Jul
05
2019
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A 23-year-old B2B company has shown how keen India is for tech IPOs

Away from the limelight of the press and the frenzy of fundraising, a tech startup in India has achieved a feat that few of its peers have managed: going public.

IndiaMART, the country’s largest online platform for selling products directly to businesses, raised nearly $70 million in a rare tech IPO for India this week.

The milestone for the 23-year-old firm is so uncommon for India’s otherwise burgeoning startup ecosystem that, beyond being over-subscribed 36 times, pent up demand for IndiaMART’s stock saw its share price pop 40% on its first day of trading on National Stock Exchange on Thursday — a momentum that it sustained on Friday.

The stock ended Friday at Rs 1326 ($19.3), compared to its issue price of Rs 973 ($14.2).

IndiaMART is the first business-to-business e-commerce firm to go public in India. Its IPO also marks the first listing for a firm following the May reelection of Narendra Modi as the nation’s Prime Minister and the months-long drought that led to it.

Accounting firm EY said it expects more companies from India to follow suit and file for IPO in the coming months.

“Now that national elections are over and favorable results secured, IPO activity is expected to gain momentum in H2 2019 (second half of the year). Companies that had filed their offer documents with the Indian stock markets regulator during H2 2018 and Q1 2019 may finally come to market in the months ahead,” it said in a statement (PDF).

IndiaMART’s origin

The fireworks of the IPO are just as impressive as IndiaMART’s journey.

The startup was founded in 1996 and for the first 13 years, it focused on exports to customers abroad, but it has since modernized its business following the wave of the internet.

“The thesis was, in 1996, there were no computers or internet in India. The information about India’s market to the West was very limited,” Dinesh Agarwal, co-founder and CEO of IndiaMART, told TechCrunch in an interview.

Until 2008, IndiaMART was fully bootstrapped and profitable with $10 million in revenue, Agarwal said. But things started to dramatically change in that year.

“The Indian rupee became very strong against the dollar, which dwindled the exports business. This is also when the stock market was collapsing in the West, which further hurt the exports demand,” he explained.

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Dinesh Agarwal, founder and CEO of IndiaMart.com, poses for a profile shot on July 29, 2015 in Noida, India.

By this time, millions of people in India were on the internet and, with tens of millions of people owning a feature phone, the conditions of the market had begun to shift towards digital.

“This is when we decided to pursue a completely different path. We started to focus on the domestic market,” Agarwal said.

Over the last 10 years, IndiaMART has become the largest e-commerce platform for businesses with about 60% market share, according to research firm KPMG. It handles 97,000 product categories — ranging from machine parts, medical equipment and textile products to cranes — and has amassed 83 million buyers and 5.5 million suppliers from thousands of towns and cities of India.

According to the most recent data published by the Indian government, there are about 50 to 60 million small and medium-sized businesses in India, but only around 10 million of them have any presence on the web. Some 97% of the top 50 companies listed on National Stock Exchange use IndiaMART’s services, Agarwal said.

That’s not to say that the transition to the current day was a straightforward process for the company. IndiaMART tried to capitalize on its early mover advantage with a stream of new services which ultimately didn’t reap the desired rewards.

In 2002, it launched a travel portal for businesses. A year later, it launched a business verification service. It also unveiled a payments platform called ABCPayments. None of these services worked and the firm quickly moved on.

Part of IndiaMART’s success story is its firm leadership and how cautiously it has raised and spent its money, Rajesh Sawhney, a serial angel investor who sits on IndiaMART’s board, told TechCrunch in an interview.

IndiaMART, which employs about 4,000 people, is operationally profitable as of the financial year that ended in March this year. It clocked some $82 million in revenue in the year. It has raised about $32 million to date from Intel Capital, Amadeus Capital Partners and Quona Capital. (Notably, Agarwal said that he rejected offers from VCs for a very long time.)

The firm makes most of its revenue from subscriptions it sells to sellers. A subscription gives a seller a range of benefits including getting featured on storefronts.

Where the industry stands

There are only a handful of internet companies in India that have gone public in the last decade. Online travel service MakeMyTrip went public in 2010. Software firm Intellect Design Arena and e-commerce store Koovs listed in 2014, then travel portal Yatra and e-commerce firm Infibeam followed two years later.

India has consistently attracted billions of dollars in funding in recent years and produced many unicorns. Those include Flipkart, which was acquired by Walmart last year for $16 billion, Paytm, which has raised more than $2 billion to date, Swiggy, which has bagged $1.5 billion to date, Zomato, which has raised $750 million, and relatively new entrant Byju’s — but few of them are nearing profitability and most likely do not see an IPO in their immediate future.

In that context, IndiaMART may set a benchmark for others to follow.

“The fact that we have a homegrown digital commerce business, serving both the urban and smaller cities, and having struggled and been around for so long building a very difficult business and finally going public in the local exchange is a phenomenal story,” Ganesh Rengaswamy, a partner at Quona Capital, told TechCrunch in an interview. “It keeps the story of India tech, to the Western world, going.”

Generally, it is agreed that there are too few IPOs in India and the industry can benefit from momentum and encouragement of high profile and successful public listings.

“There is a firm consensus that in India, markets will prefer only the IPOs of companies that are profitable. And investors in India might not value those companies. Both of these issues are being addressed by IndiaMART,” said Sawhney.

“We need 30 to 40 more IPOs. This will also mean that the stock market here has matured and understands the tech stocks and how it is different from other consumer stocks they usually handle. More tech companies going public would also pave the way for many to explore stock exchanges outside of India.

“Indian market is ready for more tech stocks. We just need to get more companies to go out there,” Sawhney added, although he did predict that it will take a few years before the vast majority of leading startups are ready for the public market.

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The Indian government, for its part, this week announced a number of incentives to uplift the “entrepreneurial spirit” in the nation.

Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman said the government would ease foreign direct investment rules for certain sectors — including e-commerce, food delivery, grocery — and improve the digital payments ecosystem. Sitharaman, who is the first woman to hold this position in India, said the government would also launch a TV program to help startups connect with venture capitalists.

The path ahead for IndiaMART

IndiaMART has managed to build a sticky business that compels more than 55% of its customers to come back to the platform and make another transaction within 90 days, Agarwal — its CEO — said. With some 3,500 of its 4,000 employees classified as sales executives, the company is aggressive in its pursuit of new customers. Moving forward, that will remain one of its biggest focuses, according to Agarwal.

“Most of our time still goes into educating MSMEs on how to use the internet. That was a challenge 20 years ago and it remains a challenge today,” he told TechCrunch.

In recent years, IndiaMART has begun to expand its suite of offerings to its business customers in a bid to increase the value they get from its platform and thus increase their reliance on its service.

IndiaMART has built a customer relationship management (CRM) tool so that customers need not rely on spreadsheets or other third-party services.

“We will continue to explore more SaaS offerings and look into solving problems in accounting, invoice management and other areas,” said Agarwal.

The firm also recently started to offer payment facilitation between buyers and sellers through a PayPal -like escrow system.

“This will bridge the trust gap between the entities and improve an MSME’s ability to accept all kinds of payment options including the new age offerings.”

There’s an elephant in the room, however.

A bigger challenge that looms for IndiaMART is the growing interest of Amazon and Walmart in the business-to-business space. Several startups including Udaan — which has raised north of $280 million from DST Global and Lightspeed Venture Partners — have risen up in recent years and are increasingly expanding their operations. Agarwal did not seem much worried, however, telling TechCrunch that he believes that his prime competition is more focused on B2C and serving niche audiences. Besides he has $100 million in the bank himself.

Indeed, as Quona Capital’s Rengaswamy astutely noted, competition is not new for IndiaMART — the company has survived and thrived more than two decades of it.

“Alibaba came and gave up,” he noted.

An important — and unanswered question — that follows the successful IPO is how IndiaMART’s stock will fare over the coming months. A glance to the U.S. — where hyped companies like Uber, Lyft and others have seen prices taper off — shows clearly that early demand and sustained stock performance are not one and the same.

Nobody knows at this point, and the added complexity at play is that the concept of a tech IPO is so uncommon in India that there is no definitive answer to it… yet. But IndiaMART’s biggest achievement may be that it sets the pathway that many others will follow.

Jul
02
2019
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KKR has acquired Corel (including its recent acquisition Parallels), reportedly for $1B+

Only six months after snapping up virtualization specialist Parallels, Canadian software company Corel is itself getting acquired. TechCrunch has learned and confirmed with multiple sources that private equity giant KKR has closed a deal to buy the company from Vector Capital, which has owned some or all of Corel since 2003.

KKR’s interest in Corel was first rumored in May, when PE Hub reported the two were in talks for a sale valued at over $1 billion. At the time, representatives of Corel declined to comment, although our sources inside the company indicated that the reports were not inaccurate.

Fast-forward to today, and both KKR and and a spokesperson for Parallels/Corel declined to comment. But, we now have a copy of the memo provided by an internal source that has been sent out to staff announcing that the deal has indeed closed, and that Corel is now officially part of the KKR family of companies.

According to the memo, KKR is very optimistic about Corel’s prospects. It plans to give Corel an “infusion of capital” to accelerate its growth, which will go into two areas. First will be expanding operations for the existing business: Corel is the company behind a number of longstanding software brands including WordPerfect, Corel Draw, WinZip, PaintShop Pro. Second will be making acquisitions (and the sheer proliferation of promising startups in the last decade dedicated to all variety of apps and other software that may have found it a challenge to scale means Corel could have rich pickings).

There are no layoffs planned as part of the deal, and the official announcement had been planned to go out next week, but now looks like it may be moved up to tomorrow (Wednesday).

Vector and Corel itself have never publicly disclosed much on user numbers or financials, but Vector has described the company as “highly profitable,” with dividends of more than $300 million to date. The memo we’ve seen notes that Corel (including Parallels) has millions of customers across its various software platforms and apps.

The acquisition of Corel by KKR marks another chapter in the company’s long corporate history.

Founded in the 1980s — when personal computers were just starting to enter the mainstream but well before we had anything like the internet (not to mention the world of cloud-based apps) that we know today — Corel once positioned itself as a potential competitor to Microsoft in the software wars.

When Corel purchased WordPerfect from Novel in 1996, Corel founder Michael Cowpland viewed the software package as an integral part of that rivalry, describing it as the Pepsi to Microsoft’s Coke — that is, Word.

Microsoft proved the mightier of the two, and it even eventually signed a partnership with Corel that saw it investing in the company: a sell out, as one disappointed Canadian journalist described it at the time. The two have also sparred over patents.

Corel, which went public early in its life, got battered in the first dot-com bust (which was not helped by an insider trading scandal that led to Cowpland’s departure). Vector stepped in and took it private in 2003.

After restructuring the company, Vector listed Corel again in 2006. But, amid another recession that again hit Corel hard, it once more took it private in 2010. In the intervening years, Corel has been focused on modernising its offerings, bringing in e-commerce, direct downloads, subscriptions and acquisitions to bring the company’s products and wider business closer to how consumers and workers use computers today.

Parallels was a part of that strategy: its products help people work seamlessly across multiple platforms, letting employees (and IT managers) run a unified workflow regardless of the device or operating system, with Parallels providing support for Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Chromebook, Linux, Raspberry Pi and cloud — a timely offering in the current, fragmented IT market.

If the $1 billion+ figure is accurate, that strategy seems to have worked: across the two times that Vector took Corel private, it never paid more than $124 million for the company (the second time, as its stock was tanking, it paid just $30 million).

Jun
20
2019
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Slack opens at $38.50, a pop of 48% on its first day of trading on NYSE as WORK

Slack, the workplace messaging platform that has helped define a key category of enterprise IT, made its debut as a public company today with a pop. Trading as “WORK” on the New York Stock Exchange, it opened at $38.50 after setting a reference price last night of $26, valuing it at $15.7 billion, and then setting a bid/asking price of $37 this morning.

The trading climbed up quickly in its opening minutes and went as high as $42 and is now down to $38.95. We’ll continue to update this as the day goes on. These prices are pushing the market cap to around $20 billion.

Note: There was no “money raised” with this IPO ahead of today because Slack’s move into being a publicly traded company is coming by way of a direct listing — meaning the shares went directly on the market with no pre-sale. This is a less-conventional route that doesn’t involve bankers underwriting the listing (nor all the costs that come along with the roadshow and the rest). It also means Slack does not raise a large sum ahead of public trading. But it does let existing shareholders trade shares without dilution and is an efficient way of going public if you’re not in need of an immediate, large cash injection. It’s a route that Spotify also took when it went public last year, and, from the front-page article on NYSE.com, it seems that there might be growing interest in this process — or at least, that the NYSE would like to promote it as an option.

Slack’s decision to go slightly off-script is in keeping with some of the ethos that it has cultivated over the last several years as one of the undisputed juggernauts of the tech world. Its rocket ship has been a product that has touched on not one but three different hot growth areas: enterprise software-as-a-service, messaging apps and platform plays that, by way of APIs, can become the touchstone and nerve center for a seemingly limitless number of other services.

What’s interesting about Slack is that — contrary to how some might think of tech — the journey here didn’t start as rocket science.

Slack was nearly an accidental creation, a byproduct that came out of how a previous business, Tiny Speck, was able to keep its geographically spread-out team communicating while building its product, the game Glitch. Glitch and Tiny Speck failed to gain traction, so after they got shut down, the ever-resourceful co-founder Stewart Butterfield did what many founders who still have some money in the bank and fire in their bellies do: a pivot. He took the basic channel they were using and built it (with some help) into the earliest public version of what came to be known as Slack.

But from that unlikely start something almost surprising happened: the right mix of ease of use, efficient responsiveness and functionality — in aid of those already important areas of workplace communication, messaging and app integration — made Slack into a huge hit. Quickly, Slack became the fastest-growing piece of enterprise software ever in terms of adding users, with a rapid succession of funding rounds (raising over $1.2 billion in total), valuation hikes and multiple product improvements along the way to help it grow.

Today, like many a software-as-a-service business that is less than 10 years old and investing returns to keep up with its fast-growing business, Slack is not profitable.

In the fiscal year that ended January 31, 2019, it reported revenues in its S-1 of $400.6 million, but with a net loss of $138.9 million. That was a slight improvement on its net loss from the previous fiscal year of $140.1 million, with a big jump on revenue, which was $220.5 million.

But its growth and the buzz it has amassed has given it a big push. As of January 31, it clocked up over 10 million daily active users across 600,000 organizations, with 88,000 of them on paid plans and 550,000 using the free version of the app. It will be interesting to see how and if that goodwill and excitement outweighs some of those financial bum notes.

Or, in some cases, possibly other bum notes. The company has made “Work” not just its ticker but its mantra. Its slogan is “Where work happens” and it focuses on how its platform helps make people more productive. But as you might expect, not everyone feels that way about it, with the endless streams of notifications, the slightly clumsy way of handling threaded conversations and certain other distracting features raising the ire of some people. (Google “Slack is a distraction” and you can see some examples of those dissenting opinions.)

Slack has had its suitors over the years, unsurprisingly, and at least one of them has in the interim made a product to compete with it. Teams, from Microsoft, is one of the many rival platforms on the market looking to capitalise on the surge of interest for chat and collaboration platforms that Slack has helped usher in. Other competitors include Workplace from Facebook, Mattermost and Flock, along with Threads and more.

May
30
2019
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Foursquare buys Placed from Snap Inc. on the heels of $150M in new funding

Foursquare just made its first acquisition. The location tech company has acquired Placed from Snap Inc. on the heels of a fresh $150 million investment led by The Raine Group. The terms of the deal were not disclosed. Placed founder and CEO David Shim will become president of Foursquare.

Placed is the biggest competitor to Foursquare’s Attribution product, which allows brands to track the physical impact (foot traffic to store) of a digital campaign or ad. Up until now, Placed and Attribution by Foursquare combined have measured more than $3 billion in ad-to-store visits.

Placed launched in 2011 and raised $13.4 million (according to Crunchbase) before being acquired by Snap Inc. in 2017.

As part of the deal with Foursquare, the company’s Attribution product will henceforth be known as Placed powered by Foursquare. The acquisition also means that Placed powered by Foursquare will have more than 450 measureable media partners, including Twitter, Snap, Pandora and Waze. Moreover, more than 50% of the Fortune 100 are partnered with Placed or Foursquare.

It’s also worth noting that this latest investment of $150 million is the biggest financing round for Foursquare ever, and comes following a $33 million Series F last year.

Here’s what Foursquare CEO Jeff Glueck had to say about the financing in a prepared statement:

This is one of the largest investments ever in the location tech space. The investment will fund our acquisition and also capitalize us for our increased R&D and expansion plans, allowing us to focus on our mission to build the world’s most trusted, independent location technology platform.

That last bit, about an independent location technology platform, is important here. Foursquare is 10 years old and has transformed from a consumer-facing location check-in app — a game, really — into a location analytics and development platform.

Indeed, when Glueck paints his vision for the company, he lists five key areas of focus:

  1. Developer Tools to build smarter apps and customer engagement, using geo-context;
  2. Analytics, including consumer insights for planning;
  3. Audiences, so businesses can reach the right consumer segments for their message;
  4. Attribution, to test and learn which messages, segments and channels work best;
  5. Consumer, where through our own apps and Foursquare Labs’ R&D efforts we showcase what’s possible and inspire developers via our innovations around contextual location.

You’ll notice that its consumer apps, Foursquare and Swarm, are at the bottom of the list. But that’s because Foursquare’s real technological and strategic advantage isn’t in building the best social platform. In fact, Glueck said that more than 90% of the company’s revenue came from the enterprise side of the business. Foursquare’s advantage is in the accuracy of its technology, as afforded by the decade of data that has come from Foursquare, Swarm and the users who have expressly verified their location.

The Pilgrim SDK fits into that top item on the list: developer tools. The Pilgrim SDK allows developers to embed location-smart experiences and notifications into their apps and services. But it also expands Foursquare’s access to data from beyond its own apps to the greater ecosystem, yielding the data it needs to power analytics tools for brands and publishers.

With this acquisition, Placed will be able to leverage Foursquare’s existing map of 105 million places of interest across 190 countries, as well as tap into the measured U.S. audience of more than 100 million monthly devices:

Foursquare and Placed share a similar philosophy of building against a truth set of real consumer responses. Getting real people to confirm the name of their location is the only way to know if your technology is accurate or not. Placed has leveraged over 135 million survey responses in its first-party Placed survey apps, all from consumers opted-in to its rewards app. Foursquare expands the truth set for machine learning exponentially by adding in our over 13 billion consumer confirmations.

The hope is that Foursquare is accurate enough to become the de facto location analytics and services company for measuring ad spend. With enough scale, that may allow the company to break into the walled gardens where most of that ad spend is going: Facebook and Google.

Of course, to win as the “world’s most trusted, independent location technology platform,” consumers have to trust the platform. After all, one’s location may be the most sensitive piece of data about them. Foursquare has taken steps to be clear about what its technology is capable of. In fact, at SXSW this year, Foursquare offered a limited run of a product called Hypertrending, which was essentially an anonymized view of real-time location data showing activity in the Austin area.

Here’s what executive chairman and co-founder Dennis Crowley had to say at the time:

We feel the general trend with internet and technology companies these days has been to keep giving users a more and more personalized (albeit opaquely personalized) view of the world, while the companies that create these feeds keep the broad “God View” to themselves. Hypertrending is one example of how we can take Foursquare’s aggregate view of the world and make it available to the users who make it what it is. This is what we mean when we talk about “transparency” – we want to be honest, in public, about what our technology can do, how it works, and the specific design decisions we made in creating it.

With regards to today’s acquisition of Placed, Jeff Glueck had this to say:

Both companies also share a commitment to privacy and consumers being in control. Our Foursquare credo of “data as a privilege” only deepens as our company expands. We believe location should only be shared when consumers can see real value and visible benefits driven by location. We remain dedicated to elevating the industry through respect for transparency, user control, and instituting layers of privacy safeguards.

This new financing brings Foursquare’s total funding to $390.4 million.

May
22
2019
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Zendesk acquires Smooch, doubles down on support via messaging apps like WhatsApp

One of the bigger developments in customer services has been the impact of social media — both as a place to vent frustration or praise (mostly frustration) and — especially over messaging apps — as a place for businesses to connect with their users.

Now, customer support specialist Zendesk has made an acquisition so that it can make a bigger move into how it works within social media platforms, and specifically messaging apps: it has acquired Smooch, a startup that describes itself as an “omnichannel messaging platform,” which companies’ customer care teams can use to interact with people over messaging platforms like WhatsApp, WeChat, Line and Messenger, as well as SMS and email.

Smooch was in fact one of the first partners for the WhatsApp Business API, alongside VoiceSage, Nexmo, Infobip, Twilio, MessageBird and others already advertising their services in this area.

It had also been a longtime partner of Zendesk’s, powering the company’s own WhatsApp Business integration and other features. The two already have some customers in common, including Uber. Other Smooch customers include Four Seasons, SXSW, Betterment, Clarabridge, Harry’s, LVMH, Delivery Hero and BarkBox.

Terms of the deal are not being disclosed, but Zendesk SVP  class=”il”>Shawna Wolverton said in an interview that the startup’s entire team of 48, led by co-founder and CEO Warren Levitan, are being offered positions with Zendesk. Smooch is based out of Montreal, Canada — so this represents an expansion for Zendesk into building an office in Canada.

Its backers included iNovia, TA Associates and Real Ventures, who collectively had backed it with less than $10 million (when you leave the inflated hills surrounding Silicon Valley, numbers magically decline). As Zendesk is publicly traded, we may get more of a picture of the price in future quarterly reports. This is the company’s fifth acquisition to date.

The deal underscores the big impact that messaging apps are making in customer service. While phone and internet are massive points of contact, messaging apps is one of the most-requested features Zendesk’s customers are requesting, “because they want to be where their customers are,” with WhatsApp — now at 1.5 billion users — currently at the top of the pile, Wolverton said. (More than half of Zendesk’s revenues are from outside the U.S., which speaks to why WhatsApp — which is bigger outside the U..S than it is in it — is a popular request.)

That’s partly a by-product of how popular messaging apps are full-stop, with more than 75% of all smartphone users having at least one messaging app in use on their devices.

“We live in a messaging-centric world, and customers expect the convenience and interactivity of messaging to be part of their experiences,” said Mikkel Svane, Zendesk founder, CEO and chairman, in a statement. “As long-time partners with Smooch, we know first hand how much they have advanced the conversational experience to bring together all forms of messaging and create a continuous conversation between customers and businesses.”

While the two companies were already working together, the acquisition will mean a closer integration.

That will be in multiple areas. Last year, Zendesk launched a new CRM play called Sunshine, going head to head with the likes of Salesforce in helping businesses better organise and make use of customer data. Smooch will build on that strategy to bring in data to Sunshine from messaging apps and the interactions that take place on them. Also last year, Zendesk launched an omnichannel play, a platform called The Suite, which it says “has become one of our most successful products ever,” with a 400% rise in its customers taking an omnichannel approach. Smooch already forms a key part of that, and it will be even more tightly so.

On the outbound side, for now, there will be two areas where Smooch will be used, Wolverton said. First will be on the basic level of giving Zendesk users the ability to see and create messaging app discussions within a dashboard where they are able to monitor and handle all customer relationship contacts: a conversation that was initiated now on, say, Twitter, can be easily moved into WhatsApp or whatever more direct channel someone wants to use.

Second, Wolverton said that customer care workers can use Smooch to send on “micro apps” to users to handle routine service enquiries, for example sending them links to make or change seat assignments on a flight.

Over time, the plan will be to bring more automated options into the experience, which opens the door for using more AI and potentially bots down the line.

Apr
17
2019
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The Exit: an AI startup’s McPivot

Five years ago, Dynamic Yield was courting an investment from The New York Times as it looked to shift how publishers paywalled their content. Last month, Chicago-based fast food king McDonald’s bought the Israeli company for $300 million, a source told TechCrunch, with the purpose of rethinking how people order drive-thru chicken nuggets.

The pivot from courting the grey lady to the golden arches isn’t as drastic as it sounds. In a lot of ways, it’s the result of the company learning to say “no” to certain customers. At least, that’s what Bessemer’s Adam Fisher tells us.

The Exit is a new series at TechCrunch. It’s an exit interview of sorts with a VC who was in the right place at the right time but made the right call on an investment that paid off. 

Fisher

Fisher was Dynamic Yield founder Liad Agmon’s first call when he started looking for funds from institutional investors. Bessemer bankrolled the bulk of a $1.7 million funding round which valued the startup at $5 million pre-money back in 2013. The firm ended up putting about $15 million into Dynamic Yield, which raised ~$85 million in total from backers including Marker Capital, Union Tech Ventures, Baidu and The New York Times.

Fisher and I chatted at length about the company’s challenging rise and how Israel’s tech scene is still being underestimated. Fisher has 11 years at Bessemer under his belt and 14 exits including Wix, Intucell, Ravello and Leaba.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity. 


Saying “No”

Lucas Matney: So, right off the bat, how exactly did this tool initially built for publishers end up becoming something that McDonalds wanted?

Adam Fisher: I mean, the story of Dynamic Yield is unique. Liad, the founder and CEO, he was an entrepreneur in residence in our Herzliya office back in 2011. I’d identified him earlier from his previous company, and I just said, ‘Well, that’s the kind of guy I’d love to work with.’ I didn’t like his previous company, but there was something about his charisma, his technology background, his youth, which I just felt like “Wow, he’s going to do something interesting.” And so when he sold his previous company, coincidentally to another Chicago based company called Sears, I invited him and I think he found it very flattering, so he joined us as an EIR.

And really only at the very end of his residence did he come up with this idea that would become Dynamic Yield. He came about it very much focused on the problem he saw with publishers being outwitted by ad buyers. He felt like all the big publishers really didn’t understand their digital businesses, didn’t understand their users, didn’t understand how performance ad buying was working, and he began to build a product that could dynamically optimize a publisher’s website to maximize revenue, hence the yield … the dynamic yield.

But very quickly, we told him, ‘That’s interesting, but we’re not sure how big that market is. And, you know it’s not always great to sell to those kind of weak customers. Sometimes they’re weak for a reason.’

Apr
03
2019
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WeWork acquires Managed by Q

Managed by Q, the office management platform based out of New York, has today been acquired by The We Company, formerly known as WeWork.

Financial terms were not disclosed. The WSJ reports that it was a cash and stock deal. Managed by Q, which has 500 employees, will remain as a wholly owned separate entity and CEO Dan Teran will remain following the acquisition to join WeWork leadership.

Upon its latest financing in January, Managed by Q was valued at $249 million, according to PitchBook.

Here’s what Teran had to say in a prepared statement:

We are excited for this incredible opportunity to deepen our commitment to realizing our ambitious vision of building an operating system for the built world. WeWork is uniquely positioned to invest in workplace technology and services, and I look forward to partnering with their team to build more robust products for our clients and create a global platform to help companies push the bounds on our collective potential.

Managed by Q was founded in 2014 with a plan to change the way that offices run. The platform allowed office managers and other decision-makers to handle supply stocking, cleaning, IT support and other non-work related tasks in the office by simply using the Managed by Q dashboard. Managed by Q serves the demand through a combination of in-house operators and third-party vendors and service providers.

Notably, Managed by Q took a different tack than most other logistics companies, employing their operators as W2 workers instead of 1099 contractors. Moreover, Managed by Q offered a stock option plan to operators that gives 5 percent of the company back to those employees.

The company has raised a total of $128.25 million since launch from investors such as GV, RRE and Kapor Capital. Managed by Q currently serves the markets of New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston and Silicon Valley, with plans to aggressively expand following the acquisition, according to the WSJ.

Not only has Managed by Q swiftly matured into a big player in the NY tech scene and Future of Work space, but it has also fostered interesting competition and consolidation within the space. Managed by Q has itself made several acquisitions, including the purchase of NVS (an office space planning and project management service) and Hivy (an internal comms tool to let employees tell office managers what they need).

Mar
18
2019
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Atlassian acquires AgileCraft for $166M

Atlassian today announced that it has acquired AgileCraft, a service that aims to give enterprises plan their strategic projects and workstreams. The service provides business leaders with additional insights into the current status of technical projects and gives them insights into the bottlenecks, risks and dependencies of these projects. Indeed, the focus of AgileCraft is less on technical teams than on the business teams that support them and help them manage the digital transformation of their businesses.

The price total of the acquisition is about $166 million, with $154 million in cash and the remainder in restricted shares.

“Many leaders are still making mission-critical decisions using their instincts and best guesses instead of data,” said Scott Farquhar, Atlassian’s co-founder and co-CEO, in today’s announcement. “As Atlassian tools spread through organizations, technology leaders need better visibility into work performed by their teams. With AgileCraft joining Atlassian, we believe we’re the best company to help executives align the work across their organization – providing an all-encompassing view that connects strategy, work, and outcomes.”

As the name implies, AgileCraft focuses on the Agile methodology, though it also offers a bit of flexibility there with support for frameworks like SAFe, LeSS, Spotify. It supports pulling in data from tools like Atlassian’s Jira, but also Microsoft’s Team Foundation Server, IBM’s RTC and other services.

Atlassian will continue to operate AgileCraft, which had raised about $10.1 million before the acquisition. as a standalone service. “We will continue to focus relentlessly on our customers’ success,” writes AgileCraft’s founder and CEO Steve Elliott. “We remain dedicated to pioneering enterprise agility and are thrilled to team up with the outstanding people at Atlassian to help our customers thrive.”

Over the years, Atlassian started embracing users and use cases for its tools that go beyond its core tools for development tools. Jira and Confluence are the prime examples for this. Today’s acquisition continues this trend in that AgileCraft aims to bring many of the methodologies that tech teams use to the rest of the company.

“One of the critical roles we play for lots of organizations is in helping drive this kind of digital transformation where we’re really empowering the teams that are building and developing the kind of technology that moves our customers forward,” Atlassian president Jay Simons told me. “AgileCraft basically complements all of that by extending visibility into what teams are using Atlassian products to do up into key stakeholders and leaders in the business that are trying to manage better visibility at a portfolio or program level.”

Simons also stressed that AgileCraft already has very strong integrations into the existing Atlassian tools — and indeed, that was one of the main drivers of the acquisition. He noted that the company plans to improve those and think about additional patterns. “We’ll continue doing what we’re doing,” he said.

Simons also noted that he expects that a lot of Jira customers will now look at AgileCraft as an additional tool in helping the businesses manage their business’s digital transformation.

Atlassian doesn’t typically make a lot of acquisitions. Its pace is close to about one major buy per year. Last year, the company picked up OpsGenie for $295 million. In 2017, it acquired Trello for $425 million, the company’s biggest acquisition to date. Other major products the company acquired include StatusPage, BlueJimp, HipChat and Bitbucket (all the way back in 2010).

Mar
08
2019
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Okta to acquire workflow automation startup Azuqua for $52.5M

During its earnings report yesterday afternoon, Okta announced it intends to acquire Azuqua, a Seattle, Wash. workflow automation startup, for $52.5 million.

In a blog post announcing the news, Okta co-founder and COO Frederic Kerrest saw the combining of the two companies as a way to move smoothly between applications in a complex workflow without having to constantly present your credentials.

“With Okta and Azuqua, IT teams will be able to use pre-built connectors and logic to create streamlined identity processes and increase operational speed. And, product teams will be able to embed this technology in their own applications alongside Okta’s core authentication and user management technology to build…integrated customer experiences,” Kerrest wrote.

In a modern enterprise, people and work are constantly shifting and moving between applications and services and combining automation software with identity and access management could offer a seamless way to move between them.

This represents Okta’s largest acquisition to-date and follows Stormpath almost exactly two years ago and ScaleFT last July. Taken together, you can see a company that is trying to become a more comprehensive identity platform.

Azuqua, which has raised $16 million since it launched in 2013, appears to have given investors a pretty decent return. When the deal closes, Okta intends to move the Azuqua team to its Bellevue offices, increasing its presence in the Northwest. Okta’s headquarters are in San Francisco. Azuqua customers include Airbnb, McDonald’s, VMware and HubSpot,

Okta was founded in 2009 and raised over $229 million before going public April, 2017.

Feb
27
2019
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Compass acquires Contactually, a CRM provider to the real estate industry

Compass, the real estate tech platform that is now worth $4.4 billion, has made an acquisition to give its agents a boost when it comes to looking for good leads on properties to sell. It is acquiring Contactually, an AI-based CRM platform designed specifically for the industry, which includes features like linking up a list of homes sold by a brokerage with records of sales in the area and other property indexes to determine which properties might be good targets to tap for future listings.

Contactually had already been powering Compass’s own CRM service that it launched last year, so there is already a degree of integration between the two.

Terms of the deal are not being disclosed. Crunchbase notes that Contactually had raised around $18 million from VCs that included Rally Ventures, Grotech and Point Nine Capital, and it was last valued at around $30 million in 2016, according to PitchBook. From what I understand, the startup had strong penetration in the market, so it’s likely that the price was a bit higher than this previous valuation.

The plan is to bring over all of Contactually’s team of 32 employees, led by Zvi Band, the co-founder and CEO, to integrate the company’s product into Compass’s platform completely. They will report to CTO Joseph Sirosh and head of product Eytan Seidman. It will also mean a bigger operation for Compass in Washington, DC, which is where Contactually had been based.

“The Contactually team has worked for the past 8 years to build a best-in-class CRM that aggregates relationships and automatically documents every touchpoint,” said Band in a statement “We are proud that our investment into machine learning has resulted in new features like Best Time to Email and other data-driven, follow-up recommendations which help agents be more effective in their day-to-day. After working extensively with the Compass team, it was apparent that joining forces would accelerate our missions of building the future of the industry.”

For the time being, customers who are already using the product — and a large number of real estate brokers and agents in the U.S. already were, at prices that ranged from $59/month to $399/month depending on the level of service — will continue their contracts as before.

I suspect that the longer-term plan, however, will be a little different: You have to wonder if agents who compete against Compass would be happy to use a service where their data is being processed by it, and for Compass itself. I would suspect that having this tech for itself would give it an edge over the others.

Compass, I understand from sources, is on track to make $2 billion in revenues in 2019 (its 2018 targets were $1 billion on $34 billion in property sales, and it had previously said it would be doubling that this year). Now in 100 cities, it’s come a long way from its founding in 2012 by Ori Allon and Robert Reffkin.

The bigger picture beyond real estate is that, as with many other analog industries, those who are tackling them with tech-first approaches are sweeping up not only existing business, but in many cases helping the whole market to expand. Contactually, as a tool that can help source potential properties for sale that owners hadn’t previously considered putting on the market, could end up serving that very end for Compass.

The focus on using tech to storm into a legacy industry is also coming at an interesting time. As we’ve pointed out before, the housing market is predicted to cool this year, and that will put the squeeze on agents who do not have strong networks of clients and the tools to maximise whatever opportunities there are out there to list and sell properties.

The likes of Opendoor — which appears to be raising money and inching closer to Compass in terms of valuation — is also trying out a different model, which essentially involves becoming a middle part in the chain, buying properties from sellers and selling them on to buyers, to speed up the process and cut out some of the expenses for the end users. That approach underscores the fact that, while the infusion of technology is an inevitable trend, there will be multiple ways of applying that.

This appears to be Compass’s first full acquisition of a tech startup, although it has made partial acqui-hires in the past.

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