Dec
12
2019
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Why Bill.com didn’t pursue a direct listing

Bill.com went public today after pricing its shares higher than it initially expected. The B2B payments company sold nearly 10 million shares at $22 apiece, raising around $216 million in its IPO. Public investors felt that the company’s price was a deal, sending the value of its equity to $35.51 per share as of the time of writing.

That’s a gain of over 61%.

On the heels of its successful pricing run and raucous first day’s trading, TechCrunch caught up with Bill.com CEO René Lacerte to dig into his company’s debut. We wanted to know how pricing went, and whether the company (which possibly could have valued itself more richly during its IPO pricing, given its first-day pop) had considered a direct listing.

Lacerte detailed what resonated with investors while pricing Bill.com’s shares, and also did a good job outlining his perspective on what matters for companies that are going public. As a spoiler, he wasn’t super focused on the company’s first-day return.

For more on the Bill.com IPO’s nuts and bolts, head here. Let’s get into the interview.

René Lacerte

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity. Questions have been condensed.

TechCrunch: How did your IPO pricing feel, and what did you learn from the process?

Lacerte: I think the whole experience has been an incredible learning experience from a capitalism perspective; that’s probably a broader conversation. But you know, it really came down to how our story resonated with investors, and so there’s three components that we kind of really talked to folks about.

Dec
12
2019
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DataRobot is acquiring Paxata to add data prep to machine learning platform

DataRobot, a company best known for creating automated machine learning models known as AutoML, announced today that it intends to acquire Paxata, a data prep platform startup. The companies did not reveal the purchase price.

Paxata raised a total of $90 million before today’s acquisition, according to the company.

Up until now, DataRobot has concentrated mostly on the machine learning and data science aspect of the workflow — building and testing the model, then putting it into production. The data prep was left to other vendors like Paxata, but DataRobot, which raised $206 million in September, saw an opportunity to fill in a gap in their platform with Paxata.

“We’ve identified, because we’ve been focused on machine learning for so long, a number of key data prep capabilities that are required for machine learning to be successful. And so we see an opportunity to really build out a unique and compelling data prep for machine learning offering that’s powered by the Paxata product, but takes the knowledge and understanding and the integration with the machine learning platform from DataRobot,” Phil Gurbacki, SVP of product development and customer experience at DataRobot, told TechCrunch.

Prakash Nanduri, CEO and co-founder at Paxata, says the two companies were a great fit and it made a lot of sense to come together. “DataRobot has got a significant number of customers, and every one of their customers have a data and information management problem. For us, the deal allows us to rapidly increase the number of customers that are able to go from data to value. By coming together, the value to the customer is increased at an exponential level,” he explained.

DataRobot is based in Boston, while Paxata is in Redwood City, Calif. The plan moving forward is to make Paxata a west coast office, and all of the company’s almost 100 employees will become part of DataRobot when the deal closes.

While the two companies are working together to integrate Paxata more fully into the DataRobot platform, the companies also plan to let Paxata continue to exist as a standalone product.

DataRobot has raised more than $431 million, according to PitchBook data. It raised $206 million of that in its last round. At the time, the company indicated it would be looking for acquisition opportunities when it made sense.

This match-up seems particularly good, given how well the two companies’ capabilities complement one another, and how much customer overlap they have. The deal is expected to close before the end of the year.

Dec
11
2019
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Acquia nabs CDP startup AgilOne, which raised $41M

Acquia announced it has acquired customer data platform (CDP) startup AgilOne today. The companies did not disclose the purchase price.

CDPs are all the rage among customer experience vendors, as they provide a way to pull data from a variety of channels to build a more complete picture of the customer. The goal here is to deliver meaningful content to the customer based on what you know about them. Having a platform like this to draw upon makes it more likely that you will hit the target more accurately.

Acquia co-founder and CTO Dries Buytaert says he has been watching this space for the last year, and wanted to add this piece to the Acquia tool chest. “Adding a CDP like AgilOne to our existing platform will help our customers unify their data across various tools in their technology stack to drive better, more personal customer experiences,” he said.

In particular, he says he liked AgilOne because it used an intelligence layer while building the customer record. “What sets AgilOne apart from other CDPs are its machine learning capabilities, which intelligently segment customers and predict customer behaviors (such as when a customer is likely to purchase something). This allows for the creation and optimization of next-best action models to optimize offers and messages to customers on a 1:1 basis.”

Like most startup founders, AgilOne CEO Omer Artun sees this as an opportunity to grow his company, probably faster than he could have on his own. “Since AgilOne’s inception, our vision has been to give marketers the direct power to understand who their customers are and engage with them in a genuine way in order to boost profitability and create the omnichannel experiences that customers crave. Through this acquisition, Acquia will enable us to continue to deliver, and build upon, this vision,” he wrote in a blog post announcing the acquisition.

Tony Byrne, founder and principal analyst at the Real Story Group, has been watching the marketing automation space for some time, as well as the burgeoning CDP market. He sees this move as good for Acquia, but wonders how it will fit with other pieces in the Acquia stack. “This in theory allows them to support the unification of customer data across their suite,” Byrne told TechCrunch.

But he cautions that the company could struggle incorporating AgilOne into its platform. “The Marketing Automation platform they purchased targets mostly B2B. AgilOne is dialed in on B2C use cases and a fairly narrow set of vertical segments. It will take a lot of work to make it into a CDP that could adequately serve Acquia’s diverse customer base,” he said.

Acquia was acquired by Vista Equity Partners for $1 billion in September, and it tends to encourage its companies to be more acquisitive than they might have been on their own. “Vista has been supportive of our M&A strategy and believes strongly in AgilOne as a part of Acquia’s vision to redefine the customer experience stack,” Buytaert said.

AgilOne raised over $41 million, according to PitchBook data. Investors included Tenaya Capital, Sequoia Capital and Mayfield Fund. It had a post valuation of just over $115 million and was pegged as likely acquisition target by Pitchbook.

AgilOne customers will be happy to hear that Acquia plans to continue to sell it as a stand-alone product in addition to making it part of the Acquia Open Marketing Cloud.

Dec
11
2019
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Hyperproof wants to make it easier to comply with GDPR and other regulations

As companies try to figure out how to comply with regulations like GDPR, ISO or Sarbanes Oxley, they face a huge challenge just getting started. Hyperproof, a Bellevue, Wash. startup, is launching a new product to help companies build a workflow to get them in compliance in a more organized way.

Company co-founder and CEO Craig Unger says most companies struggle with the complexity of compliance. It involves a lot of different activities and often requires the cooperation of employees, who typically aren’t involved in compliance.

Hyperproof wants to provide a single place where companies can undertake their compliance activities. “In reality, there’s no single place where if you’re a compliance officer, you can say, ‘here is where I do my work.’ Here is the equivalent of my SAP system for a CFO or my CRM system for a head of sales or head of marketing — and Hyperproof is just that,” Unger explained.

He says most companies do compliance today in a fairly ad hoc way, relying on technology like spreadsheets to track tasks, and email to make requests for needed information. What Hyperproof does is package all of that into a single program. You indicate which compliance regimen you want to work with, and Hyperproof builds a workspace for you with all of the requirements you need for that compliance framework.

Unger says at this point, the company is simply putting all of the tasks in a single workflow to simplify and organize your activities around this compliance framework.You can also import a spreadsheet to get that information inside Hyperproof, or outline the requirements in your own language in the program.

“Once you have a defined program in place, you can start working with the rest of the organization in a collaborative way by sending emails. The evidence that comes back gets put inside Hyperproof as an immutable record with an audit trail around this data collection,” Unger explained. Should you get audited, you have a central place to show the auditor your work.

The company has concentrated on building the workflow part of this, but in the future wants to add automation and APIs to connect directly to other systems to automate many of the activities. The goal with the initial release was to get companies a compliance framework workflow, and then build on that in the future.

The company was founded last year and has raised $3 million from 23 angel investors in the Seattle area where they are based. In fact, Unger is a former Microsoft employee and also helped found Azuqua, a workflow startup he sold to Okta this year for $52.5 million.

Dec
11
2019
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Refocusing on relocation, Jobbatical launches new offices in Spain and Germany

I’ve been following Estonia-headquartered Jobbatical and its founder, Karoli Hindriks, for years. Part of the vanguard of startups working on infrastructure for digital nomads, the startup has been building the base platform to help global job seekers hire and fire their governments.

As Jobbatical has worked with more and more companies and governments though, it has learned that the friction here is not just finding employment globally for talented individuals, but rather the actual process of applying for immigration and work permits, ranging from forms that must be filed in person to the hours of labor it can take to fill out an application.

“What started to happen was that the relocation part… became something that the clients came back to us and said, ‘Can you do relocation for everyone and not just those coming through Jobbatical?’” Hindriks explained.

Last year, Jobbatical began to refocus its platform on powering relocation for workers at companies, and now its new strategy is coming into focus with the launch of the company’s new offices in Spain and Germany, announced on stage earlier today at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin.

In the process, the company hopes to not just make the immigration process easier — but also much faster.

“How much time are government officials doing dummy work?” Hindriks asked. “30-40% of the consulate’s time is spent on answering the question of ‘what is the status of my visa?’”

The problem is that feedback in the immigration system is not available to all the players involved. Immigration process agents at companies who handle their workers’ visas have to constantly search around to make sure they are moving each of their cases forward. Managers have no idea when their workers may move, while employees are kept in the dark about their current status, inducing anxiety.

Hindriks’ vision is to help each of these three sides use a “TurboTax for immigration” to streamline the process. Jobbatical now can handle immigration applications in Estonia, Germany, and Spain and hopes to add Finland early next year.

But the more ambitious vision is ultimately to help governments drive their processes faster. Similar to how, say, the U.S. tax agency the Internal Revenue Service offers eFiling, Hindriks sees a future where Jobbatical can help facilitate immigration filings and massively speed up the efficiency of governments around these processes by allowing workers to directly submit applications to the government. She is working with two countries today to create exactly these sorts of digital submission systems.

It’s a space that has heated up in recent years as immigration continues to flow across the world. Boundless, for instance, helps individuals apply for U.S. green cards. Jobbatical is focused on the B2B market, focused on companies with global workforces.

Despite the deep debate in many countries over immigration, the reality is that every country has skills deficits that can be helped with smart and efficient immigration. Jobbatical is one company that may make the system more fair and relaxing for stressed workers looking to build their international careers.

Dec
11
2019
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Accel and Index back Tines, as the cybersecurity startup adds another $11M to its Series A

It was just a couple of months ago that Tines, the cybersecurity automation startup, raised $4.1 million in Series A funding led by Blossom Capital. The Dublin-based company is now disclosing an $11 million extension to the round.

This additional Series A funding is led by venture capital firm Accel, with participation from Index Ventures and previous backer Blossom Capital. The extra cash will be used to continue developing its cybersecurity automation platform and for further expansion into the U.S. and Europe.

Founded in February 2018 by ex-eBay, PayPal and DocuSign security engineer Eoin Hinchy, and subsequently joined by former eBay and DocuSign colleague Thomas Kinsella, Tines automates many of the repetitive manual tasks faced by security analysts so they can focus on other high-priority work. The pair had bootstrapped the company as recently as October.

“It was while I was at DocuSign that I felt there was a need for a platform like Tines,” explained Hinchy at the time of the initial Series A. “We had a team of really talented engineers in charge of incident response and forensics but they weren’t developers. I found they were doing the same tasks over and over again so I began looking for a platform to automate these repetitive tasks and didn’t find anything. Certainly nothing that did what we needed it to, so I came up with the idea to plug this gap in the market.”

To remedy this, Tines lets companies automate parts of their manual security processes with the help of six software “agents,” with each acting as a multipurpose building block. The idea is that, regardless of the process being automated, it only requires combinations of these six agent types configured in different ways to replicate a particular workflow.

In addition, the platform doesn’t rely on pre-built integrations to interact with external systems. Instead, Tines is able to plug in to any system that has an API. “This means integration with commercial, off-the-shelf products, or existing in-house tools is quick and simple, with most security teams automating stories (workflows) within the first 24 hours,” says the startup. Its software is also starting to find utility beyond cybersecurity processes, with several Tines customers using it in IT, DevOps and HR.

“We heard that Eoin, a senior member of the security team at DocuSign (another Accel portfolio company), had recently left to start Tines, so we got in touch,” Accel’s Seth Pierrepont tells TechCrunch. “They were in the final stages of closing their Series A. However, we were so convinced by the founders, their product approach and the market timing, that we asked them to extend the round.”

Pierrepont also points out that a unique aspect of the Dublin ecosystem is that many of the world’s largest tech companies have their European headquarters in the country (often attracted by relatively low corporation tax), “so it’s an incredibly rich talent pool despite being a relatively small city.”

Asked whether Accel views Tines as a cybersecurity automation company or a more general automation play that puts automation in the hands of non-technical employees for a multitude of possible use cases, Pierrepont says, given Hinchy and Kinsella’s backgrounds, the cybersecurity automation sector should be the primary focus for the company in the short term. However, longer term it is likely that Tines will be adopted across other functions as well.

“From our investment in Demisto (which was acquired by Palo Alto Networks earlier this year), we know the security automation or SOAR category (as Gartner defines it) very well,” he says. “Demisto pioneered the category and was definitively the market leader when it was acquired. However, we think the category is just getting started and that there is still a ton of whitespace for Tines to go after.”

Meanwhile, in less than a year, Tines says it has on-boarded 10 enterprise customers across a variety of industries, including Box, Auth0 and McKesson, with companies automating on average 100,000 actions per day.

Dec
10
2019
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D-Wave partners with NEC to build hybrid HPC and quantum apps

D-Wave Systems announced a partnership with Japanese industrial giant NEC today to build what they call “hybrid apps and services” that work on a combination of NEC high-performance computers and D-Wave’s quantum systems.

The two companies also announced that NEC will be investing $10 million in D-Wave, which has raised $204 million prior to this, according to Crunchbase data.

D-Wave’s chief product officer and EVP of R&D, Alan Baratz, whom the company announced this week will be taking over as CEO effective January 1st, says the company has been able to do a lot of business in Japan, and the size of this deal could help push the technology further. “Our collaboration with global pioneer NEC is a major milestone in the pursuit of fully commercial quantum applications,” he said in a statement.

The company says it is one of the earliest deals between a quantum vendor and a multinational IT company with the size and scale of NEC. The deal involves three key elements. First of all, NEC and D-Wave will come together to develop hybrid services that combine NEC’s supercomputers and other classical systems with D-Wave’s quantum technology. The hope is that by combining the classical and quantum systems, they can create better performance for lower cost than you could get if you tried to do similar computing on a strictly classical system.

The two companies will also work together with NEC customers to build applications that will take advantage of this hybrid approach. Also, NEC will be an authorized reseller of D-Wave cloud services.

For NEC, which claims to have demonstrated the world’s first quantum bit device way back in 1999, it is about finding ways to keep advancing commercial quantum computing. “Quantum computing development is critical for the future of every industry tasked with solving today’s most complex problems. Hybrid applications and greater access to quantum systems is what will allow us to achieve truly commercial-grade quantum solutions,” Motoo Nishihara, executive vice president and CTO at NEC Corporation, said in a statement.

This deal should help move the companies toward that goal.

Dec
10
2019
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Microsoft announces public preview of Microsoft Teams for Linux

Today, Microsoft announced a public preview of Microsoft Teams for Linux, the first Office 365 tool that’s available for the open-source operating system.

The hope is that by making it available for preview, the company can get feedback from the community and improve it before it becomes generally available. “Starting today, Microsoft Teams is available for Linux users in public preview, enabling high quality collaboration experiences for the open source community at work and in educational institutions,” the company wrote in the blog post announcing the release.

The goal here ultimately is to help get Teams into the hands of more customers by expanding the platforms it runs on. “Most of our customers have devices running on a variety of different platforms such as Windows 10, Linux and others. We are committed to supporting mixed environments across our cloud and productivity offerings, and with this announcement, we are pleased to extend the Teams experience to Linux users,” the company wrote in the blog post.

This announcement is significant for a couple of reasons. For starters, Microsoft has had a complicated history with Linux and open source, although in recent years, under Satya Nadella, it has embraced open source. This shows that Microsoft is willing to put its tools wherever customers need them, regardless of the platform or operating system.

Secondly, as it marks the first Office 365 app on Linux, if there is positive feedback, it could open the door for more apps on the platform down the road.

The announcement also comes against the backdrop of the company’s ongoing battles with Slack for enterprise collaboration platform users. In July, Microsoft announced 13 million daily active users on Teams. Meanwhile, Slack has 12 million DAUs. It’s worth noting that Slack has been available on Linux for almost two years.

Dec
10
2019
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Soci raises $12M to help big brands manage local marketing

According to CEO Afif Khoury, we’re in the middle of “the third wave of social” — a shift back to local interactions. And Khoury’s startup Soci (pronounced soh-shee) has raised $12 million in Series C funding to help companies navigate that shift.

Soci works with customers like Ace Hardware and Sport Clips to help them manage the online presence of hundreds or thousands of stores. It allows marketers to post content and share assets across all those pages, respond to reviews and comments, manage ad campaigns and provide guidance around how to stay on-brand.

It sounds like most of these interactions are happening on Facebook. Khoury told me that Soci integrates with “40 different APIs where businesses are having conversations with their customers,” but he added, “Facebook was and continues to be the most prominent conversation center.”

Khoury and CTO Alo Sarv founded Soci back in 2012. Khoury said they spent the first two years building the product, and have subsequently raised around $30 million in total funding.

“What we weren’t building was a point solution,” he said. “What we were building was a massive platform … It took us 18 months to two years to really build it in the way we thought was going to be meaningful for the marketplace.”

Soci has also incorporated artificial intelligence to power chatbots that Khoury said “take that engagement happening on social and move it downstream to a call or a sale or something relevant to the local business.”

The new round was led by Vertical Venture Partners, with participation from Grayhawk Capital and Ankona Capital. Khoury said the money will allow Soci to continue developing its AI technology and to build out its sales and marketing team.

“Ours is a very consultative sale,” he said. “It’s a complicated world that you’re living in, and we really want to partner and have a local presence with our customers.”

Dec
09
2019
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AWS is sick of waiting for your company to move to the cloud

AWS held its annual re:Invent customer conference last week in Las Vegas. Being Vegas, there was pageantry aplenty, of course, but this year’s model felt a bit different than in years past, lacking the onslaught of major announcements we are used to getting at this event.

Perhaps the pace of innovation could finally be slowing, but the company still had a few messages for attendees. For starters, AWS CEO Andy Jassy made it clear he’s tired of the slow pace of change inside the enterprise. In Jassy’s view, the time for incremental change is over, and it’s time to start moving to the cloud faster.

AWS also placed a couple of big bets this year in Vegas to help make that happen. The first involves AI and machine learning. The second, moving computing to the edge, closer to the business than the traditional cloud allows.

The question is what is driving these strategies? AWS had a clear head start in the cloud, and owns a third of the market, more than double its closest rival, Microsoft. The good news is that the market is still growing and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. The bad news for AWS is that it can probably see Google and Microsoft beginning to resonate with more customers, and it’s looking for new ways to get a piece of the untapped part of the market to choose AWS.

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