Nov
18
2020
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Abacus.AI raises another $22M and launches new AI modules

AI startup RealityEngines.AI changed its name to Abacus.AI in July. At the same time, it announced a $13 million Series A round. Today, only a few months later, it is not changing its name again, but it is announcing a $22 million Series B round, led by Coatue, with Decibel Ventures and Index Partners participating as well. With this, the company, which was co-founded by former AWS and Google exec Bindu Reddy, has now raised a total of $40.3 million.

Abacus co-founder Bindu Reddy, Arvind Sundararajan and Siddartha Naidu. Image Credits: Abacus.AI

In addition to the new funding, Abacus.AI is also launching a new product today, which it calls Abacus.AI Deconstructed. Originally, the idea behind RealityEngines/Abacus.AI was to provide its users with a platform that would simplify building AI models by using AI to automatically train and optimize them. That hasn’t changed, but as it turns out, a lot of (potential) customers had already invested into their own workflows for building and training deep learning models but were looking for help in putting them into production and managing them throughout their lifecycle.

“One of the big pain points [businesses] had was, ‘look, I have data scientists and I have my models that I’ve built in-house. My data scientists have built them on laptops, but I don’t know how to push them to production. I don’t know how to maintain and keep models in production.’ I think pretty much every startup now is thinking of that problem,” Reddy said.

Image Credits: Abacus.AI

Since Abacus.AI had already built those tools anyway, the company decided to now also break its service down into three parts that users can adapt without relying on the full platform. That means you can now bring your model to the service and have the company host and monitor the model for you, for example. The service will manage the model in production and, for example, monitor for model drift.

Another area Abacus.AI has long focused on is model explainability and de-biasing, so it’s making that available as a module as well, as well as its real-time machine learning feature store that helps organizations create, store and share their machine learning features and deploy them into production.

As for the funding, Reddy tells me the company didn’t really have to raise a new round at this point. After the company announced its first round earlier this year, there was quite a lot of interest from others to also invest. “So we decided that we may as well raise the next round because we were seeing adoption, we felt we were ready product-wise. But we didn’t have a large enough sales team. And raising a little early made sense to build up the sales team,” she said.

Reddy also stressed that unlike some of the company’s competitors, Abacus.AI is trying to build a full-stack self-service solution that can essentially compete with the offerings of the big cloud vendors. That — and the engineering talent to build it — doesn’t come cheap.

Image Credits: Abacus.AI

It’s no surprise then that Abacus.AI plans to use the new funding to increase its R&D team, but it will also increase its go-to-market team from two to ten in the coming months. While the company is betting on a self-service model — and is seeing good traction with small- and medium-sized companies — you still need a sales team to work with large enterprises.

Come January, the company also plans to launch support for more languages and more machine vision use cases.

“We are proud to be leading the Series B investment in Abacus.AI, because we think that Abacus.AI’s unique cloud service now makes state-of-the-art AI easily accessible for organizations of all sizes, including start-ups,” Yanda Erlich, a p artner at Coatue Ventures  told me. “Abacus.AI’s end-to-end autonomous AI service powered by their Neural Architecture Search invention helps organizations with no ML expertise easily deploy deep learning systems in production.”

 

Aug
12
2020
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Gong raises another $200M on $2.2B valuation

For the third time since last February, Gong has raised a significant sum. In February, the company scored $40 million. In December, it grabbed another $65 million. And today, it was $200 million on a $2.2 billion valuation. That’s a total of $305 million in less than 18 months.

Coatue led today’s cash infusion, with help from new investors Index Ventures, Salesforce Ventures and Thrive Capital, and existing investors Battery Ventures, NextWorld Capital, Norwest Venture Partners, Sequoia Capital and Wing Venture Capital. It has now raised a total of $334 million, according to the company.

What is attracting this kind of investor attention? When we spoke to Gong about its Series B round, it had 300 customers. Today it has around 1,300, representing substantial growth in that time period. The company reports revenue has grown 2.5x this year alone.

Gong CEO Amit Bendov says his company is trying to create a category they have dubbed “revenue intelligence.” As he explains it, today sales data is stored in a CRM database consisting of descriptions of customer interactions as described by the salesperson or CSR. Gong is trying to transform that process by capturing both sides of the interaction, then, using artificial intelligence, it transcribes and analyzes those interactions.

Bendov says the pandemic and economic malaise has created a situation where there is a lot of liquidity in the market and investors have been looking for companies like his to invest some of it.

“There’s a lot of liquidity in the market. There are very few investment opportunities. I think the investment community was waiting a little bit to see how the market shakes out […] and they are betting on companies that could benefit long-term from the new normal, and I think we’re one of them,” Bendov told TechCrunch.

He says that he wasn’t looking for money, and in fact still is operating off the Series B investment, but when firms come knocking with checkbooks open and favorable terms, he wasn’t about to turn them down. “There are CEOs schools [of thought] that tell you to raise money when you can, not when you need to. It’s not very diluted at this kind of valuation and it was a very easy process. […] The whole deal closed in 14 days from term sheet to money in the bank,” he said.

Bendov said that taking the money was “pretty much a no-brainer.” In fact, he says the money gives them the freedom to operate and further legitimacy in the marketplace. “It gives us the ability to buy companies, make strategic investment, accelerate plans, and it also, especially since we cater to large enterprise customers, it gives them confidence that this company is here to stay,” he said.

With around 350 employees today, it hopes to add 100 people by the end of the year. Bendov says diversity and inclusion is a “massive priority” for the company. Among the steps they’ve taken recently is opening a recruiting hub in Atlanta to bring more diverse candidates into the company, working with a company called FlockJay to train and hire underrepresented groups in customer success roles, and in Israel where the company’s R&D center is located, helping members of the Arab community with computer science backgrounds to learn interview skills. Some of those folks will end up working for Gong, and some at other places.

While the company has grown remarkably quickly and has shown great promise, Bendov is not thinking ahead to an IPO just yet. He says he wants to grow the company to at least a couple of hundred million dollars in sales, and that’s two to three years away at this point. He certainly has plenty of cash to operate until then.

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