Nov
20
2018
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Autodesk agrees to buy PlanGrid for $875 million

Autodesk announced plans to acquire PlanGrid for $875 million today. The San Francisco startup helped move blueprints from paper to the iPad when it launched in 2011.

This digitization of construction fits with Autodesk’s vision of digitizing design in general, and CEO Andrew Anagnost certainly recognized the transformational potential of the company he was buying. “There is a huge opportunity to streamline all aspects of construction through digitization and automation. The acquisition of PlanGrid will accelerate our efforts to improve construction workflows for every stakeholder in the construction process,” he said in a statement.

The company, which is a 2012 graduate of Y Combinator, raised just $69 million, so this appears to be a healthy exit for the them. PlanGrid took what was a paper-intensive task and shifted it to digital, taking a world of hand-written mark-ups and sticky notes onto the fledgling iPad.

In an interview with CEO and co-founder Tracy Young in 2015 at TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco, she said the industry was ripe for change. “The heart of construction is just a lot of construction blueprints information. It’s all tracked on paper right now and they’re constantly, constantly changing,” Young said at the time.

Those manual changes often resulted in errors she said, and that was costly for the contractors. As an engineer working for a construction company, who was at one time responsible for making the paper copies, she recognized that the process could be improved by moving it into the digital realm.

PlanGrid CEO Tracy Young onstage at TechCrunch Disrupt San Francisco in 2015

Her idea, which was kind of radical in 2011 when she started the company, was to move all that paper to the cloud and display it on an iPad. It’s important to remember that the enterprise was not rushing to the cloud in 2011, and most people considered the iPad at the time to be a consumer device, so what she and her co-founders were attempting was a true kind of industry transformation.

Young sees joining Autodesk as a way to continue building on that early vision. “PlanGrid has excelled at building beautiful, simple field collaboration software, while Autodesk has focused on connecting design to construction. Together, we can drive greater productivity and predictability on the jobsite,” she said in a statement.

PlanGrid currently has 400 employees, 12,000 customers and 120,000 paid users, and has been used on over a million construction projects worldwide, according to data provided by the companies. They believe that under Autodesk’s umbrella and combined with their existing product set, they can provide a complete construction solution and grow the business faster than PlanGrid could have on its own — pretty much the standard argument in an acquisition like this.

PlanGrid was efficient with the money it took. In fact the last raise was $50 million almost exactly three years ago. The deal is expected to close at the end of January pending the normal regulatory approval process.

 

Nov
19
2018
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Microsoft acquires FSLogix to enhance Office 365 virtual desktop experience

Back in September, Microsoft announced a virtual desktop solution that lets customers run Office 365 and Windows 10 in the cloud. They mentioned several partners in the announcement that were working on solutions with them. One of those was FSLogix, a Georgia virtual desktop startup. Today, Microsoft announced it has acquired FSLogix. It did not share the purchase price.

“FSLogix is a next-generation app-provisioning platform that reduces the resources, time and labor required to support virtualization,” Brad Anderson, corporate VP for Microsoft Office 365 and Julia White, corporate VP for Microsoft Azure,  href=”https://blogs.microsoft.com/blog/2018/11/19/microsoft-acquires-fslogix-to-enhance-the-office-365-virtualization-experience/”>wrote in a joint blog post today.

When Microsoft made the virtual desktop announcement in September they named Citrix, CloudJumper, Lakeside Software, Liquidware, People Tech Group, ThinPrint and FSLogix as partners working on solutions. Apparently, the company decided it wanted to own one of those experiences and acquired FSLogix.

Microsoft believes by incorporating the FSLogix solution, it will provide a better virtual desktop experience for its customers by enabling better performance and faster load times, especially for Office 365 ProPlus customers.

Randy Cook, founder and CTO at FSLogix, said the acquisition made sense given how well the two companies have worked together over the years. “From the beginning, in working closely with several teams at Microsoft, we recognized that our missions were completely aligned. Both FSLogix and Microsoft are dedicated to providing the absolute best experience for companies choosing to deploy virtual desktops,” Cook wrote in a blog post announcing the acquisition.

Lots of companies have what are essentially dumb terminals running just the tools each employee needs, rather than a fully functioning standalone PC. Citrix has made a living offering these services. When employees come in to start the day, they sign in with their credentials and they get a virtual desktop with the tools they need to do their jobs. Microsoft’s version of this involves Office 365 and Windows 10 running on Azure.

FSLogix was founded in 2013 and has raised more than $10 million, according to data on Crunchbase. Today’s acquisition, which has already closed according to Microsoft, comes on the heels of last week’s announcement that the company was buying Xoxco, an Austin-based developer shop with experience building conversational bots.

Nov
14
2018
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Microsoft to acquire Xoxco as focus on AI and bot developers continues

Microsoft has been all in on AI this year, and in the build versus buy equation, the company has been leaning heavily toward buying. This morning, the company announced its intent to acquire Xoxco, an Austin-based software developer with a focus on bot design, making it the fourth AI-related company Microsoft has purchased this year.

“Today, we are announcing we have signed an agreement to acquire Xoxco, a software product design and development studio known for its conversational AI and bot development capabilities,” Lili Cheng, corporate VP for conversational AI at Microsoft wrote in a blog post announcing the acquisition.

Xoxco, which was founded in 2009 — long before most of us were thinking about conversational bots — has raised $1.5 million. It began working on bots in 2013, and is credited with developing the first bot for Slack to help schedule meetings. The companies did not reveal the price, but it fits nicely with Microsoft’s overall acquisition strategy this year, and an announcement today involving a new bot building tool to help companies build conversational bots more easily.

When you call into a call center these days, or even interact on chat, chances are your initial interaction is with a conversational bot, rather than a human. Microsoft is trying to make it easier for developers without AI experience to tap into Microsoft’s expertise on the Azure platform (or by downloading the bot framework from its newly acquired GitHub).

“With this acquisition, we are continuing to realize our approach of democratizing AI development, conversation and dialog, and integrating conversational experiences where people communicate,” Cheng wrote.

The new Virtual Assistant Accelerator solution announced today also aligns with the Xoxco purchase. Eric Boyd, corporate VP for AI at Microsoft, says the Virtual Assistant Accelerator pulls together some AI tools such as speech-to-text, natural language processing and an action engine into a single place to simplify bot creation.

“It’s a tool that makes it much easier for you to go and create a virtual assistant. It orchestrates a number of components that we offer, but we didn’t make them easy to use [together]. And so it’s really simplifying the creation of a virtual assistant,” he explained.

Today’s acquisition comes on the heels of a number of AI-related acquisitions. The company bought Semantic Machines in May to give users a more life-like conversation with bots. It snagged Bonsai in June to help simplify AI development. And it grabbed Lobe in September, another tool for making it easier for developers to incorporate AI in their applications.

Nov
13
2018
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WeWork picks up ANOTHER $3B from SoftBank

WeWork has picked up another $3 billion in financing from SoftBank Corp, not to be confused with SoftBank Vision Fund. The deal comes in the form of a warrant, allowing SoftBank to pay $3 billion for the opportunity to buy shares before September 2019 at a price of $110 or higher, ultimately valuing WeWork at $42 billion minimum.

In August, SoftBank Corp invested $1 billion in WeWork in the form of a convertible note.

According to the Financial Times, SoftBank will pay WeWork $1.5 billion on January 15, 2019 and another $1.5 billion on April 15.

SoftBank is far and away WeWork’s biggest investor, with SoftBank Vision Fund having poured $4.4 billion into the company just last year.

The real estate play out of WeWork is just one facet of the company’s strategy.

More than physical land, WeWork wants to be the central connective tissue for work in general. The company often strikes deals with major service providers at “whole sale” prices by negotiating on behalf of its 300,000 members. Plus, WeWork has developed enterprise products for large corporations, such as Microsoft, who tend to sign longer, more lucrative leases. In fact, these types of deals make up 29 percent of WeWork’s revenue.

The biggest issue is whether or not WeWork can sustain its outrageous growth, which seems to have been the key to its soaring valuation. After all, WeWork hasn’t yet achieved profitability.

Can the vision become a reality? SoftBank seems willing to bet on it.

Nov
13
2018
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Cognigo raises $8.5M for its AI-driven data protection platform

Cognigo, a startup that aims to use AI and machine learning to help enterprises protect their data and stay in compliance with regulations like GDPR, today announced that it has raised an $8.5 million Series A round. The round was led by Israel-based crowdfunding platform OurCrowd, with participation from privacy company Prosegur and State of Mind Ventures.

The company promises that it can help businesses protect their critical data assets and prevent personally identifiable information from leaking outside of the company’s network. And it says it can do so without the kind of hands-on management that’s often required in setting up these kinds of systems and managing them over time. Indeed, Cognigo says that it can help businesses achieve GDPR compliance in days instead of months.

To do this, the company tells me, it’s using pre-trained language models for data classification. That model has been trained to detect common categories like payslips, patents, NDAs and contracts. Organizations can also provide their own data samples to further train the model and customize it for their own needs. “The only human intervention required is during the systems configuration process, which would take no longer than a single day’s work,” a company spokesperson told me. “Apart from that, the system is completely human-free.”

The company tells me that it plans to use the new funding to expand its R&D, marketing and sales teams, all with the goal of expanding its market presence and enhancing awareness of its product. “Our vision is to ensure our customers can use their data to make smart business decisions while making sure that the data is continuously protected and in compliance,” the company tells me.

Nov
13
2018
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Rent tech-focused RET closes first fund; pours $5M into management platform SmartRent

Today, Real Estate Technology Ventures (RET Ventures) announced the final close of $108 million for its first fund. RET focuses on early-stage investments in companies that are primarily looking to disrupt the North American multifamily rental industry, with the firm boasting a roster of LPs made up of some of the largest property owners and operators in the multifamily space.

RET is one of the latest in a rising number of venture firms focused on the real estate sector, which by many accounts has yet to experience significant innovation or technological disruption. 

The firm was founded in 2017 by managing director John Helm, who possesses an extensive background as an operator and investor in both real estate and real estate technology. Helm’s real estate journey began with a position right out of college and eventually led him to the commercial brokerage giant Marcus & Millichap, where he worked as CFO before leaving to build two venture-backed real estate technology companies.  After successfully selling both companies, Helm worked as a venture partner at Germany-based DN Capital, where he invested in companies such as PurpleBricks and Auto1. 

Speaking with investors and past customers, John realized there was a need for a venture fund specifically focused on the multifamily rental sector. RET points out that while multifamily properties have traditionally fallen under the commercial real estate umbrella, operators are forced to deal with a wide set of idiosyncratic dynamics unique to the vertical. In fact, outside of a select group, most of the companies and real estate investment trusts that invest in multifamily tend to invest strictly within the sector.

Now, RET has partnered with leading multifamily owners to help identify innovative startups that can help the LPs better run their portfolios, which account for nearly a million units across the country in aggregate. With its deep sector expertise and its impressive LP list, RET believes it can bring tremendous value to entrepreneurs by providing access to some of the largest property owners in the U.S., effectively shortening a notoriously lengthy sales cycle and making it much easier to scale.

Photo: Alexander Kirch/Shutterstock

One of the first companies reaping the benefits of RET’s deep ties to the real estate industry is SmartRent, the startup providing a property analytics and automation platform for multifamily property managers and renters. Today, SmartRent announced it had closed $5 million in series A financing, with seed investor RET providing the entire round. 

SmartRent essentially provides property managers with many of the smart home capabilities that have primarily been offered to consumers to date, making it easier for them to monitor units remotely, avoid costly damages and streamline operations, all while hopefully enhancing the resident experience through all-in-one home controls.

By combining connected devices with its web and mobile platform, SmartRent hopes to provide tools that can help identify leaks or faulty equipment, eliminate energy waste and provide remote access control for door locks. The functions provided by SmartRent are particularly valuable when managing vacant units, in which leaks or unnecessary energy consumption can often go unnoticed, leading to multimillion-dollar damage claims or inflated utility bills. SmartRent also attempts to enhance the leasing process for vacant units by pre-screening potential renters that apply online and allowing qualified applicants to view the unit on their own without a third-party sales agent.

Just like RET, SmartRent is the brainchild of accomplished real estate industry vets. Founder and CEO Lucas Haldeman was still the CTO of Colony Starwood’s single-family portfolio when he first rolled out an early version of the platform in around 26,000 homes. Haldeman quickly realized how powerful the software was for property managers and decided to leave his C-suite position at the publicly traded REIT to found SmartRent.

According to RET, the strong industry pedigree of the founding team was one of the main drivers behind its initial investment in SmartRent and is one of the main differentiators between the company and its competitors.

With RET providing access to its leading multifamily owner LPs, SmartRent has been able to execute on a strong growth trajectory so far, with the company on pace to complete 15,000 installations by the end of the year and an additional 35,000 apartments committed for 2019. And SmartRent seems to have a long runway ahead. The platform can be implemented in any type of rental property, from retrofit homes to high rises, and has only penetrated a small portion of the nearly one million units owned by RET’s LPs alone.

SmartRent has now raised $10 million to date and hopes to use this latest round of funding to ramp growth by broadening its sales and marketing efforts. Longer-term, SmartRent hopes to permeate throughout the entire multifamily industry while continuing to improve and iterate on its platform.

“We’re so early on and we’ve made great progress, but we want to make deep penetration into this industry,” said Haldeman. “There are millions of apartment units and we want to be over 100,000 by year one, and over a million units by year three. At the same time, we’re continuing to enhance our offering and we’re focused on growing and expanding.”

As for RET Ventures, the firm hopes the compelling value proposition of its deep LP and industry network can help RET become the go-to venture firm startups looking to disrupt the real estate rental sector.

Nov
12
2018
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Enterprise shopping season starts early with almost $50B in recent deals

Black Friday may still be 10 days away, but shopping season started early in the enterprise this year. We have seen acquisitions totaling almost $50 billion in the last couple of months alone, topped by the mega $34 billion IBM-Red Hat deal two weeks ago. What exactly is going on here?

While not every deal has been for that kind of money, we are seeing an unusually large number of mega deals this year, something that some folks were predicting would happen when the big tech companies were allowed to repatriate their money as part of last year’s tax deal.

Let’s look at some of the multi-billion deals we have seen so far this year:

Supply and demand

Big companies are opening their checkbooks in a big way right now, buying everything from marketing to analytics to security companies. They are grabbing open source and proprietary. They are looking at ways to bridge the cloud and on-prem. There is a whole host of software and not much rhyme or reason across the deals.

What they have in common is that they are enormous offers that are simply too huge to refuse. These companies flush with cash see opportunities to fill holes, and they are going for one piece after another.

One of the reasons the prices are going so high is that there is a limited number of companies available to buy, and that is driving up the price, says Ray Wang, founder and principal analyst at Constellation Research. As he sees it, there are only 3-5 decent players per category right now. He compares that with 10 years ago when we were seeing 10-15 players per category. With a limited number of viable startups, companies seem to be going after these companies harder. Combine that with fat wallets full of cash, and you suddenly have this wave of super-sized deals.

The companies being acquired by large organizations can justify selling in the usual ways. They can reward shareholders and investors. These larger organizations allow them to push their product roadmaps much more quickly than they could on their own. They give them access to international markets and mega sales teams.

Buy versus build

Still, companies have been spending unusually large sums for relatively small amounts of revenue. In deals over the last three weeks, we have seen IBM pay $34 billion for a company with around $3 billion in revenue. We saw SAP paying $8 billion for a mere $400 million in revenue.

This certainly seems on its face to be a massive overpay, but Constellation’s Wang says ultimately this often comes down to a classic build versus buy decision. SAP could build a similar product to Qualtrics, or they could simply buy it and put the massive SAP salesforce to bear on it. “SAP can sell into 100,000 customers. They only have a 10 percent overlap with Qualtrics. The numbers work, and it beats taking a new product to market,” Wang told TechCrunch.

Wang believes this could be the strategy behind many of these acquisitions, while admitting that the numbers sound a bit crazy. As he says, the formula used to be three times, three years trailing revenues. Now it’s 15-20 times. While those may be hard numbers to justify, he believes it’s a win-win for buyer and acquired — and investors win big too, of course.

Staying the course

In many instances like Red Hat, GitHub and Qualtrics, the companies will likely remain separate, independent units inside the larger organization, at least for the time being, while looking for meaningful crossover inside the larger company when it makes sense.

But Tony Byrne, founder and principal analyst at Real Story Group, says these large companies tend to listen to Wall Street, and customers should be wary of what they hear when it comes to their favorite products and services. “You cannot trust the initial pleasantries about continuity that come out of the first press release. These are huge vendors that listen first and foremost to Wall Street. If there’s an offering that doesn’t totally align with their story to investors, it is not going to get much love and is at risk for getting eliminated or calved off,” Byrne explained.

It’s also hard to know how well two companies are going to fit together until the deal actually closes. Sometimes the acquiring company doesn’t know what they have or how to sell it. Sometimes the two companies don’t fit well together or the founders or key executives don’t fit smoothly into the new hierarchy. They try to figure this all out beforehand, but it’s not always easy to know how it will play out in reality.

Regardless, we are seeing an unusually high level of massive acquisitions, and chances are, there are more coming.

Nov
12
2018
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Vista snaps up Apptio for $1.94B, as enterprise companies remain hot

It seems that Sunday has become a popular day to announce large deals involving enterprise companies. IBM announced the $34 billion Red Hat deal two weeks ago. SAP announced its intent to buy Qualtrics for $8 billion last night, and Vista Equity Partners got into the act too, announcing a deal to buy Apptio for $1.94 billion, representing a 53 percent premium for stockholders.

Vista paid $38 per share for Apptio, a Seattle company that helps companies manage and understand their cloud spending inside a hybrid IT environment that has assets on-prem and in the cloud. The company was founded in 2007 right as the cloud was beginning to take off, and grew as the cloud did. It recognized that companies would have trouble understanding their cloud assets along side on-prem ones. It turned out to be a company in the right place at the right time with the right idea.

Investors like Andreessen Horowitz, Greylock and Madrona certainly liked the concept, showering the company with $261 million before it went public in 2016. The stock price has been up and down since, peaking in August at $41.23 a share before dropping down to $24.85 on Friday. The $38 a share Vista paid comes close to the high water mark for the stock.

Stock Chart: Google

Sunny Gupta, co-founder and CEO at Apptio liked the idea of giving his shareholders a good return while providing a good landing spot to take his company private. Vista has a reputation for continuing to invest in the companies it acquires and that prospect clearly excited him. “Vista’s investment and deep expertise in growing world-class SaaS businesses and the flexibility we will have as a private company will help us accelerate our growth…,” Gupta said in a statement.

The deal was approved by Apptio’s board of directors, which will recommend shareholders accept it. With such a high premium, it’s hard to imagine them turning it down. If it passes all of the regulatory hurdles, the acquisition is expected to close in Q1 2019.

It’s worth noting that the company has a 30-day “go shop” provision, which would allow it to look for a better price. Given how hot the enterprise market is right now and how popular hybrid cloud tools are, it is possible it could find another buyer, but it could be hard to find one willing to pay such a high premium.

Vista clearly likes to buy enterprise tech companies having snagged Ping Identity for $600 million and Marketo for $1.8 billion in 2016. It grabbed Jamf, an Apple enterprise device management company and Datto, a disaster recovery company last year. It turned Marketo around for $4.75 billion in a deal with Adobe just two months ago.

Nov
08
2018
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Datacoral raises $10M Series A for its data infrastructure service

Datacoral aims to make it easier for enterprises to build data products by abstracting away all of the complex infrastructure to organize and process data. The company today announced that it has raised a $10 million Series A financing round led by Madrona Venture Group, with participation from Social Capital, which also led its $4 million seed round in 2017.

Datacoral CEO Raghu Murthy tells me that the company plans to use the new funding to grow its business team in order to be able to reach more potential customers and to expand its engineering team.

The promise of Datacoral is to offer enterprises an end-to-end data infrastructure that will allow businesses and their data scientists to focus on generating insights over having to manage and integrate their data sources. Because nobody wants to move large amounts of data between clouds — and take the performance hit that comes with that — Datacoral sits right inside a company’s AWS systems. It’s still a fully managed service, though, but the data is encrypted and never leaves a customer’s virtual private cloud.

“As companies look to their data to deliver value – data practitioners are finding that configuring and managing their own data infrastructure is a time-consuming job that is expensive and fraught with errors,” said Murthy. “We have built a platform that easily and automatically brings together data from different applications and databases, organizes that data in any query engine and acts on insights that are critical to running their business. A crucial component is that it works securely and privately within the customer’s cloud, instead of us ingesting data from their systems.”

Murthy was an early engineer at Facebook and part of the team that was in charge of scaling that company’s data infrastructure and ran a part of the engineering team at Bebop, Diane Greene’s startup that was later acquired by Google.

To scale Datacoral, the team is betting on a serverless platform itself. It’s making extensive use of AWS Lambda and other PaaS solutions on Amazon’s cloud computing platform. That doesn’t mean Datacoral plans to only support AWS, though. Murthy tells me that Azure support is next. “We plan to work across all of the top cloud providers by leveraging their unique services and provide a consistent ‘data-centric interface’ to our customers — essentially be ‘cloud best’ instead of ‘cloud agnostic.’”

Current Datacoral users include Greenhouse, Front, Ezetap, Swing Education, mPharma and Mason Finance.

Nov
06
2018
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VMware acquires Heptio, the startup founded by 2 co-founders of Kubernetes

During its big customer event in Europe, VMware announced another acquisition to step up its game in helping enterprises build and run containerised, Kubernetes-based architectures: it has acquired Heptio, a startup out of Seattle that was co-founded by Joe Beda and Craig McLuckie, who were two of the three people who co-created Kubernetes back at Google in 2014 (it has since been open sourced).

Beda and McLuckie and their team will all be joining VMware in the transaction.

Terms of the deal are not being disclosed — VMware said in a release that they are not material to the company — but as a point of reference, when Heptio last raised money — a $25 million Series B in 2017, with investors including Lightspeed, Accel and Madrona — it was valued at $117 million post-money, according to data from PitchBook.

Given the pedigree of Heptio’s founders, this is a signal of the big bet that VMware is taking on Kubernetes, and the belief that it will become an increasing cornerstone in how enterprises run their businesses. The larger company already works with 500,000+ customers globally, and 75,000 partners. It’s not clear how many customers Heptio worked with but they included large, tech-forward businesses like Yahoo Japan.

It’s also another endorsement of the ongoing rise of open source and its role in cloud architectures, a paradigm that got its biggest boost at the end of October with IBM’s acquisition of RedHat, one of the biggest tech acquisitions of all time at $34 billion.

Heptio provides professional services for enterprises that are adopting or already use Kubernetes, providing training, support and building open-source projects for managing specific aspects of Kubernetes and related container clusters, and this deal is about VMware expanding the business funnel and margins for Kubernetes within it its wider cloud, on-premise and hybrid storage and computing services with that expertise.

“Kubernetes is emerging as an open framework for multi-cloud infrastructure that enables enterprise organizations to run modern applications,” said Paul Fazzone, senior vice president and general manager, Cloud Native Apps Business Unit, VMware, in a statement. “Heptio products and services will reinforce and extend VMware’s efforts with PKS to establish Kubernetes as the de facto standard for infrastructure across clouds upon closing. We are thrilled that the Heptio team led by Craig and Joe will be joining VMware to help us guide customers as they move to a multi-cloud world.”

VMware and its Pivotal business already offer Kubernetes-related services by way of PKS, which lets organizations run cloud-agnostic apps. Heptio will become a part of that wider portfolio.

“The team at Heptio has been focused on Kubernetes, creating products that make it easier to manage multiple clusters across multiple clouds,” said Craig McLuckie, CEO and co-founder of Heptio. “And now we will be tapping into VMware’s cloud native resources and proven ability to execute, amplifying our impact. VMware’s interest in Heptio is a recognition that there is so much innovation happening in open source. We are jointly committed to contribute even more to the community—resources, ideas and support.”

VMware has made some 33 acquisitions overall, according to Crunchbase, but this appears to have been the first specifically to boost its position in Kubernetes.

The deal is expected to close by fiscal Q4 2019, VMware said.

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