Jul
02
2020
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QuestDB nabs $2.3M seed to build open source time series database

QuestDB, a member of the Y Combinator summer 2020 cohort, is building an open source time series database with speed top of mind. Today the startup announced a $2.3 million seed round.

Episode1 Ventures led the round with assistance from Seedcamp, 7percent Ventures, YCombinator, Kima Ventures and several unnamed angel investors.

The database was originally conceived in 2013 when current CTO Vlad Ilyushchenko was building trading systems for a financial services company and he was frustrated by the performance limitations of the databases available at the time, so he began building a database that could handle large amounts of data and process it extremely fast.

For a number of years, QuestDB was a side project, a labor of love for Ilyushchenko until he met his other co-founders Nicolas Hourcard, who became CEO and Tancrede Collard, who became CPO, and the three decided to build a startup on top of the open source project last year.

“We’re building an open source database for time series data, and time series databases are a multi-billion-dollar market because they’re central for financial services, IoT and other enterprise applications. And we basically make it easy to handle explosive amounts of data, and to reduce infrastructure costs massively,” Hourcard told TechCrunch.

He adds that it’s also about high performance. “We recently released a demo that you can access from our website that enables you to query a super large datasets — 1.6 billion rows with sub-second queries, mostly, and that just illustrates how performant the software is,” he said.

He sees open source as a way to build adoption from the bottom up inside organizations, winning the hearts and minds of developers first, then moving deeper in the company when they eventually build a managed cloud version of the product. For now, being open source also helps them as a small team to have a community of contributors help build the database and add to its feature set.

“We’ve got this open source product that is free to use, and it’s pretty important for us to have such a distribution model because we can basically empower developers to solve their problems, and we can ask for contributions from various communities. […] And this is really a way to spur adoption,” Hourcard said.

He says that working with YC has allowed them to talk to other companies in the ecosystem who have built similar open source-based startups and that’s been helpful, but it has also helped them learn to set and meet goals and have access to some of the biggest names in Silicon Valley, including Marc Andreessen, who delivered a talk to the cohort the same day we spoke.

Today the company has seven employees, including the three founders, spread out across the US, EU and South America. He sees this geographic diversity helping when it comes to building a diverse team in the future. “We definitely want to have more diverse backgrounds to make sure that we keep having a diverse team and we’re very strongly committed to that.”

For the short term, the company wants to continue building its community, working on continuing to improve the open source product, while working on the managed cloud product.

Jul
02
2020
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SEC filing indicates big data provider Palantir is raising $961M, $550M of it already secured

Palantir, the sometimes controversial, but always secretive, big data and analytics provider that works with governments and other public and private organizations to power national security, health and a variety of other services, has reportedly been eyeing a public listing this autumn. But in the meantime it’s also continuing to push ahead in the private markets.

The company has filed a Form D — its first in four years — indicating that it is in the process of raising nearly $1 billion — $961,099,010, to be exact — with $549,727,437 of that already sold, and a further $411,371,573 remaining to be raised.

(A Reuters report from June confirmed that Palantir had closed funding from two strategic investors that both work with the company: $500 million from Japanese insurance company Sompo Holdings, and $50 million from Fujitsu. Together, it seems like these might account for $550 million noted as already sold on the Form D.)

The Form D also notes that 58 investors are already attached to the offering, and that “of the total remaining to be sold, all but $671,576.25 represents shares of common stock already subscribed for.” This means that Palantir has already secured commitments for the remaining part of the $961 million raise, although the offering has not closed.

Palantir declined to comment on the filing, except to note that this is related to primary investments, not secondary stakes.

It’s not clear if this latest fundraise, as spelled out by the Form D, spells a delay to a public listing, or if the intention is to complement it. 

The filing also appears to confirm a report from September 2019 that Palantir was seeking to raise between $1 billion and $3 billion, its first fundraising in four years.

That report noted Palantir was targeting a $26 billion valuation, up from $20 billion four years ago. The Reuters article in June put its valuation based on secondary market trades at between $10 billion and $14 billion.

To date, Palantir has raised at least $3.3 billion in funding, according to PitchBook, which names no fewer than 108 investors on its cap table.

The PitchBook data (some of which is behind a paywall) also indicates that Palantir has raised a number of previous rounds of undisclosed amounts.

Palantir was last valued at $20 billion when it raised money four years ago, but there are some data points that point to a bigger valuation today.

While the coronavirus pandemic has all but halted the IPO market, we are starting to see some movement again, and Palantir’s own business activity points to what might be a strong candidate to usher in more activity.

In April, according to a Bloomberg report, the company briefed investors with documents showing that it expects to make $1 billion in revenues this year, up 38% on 2019, and breaking even in the first time since being founded 16 years ago by Peter Thiel, Nathan Gettings, Joe Lonsdale, Stephen Cohen and current CEO Alex Karp.

(The Bloomberg report didn’t explain why Palantir was briefing investors, whether for a potential public listing, or for the fundraise we’re reporting on here, or something else.)

On top of that, the company has been in the news a lot around the global novel coronavirus pandemic.

Specifically, it’s been winning business, in the form of projects in major markets like the U.K. (where it’s part of a consortium of companies working with the NHS on a COVID-19 data trove) and the U.S. (where it’s been working on a COVID-19 tracker for the federal government and a project with the CDC), and possibly others. Those projects will presumably need a lot of upfront capital to set up and run, alongside other business deals that Palantir has been securing — possibly one reason it is raising money now.

Updated throughout, including with response from Palantir.

Jul
01
2020
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Fauna raises an additional $27M to turn databases into a simple API call

Databases have always been a complex part of the equation for developers requiring a delicate balance to manage inside the application, but Fauna wants to make adding a database a simple API call, and today it announced $27 million in new funding.

The round, which is technically an extension of the company’s 2017 Series A, was led by Madrona Venture Group with participation from Addition, GV, CRV, Quest Ventures and a number of individual investors. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $57 million, according to the company.

While it was at it, the company also added some executive fire power, announcing that it was bringing on former Okta chief product officer Eric Berg as CEO and former Snowflake CEO Bob Muglia as Chairman.

Companies like Stripe for payments and Twilio for communications are the poster children for the move to APIs. Instead of building sophisticated functionality from scratch, a developer can use an API call to a service, and presto, has the tooling built in without any fuss. Fauna does the same thing for databases.

“Within a few lines of code with Fauna, developers can add a full-featured globally distributed database to their applications. They can simplify code, reduce costs and ship faster because they never again worry about database issues such as correctness, capacity, scalability, replication, etc,” new CEO Berg told TechCrunch.

To automate the process even further, the database is serverless, meaning that it scales up or down automatically to meet the needs of the application. Company co-founder Evan Weaver, who has moved to CTO with the hiring of Berg, says that Stripe is a good example of how this works. “You don’t think about provisioning Stripe because you don’t have to. […] You sign up for an account and beyond that you don’t have to provision or operate anything,” Weaver explained.

Like most API companies, it’s working at the developer level to build community and developer consensus around it. Today, they have 25,000 developers using the tool. While they don’t have an open-source version, they try to attract developer interest with a generous free tier, after which you can pay as you go or set up a fixed monthly pricing as you scale up.

The company has always been 100% remote, so when COVID hit, it didn’t really change anything about the way the company’s 40 employees work. As the company grows, Berg says it has aggressive goals around diversity and inclusion.

“Our recruiting and HR team have some pretty aggressive targets in terms of thinking about diversity in our pipelines and in our recruiting efforts, and because we’re a small team today we have the ability to impact that as we grow. If we doubled the size of the company, we could shift those percentages pretty dramatically, so it’s something that is definitely top of mind for us.”

Weaver says that fundraising began at the beginning of this year before COVID hit, but the term sheet wasn’t signed until March. He admits being nervous throughout the process, especially as the pandemic took hold. A company like Fauna is highly technical and takes time to grow, and he worried getting investors to understand that, even without a bleak economic picture, was challenging.

“It’s a deep tech business and it takes real capital to grow and scale. It’s a high-risk, high-reward bet, which is easier to fund in boom times, but broadly I think the best companies get built during recessions when there’s less competition for talent and there’s more focus on capital.”

Jun
30
2020
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Fivetran snares $100M Series C on $1.2B valuation for data connectivity solution

A big problem for companies these days is finding ways to connect various data sources to their data repositories, and Fivetran is a startup with a solution to solve that very problem. No surprise then that even during a pandemic, the company announced today that it has raised a $100 million Series C on a $1.2 billion valuation.

The company didn’t mess around, with top flight firms Andreessen Horowitz and General Catalyst leading the investment, with participation from existing investors CEAS Investments and Matrix Partners. Today’s money brings the total raised so far to $163 million, according to the company.

Martin Casado from a16z described the company succinctly in a blog post he wrote after its $44 million Series B in September 2019, in which his firm also participated. “Fivetran is a SaaS service that connects to the critical data sources in an organization, pulls and processes all the data, and then dumps it into a warehouse (e.g., Snowflake, BigQuery or RedShift) for SQL access and further transformations, if needed. If data is the new oil, then Fivetran is the pipes that get it from the source to the refinery,” he wrote.

Writing in a blog post today announcing the new funding, CEO George Fraser added that in spite of current conditions, the company has continued to add customers. “Despite recent economic uncertainty, Fivetran has continued to grow rapidly as customers see the opportunity to reduce their total cost of ownership by adopting our product in place of highly customized, in-house ETL pipelines that require constant maintenance,” he wrote.

In fact, the company reports 75% customer growth over the prior 12 months. It now has more than 1,100 customers, which is a pretty good benchmark for a Series C company. Customers include Databricks, DocuSign, Forever 21, Square, Udacity and Urban Outfitters, crossing a variety of verticals.

Fivetran hopes to continue to build new data connectors as it expands the reach of its product and to push into new markets, even in the midst of today’s economic climate. With $100 million in the bank, it should have enough runway to ride this out, while expanding where it makes sense.

Jun
30
2020
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Upsolver announces $13M Series A to ease management of cloud data lakes

There’s a lot of complexity around managing data lakes in the cloud that often requires expensive engineering expertise. Upsolver, an early-stage startup, wants to simplify all of that, so that a database administrator could handle it. Today the startup announced a $13 million Series A.

Vertex Ventures US was lead investor, with participation from Wing Venture Capital and Jerusalem Venture Partners. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $17 million, according to the company.

Co-founder and CEO Ori Rafael says that as companies move data to the cloud and store it in data lakes, it becomes increasingly difficult to manage. The goal of Upsolver is to abstract away a lot of those management tasks and allow users to query the data using SQL, making it a lot more accessible.

“The main criticism of data lakes over the years is they become data swamps. It’s very easy to store data there very cheaply, but making it [easy to query] and valuable is hard. For that you need a lot of engineering, which turns the lake into a swamp. So we take the data that you put into a lake and make it easier to query, and we take the biggest disadvantage of using a lake, which is the complexity of doing that process, and we make that process easy,” Rafael explained.

Investor In Sik Rhee, who is general partner and co-founder at Vertex Ventures US, sees a company that’s creating a cloud-native standard for data lake computing. “Upsolver succeeded in abstracting away the engineering complexity of data pipeline management so that enterprise customers can quickly solve their modern data challenges in real time and at any scale without having to build another silo of expertise within the organization,” he said in a statement.

The company currently has 22 employees spread out between San Francisco, New York and Israel. Rafael says they hope to expand to 50 employees by the end of next year, including adding new engineers for their R&D center in Israel and building sales and customer success teams in the U.S.

Rafael says he and his co-founder sat down early on and wrote down the company’s core values, and they see a responsibility of running a diverse company as part of that, as they search for these new hires. Certainly the pandemic has shown them that they can hire from anywhere and that can help contribute to a more diverse workforce as they grow.

He said running the company and raising money has been stressful during these times, but the company has continued to grow through all of this, adding new customers while staying relatively lean, and Rafael says that the investors certainly recognized that.

“We had high revenue compared to the low number of employees with [sales] acceleration during COVID — that was our big trio,” he said.

Jun
24
2020
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Lightrun raises $4M for its continuous debugging and observability platform

Lightrun, a Tel Aviv-based startup that makes it easier for developers to debug their production code, today announced that it has raised a $4 million seed round led by Glilot Capital Partners, with participation from a number of engineering executives from several Fortune 500 firms.

The company was co-founded by Ilan Peleg (who, in a previous life, was a competitive 800m runner) and Leonid Blouvshtein, with Peleg taking the CEO role and Blouvshtein the CTO position.

The overall idea behind Lightrun is that it’s too hard for developers to debug their production code. “In today’s world, whenever a developer issues a new software version and deploys it into production, the only way to understand the application’s behavior is based on log lines or metrics which were defined during the development stage,” Peleg explained. “The thing is, that is simply not enough. We’ve all encountered cases of missing a very specific log line when trying to troubleshoot production issues, then having to release a new hotfix version in order to add this specific logline, or — alternatively — reproduce the bug locally to better understand the application’s behavior.”

Image Credits: Lightrun

With Lightrun, as the co-founders showed me in a demo, developers can easily add new logs and metrics to their code from their IDE and then receive real-time data from their real production or development environments. For that to work, they need to have the Lightrun agent installed, but the overhead here is generally low because the agent sits idle until it is needed. In the IDE, the experience isn’t all that different from setting a traditional breakpoint in a debugger — only that there is no break. Lightrun can also use existing logging tools like Datadog to pipe its logging data to them.

While the service’s agent is agnostic about the environment it runs in, the company currently only supports JVM languages. Blouvshtein noted that building JVM language support was likely harder than building support for other languages and the company plans to launch support for more languages in the future.

“We make a point of investing in technologies that transform big industries,” said Kobi Samboursky, founder and managing partner at Glilot Capital Partners . “Lightrun is spearheading Continuous Debugging and Continuous Observability, picking up where CI/CD ends, turning observability into a real-time process instead of the iterative process it is today. We’re confident that this will become DevOps and development best practices, enabling I&O leaders to react faster to production issues.”

For now, there is still a bit of an onboarding process to get started with Lightrun, though that’s generally a very short process, the team tells me. Over time, the company plans to make this a self-service process. At that point, Lightrun will likely also become more interesting to smaller teams and individual developers, though the company is mostly focused on enterprise users and, despite only really launching out of stealth today and offering limited language support, the company already has a number of paying customers, including major enterprises.

“Our strategy is based on two approaches: bottom-up and top-down. Bottom-up, we’re targeting developers, they are the end-users and we want to ensure they get a quality product they can trust to help them. We put a lot of effort into reaching out through the developer channels and communities, as well as enabling usage and getting feedback. […] Top-down approach, we are approaching R&D management like VP of R&D, R&D directors in bigger companies and then we show them how Lightrun saves company development resources and improves customer satisfaction.”

Unsurprisingly, the company, which currently has about a dozen employees, plans to use the new funding to add support for more languages and improve its service with new features, including support for tracing.

Jun
24
2020
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Cape Privacy launches data science collaboration platform with $5.06M seed investment

Cape Privacy emerged from stealth today after spending two years building a platform for data scientists to privately share encrypted data. The startup also announced $2.95 million in new funding and $2.11 million in funding it got when the business launched in 2018, for a total of $5.06 million raised.

Boldstart Ventures and Version One led the round, with participation from Haystack, Radical Ventures and Faktory Ventures.

Company CEO Ché Wijesinghe says that data science teams often have to deal with data sets that contain sensitive data and share data internally or externally for collaboration purposes. It creates a legal and regulatory data privacy conundrum that Cape Privacy is trying to solve.

“Cape Privacy is a collaboration platform designed to help focus on data privacy for data scientists. So the biggest challenge that people have today from a business perspective is managing privacy policies for machine learning and data science,” Wijesinghe told TechCrunch.

The product breaks down that problem into a couple of key areas. First of all it can take language from lawyers and compliance teams and convert that into code that automatically generates policies about who can see the different types of data in a given data set. What’s more, it has machine learning underpinnings so it also learns about company rules and preferences over time.

It also has a cryptographic privacy component. By wrapping the data with a cryptographic cypher, it lets teams share sensitive data in a safe way without exposing the data to people who shouldn’t be seeing it because of legal or regulatory compliance reasons.

“You can send something to a competitor as an example that’s encrypted, and they’re able to process that encrypted data without decrypting it, so they can train their model on encrypted data,” company co-founder and CTO Gavin Uhma explained.

The company closed the new round in April, which means they were raising in the middle of a pandemic, but it didn’t hurt that they had built the product already and were ready to go to market, and that Uhma and his co-founders had already built a successful startup, GoInstant, which was acquired by Salesforce in 2012. (It’s worth noting that GoInstant debuted at TechCrunch Disrupt in 2011.)

Uhma and his team brought Wijesinghe on board to build the sales and marketing team because, as a technical team, they wanted someone with go-to-market experience running the company so they could concentrate on building product.

The company has 14 employees and is already an all-remote team, so the team didn’t have to adjust at all when the pandemic hit. While it plans to keep hiring fairly limited for the foreseeable future, the company has had a diversity and inclusion plan from the start.

“You have to be intentional about about seeking diversity, so it’s something that when we sit down and map out our hiring and work with recruiters in terms of our pipeline, we really make sure that diversity is one of our objectives. You just have it as a goal, as part of your culture, and it’s something that when we see the picture of the team, we want to see diversity,” he said.

Wijesinghe adds, “As a person of color myself, I’m very sensitive to making sure that we have a very diverse team, not just from a color perspective, but a gender perspective as well.”

The company is gearing up to sell the product  and has paid pilots starting in the coming weeks.

Jun
22
2020
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Canva raises $60 million on a $6 billion valuation

Sydney-based Canva, the design platform for non-designers, has today announced the close of a $60 million funding round, bringing its valuation to $6 billion, according to the company.

The startup has raised a total of more than $300 million, including this latest round of financing, from investors like Bond, General Catalyst, Sequoia Capital China, Felicis Ventures and Blackbird Ventures .

Canva COO and co-founder Cliff Obrecht explained that the round was 10x oversubscribed with interest from angels and new VCs, but that the company resisted taking extra capital.

“At our stage, investors are looking to deploy $50 million+ in capital,” said Obrecht. “Even our existing investors were looking to deploy between $50 million and $100 million, but we said ‘Oh, gee, we really don’t want to be diluted that much because we have a lot of conviction in the business and we don’t need that much money.’ ”

He also said the company wanted to remain with existing investors — Blackbird and Sequoia Capital China led this round — because those investors bet on the company when it was in its infancy, founded by three people in an isolated part of the world with no technical chops.

At the beginning of the pandemic, Canva made a commitment to continue paying all of its contracted workers, but froze hiring. The company also made quick moves to shut down the office and move to remote work. However, Canva is one of the few companies that is getting a boost from the world moving to work from home.

The company has seen a 50% uptick in shared designs, and around a 25% increase in designs created each month. Overall, Canva is growing 100% year over year in both revenue and users, with 30 million monthly active users across 190 countries.

Canva was founded in 2012 with the mission of democratizing design tools. While many non-designers can navigate their way around Google Slides or PowerPoint, or maybe even crop an image, going more in-depth on a design project can be daunting, as the suite of tools provided to designers can be incredibly complex.

The company’s tools are meant to simplify the design process for folks who don’t work in the design department, whether it’s the sales team putting together sales materials, marketers working on content or other departments working on internal materials to send to the broader organization. The drag-and-drop interface gives folks a way to create something beautiful and impressive without having to learn Photoshop.

The product started out as a freemium product for individual consumers but eventually started offering enterprise products, as well as a video editing tool that comes complete with video templates, easy-to-use animation tools and a library of stock video, music, etc.

The company has also launched an educational platform called Canva for Education, which integrates with G Suite and Google Classroom to get students started on design early. Canva also offers a developer platform for startups that want to integrate with the company, which currently includes Dropbox, Google Drive, PhotoMosh and Instagram, among others.

Most recently, Canva partnered with FedEx Office to offer easy design-to-print products that let users pick up print designs from one of more than 2,000 locations in the U.S. as the Sydney-based company looks to secure a foothold in this market.

Canva plans on using the funding to grow the company, make a push into collaboration and continue making acquisitions.

On the heels of the funding, Canva is looking to hire — the company currently has 1,000+ employees, of which more than 40% are female. (Canva did not disclose the percentage of its workforce that are non-white.)

Obrecht says that one of the greatest challenges for the company and for leadership personally is the burden of not feeling like they’re doing enough to make the world a better place. He explained that the company has a number of initiatives focused on this core tenet, including free access to the platform for more than 50,000 nonprofit organizations, education initiatives, anti-discrimination policies within its TOS and more.

“But it just never really feels like enough,” said Obrecht. “You see what’s happening and it’s a bit of a shit show and it’s not aspirational at all. It doesn’t look like it’s getting fixed quickly by the adults who are in government. They’re not doing the right thing, and if they’re not, who will? So we really believe we should have a heavy part in trying our best to make sure the shit show doesn’t continue.”

Jun
18
2020
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Payfone raises $100M for its mobile phone-based digital verification and ID platform

As an increasing number of daily and essential services move to digital platforms — a trend that’s had a massive fillip in the last few months — having efficient but effective ways to verify that people are who they say they are online is becoming ever more important. Now, a startup called Payfone, which has built a B2B2C platform to identify and verify people using data (but no personal data) gleaned from your mobile phone, has raised $100 million to expand its business. Specifically, Rodger Desai, the co-founder and CEO, said in an interview that plan will be to build in more machine learning into its algorithms, expand to 35 more geographies and make strategic acquisitions to expand its technology stack.

The funding is being led by Apax Digital, with participation from an interesting list of new and existing backers. They include Sandbox Insurtech Ventures, a division of Sandbox Industries, which connects corporate investment funds with strategic startups in their space); Ralph de la Vega, the former vice chairman of AT&T; MassMutual Ventures; Synchrony; Blue Venture Fund (another Sandbox outfit); Wellington Management LLP; and the former CEO of LexisNexis, Andrew Prozes.

Several of these investors have a close link to the startup’s business: Payfone counts carriers, healthcare and insurance companies, and banks among its customers, which use Payfone technology in their backends to help verify users making transactions and logging in to their systems.

Payfone tells me it has now raised $175 million to date, and while it’s not disclosing its valuation with this round, according to PitchBook, in April 2019 when it raised previously, it was valued at $270 million. Desai added that Payfone is already profitable and business has been strong lately.

“In 2019 we processed 20 billion authentications, mostly for banks but also healthcare companies and others, and more generally, we’ve been growing 70% year-over-year,” he said. The aim is to boost that up to 100 billion authentications in the coming years, he said.

Payfone was founded in 2008 amongst a throng of mobile payment startups (hence its name) that emerged to help connect consumers, mobile content businesses and mobile carriers with simpler ways to pay using a phone, with a particular emphasis on using carrier billing infrastructure as a way of letting users pay without inputting or using cards (especially interesting in regions where credit and debit card penetration and usage are lower).

That has been an interesting if slowly growing business, so around 2015 Payfone starting to move toward using its tech and infrastructure to delve into the adjacent and related space of applying its algorithms, which use authentication data from mobile phones and networks to help carriers, banks and many other kinds of businesses verify users on their networks.

(Indeed, the connection between the technology used for mobile payments that bypasses credit/debit cards and the technology that might be used for ID verification is one that others are pursuing, too: Carrier billing startup Boku — which yesterday acquired one of its competitors, Fortumo, in a $41 million deal as part of a wider consolidation play — also acquired one of Payfone’s competitors, Danal, 18 months ago to add user authentication into its own range of services.)

The market for authentication and verification services was estimated to be worth some $6 billion in 2019 and is projected to grow to $12.8 billion by 2024, according to research published by MarketsandMarkets. But within that there seems to be an almost infinite amount of variations, approaches and companies offering services to carry out the work. That includes authentication apps, password managers, special hardware that generates codes, new innovations in biometrics using fingerprints and eye scans, and more.

While some of these require active participation from consumers (say by punching in passwords or authentication codes or using fingerprints), there’s also a push to develop more seamless and user-friendly, and essentially invisible, approaches, and that’s where Payfone sits.

As Desai describes it, Payfone’s behind-the-scenes solution is used either as a complement to other authentication techniques or on its own, depending on the implementation. In short, it’s based around creating “signal scores” and tokens, and is built on the concept of “data privacy and zero data knowledge architecture.” That is to say, the company’s techniques do not store any personal data and do not need personal data to provide verification information.

As he describes it, while many people might only be in their 20s when getting their first bank account (one of the common use cases for Payfone is in helping authenticate users who are signing up for accounts via mobile), they will have likely already owned a phone, likely with the same phone number, for a decade before that.

“A phone is with you and in your use for daily activities, so from that we can opine information,” he said, which the company in turn uses to create a “trust score” to identify that you are who you say you are. This involves using, for example, a bank’s data and what Desai calls “telecoms signals” against that to create anonymous tokens to determine that the person who is trying to access, say, a bank account is the same person identified with the phone being used. This, he said, has been built to be “spoof proof” so that even if someone hijacks a SIM it can’t be used to work around the technology.

While this is all proprietary to Payfone today, Desai said the company has been in conversation with other companies in the ecosystem with the aim of establishing a consortium that could compete with the likes of credit bureaus in providing data on users in a secure way.

“The trust score is based on our own proprietary signals but we envision making it more like a clearing house,” he said.

The fact that Payfone essentially works in the background has been just as much of a help as a hindrance for some observers. For example, there have been questions raised previously about how data is sourced and used by Payfone and others like it for identification purposes. Specifically, it seems that those looking closer at the data that these companies amass have taken issue not necessarily with Payfone and others like it, but with the businesses using the verification platforms, and whether they have been transparent enough about what is going on.

Payfone does provide an explanation of how it works with secure APIs to carry out its services (and that its customers are not consumers but the companies engaging Payfone’s services to work with consumer customers), and offers a route to opt out of of its services for those that seek to go that extra mile to do so, but my guess is that this might not be the end of that story if people continue to learn more about personal data, and how and where it gets used online.

In the meantime, or perhaps alongside however that plays out, there will continue to be interesting opportunities for approaches to verify users on digital platforms that respect their personal data and general right to control how any identifying detail — personal or not — gets used. Payfone’s traction so far in that area has helped it stand out to investors.

“Identity is the key enabling technology for the next generation of digital businesses,” said Daniel O’Keefe, managing partner of Apax Digital, in a statement. “Payfone’s Trust Score is core to the real-time decisioning that enterprises need in order to drive revenue while thwarting fraud and protecting privacy.” O’Keefe and his colleague, Zach Fuchs, a principal at Apax Digital, are both joining the board.

“Payfone’s technology enables frictionless customer experience, while curbing the mounting operating expense caused by manual review,” said Fuchs. 

Jun
17
2020
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Cloudtenna raises $2.5M, launches mobile search app to find content across cloud services

Finding somewhere in a Slack conversation, or stored in Box, Dropbox, Google Docs or Office 365, that one document you want to attach to an email is a huge challenge as we find ourselves spreading our content across a variety of cloud services. It’s one challenge that Cloudtenna has been trying to solve, and today the company announced a $2.5 million funding round along with the release of a new mobile search tool.

The funding comes from a variety of unnamed investors, along with Blazar Ventures, and brings the total raised to $6.5 million, according to the company.

Cloudtenna co-founder Aaron Ganek says that by using AI and document metadata, his company can find content wherever it lives. “What we’re really focused on is helping companies bring order to file chaos. Files are scattered everywhere across the cloud, and we have developed AI-powered applications that help users find files, no matter where they’re stored,” he said.

The company introduced a desktop search application in 2018 and today it’s announcing a mobile search tool called Workspace to go with it. Ganek says they built this app from the ground up to take advantage of the mobile context.

“Today, we’re bringing the search technology to smartphones and tablets. And just to be clear, this is not just a mobile version of our desktop product, but a complete case study in how people collaborate on the go,” he said.

Image Credit: Cloudtenna

The AI component helps find files wherever they are based on your user history, who you tend to collaborate with and so forth. That helps the tool find the files that are most relevant to you, regardless of where they happen to be stored.

He says that raising money during a pandemic was certainly interesting, but the company has seen an uptick in usage due to the general increase in SaaS usage during this time, and investors saw that too, he said.

The company launched in 2016 and currently has nine employees, but Ganek said there aren’t any plans to expand on that number at this time, or at least any number he was ready to discuss.

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