Dec
16
2020
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Hightouch raises $2.1M to help businesses get more value from their data warehouses

Hightouch, a SaaS service that helps businesses sync their customer data across sales and marketing tools, is coming out of stealth and announcing a $2.1 million seed round. The round was led by Afore Capital and Slack Fund, with a number of angel investors also participating.

At its core, Hightouch, which participated in Y Combinator’s Summer 2019 batch, aims to solve the customer data integration problems that many businesses today face.

During their time at Segment, Hightouch co-founders Tejas Manohar and Josh Curl witnessed the rise of data warehouses like Snowflake, Google’s BigQuery and Amazon Redshift — that’s where a lot of Segment data ends up, after all. As businesses adopt data warehouses, they now have a central repository for all of their customer data. Typically, though, this information is then only used for analytics purposes. Together with former Bessemer Ventures investor Kashish Gupta, the team decided to see how they could innovate on top of this trend and help businesses activate all of this information.

hightouch founders

HighTouch co-founders Kashish Gupta, Josh Curl and Tejas Manohar.

“What we found is that, with all the customer data inside of the data warehouse, it doesn’t make sense for it to just be used for analytics purposes — it also makes sense for these operational purposes like serving different business teams with the data they need to run things like marketing campaigns — or in product personalization,” Manohar told me. “That’s the angle that we’ve taken with Hightouch. It stems from us seeing the explosive growth of the data warehouse space, both in terms of technology advancements as well as like accessibility and adoption. […] Our goal is to be seen as the company that makes the warehouse not just for analytics but for these operational use cases.”

It helps that all of the big data warehousing platforms have standardized on SQL as their query language — and because the warehousing services have already solved the problem of ingesting all of this data, Hightouch doesn’t have to worry about this part of the tech stack either. And as Curl added, Snowflake and its competitors never quite went beyond serving the analytics use case either.

Image Credits: Hightouch

As for the product itself, Hightouch lets users create SQL queries and then send that data to different destinations — maybe a CRM system like Salesforce or a marketing platform like Marketo — after transforming it to the format that the destination platform expects.

Expert users can write their own SQL queries for this, but the team also built a graphical interface to help non-developers create their own queries. The core audience, though, is data teams — and they, too, will likely see value in the graphical user interface because it will speed up their workflows as well. “We want to empower the business user to access whatever models and aggregation the data user has done in the warehouse,” Gupta explained.

The company is agnostic to how and where its users want to operationalize their data, but the most common use cases right now focus on B2C companies, where marketing teams often use the data, as well as sales teams at B2B companies.

Image Credits: Hightouch

“It feels like there’s an emerging category here of tooling that’s being built on top of a data warehouse natively, rather than being a standard SaaS tool where it is its own data store and then you manage a secondary data store,” Curl said. “We have a class of things here that connect to a data warehouse and make use of that data for operational purposes. There’s no industry term for that yet, but we really believe that that’s the future of where data engineering is going. It’s about building off this centralized platform like Snowflake, BigQuery and things like that.”

“Warehouse-native,” Manohar suggested as a potential name here. We’ll see if it sticks.

Hightouch originally raised its round after its participation in the Y Combinator demo day but decided not to disclose it until it felt like it had found the right product/market fit. Current customers include the likes of Retool, Proof, Stream and Abacus, in addition to a number of significantly larger companies the team isn’t able to name publicly.

Dec
08
2020
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SingleStore, formerly MemSQL, raises $80M to integrate and leverage companies’ disparate data silos

While the enterprise world likes to talk about “big data”, that term belies the real state of how data exists for many organizations: the truth of the matter is that it’s often very fragmented, living in different places and on different systems, making the concept of analysing and using it in a single, effective way a huge challenge.

Today, one of the big up-and-coming startups that has built a platform to get around that predicament is announcing a significant round of funding, a sign of the demand for its services and its success so far in executing on that.

SingleStore, which provides a SQL-based platform to help enterprises manage, parse and use data that lives in silos across multiple cloud and on-premise environments — a key piece of work needed to run applications in risk, fraud prevention, customer user experience, real-time reporting and real-time insights, fast dashboards, data warehouse augmentation, modernization for data warehouses and data architectures and faster insights — has picked up $80 million in funding, a Series E round that brings in new strategic investors alongside its existing list of backers.

The round is being led by Insight Partners, with new backers Dell Technologies Capital, Hercules Capital; and previous backers Accel, Anchorage, Glynn Capital, GV (formerly Google Ventures) and Rev IV also participating.

Alongside the investment, SingleStore is formally announcing a new partnership with analytics powerhouse SAS. I say “formally” because they two have been working together already and it’s resulted in “tremendous uptake,” CEO Raj Verma said in an interview over email.

Verma added that the round came out of inbound interest, not its own fundraising efforts, and as such, it brings the total amount of cash it has on hand to $140 million. The gives the startup money to play with not only to invest in hiring, R&D and business development, but potentially also M&A, given that the market right now seems to be in a period of consolidation.

Verma said the valuation is a “significant upround” compared to its Series D in 2018 but didn’t disclose the figure. PitchBook notes that at the time it was valued at $270 million post-money.

When I last spoke with the startup in May of this year — when it announced a debt facility of $50 million — it was not called SingleStore; it was MemSQL. The company rebranded at the end of October to the new name, but Verma said that the change was a long time in the planning.

“The name change is one of the first conversations I had when I got here,” he said about when he joined the company in 2019 (he’s been there for about 16 months). “The [former] name didn’t exactly flow off the tongue and we found that it no longer suited us, we found ourselves in a tiny shoebox of an offering, in saying our name is MemSQL we were telling our prospects to think of us as in-memory and SQL. SQL we didn’t have a problem with but we had outgrown in-memory years ago. That was really only 5% of our current revenues.”

He also mentioned the hang up many have with in-memory database implementations: they tend to be expensive. “So this implied high TCO, which couldn’t have been further from the truth,” he said. “Typically we are ?-? the cost of what a competitive product would be to implement. We were doing ourselves a disservice with prospects and buyers.”

The company liked the name SingleStore because it is based a conceptual idea of its proprietary technology. “We wanted a name that could be a verb. Down the road we hope that when someone asks large enterprises what they do with their data, they will say that they ‘SingleStore It!’ That is the vision. The north star is that we can do all types of data without workload segmentation,” he said.

That effort is being done at a time when there is more competition than ever before in the space. Others also providing tools to manage and run analytics and other work on big data sets include Amazon, Microsoft, Snowflake, PostgreSQL, MySQL and more.

SingleStore is not disclosing any metrics on its growth at the moment but says it has thousands of enterprise customers. Some of the more recent names it’s disclosed include GE, IEX Cloud, Go Guardian, Palo Alto Networks, EOG Resources, SiriusXM + Pandora, with partners including Infosys, HCL and NextGen.

“As industry after industry reinvents itself using software, there will be accelerating market demand for predictive applications that can only be powered by fast, scalable, cloud-native database systems like SingleStore’s,” said Lonne Jaffe, managing director at Insight Partners, in a statement. “Insight Partners has spent the past 25 years helping transformational software companies rapidly scale-up, and we’re looking forward to working with Raj and his management team as they bring SingleStore’s highly differentiated technology to customers and partners across the world.”

“Across industries, SAS is running some of the most demanding and sophisticated machine learning workloads in the world to help organizations make the best decisions. SAS continues to innovate in AI and advanced analytics, and we partner with companies like SingleStore that share our curiosity about how data and analytics can help organizations reimagine their businesses and change the world,” said Oliver Schabenberger, COO and CTO at SAS, added. “Our engineering teams are integrating SingleStore’s scalable SQL-based database platform with the massively parallel analytics engine SAS Viya. We are excited to work with SingleStore to improve performance, reduce cost, and enable our customers to be at the forefront of analytics and decisioning.”

Dec
03
2020
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Microsoft launches Azure Purview, its new data governance service

As businesses gather, store and analyze an ever-increasing amount of data, tools for helping them discover, catalog, track and manage how that data is shared are also becoming increasingly important. With Azure Purview, Microsoft is launching a new data governance service into public preview today that brings together all of these capabilities in a new data catalog with discovery and data governance features.

As Rohan Kumar, Microsoft’s corporate VP for Azure Data, told me, this has become a major pain point for enterprises. While they may be very excited about getting started with data-heavy technologies like predictive analytics, those companies’ data and privacy-focused executives are very concerned to make sure that the way the data is used is compliant or that the company has received the right permissions to use its customers’ data, for example.

In addition, companies also want to make sure that they can trust their data and know who has access to it and who made changes to it.

“[Purview] is a unified data governance platform which automates the discovery of data, cataloging of data, mapping of data, lineage tracking — with the intention of giving our customers a very good understanding of the breadth of the data estate that exists to begin with, and also to ensure that all these regulations that are there for compliance, like GDPR, CCPA, etc, are managed across an entire data estate in ways which enable you to make sure that they don’t violate any regulation,” Kumar explained.

At the core of Purview is its catalog that can pull in data from the usual suspects, like Azure’s various data and storage services, but also third-party data stores, including Amazon’s S3 storage service and on-premises SQL Server. Over time, the company will add support for more data sources.

Kumar described this process as a “multi-semester investment,” so the capabilities the company is rolling out today are only a small part of what’s on the overall road map already. With this first release today, the focus is on mapping a company’s data estate.

Image Credits: Microsoft

“Next [on the road map] is more of the governance policies,” Kumar said. “Imagine if you want to set things like ‘if there’s any PII data across any of my data stores, only this group of users has access to it.’ Today, setting up something like that is extremely complex and most likely you’ll get it wrong. That’ll be as simple as setting a policy inside of Purview.”

In addition to launching Purview, the Azure team also today launched into general availability Azure Synapse, Microsoft’s next-generation data warehousing and analytics service. The idea behind Synapse is to give enterprises — and their engineers and data scientists — a single platform that brings together data integration, warehousing and big data analytics.

“With Synapse, we have this one product that gives a completely no-code experience for data engineers, as an example, to build out these [data] pipelines and collaborate very seamlessly with the data scientists who are building out machine learning models, or the business analysts who build out reports for things like Power BI.”

Among Microsoft’s marquee customers for the service, which Kumar described as one of the fastest-growing Azure services right now, are FedEx, Walgreens, Myntra and P&G.

“The insights we gain from continuous analysis help us optimize our network,” said Sriram Krishnasamy, senior vice president, strategic programs at FedEx Services. “So as FedEx moves critical high-value shipments across the globe, we can often predict whether that delivery will be disrupted by weather or traffic and remediate that disruption by routing the delivery from another location.”

Image Credits: Microsoft

Sep
15
2020
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Data virtualization service Varada raises $12M

Varada, a Tel Aviv-based startup that focuses on making it easier for businesses to query data across services, today announced that it has raised a $12 million Series A round led by Israeli early-stage fund MizMaa Ventures, with participation by Gefen Capital.

“If you look at the storage aspect for big data, there’s always innovation, but we can put a lot of data in one place,” Varada CEO and co-founder Eran Vanounou told me. “But translating data into insight? It’s so hard. It’s costly. It’s slow. It’s complicated.”

That’s a lesson he learned during his time as CTO of LivePerson, which he described as a classic big data company. And just like at LivePerson, where the team had to reinvent the wheel to solve its data problems, again and again, every company — and not just the large enterprises — now struggles with managing their data and getting insights out of it, Vanounou argued.

varada architecture diagram

Image Credits: Varada

The rest of the founding team, David Krakov, Roman Vainbrand and Tal Ben-Moshe, already had a lot of experience in dealing with these problems, too, with Ben-Moshe having served at the chief software architect of Dell EMC’s XtremIO flash array unit, for example. They built the system for indexing big data that’s at the core of Varada’s platform (with the open-source Presto SQL query engine being one of the other cornerstones).

Image Credits: Varada

Essentially, Varada embraces the idea of data lakes and enriches that with its indexing capabilities. And those indexing capabilities is where Varada’s smarts can be found. As Vanounou explained, the company is using a machine learning system to understand when users tend to run certain workloads, and then caches the data ahead of time, making the system far faster than its competitors.

“If you think about big organizations and think about the workloads and the queries, what happens during the morning time is different from evening time. What happened yesterday is not what happened today. What happened on a rainy day is not what happened on a shiny day. […] We listen to what’s going on and we optimize. We leverage the indexing technology. We index what is needed when it is needed.”

That helps speed up queries, but it also means less data has to be replicated, which also brings down the cost. As MizMaa’s Aaron Applbaum noted, since Varada is not a SaaS solution, the buyers still get all of the discounts from their cloud providers, too.

In addition, the system can allocate resources intelligently so that different users can tap into different amounts of bandwidth. You can tell it to give customers more bandwidth than your financial analysts, for example.

“Data is growing like crazy: in volume, in scale, in complexity, in who requires it and what the business intelligence uses are, what the API uses are,” Applbaum said when I asked him why he decided to invest. “And compute is getting slightly cheaper, but not really, and storage is getting cheaper. So if you can make the trade-off to store more stuff, and access things more intelligently, more quickly, more agile — that was the basis of our thesis, as long as you can do it without compromising performance.”

Varada, with its team of experienced executives, architects and engineers, ticked a lot of the company’s boxes in this regard, but he also noted that unlike some other Israeli startups, the team understood that it had to listen to customers and understand their needs, too.

“In Israel, you have a history — and it’s become less and less the case — but historically, there’s a joke that it’s ‘ready, fire, aim.’ You build a technology, you’ve got this beautiful thing and you’re like, ‘alright, we did it,’ but without listening to the needs of the customer,” he explained.

The Varada team is not afraid to compare itself to Snowflake, which at least at first glance seems to make similar promises. Vananou praised the company for opening up the data warehousing market and proving that people are willing to pay for good analytics. But he argues that Varada’s approach is fundamentally different.

“We embrace the data lake. So if you are Mr. Customer, your data is your data. We’re not going to take it, move it, copy it. This is your single source of truth,” he said. And in addition, the data can stay in the company’s virtual private cloud. He also argues that Varada isn’t so much focused on the business users but the technologists inside a company.

 

Aug
06
2020
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Mode raises $33M to supercharge its analytics platform for data scientists

Data science is the name of the game these days for companies that want to improve their decision making by tapping the information they are already amassing in their apps and other systems. And today, a startup called Mode Analytics, which has built a platform incorporating machine learning, business intelligence and big data analytics to help data scientists fulfill that task, is announcing $33 million in funding to continue making its platform ever more sophisticated.

Most recently, for example, the company has started to introduce tools (including SQL and Python tutorials) for less technical users, specifically those in product teams, so that they can structure queries that data scientists can subsequently execute faster and with more complete responses — important for the many follow-up questions that arise when a business intelligence process has been run. Mode claims that its tools can help produce answers to data queries in minutes.

This Series D is being led by SaaS specialist investor H.I.G. Growth Partners, with previous investors Valor Equity Partners, Foundation Capital, REV Venture Partners and Switch Ventures all participating. Valor led Mode’s Series C in February 2019, while Foundation and REV respectively led its A and B rounds.

Mode is not disclosing its valuation, but co-founder and CEO Derek Steer confirmed in an interview that it was “absolutely” an up-round.

For some context, PitchBook notes that last year its valuation was $106 million. The company now has a customer list that it says covers 52% of the Forbes 500, including Anheuser-Busch, Zillow, Lyft, Bloomberg, Capital One, VMware and Conde Nast. It says that to date it has processed 830 million query runs and 170 million notebook cell runs for 300,000 users. (Pricing is based on a freemium model, with a free “Studio” tier and Business and Enterprise tiers priced based on size and use.)

Mode has been around since 2013, when it was co-founded by Steer, Benn Stancil (Mode’s current president) and Josh Ferguson (initially the CTO and now chief architect).

Steer said the impetus for the startup came out of gaps in the market that the three had found through years of experience at other companies.

Specifically, when all three were working together at Yammer (they were early employees and stayed on after the Microsoft acquisition), they were part of a larger team building custom data analytics tools for Yammer. At the time, Steer said Yammer was paying $1 million per year to subscribe to Vertica (acquired by HP in 2011) to run it.

They saw an opportunity to build a platform that could provide similar kinds of tools — encompassing things like SQL Editors, Notebooks and reporting tools and dashboards — to a wider set of users.

“We and other companies like Facebook and Google were building analytics internally,” Steer recalled, “and we knew that the world wanted to work more like these tech companies. That’s why we started Mode.”

All the same, he added, “people were not clear exactly about what a data scientist even was.”

Indeed, Mode’s growth so far has mirrored that of the rise of data science overall, as the discipline of data science, and the business case for employing data scientists to help figure out what is “going on” beyond the day to day, getting answers by tapping all the data that’s being amassed in the process of just doing business. That means Mode’s addressable market has also been growing.

But even if the trove of potential buyers of Mode’s products has been growing, so has the opportunity overall. There has been a big swing in data science and big data analytics in the last several years, with a number of tech companies building tools to help those who are less technical “become data scientists” by introducing more intuitive interfaces like drag-and-drop features and natural language queries.

They include the likes of Sisense (which has been growing its analytics power with acquisitions like Periscope Data), Eigen (focusing on specific verticals like financial and legal queries), Looker (acquired by Google) and Tableau (acquired by Salesforce).

Mode’s approach up to now has been closer to that of another competitor, Alteryx, focusing on building tools that are still aimed primarily at helping data scientists themselves. You have any number of database tools on the market today, Steer noted, “Snowflake, Redshift, BigQuery, Databricks, take your pick.” The key now is in providing tools to those using those databases to do their work faster and better.

That pitch and the success of how it executes on it is what has given the company success both with customers and investors.

“Mode goes beyond traditional Business Intelligence by making data faster, more flexible and more customized,” said Scott Hilleboe, managing director, H.I.G. Growth Partners, in a statement. “The Mode data platform speeds up answers to complex business problems and makes the process more collaborative, so that everyone can build on the work of data analysts. We believe the company’s innovations in data analytics uniquely position it to take the lead in the Decision Science marketplace.”

Steer said that fundraising was planned long before the coronavirus outbreak to start in February, which meant that it was timed as badly as it could have been. Mode still raised what it wanted to in a couple of months — “a good raise by any standard,” he noted — even if it’s likely that the valuation suffered a bit in the process. “Pitching while the stock market is tanking was terrifying and not something I would repeat,” he added.

Given how many acquisitions there have been in this space, Steer confirmed that Mode too has been approached a number of times, but it’s staying put for now. (And no, he wouldn’t tell me who has been knocking, except to say that it’s large companies for whom analytics is an “adjacency” to bigger businesses, which is to say, the very large tech companies have approached Mode.)

“The reason we haven’t considered any acquisition offers is because there is just so much room,” Steer said. “I feel like this market is just getting started, and I would only consider an exit if I felt like we were handicapped by being on our own. But I think we have a lot more growing to do.”

Jul
23
2020
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Quantexa raises $64.7M to bring big data intelligence to risk analysis and investigations

The wider field of cybersecurity — not just defending networks, but identifying fraudulent activity — has seen a big boost in activity in the last few months, and that’s no surprise. The global health pandemic has led to more interactions and transactions moving online, and the contractions we’re feeling across the economy and society have led some to take more desperate and illegal actions, using digital challenges to do it.

Today, a U.K. company called Quantexa — which has built a machine learning platform branded “Contextual Decision Intelligence” (CDI) that analyses disparate data points to get better insight into nefarious activity, as well as to (more productively) build better profiles of a company’s entire customer base — is raising a growth round of funding to address that opportunity.

The London-based startup has picked up $64.7 million, a Series C it will be using to continue building out both its tools and the use cases for applying them, as well as expanding geographically, specifically in North America, Asia-Pacific and more European territories.

The mission, said Vishal Marria, Quantexa’s founder and CEO, is to “connect the dots to make better business decisions.”

The startup built its business on the back of doing work for major banks and others in the financial services sector, and Marria added that the plan will be to continue enhancing tools for that vertical while also expanding into two growing opportunities: working with insurance and government/public sector organizations.

The backers in this round speak to how Quantexa positions itself in the market, and the traction it’s seen to date for its business. It’s being led by Evolution Equity Partners — a VC that specialises in innovative cybersecurity startups — with participation also from previous backers Dawn Capital, AlbionVC, HSBC and Accenture, as well as new backers ABN AMRO Ventures. HSBC, Accenture and ABN AMRO are all strategic investors working directly with the startup in their businesses.

Altogether, Quantexa has “thousands of users” across 70+ countries, it said, with additional large enterprises, including Standard Chartered, OFX and Dunn & Bradstreet.

The company has now raised some $90 million to date, and reliable sources close to the company tell us that the valuation is “well north” of $250 million — which to me sounds like it’s between $250 million and $300 million.

Marria said in an interview that he initially got the idea for Quantexa — which I believe may be a creative portmanteau of “quantum” and “context” — when he was working as an executive director at Ernst & Young and saw “many challenges with investigations” in the financial services industry.

“Is this a money launderer?” is the basic question that investigators aim to answer, but they were going about it, “using just a sliver of information,” he said. “I thought to myself, this is bonkers. There must be a better way.”

That better way, as built by Quantexa, is to solve it in the classic approach of tapping big data and building AI algorithms that help, in Marria’s words, connect the dots.

As an example, typically, an investigation needs to do significantly more than just track the activity of one individual or one shell company, and you need to seek out the most unlikely connections between a number of actions in order to build up an accurate picture. When you think about it, trying to identify, track, shut down and catch a large money launderer (a typical use case for Quantexa’s software) is a classic big data problem.

While there is a lot of attention these days on data protection and security breaches that leak sensitive customer information, Quantexa’s approach, Marria said, is to sell software, not ingest proprietary data into its engine to provide insights. He said that these days deployments typically either are done on premises or within private clouds, rather than using public cloud infrastructure, and that when Quantexa provides data to complement its customers’ data, it comes from publicly available sources (for example, Companies House filings in the U.K.).

There are a number of companies offering services in the same general area as Quantexa. They include those that present themselves more as business intelligence platforms that help detect fraud (such as Looker) through to those that are secretive and present themselves as AI businesses working behind the scenes for enterprises and governments to solve tough challenges, such as Palantir, through to others focusing specifically on some of the use cases for the technology, such as ComplyAdvantage and its focus on financial fraud detection.

Marria says that it has a few key differentiators from these. First is how its software works at scale: “It comes back to entity resolution that [calculations] can be done in real time and at batch,” he said. “And this is a platform, software that is easily deployed and configured at a much lower total cost of ownership. It is tech and that’s quite important in the current climate.”

And that is what has resonated with investors.

“Quantexa’s proprietary platform heralds a new generation of decision intelligence technology that uses a single contextual view of customers to profoundly improve operational decision making and overcome big data challenges,” said Richard Seewald, founding and managing partner of Evolution, in a statement. “Its impressive rapid growth, renowned client base and potential to build further value across so many sectors make Quantexa a fantastic partner whose team I look forward to working with.” Seewald is joining the board with this round.

Jul
02
2020
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SEC filing indicates big data provider Palantir is raising $961M, $550M of it already secured

Palantir, the sometimes controversial, but always secretive, big data and analytics provider that works with governments and other public and private organizations to power national security, health and a variety of other services, has reportedly been eyeing a public listing this autumn. But in the meantime it’s also continuing to push ahead in the private markets.

The company has filed a Form D — its first in four years — indicating that it is in the process of raising nearly $1 billion — $961,099,010, to be exact — with $549,727,437 of that already sold, and a further $411,371,573 remaining to be raised.

(A Reuters report from June confirmed that Palantir had closed funding from two strategic investors that both work with the company: $500 million from Japanese insurance company Sompo Holdings, and $50 million from Fujitsu. Together, it seems like these might account for $550 million noted as already sold on the Form D.)

The Form D also notes that 58 investors are already attached to the offering, and that “of the total remaining to be sold, all but $671,576.25 represents shares of common stock already subscribed for.” This means that Palantir has already secured commitments for the remaining part of the $961 million raise, although the offering has not closed.

Palantir declined to comment on the filing, except to note that this is related to primary investments, not secondary stakes.

It’s not clear if this latest fundraise, as spelled out by the Form D, spells a delay to a public listing, or if the intention is to complement it. 

The filing also appears to confirm a report from September 2019 that Palantir was seeking to raise between $1 billion and $3 billion, its first fundraising in four years.

That report noted Palantir was targeting a $26 billion valuation, up from $20 billion four years ago. The Reuters article in June put its valuation based on secondary market trades at between $10 billion and $14 billion.

To date, Palantir has raised at least $3.3 billion in funding, according to PitchBook, which names no fewer than 108 investors on its cap table.

The PitchBook data (some of which is behind a paywall) also indicates that Palantir has raised a number of previous rounds of undisclosed amounts.

Palantir was last valued at $20 billion when it raised money four years ago, but there are some data points that point to a bigger valuation today.

While the coronavirus pandemic has all but halted the IPO market, we are starting to see some movement again, and Palantir’s own business activity points to what might be a strong candidate to usher in more activity.

In April, according to a Bloomberg report, the company briefed investors with documents showing that it expects to make $1 billion in revenues this year, up 38% on 2019, and breaking even in the first time since being founded 16 years ago by Peter Thiel, Nathan Gettings, Joe Lonsdale, Stephen Cohen and current CEO Alex Karp.

(The Bloomberg report didn’t explain why Palantir was briefing investors, whether for a potential public listing, or for the fundraise we’re reporting on here, or something else.)

On top of that, the company has been in the news a lot around the global novel coronavirus pandemic.

Specifically, it’s been winning business, in the form of projects in major markets like the U.K. (where it’s part of a consortium of companies working with the NHS on a COVID-19 data trove) and the U.S. (where it’s been working on a COVID-19 tracker for the federal government and a project with the CDC), and possibly others. Those projects will presumably need a lot of upfront capital to set up and run, alongside other business deals that Palantir has been securing — possibly one reason it is raising money now.

Updated throughout, including with response from Palantir.

Apr
02
2020
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Collibra nabs another $112.5M at a $2.3B valuation for its big data management platform

GDPR and other data protection and privacy regulations — as well as a significant (and growing) number of data breaches and exposées of companies’ privacy policies — have put a spotlight on not just the vast troves of data that businesses and other organizations hold on us, but also how they handle it. Today, one of the companies helping them cope with that data in a better and legal way is announcing a huge round of funding to continue that work. Collibra, which provides tools to manage, warehouse, store and analyse data troves, is today announcing that it has raised $112.5 million in funding, at a post-money valuation of $2.3 billion.

The funding — a Series F, from the looks of it — represents a big bump for the startup, which last year raised $100 million at a valuation of just over $1 billion. This latest round was co-led by ICONIQ Capital, Index Ventures, and Durable Capital Partners LP, with previous investors CapitalG (Google’s growth fund), Battery Ventures, and Dawn Capital also participating.

Collibra was originally a spin-out from Vrije Universiteit in Brussels, Belgium and today it works with some 450 enterprises and other large organizations. Customers include Adobe, Verizon (which owns TechCrunch), insurers AXA and a number of healthcare providers. Its products cover a range of services focused around company data, including tools to help customers comply with local data protection policies and store it securely, and tools (and plug-ins) to run analytics and more.

These are all features and products that have long had a place in enterprise big data IT, but they have become increasingly more used and in-demand both as data policies have expanded, as security has become more of an issue, and as the prospects of what can be discovered through big data analytics have become more advanced.

With that growth, many companies have realised that they are not in a position to use and store their data in the best possible way, and that is where companies like Collibra step in.

“Most large organizations are in data chaos,” Felix Van de Maele, co-founder and CEO, previously told us. “We help them understand what data they have, where they store it and [understand] whether they are allowed to use it.”

As you would expect with a big IT trend, Collibra is not the only company chasing this opportunity. Competitors include Informatica, IBM, Talend, and Egnyte, among a number of others, but the market position of Collibra, and its advanced technology, is what has continued to impress investors.

“Durable Capital Partners invests in innovative companies that have significant potential to shape growing industries and build larger companies,” said Henry Ellenbogen, founder and chief investment officer for Durable Capital Partners LP, in a statement (Ellenbogen is formerly an investment manager a T. Rowe Price, and this is his first investment in Collibra under Durable). “We believe Collibra is a leader in the Data Intelligence category, a space that could have a tremendous impact on global business operations and a space that we expect will continue to grow as data becomes an increasingly critical asset.”

“We have a high degree of conviction in Collibra and the importance of the company’s mission to help organizations benefit from their data,” added Matt Jacobson, general partner at ICONIQ Capital and Collibra board member, in his own statement. “There is an increasing urgency for enterprises to harness their data for strategic business decisions. Collibra empowers organizations to use their data to make critical business decisions, especially in uncertain business environments.”

Mar
10
2020
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BackboneAI scores $4.7M seed to bring order to intercompany data sharing

BackboneAI, an early-stage startup that wants to help companies dealing with lots of data, particularly coming from a variety of external sources, announced a $4.7 million seed investment today.

The round was led by Fika Ventures with participation from Boldstart Ventures, Dynamo Ventures, GGV Capital, MetaProp, Spider VC and several other unnamed investors.

Company founder Rob Bailey says he has spent a lot of time in his career watching how data flows in organizations. There are still a myriad of challenges related to moving data between organizations, and that’s what his company is trying to solve. “BackboneAI is an AI platform specifically built for automating data flows within and between companies,” he said.

This could involve any number of scenarios from keeping large, complex data catalogues up-to-date to coordinating the intricate flow of construction materials between companies or content rights management across an entertainment industry.

Bailey says that he spent 18 months talking to companies before he built the product. “What we found is that every company we talked to was, in some way or another, concerned about an absolute flood of data from all these different applications and from all the companies that they’re working with externally,” he explained.

The BackboneAI platform aims to solve a number of problems related to this. For starters, it automates the acquisition of this data, usually from third parties like suppliers, customers, regulatory agencies and so forth. Then it handles ingestion of the data, and finally it takes care of a lot of actual processing from external sources, while mapping it to internal systems like the company ERP system.

As an example, he uses an industrial supply company that may deal with a million SKUs across a couple of dozen divisions. Trying to track that with manual or even legacy systems is difficult. “They take all this product data in [from external suppliers], and then process the information in their own [internal] product catalog, and then finally present that data about those products to hundreds of thousands of customers. It’s an incredibly large and challenging data problem as you’re processing millions and millions of SKUs and orders, and you have to keep that data current on a regular basis,” he explained.

The company is just getting started. It spent 2019 incubating inside of Boldstart Ventures . Today the company has close to 20 employees in New York City, and it has signed its first Fortune 500 customer. Bailey says they have 15 additional Fortune 500 companies in the pipeline. With the seed money, he hopes to build on this initial success.

Feb
27
2020
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London-based Gyana raises $3.9M for a no-code approach to data science

Coding and other computer science expertise remain some of the more important skills that a person can have in the working world today, but in the last few years, we have also seen a big rise in a new generation of tools providing an alternative way of reaping the fruits of technology: “no-code” software, which lets anyone — technical or non-technical — build apps, games, AI-based chatbots, and other products that used to be the exclusive terrain of engineers and computer scientists.

Today, one of the newer startups in the category — London-based Gyana, which lets non-technical people run data science analytics on any structured dataset — is announcing a round of £3 million to fuel its next stage of growth.

Led by U.K. firm Fuel Ventures, other investors in this round include Biz Stone of Twitter, Green Shores Capital and U+I , and it brings the total raised by the startup to $6.8 million since being founded in 2015.

Gyana (Sanskrit for “knowledge”) was co-founded by Joyeeta Das and David Kell, who were both pursuing post-graduate degrees at Oxford: Das, a former engineer, was getting an MBA, and Kell was doing a Ph. D. in physics.

Das said the idea of building this tool came out of the fact that the pair could see a big disconnect emerging not just in their studies, but also in the world at large — not so much a digital divide, as a digital light year in terms of the distance between the groups of who and who doesn’t know how to work in the realm of data science.

“Everyone talks about using data to inform decision making, and the world becoming data-driven, but actually that proposition is available to less than one percent of the world,” she said.

Out of that, the pair decided to work on building a platform that Das describes as a way to empower “citizen data scientists,” by letting users upload any structured data set (for example, a .CSV file) and running a series of queries on it to be able to visualise trends and other insights more easily.

While the longer term goal may be for any person to be able to produce an analytical insight out of a long list of numbers, the more practical and immediate application has been in enterprise services and building tools for non-technical knowledge workers to make better, data-driven decisions.

To prove out its software, the startup first built an app based on the platform that it calls Neera (Sanskrit for “water”), which specifically parses footfall and other “human movement” metrics, useful for applications in retail, real estate and civic planning — for example to determine well certain retail locations are performing, footfall in popular locations, decisions on where to place or remove stores, or how to price a piece of property.

Starting out with the aim of mid-market and smaller companies — those most likely not to have in-house data scientists to meet their business needs — startup has already picked up a series of customers that are actually quite a lot bigger than that. They include Vodafone, Barclays, EY, Pret a Manger, Knight Frank and the UK Ministry of Defense. It says it has some £1 million in contracts with these firms currently.

That, in turn, has served as the trigger to raise this latest round of funding and to launch Vayu (Sanskrit for “air”) — a more general purpose app that covers a wider set of parameters that can be applied to a dataset. So far, it has been adopted by academic researchers, financial services employees, and others that use analysis in their work, Das said.

With both Vayu and Neera, the aim — refreshingly — is to make the whole experience as privacy-friendly as possible, Das noted. Currently, you download an app if you want to use Gyana, and you keep your data local as you work on it. Gyana has no “anonymization” and no retention of data in its processes, except things like analytics around where your cursor hovers, so that Gyana knows how it can improve its product.

“There are always ways to reverse engineer these things,” Das said of anonymization. “We just wanted to make sure that we are not accidentally creating a situation where, despite learning from anaonyised materials, you can’t reverse engineer what people are analysing. We are just not convinced.”

While there is something commendable about building and shipping a tool with a lot of potential to it, Gyana runs the risk of facing what I think of as the “water, water everywhere” problem. Sometimes if a person really has no experience or specific aim, it can be hard to think of how to get started when you can do anything. Das said they have also identified this, and so while currently Gyana already offers some tutorials and helper tools within the app to nudge the user along, the plan is to eventually bring in a large variety of datasets for people to get started with, and also to develop a more intuitive way to “read” the basics of the files in order to figure out what kinds of data inquiries a person is most likely to want to make.

The rise of “no-code” software has been a swift one in the world of tech spanning the proliferation of startups, big acquisitions, and large funding rounds. Companies like Airtable and DashDash are aimed at building analytics leaning on interfaces that follow the basic design of a spreadsheet; AppSheet, which is a no-code mobile app building platform, was recently acquired by Google; and Roblox (for building games without needing to code) and Uncorq (for app development) have both raised significant funding just this week. In the area of no-code data analytics and visualisation, there are biggies like Tableau, as well as Trifacta, RapidMiner and more.

Gartner predicts that by 2024, some 65% of all app development will be made on low- or no-code platforms, and Forrester estimates that the no- and low-code market will be worth some $10 billion this year, rising to $21.2 billion by 2024.

That represents a big business opportunity for the likes of Gyana, which has been unique in using the no-code approach specifically to tackle the area of data science.

However, in the spirit of citizen data scientists, the intention is to keep a consumer version of the apps free to use as it works on signing up enterprise users with more enhanced paid products, which will be priced on an annual license basis (currently clients are paying between $6,000 and $12,000 depending on usage, she said).

“We want to do free for as long as we can,” Das said, both in relation to the data tools and the datasets that it will offer to users. “The biggest value add is not about accessing premium data that is hard to get. We are not a data marketplace but we want to provide data that makes sense to access,” adding that even with business users, “we’d like you to do 90% of what you want to do without paying for anything.”

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