Mar
04
2021
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Google speeds up its release cycle for Chrome

Google today announced that its Chrome browser is moving to a faster release cycle by shipping a new milestone every four weeks instead of the current six-week cycle (with a bi-weekly security patch). That’s one way to hasten the singularity, I guess, but it’s worth noting that Mozilla also moved to a four-week cycle for Firefox last year.

“As we have improved our testing and release processes for Chrome, and deployed bi-weekly security updates to improve our patch gap, it became clear that we could shorten our release cycle and deliver new features more quickly,” the Chrome team explains in today’s announcement.

Google, however, also acknowledges that not everybody wants to move this quickly — especially in the enterprise. For those users, Google is adding a new Extended Stable option with updates that come every eight weeks. This feature will be available to enterprise admins and Chromium embedders. They will still get security updates on a bi-weekly schedule, but Google notes that “those updates won’t contain new features or all security fixes that the 4 week option will receive.”

The new four-week cycle will start with Chrome 94 in Q3 2021, and at this faster rate, we’ll see Chrome 100 launch into the stable channel by March 29, 2022. I expect there will be cake.

Mar
04
2021
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Papaya Global raises $100M more at a $1B+ valuation for tools to hire, pay and manage distributed workforces

Remote working — hiring people further afield and letting people work outside of a central physical office — is looking like it will be here to stay, and today one of the startups building tools for that environment is announcing a big fundraise in response to the opportunity.

Papaya Global, an Israeli startup that provides cloud-based payroll and hiring, onboarding and compliance services across 140 countries for organizations that employ full-time, part-time and contract workers outside of their home country, has picked up $100 million in funding and has confirmed that its valuation is now over $1 billion.

The company targets organizations that not only have global workforces, but are expanding their employee bases quickly. They include fast-growing startups like OneTrust, nCino and Hopin (which today announced a monster $400 million round), as well as major corporates like Toyota, Microsoft, Wix and General Dynamics.

Papaya is not disclosing revenue numbers but said that sales have grown 300% year-over-year for each of the last three years.

Led by Greenoaks Capital Partners, this Series C also includes significant participation from IVP Ventures and Alkeon Capital. Previous backers Insight Venture Partners, Scale Venture Partners, Bessemer Venture Partners, Dynamic Loop, New Era and Workday Ventures, Access Ventures and Group 11 also chipped in. The new investment brings Papaya’s total funding to $190 million.

Papaya has been on a fundraising tear in the last 18 months. Today’s news comes less than six months after it raised a $40 million Series B. And that round came less than a year after a $45 million Series A.

Why so much, so quickly? Partly because of the demands on the business, but possibly also to capitalize on an opportunity at a time when so many others are also going after it as well.

The opportunity is that companies and other organizations are finding themselves needing tools to address the current state of play: Workforce growth today doesn’t look like it did in 2019, and so incumbent solutions like ADP, or cobbled together solutions covering multiple geographies, either don’t cut it, or are too costly to maintain.

Papaya Global, in contrast, says it has built an AI-based platform that automates a lot of work and removes much of the manual activity that comes out of trying to right-size a lot of legacy payroll products to work in new paradigms.

“The major impact of COVID-19 for us has been changing attitudes,” CEO Eynat Guez, who co-founded the company with Ruben Drong and Ofer Herman, told me in an interview last September. “People usually think that payroll works by itself, but it’s one of the more complex parts of the organization, covering major areas like labor, accounting, tax. Eight months ago, a lot of clients thought, it just happens. But now they realize they didn’t have control of the data, some don’t even have a handle on who is being paid.”

One challenge, however, is that many others are also chasing these customers in hopes of becoming the ADP of distributed and global work.

Last month, a startup called Oyster, also aimed at distributed workforces, raised $20 million. Others in the same area that have raised lots of capital include Turing,  DeelRemoteHibob, Personio, Factorial, Lattice, Turing and Rippling.

And as we have pointed out before, these are just some of the HR startups that have raised money in the last year. There are many, many more.

Investors here are hoping that as we see some consolidation emerge out of this mix, there will be a few leaders and that Papaya will be one of them.

“Papaya Global has built a best in class solution to onboard new employees, automate payroll, and manage a global workforce through a single pane of glass. Both growing and established companies have dramatically changed their working practices in recent years, and Papaya has seen impressive growth as a result. We’re excited to continue supporting them as they seek to simplify an increasingly complex challenge for some of the world’s biggest companies,” said Patrick Backhouse, partner at Greenoaks Capital, in a statement.


Early Stage is the premier “how-to” event for startup entrepreneurs and investors. You’ll hear firsthand how some of the most successful founders and VCs build their businesses, raise money and manage their portfolios. We’ll cover every aspect of company building: Fundraising, recruiting, sales, product-market fit, PR, marketing and brand building. Each session also has audience participation built-in — there’s ample time included for audience questions and discussion.


Mar
03
2021
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As activist investors loom, what’s next for Box?

Box could be facing troubled times if a Reuters story from last week is accurate. Activist investor Starboard Value took a 7.9% stake in the storage company in September 2019, and a year ago took three board seats as its involvement in the cloud company deepened. It seemed only a matter of time before another shoe dropped.

Activist investor Starboard Value is reportedly after three additional board seats.

That thunk you just heard could be said shoe as Starboard is reportedly after three additional board seats. Those include current CEO Aaron Levie’s and two independent board members, all of whom have their seats coming up for election in June. If the firm were to obtain three additional seats, it would control six of nine votes and could have its way with Box.

What could the future hold for the company given this development (assuming it’s true)? It seems changes are coming for Box.

Below, we’ll explore how Box got to this point. And if an acquisition is in Box’s future, just who might be in the market for a cloud-native content management company built to scale in the enterprise? There would very likely be multiple suitors.

Box’s fickle financial fate

Starboard may have reason to be frustrated by Box’s performance. The cloud company’s stock price and market cap remain stubbornly low. Its share price is mired around $18 a share, not much higher than the price it went public at in 2015 when it was valued at $14 per share. Its market cap today is $3 billion, which is lacking in comparison to fellow cloud stalwarts like Dropbox at $9 billion, Slack at $23 billion or Okta at $34 billion.

Remember back in March 2014 when Box announced it was going public? It then did something highly unusual, delaying the deed 10 months until January 2015. One thing or another kept the company from pulling the trigger and just doing it. Perhaps it was a sign.

Instead, Box raised $150 million more after its S-1 filing received a lackluster response from the market. Looking back, you could argue that the SaaS model was simply less well known in 2014 than it is today. Certainly public investors are more sympathetic to software companies that run deficits in the name of growth than they were back then.

But when Box did file again, finally pricing at $14 per share in 2015, it received a strong welcome. The company had priced above its $11 to $13 per-share IPO range as TechCrunch reported at the time and instantly shot higher. We wrote on its IPO day that the cloud company quickly “surged to over $20 a share and [was then] trading at $23.67.”

A year later, our continuing coverage had flipped with the share price stuck at $10 in January 2016.

When growth won’t come

Mar
03
2021
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Okta acquires cloud identity startup Auth0 for $6.5B

As Okta announced earnings today after the bell, it revealed that it’s buying cloud identity startup Auth0 for a hefty $6.5 billion. The company had a valuation of $1.92 billion when it raised $120 million led by Salesforce Ventures last July.

With Auth0, Okta gets a cloud identity company that helps developers embed identity management into applications, adding an entirely new dimension to its identity platform. Okta co-founder and CEO Todd McKinnon says the acquisition gives his company broad coverage in the identity space and the acquisition has the power to lift identity to a first-class cloud category along with infrastructure, enterprise software like collaboration and CRM and others.

“There are a few other [primary cloud categories], but one of those has to be identity. And for identity to rise to that status, it has to cover all the use cases. It’s got to be both workforce and customer. So workforce [has been] our [primary] business traditionally, and customer is newer,” McKinnon told me.

The customer piece involves having your customers use Okta/Auth0 on the back end to sign onto your platform, rather using it as just your corporate credentials. Having coverage across both areas is what has McKinnon so excited.

Eugenio Pace, co-founder and CEO Auth0, sees his company together with Okta as powerful combination in the identity management space, and he’s not just hyping the deal when he says that. “Together, we can offer our customers workforce and customer identity solutions with exceptional speed, simplicity, security, reliability and scalability. By joining forces, we will accelerate our customers’ innovation and ability to meet the needs and demands of consumers, businesses and employees everywhere,” Pace said in a statement.

Pace and co-founder Matias Woloski came from Microsoft where they worked until launching their startup in 2013. As McKinnon points out this is a substantial company with 800 employees. It is expected to reach $200 million in revenue this year.

“So they have this mindset of building a service that is flexible and API-driven and great tools for developers and all the extensibility or customizability, that developers would need. And you can’t do that later, you have to start from the beginning.”

McKinnon says while they share some common customers, there will be net new ones as well and the nature of the two companies coverage areas means that they can sell Auth0 into traditional Okta customers and vice versa. The combined entities could fill in a soup-to-nuts kind of identity offering.

As Pace told TechCrunch’s Zack Whittaker in 2019, it has always been focused on developers:

“We’re not profitable because we’ve chosen to reinvest and continue to sustain the high scale of growth,” he said. “But we are more efficient every day — in the way we acquire customers, the way we service customers, in the way we ship new design capabilities.”

The question is how much this will change under Okta, but Auth0 users can breathe a sigh of relief in that McKinnon says that the company will operate as an independent unit inside of Okta as they look for paths to integration in the coming months. What’s more, McKinnon says he has a relationship with the two founders going back years and it sounds like there is an element of trust there.

Okta had a pretty good quarter too while it was at it, announcing $234.7 million in revenue up 40% year over year, but Wall Street appears to be unhappy with the deal with the stock price down 6.9% in after hours trading.

Auth0 was founded in 2013 and raised more than $300 million along the way. In addition to Salesforce Ventures, other investors included Sapphire Ventures, Bessemer Venture Partners and Meritech Capital Partners.


Early Stage is the premier “how-to” event for startup entrepreneurs and investors. You’ll hear firsthand how some of the most successful founders and VCs build their businesses, raise money and manage their portfolios. We’ll cover every aspect of company building: Fundraising, recruiting, sales, legal, PR, marketing and brand building. Each session also has audience participation built-in — there’s ample time included in each for audience questions and discussion.


Mar
03
2021
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Clari revenue forecasting platform snags $150M investment and triples valuation to $1.6B

Clari, the revenue operations platform that helps companies predict revenue outcomes, announced $150 million Series E today on a $1.6 billion valuation, a number that more than triples its 2019 Series D valuation of $500 million.

Silver Lake led the latest investment with participation from B Capital Group and existing investors Sequoia Capital, Bain Capital Ventures, Sapphire Ventures, Madrona Ventures, Thomvest and Tenaya Capital. The company reports it has now raised a total of $285 million.

While COVID made 2020 trying for everyone, a company with a product that allows executive teams to understand and predict revenue at a granular level was obviously going to be in demand, and Clari saw a lot of interest over the last year.

“It was a surreal year for us, given the momentum we had and all of the tough news we saw going on around us. For us, the usage metrics were just off the charts, as people need visibility and predictability and control over their revenue forecasts,” company co-founder and CEO Andy Byrne told me.

While Byrne didn’t want to discuss revenue specifics, he did point out that he beat the revenue plan he submitted to his board by 110%. He said the performance has led to a lot of inbound investor interest in the company.

“That’s why we’ve had such great investor interest is that [VCs] were hearing in the investment community about how transformative Clari has been […] just giving companies what we call revenue confidence, being able to go and understand where you’re going to be and to accurately predict the impact the pandemic is going to have on your trajectory, good or bad,” Byrne explained.

To this point, the company has been working with sales and marketing teams, but Byrne says that the company is expanding the scope of the product to bring that same predictability to other parts of an organization.

Clari has mostly focused on technology companies with customers like HPE, Workday and Adobe, but it has plans to expand beyond that vertical. In fact, one of the ways Byrne plans to put today’s investment to work is to push into other verticals, which could also benefit from this kind of revenue visibility.

The company is up 300 employees with plans to double that number by the end of 2021. Byrne says he is building a positive work culture and points to recently being recognized as one of the best places to work by Inc., Bay Area News Group, #GirlsClub and Built In. He says they have made progress when it comes to diversity hirings across a number dimensions, but admits there is still work to be done.

“We actually specifically [established] a commission around diversity and inclusion that has board level [backing] that we’re running to continue to do better work there. Having said that, we still recognize that we’re not too dissimilar to a lot of companies where we feel like there’s so much more that we need to do,” he said.

At this point in the company’s evolution with plenty of money in the bank and a healthy valuation, Byrne did not shy away from the IPO question, although as you would imagine, he wasn’t ready to discuss specifics.

“I would say the answer is unequivocally yes, and we’re building toward this. […] We don’t have a timeframe upon which we know where we’re going to go public, but the next goal is to get to the IPO starting line,” he said.

Mar
03
2021
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Yugabyte announces $48M investment as cloud native database makes enterprise push

As demand for cloud native applications is growing, Yugabyte, makers of the cloud native, open source YugabyteDB database are seeing a corresponding rise in demand for their products, especially with large enterprise customers. Today, the company announced a $48 million financing round to help build on that momentum. The round is an extension of the startup’s $30 million Series B last June.

Lightspeed Venture Partners led the round with participation from Greenspring Associates, Dell Technologies Capital, Wipro Ventures and 8VC. It has raised a total raised to $103 million, according to the company.

Kannan Muthukkaruppan, Yugabyte co-founder and president, says the startup saw a marked increase in interest in both the open source and commercial offerings in 2020 as the pandemic pushed many companies to the cloud faster than they might have gone otherwise, something many startup founders have pointed out to me.

“The distributed SQL space is definitely heating up, and if anything over the last six months almost in every vector in terms of enterprise customers — from Fortune 500 companies across financial, retail, ISP or telcos — are putting Yugabyte in production to be the system of record database to meet some of their business critical services needs,” Muthukkaruppan told me.

In addition, he’s seeing a similar rise in the level of interest from the open source version of the product.”Similarly, the groundswell on the community and the open source adoption has been phenomenal. Our Slack [open source] user community quadrupled in 2020,” he said.

That kind of momentum led to the increased investor interest, says co-founder and CTO Karthik Ranganathan. “Some of the primary reasons to go and even ask for funding was that we realized we could accelerate some of this stuff, and we couldn’t do that with the original $30 million we had raised,” he said. The original thinking was to do a secondary raise in the $15-20 million, but multiple investors expressed interest in participating, and it ended up being $48 million when all was said and done.

Former Pivotal president Bill Cook came on board as CEO at the same time they were announcing their last funding round in June and brought some enterprise chops to the table. It was his job to figure out how to expand the market opportunity with larger high-value enterprise clients. “And so the last six or seven months has been about that, dealing with enterprise clients on one hand and then this emerging developer led cloud offering as well,” Cook said.

The company has a three tier offering that includes the open source YugabyteDB. Then there is a fully managed cloud version called Yugabyte Cloud, and finally there is a self-managed cloud version of the database called Yugabyte Platform. The latter is especially attractive to large enterprise customers, who want to be in the cloud, but still want to maintain control of their data and infrastructure, and so choose to manage the cloud installation themselves.

Yugabyte started last year with 50 employees, doubled that to this point, and now expects to reach 200 by the end of this year. As they add employees, the leadership team is cognizant of the importance of building a diverse and inclusive workforce, while recognizing the challenges in doing so.

“It’s work in progress as always. We’ve added diversity candidates right along the whole spectrum as we’ve grown but from my perspective it’s never sufficient, and we just need to keep pushing on it hard, and I think as a leadership team we recognize that,” Cook said.

The three leaders of the company have been working together remotely now since the announcement in June, and had only met briefly in person prior to the pandemic shutting down offices, but they say that it has gone smoothly. And while they would obviously like to meet in person again when the time is right, the momentum the company is experiencing shows that things are moving in the right direction, regardless of where they are getting their work done.

Note: The article originally stated this was a Series C round, but the company later clarified that was a B-1 round and we updated the article to reflect that.

Mar
03
2021
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Dooly closes on $20M for AI-based tools to help salespeople with their busywork

Robotic process automation has taken the enterprise world by storm by providing a set of tools for those doing repetitive, volume-based tasks to use software to remove some of that labor to let those people focus on more complicated tasks. Today a startup that’s taken some of that ethos and is applying it to more individualized work — that of salespeople — is announcing some funding.

Dooly, a Vancouver, Canada-based startup that has built a set of AI-based tools that automate the busywork that goes into updating data in their sales software, and namely Salesforce, has picked up $20 million in funding to build out its business, which to date has picked up a number of customers among the sales teams of enterprise-focused software companies. They include Airtable, Asana, Intercom, Contentful, Vidyard, BigCommerce, Liftoff and CrowdRiff.

Its aim is to make sales software more useful for salespeople by eliminating the work that goes into inputting data into those systems.

“Really they’ve just created a mountain of virtual filing cabinets,” Kris Hartvigsen, Dooly’s founder and CEO, said in an emailed interview with me. “Filing cabinets just wait for drawers to be opened — or in the case of enterprise software, reports to be pulled and data to be input. We know people are capturing information across the business and our job is to make sure that the people and systems across the business have a better, faster, more far-reaching way of staying informed.”

The funding is being announced today, but it was actually raised in two tranches that had not previously been disclosed. A $3.3 million seed round was led by Boldstart Ventures and also included BoxGroup. Its $17 million Series A, meanwhile, was led by Addition, with Boldstart and BoxGroup again participating, along with Battery Ventures, Mantis (representing musicians The Chainsmokers) and SV Angel.

Alongside the VCs, there are a number of interesting strategic individual investors, too. Daniel Dines and Brandon Deer of UiPath (the RPA connection clearly is not one that I’m imagining!); Allison Pickens, the ex-COO of Gainsight; Zander Lurie of SurveyMonkey); Jay Simons, ex-CEO of Atlassian); Harry Stebbings; and other unnamed investors are all also involved. Ed Sim of Boldstart is joining Dooly’s board of directors with this announcement.

The challenge that Dooly has been built to solve is that while there are a lot of tools out there now to help salespeople source leads, manage the progress of their sales, give them advice and other helpful material to supplement their charm and the basic strength of a product, manage customers once they’ve signed on, and so on, all of them still require something important to work: a time commitment from salespeople to keep them updated with information. Ironically, the more tools to help them that are built, the more time salespeople need to spend feeding them data.

Even more ironically, one of the big daddies of the problem — the somewhat overweight Salesforce — has published figures (cited by Dooly) that say salespeople spend just 34% of their time selling. The rest (minus trips to get coffee to stay caffeinated) seems to be about data entry.

The idea with Dooly is that you turn it on, connect it to what you are using — starting with Salesforce — and Dooly lets you make notes which it then organises and puts into the right places in the rest of your apps.

“When a salesperson starts using Dooly, the ‘aha moment’ is pretty immediate,” Hartvigsen said. “Whether they want to do quick pipeline edits or push their notes to Salesforce, we don’t ask the user to learn any new patterns they aren’t familiar with, we just automate a bunch of things they hate doing, often comparing those traditional chores to clerical work.” For example, he notes, when they sync a note, Dooly automatically updates any Salesforce with any contacts found in the meeting, updates fields, adds to-dos, logs activities, and pushes messages to the appropriate internal stakeholders on Slack, all in the same motion.

The product currently also integrates with Slack, G-Cal and G-Drive, because, Hartvigsen said, “we see this as an area where there is the most immediate friction and an area that was in need of disruption.” He added that the plan is to add more integrations over time. “We see need to expand the solutions that anchor to our connected workspace, with our near-term focus being the systems that touch revenue teams,” he said.

The design of Dooly seems to be about investing a little in order to save more. On average people are using Dooly between 2.5 and 5 hours each day, but Hartvigsen claims that right now the system helps people make up for more hours each week in lost productivity. Its pricing starts at $25 per user per month, going up depending on features and use.

There are quite literally thousands of products out in the market today, and among them hundreds of strong ones, being built to help salespeople with different aspects of getting their jobs done. I’ve written about quite a few of them, and I’ve actually asked companies about whether they are tackling the very issue that Dooly has identified and is trying to fix.

They weren’t, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t. Chief among them are companies like UiPath and Salesforce, which sit on different sides of this problem and could well move into it as they keep growing. (Having UiPath as a backer by way of its founder and a senior executive points to a relationship there, which is interesting.)

In the meantime, there have been some other interesting innovations using AI to improve the sales process, with companies like Pipedrive, Clari, Seismic, Chorus.ai and Gong all using natural language, machine learning and big data analytics (itself helped by AI) to improve how sales get done.

“The first thing we noticed when we met the Dooly team was the thoughtful design-first approach to product that engendered tons of customer love. This love was inherent not only on popular ratings sites like G2 Crowd but also in the individual usage and viral adoption throughout companies with only one initial user,” said Ed Sim, founder and managing partner at Boldstart Ventures in a statement. “Dooly is revolutionizing the note-taking experience for customer facing end users from sales to customer success to product.”

“Dooly is relentlessly focused on building a user-first experience for its customers to seamlessly create workflows and unlock new revenue opportunities,” said Lee Fixel, founder of Addition, added. “We are thrilled to support Dooly as it continues to scale and enhance the sales function for more businesses.”

Mar
02
2021
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Airbyte raises $5.2M for its open-source data integration platform

Airbyte, an open-source data integration platform, today announced that it has raised a $5.2 million seed funding round led by Accel. Other investors include Y Combinator, 8VC, Segment co-founder Calvin French-Owen, former Cloudera GM Charles Zedlewski, LiveRamp and Safegraph CEO Auren Hoffman, Datavant CEO Travis May and Alain Rossmann, the president of Machinify.

The company was co-founded by Michel Tricot, the former director of engineering and head of integrations at LiverRamp and RideOS, and John Lafleur, a serial entrepreneur who focuses on developer tools and B2B services. The last startup he co-founded was Anaxi.

Image Credits: Airbyte

In its early days, the team was actually working on a slightly different project that focused on data connectivity for marketing companies. The founders were accepted into Y Combinator and built out their application, but once the COVID pandemic hit, a lot of the companies that had placed early bets on Airbyte’s original project faced budget freezes and layoffs.

“At that point, we decided to go into deeper data integration and that’s how we started the Airbyte project and product as we know it today,” Tricot explained.

Today’s Airbyte is geared toward data engineering, without the specific industry focus of its early incarnation, but it offers both a graphical UI for building connectors, as well as APIs for developers to hook into.

As Tricot noted, a lot of companies start out by building their own data connectors — and that tends to work alright at first. But the real complexity is in maintaining them. “You have zero control over how they behave,” he noted. “So either they’re going to fail, or they’re going to change something. The cost of data integration is in the maintenance.”

Even for a company that specializes in building these connectors, the complexity will quickly outpace its ability to keep up, so the team decided on building Airbyte as an open-source company. The team also argues that while there are companies like Fivetran that focus on data integration, a lot of customers end up with use cases that aren’t supported by Airbyte’s closed-source competitors and that they had to build themselves from the ground up.

“Our mission with Airbyte is really to become the standard to replicate data,” Lafleur said. “To do that, we will open source every feature that addresses the need of the individual contributor, so all the connectors.” He also noted that Airbyte will exclusively focus on its open-source tools until it raises a Series A round — likely early next year.

To monetize its service, Airbyte plans to use an open-core model, where all of the features that address the needs of a company (think enterprise features like data quality, privacy, user management, etc.) will be licensed. The team is also looking at white-labeling its containerized connectors to others.

Currently, about 600 companies use Airbyte’s connectors — up from 250 just a month ago. Its users include the likes of Safegraph, Dribbble, Mercato, GraniteRock, Agridigital and Cart.com.

The company plans to use the new funding to double its team from about 12 people to 25 by the end of the year. Right now, the company’s focus is on establishing its user base, and then it plans to start monetizing that — and raise more funding — next year.


Early Stage is the premiere ‘how-to’ event for startup entrepreneurs and investors. You’ll hear first-hand how some of the most successful founders and VCs build their businesses, raise money and manage their portfolios. We’ll cover every aspect of company-building: Fundraising, recruiting, sales, legal, PR, marketing and brand building. Each session also has audience participation built-in – there’s ample time included in each for audience questions and discussion.


Mar
02
2021
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SoundCloud adjusts revenue model for indie artists

We’ve known for a long time that music streaming royalties are fundamentally broken. As revenue has shifted away from sales of physical music, it’s become increasingly difficult for many independent artists to make a living off recorded music. But all of that has come to a head as the pandemic has stripped live music out of the equation entirely.

Some services have looked to buck the trend. The immensely popular Bandcamp Fridays are a notable example, offering all revenue to artists and labels one day a month. And now SoundCloud is looking to shake up how it pays its own independent creators — a move that could prove a nice boon for musicians on a service that’s lent its name to at least one popular musical subgenre.

The site will institute a new revenue structure at the beginning of next month. Soundcloud breaks down “Fan-powered” royalties thusly,

Fan-powered royalties are a more equitable and transparent way for independent artists who monetize directly with SoundCloud to get paid. The more fans listen on SoundCloud, and listen to your music, the more you get paid.

Under the old model, money from your dedicated fans goes into a giant pool that’s paid out to artists based on their share of total streams. That model mostly benefits mega stars.

Under fan-powered royalties, you get paid based on your fans’ actual listening habits. The more of their time your dedicated fans listen to your music, the more you get paid. This model benefits independent artists.

The service is available for independent artists who monetize their pages through select Pro accounts. There are a number of factors that go into the final payment (the first of which will arrive in May), including whether listeners have a subscription, the amount they’ve listened to one artist relative to others and ads they’ve listened to. The fine print is available here.

Musicians have become increasingly vocal about their inability to live off of streaming revenue as the pandemic has cut off major income sources over the past year. Spotify, in particular, has drawn harsh criticism as the company has spent hundreds of millions on podcast acquisitions while maintaining old revenue models for musicians.

Mar
02
2021
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Parabol raises $8M after reaching 100,000 users of its agile meeting software

This morning Parabol, a startup that provides retrospective meeting software to agile development teams, announced that it has closed an $8 million Series A. Microsoft’s venture capital arm, M12, led the deal. The investment also saw participation from Techstars, CRV, and Haystack.

TechCrunch caught up with Parabol CEO Jordan Husney to talk about the round, and his company. We were curious how large the market that Parabol serves is, and if the company was overly-nicheing its service. While the startup is still young, the answer appears to be no – adding to our general sentiment that the software market is even larger than we perhaps thought.

Let’s explore how Parabol came to be, and how it came to pick its target market. Or more precisely, how its target market chose it.

Building horizontally, focusing vertically

After a stint in the consulting world, Husney was more than aware of the communications issues that distributed teams can endure. With multiple offices the norm among big companies, he told TechCrunch in an interview, communications between remote workers came down to an email thread, or a meeting. A self-described “recovering engineer,” Husney wondered if there was space in the business market for “structured communications,” or the type of asynchronous meetings that are popular in the code-writing world.

Borrowing from the ethos of agile development, a method of writing software that prioritizes collaboration and evolution over process and documentation, Husney built Parabol to bring agile work and communications methods to non-developer business teams. If agile principles were good at helping foster developer results through status meetings, why wouldn’t the same process translate to other work settings?

But the market had other ideas. Instead of hitting it big in the business world, owing to the friction resulting from needing what Husney described as a “behavior change” — something often lethal to rapid adoption of a new service, or product — agile teams themselves started using Parabol’s tech.

The startup followed the demand. And there’s quite a lot of it, as it turns out. Husney estimated that there are around 20 million agile developers in the world, the business from which has helped propel companies like Atlassian to enormous heights. It’s a big enough pool for the startup to swim in for a long time.

Returning to our earlier note about the depth of the software market, Parabol is a good reference point. It appears capable of building a real company on the back of supporting a subset of the software creation world’s peculiar meeting style; the market for software is simply gigantic.

Growth

After deciding to support agile software teams, growth came quickly to Parabol. In 2018 and 2019, the company saw growth of 20% to 40% each month, its CEO said. Calling his company a “rocket,” Husney gave partial credit to Parabol’s freemium go-to-market model, a common approach when selling to developers who eschew the traditional sales process.

By selling to the already-converted, Parabol found product-market fit. Husney himself had underestimated the demand from agile software developers for tools to support they work, because he thought that they’d already figured out their own needs, he told TechCrunch.

What Parabol has built is not a simple tool, however. Powering retrospective meetings and incident post-mortems, its software collects notes from workers on things that should be done, things that should no longer done, and things that should be kept up. The service then aggregates them automatically by topic, followed by users voting to decide on changes and takeaway actions. The result is an asynchronous way for developer teams to stay in sync.

The startup closed a Seed round in November of 2019, just in time to have cash on hand for the COVID-19 pandemic. The rapid switch to remote work quickly drove Parabol’s user growth from 600 per week in January of 2020, to 5,000 per week in March of the same year. The company has some public usage data available here, in case you want to check the spike yourself.

After raising its $4 million Seed, Husney decided to raise more capital after being told by others that it was a great time to do so. And after winding up with a few firms to choose between, wound up taking Microsoft’s money.

There’s a story there. Per Husney, Microsoft’s M12 was not on the top of its venture capital list; there is a somewhat good reason for that, as taking strategic capital over pure-venture capital is a choice and not the best one for every startup. But after Husney and company got to know the Microsoft partners, and each side underwent diligence, the fit became clear. According to the CEO, M12’s investing team called various Microsoft groups — Azure, GitHub, etc — to ask them about their views on Parabol. They raved. So Microsoft had strong internal signals concerning the deal, and Parabol learned that its potential investor was a heavy user of its product.

The deal worked out.

Why $8 million and not more? The startup’s growth plan isn’t super capital intensive according to Husney, and its market is pulling it instead of the other way around. The team is dilution-conscious as well, he explained. The founding team put the company together in 2015, and didn’t raise its seed round until 2019. It was ramen days back then, he explained; you’ll cling to your ownership, I suppose, when you have bought it that dearly.

Parabol runs lean on purpose. Husney said that his team was not following the Reid Hoffman blitzscaling ethos, instead focusing on hiring for individual leverage. In the CEO’s view, you don’t need to scale quickly to build collaboration products.

The $8 million raise could give Parabol infinite runway, the CEO said, but his company instead raised it for about a 24 month spend. At the end of that he expects the company to have around 30 workers, up from its current 10.

Parabol wants to quadruple its revenues this year, and triple them in 2022. And it wants to scale to 500,000 users from its current 100,000 this year, reaching one million by the end of next year. Let’s see how it performs against those goals.

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