Jan
15
2020
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The crypto rich find security in Anchorage

Not the city, the $57 million-funded cryptocurrency custodian startup. When someone wants to keep safe tens or hundreds of millions of dollars in Bitcoin, Ethereum or other coins, they put them in Anchorage’s vault. And now they can trade straight from custody so they never have to worry about getting robbed mid-transaction.

With backing from Visa, Andreessen Horowitz and Blockchain Capital, Anchorage has emerged as the darling of the cryptocurrency security startup scene. Today it’s flexing its muscle and war chest by announcing its first acquisition, crypto risk modeling company Merkle Data.

Anchorage Founders

Anchorage has already integrated Merkle’s technology and team to power today’s launch of its new trading feature. It eliminates the need for big crypto owners to manually move assets in and out of custody to buy or sell, or to set up their own in-house trading. Instead of grabbing some undisclosed spread between the spot price and the price Anchorage quotes its clients, it charges a transparent per transaction fee of a tenth of a percent.

It’s stressful enough trading around digital fortunes. Anchorage gives institutions and token moguls peace of mind throughout the process while letting them stake and vote while their riches are in custody. Anchorage CEO Nathan McCauley tells me, “Our clients want to be able to fund a bank account with USD and have it seamlessly converted into crypto, securely held in their custody accounts. Shockingly, that’s not yet the norm — but we’re changing that.”

Buy and sell safely

Founded in 2017 by leaders behind Docker and Square, Anchorage’s core business is its omnimetric security system that takes out of the equation passwords that can be lost or stolen. Instead, it uses humans and AI to review scans of your biometrics, nearby networks and other data for identity confirmation. Then it requires consensus approval for transactions from a set of trusted managers you’ve whitelisted.

With Anchorage Trading, the startup promises efficient order routing, transparent pricing and multi-venue liquidity from OTC desks, exchanges and market makers. “Because trading and custody are directly integrated, we’re able to buy and sell crypto from custody, without having to make risky external transfers or deal with multiple accounts from different providers,” says Bart Stephens, founder and managing partner of Blockchain Capital.

Trading isn’t Anchorage’s primary business, so it doesn’t have to squeeze clients on their transactions, and can instead try to keep them happy for the long-term. That also sets up Anchorage to be a foundational part of the cryptocurrency stack. It wouldn’t disclose the terms of the Merkle Data acquisition, but the Pantera Capital-backed company brings quantitative analysts to Anchorage to keep its trading safe and smart.

“Unlike most traditional financial assets, crypto assets are bearer assets: In order to do anything with them, you need to hold the underlying private keys. This means crypto custodians like Anchorage must play a much larger role than custodians do in traditional finance,” says McCauley. “Services like trading, settlement, posting collateral, lending and all other financial activities surrounding the assets rely on the custodian’s involvement, and in our view are best performed by the custodian directly.”

Anchorage will be competing with Coinbase, which offers integrated custody and institutional brokerage through its agency-only OTC desk. Fidelity Digital Assets combines trading and brokerage, but for Bitcoin only. BitGo offers brokerage from custody through a partnership with Genesis Global Trading. But Anchorage hopes its experience handling huge sums, clear pricing and credentials like membership in Facebook’s Libra Association will win it clients.

McCauley says the biggest threat to Anchorage isn’t competitors, though, but hazy regulation. Anchorage is building a core piece of the blockchain economy’s infrastructure. But for the biggest financial institutions to be comfortable getting involved, lawmakers need to make it clear what’s legal.

Jan
14
2020
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Google acquires AppSheet to bring no-code development to Google Cloud

Google announced today that it is buying AppSheet, an eight-year-old no-code mobile-application-building platform. The company had raised more than $17 million on a $60 million valuation, according to PitchBook data. The companies did not share the purchase price.

With AppSheet, Google gets a simple way for companies to build mobile apps without having to write a line of code. It works by pulling data from a spreadsheet, database or form, and using the field or column names as the basis for building an app.

It is integrated with Google Cloud already integrating with Google Sheets and Google Forms, but also works with other tools, including AWS DynamoDB, Salesforce, Office 365, Box and others. Google says it will continue to support these other platforms, even after the deal closes.

As Amit Zavery wrote in a blog post announcing the acquisition, it’s about giving everyone a chance to build mobile applications, even companies lacking traditional developer resources to build a mobile presence. “This acquisition helps enterprises empower millions of citizen developers to more easily create and extend applications without the need for professional coding skills,” he wrote.

In a story we hear repeatedly from startup founders, Praveen Seshadri, co-founder and CEO at AppSheet, sees an opportunity to expand his platform and market reach under Google in ways he couldn’t as an independent company.

“There is great potential to leverage and integrate more deeply with many of Google’s amazing assets like G Suite and Android to improve the functionality, scale, and performance of AppSheet. Moving forward, we expect to combine AppSheet’s core strengths with Google Cloud’s deep industry expertise in verticals like financial services, retail, and media  and entertainment,” he wrote.

Google sees this acquisition as extending its development philosophy with no-code working alongside workflow automation, application integration and API management.

No code tools like AppSheet are not going to replace sophisticated development environments, but they will give companies that might not otherwise have a mobile app the ability to put something decent out there.

Jan
14
2020
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Equinix is acquiring bare metal cloud provider Packet

Equinix announced today that it is acquiring bare metal cloud provider Packet, the New York City startup that had raised over $36 million on a $100 million valuation, according to PitchBook data.

Equinix has a set of data centers and co-location facilities around the world. Companies that may want to have more control over their hardware could use their services, including space, power and cooling systems, instead of running their own data centers.

Equinix is getting a unique cloud infrastructure vendor in Packet, one that can provide more customized kinds of hardware configurations than you can get from the mainstream infrastructure vendors like AWS and Azure. Company COO George Karidis described what separated his company from the pack in a September, 2018 TechCrunch article:

“We offer the most diverse hardware options,” he said. That means they could get servers equipped with Intel, ARM, AMD or with specific nVidia GPUs in whatever configurations they want. By contrast public cloud providers tend to offer a more off-the-shelf approach. It’s cheap and abundant, but you have to take what they offer, and that doesn’t always work for every customer.

In a blog post announcing the deal, company co-founder and CEO Zachary Smith had a message for his customers, who may be worried about the change in ownership. “When the transaction closes later this quarter, Packet will continue operating as before: same team, same platform, same vision,” he wrote.

He also offered the standard value story for a deal like this, saying the company could scale much faster under Equinix than it could on its own, with access to its new company’s massive resources, including 200+ data centers in 55 markets and 1,800 networks.

Sara Baack, chief product officer at Equinix, says bringing the two companies together will provide a diverse set of bare metal options for customers moving forward. “Our combined strengths will further empower companies to be everywhere they need to be, to interconnect everyone and integrate everything that matters to their business,” she said in a statement.

While the companies did not share the purchase price, they did hint that they would have more details on the transaction after it closes, which is expected in the first quarter this year.

Jan
09
2020
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Insight Partners acquires data management company Veeam for $5B

Last year Insight Partners invested $500 million in cloud data management company Veeam. It apparently liked the company so much that today it announced it has acquired the Swiss startup for $5 billion.

Veeam helps customers with cloud data backup and disaster recovery. The company, which has been based in Baar, Switzerland, says that it had $1 billion in revenue last year. It boasts 365,000 customers worldwide, including 81% of the Fortune 500.

Ray Wang, founder and principal analyst at Constellation Research, says that data management is an increasingly important tool for companies working with data on prem and in the cloud. “This is a smart move, as the data management space is rapidly consolidating. There’s a lot of investment in managing hybrid clouds, and data management is key to enterprise adoption,” Wang told TechCrunch.

The deal is coming with some major changes. Veeam’s EVP of Operations, William H. Largent, will be promoted to CEO. Danny Allan, who was VP of product strategy, will be promoted to CTO. In addition, the company will be moving its headquarters to the U.S. Veeam currently has around 1,200 employees in the U.S., but expects to expand that in the coming year.

New CEO Allan says in spite of their apparent success in the market, and the high purchase price, he believes under Insight’s ownership, the company can go further than it could have on its own. “While Veeam’s preeminence in the data management space, currently supporting 81% of the Fortune 500, is undeniable, this commitment from Insight Partners and deeper access to its unmatched business strategy [from its scale-up] division, Insight Onsite, will bring Veeam’s solutions to more businesses across the globe.”

Insight Onsite is Insight Partners’ strategy arm that is designed to help its portfolio companies be more successful. It provides a range of services in key business areas, like sales, marketing and product development.

Veeam has backup and recovery tools for both Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure, along with partnerships with a variety of large enterprise vendors, including Cisco, IBM, Dell EMC and HPE.

The company, which was founded in 2006, had a valuation of more than $1 billion prior to today’s acquisition, according to Crunchbase data. The deal is expected to close in the first quarter this year.

Dec
24
2019
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Public investors loved SaaS stocks in 2019, and startups should be thankful

Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between.

Today, something short. Continuing our loose collection of looks back of the past year, it’s worth remembering two related facts. First, that this time last year SaaS stocks were getting beat up. And, second, that in the ensuing year they’ve risen mightily.

If you are in a hurry, the gist of our point is that the recovery in value of SaaS stocks probably made a number of 2019 IPOs possible. And, given that SaaS shares have recovered well as a group, that the 2020 IPO season should be active as all heck, provided that things don’t change.

Let’s not forget how slack the public markets were a year ago for a startup category vital to venture capital returns.

Last year

We’re depending on Bessemer’s cloud index today, renamed the “BVP Nasdaq Emerging Cloud Index” when it was rebuilt in October. The Cloud Index is a collection of SaaS and cloud companies that are trackable as a unit, helping provide good data on the value of modern software and tooling concerns.

If the index rises, it’s generally good news for startups as it implies that investors are bidding up the value of SaaS companies as they grow; if the index falls, it implies that revenue multiples are contracting amongst the public comps of SaaS startups.*

Ultimately, startups want public companies that look like them (comps) to have sky-high revenue multiples (price/sales multiples, basically). That helps startups argue for a better valuation during their next round; or it helps them defend their current valuation as they grow.

Given that it’s Christmas Eve, I’m going to present you with a somewhat ugly chart. Today I can do no better. Please excuse the annotation fidelity as well:

Dec
20
2019
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F5 acquires Shape Security for $1B

F5 got an expensive holiday present today, snagging startup Shape Security for approximately $1 billion.

What the networking company gets with a shiny red ribbon is a security product that helps stop automated attacks like credential stuffing. In an article earlier this year, Shape CTO Shuman Ghosemajumder explained what the company does:

We’re an enterprise-focused company that protects the majority of large U.S. banks, the majority of the largest airlines, similar kinds of profiles with major retailers, hotel chains, government agencies and so on. We specifically protect them against automated fraud and abuse on their consumer-facing applications — their websites and their mobile apps.

F5 president and CEO François Locoh-Donou sees a way to protect his customers in a comprehensive way. “With Shape, we will deliver end-to-end application protection, which means revenue generating, brand-anchoring applications are protected from the point at which they are created through to the point where consumers interact with them—from code to customer,” Locoh-Donou said in a statement.

As for Shape, CEO Derek Smith said that it wasn’t a huge coincidence that F5 was the buyer, given his company was seeing F5 consistently in its customers. Now they can work together as a single platform.

Shape launched in 2011 and raised $183 million, according to Crunchbase data. Investors included Kleiner Perkins, Tomorrow Partners, Norwest Venture Partners, Baseline Ventures and C5 Capital. In its most recent round in September, the company raised $51 million on a valuation of $1 billion.

F5 has been in a spending mood this year. It also acquired NGINX in March for $670 million. NGINX is the commercial company behind the open-source web server of the same name. It’s worth noting that prior to that, F5 had not made an acquisition since 2014.

It was a big year in security M&A. Consider that in June, four security companies sold in one three-day period. That included Insight Partners buying Recorded Future for $780 million and FireEye buying Verodin for $250 million. Palo Alto Networks bought two companies in the period: Twistlock for $400 million and PureSec for between $60 and $70 million.

This deal is expected to close in mid-2020, and is of course, subject to standard regulatory approval. Upon closing Shape’s Smith will join the F5 management team and Shape employees will be folded into F5. The company will remain in its Santa Clara headquarters.

Dec
13
2019
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Chicago’s Sprout Social prices IPO mid-range at $17 per share, raising $150M

On the heels of Bill.com’s debut, Chicago-based social media software company Sprout Social priced its IPO last night at $17 per share, in the middle of its proposed $16 to $18 per-share range. Selling 8.8 million shares, Sprout raised just under $150 million in its debut.

Underwriters have the option to purchase an additional 1.3 million shares if they so choose.

The IPO is a good result for the company’s investors (Lightbank, New Enterprise Associates, Goldman Sachs and Future Fund), but also for Chicago, a growing startup scene that doesn’t often get its due in the public mind.

At $17 per share, not including the possible underwriter option, Sprout Social is worth about $814 million. That’s just a hair over its final private valuation set during its $40.5 million Series D in December of 2018. That particular investment valued Sprout at $800.5 million, according to Crunchbase data.

So what?

Sprout’s debut is interesting for a few reasons. First, the company raised just a little over $110 million while private, and will generate over $100 million in trailing GAAP revenue this year. In effect, Sprout Social used less than $110 million to build up over $100 million in annual recurring revenue (ARR) — the firm reached the $100 million ARR mark between Q2 and Q3 of 2019. That’s a remarkably efficient result for the unicorn era.

And the company is interesting, as it gives us a look at how investors value slower-growth SaaS companies. As we’ve written, Sprout Social grew by a little over 30% in the first three quarters of 2019. That’s a healthy rate, but not as fast as, say, Bill.com . (Bill.com’s strong market response puts its own growth rate in context.)

Thinking very loosely, Sprout Social closed Q3 2019 with ARR of about $105 million. Worth $814 million now, we can surmise that Sprout priced at an ARR multiple of about 7.75x. That’s a useful benchmark for private companies that sell software: If you want a higher multiple when you go public, you’ll have to grow a little faster.

All the same, the IPO is a win for Chicago, and a win for the company’s investors. We’ll update this piece later with how the stock performs, once it begins to trade.

Dec
12
2019
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Why Bill.com didn’t pursue a direct listing

Bill.com went public today after pricing its shares higher than it initially expected. The B2B payments company sold nearly 10 million shares at $22 apiece, raising around $216 million in its IPO. Public investors felt that the company’s price was a deal, sending the value of its equity to $35.51 per share as of the time of writing.

That’s a gain of over 61%.

On the heels of its successful pricing run and raucous first day’s trading, TechCrunch caught up with Bill.com CEO René Lacerte to dig into his company’s debut. We wanted to know how pricing went, and whether the company (which possibly could have valued itself more richly during its IPO pricing, given its first-day pop) had considered a direct listing.

Lacerte detailed what resonated with investors while pricing Bill.com’s shares, and also did a good job outlining his perspective on what matters for companies that are going public. As a spoiler, he wasn’t super focused on the company’s first-day return.

For more on the Bill.com IPO’s nuts and bolts, head here. Let’s get into the interview.

René Lacerte

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity. Questions have been condensed.

TechCrunch: How did your IPO pricing feel, and what did you learn from the process?

Lacerte: I think the whole experience has been an incredible learning experience from a capitalism perspective; that’s probably a broader conversation. But you know, it really came down to how our story resonated with investors, and so there’s three components that we kind of really talked to folks about.

Nov
19
2019
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SocialRank sells biz to Trufan, pivots to a mobile LinkedIn

What do you do when your startup idea doesn’t prove big enough? Run it as a scrawny but profitable lifestyle business? Or sell it to a competitor and take another swing at the fences? Social audience analytics startup SocialRank chose the latter and is going for glory.

Today, SocialRank announced it’s sold its business, brand, assets, and customers to influencer marketing campaign composer and distributor Trufan which will run it as a standalone product. But SocialRank’s team isn’t joining up. Instead, the full six-person staff is sticking together to work on a mobile-first professional social network called Upstream aiming to nip at LinkedIn.

SocialRank co-founder and CEO Alex Taub

Started in 2014 amidst a flurry of marketing analytics tools, SocialRank had raised $2.1 million from Rainfall Ventures and others before hitting profitability in 2017. But as the business plateaued, the team saw potential to use data science about people’s identity to get them better jobs.

“A few months ago we decided to start building a new product (what has become Upstream). And when we came to the conclusion to go all-in on Upstream, we knew we couldn’t run two businesses at the same time” SocialRank co-founder and CEO Alex Taub tells me. “We decided then to run a bit of a process. We ended up with a few offers but ultimately felt like Trufan was the best one to continue the business into the future.”

The move lets SocialRank avoid stranding its existing customers like the NFL, Netflix, and Samsung that rely on its audience segmentation software. Instead, they’ll continue to be supported by Trufan where Taub and fellow co-founder Michael Schonfeld will become advisors.

“While we built a sustainable business, we essentially knew that if we wanted to go real big, we would need to go to the drawing board” Taub explains.

SocialRank

Two-year-old Trufan has raised $1.8 million Canadian from Round13 Capital, local Toronto startup Clearbanc’s founders, and several NBA players. Trufan helps brands like Western Union and Kay Jewellers design marketing initiatives that engage their customer communities through social media. It’s raising an extra $400,000 USD in venture debt from Round13 to finance the acquisition, which should make Trufan cash-flow positive by the end of the year.

Why isn’t the SocialRank team going along for the ride? Taub said LinkedIn was leaving too much opportunity on the table. While it’s good for putting resumes online and searching for people, “All the social stuff are sort of bolt-ons that came after Facebook and Twitter arrived. People forget but LinkedIn is the oldest active social network out there”, Taub tells me, meaning it’s a bit outdated.

Trufan’s team

Rather than attack head-on, the newly forged Upstream plans to pick the Microsoft-owned professional network apart with better approaches to certain features. “I love the idea of ‘the unbundling of LinkedIn’, ala what’s been happening with Craigslist for the past few years” says Taub. “The first foundational piece we are building is a social professional network around giving and getting help. We’ll also be focused on the unbundling of the groups aspect of LinkedIn.”

Taub concludes that entrepreneurs can shackle themselves to impossible goals if they take too much venture capital for the wrong business. As we’ve seen with SoftBank, investors demand huge returns that can require pursuing risky and unsustainable expansion strategies.

“We realized that SocialRank had potential to be a few hundred million dollar in revenue business but venture growth wasn’t exactly the model for it” Taub says. “You need the potential of billions in revenue and a steep growth curve.” A professional network for the smartphone age has that kind of addressable market. And the team might feel better getting out of bed each day knowing they’re unlocking career paths for people instead of just getting them to click ads.

Nov
04
2019
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Workday to acquire online procurement platform Scout RFP for $540M

Workday announced this afternoon that it has entered into an agreement to acquire online procurement platform Scout RFP for $540 million. The company raised more than $60 million on a post valuation of $184.5 million, according to PitchBook data.

The acquisition builds on top of Workday’s existing procurement solutions, Workday Procurement and Workday Inventory, but Workday chief product product officer Petros Dermetzis wrote in a blog post announcing the deal that Scout gives the company a more complete solution for customers.

“With increased importance around the supplier as a strategic asset, the acquisition of Scout RFP will help accelerate Workday’s ability to deliver a comprehensive source-to-pay solution with a best-in-class strategic sourcing offering, elevating the office of procurement in strategic importance and transforming the procurement function,” he wrote.

Ray Wang, founder and principal analyst at Constellation Research says that Workday has been trying to be the end-to-end cloud back office player. He says, “One of their big gaps has been in procurement.”

Wang says that Workday has been investing with eye toward filling gaps in the product set for some time. In fact, Workday Ventures has been an investor in Scout RFP since 2018, and it’s also an official Workday partner.

“A lot of the Workday investments are in portfolio companies that are complimentary to Workday’s larger vision of the future of Cloud ERP. Today’s definition of ERP includes finance, HCM (human capital management), projects, procurement, supply chain and asset management,” Wang told TechCrunch.

As the Scout RFP founders stated in a blog post about today’s announcement, the two companies have worked well together and a deal made sense. “Working closely with the Workday team, we realized how similar our companies’ beliefs and values are. Both companies put user experience at the center of product focus and are committed to customer satisfaction, employee engagement and overall business impact. It was not surprising how easy it was to work together and how quickly we saw success partnering on go-to-market activities. From a culture standpoint, it just worked,” they wrote. A deal eventually came together as a result.

Scout RFP is a fairly substantial business, with 240 customers in 155 countries. There are 300,000 users on the platform, according to data supplied by the company. The company’s 160 employees will be moving to Workday when the deal closes, which is expected by the end of January, pending standard regulatory review.

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