Aug
19
2019
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Ally raises $8M Series A for its OKR solution

OKRs, or Objectives and Key Results, are a popular planning method in Silicon Valley. Like most of those methods that make you fill in some form once every quarter, I’m pretty sure employees find them rather annoying and a waste of their time. Ally wants to change that and make the process more useful. The company today announced that it has raised an $8 million Series A round led by Accel Partners, with participation from Vulcan Capital, Founders Co-op and Lee Fixel. The company, which launched in 2018, previously raised a $3 million seed round.

Ally founder and CEO Vetri Vellore tells me that he learned his management lessons and the value of OKR at his last startup, Chronus. After years of managing large teams at enterprises like Microsoft, he found himself challenged to manage a small team at a startup. “I went and looked for new models of running a business execution. And OKRs were one of those things I stumbled upon. And it worked phenomenally well for us,” Vellore said. That’s where the idea of Ally was born, which Vellore pursued after selling his last startup.

Most companies that adopt this methodology, though, tend to work with spreadsheets and Google Docs. Over time, that simply doesn’t work, especially as companies get larger. Ally, then, is meant to replace these other tools. The service is currently in use at “hundreds” of companies in more than 70 countries, Vellore tells me.

One of its early adopters was Remitly . “We began by using shared documents to align around OKRs at Remitly. When it came time to roll out OKRs to everyone in the company, Ally was by far the best tool we evaluated. OKRs deployed using Ally have helped our teams align around the right goals and have ultimately driven growth,” said Josh Hug, COO of Remitly.

Desktop Team OKRs Screenshot

Vellore tells me that he has seen teams go from annual or bi-annual OKRs to more frequently updated goals, too, which is something that’s easier to do when you have a more accessible tool for it. Nobody wants to use yet another tool, though, so Ally features deep integrations into Slack, with other integrations in the works (something Ally will use this new funding for).

Since adopting OKRs isn’t always easy for companies that previously used other methodologies (or nothing at all), Ally also offers training and consulting services with online and on-site coaching.

Pricing for Ally starts at $7 per month per user for a basic plan, but the company also offers a flat $29 per month plan for teams with up to 10 users, as well as an enterprise plan, which includes some more advanced features and single sign-on integrations.

Aug
12
2019
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Lucidworks raises $100M to expand in AI-powered search-as-a-service for organizations

If the sheer amount of information that we can tap into using the internet has made the world our oyster, then the huge success of Google is a testament to how lucrative search can be in helping to light the way through that data maze.

Now, in a sign of the times, a startup called Lucidworks, which has built an AI-based engine to help individual organizations provide personalised search services for their own users, has raised $100 million in funding. Lucidworks believes its approach can produce better and more relevant results than other search services in the market, and it plans to use the funding for its next stage of growth to become, in the words of CEO Will Hayes, “the world’s next important platform.”

The funding is coming from PE firm Francisco Partners? and ?TPG Sixth Street Partners?. Existing investors in the company include Top Tier Capital Partners, Shasta Ventures, Granite Ventures and Allegis Cyber.

Lucidworks has raised around $200 million in funding to date, and while it is not disclosing the valuation, the company says it has been doubling revenues each year for the last three and counts companies like Reddit, Red Hat, REI and the U.S. Census among some 400 others of its customers using its flagship product, Fusion. PitchBook notes that its last round in 2018 was at a modest $135 million, and my guess is that is up by quite some way.

The idea of building a business on search, of course, is not at all new, and Lucidworks works is in a very crowded field. The likes of Amazon, Google and Microsoft have built entire empires on search — in Google’s and Microsoft’s case, by selling ads against those search results; in Amazon’s case, by generating sales of items in the search results — and they have subsequently productised that technology, selling it as a service to others.

Alongside that are companies that have been building search-as-a-service from the ground up — like Elastic, Sumo Logic and Splunk (whose founding team, coincidentally, went on to found Lucidworks…) — both for back-office processes as well as for services that are customer-facing.

In an interview, Hayes said that what sets Lucidworks apart is how it uses machine learning and other AI processes to personalise those results after “sorting through mountains of data,” to provide enterprise information to knowledge workers, shopping results on an e-commerce site to consumers, data to wealth managers or whatever it is that is being sought.

Take the case of a shopping experience, he said by way of explanation. “If I’m on REI to buy hiking shoes, I don’t just want to see the highest-rated hiking shoes, or the most expensive,” he said.

The idea is that Lucidworks builds algorithms that bring in other data sources — your past shopping patterns, your location, what kind of walking you might be doing, what other people like you have purchased — to produce a more focused list of products that you are more likely to buy.

“Amazon has no taste,” he concluded, a little playfully.

Today, around half of Lucidworks’ business comes from digital commerce and digital content — searches of the kind described above for products, or monitoring customer search queries sites like Red Hat or Reddit — and half comes from knowledge worker applications inside organizations.

The plan will be to continue that proportion, while also adding other kinds of features — more natural language processing and more semantic search features — to expand the kinds of queries that can be made, and also cues that Fusion can use to produce results.

Interestingly, Hayes said that while it’s come up a number of times, Lucidworks doesn’t see itself ever going head-to-head with a company like Google or Amazon in providing a first-party search platform of its own. Indeed, that may be an area that has, for the time being at least, already been played out. Or it may be that we have turned to a time when walled gardens — or at least more targeted and curated experiences — are coming into their own.

“We still see a lot of runway in this market,” said Jonathan Murphy of Francisco Partners. “We were very attracted to the idea of next-generation search, on one hand serving internet users facing the pain of the broader internet, and on the other enterprises as an enterprise software product.” 

Lucidworks, it seems, has also entertained acquisition approaches, although Hayes declined to get specific about that. The longer-term goal, he said, “is to build something special that will stay here for a long time. The likelihood of needing that to be a public company is very high, but we will do what we think is best for the company and investors in the long run. But our focus and intention is to continue growing.”

Jul
31
2019
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Prodly announces $3.5M seed to automate low-code cloud deployments

Low-code programming is supposed to make things easier on companies, right? Low-code means you can count on trained administrators instead of more expensive software engineers to handle most tasks, but like any issue solved by technology, there are always unintended consequences. While running his former company, Steelbrick, which he sold to Salesforce in 2015 for $360 million, Max Rudman identified a persistent problem with low-code deployments. He decided to fix it with automation and testing, and the idea for his latest venture, Prodly, was born.

The company announced a $3.5 million seed round today, but more important than the money is the customer momentum. In spite of being a very early-stage startup, the company already has 100 customers using the product, a testament to the fact that other people were probably experiencing that same pain point Rudman was feeling, and there is a clear market for his idea.

As Rudman learned with his former company, going live with the data on a platform like Salesforce is just part of the journey. If you are updating configuration and pricing information on a regular basis, that means updating all the tables associated with that information. Sure, it’s been designed to be point and click, but if you have changes across 48 tables, it becomes a very tedious task, indeed.

The idea behind Prodly is to automate much of the configuration, provide a testing environment to be sure all the information is correct and, finally, automate deployment. For now, the company is just concentrating on configuration, but with the funding it plans to expand the product to solve the other problems, as well.

Rudman is careful to point out that his company’s solution is not built strictly for the Salesforce platform. The startup is taking aim at Salesforce admins for its first go-round, but he sees the same problem with other cloud services that make heavy use of trained administrators to make changes.

“The plan is to start with Salesforce, but this problem actually exists on most cloud platforms — ServiceNow, Workday — none of them have the tools we have focused on for admins, and making the admins more productive and building the tooling that they need to efficiently manage a complex application,” Rudman told TechCrunch.

Customers include Nutanix, Johnson & Johnson, Splunk, Tableau and Verizon (which owns this publication). The $3.5 million round was led by Shasta Ventures, with participation from Norwest Venture Partners.

Jul
30
2019
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Confluera snags $9M Series A to help stop cyberattacks in real time

Just yesterday, we experienced yet another major breach when Capital One announced it had been hacked and years of credit card application information had been stolen. Another day, another hack, but the question is how can companies protect themselves in the face of an onslaught of attacks. Confluera, a Palo Alto startup, wants to help with a new tool that purports to stop these kinds of attacks in real time.

Today the company, which launched last year, announced a $9 million Series A investment led by Lightspeed Venture Partners . It also has the backing of several influential technology execs, including John W. Thompson, who is chairman of Microsoft and former CEO at Symantec; Frank Slootman, CEO at Snowflake and formerly CEO at ServiceNow; and Lane Bess, former CEO of Palo Alto Networks.

What has attracted this interest is the company’s approach to cybersecurity. “Confluera is a real-time cybersecurity company. We are delivering the industry’s first platform to deterministically stop cyberattacks in real time,” company co-founder and CEO Abhijit Ghosh told TechCrunch.

To do that, Ghosh says, his company’s solution watches across the customer’s infrastructure, finds issues and recommends ways to mitigate the attack. “We see the problem that there are too many solutions which have been used. What is required is a platform that has visibility across the infrastructure, and uses security information from multiple sources to make that determination of where the attacker currently is and how to mitigate that,” he explained.

Microsoft chairman John Thompson, who is also an investor, says this is more than just real-time detection or real-time remediation. “It’s not just the audit trail and telling them what to do. It’s more importantly blocking the attack in real time. And that’s the unique nature of this platform, that you’re able to use the insight that comes from the science of the data to really block the attacks in real time.”

It’s early days for Confluera, as it has 19 employees and three customers using the platform so far. For starters, it will be officially launching next week at Black Hat. After that, it has to continue building out the product and prove that it can work as described to stop the types of attacks we see on a regular basis.

Jul
29
2019
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The Exit: The acquisition charting Salesforce’s future

Before Tableau was the $15.7 billion key to Salesforce’s problems, it was a couple of founders arguing with a couple of venture capitalists over lunch about why its Series A valuation should be higher than $12 million pre-money.

Salesforce has generally been one to signify corporate strategy shifts through their acquisitions, so you can understand why the entire tech industry took notice when the cloud CRM giant announced its priciest acquisition ever last month.

The deal to acquire the Seattle-based data visualization powerhouse Tableau was substantial enough that Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff publicly announced it was turning Seattle into its second HQ. Tableau’s acquisition doesn’t just mean big things for Salesforce. With the deal taking place just days after Google announced it was paying $2.6 billion for Looker, the acquisition showcases just how intense the cloud wars are getting for the enterprise tech companies out to win it all.

The Exit is a new series at TechCrunch. It’s an exit interview of sorts with a VC who was in the right place at the right time but made the right call on an investment that paid off. [Have feedback? Shoot me an email at lucas@techcrunch.com]

Scott Sandell, a general partner at NEA (New Enterprise Associates) who has now been at the firm for 25 years, was one of those investors arguing with two of Tableau’s co-founders, Chris Stolte and Christian Chabot. Desperate to close the 2004 deal over their lunch meeting, he went on to agree to the Tableau founders’ demands of a higher $20 million valuation, though Sandell tells me it still feels like he got a pretty good deal.

NEA went on to invest further in subsequent rounds and went on to hold over 38% of the company at the time of its IPO in 2013 according to public financial docs.

I had a long chat with Sandell, who also invested in Salesforce, about the importance of the Tableau deal, his rise from associate to general partner at NEA, who he sees as the biggest challenger to Salesforce, and why he thinks scooter companies are “the worst business in the known universe.”

The interview has been edited for length and clarity. 


Lucas Matney: You’ve been at this investing thing for quite a while, but taking a trip down memory lane, how did you get into VC in the first place? 

Scott Sandell: The way I got into venture capital is a little bit of a circuitous route. I had an opportunity to get into venture capital coming out of Stanford Business School in 1992, but it wasn’t quite the right fit. And so I had an interest, but I didn’t have the right opportunity.

Jul
25
2019
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Ethyca raises $4.2M to simplify GDPR compliance

GDPR, the European data privacy regulations, have been in effect for more than a year, but it’s still a challenge for companies to comply. Ethyca, a New York City startup, has created a solution from the ground up to help customers adhere to the regulations, and today it announced a $4.2 million investment led by IA Ventures and Founder Collective.

Table Management, Sinai Ventures, Cheddar founder Jon Steinberg and Moat co-founder Jonah Goodhart also participated.

At its heart, Ethyca is a data platform that helps companies discover sensitive data, then provides a mechanism for customers to see, edit or delete their data from the system. Finally, the solution enables companies to define who can see particular types of data across the organization to control access. All of these components are designed to help companies comply with GDPR regulations.

ethyca enterprise transaction log

Ethyca enterprise transaction log (Screenshot: Ethyca)

Company co-founder Cillian Kieran says that the automation component is key and should greatly reduce the complexity and cost associated with complying with GDPR rules. From his perspective, current solutions that involve either expensive consultants or solutions that require some manual intervention don’t get companies all the way there.

“These solutions don’t actually solve the issue from an infrastructure point of view. I think that’s the distinction. You can go and use the consultants, or you can use a control panel that tells you what you need to do. But ultimately, at some point you’re either going to have to build or deploy code that fixes some issues, or indeed manually manage or remediate those [issues]. Ethyca is designed for that and takes away those risks because it is managing privacy by design at the infrastructure level,” Kieran explained.

If you’re worried about the privacy of providing information like this to a third-party vendor, Kieran says that his company never actually sees the raw data. “We are a suite of tools that sits between business processes. We don’t capture raw data, We don’t see personal information. We find information based on unique identifiers,” he said.

The company has been around for more than a year, but has been spending its first year developing the solution. He sees this investment as validation of the problem his startup is trying to solve. “I think the investment represents the growing awareness fundamentally from both with the investor community, and also in the tech world, that data privacy as a regulatory constraint is real and will compound itself,” he said.

He also points out that GDPR is really just the tip of the privacy regulation iceberg, with laws in Australia, Brazil and Japan, as well as California and other states in the U.S. due to come online next year. He says his solution has been designed to deal with a variety of privacy frameworks beyond GDPR. If that’s so, his company could be in a good position moving forward.

Jul
23
2019
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CircleCI closes $56M Series D investment as market for continuous delivery expands

CircleCI launched way back in 2011 when the notion of continuous delivery was just a twinkle in most developers’ eyes, but over the years with the rise of agile, containerization and DevOps, we’ve seen the idea of continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) really begin to mainstream with developers. Today, CircleCI was rewarded with a $56 million Series D investment.

The round was led by Owl Rock Capital Partners and Next Equity. Existing investors Scale Venture Partners, Top Tier Capital, Threshold Ventures (formerly DFJ), Baseline Ventures, Industry Ventures, Heavybit and Harrison Metal Capital also participated in the round. CircleCI’s most recent funding prior to this round was a $31 million Series C last January. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $115.5 million, according to the company.

CircleCI CEO Jim Rose sees a market that’s increasingly ready for the product his company is offering. “As we’re putting more money to work, there are just more folks that are now moving away from aspiring about doing continuous delivery and really leaning into the idea of, ‘We’re a software company, we need to know how to do this well, and we need to be able to automate all the steps between the time our developers are making changes to the code until that application gets in front of the customer,’ ” Rose told TechCrunch.

Rose sees a market that’s getting ready to explode and he wants to use the runway this money provides his company to take advantage of that growth. “Now, what we’re finding is that fintech companies, insurance companies, retailers — all of the more traditional brands — are now realizing they’re in a software business as well. And they’re really trying to build out the tool sets and the expertise to be effective at that. And so the real growth in our market is still right in front of us,” he said.

As CircleCI matures and the market follows suit, a natural question following a Series D investment is when the company might go public, but Rose was not ready to commit to anything yet. “We come at it from the perspective of keeping our heads down trying to build the best business and doing right by our customers. I’m sure at some point along the journey our investors will be itching for liquidity, but as it stands right now, everyone is really [focused]. I think what we have found is that the bulk of the market is just starting to arrive,” he said.

Jul
23
2019
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Arrcus snags $30M Series B as it tries to disrupt networking biz

Arrcus has a bold notion to try and take on the biggest names in networking by building a better networking management system. Today it was rewarded with a $30 million Series B investment led by Lightspeed Venture Partners.

Existing investors General Catalyst and Clear Ventures also participated. The company previously raised a seed and Series A totaling $19 million, bringing the total raised to date to $49 million, according to numbers provided by the company.

Founder and CEO Devesh Garg says the company wanted to create a product that would transform the networking industry, which has traditionally been controlled by a few companies. “The idea basically is to give you the best-in-class [networking] software with the most flexible consumption model at the lowest overall total cost of ownership. So you really as an end customer have the choice to choose best-in-class solutions,” Garg told TechCrunch.

This involves building a networking operating system called ArcOS to run the networking environment. For now, that means working with manufacturers of white-box solutions and offering some combination of hardware and software, depending on what the customer requires. Garg says that players at the top of the market like Cisco, Arista and Juniper tend to keep their technical specifications to themselves, making it impossible to integrate ArcOS with those companies at this time, but he sees room for a company like Arrcus .

“Fundamentally, this is a very large marketplace that’s controlled by two or three incumbents, and when you have lack of competition you get all of the traditional bad behavior that comes along with that, including muted innovation, rigidity in terms of the solutions that are provided and these legacy procurement models, where there’s not much flexibility with artificially high pricing,” he explained.

The company hopes to fundamentally change the current system with its solutions, taking advantage of unbranded hardware that offers a similar experience but can run the Arrcus software. “Think of them as white-box manufacturers of switches and routers. Oftentimes, they come from Taiwan, where they’re unbranded, but it’s effectively the same components that are used in the same systems that are used by the [incumbents],” he said.

The approach seems to be working, as the company has grown to 50 employees since it launched in 2016. Garg says that he expects to double that number in the next six-nine months with the new funding. Currently the company has double-digit paying customers and more than 20 in various stages of proofs of concepts, he said.

Jul
23
2019
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Analytics startup Heap raises $55M

Since co-founding Heap, CEO Matin Movassate has been saying that he wants to take on the analytics incumbents. Today, he’s got more money to fund that challenge, with the announcement that Heap has raised $55 million in Series C funding.

Movassate (pictured above) previously worked as a product manager at Facebook, and when I interviewed him after the startup’s Series B, he recalled the circuitous process normally required to collect and analyze user data. In contrast, Heap automatically collects data on user activity — the goal is to capture literally everything — and makes it available in a self-serve way, with no additional code required to answer new queries.

The company says it now has more than 6,000 customers, including Twilio, AppNexus, Harry’s, WeWork and Microsoft.

With this new funding, Heap has raised a total of $95.2 million. The plan is to fund international growth, as well as expand the product, engineering and go-to-market teams.

The Series C was led by NewView Capital, with participation from new DTCP, Maverick Ventures, Triangle Peak Partners, Alliance Bernstein Private Credit Investors, Sharespost and existing investors (NEA, Menlo Ventures, Initialized Capital and Pear VC). NewView founder and managing partner Ravi Viswanathan is joining the startup’s board of directors.

“Heap offers an innovative approach to automating a company’s analytics, enabling a variety of teams within an organization to obtain the data they need to make educated and, ultimately, smarter decisions,” Viswanathan said in a statement. “We are excited to team up with Heap, as they continue to develop their cutting edge software, expand their analytics automation offerings and help serve their growing numbers of customers.”

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.

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