the acquisition). It also opened offices in the U.K. and Australia earlier this year and plans further international expansion with the new investment. The company currently has more than 600 employees, including 185 engineers and project managers, and plans to keep hiring as it puts this money to work.

Dec
17
2018
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The Mom Project, a job site for moms returning to work, nabs $8M from Initialized and more

If you are a mother who has taken a break from full-time employment to raise kids, you may have also experienced the challenge that is jumping back into the working world after your break.

You may find you need more time flexibility; you have been out of the job market for years and so your confidence is knocked; your skills are no longer as relevant as they were before; or you just want to rethink your career; plus many employers — whether they say it or not — seem less interested in you because of all of the above, and no level of burnishing your resume on LinkedIn will help. It can be tough (and I say that from first-hand experience).

Now, Chicago-based startup The Mom Project, a platform specifically built to help female knowledge workers find jobs after pausing to raise kids, has raised a little egg of its own to take on this challenge. It’s picked up a Series A of $8 million that it plans to use to bring its job marketplace to more cities — it’s currently in Chicago, Atlanta and San Francisco — and to expand the kinds of services it offers to make the challenge of juggling work and parenthood easier.

The funding is being led by Grotech Ventures and Initialized Capital, with another new investor, Aspect Ventures, and previous backers Atlanta Seed Company, Engage Ventures, OCA Ventures, BBG Ventures, IrishAngels and Wintrust Financial also participating.

This brings the total raised by The Mom Project to $11 million, and with 75,000 registered moms and 1,000 companies, including Procter & Gamble, BP, Miller Coors and AT&T, the startup claims it’s now the largest platform of its kind in the U.S.

From selling diapers to changing diapers

Allison Robinson, the founder and CEO of The Mom Project, said she came up with the idea for the startup in 2016, when she was on maternity leave from a strategy role at Pampers.

“I started realising a lot about moms before I became one,” she says about her last role before striking out as an entrepreneur. “But what I hadn’t understood until I was on maternity leave myself was that your priorities can change after having a child.” (She’s pictured up above with her son.)

Citing a study she’d seen in the Harvard Business Review that estimated 43 percent of skilled women exit the workforce after having children, Robinson realised there was a gap in the market for those among them who had timed out from returning to their previous roles, but still wanted to make the leap back into working at some point.

And she has a point: Not only do people who decide they want to return to work face all of the usual issues of newly needing more time flexibility, wondering whether their skills are still current enough, general confidence and so on, but the average recruitment process, and job sites overall, do not really have ways to account for any of that very well.

And the gap exists on the employer side of the marketplace, too. Businesses — both large corporates very much in the public eye as well as smaller businesses that are not — are rethinking how they hire and keep good people in the overall competition for talent. (Just this week, the U.K.’s Office of National Statistics said that the number of unfilled positions in the information and communication technology sector rose by 24.3 percent compared to last year in the country, a shortage that’s reflected in other markets.)

Having a diverse workforce — including more women and women from different walks of life — is key not only to helping counteract that, but to contribute to better overall work culture. That’s a fact that many employers have realised independently or have simply been thrown into the spotlight unwittingly and now are trying to repair.

And yet, there haven’t been many opportunities for them to pursue more diverse hiring practices.

LinkedIn recently made a tiny move into exploring diversity in hiring by at least allowing recruiters to search their job candidate results by gender, but this is a far cry from actually addressing the specific predicaments that particular segments of the working population have, and how to help them connect better with employers who might be keen to bring more of them on through recruitment.

In fact, the idea of providing improved job search for knowledge workers in specific cases is actually a very interesting one that shows there is definitely still room for innovation in the world of recruitment: Handshake earlier this year raised $40 million for its own take on this, which is providing a better LinkedIn-style platform to connect minority university graduates with interesting job opportunities at companies keen to make their workforces more diverse.

“Companies have started to realize the value in building a diverse workforce, but we still have a long way to go in achieving equal representation and opportunities,” said Julia Taxin, a partner at Grotech and new Mom Project board member. “Allison and her team have built an incredible marketplace of diverse talent for companies and I look forward to working with The Mom Project to execute on their vision of helping to close the gender gap in the workplace.”

The Mom Project, Robinson said, is tackling the challenges at both ends of the spectrum.

On the employer side, she said there is a lot of educating going on, talking to HR people and getting them to understand the opportunity they could unlock by hiring more parents — which tend to be almost entirely all-women, but sometimes men, too.

“We want to provide more data to these companies,” she said, pointing out that it’s not just a matter of providing a job opportunity, but also giving parents options in areas like childcare, or flexible working schedules. “We want to show them ‘here is where you are doing well, and here is where you are not. Fixes don’t cost a lot of money, but a lot of companies are just not aware.”

“We’ve got 75,000 women on our platform, and currently around 1,000 companies posting jobs,” she said. “The goal is to have 75,000-plus jobs. We want to make sure that all the moms signing up on the platform are getting work.”

“The Mom Project is determined to create a future where women aren’t forced to choose between their families and their careers,” said Alda Leu Dennis, partner at Initialized Capital and new Mom Project board member, in a statement. “There is a huge pool of experienced talent, parents and non-parents, that is sometimes overlooked because companies haven’t created the kind of diverse, flexible workplace culture that attracts and retains them. Initialized wants to be part of making this cultural shift happen.”

On the parent side, not only is it also about making the platform known to people who are considering a return to work, but it’s also about some fundamental, but very important basics, such as giving would-be jobseekers the flexibility to go to interviews. Robinson said that one campaign it’s about to launch, in partnership with Urban Sitter, is to provide free childcare credits to Mom Project jobseekers so that they can get to their interview.

“Sometimes you have to go to an interview with 24 hours’ notice, and lining up a sitter can be stressful,” she said. “We want to alleviate that.”

Parents also know that this isn’t just an issue for the interview: Many towns and regions have what Robinson called “childcare deserts,” where there is a scarcity of affordable options to replace the parent on a more daily basis.

Contract work is king (and queen)

For now, Robinson said that the majority of jobs on the platform are focused on fixed-term employment — that is, not permanent, full-time work.

This is due to a number of reasons. For example, parents coming back to working after a break may be more inclined to ease in with shorter roles and less long-term commitment. And employers are still testing out how this demographic of workers will work out, so to speak. Equally, though, we have seen a huge swing in more general employment trends, where businesses are hiring fixed-term workers rather than full-time employees to account for seasonality and to give themselves more flexibility (not to mention less liability on the benefits front).

While Robinson said that the aim is definitely to bring more full-time job opportunities to the platform over time, this has nonetheless presented an interesting business opportunity to The Mom Project. The startup acts like Airbnb, Amazon and a number of other marketplaces, where it not only connects job-seekers and employers, but also then handles all the transactions around the job. When the job is fixed-term, the Mom Project essentially becomes like the job agency paying the employee, and that is how it makes a cut. And it also becomes the provider of benefits and more.

In other words, while there is an immediate opportunity for The Mom Project to compete against (or at least win some business from) the likes of LinkedIn to target the specific opportunity of providing jobs for women returning to work, there is a potentially and equally big one in becoming a one-stop employment shop to handle customers’ other needs as employers or workers, providing a range of other services, from payroll through to childcare listings and more.

Dec
13
2018
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They scaled YouTube — now they’ll shard everyone with PlanetScale

When the former CTOs of YouTube, Facebook and Dropbox seed fund a database startup, you know there’s something special going on under the hood. Jiten Vaidya and Sugu Sougoumarane saved YouTube from a scalability nightmare by inventing and open-sourcing Vitess, a brilliant relational data storage system. But in the decade since working there, the pair have been inundated with requests from tech companies desperate for help building the operational scaffolding needed to actually integrate Vitess.

So today the pair are revealing their new startup PlanetScale that makes it easy to build multi-cloud databases that handle enormous amounts of information without locking customers into Amazon, Google or Microsoft’s infrastructure. Battle-tested at YouTube, the technology could allow startups to fret less about their backend and focus more on their unique value proposition. “Now they don’t have to reinvent the wheel” Vaidya tells me. “A lot of companies facing this scaling problem end up solving it badly in-house and now there’s a way to solve that problem by using us to help.”

PlanetScale quietly raised a $3 million seed round in April, led by SignalFire and joined by a who’s who of engineering luminaries. They include YouTube co-founder and CTO Steve Chen, Quora CEO and former Facebook CTO Adam D’Angelo, former Dropbox CTO Aditya Agarwal, PayPal and Affirm co-founder Max Levchin, MuleSoft co-founder and CTO Ross Mason, Google director of engineering Parisa Tabriz and Facebook’s first female engineer and South Park Commons founder Ruchi Sanghvi. If anyone could foresee the need for Vitess implementation services, it’s these leaders, who’ve dealt with scaling headaches at tech’s top companies.

But how can a scrappy startup challenge the tech juggernauts for cloud supremacy? First, by actually working with them. The PlanetScale beta that’s now launching lets companies spin up Vitess clusters on its database-as-a-service, their own through a licensing deal, or on AWS with Google Cloud and Microsoft Azure coming shortly. Once these integrations with the tech giants are established, PlanetScale clients can use it as an interface for a multi-cloud setup where they could keep their data master copies on AWS US-West with replicas on Google Cloud in Ireland and elsewhere. That protects companies from becoming dependent on one provider and then getting stuck with price hikes or service problems.

PlanetScale also promises to uphold the principles that undergirded Vitess. “It’s our value that we will keep everything in the query pack completely open source so none of our customers ever have to worry about lock-in” Vaidya says.

PlanetScale co-founders (from left): Jiten Vaidya and Sugu Sougoumarane

Battle-tested, YouTube-approved

He and Sougoumarane met 25 years ago while at Indian Institute of Technology Bombay. Back in 1993 they worked at pioneering database company Informix together before it flamed out. Sougoumarane was eventually hired by Elon Musk as an early engineer for X.com before it got acquired by PayPal, and then left for YouTube. Vaidya was working at Google and the pair were reunited when it bought YouTube and Sougoumarane pulled him on to the team.

“YouTube was growing really quickly and the relationship database they were using with MySQL was sort of falling apart at the seams,” Vaidya recalls. Adding more CPU and memory to the database infra wasn’t cutting it, so the team created Vitess. The horizontal scaling sharding middleware for MySQL let users segment their database to reduce memory usage while still being able to rapidly run operations. YouTube has smoothly ridden that infrastructure to 1.8 billion users ever since.

“Sugu and Mike Solomon invented and made Vitess open source right from the beginning since 2010 because they knew the scaling problem wasn’t just for YouTube, and they’ll be at other companies five or 10 years later trying to solve the same problem,” Vaidya explains. That proved true, and now top apps like Square and HubSpot run entirely on Vitess, with Slack now 30 percent onboard.

Vaidya left YouTube in 2012 and became the lead engineer at Endorse, which got acquired by Dropbox, where he worked for four years. But in the meantime, the engineering community strayed toward MongoDB-style non-relational databases, which Vaidya considers inferior. He sees indexing issues and says that if the system hiccups during an operation, data can become inconsistent — a big problem for banking and commerce apps. “We think horizontally scaled relationship databases are more elegant and are something enterprises really need.

Database legends reunite

Fed up with the engineering heresy, a year ago Vaidya committed to creating PlanetScale. It’s composed of four core offerings: professional training in Vitess, on-demand support for open-source Vitess users, Vitess database-as-a-service on PlanetScale’s servers and software licensing for clients that want to run Vitess on premises or through other cloud providers. It lets companies re-shard their databases on the fly to relocate user data to comply with regulations like GDPR, safely migrate from other systems without major codebase changes, make on-demand changes and run on Kubernetes.

The PlanetScale team

PlanetScale’s customers now include Indonesian e-commerce giant Bukalapak, and it’s helping Booking.com, GitHub and New Relic migrate to open-source Vitess. Growth is suddenly ramping up due to inbound inquiries. Last month around when Square Cash became the No. 1 app, its engineering team published a blog post extolling the virtues of Vitess. Now everyone’s seeking help with Vitess sharding, and PlanetScale is waiting with open arms. “Jiten and Sugu are legends and know firsthand what companies require to be successful in this booming data landscape,” says Ilya Kirnos, founding partner and CTO of SignalFire.

The big cloud providers are trying to adapt to the relational database trend, with Google’s Cloud Spanner and Cloud SQL, and Amazon’s AWS SQL and AWS Aurora. Their huge networks and marketing war chests could pose a threat. But Vaidya insists that while it might be easy to get data into these systems, it can be a pain to get it out. PlanetScale is designed to give them freedom of optionality through its multi-cloud functionality so their eggs aren’t all in one basket.

Finding product market fit is tough enough. Trying to suddenly scale a popular app while also dealing with all the other challenges of growing a company can drive founders crazy. But if it’s good enough for YouTube, startups can trust PlanetScale to make databases one less thing they have to worry about.

Dec
12
2018
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Tigera raises $30M Series B for its Kubernetes security and compliance platform

Tigera, a startup that offers security and compliance solutions for Kubernetes container deployments, today announced that it has raised a $30 million Series B round led by Insight Venture Partners. Existing investors Madrona, NEA and Wing also participated in this round.

Like everybody in the Kubernetes ecosystem, Tigera is exhibiting at KubeCon this week, so I caught up with the team to talk about the state of the company and its plans for this new raise.

“We are in a very exciting position,” Tigera president and CEO Ratan Tipirneni told me. “All the four public cloud players [AWS, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud and IBM Cloud] have adopted us for their public Kubernetes service. The large Kubernetes distros like Red Hat and Docker are using us.” In addition, the team has signed up other enterprises, often in the healthcare and financial industry, and SaaS players (all of which it isn’t allowed to name) that use its service directly.

The company says that it didn’t need to raise right now. “We didn’t need the money right now, but we had a lot of incoming interest,” Tipirneni said. The company will use the funding to expand its engineering, marketing and customer success teams. In total, it plans to quadruple its sales force. In addition, it plans to set up a large office in Vancouver, Canada, mostly because of the availability of talent there.

In the legacy IT world, security and compliance solutions could rely on the knowledge that the underlying infrastructure was relatively stable. Now, though, with the advent of containers and DevOps, workloads are highly dynamic, but that also makes the challenge of securing them and ensuring compliance with regulations like HIPAA or standards like PCI more complex, too. The promise of Tigera’s solution is that it allows enterprises to ensure compliance by using a zero-trust model that authorizes each service on the network, encrypts all the traffic and enforces the policies the admins have set for their company and needs. All of this data is logged in detail and, if necessary, enterprises can pull it for incident management or forensic analysis. 

Dec
12
2018
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AI-powered knowledge-sharing platform Guru raises $25 million Series B

Guru, the enterprise-focused information-sharing platform, has today announced the close of a $25 million Series B funding led by Thrive Capital, with participation from existing investors Emergence Capital, FirstMark Capital, Slack Fund and Michael Dell’s MSD Capital.

Guru came on to the scene in 2013 with the premise that organizations are not so great at building out informational databases, nor are they very good at using them. So Guru built a Chrome extension that simply sits as a layer on employees’ computers and surfaces the right information whenever asked.

Specifically, this comes in handy for customer service agents and sales people who need to answer questions from people outside of the organization quickly and accurately.

This summer, Guru revamped the platform to incorporate a new feature set called AI Suggest. The feature simply auto-surfaces relevant information as the employee goes about their business, with no searches or inquiries necessary. The company also unveiled two versions of the feature, text and voice, so that it is still useful when employees are on the phone.

Companies that are sensitive about their information being shared with Guru can customize the level of access given to Guru, including or excluding certain third-party integrations etc., as well as how long information is stored on Guru. No personally identifying information about end-customers is ever stored on the Guru platform.

Over the past couple of years, Guru has brought on big-name clients, including BuzzFeed, Glossier, Intercom and Thumbtack.

Guru has signed on 200 new clients since the launch of AI Suggest in July, with a total of around 800 companies on the platform, representing thousands of users.

For now, the company is hyper-focused on growth.

“We are not profitable yet,” said co-founder and CEO Rick Nucci .” But we’re intentionally focused on growth. What prompted us to raise this round right now is to continue to execute on the momentum of the business.”

Guru has now raised a total of $27.5 million.

Dec
12
2018
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AtScale lands $50 million investment led by Morgan Stanley

AtScale, the startup that helps companies move massive amounts of data into business intelligence and analytics tools, announced a $50 million Series D round today.

Morgan Stanley led the round, with previous investors Storm Ventures and Atlantic Bridge joining in. New investor Wells Fargo also participated. The funding comes almost exactly a year after the company announced its $25 million Series C. Today’s funding brings the total amount raised to $120 million.

Bringing on an institutional investor like Morgan Stanley is often a signal that the company has reached the stage where it is at least beginning to think about the possibility of going public at some point in the future. AtScale CEO Chris Lynch acknowledged such a connection without making any broad commitment (as you would expect). “We are not close to being IPO-ready, but that was a future consideration in selecting Morgan Stanley,” Lynch told TechCrunch.

What the company does is help take big data and move it into tools where customers can make better use of it. AtScale co-founder Dave Mariani used to be at Yahoo where he helped pioneer the use of big data in the 2009/2010 timeframe. Unfortunately, systems at the time couldn’t deal with the volume of data — and that is still a problem, one that AtScale says it is designed to solve. “We take a bunch of data silos and put a semantic layer across the data platforms and expose them in a consistent way,” Mariani told TechCrunch last year at the time of the Series C round. This allows a company to get a big picture view of their data, rather than consuming it in smaller chunks.

AtScale reported a banner year, bringing on 50 new customers across their target verticals of retail, financial services, advertising and digital sales. These include Rakuten, Dell Technologies, TD Bank and Toyota. What’s more, the company stretched out this year, taking advantage of the last funding round to expand more into international markets in Europe and Asia.

The company was founded in 2013 and is based in San Mateo, California.

Dec
12
2018
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Juniper Square lines up $25M for its real estate investment platform

Juniper Square, a four-year-old startup at the intersection of enterprise software, real estate and financial technology, has brought in an additional $25 million in Series B funding to fuel the growth of its commercial real estate investment platform. Ribbit Capital led the round, with participation from Felicis Ventures.

Founded in 2014 by Alex Robinson, Yonas Fisseha and Adam Ginsburg, the startup’s chief executive officer, vice president of engineering and VP of product, respectively, Juniper has raised a total of $33 million to date.

The company operates a software platform for commercial real estate investment firms — an industry that has been slower to adopt the latest and greatest technology. Robinson tells TechCrunch those firms raise money from pension funds, endowments and elsewhere to purchase and then manage commercial real estate, using Juniper’s software as a tool throughout that process. Juniper supports fundraising and capital management with a suite of customer relationship management (CRM) and productivity tools for its users.

The San Francisco-based company says it currently has hundreds of customers and manages half a trillion dollars in real estate.

“The private markets are just as big as the public markets … but the private markets have typically not been accessible to everyday investors, and that’s part of what we are trying to do with Juniper Square,” Robinson told TechCrunch. “It’s a tremendously large market that almost nobody knows anything about.”

Juniper will use its latest investment to double headcount from 60 to 120 in the year ahead, with plans to beef up its engineering, product and sales teams specifically as the company expects to continue experiencing massive growth. Robinson said it’s grown between 3x and 4x every year for the last three years.

Felicis Ventures managing director Sundeep Peechu said in a statement that Juniper “is one of the fastest growing real estate tech companies” the firm has ever seen: “They are building technology for an industry that touches nearly every human and every corner of the economy. It’s a hard problem that takes time to solve, but the benefits of making these huge markets work better are tremendous.”

Existing in a relatively niche intersection, Juniper’s job now is to prove itself more efficient and user-friendly than Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, which, Robinson says, are still its biggest competitor.

“Our goal is to be the de facto platform for real estate investment and we are well on our way to becoming that.”

Dec
12
2018
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Nexthink raises $85M to monitor and improve ’employee experience’ of apps

As companies compete for talent, a startup that has built a platform to help ensure that the talent — once it’s working for you — doesn’t get bogged down by IT frustration, has raised a significant round of funding.

Lausanne, Switzerland-based Nexthink has nailed down $85 million in funding led by Index Ventures (which has a base in nearby Geneva), with participation also from Highland Europe, Forestay Capital, Galéo Capital and TOP Funds and Olivier Pomel (co-founder and CEO of Datadog).

Nexthink’s CEO Pedro Bados said in an interview that the company will be using this round to expand its business globally and specifically in the US.

It will be doing this from a healthy base. The company already has 900 enterprise customers, covering no less than 7 million endpoints, using its platform to improve employees’ interaction and satisfaction with the IT tools that they are required to use for work. Customers include Adobe, Advocate Healthcare, BlackRock, Commerzbank, Safran, Sega HARDlight, Tiffany & Co., Vitality, Wipro and Western Union.

Network monitoring is a big and established area in the world of IT, where tech companies provide a wide array of solutions to identify and potentially fix network glitches across on-premise, cloud and hybrid environments.

What is only becoming more apparent now to organizations is that problems with the dozens of apps and other software that employees need to use can be just as much, if not more, of an issue, when it comes to getting work done — for example, because something is not working in the app, the worker is unsure how to do something, or there is a configuration issue.

That is the issue that Nexthink is tackling. The company installs a widget — it calls it a Collector — on a worker’s phone, tablet, laptop, desktop computer, or whatever device is being used. That Collector in turn monitors hundreds of metrics around how you are using your device, ranging from performance issues and policy breaches through to examining what software is being used, and what is not.

Nexthink’s algorithms both identify and even can anticipate when a problem is happening, and either provide a quick suggestion to fix it, or provide the right data to the IT team to help solve the problem.

In the “marketplace” created in an IT network, you might think of Nexthink as solving problems at two ends: for the IT team, reduces the number of calls it gets by helping solve problems and providing useful information in cases where they will really be needed. For the employees, it gives them a quick and hopefully helpful response so that they can get on with their work.

“Not only are employees happy and more productive, but costs go down on support,” Bados says.

Nexthink has actually been around for 14 years — Bados co-founded Nexthink with Patrick Hertzog and Vincent Bieri not long after he finished his graduate research work in artificial intelligence at the polytechnic in Lausanne — and this latest round is larger than all the funding that the company had raised up to now, which had been $69 million.

That in itself is a sign of how VCs and the industry are waking up to the opportunity to address the challenge of software usability and experience and how that might affect employee satisfaction and productivity.

“We’ve known the company for a while and have a lot of respect for Pedro as a CEO,” said Neil Rimer of Index Ventures in an interview. “We’ve been watching what they have been building focusing on user experience and management, and it’s an area that we find compelling.” Plus the customer caliber and loyalty helped, he said. “The retention and lack of churn are all very impressive.”

Unsurprisingly, there are a number of others also moving into the same space as Nexthink, including Microsoft, VMware and Riverbed, as well as others like New Relic around the same neighborhood of services. For now, Bados says he sees these more as potential partners than rivals.

Dec
11
2018
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InVision, valued at $1.9 billion, picks up $115 million Series F

“The screen is becoming the most important place in the world,” says InVision CEO and founder Clark Valberg . In fact, it’s hard to get through a conversation with him without hearing it. And, considering that his company has grown to $100 million in annual recurring revenue, he has reason to believe his own affirmation.

InVision, the startup looking to be the Salesforce of design, has officially achieved unicorn status with the close of a $115 million Series F round, bringing the company’s total funding to $350 million. This deal values InVision at $1.9 billion, which is nearly double its valuation as of mid-2017 on the heels of its $100 million Series E financing.

Spark Capital led the round, with participation from Goldman Sachs, as well as existing investors Battery Ventures, ICONIQ Capital, Tiger Global Management, FirstMark and Geodesic Capital. Atlassian also participated in the round. Earlier this year, Atlassian and InVision built out much deeper integrations, allowing Jira, Confluence and Trello users to instantly collaborate via InVision.

As part of the deal, Spark Capital’s Megan Quinn will be joining the board alongside existing board members and observers Amish Jani, Lee Fixel, Matthew Jacobson, Mike Kourey, Neeraj Agrawal, Vas Natarajan and Daniel Wolfson.

InVision started in 2011 as a simple prototyping tool. It let designers build out their experience without asking the engineering/dev team to actually build it, to then send to the engineering and product and marketing and executive teams for collaboration and/or approval.

Over the years, the company has stretched its efforts both up and downstream in the process, building out a full collaboration suite called InVision Cloud, so that every member of the organization can be involved in the design process; Studio, a design platform meant to take on the likes of Adobe and Sketch; and InVision Design System Manager, where design teams can manage their assets and best practices from one place.

But perhaps more impressive than InVision’s ability to build design products for designers is its ability to attract users that aren’t designers.

“Originally, I don’t think we appreciated how much the freemium model acted as a flywheel internally within an organization,” said Quinn. “Those designers weren’t just inviting designers from their own team or other teams, but PMs and Marketing and Customer Service and executives to collaborate and approve the designs. From the outside, InVision looks like a design company. But really, they start with the designer as a core customer and spread virally within an organization to serve a multitude.”

InVision has simply dominated prototyping and collaboration, today announcing it has surpassed 5 million users. What’s more, InVision has a wide variety of customers. The startup has a long and impressive list of digital-first customers — including Netflix, Uber, Airbnb and Twitter — but also serves 97 percent of the Fortune 100, with customers like Adidas, General Electric, NASA, IKEA, Starbucks and Toyota.

Part of that can be attributed to the quality of the products, but the fundamental shift to digital (as predicted by Valberg) is most certainly under way. Whether brands like it or not, customers are interacting with them more and more from behind a screen, and digital customer experience is becoming more and more important to all companies.

In fact, a McKinsey study showed that companies that are in the top quartile scores of the McKinsey Design Index outperformed their counterparts in both revenues and total returns to shareholders by as much as a factor of two.

But as with any transition, some folks are averse to change. Valberg identifies industry education and evangelism as two big challenges for InVision.

“Organizations are not quick to change on things like design, which is why we’ve built out a Design Transformation Team,” said Valberg. “The team goes in and gets hands on with brands to help them with new practices and to achieve design maturity within the organization.”

With a fresh $115 million and 5 million users, InVision has just about everything it needs to step into a new tier of competition. Even amongst behemoths like Adobe, which pulled in $2.29 billion in revenue in Q3 alone, InVision has provided products that can both complement and compete.

But Quinn believes the future of InVision rests on execution.

“As with most companies, the biggest challenge will be continued excellence in execution,” said Quinn. “InVision has all the right tail winds with the right team, a great product and excellent customers. It’s all about building and executing ahead of where the pack is going.”

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