Apr
09
2021
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SnackMagic picks up $15M to expand from build-your-own snack boxes into a wider gifting marketplace

The office shut-down at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic last year spurred huge investment in digital transformation and a wave of tech companies helping with that, but there were some distinct losers in the shift, too — specifically those whose business models were predicated on serving the very offices that disappeared overnight. Today, one of the companies that had to make an immediate pivot to keep itself afloat is announcing a round of funding, after finding itself not just growing at a clip, but making a profit, as well.

SnackMagic, a build-your-own snack box service, has raised $15 million in a Series A round of funding led by Craft Ventures, with Luxor Capital also participating.

(Both investors have an interesting track record in the food-on-demand space: Most recently, Luxor co-led a $528 million round in Glovo in Spain, while Craft backs/has backed the likes of Cloud Kitchens, Postmates and many more.)

The funding comes on the back of a strong year for the company, which hit a $20 million revenue run rate in eight months and turned profitable in December 2020.

Founder and CEO Shaunak Amin said in an interview that the plan will be to use the funding both to continue growing SnackMagic’s existing business, as well as extend into other kinds of gifting categories. Currently, you can ship snacks anywhere in the world, but the customizable boxes — recipients are gifted an amount that they can spend, and they choose what they want in the box themselves from SnackMagic’s menu, or one that a business has created and branded as a subset of that — are only available in locations in North America, serviced by SnackMagic’s primary warehouse. Other locations are given options of pre-packed boxes of snacks right now, but the plan is to slowly extend its pick-and-mix model to more geographies, starting with the U.K.

Alongside this, the company plans to continue widening the categories of items that people can gift each other beyond chocolates, chips, hot sauces and other fun food items, into areas like alcohol, meal kits and nonfood items. There’s also scope for expanding to more use cases into areas like corporate gifting, marketing and consumer services, as well as analytics coming out of its sales.

Amin calls the data that SnackMagic is amassing about customer interest in different brands and products “the hidden gem” of the platform.

“It’s one of the most interesting things,” he said. Brands that want to add their items to the wider pool of products — which today numbers between 700 and 800 items — also get access to a dashboard where they monitor what’s selling, how much stock is left of their own items, and so on. “One thing that is very opaque [in the CPG world] is good data.”

For many of the bigger companies that lack their own direct sales channels, it’s a significantly richer data set than what they typically get from selling items in the average brick and mortar store, or from a bigger online retailer like Amazon. “All these bigger brands like Pepsi and Kellogg not only want to know this about their own products more but also about the brands they are trying to buy,” Amin said. Several of them, he added, have approached his company to partner and invest, so I guess we should watch this space.

SnackMagic’s success comes from a somewhat unintended, unlikely beginning, and it’s a testament to the power of compelling, yet extensible technology that can be scaled and repurposed if necessary. In its case, there is personalization technology, logistics management, product inventory and accounting, and lots of data analytics involved.

The company started out as Stadium, a lunch delivery service in New York City that was leveraging the fact that when co-workers ordered lunch or dinner together for the office — say around a team-building event or a late-night working session, or just for a regular work day — oftentimes they found that people all hankered for different things to eat.

In many cases, people typically make separate orders for the different items, but that also means if you are ordering to all eat together, things would not arrive at the same time; if it’s being expensed, it’s more complicated on that front too; and if you’re thinking about carbon footprints, it might also mean a lot less efficiency on that front too.

Stadium’s solution was a platform that provided access to multiple restaurants’ menus, and people could pick from all of them for a single order. The business had been operating for six years and was really starting to take off.

“We were quite well known in the city, and we had plans to expand, and we were on track for March 2020 being our best month ever,” Amin said. Then, COVID-19 hit. “There was no one left in the office,” he said. Revenue disappeared overnight, since the idea of delivering many items to one place instantly stopped being a need.

Amin said that they took a look at the platform they had built to pick many options (and many different costs, and the accounting that came with that) and thought about how to use that for a different end. It turned out that even with people working remotely, companies wanted to give props to their workers, either just to say hello and thanks, or around a specific team event, in the form of food and treats — all the more so since the supply of snacks you typically come across in so many office canteens and kitchens were no longer there for workers to tap.

It’s interesting, but perhaps also unsurprising, that one of the by-products of our new way of working has been the rise of more services that cater (no pun intended) to people working in more decentralised ways, and that companies exploring how to improve rewarding people in those environments are also seeing a bump.

Just yesterday, we wrote about a company called Alyce raising $30 million for its corporate gifting platform that is also based on personalization — using AI to help understand the interests of the recipient to make better choices of items that a person might want to receive.

Alyce is taking a somewhat different approach than SnackMagic: it’s not holding any products itself, and there is no warehouse but rather a platform that links buyers with those providing products. And Alyce’s initial audience is different, too: instead of internal employees (the first, but not final, focus for SnackMagic) it is targeting corporate gifting, or presents that sales and marketing people might send to prospects or current clients as a please and thank you gesture.

But you can also see how and where the two might meet in the middle — and compete not just with each other, but the many other online retailers, Amazon and otherwise, plus the consumer goods companies themselves looking for ways of diversifying business by extending beyond the B2C channel.

“We don’t worry about Amazon. We just get better,” Amin said when I asked him about whether he worried that SnackMagic was too easy to replicate. “It might be tough anyway,” he added, since “others might have the snacks but picking and packing and doing individual customization is very different from regular e-commerce. It’s really more like scalable gifting.”

Investors are impressed with the quick turnaround and identification of a market opportunity, and how it quickly retooled its tech to make it fit for purpose.

“SnackMagic’s immediate success was due to an excellent combination of timing, innovative thinking and world-class execution,” said Bryan Rosenblatt, principal investor at Craft Ventures, in a statement. “As companies embrace the future of a flexible workplace, SnackMagic is not just a snack box delivery platform but a company culture builder.”

Apr
08
2021
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Alyce, an AI-based personalised corporate gifting startup, raises $30M

Swag has a long and patchy history in the world of business. For every hip pair of plaid socks, there are five t-shirts you may never wear, an itchy scarf, a notepad your kids might use, and an ugly mug; and most of all, likely thousands of dollars and lots of time invested to make those presents a reality. Now, a startup that has built a service to rethink the concept behind corporate gifts and make them more effective is today announcing a round of funding to continue expanding its business — and one sign that it may be on to something is its progress so far.

Alyce, a Boston startup that has built an AI platform that plugs into various other apps that you might use to interact and track your relationships with others in your working life — sales prospects, business partners, colleagues — and then uses the information to personalise gift recommendations for those people, has raised $30 million, a Series B that it will be using to continue building out its platform, signing up more users, and hiring more people for its team.

This round is being led by General Catalyst, with Boston Seed Capital, Golden Ventures, Manifest, Morningside and Victress Captial — all previous backers — also participating.

Alyce says that it has grown 300% year-over-year between 2019 and 2020, tackling a corporate gifting and promotional items industry that ASI Market Research estimates is worth around $24.7 billion annually. Its customers today include Adobe’s Marketo, G2, Lenovo, Wex, Invision, DialPad, GrubHub, and 6Sense.

As with so many other apps and services that aim at productivity and people management, Alyce notes that this year of working remotely — which has tested many a relationship and job function, led to massive inbound and outbound digital activity (the screen is where everything gets played out now), and frankly burned a lot of us out — has given it also a new kind of relevance.

“As everyone was flooded with spam last year unsubscribing soared,” Greg Segall, founder and CEO of Alyce, said in a statement. “When a prospect opts out, that’s forever. It’s clear that both brands and customers crave the same thing – a much more purposeful and relatable way to engage.”

Alyce’s contribution to more quality engagement comes in the form of AI-fueled personalization.

Linking up with the other tools people typically use to track their communications with people — they include Marketo, Salesforce, Vidyard and Google’s email and calendar apps — the system has been built with algorithms that read details from those apps to construct some details about the preferences and tastes of the intended gift recipient. It then uses that to come up with a list of items that might appeal to that person from a wider list that it has compiled, with some 10,000 items in all. (And yes, these can also include more traditional corporate swag items like those socks or mugs.) Then, instead of sending an actual gift, “Swag Select”, as Alyce’s service is called, sends a gift code that lets the person redeem with his or her own choice from a personalised, more narrowed-down list of items.

Alyce itself doesn’t actually hold or distribute the presents: it connects up with third parties that send these out. (It prices its service based on how much it is used, and how many more tools a user might want to have to personalise and send out gifts.)

Yes, you might argue that a lot of this sounds actually very impersonal — the gift giver is not directly involved in the selection or sending of a present at all, which instead is “selected” by way of AI. Essentially, this is a variation of the personalization and recommendation technology that has been built to serve ads, suggest products to you on e-commerce sites, and more.

But on the other hand, it’s an interesting solution to the problem of trying to figure out what to get someone, which can be a challenge when you really know a person, and even harder when you don’t, while at the same time helping to create and fulfill a gesture that, at the end of the day, is about being thoughtful of them, not really the gift itself.

(You could also argue, I think, that since the gift lists are based on a person’s observations about the recipient, there is in fact some personal touches here, even if they have been run through an algorithmic mill before getting to you.)

And ultimately, the aim of these gifts is to say “thank you for this work relationship, which I appreciate”, or “please buy more printer paper from me” — not “I’m sorry for being rude to you at dinner last night.” Although… if this works as it should, maybe there might well be an opportunity to extending the model to more use cases, for example brands looking for ways to change up their direct mail marketing campaigns, or yes, people who want to patch things up after a spat the night before.

Notably, for General Catalyst, it’s interested indeed in the bigger gifting category, pointing to the potential of how this service could be scaled in the future.

“At General Catalyst, we are proud to lead the latest round of funding for Alyce as the company has reimagined the gifting category with technology and impact. The ability to deliver products and experiences that both the giver and recipient feel good about is incredibly powerful,” said Larry Bohn, Managing Director at General Catalyst, in a statement.

Mar
15
2021
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Customer experience startup Sprinklr files confidential S-1 with SEC

Sprinklr, a New York-based customer experience company, announced today it has filed a confidential S-1 ahead of a possible IPO.

“Sprinklr today announced that it has confidentially submitted a draft registration statement on Form S-1 with the Securities and Exchange Commission (the ‘SEC”) relating to the proposed initial public offering of its common stock,” the company said in a statement.

It also indicated that it will determine the exact number of shares and the price range at a later point after it receives approval from the SEC to go public.

The company most recently raised $200 million on a $2.7 billion valuation last year. It was its first fundraise in 4 years. At the time, founder and CEO Ragy Thomas said his company expected to end 2020 with $400 million in ARR, certainly a healthy number on which to embark as a public company.

He also said that Sprinklr’s next fundraise would be an IPO, making him true to his word. “I’ve been public about the pathway around this, and the path is that the next financial milestone will be an IPO,” he told me at the time of the $200 million round. He said that with COVID, it probably was a year or so away, but the timing appears to have sped up.

Sprinklr sees customer experience management as a natural extension of CRM, and as such a huge market potentially worth $100 billion, according to Thomas. But he also admitted that he was up against some big competitors like Salesforce and Adobe, helping explain why he fundraised last year.

Sprinklr was founded in 2009 with a focus on social media listening, but it announced a hard push into customer experience in 2017 when it added marketing, advertising, research, customer and e-commerce to its social efforts.

The company has raised $585 million to date, and has also been highly acquisitive, buying 11 companies along the way as it added functionality to the base platform, according to Crunchbase data.

Jan
15
2021
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Extra Crunch roundup: Antitrust jitters, SPAC odyssey, white-hot IPOs, more

Some time ago, I gave up on the idea of finding a thread that connects each story in the weekly Extra Crunch roundup; there are no unified theories of technology news.

The stories that left the deepest impression were related to two news pegs that dominated the week — Visa and Plaid calling off their $5.3 billion acquisition agreement, and sizzling-hot IPOs for Affirm and Poshmark.

Watching Plaid and Visa sing “Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off” in harmony after the U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit to block their deal wasn’t shocking. But I was surprised to find myself editing an interview Alex Wilhelm conducted with Plaid CEO Zach Perret the next day in which the executive said growing the company on its own is “once again” the correct strategy.


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In an analysis for Extra Crunch, Managing Editor Danny Crichton suggested that federal regulators’ new interest in antitrust enforcement will affect valuations going forward. For example, Procter & Gamble and women’s beauty D2C brand Billie also called off their planned merger last week after the Federal Trade Commission raised objections in December.

Given the FTC’s moves last year to prevent Billie and Harry’s from being acquired, “it seems clear that U.S. antitrust authorities want broad competition for consumers in household goods,” Danny concluded, and I suspect that applies to Plaid as well.

In December, C3.ai, Doordash and Airbnb burst into the public markets to much acclaim. This week, used clothing marketplace Poshmark saw a 140% pop in its first day of trading and consumer-financing company Affirm “priced its IPO above its raised range at $49 per share,” reported Alex.

In a post titled “A theory about the current IPO market”, he identified eight key ingredients for brewing a debut with a big first-day pop, which includes “exist in a climate of near-zero interest rates” and “keep companies private longer.” Truly, words to live by!

Come back next week for more coverage of the public markets in The Exchange, an interview with Bustle CEO Bryan Goldberg where he shares his plans for taking the company public, a comprehensive post that will unpack the regulatory hurdles facing D2C consumer brands, and much more.

If you live in the U.S., enjoy your MLK Day holiday weekend, and wherever you are: Thanks very much for reading Extra Crunch.

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch
@yourprotagonist

 

Rapid growth in 2020 reveals OKR software market’s untapped potential

After spending much of the week covering 2021’s frothy IPO market, Alex Wilhelm devoted this morning’s column to studying the OKR-focused software sector.

Measuring objectives and key results are core to every enterprise, perhaps more so these days since knowledge workers began working remotely in greater numbers last year.

A sign of the times: This week, enterprise orchestration SaaS platform Gtmhub announced that it raised a $30 million Series B.

To get a sense of how large the TAM is for OKR, Alex reached out to several companies and asked them to share new and historical growth metrics:

  • Gthmhub
  • Perdoo
  • WorkBoard
  • Ally.io
  • Koan
  • WeekDone

“Some OKR-focused startups didn’t get back to us, and some leaders wanted to share the best stuff off the record, which we grant at times for candor amongst startup executives,” he wrote.

5 consumer hardware VCs share their 2021 investment strategies

For our latest investor survey, Matt Burns interviewed five VCs who actively fund consumer electronics startups:

  • Hans Tung, managing partner, GGV Capital
  • Dayna Grayson, co-founder and general partner, Construct Capital
  • Cyril Ebersweiler, general partner, SOSV
  • Bilal Zuberi, partner, Lux Capital
  • Rob Coneybeer, managing director, Shasta Ventures

“Consumer hardware has always been a tough market to crack, but the COVID-19 crisis made it even harder,” says Matt, noting that the pandemic fueled wide interest in fitness startups like Mirror, Peloton and Tonal.

Bonus: Many VCs listed the founders, investors and companies that are taking the lead in consumer hardware innovation.

A theory about the current IPO market

Digital generated image of abstract multi colored curve chart on white background.

Image Credits: Getty Images/Andriy Onufriyenko

If you’re looking for insight into “why everything feels so damn silly this year” in the public markets, a post Alex wrote Thursday afternoon might offer some perspective.

As someone who pays close attention to late-stage venture markets, he’s identified eight factors that are pushing debuts for unicorns like Affirm and Poshmark into the stratosphere.

TL;DR? “Lots of demand, little supply, boom goes the price.”

Poshmark prices IPO above range as public markets continue to YOLO startups

Clothing resale marketplace Poshmark closed up more than 140% on its first trading day yesterday.

In Thursday’s edition of The Exchange, Alex noted that Poshmark boosted its valuation by selling 6.6 million shares at its IPO price, scooping up $277.2 million in the process.

Poshmark’s surge in trading is good news for its employees and stockholders, but it reflects poorly on “the venture-focused money people who we suppose know what they are talking about when it comes to equity in private companies,” he says.

Will startup valuations change given rising antitrust concerns?

GettyImages 926051128

Image Credits: monsitj/Getty Images

This week, Visa announced it would drop its planned acquisition of Plaid after the U.S. Department of Justice filed suit to block it last fall.

Last week, Procter & Gamble called off its purchase of Billie, a women’s beauty products startup — in December, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission sued to block that deal, too.

Once upon a time, the U.S. government took an arm’s-length approach to enforcing antitrust laws, but the tide has turned, says Managing Editor Danny Crichton.

Going forward, “antitrust won’t kill acquisitions in general, but it could prevent the buyers with the highest reserve prices from entering the fray.”

Dear Sophie: What’s the new minimum salary required for H-1B visa applicants?

Image Credits: Sophie Alcorn

Dear Sophie:

I’m a grad student currently working on F-1 STEM OPT. The company I work for has indicated it will sponsor me for an H-1B visa this year.

I hear the random H-1B lottery will be replaced with a new system that selects H-1B candidates based on their salaries.

How will this new process work?

— Positive in Palo Alto

Venture capitalists react to Visa-Plaid deal meltdown

A homemade chocolate cookie with a bite and crumbs on a white background

Image Credits: Ana Maria Serrano/Getty Images

After news broke that Visa’s $5.3 billion purchase of API startup Plaid fell apart, Alex Wilhelm and Ron Miller interviewed several investors to get their reactions:

  • Anshu Sharma, co-founder and CEO, SkyflowAPI
  • Amy Cheetham, principal, Costanoa Ventures
  • Sheel Mohnot, co-founder, Better Tomorrow Ventures
  • Lucas Timberlake, partner, Fintech Ventures
  • Nico Berardi, founder and general partner, ANIMO Ventures
  • Allen Miller, VC, Oak HC/FT
  • Sri Muppidi, VC, Sierra Ventures
  • Christian Lassonde, VC, Impression Ventures

Plaid CEO touts new ‘clarity’ after failed Visa acquisition

Zach Perret, chief executive officer and co-founder of Plaid Technologies Inc., speaks during the Silicon Slopes Tech Summit in Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S., on Friday, Jan. 31, 2020. The summit brings together the leading minds in the tech industry for two-days of keynote speakers, breakout sessions, and networking opportunities. Photographer: George Frey/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Image Credits: George Frey/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Alex Wilhelm interviewed Plaid CEO Zach Perret after the Visa acquisition was called off to learn more about his mindset and the company’s short-term plans.

Perret, who noted that the last few years have been a “roller coaster,” said the Visa deal was the right decision at the time, but going it alone is “once again” Plaid’s best way forward.

2021: A SPAC odyssey

In Tuesday’s edition of The Exchange, Alex Wilhelm took a closer look at blank-check offerings for digital asset marketplace Bakkt and personal finance platform SoFi.

To create a detailed analysis of the investor presentations for both offerings, he tried to answer two questions:

  1. Are special purpose acquisition companies a path to public markets for “potentially promising companies that lacked obvious, near-term growth stories?”
  2. Given the number of unicorns and the limited number of companies that can IPO at any given time, “maybe SPACS would help close the liquidity gap?”

Flexible VC: A new model for startups targeting profitability

12 ‘flexible VCs’ who operate where equity meets revenue share

Spotlit Multi Colored Coil Toy in the Dark.

Image Credits: MirageC/Getty Images

Growth-stage startups in search of funding have a new option: “flexible VC” investors.

An amalgam of revenue-based investment and traditional VC, investors who fall into this category let entrepreneurs “access immediate risk capital while preserving exit, growth trajectory and ownership optionality.”

In a comprehensive explainer, fund managers David Teten and Jamie Finney present different investment structures so founders can get a clear sense of how flexible VC compares to other venture capital models. In a follow-up post, they share a list of a dozen active investors who offer funding via these nontraditional routes.

These 5 VCs have high hopes for cannabis in 2021

Marijuana leaf on a yellow background.

Image Credits: Anton Petrus (opens in a new window)/Getty Images

For some consumers, “cannabis has always been essential,” writes Matt Burns, but once local governments allowed dispensaries to remain open during the pandemic, it signaled a shift in the regulatory environment and investors took notice.

Matt asked five VCs about where they think the industry is heading in 2021 and what advice they’re offering their portfolio companies:

Jan
13
2021
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Germany’s Xentral nabs $20M led by Sequoia to help online-facing SMBs run back offices better

Small enterprises remain one of the most underserved segments of the business market, but the growth of cloud-based services — easier to buy, easier to provision — has helped that change in recent years. Today, one of the more promising startups out of Europe building software to help SMEs run online businesses is announcing some funding to better tap into both the opportunity to build these services, and to meet a growing demand from the SME segment.

Xentral, a German startup that develops enterprise resource planning software covering a variety of back-office functions for the average online small business, has picked up a Series A of $20 million.

The company’s platform today covers services like order and warehouse management, packaging, fulfillment, accounting and sales management, and the majority of its 1,000 customers are in Germany — they include the likes of direct-to-consumer brands like YFood, KoRo, the Nu Company and Flyeralarm.

But Benedikt Sauter, the co-founder and CEO of Xentral, said the ambition is to expand into the rest of Europe, and eventually other geographies, and to fold in more services to its ERP platform, such as a more powerful API to allow customers to integrate more services — for example in cases where a business might be selling on their own site, but also Amazon, eBay, social platforms and more — to bring their businesses to a wider market.

Mainly, he said, the startup wants “to build a better ecosystem to help our customers run their own businesses better.”

The funding is being led by Sequoia Capital, with Visionaires Club (a B2B-focused VC out of Berlin) also participating.

The deal is notable for being the prolific, high-profile VC’s first investment in Europe since officially opening for business in the region. (Sequoia has backed a number of startups in Europe before this, including Graphcore, Klarna, Tessian, Unity, UiPath, n8n and Evervault — but all of those deals were done from afar.)

Augsburg-based Xentral has been around as a startup since 2018, and “as a startup” is the operative phrase here.

Sauter and his co-founder Claudia Sauter (who is also his co-founder in life: she is his wife) built the early prototype for the service originally for themselves.

The pair were running a business of their own — a hardware company they founded in 2008, selling not nails, hammers and wood, but circuit boards they designed, along with other hardware to build computers and other connected objects. Around 2013, as the business was starting to pick up steam, they decided that they really needed better tools to manage everything at the backend so that they would have more time to build their actual products.

But Bene Sauter quickly discovered a problem in the process: smaller businesses may have Shopify and its various competitors to help manage e-commerce at the front end, but when it came to the many parts of the process at the backend, there really wasn’t a single, easy solution (remember this was eight years ago, at a time before the Shopifys of the world were yet to expand into these kinds of tools). Being of a DIY and technical persuasion — Sauter had studied hardware engineering at university — he decided that he’d try to build the tools that he wanted to use.

The Sauters used those tools for years, until without much outbound effort, they started to get some inbound interest from other online businesses to use the software, too. That led to the Sauters balancing both their own hardware business and selling the software on the side, until around 2017/2018 when they decided to wind down the hardware operation and focus on the software full time. And from then, Xentral was born. It now has, in addition to 1,000 customers, some 65 employees working on developing the platform.

The focus with Xentral is to have a platform that is easy to implement and use, regardless of what kind of SME you might be as long as you are selling online. But even so, Sauter pointed out that the other common thread is that you need at least one person at the business who champions and understands the value of ERP. “It’s really a mindset,” he said.

The challenge with Xentral in that regard will be to see how and if they can bring more businesses to the table and tap into the kinds of tools that it provides, at the same time that a number of other players also eye up the same market. (Others in the same general category of building ERP for small businesses include online payments provider Sage, NetSuite and Acumatica.) ERP overall is forecast to become a $49.5 billion market by 2025.

Sequoia and its new partner in Europe, Luciana Lixandru — who is joining Xentral’s board along with Visionaries’ Robert Lacher — believe however that there remains a golden opportunity to build a new kind of provider from the ground up and out of Europe specifically to target the opportunity in that region.

“I see Xentral becoming the de facto platform for any SMEs to run their businesses online,” she said in an interview. “ERP sounds a bit scary especially because it makes one think of companies like SAP, long implementation cycles, and so on. But here it’s the opposite.” She describes Xentral as “very lean and easy to use because you an start with one module and then add more. For SMEs it has to be super simple. I see this becoming like the Shopify for ERP.”

Dec
17
2020
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Spryker raises $130M at a $500M+ valuation to provide B2Bs with agile e-commerce tools

Businesses today feel, more than ever, the imperative to have flexible e-commerce strategies in place, able to connect with would-be customers wherever they might be. That market driver has now led to a significant growth round for a startup that is helping the larger of these businesses, including those targeting the B2B market, build out their digital sales operations with more agile, responsive e-commerce solutions.

Spryker, which provides a full suite of e-commerce tools for businesses — starting with a platform to bring a company’s inventory online, through to tools to analyse and measure how that inventory is selling and where, and then adding voice commerce, subscriptions, click & collect, IoT commerce and other new features and channels to improve the mix — has closed a round of $130 million.

It plans to use the funding to expand its own technology tools, as well as grow internationally. The company makes revenues in the mid-eight figures (so, around $50 million annually) and some 10% of its revenues currently come from the U.S. The plan will be to grow that business as part of its wider expansion, tackling a market for e-commerce software that is estimated to be worth some $7 billion annually.

The Series C was led by TCV — the storied investor that has backed giants like Facebook, Airbnb, Netflix, Spotify and Splunk, as well as interesting, up-and-coming e-commerce “plumbing” startups like Spryker, Relex and more. Previous backers One Peak and Project A Ventures also participated.

We understand that this latest funding values Berlin -based Spryker at more than $500 million.

Spryker today has around 150 customers, global businesses that run the gamut from recognised fashion brands through to companies that, as Boris Lokschin, who co-founded the company with Alexander Graf (the two share the title of co-CEOs) put it, are “hidden champions, leaders and brands you have never heard about doing things like selling silicone isolations for windows.” The roster includes Metro, Aldi Süd, Toyota and many others.

The plan will be to continue to support and grow its wider business building e-commerce tools for all kinds of larger companies, but in particular Spryker plans to use this tranche of funding to double down specifically on the B2B opportunity, building more agile e-commerce storefronts and in some cases also developing marketplaces around that.

One might assume that in the world of e-commerce, consumer-facing companies need to be the most dynamic and responsive, not least because they are facing a mass market and all the whims and competitive forces that might drive users to abandon shopping carts, look for better deals elsewhere or simply get distracted by the latest notification of a TikTok video or direct message.

For consumer-facing businesses, making sure they have the latest adtech, marketing tech and tools to improve discovery and conversion is a must.

It turns out that business-facing businesses are no less immune to their own set of customer distractions and challenges — particularly in the current market, buffeted as it is by the global health pandemic and its economic reverberations. They, too, could benefit from testing out new channels and techniques to attract customers, help them with discovery and more.

“We’ve discovered that the model for success for B2B businesses online is not about different people, and not about money. They just don’t have the tooling,” said Graf. “Those that have proven to be more successful are those that are able to move faster, to test out everything that comes to mind.”

Spryker positions itself as the company to help larger businesses do this, much in the way that smaller merchants have adopted solutions from the likes of Shopify .

In some ways, it almost feels like the case of Walmart versus Amazon playing itself out across multiple verticals, and now in the world of B2B.

“One of our biggest DIY customers [which would have previously served a mainly trade-only clientele] had to build a marketplace because of restrictions in their brick and mortar assortment, and in how it could be accessed,” Lokschin said. “You might ask yourself, who really needs more selection? But there are new providers like Mano Mano and Amazon, both offering millions of products. Older companies then have to become marketplaces themselves to remain competitive.”

It seems that even Spryker itself is not immune from that marketplace trend: Part of the funding will be to develop a technology AppStore, where it can itself offer third-party tools to companies to complement what it provides in terms of e-commerce tools.

“We integrate with hundreds of tech providers, including 30-40 payment providers, all of the essential logistics networks,” Lokschin said.

Spryker is part of that category of e-commerce businesses known as “headless” providers — by which they mean those using the tools do so by way of API-based architecture and other easy-to-integrate modules delivered through a “PaaS” (clould-based Platform as a Service) model.

It is not alone in that category: There have been a number of others playing on the same concept to emerge both in Europe and the U.S. They include Commerce Layer in Italy; another startup out of Germany called Commercetools; and Shogun in the U.S.

Spryker’s argument is that by being a newer company (founded in 2018) it has a more up-to-date stack that puts it ahead of older startups and more incumbent players like SAP and Oracle.

That is part of what attracted TCV and others in this round, which was closed earlier than Spryker had even planned to raise (it was aiming for Q2 of next year) but came on good terms.

“The commerce infrastructure market has been a high priority for TCV over the years. It is a large market that is growing rapidly on the back of e-commerce growth,” said Muz Ashraf, a principal at TCV, to TechCrunch. “We have invested across other areas of the commerce stack, including payments (Mollie, Klarna), underlying infrastructure (Redis Labs) as well as systems of engagement (ExactTarget, Sitecore). Traditional offline vendors are increasingly rethinking their digital commerce strategy, more so given what we are living through, and that further acts as a market accelerant.

“Having tracked Spryker for a while now, we think their solution meets the needs of enterprises who are increasingly looking for modern solutions that allow them to live in a best-of-breed world, future-proofing their commerce offerings and allowing them to provide innovative experiences to their consumers.”

Dec
04
2020
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3 ways the pandemic is transforming tech spending

Ever since the pandemic hit the U.S. in full force last March, the B2B tech community keeps asking the same questions: Are businesses spending more on technology? What’s the money getting spent on? Is the sales cycle faster? What trends will likely carry into 2021?

Recently we decided to join forces to answer these questions. We analyzed data from the just-released Q4 2020 Outlook of the Coupa Business Spend Index (BSI), a leading indicator of economic growth, in light of hundreds of conversations we have had with business-tech buyers this year.

A former Battery Ventures portfolio company, Coupa* is a business spend-management company that has cumulatively processed more than $2 trillion in business spending. This perspective gives Coupa unique, real-time insights into tech spending trends across multiple industries.

Tech spending is continuing despite the economic recession — which helps explain why many startups are raising large rounds and even tapping public markets for capital.

Broadly speaking, tech spending is continuing despite the economic recession — which helps explain why many tech startups are raising large financing rounds and even tapping the public markets for capital. Here are our three specific takeaways on current tech spending:

Spending is shifting away from remote collaboration to SaaS and cloud computing

Tech spending ranks among the hottest boardroom topics today. Decisions that used to be confined to the CIO’s organization are now operationally and strategically critical to the CEO. Multiple reasons drive this shift, but the pandemic has forced businesses to operate and engage with customers differently, almost overnight. Boards recognize that companies must change their business models and operations if they don’t want to become obsolete. The question on everyone’s mind is no longer “what are our technology investments?” but rather, “how fast can they happen?”

Spending on WFH/remote collaboration tools has largely run its course in the first wave of adaptation forced by the pandemic. Now we’re seeing a second wave of tech spending, in which enterprises adopt technology to make operations easier and simply keep their doors open.

SaaS solutions are replacing unsustainable manual processes. Consider Rhode Island’s decision to shift from in-person citizen surveying to using SurveyMonkey. Many companies are shifting their vendor payments to digital payments, ditching paper checks entirely. Utility provider PG&E is accelerating its digital transformation roadmap from five years to two years.

The second wave of adaptation has also pushed many companies to embrace the cloud, as this chart makes clear:

Similarly, the difficulty of maintaining a traditional data center during a pandemic has pushed many companies to finally shift to cloud infrastructure under COVID. As they migrate that workload to the cloud, the pie is still expanding. Goldman Sachs and Battery Ventures data suggest $600 billion worth of disruption potential will bleed into 2021 and beyond.

In addition to SaaS and cloud adoption, companies across sectors are spending on technologies to reduce their reliance on humans. For instance, Tyson Foods is investing in and accelerating the adoption of automated technology to process poultry, pork and beef.

All companies are digital product companies now

Mention “digital product company” in the past, and we’d all think of Netflix. But now every company has to reimagine itself as offering digital products in a meaningful way.

Nov
13
2020
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Kyklo raises $8.5M to bring electrical distributors online

Kyklo, a startup that helps wholesale distributors of electrical and automation products launch e-commerce stores, is announcing that it has raised $8.5 million in seed funding.

The industry may sound a bit arcane, but it’s one that founders Remi Ducrocq (Kyklo’s CEO) and Fabien Legouic (CTO) know from having worked at Schneider Electric. Ducrocq said that the process of selling these products to manufacturers and electricians remains cumbersome, relying largely on PDF catalogs.

Shifting these businesses to digital is a much bigger challenge than creating your standard online store, both because of the number of products being sold and the needs for accurate listings.

“Even the small folks sell 100,000 SKUs [distinct products], up to 1 million SKUs,” Ducrocq told me. “If you choose the wrong product, your factory gets shut down. [It’s essential] to have accurate information present on the web store to have a transaction happen.”

Kyklo doesn’t automate the process completely, Ducrocq added, because “you can’t just create content or apply AI to something that is so unstructured.” Creating these stores remains a manual process for the Kylo team, but the company has built “technology to make that manual process as easy as possible.”

That includes standardized data structures and a variety of scripts to create these product listings more quickly. Ultimately, Ducrocq said Kyklo can get distributors up and running with an online store within 30 days, and sometimes as quickly as two weeks.

In total, Kyklo has created a catalog of more than 2.5 million products for more than 35 distributors. It’s also been endorsed by manufacturers like Schneider Electric, Wago, Festo US and Mitsubishi Electric Automation as their preferred e-commerce partner.

Ducrocq suggested that going digital with Kyklo helps these businesses both by allowing them to reach new customers with improved SEO and by giving them tools to expand their sales with existing customers. For example, IEC Supply says that its online sales increased 500% for the first six months after launching with Kyklo, while new customer interactions tripled.

“Market maturity accelerated because of the pandemic,” he added. “These B2B traditional businesses were reluctant to go towards digitization, with only visionaries embarking on the journey. But during the pandemic, salespeople haven’t been able to see their customers in person for six months, so many distributors are reassessing how they should effectively go to market.”

Kyklo has now raised a total of $10.2 million. The new funding was led by Felicis Ventures and IA Ventures, with participation from Jungle Ventures, partners at Wavemaker, Seedplus and strategic angel investors.

“With 80% of the $640 billion electrical, industrial and automation distribution industry still relying on PDF catalogs and phone and emails for its operations, distributors face a challenge in the market,” said Felicis Managing Director Sundeep Peechu in a statement. “KYKLO’s platform helps these companies keep pace with crucial industry needs and reassess how digital tools can transform their sales force.”

Oct
27
2020
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SimilarWeb raises $120M for its AI-based market intelligence platform for sites and apps

Israeli startup SimilarWeb has made a name for itself with an AI-based platform that lets sites and apps track and understand traffic not just on their own sites, but those of its competitors. Now, it’s taking the next step in its growth. The startup has raised $120 million, funding it will use to continue expanding its platform both through acquisitions and investing in its own R&D, with a focus on providing more analytics services to larger enterprises alongside its current base of individuals and companies of all sizes that do business on the web.

But not, it seems, necessarily an IPO at the moment.

“We will pursue whatever we feel is necessary to grow, so that decision will come from delivering value, not chasing an IPO,” Or Offer, SimilarWeb’s founder and CEO, said in an interview.

Co-led by ION Crossover Partners and Viola Growth, the round doubles the total amount that the startup has raised to date to $240 million. Offer said that it was not disclosing its valuation this time around except to say that his company is now “playing in the big pool.” It counts more than half of the Fortune 100 as customers, with Walmart, P&G, Adidas and Google, among them.

For some context, it hit an $800 million valuation in its last equity round, in 2017.

SimilarWeb’s technology competes with other analytics and market intelligence providers ranging from the likes of Nielsen and ComScore through to the Apptopias of the world in that, at its most basic level, it provides a dashboard to users that provides insights into where people are going on desktop and mobile. Where it differs, Offer said, is in how it gets to its information, and what else it’s doing in the process.

For starters, it focuses not just how many people are visiting, but also a look into what is triggering the activity — the “why”, as it were — behind the activity. Using a host of AI tech such as machine learning algorithms and deep learning — like a lot of tech out of Israel, it’s being built by people with deep expertise in this area — Offer says that SimilarWeb is crunching data from a number of different sources to extrapolate its insights.

He declined to give much detail on those sources but told me that he cheered the arrival of privacy gates and cookie lists for helping ferret out, expose and sometimes eradicate some of the more nefarious “analytics” services out there, and said that SimilarWeb has not been affected at all by that swing to more data protection, since it’s not an analytics service, strictly speaking, and doesn’t sniff data on sights in the same way. It’s also exploring widening its data pool, he added:

“We are always thinking about what new signals we could use,” he said. “Maybe they will include CDNs. But it’s like Google with its rankings in search. It’s a never ending story to try to get the highest accuracy in the world.”

The global health pandemic has driven a huge amount of activity on the web this year, with people turning to sites and apps not just for leisure — something to do while staying indoors, to offset all the usual activities that have been cancelled — but for business, whether it be consumers using e-commerce services for shopping, or workers taking everything online and to the cloud to continue operating.

That has also seen a boost of business for all the various companies that help the wheels turn on that machine, SimilarWeb included.

“Consumer behavior is changing dramatically, and all companies need better visibility,” said Offer. “It started with toilet paper and hand sanitizer, then moved to desks and office chairs, but now it’s not just e-commerce but everything. Think about big banks, whose business was 70% offline and is now 70-80% online. Companies are building and undergoing a digital transformation.”

That in turn is driving more people to understand how well their web presence is working, he said, with the basic big question being: “What is my marketshare, and how does that compare to my competition? Everything is about digital visibility, especially in times of change.”

Like many other companies, SimilarWeb did see an initial dip in business, Offer said, and to that end the company has taken on some debt as part of Israel’s Paycheck Protection Program, to help safeguard some jobs that needed to be furloughed. But he added that most of its customers prior to the pandemic kicking off are now back, along with customers from new categories that hadn’t been active much before, like automotive portals.

That change in customer composition is also opening some doors of opportunity for the company. Offer noted that in recent months, a lot of large enterprises — which might have previously used SimilarWeb’s technology indirectly, via a consultancy, for example — have been coming to the company direct.

“We’ve started a new advisory service [where] our own expert works with a big customer that might have more deep and complex questions about the behaviour we are observing. They are questions all big businesses have right now.” The service sounds like a partly-educational effort, teaching companies that are not necessarily digital-first be more proactive, and partly consulting.

New customer segments, and new priorities in the world of business, are two of the things that drove this round, say investors.

“SimilarWeb was always an incredible tool for any digital professional,” said Gili Iohan of ION Crossover Partners, in a statement. “But over the last few months it has become apparent that traffic intelligence — the unparalleled data and digital insight that SimilarWeb offers — is an absolute essential for any company that wants to win in the digital world.”

As for acquisitions, SimilarWeb has historically made these to accelerate its technical march. For example, in 2015 it acquired Quettra to move deeper into mobile analytics and it acquired Swayy to move into content discovery insights (key for e-commerce intelligence). Offer would not go into too much detail about what it has identified as a further target but given that there are quite a lot of companies building tech in this area currently, that there might be a case for some consolidation around bigger platforms to combine some of the features and functionality. Offer said that it was looking at “companies with great data and digital intelligence, with a good product. There are a lot of opportunities right now on the table.”

The company will also be doing some hiring, with the plan to be to add 200 more people globally by January (it has around 600 employees today).

“Since we joined the company three years ago, SimilarWeb has executed a strategic transformation from a general-purpose measurement platform to vertical-based solutions, which has significantly expanded its market opportunity and generated immense customer value,” said Harel Beit-On, Founder and General Partner at Viola Growth, in a statement. “With a stellar management team of accomplished executives, we believe this round positions the company to own the digital intelligence category, and capitalize on the acceleration of the digital era.”

Oct
22
2020
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Facebook adds hosting, shopping features and pricing tiers to WhatsApp Business

Facebook has been making a big play to be a go-to partner for small and medium businesses that use the internet to interface with the wider world, and its messaging platform WhatsApp, with some 50 million businesses and 175 million people messaging them (and more than 2 billion users overall) has been a central part of that pitch.

Now, the company is making three big additions to WhatsApp to fill out that proposition.

It’s launching a way to shop for and pay for goods and services in WhatsApp chats; it’s going head to head with the hosting providers of the world with a new product called Facebook Hosting Services to host businesses’ online assets and activity; and — in line with its expanding product range — Facebook said it will finally start to charge companies using WhatsApp for Business.

Facebook announced the news in a short blog post light on details. We have reached out to the company for more information on pricing, availability of the services and whether Facebook will provide hosting itself or work with third parties, and we will update this post as we learn more.

Update: Facebook responded and we are putting the replies below, in-line where it makes sense.

Here is what we know for now:

In-chat Shopping: Companies are already using WhatsApp to present product information and initiate discussions for transactions. One of the more recent developments in that area was the addition of QR codes and the ability to share catalog links in chats, added in July. At the same time, Facebook has been expanding the ways that businesses can display what they are selling on Facebook and Instagram, most recently with the launch in August of Facebook Shop, following a similar product roll out on Instagram before that.

Today’s move sounds like a new way for businesses in turn to use WhatsApp both to link through to those Facebook-native catalogs, as well as other products, and then purchase items, while still staying in the chat.

At the same time, Facebook will be making it possible for merchants to add “buy” buttons in other places that will take shoppers to WhatsApp chats to complete the purchase. “We also want to make it easier for businesses to integrate these features into their existing commerce and customer solutions,” it notes. “This will help many small businesses who have been most impacted in this time.”

Although Facebook is not calling this WhatsApp Pay, it seems that this is the next step ahead for the company’s ambitions to bring payments into the chat flow of its messaging app. That has been a long and winding road for the company, which finally launched WhatsApp Payments, using Facebook Pay, in Brazil, in June of this year only to have it shut down by regulators for failing to meet their requirements. (The plan has been to expand it to India, Indonesia and Mexico next.)

Facebook Hosting Services: These will be available in the coming months, but no specific date to share right now. “We’re sharing our plans now while we work with our partners to make these services available,” the company said in a statement to TechCrunch.

No! This is not about Facebook taking on AWS. Or… not yet at least? The idea here appears that it is specifically aimed at selling hosting services to the kind of SMBs who already use Facebook and WhatsApp messaging, who either already use hosting services for their online assets, whether that be their online stores or other things, or are finding themselves now needing to for the first time, now that business is all about being “online.”

“Today, all businesses using our API are using either an on-premise solution or leverage a solutions provider, both of which require costly servers to maintain,” Facebook said. “With this change, businesses will be able to choose to use Facebook’s own secure hosting infrastructure for free, which helps remove a costly item for every company that wants to use the WhatsApp Business API, including our business service providers, and will help them all save money.” It added that it will share more info about where data will be hosted closer to launch.

This is a very interesting move, since the SMB hosting market is pretty fragmented with a number of companies, including the likes of GoDaddy, Dream Host, HostGator, BlueHost and many others also offering these services. That fragmentation spells opportunity for a huge company like Facebook with a global profile, a burgeoning amount of connections through to other online services for these SMBs and a pretty extensive network of data centers around the world that it has built for itself and can now use to provide services to others — which is, indeed, a pretty strong parallel with how Amazon and AWS have done business.

Facebook already has an “app store” of sorts with partners it works with to provide marketing and related services to businesses using its platform. It looks like it plans to expand this, and will sell the hosting alongside all of that, with the kicker that hosting natively on Facebook will speed up how everything works.

“Providing this option will make it easier for small and medium size businesses to get started, sell products, keep their inventory up to date, and quickly respond to messages they receive – wherever their employees are,” it notes.

Charging tiers: As you would expect, to encourage more adoption, Facebook has not been charging for WhatsApp Business up to now, but it has charged for some WhatsApp business messages — for example when businesses send a boarding pass or e-commerce receipt to a customer over Facebook’s rails. (These prices vary and a list of them is published here.) Now, with more services coming into the mix, and businesses tying their fates more strongly to how well they are performing on Facebook’s platforms, it’s no surprise to see Facebook converting that into a pay to play scenario.

“What we’ve heard over the past couple years is how the conversational nature of business messaging is really valuable to people. So in the future we may look at ways to update how we charge businesses that better reflect how it’s used,” the company told us. Important to note that this will relate to how businesses send messages. “As always, it’s free for people to send a business a message,” Facebook added.

Frustratingly, there seems so far to be no detail on which services will be charged, nor how much, nor when, so this is more of a warning than a new requirement.

“We will charge business customers for some of the services we offer, which will help WhatsApp continue building a business of our own while we provide and expand free end-to-end encrypted text, video and voice calling for more than two billion people,” it notes.

For those who might find that annoying, on the plus side, for those who are concerned about an ever-encroaching data monster, it will, at the least, help WhatsApp and Facebook continue to stick to its age-old commitment to stay away from advertising as a business model.

Doubling-down on SMBs

The new services come at a time when Facebook is doubling down on providing services for businesses, spurred in no small part by the coronavirus pandemic, which has driven physical retailers and others to close their actual doors, shifting their focus to using the internet and mobile services to connect with and sell to customers.

Citing that very trend, last month the company’s COO Sheryl Sandberg announced the Facebook Business Suite, bringing together all of the tools it has been building for companies to better leverage Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp profiles both to advertise themselves as well as communicate with and sell to customers. And the fact that Sandberg was leading the announcement says something about how Facebook is prioritizing this: it’s striking while the iron is hot with companies using its platform, but it sees/hopes that business services can a key way to diversify its business model while also helping buffer it — since many businesses building Pages may also advertise.

Facebook has also been building more functionality across Facebook and Instagram specifically aimed at helping power users and businesses leverage the two in a more efficient way. Adding in more tools to WhatsApp is the natural progression of all of this.

To be sure, as we pointed out earlier this year, even while there is a lot of very informal use of WhatsApp by businesses all around the world, WhatsApp Business remains a fairly small product, most popular in India and Brazil. Facebook launching more tools for how to use it will potentially drive more business not just in those markets but help the company convert more businesses to using it in other places, too.

Smaller businesses have been on Facebook’s radar for a while now. Even before the pandemic hit, in many cases retailers or restaurants do not have websites of their own, opting for a Facebook Page or Instagram Profile as their URL and primary online interface with the world; and even when they do have standalone sites, they are more likely to update people and spread the word about what they are doing on social media than via their own URLs.

Facebook’s also made a video to help demonstrate how it sees these WhatsApp Business in action, which you can here:

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