Jan
12
2021
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Slim.ai announces $6.6M seed to build container DevOps platform

We are more than seven years into the notion of modern containerization, and it still requires a complex set of tools and a high level of knowledge on how containers work. The DockerSlim open source project developed several years ago from a desire to remove some of that complexity for developers.

Slim.ai, a new startup that wants to build a commercial product on top of the open source project, announced a $6.6 million seed round today from Boldstart Ventures, Decibel Partners, FXP Ventures and TechAviv Founder Partners.

Company co-founder and CEO John Amaral says he and fellow co-founder and CTO Kyle Quest have worked together for years, but it was Quest who started and nurtured DockerSlim. “We started coming together around a project that Kyle built called DockerSlim. He’s the primary author, inventor and up until we started doing this company, the sole proprietor of that of that community,” Amaral explained.

At the time Quest built DockerSlim in 2015, he was working with Docker containers and he wanted a way to automate some of the lower level tasks involved in dealing with them. “I wanted to solve my own pain points and problems that I had to deal with, and my team had to deal with dealing with containers. Containers were an exciting new technology, but there was a lot of domain knowledge you needed to build production-grade applications and not everybody had that kind of domain expertise on the team, which is pretty common in almost every team,” he said.

He originally built the tool to optimize container images, but he began looking at other aspects of the DevOps lifecycle including the author, build, deploy and run phases. He found as he looked at that, he saw the possibility of building a commercial company on top of the open source project.

Quest says that while the open source project is a starting point, he and Amaral see a lot of areas to expand. “You need to integrate it into your developer workflow and then you have different systems you deal with, different container registries, different cloud environments and all of that. […] You need a solution that can address those needs and doing that through an open source tool is challenging, and that’s where there’s a lot of opportunity to provide premium value and have a commercial product offering,” Quest explained.

Ed Sim, founder and general partner at Boldstart Ventures, one of the seed investors sees a company bringing innovation to an area of technology where it has been lacking, while putting some more control in the hands of developers. “Slim can shift that all left and give developers the power through the Slim tools to answer all those questions, and then, boom, they can develop containers, push them into production and then DevOps can do their thing,” he said.

They are just 15 people right now including the founders, but Amaral says building a diverse and inclusive company is important to him, and that’s why one of his early hires was head of culture. “One of the first two or three people we brought into the company was our head of culture. We actually have that role in our company now, and she is a rock star and a highly competent and focused person on building a great culture. Culture and diversity to me are two sides of the same coin,” he said.

The company is still in the very early stages of developing that product. In the meantime, they continue to nurture the open source project and to build a community around that. They hope to use that as a springboard to build interest in the commercial product, which should be available some time later this year.

Dec
07
2020
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Jeli.io announces $4M seed to build incident analysis platform

When one of AWS’s east coast data centers went down at the end of last month, it had an impact on countless companies relying on its services, including Roku, Adobe and Shipt. When the incident was resolved, the company had to analyze what happened. For most companies, that involves manually pulling together information from various internal tools, not a focused incident platform.

Jeli.io wants to change that by providing one central place for incident analysis, and today the company announced a $4 million seed round led by Boldstart Ventures with participation by Harrison Metal and Heavybit.

Jeli CEO and founder Nora Jones knows a thing or two about incident analysis. She helped build the chaos engineering tools at Netflix, and later headed chaos engineering at Slack. While chaos engineering helps simulate possible incidents by stress-testing systems, incidents still happen, of course. She knew that there was a lot to learn from them, but there wasn’t a way to pull together all of the data around an incident automatically. She created Jeli to do that.

“While I was at Netflix pre-pandemic, I discovered the secret that looking at incidents when they happen — like when Netflix goes down, when Slack goes down or when any other organization goes down — that’s actually a catalyst for understanding the delta between how you think your org works and how your org actually works,” Jones told me.

She began to see that there would be great value in trying to figure out the decision-making processes, the people and tools involved and what companies could learn from how they reacted in these highly stressful situations, how they resolved them and what they could do to prevent similar outages from happening again in the future. With no products to help, Jones began building tooling herself at her previous jobs, but she believed there needed to be a broader solution.

“We started Jeli and began building tooling to help engineers by [serving] the insights to help them know where to look after incidents,” she said. They do this by pulling together all of the data from emails, Slack channels, PagerDuty, Zoom recordings, logs and so forth that captured information about the incident, surfacing insights to help understand what happened without having to manually pull all of this information together.

The startup currently has eight employees, with plans to add people across the board in 2021. As she does this, she is cognizant of the importance of building a diverse workforce. “I am extremely committed to diversity and inclusion. It is something that’s been important and a requirement for me from day one. I’ve been in situations in organizations before where I was the only one represented, and I know how that feels. I want to make sure I’m including that from day one because ultimately it leads to a better product,” she said.

The product is currently in private beta, and the company is working with early customers to refine the platform. The plan is to continue to invite companies in the coming months, then open that up more widely some time next year.

Eliot Durbin, general partner at Boldstart Ventures, says that he began talking to Jones a couple of years ago when she was at Netflix just to learn about this space, and when she was ready to start a company, his firm jumped at the chance to write an early check, even while the startup was pre-revenue.

“When we met Nora we realized that she’s on a lifelong mission to make things much more resilient […]. And we had the benefit of getting to know her for years before she started the company, so it was really a natural continuation to a conversation that we were already in,” Durbin explained.

Aug
21
2020
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Box CEO Aaron Levie says thrifty founders have more control

Once upon a time, Box’s Aaron Levie was just a guy with an idea for a company: 15 years ago as a USC student, he conceived of a way to simply store and share files online.

It may be hard to recall, but back then, the world was awash with thumb drives and moving files manually, but Levie saw an opportunity to change that.

Today, his company helps enterprise customers collaborate and manage content in the cloud, but when Levie appeared on an episode of Extra Crunch Live at the end of May, my colleague Jon Shieber and I asked him if he had any advice for startups. While he was careful to point out that there is no “one size fits all” advice, he did make one thing clear:

“I would highly recommend to any company of any size that you have as much control of your destiny as possible. So put yourself in a position where you spend as little amount of dollars as you can from a burn standpoint and get as close to revenue being equal to your expenses as you can possibly get to,” he advised.

Don’t let current conditions scare you

Levie also advised founders not to be frightened off by current conditions, whether that’s the pandemic or the recession. Instead, he said if you have an idea, seize the moment and build it, regardless of the economy or the state of the world. If, like Levie, you are in it for the long haul, this too will pass, and if your idea is good enough, it will survive and even thrive as you move through your startup growth cycle.

Jun
24
2020
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Cape Privacy launches data science collaboration platform with $5.06M seed investment

Cape Privacy emerged from stealth today after spending two years building a platform for data scientists to privately share encrypted data. The startup also announced $2.95 million in new funding and $2.11 million in funding it got when the business launched in 2018, for a total of $5.06 million raised.

Boldstart Ventures and Version One led the round, with participation from Haystack, Radical Ventures and Faktory Ventures.

Company CEO Ché Wijesinghe says that data science teams often have to deal with data sets that contain sensitive data and share data internally or externally for collaboration purposes. It creates a legal and regulatory data privacy conundrum that Cape Privacy is trying to solve.

“Cape Privacy is a collaboration platform designed to help focus on data privacy for data scientists. So the biggest challenge that people have today from a business perspective is managing privacy policies for machine learning and data science,” Wijesinghe told TechCrunch.

The product breaks down that problem into a couple of key areas. First of all it can take language from lawyers and compliance teams and convert that into code that automatically generates policies about who can see the different types of data in a given data set. What’s more, it has machine learning underpinnings so it also learns about company rules and preferences over time.

It also has a cryptographic privacy component. By wrapping the data with a cryptographic cypher, it lets teams share sensitive data in a safe way without exposing the data to people who shouldn’t be seeing it because of legal or regulatory compliance reasons.

“You can send something to a competitor as an example that’s encrypted, and they’re able to process that encrypted data without decrypting it, so they can train their model on encrypted data,” company co-founder and CTO Gavin Uhma explained.

The company closed the new round in April, which means they were raising in the middle of a pandemic, but it didn’t hurt that they had built the product already and were ready to go to market, and that Uhma and his co-founders had already built a successful startup, GoInstant, which was acquired by Salesforce in 2012. (It’s worth noting that GoInstant debuted at TechCrunch Disrupt in 2011.)

Uhma and his team brought Wijesinghe on board to build the sales and marketing team because, as a technical team, they wanted someone with go-to-market experience running the company so they could concentrate on building product.

The company has 14 employees and is already an all-remote team, so the team didn’t have to adjust at all when the pandemic hit. While it plans to keep hiring fairly limited for the foreseeable future, the company has had a diversity and inclusion plan from the start.

“You have to be intentional about about seeking diversity, so it’s something that when we sit down and map out our hiring and work with recruiters in terms of our pipeline, we really make sure that diversity is one of our objectives. You just have it as a goal, as part of your culture, and it’s something that when we see the picture of the team, we want to see diversity,” he said.

Wijesinghe adds, “As a person of color myself, I’m very sensitive to making sure that we have a very diverse team, not just from a color perspective, but a gender perspective as well.”

The company is gearing up to sell the product  and has paid pilots starting in the coming weeks.

May
07
2020
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Harbr emerges from stealth to help build online data marketplaces

Harbr co-founder Anthony Cosgrove has been working with data for over 15 years, so he has an inkling of some of the problems associated with pulling data together in a way that makes it easy for others to consume, whether internally or externally. Like many entrepreneurs before him, he decided to start a company to solve that problem, and today it came out of stealth.

Cosgrove explained that in his experience, data platforms of the past had several problems. “They were too slow. They were too expensive and too risky, and when you got the data you then ended up working in a silo with really no repeatability of anything that you did for anybody else in your organization,” he explained.

Cosgrove started Harbr because he saw a dearth of tools to help with these issues. “We wanted to create an environment where organizations could share their data, collaborate on that data and create new versions of that data that were really optimized for very specific use cases,” he said.

For now, the company is concentrating on large data vendors, helping them package and monetize the data they produce as a business more efficiently, but Cosgrove sees a time where he could be helping other firms that produce data as a byproduct of conducting business to monetize that data more easily.

He says these big data businesses generally lack the agility to package data in ways that make sense for each customer, and his company’s product should help solve that. “They’re able to start working directly with their customers to move away from kind of sending data to actually selling services, models or insights, which is what customers really want,” he said.

One other unique aspect of the tool is that it is a true platform, meaning that you are not just restricted to the data in your system. You can pull together other data sources as well, and that could make for even more interesting ways to package the data for customers.

The company launched in London in 2017 and spent some time building the product. It recently opened offices in the United States and currently has 30 employees divided between the two locations. It has raised $6.5 million in seed capital led by Boldstart Ventures .

Apr
27
2020
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Seed investors take long view on promising enterprise startups

The job of an early-stage startup founder is challenging in good times, never mind a crash like the one we are experiencing today.

While most expect private investing to slow down, it’s clear that some investments are still happening in spite of the pandemic, if the stories we are writing on TechCrunch are any indication.

But the downturn is bound to have an impact on the types of deals that receive funding; any startup that offers a good or service requiring human interaction or installation will face an uphill battle, at least in the short term. That said, enterprise SaaS vendors, especially ones that solve hard problems, help with work-from-home or collaboration, or better yet, help increase efficiency and save money, are still very much in demand.

Nobody can do anything about the CIO who is hunkering down until things improve — but that’s not everyone. Companies might be thinking twice about where they spend money, but some are still helping drive the net-new, post-COVID-19 investments happening from seed to late stage across many sectors.

We looked at data and spoke to a couple of enterprise-focused, NYC-based seed investors to better understand their investing cadence. Nobody painted a rosy picture of today’s climate, but seed investors were never about immediate gratification, especially where enterprise startups are concerned. That means, if a seed-stage investor believes in the founders and their vision and the company can ride out today’s economic upset, there’s still money in the till — at least for now.

Seed investment generally in decline

Apr
21
2020
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Env0 announces $3.3M seed to bring more control to Infrastructure as Code

Env0, a startup that wants to help companies bring some order to delivery of Infrastructure as Code, announced a $3.3 million seed investment today and the release of the Beta of the company’s first product.

Boldstart Ventures and Grove Ventures co-led the round with participation from several angel investors including Guy Podjarny of Snyk.

Company co-founder and CEO Ohad Maislish says the ability of developers to deliver code quickly is a blessing and a curse, and his company wants to give IT some control over how and when code gets committed.

“The challenge companies have is how to balance between self-service and oversight of cloud resources in a cloud native kind of way, and to balance this with visibility, predictability, and most importantly, governance around cloud security and costs,” Maislish said.

The product lets companies define when it’s OK for developers to deliver code and how much they can spend instead of letting them deliver anything, at any time, at any cost. You do this by giving overall control of the process to an administrator, who can then define templates and projects. The templates define which repositories and products you can use for a given cloud vendor and the projects correlate to the users allowed to access those templates.

Image Credit: Env0

Ed Sim, founder and managing partner at Boldstart says the startup has been able to find a good balance between governance and the need for speed that today’s developers require in a continuous delivery environment. “Env0 is the first SaaS solution that meets all of those needs by offering self-service cloud environments with centralized governance,” Sim said in a statement.

It’s not easy launching an early-stage company in the middle of the current economic situation, but Maislish believes his company is in a decent position as it provides a way to control self-service development, something that is even more important when your developers are working from home outside of the purview of IT and security.

The company launched 18 months ago and has been in private beta for some time. Today marks the launch of the public beta. It currently has 10 employees.

Mar
17
2020
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Spectro Cloud launches with $7.5M investment to help developers build Kubernetes clusters their way

By now we know that Kubernetes is a wildly popular container management platform, but if you want to use it, you pretty much have to choose between having someone manage it for you or building it yourself. Spectro Cloud emerged from stealth today with a $7.5 million investment to give you a third choice that falls somewhere in the middle.

The funding was led by Sierra Ventures with participation from Boldstart Ventures.

Ed Sim, founder at Boldstart, says he liked the team and the tech. “Spectro Cloud is solving a massive pain that every large enterprise is struggling with: how to roll your own Kubernetes service on a managed platform without being beholden to any large vendor,” Sim told TechCrunch.

Spectro co-founder and CEO Tenry Fu says an enterprise should not have to compromise between control and ease of use. “We want to be the first company that brings an easy-to-use managed Kubernetes experience to the enterprise, but also gives them the flexibility to define their own Kubernetes infrastructure stacks at scale,” Fu explained.

Fu says that the stack, in this instance, consists of the base operating system to the Kubernetes version to the storage, networking and other layers like security, logging, monitoring, load balancing or anything that’s infrastructure related around Kubernetes.

“Within an organization in the enterprise you can serve the needs of your various groups, down to pretty granular level with respect to what’s in your infrastructure stack, and then you don’t have to worry about lifecycle management,” he explained. That’s because Spectro Cloud handles that for you, while still giving you that control.

That gives enterprise developers greater deployment flexibility and the ability to move between cloud infrastructure providers more easily, something that is top of mind today as companies don’t want to be locked into a single vendor.

“There’s an infrastructure control continuum that forces enterprises into trade-offs against these needs. At one extreme, the managed offerings offer a kind of nirvana around ease of use, but it’s at the expense of control over things like the cloud that you’re on or when you adopt new ecosystem options like updated versions of Kubernetes.”

Fu and his co-founders have a deep background in this, having previously been part of CliQr, a company that helped customers manage applications across hybrid cloud environments. They sold that company to Cisco in 2016 and began developing Spectro Cloud last spring.

It’s early days, but the company has been working with 16 beta customers.

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
04
2019
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Chicago RPA startup Catalytic hauls in $30M Series B

Robotics process automation (RPA) is as hot as any enterprise technology at the moment, as companies look for ways to marry their legacy systems with a more modern flavor of automation. Catalytic, a startup from the Midwest, is putting its own flavor on RPA, aiming at more unstructured data. Today it was rewarded with a $30 million Series B investment.

The investment was led by Intel Capital, with participation from Redline Capital and existing investors NEA, Boldstart and Hyde Park Angel. Today’s round brings the total raised to almost $42 million, according to the company.

RPA helps automate highly mundane processes. Sean Chou, Catalytic co-founder and CEO, says there are a couple of ways his company’s solution diverts from his competition, which includes companies like Blue Prism, Automation Anywhere and UIPath.

For starters, Chou says, his company’s solution concentrates on unstructured data, like pulling information from documents or emails using a variety of techniques, depending on requirements. It could be old-fashioned scanning and OCR or more modern natural language process (NLP) to “read” the document, depending on requirements.

It is designed like all RPA tools to take humans out of the loop when it comes to the most mundane business processes, but, as Chou says, his company wants human employees in the loop whenever needed, whether that’s exception processing or tasks that are simply too challenging to program at the moment.

The company launched in 2015 using money Chou had earned from the sale of his previous company, Fieldglass, which he had sold the previous year to SAP for more than $1 billion dollars. Fieldglass helped with outsourcing, and as Chou developed that company, he saw a growing problem around automating certain tedious business processes, especially when they touched legacy systems inside an organization. He raised $3.1 million in seed money from Boldstart Ventures in NYC in 2016 and began building out the product in earnest.

Today, Catalytic has a dozen customers, including Bosch, the German manufacturing conglomerate. It employs 60 people in its Chicago headquarters. While its investors come from the coasts, Catalytic is building a company in the heart of the Midwest, a part of the country that has often been left out of the startup economy.

With $30 million, Catalytic can begin expanding the number of employees, including helping service its large customers, building out it partner network with other software companies and systems integrators and bringing in more engineering talent to continue building out the product.

The product is offered on a subscription basis as a cloud service.

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