Nov
13
2019
--

Freshworks raises $150M Series H on $3.5B valuation

Freshworks, a company that makes a variety of business software tools, from CRM to help-desk software, announced a $150 million Series H investment today from Sequoia Capital, CapitalG (formerly Google Capital) and Accel on a hefty $3.5 billion valuation. The late-stage startup has raised almost $400 million, according to Crunchbase data.

The company has been building an enterprise SaaS platform to give customers a set of integrated business tools, but CEO and co-founder Girish Mathrubootham says they will be investing part of this money in R&D to keep building out the platform.

To that end, the company also announced today a new unified data platform called the “Customer-for-Life Cloud” that runs across all of its tools. “We are actually investing in really bringing all of this together to create the “Customer-for-Life Cloud,” which is how you take marketing, sales, support and customer success — all of the aspects of a customer across the entire life cycle journey and bring them to a common data model where a business that is using Freshworks can see the entire life cycle of the customer,” Mathrubootham explained.

While Mathrubootham was not ready to commit to an IPO, he said they are in the process of hiring a CFO and are looking ahead to one day becoming a public company. “We don’t have a definite timeline. We want to go public at the right time. We are making sure that as a company that we are ready with the right processes and teams and predictability in the business,” he said.

In addition, he says he will continue to look for good acquisition targets, and having this money in the bank will help the company fill in gaps in the product set should the right opportunity arise. “We don’t generally acquire revenue, but we are looking for good technology teams both in terms of talent, as well as technology that would help give us a jumpstart in terms of go-to-market.” It hasn’t been afraid to target small companies in the past, having acquired 12 already.

Freshworks, which launched in 2010, has almost 2,500 employees, a number that’s sure to go up with this new investment. It has 250,00 customers worldwide, including almost 40,000 paying customers. These including Bridgestone Tires, Honda, Hugo Boss, Toshiba and Cisco.

Sep
25
2019
--

Symantec’s Sheila Jordan named to Slack’s board of directors

Workplace collaboration software business Slack (NYSE: WORK) has added Sheila Jordan, a senior vice president and chief information officer of Symantec, as an independent member of its board of directors. The hiring comes three months after the business completed a direct listing on the New York Stock Exchange.

Jordan, responsible for driving information technology strategy and operations for Symantec, brings significant cybersecurity expertise to Slack’s board. Prior to joining Symantec in 2014, Jordan was a senior vice president of IT at Cisco and an executive at Disney Destination for nearly 15 years.

With the new appointment, Slack appears to be doubling down on security. In addition to the board announcement, Slack recently published a blog post outlining the company’s latest security strategy in what was likely part of a greater attempt to sway potential customers — particularly those in highly regulated industries — wary of the company’s security processes. The post introduced new features, including the ability to allow teams to work remotely while maintaining compliance to industry and company-specific requirements.

Jordan joins Slack co-founder and chief executive officer Stewart Butterfield, former Goldman Sachs executive Edith Cooper, Accel general partner Andrew Braccia, Nextdoor CEO Sarah Friar, Andreessen Horowitz general partner John O’Farrell, Social Capital CEO Chamath Palihapitiya and former Salesforce chief financial officer Graham Smith on Slack’s board of directors.

“I believe there is nothing more critical than driving organizational alignment and agility within enterprises today,” Jordan said in a statement. “Slack has developed a new category of enterprise software to help unlock this potential and I’m thrilled to now be a part of their story.”

Slack closed up nearly 50% on its first day of trading in June but has since stumbled amid reports of increased competition from Microsoft, which operates a Slack-like product called Teams.

Slack co-founder and chief technology officer Cal Henderson will join us onstage at TechCrunch Disrupt San Francisco next week to discuss the company’s founding, road to the public markets and path forward. Buy tickets here.

Sep
10
2019
--

Snyk grabs $70M more to detect security vulnerabilities in open-source code and containers

A growing number of IT breaches has led to security becoming a critical and central aspect of how computing systems are run and maintained. Today, a startup that focuses on one specific area — developing security tools aimed at developers and the work they do — has closed a major funding round that underscores the growth of that area.

Snyk — a London and Boston-based company that got its start identifying and developing security solutions for developers working on open-source code — is today announcing that it has raised $70 million, funding that it will be using to continue expanding its capabilities and overall business. For example, the company has more recently expanded to building security solutions to help developers identify and fix vulnerabilities around containers, an increasingly standard unit of software used to package up and run code across different computing environments.

Open source — Snyk works as an integration into existing developer workflows, compatible with the likes of GitHub, Bitbucket and GitLab, as well as CI/CD pipelines — was an easy target to hit. It’s used in 95% of all enterprises, with up to 77% of open-source components liable to have vulnerabilities, by Snyk’s estimates. Containers are a different issue.

“The security concerns around containers are almost more about ownership than technology,” Guy Podjarny, the president who co-founded the company with Assaf Hefetz and Danny Grander, explained in an interview. “They are in a twilight zone between infrastructure and code. They look like virtual machines and suffer many of same concerns such as being unpatched or having permissions that are too permissive.”

While containers are present in fewer than 30% of computing environments today, their growth is on the rise, according to Gartner, which forecasts that by 2022, more than 75% of global organizations will run containerized applications. Snyk estimates that a full 44% of Docker image scans (Docker being one of the major container vendors) have known vulnerabilities.

This latest round is being led by Accel with participation from existing investors GV and Boldstart Ventures. These three, along with a fourth investor (Heavybit) also put $22 million into the company as recently as September 2018. That round was made at a valuation of $100 million, and from what we understand from a source close to the startup, it’s now in the “range” of $500 million.

“Accel has a long history in the security market and we believe Snyk is bringing a truly unique, developer-first approach to security in the enterprise,” said Matt Weigand of Accel said in a statement. “The strength of Snyk’s customer base, rapidly growing free user community, leadership team and innovative product development prove the company is ready for this next exciting phase of growth and execution.”

Indeed, the company has hit some big milestones in the last year that could explain that hike. It now has some 300,000 developers using it around the globe, with its customer base growing some 200% this year and including the likes of Google, Microsoft, Salesforce and ASOS (side note: you know that if developers at developer-centric places themselves working at the vanguard of computing, like Google and Microsoft, are using your product, that is a good sign). Notably, that has largely come by word of mouth — inbound interest.

The company in July of this year took on a new CEO, Peter McKay, who replaced Podjarny. McKay was the company’s first investor and has a track record in helping to grow large enterprise security businesses, a sign of the trajectory that Snyk is hoping to follow.

“Today, every business, from manufacturing to retail and finance, is becoming a software business,” said McKay. “There is an immediate and fast growing need for software security solutions that scale at the same pace as software development. This investment helps us continue to bring Snyk’s product-led and developer-focused solutions to more companies across the globe, helping them stay secure as they embrace digital innovation – without slowing down.”

Aug
28
2019
--

ReadMe scores $9M Series A to help firms customize API docs

Software APIs help different tools communicate with one another, let developers access essential services without having to code it themselves and are critical components for driving a platform-driven strategy. Yet they require solid documentation to help make the best use of them. ReadMe, a startup that helps companies customize their API documentation, announced a $9 million Series A today led by Accel with help from Y Combinator. The company was part of the Y Combinator Winter 2015 cohort.

Prior to today’s funding announcement, the company had taken just a $1.2 million seed round in 2014. Today, it reports 3,000 paying customers and that it has been profitable for the last several years, an unusual position for a startup. In spite of this success, co-founder and CEO Gregory Koberger said as the company has taken on larger customers, they have more sophisticated requirements, and that prompted them to take this round of funding.

In addition, it has expanded the platform to use a company’s API logs to help create more dynamic documentation and improve customer support kinds of scenarios. But by taking on data from other companies, it needs to make sure the data is secure, and today’s funding will help in that regard.

“We’re going to still build the company traditionally by hiring more engineers, more support people, more designers, the obvious stuff, but the main impetus for doing this was that we started working with bigger companies with more secure data. So a lot of the money is going to help make sure that we handle that right,” Koberger explained.

Screenshot 2019 08 28 10.55.38

Image: ReadMe

He says this ability to make use of the API logs has opened up all kinds of possibilities for the company, as the data provides a valuable window into how people use the APIs. “It’s amazing how much you get by just actually seeing what the server sees. When people are having problems with an API, they can debug it themselves because they can actually see the problems, the support team can see it as well,” Koberger said.

Accel’s Dan Levine, whose firm is leading the investment, believes that having good documentation is the difference between making and breaking an API. “APIs don’t just create technical integration, they create ecosystems around core services and underpin corporate partnerships that generate billions of dollars. ReadMe is as much a strategy as it is a service for businesses. Providing clean, interactive, data-driven API documentation to make developers love working with you can be the difference between 100 partnerships or 1,000 partnerships,” Levine said.

ReadMe was founded in 2014. It has 22 employees in their San Francisco office, a number that should increase with today’s funding.

Jul
18
2019
--

VComply raises $2.5 million seed round led by Accel to simplify risk and compliance management

Risk and compliance management platform VComply announced today that it has picked up a $2.5 million seed round led by Accel Partners for its international growth plan. The funding will be used to acquire more customers in the United States, open a new office in the United Kingdom to support customers in Europe and expand its presence in New Zealand and Australia.

The company was founded in 2016 by CEO Harshvardhan Kariwala and has customers in a wide range of industries, including Acreage Holdings, Ace Energy Solutions, CHD, the United Kingdom’s Department of International Trade and Burger King. It currently claims about 4,000 users in more than 100 countries. VComply is meant to be used by all departments in a company, with compliance information organized into a central dashboard.

While there are already a roster of governance, risk and compliance management solutions on the market (including ones from Oracle, HPE, Thomson Reuters, IBM and other established enterprise software companies), VComply’s competitive edge may be its flexibility, simple user interface and easy deployment (the company claims customers can on-board and start using the solution for compliance tasks in about 30 minutes). It also seeks out smaller companies whose needs have not been met by compliance solutions meant for large enterprises.

Kariwala told TechCrunch in an email that he began thinking of creating a new risk and compliance solution while working at his first startup, LIME Learning Systems, an education management platform, after being hit with a $4,000 penalty due to a non-compliance issue.

“Believe me, $4,000 really hurts when you’re bootstrapped and trying to save every single cent you can. In this case, I had asked our outsourced accounting partners to manage this compliance and they forgot!,” he said. After talking to other entrepreneurs, he realized compliance posed a challenge for most of them. LIME’s team built an internal compliance tracking tool for their own use, but also shared it with other people. After getting good feedback, Kariwala realized that despite the many governance, risk and compliance management solutions already on the market, there was still a gap in the market, especially for smaller businesses.

VComply is designed so organizations can customize it for their industry’s regulations and standards, as well as their own workflow and data needs, with competitive pricing for small to medium-sized organizations (a subscription starts at $3,999 a year).

“Most of the traditional GRC solutions that exist today are expensive, have a steep learning curve and entail a prolonged deployment. Not only are they expensive, they are also rigid, which means that organizations have little to no control or flexibility,” Kariwala said. “A GRC tool is often looked at as an expense, while it should really be treated as an investment. It is particularly the SMB sector that suffers the most. With the current solutions costing thousands of dollars (and sometimes millions), it becomes the least of their priorities to invest in a GRC platform, and as a result they fall prey to heightened risks and hefty penalties for non-compliance.”

In a press statement, Accel partner Dinesh Katiyar said, “The first generation of GRC solutions primarily allowed companies to comply with industry-mandated regulations. However, the modern enterprise needs to govern its operations to maintain integrity and trust, and monitor internal and external risks to stay successful. That is where VComply shines, and we’re delighted to be partnering with a company that can redefine the future of enterprise risk management.”

Jul
02
2019
--

Sam Lessin and Andrew Kortina on their voice assistant’s workplace pivot

Sam Lessin, a former product management executive at Facebook and old friend to Mark Zuckerberg, incorporated his latest startup under the name “Fin Exploration Company.”

Why? Well, because he wanted to explore. The company — co-founded alongside Andrew Kortina, best known for launching the successful payments app Venmo — was conceived as a consumer voice assistant in 2015 after the two entrepreneurs realized the impact 24/7 access to a virtual assistant would have on their digital to-do lists.

The thing is, developing an AI assistant capable of booking flights, arranging trips, teaching users how to play poker, identifying places to purchase specific items for a birthday party and answering wide-ranging zany questions like “can you look up a place where I can milk a goat?” requires a whole lot more human power than one might think. Capital-intensive and hard-to-scale, an app for “instantly offloading” chores wasn’t the best business. Neither Lessin nor Kortina will admit to failure, but Fin‘s excursion into B2B enterprise software eight months ago suggests the assistant technology wasn’t a billion-dollar idea.

Staying true to its name, the Fin Exploration Company is exploring again.

Jun
04
2019
--

VCs bet $12M on Troops, a Slackbot for sales teams

Slack wants to be the new operating system for teams, something it has made clear on more than one occasion, including in its recent S-1 filing. To accomplish that goal, it put together an in-house $80 million venture fund in 2015 to invest in third-party developers building on top of its platform.

Weeks ahead of its direct listing on The New York Stock Exchange, it continues to put that money to work.

Troops is the latest to land additional capital from the enterprise giant. The New York-based startup helps sales teams communicate with a customer relationship management tool plugged directly into Slack. In short, it automates routine sales management activities and creates visibility into important deals through integrations with employee emails and Salesforce.

Troops founder and chief executive officer Dan Reich, who previously co-founded TULA Skincare, told TechCrunch he opted to build a Slackbot rather than create an independent platform because Slack is a rocket ship and he wanted a seat on board: “When you think about where Slack will go in the future, it’s obvious to us that companies all over the world will be using it,” he said.

Troops has raised $12 million in Series B funding in a round led by Aspect Ventures, with participation from the Slack Fund, First Round Capital, Felicis Ventures, Susa Ventures, Chicago Ventures, Hone Capital, InVision founder Clark Valberg and others. The round brings Troops’ total raised to $22 million.

Launched in 2015 by New York tech veterans Reich, Scott Britton and Greg Ratner, the trio weren’t initially sure of Slack’s growth trajectory. It wasn’t until Slack confirmed its intent to support the developer ecosystem with a suite of developer tools and a fund that the team focused its efforts on building a Slackbot.

“People sometimes thought of us, at least in the early days, as a little bit crazy,” Reich said. “But now Slack is the fastest-growing SaaS company ever.”

“We think the biggest opportunity in the [enterprise SaaS] category is going to be tools oriented around the customer-facing employee (CRM), and that’s where we are innovating,” he added.

Troops’ tools are helpful for any customer-facing team, Reich explains. Envoy, WeWork, HubSpot and a few hundred others are monthly paying subscribers of the tool, using it to interact with their CRM in a messaging interface and to receive notifications when a deal has closed. Troops integrates with Salesforce, so employees can use it to search records, schedule automatic reports and celebrate company wins.

Slack, in partnership with a number of venture capital funds, including Accel, Kleiner Perkins and Index, has also deployed capital to a number of other startups, like Lattice, Drafted and Loom.

With Slack’s direct listing afoot, the Troops team is counting on the imminent and long-term growth of the company’s platform.

“We think it’s still early days,” Reich said. “In the future, we see every company using something like Troops to manage their day-to-day.”

May
08
2019
--

Slack to live stream pitch to shareholders on Monday ahead of direct listing

Slack, the ubiquitous workplace messaging tool, will make its pitch to prospective shareholders on Monday at an invite-only event in New York City, the company confirmed in a blog post on Wednesday. Slack stock is expected to begin trading on the New York Stock Exchange as soon as next month.

Slack, which is pursuing a direct listing, will live stream Monday’s Investor Day on its website.

An alternative to an initial public offering, direct listings allow businesses to forgo issuing new shares and instead sell directly to the market existing shares held by insiders, employees and investors. Slack, like Spotify, has been able to bypass the traditional roadshow process expected of an IPO-ready business, as well as some of the exorbitant Wall Street fees.

Spotify, if you remember, similarly live streamed an event that is typically for investors eyes only. If Slack’s event is anything like the music streaming giant’s, Slack co-founder and chief executive officer Stewart Butterfield will speak to the company’s greater mission alongside several other executives.

Slack unveiled documents for a public listing two weeks ago. In its SEC filing, the company disclosed a net loss of $138.9 million and revenue of $400.6 million in the fiscal year ending January 31, 2019. That’s compared to a loss of $140.1 million on revenue of $220.5 million for the year before.

Additionally, the company said it reached 10 million daily active users earlier this year across more than 600,000 organizations.

Slack has previously raised a total of $1.2 billion in funding from investors, including Accel, Andreessen Horowitz, Social Capital, SoftBank, Google Ventures and Kleiner Perkins.

Apr
11
2019
--

Rasa raises $13M led by Accel for its developer-friendly open-source approach to chatbots

Conversational AI and the use of chatbots have been through multiple cycles of hype and disillusionment in the tech world. You know the story: first you get a launch from the likes of Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon, Google or any number of other companies, and then you get the many examples of how their services don’t work as intended at the slightest challenge. But time brings improvements and more focused expectations, and today a startup that has been harnessing all those learnings is announcing funding to take to the next level its own approach to conversational AI.

Rasa, which has built an open-source platform for third parties to design and manage their own conversational (text or voice) AI chatbots, is today announcing that it has raised $13 million in a Series A round of funding led by Accel, with participation from Basis Set Ventures, Greg Brockman (co-founder & CTO OpenAI), Daniel Dines (founder & CEO UiPath) and Mitchell Hashimoto (co-founder & CTO Hashicorp).

Rasa was founded in Berlin, but with this round, it will be moving its headquarters to San Francisco, with a plan to hire more people there in sales, marketing and business development; and to continue its tech development with its roadmap including plans to expand the platform to cover images, too.

The company was founded 2.5 years ago, by co-founder/CEO Alex Weidauer’s own admission “when chatbot hype was at its peak.”

Rasa itself was not immune to it, too: “Everyone wanted to automate conversations, and so we set out to build something, too,” he said. “But we quickly realised it was extremely hard to do and that the developer tools were just not there yet.”

Rather than posing an insurmountable roadblock, the shortcomings of chatbots became the problem that Rasa set out to fix.

Alan Nichols, the co-founder who is now the CTO, is an AI PhD, not in natural language as you might expect, but in machine learning.

“What we do is more is address this as a mathematical, machine learning problem rather than one of language,” Weidauer said. Specifically, that means building a model that can be used by any company to tap its own resources to train their bots, in particular with unstructured information, which has been one of the trickier problems to solve in conversational AI.

At a time when many have raised concerns about who might “own” the progress of artificial intelligence, and specifically the data that goes into building these systems, Rasa’s approach is a refreshing one.

Typically, when an organization wants to build an AI chatbot either to interact with customers or to run something in the back end of their business, their developers most commonly opt for third-party cloud APIs that have restrictions on how they can be customized, or they build their own from scratch — but if the organization is not already a large tech company, it will be challenged to have the human or other resources to execute this.

Rasa underscores an emerging trend for a strong third contender. The company has built a stack of tools that it has open-sourced, meaning that anyone can (and thousands of developers do) use it for free, with a paid enterprise version that includes extra tools, including customer support, testing and training tools, and production container deployment. (It’s priced depending on size of organization and usage.)

Importantly, whichever package is used, the tools run on a company’s own training data; and the company can ultimately host their bots wherever they choose, which have been some of the unique selling points for those using Rasa’s platform, when they are less interested in working with organizations that might also be competitors.

Adobe’s new AI assistant for searching on Adobe Stock, which has some 100 million images, was built on Rasa.

“We wanted to give our users an AI assistant that lets them search with natural language commands,” said Brett Butterfield, director of software development at Adobe, in a statement. “We looked at several online services, and, in the end, Rasa was the clear choice because we were able to host our own servers and protect our user’s data privacy. Being able to automate full conversations and the fact it is open source were key elements for us.”

Other customers include Parallon and TalkSpace, Zurich and Allianz, Telekom and UBS.

Open source has become big business in the last several years, and so a startup that’s built an AI platform that has a very direct application in the enterprise built on it presents an obvious attraction for VCs.

“Automation is the next battleground for the enterprise, and while this is a very difficult space to win, especially for unstructured information like text and voice, we are confident Rasa has what it takes given their impressive adoption by developers,” said Andrei Brasoveanu, partner at Accel, in a statement.

“Existing solutions don’t let in-house developer teams control their own automation destiny. Rasa is applying commercial open source software solutions for AI environments similarly to what open source leaders such as Cloudera, Mulesoft, and Hashicorp have done for others.”

Mar
26
2019
--

Lola.com raises $37M to take on SAP and others in the world of business travel

Business customers continue to be a huge target for the travel industry, and today a startup has raised a tidy sum to help it double down on the $1.7 trillion opportunity. Lola.com — a platform for business users to book and manage trips — has raised $37 million to continue building out its technology and hire more talent as it takes on incumbents like SAP targeting the corporate sector.

The Series C is led by General Catalyst and Accel, with participation from CRV, Tenaya Capital and GV. All are previous investors. We are asking about the valuation but it looks like prior to this, the company had raised just under $65 million, and its last post-money valuation, in 2017, was $100 million, according to PitchBook.

There are signs that the valuation will have had a bump in this round. The company said in 2018, its bookings have gone up by 423 percent, with revenues up 786 percent, although it’s not disclosing what the actual figures are for either.

“As business travelers have become increasingly mobile, Lola.com’s mission is to completely transform the landscape of corporate travel management,” said Mike Volpe, CEO of Lola.com, who took the top role at the company last year. “The continued support of our investors underscores the market potential, which is leading us to expand our partner ecosystem and double our headcount across engineering, sales and marketing. At the core, we continue to invest in building the best, simplest corporate travel management platform in the industry.”

Co-founded by Paul English and Bill O’Donnell — respectively, the former CTO/co-founder and chief architect of the wildly successful consumer travel booking platform Kayak — Lola originally tried to fix the very thing that Kayak and others like it had disrupted: it was designed as a platform for people to connect to live agents to help them organise their travel. That larger cruise ship might have already said, however (so to speak), and so the company later made a pivot to cater to a more specific demographic in the market that often needs and expects the human touch when arranging logistics: the business user.

Its unique selling point has not been just to provide a pain-free “agile” platform to make bookings, but for the platform’s human agents to be proactively pinging business users when there are modifications to a booking (for example because of flight delays), and offering help when needed to sort out the many aspects of modern travel that can be painful and time consuming for busy working people, such as technical issues around a frequent flyer program.

Lola.com is not the only one to spot the opportunity there. To further diversify its business and to move into higher-margin, bigger-ticket offerings, Airbnb has also been slowly building out its own travel platform targeting business customers by adding in hotels and room bookings.

There are others that are either hoping to bypass or complement existing services with their own takes on how to improve business travel such as TravelPerk (most recent raise: $44 million), Travelstop (an Asia-focused spin), and TripActions (most recently valued at $1 billion), to name a few. That speaks to an increasingly crowded market of players that are competing against incumbents like SAP, which owns Concur, Hipmunk and a plethora of other older services.

Lola.com has made some interesting headway in its own approach to the market, by partnering with one of the names most synonymous with corporate spending, American Express, and specifically a JV it is involved in called American Express Global Business Travel.

“Lola.com offers an incredibly simple solution to corporate travel management, which enables American Express Global Business Travel to take our value proposition to even more companies across the middle market,” said Evan Konwiser, VP of Product Strategy and Marketing for American Express GBT, in a statement.

Powered by WordPress | Theme: Aeros 2.0 by TheBuckmaker.com