Nov
23
2020
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AvePoint to go public via SPAC valued at $2B

AvePoint, a company that gives enterprises using Microsoft Office 365, SharePoint and Teams a control layer on top of these tools, announced today that it would be going public via a SPAC merger with Apex Technology Acquisition Corporation in a deal that values AvePoint at around $2 billion.

The acquisition brings together some powerful technology executives, with Apex run by former Oracle CFO Jeff Epstein and former Goldman Sachs head of technology investment banking Brad Koenig, who will now be working closely with AvePoint’s CEO Tianyi Jiang. Apex filed for a $305 million SPAC in September 2019.

Under the terms of the transaction, Apex’s balance of $352 million plus a $140 million additional private investment will be handed over to AvePoint. Once transaction fees and other considerations are paid for, AvePoint is expected to have $252 million on its balance sheet. Existing AvePoint shareholders will own approximately 72% of the combined entity, with the balance held by the Apex SPAC and the private investment owners.

Jiang sees this as a way to keep growing the company. “Going public now gives us the ability to meet this demand and scale up faster across product innovation, channel marketing, international markets and customer success initiatives,” he said in a statement.

AvePoint was founded in 2001 as a company to help ease the complexity of SharePoint installations, which at the time were all on-premise. Today, it has adapted to the shift to the cloud as a SaaS tool and primarily acts as a policy layer enabling companies to make sure employees are using these tools in a compliant way.

The company raised $200 million in January this year led by Sixth Street Partners (formerly TPG Sixth Street Partners), with additional participation from prior investor Goldman Sachs, meaning that Koenig was probably familiar with the company based on his previous role.

The company has raised a total of $294 million in capital before today’s announcement. It expects to generate almost $150 million in revenue by the end of this year, with ARR growing at over 30%. It’s worth noting that the company’s ARR and revenue has been growing steadily since Q12019. The company is projecting significant growth for the next two years with revenue estimates of $257 million and ARR of $220 million by the end of 2022.

Graph of revenue and projected revenue

Image Credits: AvePoint

The deal is expected to close in the first quarter of next year. Upon close the company will continue to be known as AvePoint and be publicly traded on Nasdaq under the new ticker symbol AVPT.

Oct
06
2020
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Tipalti receives $150M at a $2B+ valuation after its accounts payable platform sees a surge in use

Digital transformation has been one of the big enterprise themes of 2020: Organizations are doubling down on cloud services both to link up suddenly remote teams and centralize apps, documents and data in a more efficient way. Today, one of the startups that has filled out that story with a cloud-based suite of accounting services is announcing a major round of funding on the back of massive growth.

Tipalti, which helps businesses manage suppliers, invoices, purchase orders, tax compliance, payments and billing and other accounting services from a single cloud platform, has raised $150 million at a valuation that the company says is now over $2 billion.

The plan is to use the funding to continue enhancing Tipalti’s accounts payable suite with more tools; hire across all departments; and for business development. Tipalti’s aim, according to founder and CEO Chen Amit, is to provide easy to integrate accounts payable services to a base of fast-scaling businesses, which need AP services to function well, but would never consider them core functions of their businesses in themselves.

“Accounts payable is the last area that companies in the mid market would want to invest in,” said founder and CEO Chen Amit, speaking to me from Israel, where the company was founded (it is now headquartered in San Mateo). “They will invest in literally anything else other than building software to pay or manage suppliers.”

The round, a Series E, is being led by Durable Capital Partners (the firm founded last year by Henry Ellenbogen, previously a star at T. Rowe Price), with participation also from Greenoaks Capital and existing investor 01 Advisors, the firm co-founded by Twitter alums Dick Costolo and Adam Bain.

Tipalti’s growth comes as the result of a perfect storm of sorts for the startup.

The COVID-19 health pandemic has led to a global economic crunch, and businesses are especially focused now on watching where money is coming in and where it is going.

But at the same time, even before the coronavirus pandemic, Tipalti had been seeing a lot of inbound business from organizations that were scaling fast and looking for solutions that could integrate easily into their current systems.

The backstory and necessity around accounts payable can be told in a few words: it’s a boring but necessary area, and if it goes wrong, it can potentially bring a whole company down because of the tax, fraud and auditing implications.

Tipalti describes accounts payable as “the most time-consuming function in finance”, noting that 47% of finance organizations in a recent survey said they still spend around 520 hours per year on manual accounts payable tasks, with 27% of respondents indicating that their teams dedicate up to 80 people-hours per month on AP tasks, or 1,040 hours annually.

Tipalti, which fittingly means “I’ll handle it” in Hebrew, is positioned as a helper in this context. By way of an API, it integrates with a number of other accounting and tracking platforms that its customers use, including NetSuite, Sage, QuickBooks, Affise, Cake, Everflow, HitPath, LinkTrust, Paladin, Tune (HasOffers) and Vidooly, and lets companies run and track how payments are being made relative to actives within the organization, all with relatively little input from the companies themselves, essentially giving them time and other resources to focus on other areas.

The pandemic has hit some of Tipalti’s customers hard. But overall, Chen said that it’s seen more business as a result, not just from companies suddenly growing much faster (as in the case, for example, for e-commerce businesses, or those catering to people spending much more time at home and on screens), but from businesses that simply need to pay much more attention to how money is moving around.

In 2020 so far, Tipalti has seen transaction volume on its platform balloon to $12 billion, up 80% from a year ago. It now has some 1,000 customers on its books, with a specifically strong emphasis on fast-growing tech companies. The list includes Amazon Twitch, Amplitude, Roku, Duolingo, GitLab, Medium, ClassPass, Toast, Automattic, Twitter, Business Insider, GoDaddy, Zola, Boston Globe Media, Noom, Roblox, Headspace, Fiverr, Vimeo, Stack Overflow, ZipRecruiter, AppLovin, Canva, Indeed and Foursquare.

Indeed, as we have described before, it was Tipalti’s initial work with Twitter on its own accounts payable services (central to how it can make money on its ad business) that served as its first introduction to Costolo and Bain, who went on to invest in it after they left the social network and started 01 Advisors.

“We are pleased to have the opportunity to increase our investment in Tipalti during a time in which organizations have been focused on rapidly transforming and modernizing the way they operate,” said Dick Costolo, founding partner of 01 Advisors and former chief executive officer of Twitter, in a statement. “When I ran Twitter, I saw first-hand the importance and value of Tipalti in automating financial operations. Tipalti transformed our processes and opened up our expansion, growth, and scalability strategies.”

It’s worth pointing out that the rise in valuation is a huge spike for Tipalti, a sign not just of its growth but investors’ bet that there will be more of that to come.

Chen Amit, the company’s founder and CEO, said it is four times the size of its valuation in its previous round (it raised $76 million in a Series D round led by 01 Advisors a little over a year ago, which would have been at around a $500 million valuation), and a whopping 14 times what Tipalti was valued in 2017). Indeed, even with other competitors like Bill.com and Coupa also targeting the same users as Tipalti, Amit estimates that between them all, they have just 3-4% of the addressable market.

“The accounts payable automation space has an extremely large total addressable market with significant growth potential,” explained Henry Ellenbogen, founder, managing partner and chief investment officer of Durable Capital Partners LP, in a statement. “We believe that Tipalti has the potential to become a much larger company within the Midmarket space due to its differentiated holistic platform, superior global capabilities and management team. This has resulted in leading retention and customer satisfaction.”

Oct
05
2020
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Strike Graph raises $3.9M to help automate security audits

Compliance automation isn’t exactly the most exciting topic, but security audits are big business and companies that aim to get a SOC 2, ISO 207001 or FedRamp certification can often spend six figures to get through the process with the help of an auditing service. Seattle-based Strike Graph, which is launching today and announcing a $3.9 million seed funding round, wants to automate as much of this process as possible.

The company’s funding round was led by Madrona Venture Group, with participation from Amplify.LA, Revolution’s Rise of the Rest Seed Fund and Green D Ventures.

Strike Graph co-founder and CEO Justin Beals tells me that the idea for the company came to him during his time as CTO at machine learning startup Koru (which had a bit of an odd exit last year). To get enterprise adoption for that service, the company had to get a SOC 2 security certification. “It was a real challenge, especially for a small company. In talking to my colleagues, I just recognized how much of a challenge it was across the board. And so when it was time for the next startup, I was just really curious,” he told me.

Image Credits: Strike Graph

Together with his co-founder Brian Bero, he incubated the idea at Madrona Venture Labs, where he spent some time as Entrepreneur in Residence after Koru.

Beals argues that today’s process tends to be slow, inefficient and expensive. The idea behind Strike Graph, unsurprisingly, is to remove as many of these inefficiencies as is currently possible. The company itself, it is worth noting, doesn’t provide the actual audit service. Businesses will still need to hire an auditing service for that. But Beals also argues that the bulk of what companies are paying for today is pre-audit preparation.

“We do all that preparation work and preparing you and then, after your first audit, you have to go and renew every year. So there’s an important maintenance of that information.”

Image Credits: Strike Graph

When customers come to Strike Graph, they fill out a risk assessment. The company takes that and can then provide them with controls for how to improve their security posture — both to pass the audit and to secure their data. Beals also noted that soon, Strike Graph will be able to help businesses automate the collection of evidence for the audit (say your encryption settings) and can pull that in regularly. Certifications like SOC 2, after all, require companies to have ongoing security practices in place and get re-audited every 12 months. Automated evidence collection will launch in early 2021, once the team has built out the first set of its integrations to collect that data.

That’s also where the company, which mostly targets mid-size businesses, plans to spend a lot of its new funding. In addition, the company plans to focus on its marketing efforts, mostly around content marketing and educating its potential customers.

“Every company, big or small, that sells a software solution must address a broad set of compliance requirements in regards to security and privacy. Obtaining the certifications can be a burdensome, opaque and expensive process. Strike Graph is applying intelligent technology to this problem — they help the company identify the appropriate risks, enable the audit to run smoothly and then automate the compliance and testing going forward,” said Hope Cochran, managing director at Madrona Venture Group. “These audits were a necessary pain when I was a CFO, and Strike Graph’s elegant solution brings together teams across the company to move the business forward faster.”

Sep
30
2020
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Gusto is expanding from payroll into a full suite financial wellness platform

When we caught up with Gusto last year, the small business payroll startup had just raised $200 million and was launching a new office in New York City. Over the past few years though, Gusto has also been accruing new features outside of its original payroll product, features that redefine the borders between payroll and financial wellness, and in the process, are blurring the lines of the classic fintech market map.

Today, the company announced a slew of new offerings that it hopes will give employees better financial and health options through their employers.

The most interesting one here is a tool the company is calling Gusto Wallet. It’s an app and collection of products for employees paid through Gusto that basically acts as a mini bank and financial health monitor. It offers an interest-bearing cash account (called, appropriately enough, Cash Accounts) which can also divert a small slice of each paycheck into a user’s savings, similar to products like Acorns and Digit. Cash stored in the account earns 0.34% interest today, and you can also get a Gusto debit card to spend it.

Gusto’s app gives you access to financial services and wellness tools. Image via Gusto

For employees, what’s interesting here is that these services are offered essentially for free: Gusto makes money on its payroll services from employers as a software subscription fee, and so it offers financial services like these as an inducement to keep employers and employees engaged. Gusto hopes that this can keep debt low for employees, and also offer them more financial stability, particularly as businesses open and close in the wake of COVID-19.

In addition, Gusto Wallet also offers “Cashout,” which can accelerate a payday ahead of time based on the pay history of an employee. Rather than securing a high-cost payday loan, the product is designed to help users smooth out a bit of their income if they need their paycheck a bit ahead of their actual direct deposit. It’s also free of fees.

Gusto CEO Joshua Reeves said that “One of the biggest problems is people are oftentimes living paycheck-to-paycheck — they’re either not saving money, or they’re getting stuck in debt accessing things like overdraft fees, or credit card debt, or payday loans.” The hope with Gusto Wallet is that its easy availability and low costs not only attract users, but leave them in much better financial shape than before.

What’s interesting to me is placing these new features in the wider scope of the fintech landscape. It seems that every week, there is another startup launching a consumer credit card, or a new debt product, or another savings app designed to help consumers with their finances. And then every week, we hear about the credit card startup launching a new savings account, or the savings app launching an insurance product.

The math is simple: It’s very, very hard to acquire a customer in financial services, and it’s so competitive that the cost per acquired customer is extremely high (think hundreds of dollars or more per customer). For most of these startups, once you have a customer using one financial product, much like traditional banks, they want you to use all of their other products as well to maximize customer value and amortize those high CAC costs.

Gusto is an interesting play here precisely because it starts at the payroll layer. Banks and other savings apps often try to get you to send your paycheck to their service, since if your money resides there, you are much more likely to use that service’s features. Gusto intercepts that transaction and owns it itself. Plus, because it ultimately is selling subscriptions to payroll and not financial services, it can offer many of these features outright for free.

Reeves said that “This is a future that just seems inevitable, like all this information right now is sitting in silos. How do we give the employee more of that ownership and access through one location?” By combining payroll, 401(k) planning, savings accounts, debit cards and more in one place, Gusto is hoping to become the key financial health tool for its employee end users.

That’s the financial side. In addition, Gusto announced today that it is now helping small businesses set up health reimbursement accounts. Under a provision passed by Congress a few years ago, small businesses have a unique mechanism (called QSEHRA) to offer health reimbursement to their employees. That program is riven with technicalities and administrivia though. Gusto believes its new offering will help more small businesses create these kinds of programs.

Given Gusto’s small business focus, this year has seen huge changes thanks to the global pandemic. “It’s been an inspiring, challenging, motivating [and] galvanizing time for the company,” Reeves said. “Normally, I would say [we have] three home bases: New York, SF [and] Denver. Now we have 1,400 home bases.” That hasn’t stopped the company’s mission, and if anything, has brought many of its employees closer to the small businesses they ultimately serve.

Gusto team, with CEO Joshua Reeves on the left of the second row. Image via Gusto

Sep
15
2020
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In 2020, Warsaw’s startup ecosystem is ‘a place to observe carefully’

If you listed the trends that have captured the attention of 20 Warsaw-focused investors who replied to our recent surveys, automation/AI, enterprise SaaS, cleantech, health, remote work and the sharing economy would top the list. These VCs said they are seeking opportunities in the “digital twin” space, proptech and expanded blockchain tokenization inside industries.

Investors in Central and Eastern Europe are generally looking for the same things as VCs based elsewhere: startups that have a unique value proposition, capital efficiency, motivated teams, post-revenue and a well-defined market niche.

Out of the cohort we interviewed, several told us that COVID-19 had not yet substantially transformed how they do business. As Micha? Papuga, a partner at Flashpoint VC put it, “the situation since March hasn’t changed a lot, but we went from extreme panic to extreme bullishness. Neither of these is good and I would recommend to stick to the long-term goals and not to be pressured.”

Said Pawel Lipkowski of RBL_VC, “Warsaw is at its pivotal point — think Berlin in the ‘90s. It’s a place to observe carefully.”

Here’s who we interviewed for part one:

For the conclusion, we spoke to the following investors:

Karol Szubstarski, partner, OTB Ventures

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
Gradual shift of enterprises toward increased use of automation and AI, that enables dramatic improvement of efficiency, cost reduction and transfer of enterprise resources from tedious, repeatable and mundane tasks to more exciting, value added opportunities.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
One of the most exciting opportunities is ICEYE. The company is a leader and first mover in synthetic-aperture radar (SAR) technology for microsatellites. It is building and operating its own commercial constellation of SAR microsatellites capable of providing satellite imagery regardless of the cloud cover, weather conditions and time of the day and night (comparable resolution to traditional SAR satellites with 100x lower cost factor), which is disrupting the multibillion dollar satellite imagery market.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
I would love to see more startups in the digital twin space; technology that enables creation of an exact digital replica/copy of something in physical space — a product, process or even the whole ecosystem. This kind of solution enables experiments and [the implementation of] changes that otherwise could be extremely costly or risky – it can provide immense value added for customers.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
A company with unique value proposition to its customers, deep tech component that provides competitive edge over other players in the market and a founder with global vision and focus on execution of that vision.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
No market/sector is too saturated and has no room for innovation. Some markets seem to be more challenging than others due to immense competitive landscape (e.g., food delivery, language-learning apps) but still can be the subject of disruption due to a unique value proposition of a new entrant.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
OTB is focused on opportunities with links to Central Eastern European talent (with no bias toward any hub in the region), meaning companies that leverage local engineering/entrepreneurial talent in order to build world-class products to compete globally (usually HQ outside CEE).

Which industries in your city and region seem well-positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
CEE region is recognized for its sizable and highly skilled talent pool in the fields of engineering and software development. The region is well-positioned to build up solutions that leverage deep, unique tech regardless of vertical (especially B2B). Historically, the region was especially strong in AI/ML, voice/speech/NLP technologies, cybersecurity, data analytics, etc.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
CEE (including Poland and Warsaw) has always been recognized as an exceptionally strong region in terms of engineering/IT talent. Inherent risk aversion of entrepreneurs has driven, for a number of years, a more “copycat”/local market approach, while holding back more ambitious, deep tech opportunities. In recent years we are witnessing a paradigm shift with a new generation of entrepreneurs tackling problems with unique, deep tech solutions, putting emphasis on global expansion, neglecting shallow local markets. As such, the quality of deals has been steadily growing and currently reflects top quality on global scale, especially on tech level. CEE market demonstrates also a growing number of startups (in total), which is mostly driven by an abundance of early-stage capital and success stories in the region (e.g., DataRobot, Bolt, UiPath) that are successfully evangelizing entrepreneurship among corporates/engineers.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
I believe that local hubs will hold their dominant position in the ecosystem. The remote/digital workforce will grow in numbers but proximity to capital, human resources and markets still will remain the prevalent force in shaping local startup communities.

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19? What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?
OTB invests in general in companies with clearly defined technological advantage, making quantifiable and near-term difference to their customers (usually in the B2B sector), which is a value-add regardless of the market cycle. The economic downturn works generally in favor of technological solutions enabling enterprise clients to increase efficiency, cut costs, bring optimization and replace manual labour with automation — and the vast majority of OTB portfolio fits that description. As such, the majority of the OTB portfolio has not been heavily impacted by the COVID pandemic.

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
The COVID pandemic has not impacted our investment strategy in any way. OTB still pursues unique tech opportunities that can provide its customers with immediate value added. This kind of approach provides a relatively high level of resilience against economic downturns (obviously, sales cycles are extending but in general sales pipeline/prospects/retention remains intact). Liquidity in portfolio is always the number one concern in uncertain, challenging times. Lean approach needs to be reintroduced, companies need to preserve cash and keep optimizing — that’s the only way to get through the crisis.

Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
A good example in our portfolio is Segron, a provider of an automated testing platform for applications, databases and enterprise network infrastructure. Software development, deployment and maintenance in enterprise IT ecosystem requires continuous and rigorous testing protocols and as such a lot of manual heavy lifting with highly skilled engineering talent being involved (which can be used in a more productive way elsewhere). The COVID pandemic has kept engineers home (with no ability for remote testing) while driving demand for digital services (and as such demand for a reliable IT ecosystem). The Segron automated framework enables full automation of enterprise testing leading to increased efficiency, cutting operating costs and giving enterprise customers peace of mind and a good night’s sleep regarding their IT infrastructure in the challenging economic environment.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
I remain impressed by the unshakeable determination of multiple founders and their teams to overcome all the challenges of the unfavorable economic ecosystem.

Sep
09
2020
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Xometry raises $75M Series E to expand custom manufacturing marketplace

When companies need to find manufacturers to build custom parts, it’s not always an easy process, especially during a pandemic. Xometry, a seven-year-old startup based in Maryland, has built an online marketplace where companies can find manufacturers across the world with excess capacity to build whatever they need. Today, the company announced a $75 million Series E investment to keep expanding the platform.

T. Rowe Price Associates led the investment, with participation from new firms Durable Capital Partners LP and ArrowMark Partners. Previous investors also joined the round, including BMW i Ventures, Greenspring Associates, Dell Technologies Capital, Robert Bosch Venture Capital, Foundry Group, Highland Capital Partners and Almaz Capital . Today’s investment brings the total raised to $193 million, according to the company.

Company CEO and co-founder Randy Altschuler says Xometry fills a need by providing a digital way of putting buyers and manufacturers together with a dash of artificial intelligence to put the right combination together. “We’ve created a marketplace using artificial intelligence to power it, and provide an e-commerce experience for buyers of custom manufacturing and for suppliers to deliver that manufacturing,” Altschuler told TechCrunch.

The kind of custom pieces that are facilitated by this platform include mechanical parts for aerospace, defense, automotive, robotics and medical devices — what Altschuler calls mission-critical parts. Being able to put companies together in this fashion is particularly useful during COVID-19 when certain regions might have been shut down.

“COVID has reinforced the need for distributed manufacturing and our platform enables that by empowering these local manufacturers, and because we’re using technology to do it, as COVID has unfolded […] and as continents have shut down, and even specific states in the United States have shut down, our platform has allowed customers to autocorrect and shift work to other locations,” he explained

What’s more, companies could take advantage of the platform to manufacture critical personal protective equipment. “One of the beauties of our platform was when COVID hit customers could come to our platform and suddenly access this tremendous amount of manufacturing capacity to produce this much-needed PPE,” he said.

Xometry makes money by facilitating the sale between the buyer and producer. They help set the price and then make money on the difference between the cost to produce and how much the buyer was willing to pay to have it done.

They have relationships with 5,000 manufacturers located throughout the world and 30,000 customers using the platform to build the parts they need. The company currently has around 350 employees, with plans to use the money to add more to keep enhancing the platform.

Altschuler says from a human perspective, he wants his company to have a diverse workforce because he never wants to see people being discriminated against for whatever reason, but he also says as a company with an international market, having a diverse workforce is also critical to his business. “The more diversity that we have within Xometry, the more we’re able to effectively market to those folks, sell to those folks and understand how they utilize technology. We’re just going to better understand our customer set as we [build a more diverse workforce],” he said.

As a Series E-stage company, Altschuler does not shy away from the IPO question. In fact, he recently brought in new CFO Jim Rallo, who has experience taking a company public. “The market that we operate in is so large, and there’s so many opportunities for us to serve both our customers and our suppliers, and we have to be great for both of them. We need capital to do that, and the public markets can be an efficient way to access that capital and to grow our business, and in the end that’s what we want to do,” he said.

Aug
28
2020
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Steno raises $3.5 million led by First Round to become an extension of law offices

The global legal services industry was worth $849 billion in 2017 and is expected to become a trillion-dollar industry by the end of next year. Little wonder that Steno, an LA-based startup, wants a piece.

Like most legal services outfits, what it offers are ways for law practices to run more smoothly, including in a world where fewer people are meeting in conference rooms and courthouses and operating instead from disparate locations.

Steno first launched with an offering that centers on court reporting. It lines up court reporters, as well as pays them, removing both potential headaches from lawyers’ to-do lists.

More recently, the startup has added offerings like a remote deposition videoconferencing platform that it insists is not only secure but can manage exhibit handling and other details in ways meant to meet specific legal needs.

It also, very notably, has a lending product that enables lawyers to take depositions without paying until a case is resolved, which can take a year or two. The idea is to free attorneys’ financial resources — including so they can take on other clients — until there’s a payout. Of course, the product is also a potentially lucrative one for Steno, as are most lending products.

We talked earlier this week with the company, which just closed on a $3.5 million seed round led by First Round Capital (it has now raised $5 million altogether).

Unsurprisingly, one of its founders is a lawyer named Dylan Ruga who works as a trial attorney at an LA-based law group and knows first-hand the biggest pain points for his peers.

More surprising is his co-founder, Gregory Hong, who previously co-founded the restaurant reservation platform Reserve, which was acquired by Resy, which was acquired by American Express. How did Hong make the leap from one industry to a seemingly very different one?

Hong says he might not have gravitated to the idea if not for Ruga, who was Resy’s trademark attorney and who happened to send Hong the pitch behind Steno to get Hong’s advice. He looked it over as a favor, then he asked to get involved. “I just thought, ‘This is a unique and interesting opportunity,’ and said, ‘Dylan, let me run this.’ ”

Today the 19-month-old startup has 20 full-time employees and another 10 part-time staffers. One major accelerant to the business has been the pandemic, suggests Hong. Turns out tech-enabled legal support services become even more attractive when lawyers and everyone else in the ecosystem is socially distancing.

Hong suggests that Steno’s idea to marry its services with financing is gaining adherents, too, including amid law groups like JML Law and Simon Law Group, both of which focus largely on personal injury cases.

Indeed, Steno charges — and provides financing — on a per-transaction basis right now, even while its revenue is “somewhat recurring,” in that its customers constantly have court cases.

Still, a subscription product is being considered, says Hong. So are other uses for its videoconferencing platform. In the meantime, says Hong, Steno’s tech is “built very well” for legal services, and that’s where it plans to remain focused.

Aug
27
2020
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Salesforce confirms it’s laying off around 1,000 people in spite of monster quarter

In what felt like strange timing, Salesforce has confirmed a report in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal that it was laying off around 1,000 people, or approximately 1.9% of the company’s 54,000 strong workforce. This news came in spite of the company reporting a monster quarter on Tuesday, in which it passed $5 billion in quarterly revenue for the first time.

In fact, Wall Street was so thrilled with Salesforce’s results, the company’s stock closed up an astonishing 26% yesterday, adding great wealth to the company’s coffers. It seemed hard to reconcile such amazing financial success with this news.

Yet it was actually something that president and chief financial officer Mark Hawkins telegraphed in Tuesday’s earnings call with industry analysts, although he didn’t come right and use the L (layoff) word. Instead he couched that impending change as a reallocation of resources.

And he talked about strategically shifting investments over the next 12-24 months. “This means we’ll be redirecting some of our resources to fuel growth in areas that are no longer as aligned with the business priority will be now deemphasized,” Hawkins said in the call.

This is precisely how a Salesforce spokesperson put it when asked by TechCrunch to confirm the story. “We’re reallocating resources to position the company for continued growth. This includes continuing to hire and redirecting some employees to fuel our strategic areas, and eliminating some positions that no longer map to our business priorities. For affected employees, we are helping them find the next step in their careers, whether within our company or a new opportunity,” the spokesperson said.

It’s worth noting that earlier this year, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff pledged there would be no significant layoffs for 90 days.

The 90-day period has long since passed and the company has decided the time is right to make some adjustments to the workforce.

It’s worth contrasting this with the pledge that ServiceNow CEO Bill McDermott made a few weeks after the Benioff tweet, promising not to lay off a single employee for the rest of this year, while also pledging to hire 1,000 people worldwide the remainder of this year, while bringing in 360 summer interns.

Aug
24
2020
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Sutter Hill strikes ice-cold, $2.5B pre-market return with Snowflake’s IPO filing

Today is the day for huge VC returns.

We talked a bit about Sequoia’s coming huge win with the IPO of game engine Unity this morning. Now, Sequoia might actually have the second largest return among companies filing to go public with the SEC today.

Snowflake filed its S-1 this afternoon, and it looks like Sutter Hill is going to make bank. The long-time VC firm, which invests heavily in the enterprise space and generally keeps a lower media profile, is the big winner across the board here, coming out with an aggregate 20.3% stake in the data management platform, which was last privately valued at $12.4 billion earlier this year. At its last valuation, Sutter Hill’s full stake is worth $2.5 billion. My colleagues Ron Miller and Alex Wilhelm looked a bit at the financials of the IPO filing.

Sutter Hill has been intimately connected to Snowflake’s early build-out and success, providing a $5 million Series A funding back in 2012, the year of the company’s founding, according to Crunchbase.

Now, there are some caveats on that number. Sutter Hill Ventures (aka “the fund”) owns roughly 55% of the firm’s total stake, with the balance owned by other entities owned by the firm’s management committee members. Michael Speiser, the firm’s partner who sits on Snowflake’s board, owns slightly more than 10% of Sutter Hill’s stake directly himself according to the SEC filing.

In addition to Sutter Hill, Sequoia also got a large slice of the data computing company: its growth fund is listed as having an 8.4% stake in the coming IPO. That makes for two Sequoia Growth IPOs today — a nice way to start the week this Monday afternoon.

Finally, Altimeter Capital, which did the Series C, owns 14.8%; ICONIQ owns 13.8%; and Redpoint, which did the Series B, owns 9.0%.

To see the breakdown in returns, let’s start by taking a look at the company’s share price and carrying values for each of its rounds of capital:

On top of that, what’s interesting is that Snowflake broke down the share purchases by firm for the last four rounds (D through G-1) the company fundraised:

That level of detail actually allows us to grossly compare the multiples on invested capital for these firms.

Sutter Hill, despite owning large sections of the company early on, continued to buy up shares all the way through the Series G, investing an additional $140 million in the later-stage rounds of the company. Adding in the entirety of its $5 million Series A round and a bit from the Series B assuming pro rata, the firm is looking on the order of a 16x return (assuming the IPO price is at least as good as the last round price).

Outside Sutter Hill, Redpoint has the best multiple return profile, given that it only invested $60 million in these later-stage rounds while still maintaining a 9.0% ownership stake. Both Sutter Hill and Redpoint purchased roughly 20% of their overall stakes in these later-stage rounds. Doing some roughly calculating, Redpoint is looking at a return of about 12-13x.

Sequoia’s multiple on investment is capped a bit given that it only invested in the most recent funding rounds. Its 8.4% stake was purchased for nearly $272 million, all of which came in these late-stage rounds. At Snowflake’s last round valuation of $12.4 billion, Sequoia’s stake is valued at $1.04 billion — a return of slightly less than 4x. That’s very good for mezzanine capital, but nothing like the multiple that Sutter Hill or Redpoint got for investing early.

Doing the same back-of-the-envelope math and Altimeter is looking at a better than 6x return, and ICONIQ got 7x. As before, if the stock zooms up, those returns will look all the better (and of course, if the stock crashes, well…)

One final note: The pattern for these last four funding rounds is unusual for venture capital: Snowflake appears to have “spread the love around,” having multiple firms build up stakes in the startup over several rounds rather than having one definitive lead.

Jul
30
2020
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Buildots raises $16M to bring computer vision to construction management

Buildots, a Tel Aviv and London-based startup that is using computer vision to modernize the construction management industry, today announced that it has raised $16 million in total funding. This includes a $3 million seed round that was previously unreported and a $13 million Series A round, both led by TLV Partners. Other investors include Innogy Ventures, Tidhar Construction Group, Ziv Aviram (co-founder of Mobileye & OrCam), Magma Ventures head Zvika Limon, serial entrepreneurs Benny Schnaider and  Avigdor Willenz, as well as Tidhar chairman Gil Geva.

The idea behind Buildots is pretty straightforward. The team is using hardhat-mounted 360-degree cameras to allow project managers at construction sites to get an overview of the state of a project and whether it remains on schedule. The company’s software creates a digital twin of the construction site, using the architectural plans and schedule as its basis, and then uses computer vision to compare what the plans say to the reality that its tools are seeing. With this, Buildots can immediately detect when there’s a power outlet missing in a room or whether there’s a sink that still needs to be installed in a kitchen, for example.

“Buildots have been able to solve a challenge that for many seemed unconquerable, delivering huge potential for changing the way we complete our projects,” said Tidhar’s Geva in a statement. “The combination of an ambitious vision, great team and strong execution abilities quickly led us from being a customer to joining as an investor to take part in their journey.”

The company was co-founded in 2018 by Roy Danon, Aviv Leibovici and Yakir Sundry. Like so many Israeli startups, the founders met during their time in the Israeli Defense Forces, where they graduated from the Talpiot unit.

“At some point, like many of our friends, we had the urge to do something together — to build a company, to start something from scratch,” said Danon, the company’s CEO. “For us, we like getting our hands dirty. We saw most of our friends going into the most standard industries like cloud and cyber and storage and things that obviously people like us feel more comfortable in, but for some reason we had like a bug that said, ‘we want to do something that is a bit harder, that has a bigger impact on the world.’ ”

So the team started looking into how it could bring technology to traditional industries like agriculture, finance and medicine, but then settled upon construction thanks to a chance meeting with a construction company. For the first six months, the team mostly did research in both Israel and London to understand where it could provide value.

Danon argues that the construction industry is essentially a manufacturing industry, but with very outdated control and process management systems that still often relies on Excel to track progress.

Image Credits: Buildots

Construction sites obviously pose their own problems. There’s often no Wi-Fi, for example, so contractors generally still have to upload their videos manually to Buildots’ servers. They are also three dimensional, so the team had to develop systems to understand on what floor a video was taken, for example, and for large indoor spaces, GPS won’t work either.

The teams tells me that before the COVID-19 lockdowns, it was mostly focused on Israel and the U.K., but the pandemic actually accelerated its push into other geographies. It just started work on a large project in Poland and is scheduled to work on another one in Japan next month.

Because the construction industry is very project-driven, sales often start with getting one project manager on board. That project manager also usually owns the budget for the project, so they can often also sign the check, Danon noted. And once that works out, then the general contractor often wants to talk to the company about a larger enterprise deal.

As for the funding, the company’s Series A round came together just before the lockdowns started. The company managed to bring together an interesting mix of investors from both the construction and technology industries.

Now, the plan is to scale the company, which currently has 35 employees, and figure out even more ways to use the data the service collects and make it useful for its users. “We have a long journey to turn all the data we have into supporting all the workflows on a construction site,” said Danon. “There are so many more things to do and so many more roles to support.”

Image Credits: Buildots

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