Feb
05
2019
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Databricks raises $250M at a $2.75B valuation for its analytics platform

Databricks, the company founded by the original team behind the Apache Spark big data analytics engine, today announced that it has raised a $250 million Series E round led by Andreessen Horowitz. Coatue Management, Green Bay Ventures, Microsoft and NEA, also participated in this round, which brings the company’s total funding to $498.5 million. Microsoft’s involvement here is probably a bit of a surprise, but it’s worth noting that it also worked with Databricks on the launch of Azure Databricks as a first-party service on the platform, something that’s still a rarity in the Azure cloud.

As Databricks also today announced, its annual recurring revenue now exceeds $100 million. The company didn’t share whether it’s cash flow-positive at this point, but Databricks CEO and co-founder Ali Ghodsi shared that the company’s valuation is now $2.75 billion.

Current customers, which the company says number around 2,000, include the likes of Nielsen, Hotels.com, Overstock, Bechtel, Shell and HP.

“What Ali and the Databricks team have built is truly phenomenal,” Green Bay Ventures co-founder Anthony Schiller told me. “Their success is a testament to product innovation at the highest level. Databricks is without question best-in-class and their impact on the industry proves it. We were thrilled to participate in this round.”

While Databricks is obviously known for its contributions to Apache Spark, the company itself monetizes that work by offering its Unified Analytics platform on top of it. This platform allows enterprises to build their data pipelines across data storage systems and prepare data sets for data scientists and engineers. To do this, Databricks offers shared notebooks and tools for building, managing and monitoring data pipelines, and then uses that data to build machine learning models, for example. Indeed, training and deploying these models is one of the company’s focus areas these days, which makes sense, given that this is one of the main use cases for big data, after all.

On top of that, Databricks also offers a fully managed service for hosting all of these tools.

“Databricks is the clear winner in the big data platform race,” said Ben Horowitz, co-founder and general partner at Andreessen Horowitz, in today’s announcement. “In addition, they have created a new category atop their world-beating Apache Spark platform called Unified Analytics that is growing even faster. As a result, we are thrilled to invest in this round.”

Ghodsi told me that Horowitz was also instrumental in getting the company to re-focus on growth. The company was already growing fast, of course, but Horowitz asked him why Databricks wasn’t growing faster. Unsurprisingly, given that it’s an enterprise company, that means aggressively hiring a larger sales force — and that’s costly. Hence the company’s need to raise at this point.

As Ghodsi told me, one of the areas the company wants to focus on is the Asia Pacific region, where overall cloud usage is growing fast. The other area the company is focusing on is support for more verticals like mass media and entertainment, federal agencies and fintech firms, which also comes with its own cost, given that the experts there don’t come cheap.

Ghodsi likes to call this “boring AI,” since it’s not as exciting as self-driving cars. In his view, though, the enterprise companies that don’t start using machine learning now will inevitably be left behind in the long run. “If you don’t get there, there’ll be no place for you in the next 20 years,” he said.

Engineering, of course, will also get a chunk of this new funding, with an emphasis on relatively new products like MLFlow and Delta, two tools Databricks recently developed and that make it easier to manage the life cycle of machine learning models and build the necessary data pipelines to feed them.

Jan
23
2019
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Anchorage emerges with $17M from a16z for ‘omnimetric’ crypto security

I’m not allowed to tell you exactly how Anchorage keeps rich institutions from being robbed of their cryptocurrency, but the off-the-record demo was damn impressive. Judging by the $17 million Series A this security startup raised last year led by Andreessen Horowitz and joined by Khosla Ventures, #Angels, Max Levchin, Elad Gil, Mark McCombe of Blackrock and AngelList’s Naval Ravikant, I’m not the only one who thinks so. In fact, crypto funds like Andreessen’s a16z crypto, Paradigm and Electric Capital are already using it.

They’re trusting in the guys who engineered Square’s first encrypted card reader and Docker’s security protocols. “It’s less about us choosing this space and more about this space choosing us. If you look at our backgrounds and you look at the problem, it’s like the universe handed us on a silver platter the Venn diagram of our skill set,” co-founder Diogo Monica tells me.

Today, Anchorage is coming out of stealth and launching its cryptocurrency custody service to the public. Anchorage holds and safeguards crypto assets for institutions like hedge funds and venture firms, and only allows transactions verified by an array of biometrics, behavioral analysis and human reviewers. And because it doesn’t use “buried in the backyard” cold storage, asset holders can actually earn rewards and advantages for participating in coin-holder votes without fear of getting their Bitcoin, Ethereum or other coins stolen.

The result is a crypto custody service that could finally lure big-time commercial banks, endowments, pensions, mutual funds and hedgies into the blockchain world. Whether they seek short-term gains off of crypto volatility or want to HODL long-term while participating in coin governance, Anchorage promises to protect them.

Evolving past “pirate security”

Anchorage’s story starts eight years ago when Monica and his co-founder Nathan McCauley met after joining Square the same week. Monica had been getting a PhD in distributed systems while McCauley designed anti-reverse engineering tech to keep U.S. military data from being extracted from abandoned tanks or jets. After four years of building systems that would eventually move more than $80 billion per year in credit card transactions, they packaged themselves as a “pre-product acqui-hire” Monica tells me, and they were snapped up by Docker.

As their reputation grew from work and conference keynotes, cryptocurrency funds started reaching out for help with custody of their private keys. One had lost a passphrase and the $1 million in currency it was protecting in a display of jaw-dropping ignorance. The pair realized there were no true standards in crypto custody, so they got to work on Anchorage.

“You look at the status quo and it was and still is cold storage. It’s the same technology used by pirates in the 1700s,” Monica explains. “You bury your crypto in a treasure chest and then you make a treasure map of where those gold coins are,” except with USB keys, security deposit boxes and checklists. “We started calling it Pirate Custody.” Anchorage set out to develop something better — a replacement for usernames and passwords or even phone numbers and two-factor authentication that could be misplaced or hijacked.

This led them to Andreessen Horowitz partner and a16z crypto leader Chris Dixon, who’s now on their board. “We’ve been buying crypto assets running back to Bitcoin for years now here at a16z crypto. [Once you’re holding crypto,] it’s hard to do it in a way that’s secure, regulatory compliant, and lets you access it. We felt this pain point directly.”

Andreessen Horowitz partner and Anchorage board member Chris Dixon

It’s at this point in the conversation when Monica and McCauley give me their off-the-record demo. While there are no screenshots to share, the enterprise security suite they’ve built has the polish of a consumer app like Robinhood. What I can say is that Anchorage works with clients to whitelist employees’ devices. It then uses multiple types of biometric signals and behavioral analytics about the person and device trying to log in to verify their identity.

But even once they have access, Anchorage is built around quorum-based approvals. Withdrawals, other transactions and even changing employee permissions requires approval from multiple users inside the client company. They could set up Anchorage so it requires five of seven executives’ approval to pull out assets. And finally, outlier detection algorithms and a human review the transaction to make sure it looks legit. A hacker or rogue employee can’t steal the funds even if they’re logged in because they need consensus of approval.

That kind of assurance means institutional investors can confidently start to invest in crypto assets. That swell of capital could help replace the retreating consumer investors who’ve fled the market this year, leading to massive price drops. The liquidity provided by these asset managers could keep the whole blockchain industry moving. “Institutional investing has had centuries to build up a set of market infrastructure. Custody was something that for other asset classes was solved hundreds of years ago, so it’s just now catching up [for crypto],” says McCauley. “We’re creating a bigger market in and of itself,” Monica adds.

With Anchorage steadfastly handling custody, the risk these co-founders admit worries them lies in the smart contracts that govern the cryptocurrencies themselves. “We need to be extremely wide in our level of support and extremely deep because each blockchain has details of implementation. This is inherently a very difficult problem,” McCauley explains. It doesn’t matter if the coins are safe in Anchorage’s custody if a janky smart contract can botch their transfer.

There are plenty of startups vying to offer crypto custody, ranging from Bitgo and Ledger to well-known names like Coinbase and Gemini. Yet Anchorage offers a rare combination of institutional-since-day-one security rigor with the ability to participate in votes and governance of crypto assets that’s impossible if they’re in cold storage. Down the line, Anchorage hints that it might serve clients recommendations for how to vote to maximize their yield and preserve the sanctity of their coin.

They’ll have crypto investment legend Chris Dixon on their board to guide them. “What you’ll see is in the same way that institutional investors want to buy stock in Facebook and Google and Netflix, they’ll want to buy the equivalent in the world 10 years from now and do that safely,” Dixon tells me. “Anchorage will be that layer for them.”

But why do the Anchorage founders care so much about the problem? McCauley concludes that, “When we look at what’s potentially possible with crypto, there a fundamentally more accessible economy. We view ourselves as a key component of bringing that future forward.”

Nov
14
2018
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Meet Jennifer Tejada, the secret weapon of one of Silicon Valley’s fastest-growing enterprise software startups

PagerDuty, an eight-year-old, San Francisco-based company that sends companies information about their technology, doesn’t receive a fraction of the press that other fast-growing enterprise software companies receive. In fact, though it counts as customers heavyweight companies like Capital One, Spotify and Netflix; it employs 500 employees; and it has five offices around the world, it has largely operated out of the spotlight.

That’s changing. For one thing, the company is now a so-called unicorn, after raising $90 million in a September round led by Wellington and T. Rowe Price that brought its total funding to $173 million and its valuation to $1.3 billion. Crowded as the unicorn club may be these days, that number, and those backers, makes PagerDuty a startup of interest to a broader circle of industry watchers.

Another reason you’re likely to start hearing more about PagerDuty is its CEO of three years, Jennifer Tejada, who is rare in the world of enterprise startups because of her gender, but whose marketing background makes her even more of an anomaly — and an asset.

In a world that’s going digital fast, Tejada knows PagerDuty can appeal to a far wider array of customers by selling them a product they can understand.

It’s a trick she first learned at Proctor & Gamble, where she spent seven years after graduating from the University of Michigan with both a liberal arts and a business management degree. In fact, in her first tech job out of P&G, working for the bubble-era supply chain management startup I2 Technologies (it went public and was later acquired), Tejada says she became “director of dumb it down.”

Sitting in PagerDuty’s expansive second floor office space in San Francisco — space that the company will soon double by taking over the first floor — Tejada recalls acting “like a filter for very technical people who were very proud of the IP they’d created” but who couldn’t explain it to anyone without relying on jargon. “I was like, ‘How are you going to get someone to pay you $2 million for that?’”

Tejada found herself increasingly distilling the tech into plain English, so the businesspeople who have to sign big checks and “bet their careers on these investments” could understand what they were being pitched. She’s instilling that same ethos at PagerDuty, which was founded in 2009 to help businesses monitor their tech stacks, manage disruptions and alert engineers before things catch on fire but, under Tejada’s watch, is evolving into a service that flags opportunities for its customers, too.

As she tells it, the company’s technology doesn’t just give customers insights into their service ecosystem and their teams’ health, and it doesn’t just find other useful kernels, like about which operations teams are the most productive and why. PagerDuty is also helping its clients become proactive. The idea, she says, is that “if you see traffic spiking on a website, you can orchestrate a team of content marketers or growth hackers and get them in that traffic stream right then, instead of reading about it in a demand-gen report a week later, where you’re, like, ‘Great, we totally missed that opportunity.’”

The example is a bit analogous to what Tejada herself brings to the table, which includes strong people skills (she’s very funny) and a knack for understanding what consumers want to hear, but also a deep understanding of financing and enterprise software.

As corny as it sounds, Tejada seems to have been working toward her current career her whole life.

Not that, like the rest of us, she knew exactly what she was doing at all times. On the contrary, one part of her path started when, after spending four years as the VP of global marketing for I2 — four years during which the dot-com bubble expanded wildly, then popped — Tejada quit her job, went home for the holidays and, while her baffled family looked on, booked a round-trip ticket to Australia to get away and learn about yachts.

She left the experience not only with her skipper certification but in a relationship with her now-husband of 16 years, an Australian with whom she settled in Sydney for roughly 12 years.

There, she worked for a private equity firm, then joined Telecom New Zealand as its chief marketing officer for a couple of years, then landed soon after at an enterprise software company that catered to asset-intensive industries, including mining, as its chief strategy officer. When that private-equity backed company was sold, Tejada took a breath, then was recruited to lead, for the first time, another company: Keynote Systems, a publicly traded internet and mobile cloud testing and monitoring company that she steered to a sale to the private equity firm Thomas Bravo a couple of years later.

The move gave her an opportunity to spend time with her now teenage daughter and husband, but she also didn’t have a job for the first time in many years, and Tejada seems to like work. Indeed, within one year, after talking with investors who’d gotten to know her over the years, as well as eager recruiters, Tejada —  who says she is “not a founder but a great adoptive parent” — settled on the 50th of 51 companies she was asked to consider joining. It was PagerDuty.

She has been overseeing wild growth ever since. The company now counts more than half of the Fortune 50 as its customers. It has also doubled its headcount a couple of times since she joined roughly 28 months ago, and many of its employees (upwards of 43 percent) are now women, as well as engineers from more diverse backgrounds than you might see at a typical Silicon Valley startup.

That’s no accident. Diversity breeds diversity, in Tejada’s view, and diversity is good for business.

“I wouldn’t say we market to women,” offers Tejada, who says diversity to her is not just about gender but also age and ethnic background and lifestyle choice and location and upbringing (and functional expertise).

“We’ve made a conscious effort to build an inclusive culture where all kinds of people want to work. And you send that message out into the market, there’s a lot of people who hear it and wonder if it could possibly be true. And then they come to a PagerDuty event, or they come into the office, and they see something different than they’ve seen before. They see people they can relate to.”

Why does it matter when it comes to writing code? For one thing, because a big part of coding is problem-solving, says Tejada. “When you have people from diverse backgrounds chunking through a big hairy problem together, those different perspectives will get you to a more insightful answer.” Tejada also believes there’s too much bias in application development and user experience. “There’s a lot of gobbledygook in our app that lots of developers totally understand but that isn’t accessible to everyone — men, women, different functional types of users, people of a different age. Like, how accessible is our mobile app to someone who’s not a native-first mobile user, who started out on an analog phone, moved to a giant desktop, then to a laptop and is now using a phone? You have to think about the accessibility of your design in that regard, too.”

What about the design of PagerDuty’s funding? We ask Tejada about the money PagerDuty raised a couple of months ago, and what it means for the company.

Unsurprisingly, as to whether the company plans to go public any time soon, her answers are variously, “I’m just building an enduring company,” and, “We’re still enjoying the benefits of being a private company.”

But Tejada also seems mindful of not raising more money for PagerDuty than it needs to scale, even while there’s an ocean of capital surrounding it.

“Going back to the early ’90s, in my career I have not seen a market where there has been more ready availability to capital, between tax reforms and sovereign cash and big corporates and low interest rates and huge venture funds, not to mention the increased willingness of big institutional investors to become LPs.” But even while the “underlying drivers and secular trends and leading indicators” suggest a healthy market for SaaS technology for a long time to come, that “doesn’t mean the labor markets are going to stay the same. It doesn’t mean the geopolitical environments are not going to change. When you let the scarcity issue in the market drive your valuation, you’re also responsible for growing into that valuation, no matter what happens in the macro environment.”

Where Tejada doesn’t necessarily want to be so measured is when it comes to PagerDuty’s place in its market. And that can be challenging as the company gains more traction — and more attention.

“If you do the right thing for your customers, and you do the right thing by your employees, all the rest will fall into place,” she says. “But the minute you take your eye off the ball, the minute you don’t earn the trust of your customer every day, the minute you stop innovating in service of them, you’re gonna start going backwards,” she says with a shrug.

Tejada recalls a conversation she had with her executive team last week, including with Alex Solomon, the company’s CTO and the one of three PagerDuty founders who remains actively engaged with the company. (Co-founder Andrew Miklas moved on to venture capital last year; Baskar Puvanathasan meanwhile left the company in March.) “They probably wanted to kill me,” she says laughing. “I told them I don’t think we’re disrupting ourselves enough. They’re like, ‘Jenn, let up.’ But that’s what happens to companies. They have their first success and they miss that second wave or third wave, and the next thing you know, you’re Kodak.”

PagerDuty, she says, “is not going to be Kodak.”

Sep
06
2018
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PagerDuty raises $90M to wake up more engineers in the middle of the night

PagerDuty, the popular service that helps businesses monitor their tech stacks, manage incidents and alert engineers when things go sideways, today announced that it has raised a $90 million Series D round at a valuation of $1.3 billion. With this, PagerDuty, which was founded in 2009, has now raised well over $170 million.

The round was led by T. Rowe Price Associates and Wellington Management . Accel, Andreessen Horowitz and Bessemer Venture Partners participated. Given the leads in this round, chances are that PagerDuty is gearing up for an IPO.

“This capital infusion allows us to continue our investments in innovation that leverages artificial intelligence and machine learning, enabling us to help our customers transform their companies and delight their customers,” said Jennifer Tejada, CEO at PagerDuty in today’s announcement. “From a business standpoint, we can strengthen our investment in and development of our people, our most valuable asset, as we scale our operations globally. We’re well positioned to make the lives of digital workers better by elevating work to the outcomes that matter.”

Currently PagerDuty users include the likes of GE, Capital One, IBM, Spotify and virtually every other software company you’ve ever heard of. In total, more than 10,500 enterprises now use the service. While it’s best known for its alerting capabilities, PagerDuty has expanded well beyond that over the years, though it’s still a core part of its service. Earlier this year, for example, the company announced its new AIOps services that aim to help businesses reduce the amount of noisy and unnecessary alerts. I’m sure there’s a lot of engineers who are quite happy about that (and now sleep better).

Aug
28
2018
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Very Good Security makes data ‘unhackable’ with $8.5M from Andreessen

“You can’t hack what isn’t there,” Very Good Security co-founder Mahmoud Abdelkader tells me. His startup assumes the liability of storing sensitive data for other companies, substituting dummy credit card or Social Security numbers for the real ones. Then when the data needs to be moved or operated on, VGS injects the original info without clients having to change their code.

It’s essentially a data bank that allows businesses to stop storing confidential info under their unsecured mattress. Or you could think of it as Amazon Web Services for data instead of servers. Given all the high-profile breaches of late, it’s clear that many companies can’t be trusted to house sensitive data. Andreessen Horowitz is betting that they’d rather leave it to an expert.

That’s why the famous venture firm is leading an $8.5 million Series A for VGS, and its partner Alex Rampell is joining the board. The round also includes NYCA, Vertex Ventures, Slow Ventures and PayPal mafioso Max Levchin. The cash builds on VGS’ $1.4 million seed round, and will pay for its first big marketing initiative and more salespeople.

“Hey! Stop doing this yourself!,” Abdelkader asserts. “Put it on VGS and we’ll let you operate on your data as if you possess it with none of the liability.” While no data is ever 100 percent unhackable, putting it in VGS’ meticulously secured vaults means clients don’t have to become security geniuses themselves and instead can focus on what’s unique to their business.

“Privacy is a part of the UN Declaration of Human Rights. We should be able to build innovative applications without sacrificing our privacy and security,” says Abdelkader. He got his start in the industry by reverse-engineering games like StarCraft to build cheats and trainer software. But after studying discrete mathematics, cryptology and number theory, he craved a headier challenge.

Abdelkader co-founded Y Combinator-backed payment system Balanced in 2010, which also raised cash from Andreessen. But out-muscled by Stripe, Balanced shut down in 2015. While transitioning customers over to fellow YC alumni Stripe, Balanced received interest from other companies wanting it to store their data so they could be PCI-compliant.

Very Good Security co-founder and CEO Mahmoud Abdelkader

Now Abdelkader and his VP from Balanced, Marshall Jones, have returned with VGS to sell that as a service. It’s targeting startups that handle data like payment card information, Social Security numbers and medical info, though eventually it could invade the larger enterprise market. It can quickly help these clients achieve compliance certifications for PCI, SOC2, EI3PA, HIPAA and other standards.

VGS’ innovation comes in replacing this data with “format preserving aliases” that are privacy safe. “Your app code doesn’t know the difference between this and actually sensitive data,” Abdelkader explains. In 30 minutes of integration, apps can be reworked to route traffic through VGS without ever talking to a salesperson. VGS locks up the real strings and sends the aliases to you instead, then intercepts those aliases and swaps them with the originals when necessary.

“We don’t actually see your data that you vault on VGS,” Abdelkader tells me. “It’s basically modeled after prison. The valuables are stored in isolation.” That means a business’ differentiator is their business logic, not the way they store data.

For example, fintech startup LendUp works with VGS to issue virtual credit card numbers that are replaced with fake numbers in LendUp’s databases. That way if it’s hacked, users’ don’t get their cards stolen. But when those card numbers are sent to a processor to actually make a payment, the real card numbers are subbed in last-minute.

VGS charges per data record and operation, with the first 500 records and 100,000 sensitive API calls free; $20 a month gets clients double that, and then they pay 4 cent per record and 2 cents per operation. VGS provides access to insurance too, working with a variety of underwriters. It starts with $1 million policies that can be much larger for Fortune 500s and other big companies, which might want $20 million per incident.

Obviously, VGS has to be obsessive about its own security. A breach of its vaults could kill its brand. “I don’t sleep. I worry I’ll miss something. Are we a giant honey pot?,” Abdelkader wonders. “We’ve invested a significant amount of our money into 24/7 monitoring for intrusions.”

Beyond the threat of hackers, VGS also has to battle with others picking away at part of its stack or trying to compete with the whole, like TokenEx, HP’s Voltage, Thales’ Vormetric, Oracle and more. But it’s do-it-yourself security that’s the status quo and what VGS is really trying to disrupt.

But VGS has a big accruing advantage. Each time it works with a clients’ partners like Experian or TransUnion for a company working with credit checks, it already has a relationship with them the next time another clients has to connect with these partners. Abdelkader hopes that, “Effectively, we become a standard of data security and privacy. All the institutions will just say ‘why don’t you use VGS?’”

That standard only works if it’s constantly evolving to win the cat-and-mouse game versus attackers. While a company is worrying about the particular value it adds to the world, these intelligent human adversaries can find a weak link in their security — costing them a fortune and ruining their relationships. “I’m selling trust,” Abdelkader concludes. That peace of mind is often worth the price.

Mar
10
2017
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Google partners with VCs to host its own machine learning startup competition

 On the heels of acquiring data science community Kaggle, Google is launching a machine learning competition of its own for startups. Google is targeting early-stage companies taking an innovative approach to machine learning. The competition is being run in partnership with seven venture capital firms. Read More

Jan
20
2016
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Instart Logic Raises $45M Series D Round For Its Application Delivery Platform

2016-01-19_1549 Application delivery platform Instart Logic today announced that it has raised a $45 million Series D round. The round was led by a new investor, the late-stage fund Geodesic Capital. Other participants in this round include existing investors Hermes Growth Partners, Andreessen Horowitz, Four Rivers Group, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, and Tenaya Capital. Telstra Ventures, the venture… Read More

Dec
10
2015
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ItsOn Raises $12.5M From Verizon, A16Z, More To Help Carriers Sell Tailored Data Services

Screen Shot 2015-12-10 at 12.19.37 Mobile carriers are looking for ways to catch some of the growth in smartphone usage beyond their basic role as network providers, and that trend is having a knock-on effect on startups that help those carriers: ItsOn, a cloud-based platform founded by ex-Qualcomm, Nokia and Yahoo execs that helps carriers configure, market and sell mobile services on the fly, has raised a further $12.5… Read More

May
19
2015
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Meteor Raises $20M To Build The One JavaScript Stack To Rule Them All

Meteor framework The competitive landscape for app development tool providers continues to become tighter, with Meteor Development Group raising $20 million for its stack of frameworks and tools for developing web and mobile applications in JavaScript. Read More

May
06
2015
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Zenefits Just Raised $500 Million At A $4.5 Billion Valuation

zenefits Zenefits today said it has raised $500 million in a round led by Fidelity and TPG at a whopping $4.5 billion valuation. The company, which allows small- and medium-sized businesses to manage human resources services in a much simpler fashion, is one of the fastest-growing SaaS businesses ever, and in an interview, Zenefits CEO Parker Conrad said the big round was raised to keep the company… Read More

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