Feb
11
2021
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Base Operations raises $2.2 million to modernize physical enterprise security

Typically when we talk about tech and security, the mind naturally jumps to cybersecurity. But equally important, especially for global companies with large, multinational organizations, is physical security — a key function at most medium-to-large enterprises, and yet one that to date, hasn’t really done much to take advantage of recent advances in technology. Enter Base Operations, a startup founded by risk management professional Cory Siskind in 2018. Base Operations just closed their $2.2 million seed funding round and will use the money to capitalize on its recent launch of a street-level threat mapping platform for use in supporting enterprise security operations.

The funding, led by Good Growth Capital and including investors like Magma Partners, First In Capital, Gaingels and First Round Capital founder Howard Morgan, will be used primarily for hiring, as Base Operations looks to continue its team growth after doubling its employe base this past month. It’ll also be put to use extending and improving the company’s product and growing the startup’s global footprint. I talked to Siskind about her company’s plans on the heels of this round, as well as the wider opportunity and how her company is serving the market in a novel way.

“What we do at Base Operations is help companies keep their people in operation secure with ‘Micro Intelligence,’ which is street-level threat assessments that facilitate a variety of routine security tasks in the travel security, real estate and supply chain security buckets,” Siskind explained. “Anything that the chief security officer would be in charge of, but not cyber — so anything that intersects with the physical world.”

Siskind has firsthand experience about the complexity and challenges that enter into enterprise security since she began her career working for global strategic risk consultancy firm Control Risks in Mexico City. Because of her time in the industry, she’s keenly aware of just how far physical and political security operations lag behind their cybersecurity counterparts. It’s an often overlooked aspect of corporate risk management, particularly since in the past it’s been something that most employees at North American companies only ever encounter periodically when their roles involve frequent travel. The events of the past couple of years have changed that, however.

“This was the last bastion of a company that hadn’t been optimized by a SaaS platform, basically, so there was some resistance and some allegiance to legacy players,” Siskind told me. “However, the events of 2020 sort of turned everything on its head, and companies realized that the security department, and what happens in the physical world, is not just about compliance — it’s actually a strategic advantage to invest in those sort of services, because it helps you maintain business continuity.”

The COVID-19 pandemic, increased frequency and severity of natural disasters, and global political unrest all had significant impact on businesses worldwide in 2020, and Siskind says that this has proven a watershed moment in how enterprises consider physical security in their overall risk profile and strategic planning cycles.

“[Companies] have just realized that if you don’t invest [in] how to keep your operations running smoothly in the face of rising catastrophic events, you’re never going to achieve the profits that you need, because it’s too choppy, and you have all sorts of problems,” she said.

Base Operations addresses this problem by taking available data from a range of sources and pulling it together to inform threat profiles. Their technology is all about making sense of the myriad stream of information we encounter daily — taking the wash of news that we sometimes associate with “doom-scrolling” on social media, for instance, and combining it with other sources using machine learning to extrapolate actionable insights.

Those sources of information include “government statistics, social media, local news, data from partnerships, like NGOs and universities,” Siskind said. That data set powers their Micro Intelligence platform, and while the startup’s focus today is on helping enterprises keep people safe, while maintaining their operations, you can easily see how the same information could power everything from planning future geographical expansion, to tailoring product development to address specific markets.

Siskind saw there was a need for this kind of approach to an aspect of business that’s essential, but that has been relatively slow to adopt new technologies. From her vantage point two years ago, however, she couldn’t have anticipated just how urgent the need for better, more scalable enterprise security solutions would arise, and Base Operations now seems perfectly positioned to help with that need.

Dec
10
2020
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UserLeap raises $16 million to bring better qualitative data to PMs

Product managers can only be successful if they can make effective use of both quantitative and qualitative data. But mapping the former to the latter, and collecting high-quality data, is a huge challenge to organizations looking to rapidly productize and innovate.

UserLeap, a company founded by serial product manager Ryan Glasgow, thinks it has found a better way, and so do its investors. The company today announced the close of a $16 million Series A financing led by Accel (Dan Levine led the round), with participation from angels like Elad Gil, Dylan Field, Ben Porterfield, Akshay Kothari, Jack Altman and Bobby Lo.

One of the main challenges of rapid product development is that the ratio of quantitative data to qualitative data isn’t equal. It can take weeks or even months to get results from user surveys, and that’s only if users actually respond. According to UserLeap, the average response rate for email surveys is between 3% and 5%. To add to the headache, PMs and data teams usually have to parse that information and organize it manually.

UserLeap offers product teams the ability to put a short line of code into their product that then delivers contextual micro-surveys to users right within the product. The company says that these micro-surveys usually see a 20% to 30% response rate, and sometimes that even pops all the way to 90%.

Plus, the UserLeap dashboard processes the natural language from respondents and organizes the data. For example, if one user references price and another references cost, those responses are grouped together.

Because the surveys are built right into the product and targeted to a specific action or flow, and because the data is parsed and automatically sorted, product teams usually have access to this data within a few hours.

UserLeap charges based on the number of end users tracked, plus the number of surveys sent out per month, offering tiers for those surveys in groupings of five. Glasgow says this is a bit of a differentiator when compared to other survey products like SurveyMonkey or TypeForm.

“We have a usage-based pricing model, where our competitors often have a seat-based pricing model,” said Glasgow. “We don’t care how many people have access to us. Really, our goal is to get you to use our product.”

In other words, the insights gleaned from UserLeap can be shared and used across the entire organization without affecting the price.

This latest funding brings UserLeap’s total funding to $20 million — First Round Capital previously led a $4 million seed round.

Customers include Square, Opendoor and Codecademy. Thus far, the company has tracked more than 500 million visitors, and gotten 600,000 survey question responses.

The UserLeap team is currently made up of 15 people, with females representing 50% and people of color making up 33% of the leadership team. Across the company, women represent 32% of the team and people of color represent 42%.

“UserLeap cares deeply about diversity and inclusion,” said Glasgow. “Having a diverse team helps to ensure our employees feel comfortable and valued so that they can bring their whole selves to work. For that reason, UserLeap has a part-time recruiting sourcer dedicated to engaging underrepresented candidates and these efforts have contributed towards our diversity goals.”

Nov
02
2020
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Email creation startup Stensul raises $16M

Stensul, a startup aiming to streamline the process of building marketing emails, has raised $16 million in Series B funding.

When the company raised its $7 million Series A two years ago, founder and CEO Noah Dinkin told me about how it spun out of his previous startup, FanBridge. And while there are many products focused on email delivery, he said Stensul is focused on the email creation process.

Dinkin made many similar points when we discussed the Series B last week. He said that for many teams, creating a marketing email can take weeks. With Stensul, that process can be reduced to just two hours, with marketers able to create the email on their own, without asking developers for help. Things like brand guidelines are already built in, and it’s easy to get feedback and approval from executives and other teams.

Dinkin also noted that while the big marketing clouds all include “some kind of email builder, it’s not their center of gravity.”

He added, “What we tell folks [is that] literally over half the company is engineers, and they are only working on email creation.”

Stensul

Image Credits: Stensul

The team has recently grown to more than 100 employees, with new customers like Capital One, ASICS Digital, Greenhouse, Samsung, AppDynamics, Kroger and Clover Health. New features include an integration with work management platform Workfront.

Plus, with other marketing channels paused or diminished during the pandemic, Dinkin said that email has only become more important, with the old, time-intensive process becoming more and more of a burden.

“We need more emails — whether that’s more versions or more segments or more languages, the requests are through the roof,” he said. “The teams are the same size … and so that’s where especially the leaders of these organizations have looked inward a lot more. The ways that they have been doing it for years or decades just doesn’t work anymore and prevents them from being competitive in the marketplace.”

The new round was led by USVP, with participation from Capital One Ventures, Peak State Ventures, plus existing investors Javelin Venture Partners, Uncork Capital, First Round Capital and Lowercase Capital . Individual investors include Okta co-founder and COO Frederic Kerrest, Okta CMO Ryan Carlson, former Marketo/Adobe executive Aaron Bird, Avid Larizadeh Duggan, Gary Swart and Talend CMO Lauren Vaccarello.

Dinkin said the money will allow Stensul to expand its marketing, product, engineering and sales teams.

“We originally thought: Everybody who sends email should have an email creation platform,” he said. “And ‘everyone who sends email’ is synonymous with ‘every company in the world.’ We’ve just seen that accelerate in that last few years.”

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.

Nov
12
2019
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Lawyers hate timekeeping — Ping raises $13M to fix it with AI

Counting billable time in six-minute increments is the most annoying part of being a lawyer. It’s a distracting waste. It leads law firms to conservatively under-bill. And it leaves lawyers stuck manually filling out timesheets after a long day when they want to go home to their families.

Life is already short, as Ping CEO and co-founder Ryan Alshak knows too well. The former lawyer spent years caring for his mother as she battled a brain tumor before her passing. “One minute laughing with her was worth a million doing anything else,” he tells me. “I became obsessed with the idea that we spend too much of our lives on things we have no need to do — especially at work.”

That’s motivated him as he’s built his startup Ping, which uses artificial intelligence to automatically track lawyers’ work and fill out timesheets for them. There’s a massive opportunity to eliminate a core cause of burnout, lift law firm revenue by around 10% and give them fresh insights into labor allocation.

Ping co-founder and CEO Ryan Alshak (Image Credit: Margot Duane)

That’s why today Ping is announcing a $13.2 million Series A led by Upfront Ventures, along with BoxGroup, First Round, Initialized and Ulu Ventures. Adding to Ping’s quiet $3.7 million seed led by First Round last year, the startup will spend the cash to scale up enterprise distribution and become the new timekeeping standard.

I was a corporate litigator at Manatt Phelps down in LA and joke that I was voted the world’s worst timekeeper,” Alshak tells me. “I could either get better at doing something I dreaded or I could try and build technology that did it for me.”

The promise of eliminating the hassle could make any lawyer who hears about Ping an advocate for the firm buying the startup’s software, like how Dropbox grew as workers demanded easier file sharing. “I’ve experienced first-hand the grind of filling out timesheets,” writes Initialized partner and former attorney Alda Leu Dennis. “Ping takes away the drudgery of manual timekeeping and gives lawyers back all those precious hours.”

Traditionally, lawyers have to keep track of their time by themselves down to the tenth of an hour — reviewing documents for the Johnson case, preparing a motion to dismiss for the Lee case, a client phone call for the Sriram case. There are timesheets built into legal software suites like MyCase, legal billing software like TimeSolv and one-off tools like Time Miner and iTimeKeep. They typically offer timers that lawyers can manually start and stop on different devices, with some providing tracking of scheduled appointments, call and text logging, and integration with billing systems.

Ping goes a big step further. It uses AI and machine learning to figure out whether an activity is billable, for which client, a description of the activity and its codification beyond just how long it lasted. Instead of merely filling in the minutes, it completes all the logs automatically, with entries like “Writing up a deposition – Jenkins Case – 18 minutes.” Then it presents the timesheet to the user for review before they send it to billing.

The big challenge now for Alshak and the team he’s assembled is to grow up. They need to go from cat-in-sunglasses logo Ping to mature wordmark Ping.  “We have to graduate from being a startup to being an enterprise software company,” the CEO tells meThat means learning to sell to C-suites and IT teams, rather than just build a solid product. In the relationship-driven world of law, that’s a very different skill set. Ping will have to convince clients it’s worth switching to not just for the time savings and revenue boost, but for deep data on how they could run a more efficient firm.

Along the way, Ping has to avoid any embarrassing data breaches or concerns about how its scanning technology could violate attorney-client privilege. If it can win this lucrative first business in legal, it could barge into the consulting and accounting verticals next to grow truly huge.

With eager customers, a massive market, a weak status quo and a driven founder, Ping just needs to avoid getting in over its heads with all its new cash. Spent well, the startup could leap ahead of the less tech-savvy competition.

Alshak seems determined to get it right. “We have an opportunity to build a company that gives people back their most valuable resource — time — to spend more time with their loved ones because they spent less time working,” he tells me. “My mom will live forever because she taught me the value of time. I am deeply motivated to build something that lasts . . . and do so in her name.”

Oct
28
2019
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Kandji announces $3.375M seed for sophisticated Apple MDM solution

Kandji, a new Apple MDM solution that promises to go far beyond Apple’s base MDM protocol and other solutions on the market, emerged from stealth today with a $3.375 million seed investment. The product is also publicly available for the first time starting today.

The round, which closed in March, was led by First Round Capital with help from Webb Investment Network, Lee Fixel, John Glynn and other unnamed investors.

Company co-founder and CEO Adam Pettit says the company’s founders have a deep knowledge in Apple. They all worked at Apple before leaving to run an Apple IT consultancy for more than 10 years.

He said that while they were at the consultancy, they developed a proprietary stack of tools to help with highly sophisticated Apple device deployments at large organizations, and it occurred to them that there was an unserved market opportunity to turn that knowledge into a new product.

Two years ago they sold the consultancy, took that knowledge and built Kandji from the ground up. Pettit says the new product gives customers access to a set of management tools that they would have charged six figures to implement at that their old firm.

One of the key differentiators between Kandji and other MDM solutions, or even Apple’s base MDM functionality, is a set of one-click compliance tools. “We’re the only product that has almost 200 of these one-click policy frameworks we call parameters. So an organization can go in and browse by compliance framework, or we have pre-built templates for companies that don’t necessarily have a specific compliance mandate in mind,” he said.

The parameters have all of the tools built-in to automatically deploy a set of policies related to a given compliance framework without having to go through and manually set all of those different switches yourself. On the flip side, if you want to get granular and create your own parameters, you can do that too.

He says one of the reasons he and his partners were willing to give up the big-dollar consultancy was because they saw a huge opportunity for firms that couldn’t afford those kind of services, but still had relatively large Apple device deployments. “I mean there’s a big need outside of just the specific kind of sophisticated compliance work we would do [at our previous firm]. We saw this big need in general for an Apple MDM solution like ours,” he said.

After selling their previous firm, the founders bootstrapped for a year while they developed the initial version of Kandji before seeking funding. Today, the company has 16 employees and a set of initial customers that have been testing the product.

Jul
10
2019
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Anvyl, looking to help D2C brands manage their supply chain, raises $9.3M

Growing D2C brands face an interesting challenge. While they’ve eliminated much of the hassle of a physical storefront, they must still deal with all the complications involved in managing inventory and manufacturing and shipping a physical product to suppliers.

Anvyl, with a fresh $9.3 million in Series A funding, is looking to jump in and make a difference for those brands. The company, co-founded by chief executive Rodney Manzo, is today announcing the raise, led by Redpoint Ventures, with participation from existing investors First Round Capital and Company Ventures. Angel investors Kevin Ryan (MongoDB and DoubleClick), Ben Kaufman (Quirky and Camp) and Dan Rose (Facebook) also participated in the round.

Manzo hails from Apple, where with $300 million in spend to manage logistics and supply chain he was still operating in an Excel spreadsheet. He then went to Harry’s, where he shaved $10 million in cash burn in his first month. He says himself that sourcing, procurement and logistics are in his DNA.

Which brings us to Anvyl. Anvyl looks at every step in the logistics process, from manufacture to arrival at the supplier, and visualizes that migration in an easy-to-understand UI.

The difference between Anvyl and other supply chain logistics companies, such as Flexport, is that Anvyl goes all the way to the very beginning of the supply chain: the factories. The company partners with factories to set up cameras and sensors that let brands see their product actually being built.

“When I was at Apple, I traveled for two years at least once a month to China and Japan just to oversee production,” said Manzo. “To oversee production, you essentially have to be boots on the ground and eyes in the factory. None of our brands have traveled to a factory.”

On the other end of the supply chain, Anvyl lets brands manage suppliers, find new suppliers, submit RFQs, see cost breakdowns and accept quotes.

The company also looks at each step in between, including trucks, trains, boats and planes so that brands can see, in real time, their products go from being manufactured to delivery.

Anvyl charges brands a monthly fee using a typical SaaS model. On the other end, Anvyl takes a “tiny percentage” of goods being produced within the Anvyl marketplace. The company declined to share actual numbers around pricing.

This latest round brings Anvyl’s total funding to $11.8 million. The company plans to use the funding toward hiring in engineering and marketing, and grow its consumer goods customer base.

Jun
04
2019
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VCs bet $12M on Troops, a Slackbot for sales teams

Slack wants to be the new operating system for teams, something it has made clear on more than one occasion, including in its recent S-1 filing. To accomplish that goal, it put together an in-house $80 million venture fund in 2015 to invest in third-party developers building on top of its platform.

Weeks ahead of its direct listing on The New York Stock Exchange, it continues to put that money to work.

Troops is the latest to land additional capital from the enterprise giant. The New York-based startup helps sales teams communicate with a customer relationship management tool plugged directly into Slack. In short, it automates routine sales management activities and creates visibility into important deals through integrations with employee emails and Salesforce.

Troops founder and chief executive officer Dan Reich, who previously co-founded TULA Skincare, told TechCrunch he opted to build a Slackbot rather than create an independent platform because Slack is a rocket ship and he wanted a seat on board: “When you think about where Slack will go in the future, it’s obvious to us that companies all over the world will be using it,” he said.

Troops has raised $12 million in Series B funding in a round led by Aspect Ventures, with participation from the Slack Fund, First Round Capital, Felicis Ventures, Susa Ventures, Chicago Ventures, Hone Capital, InVision founder Clark Valberg and others. The round brings Troops’ total raised to $22 million.

Launched in 2015 by New York tech veterans Reich, Scott Britton and Greg Ratner, the trio weren’t initially sure of Slack’s growth trajectory. It wasn’t until Slack confirmed its intent to support the developer ecosystem with a suite of developer tools and a fund that the team focused its efforts on building a Slackbot.

“People sometimes thought of us, at least in the early days, as a little bit crazy,” Reich said. “But now Slack is the fastest-growing SaaS company ever.”

“We think the biggest opportunity in the [enterprise SaaS] category is going to be tools oriented around the customer-facing employee (CRM), and that’s where we are innovating,” he added.

Troops’ tools are helpful for any customer-facing team, Reich explains. Envoy, WeWork, HubSpot and a few hundred others are monthly paying subscribers of the tool, using it to interact with their CRM in a messaging interface and to receive notifications when a deal has closed. Troops integrates with Salesforce, so employees can use it to search records, schedule automatic reports and celebrate company wins.

Slack, in partnership with a number of venture capital funds, including Accel, Kleiner Perkins and Index, has also deployed capital to a number of other startups, like Lattice, Drafted and Loom.

With Slack’s direct listing afoot, the Troops team is counting on the imminent and long-term growth of the company’s platform.

“We think it’s still early days,” Reich said. “In the future, we see every company using something like Troops to manage their day-to-day.”

Apr
17
2019
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Airbase launches with $7M Series A to simplify spending control systems

Airbase is a startup with a plan to change the way you think about accounting around spending. Instead of multiple workflows, it wants to create a simpler one involving, well, Airbase. It’s a bold move for any startup to take on something as entrenched as financials, but it’s giving it a shot, and today the company launched with a $7 million Series A investment.

First Round Capital was lead investor. Maynard Webb, Village Global, BoxGroup and Quiet Capital also participated. The deal closed at the end of November last year. This is the first external funding for the company, which company founder and CEO Thejo Kote had bootstrapped previously with $300,000 of his own money.

“At a high level, Airbase is the first all-in-one spend management system. It replaces a number of different systems that companies use to manage how they spend money,” Kote told TechCrunch.

He knows of what he speaks. Prior to starting this company, Kote co-founded Automatic, a startup that he sold to SiriusXM for more than $100 million in 2017. As a founder, he saw just how difficult it was to track the vast variety of spending inside a company, from supplies to subscriptions to food and drink.

“Think about the hundreds of things that companies spend money on, and the way in which the management of that happens is a pretty broken process today,” he said. For starters, it usually involves some sort of approval request in a tool like Slack, Jira or Google forms.

Once approved, the person requesting the expense will put that on a company credit card, then have to submit expense reports at the end of each month using a tool like Expensify. If you purchase from a vendor, then that involves an invoice and that has to be processed and paid. Finally it would need to be reconciled and accounted for in accounting software. Each step of this process ends up being time-consuming and costly for an organization.

Kote’s idea was to take this process and streamline it by removing the friction, which he saw as being related to the disparate systems in place to get the work done. He believed by creating a single workflow on a unified, single platform he could create a smoother system for everyone involved.

He is putting that single system between the bank and the accounting system, including a virtual Airbase Visa card to take the place of physical cards. Request for spending happens inside Airbase instead of an external tool. When the virtual card gets charged, bookkeeping and reconciliation gets handled in Airbase and pushed to your accounting package of choice.

Airbase workflow. Diagram: Airbase

This could be a difficult proposition for companies with existing systems in place, but could be attractive to startups and small companies whose accounting systems have not yet hardened. Perhaps that’s why most of Airbase’s customers are startups or SMBs with between 500 and 5,000 employees, such as Gusto, Netlify and Segment.

Bill Trenchard, general partner at lead investor First Round Capital, says he has seen very little innovation in this space and that’s what drew him to Airbase. “Airbase has taken a bold step forward to create an entirely new paradigm. It delivers a real solution to the biggest problems finance teams face as their companies grow,” Trenchard said in a statement.

The company was founded in 2017 and has 22 employees. It has a sales office in San Francisco, but other employees are spread across four countries.

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