Mar
29
2019
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User Interviews, a platform for product feedback, raises $5 million

It’s not uncommon to hear CEOs and business leaders talk about focusing on the consumer. But the only way to build for the consumer is to hear what they want, which can be a resource-intensive thing to retrieve.

User Interviews, an ERA-backed company out of New York, is looking to lighten that load with a fresh $5 million in seed funding from Accomplice, Las Olas, FJ Labs and ERA.

User Interviews actually started out as Mobile Suites, an amenities logistics platform for hotels. It was a dud, and the team — Basel Fakhoury, Dennis Meng and Bob Saris — decided to do far more user research before determining the next product.

In the process of talking to customers to understand their pain points, they realized just how difficult collecting user feedback could be.

That’s how User Interviews was born. The platform’s first product, called Recruit, offers a network of non-users that can be matched with companies to provide feedback. In fact, User Interviews’ first sales were made by simply responding to Craigslist ads posted by companies looking for non-users from which they could collect feedback.But because the majority of user research is based on existing users, the company also built Research Hub, which is essentially a CRM system for user feedback and research. To be clear, User Interviews doesn’t facilitate the actual interviews with users, but tracks the feedback, facilitates sending emails and ensures that no one from the research team is reaching out to a single user too often.

With Recruit, User Interviews charges $30/person that it matches with a company for feedback. Research Hub costs starts at $150/month.

“Right now, our greatest challenge is that our clients are the best product people in the world, and we have a huge pipeline of amazing ideas that are very valuable and no one is doing yet that our clients would love,” said CEO and cofounder Basel Fakhoury. “But we have to build it fast enough.”

No mention of what those forthcoming products might be, but the current iteration sure seems attractive enough. User Interviews clients include Eventbrite, Glassdoor, AT&T, DirecTV, Lola, LogMeIn, Thumbtack, Casper, ClassPass, Fandango, NNG, Pinterest, Pandora, Colgate, Uber and REI, to name a few.

Mar
28
2019
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Kong raises $43M Series C for its API platform

Kong, the open core API management and life cycle management company previously known as Mashape, today announced that it has raised a $43 million Series C round led by Index Ventures. Previous investors Andreessen Horowitz and Charles River Ventures (CRV), as well as new investors GGV Capital and World Innovation Lab, also participated. With this round, Kong has now raised a total of $71 million.

The company’s CEO and co-founder Augusto Marietti tells me the company plans to use the funds to build out its service control platform. He likened this service to the “nervous system for an organization’s software architecture.”

Right now, Kong is just offering the first pieces of this, though. One area the company plans to especially focus on is security, in addition to its existing management tools, where Kong plans to add more machine learning capabilities over time, too. “It’s obviously a 10-year journey, but those two things — immunity with security and machine learning with [Kong] Brain — are really a 10-year journey of building an intelligent platform that can manage all the traffic in and out of an organization,” he said.

In addition, the company also plans to invest heavily in its expansion in both Europe and the Asia Pacific market. This also explains the addition of World Innovation Lab as an investor. The firm, after all, focuses heavily on connecting companies in the U.S. with partners in Asia — and especially Japan. As Marietti told me, the company is seeing a lot of demand in Japan and China right now, so it makes sense to capitalize on this, especially as the Chinese market is about to become more easily accessible for foreign companies.

Kong notes that it doubled its headcount in 2018 and now has more than 100 enterprise customers, including Yahoo! Japan, Ferrari, SoulCycle and WeWork.

It’s worth noting that while this is officially a Series C investment, Marietti is thinking of it more like a Series B round, given that the company went through a major pivot when it moved from being Mashape to its focus on Kong, which was already its most popular open-source tool.

“Modern software is now built in the cloud, with applications consuming other applications, service to service,” said Martin Casado, general partner at Andreessen Horowitz . “We’re at the tipping point of enterprise adoption of microservices architectures, and companies are turning to new open-source-based developer tools and platforms to fuel their next wave of innovation. Kong is uniquely suited to help enterprises as they make this shift by supporting an organization’s entire service architecture, from centralized or decentralized, monolith or microservices.”

Mar
27
2019
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Proxy raises $13.6M to unlock anything with Bluetooth identity

You know how kings used to have trumpeters heralding their arrival wherever they went? Proxy wants to do that with Bluetooth. The startup lets you instantly unlock office doors and reserve meeting rooms using Bluetooth Low Energy signal. You never even have to pull out your phone or open an app. But Proxy is gearing up to build an entire Bluetooth identity layer for the world that could invisibly hover around its users. That could allow devices around the workplace and beyond to instantly recognize your credentials and preferences to sign you into teleconferences, pay for public transit or ask the barista for your usual.

Today, Proxy emerges from stealth after piloting its keyless, badgeless office entry tech with 50 companies. It’s raised a $13.6 million Series A round led by Kleiner Perkins to turn your phone into your skeleton key. “The door is a forcing function to solve all the hard problems — everything from safety to reliability to the experience to privacy,” says Proxy co-founder and CEO Denis Mars. “If you’re gonna do this, it’s gonna have to work right, and especially if you’re going to do this in the workplace with enterprises where there’s no room to fix it.”

But rather than creepily trying to capitalize on your data, Proxy believes you should own and control it. Each interaction is powered by an encrypted one-time token so you’re not just beaming your unprotected information out into the universe. “I’ve been really worried about how the internet world spills over to the physical world. Cookies are everywhere with no control. What’s the future going to be like? Are we going to be tracked everywhere or is there a better way?” He figured the best path to the destiny he wanted was to build it himself.

Mars and his co-founder Simon Ratner, both Australian, have been best buddies for 10 years. Ratner co-founded a video annotation startup called Omnisio that was acquired by YouTube, while Mars co-founded teleconferencing company Bitplay, which was bought by Jive Software. Ratner ended up joining Jive where the pair began plotting a new startup. “We asked ourselves what we wanted to do with the next 10 or 20 years of our lives. We both had kids and it changed our perspective. What’s meaningful that’s worth working on for a long time?”

They decided to fix a real problem while also addressing their privacy concerns. As he experimented with Internet of Things devices, Mars found every fridge and light bulb wanted you to download an app, set up a profile, enter your password and then hit a button to make something happen. He became convinced this couldn’t scale and we’d need a hands-free way to tell computers who we are. The idea for Proxy emerged. Mars wanted to know, “Can we create this universal signal that anything can pick up?”

Most offices already have infrastructure for badge-based RFID entry. The problem is that employees often forget their badges, waste time fumbling to scan them and don’t get additional value from the system elsewhere.

So rather than re-invent the wheel, Proxy integrates with existing access control systems at offices. It just replaces your cards with an app authorized to constantly emit a Bluetooth Low Energy signal with an encrypted identifier of your identity. The signal is picked up by readers that fit onto the existing fixtures. Employees can then just walk up to a door with their phone within about six feet of the sensor and the door pops open. Meanwhile, their bosses can define who can go where using the same software as before, but the user still owns their credentials.

“Data is valuable, but how does the end user benefit? How do we change all that value being stuck with these big tech companies and instead give it to the user?” Mars asks. “We need to make privacy a thing that’s not exploited.”

Mars believes now’s the time for Proxy because phone battery life is finally getting good enough that people aren’t constantly worried about running out of juice. Proxy’s Bluetooth Low Energy signal doesn’t suck up much, and geofencing can wake up the app in case it shuts down while on a long stint away from the office. Proxy has even considered putting inductive charging into its sensors so you could top up until your phone turns back on and you can unlock the door.

Opening office doors isn’t super exciting, though. What comes next is. Proxy is polishing its features that auto-reserve conference rooms when you walk inside, that sign you into your teleconferencing system when you approach the screen and that personalize workstations when you arrive. It’s also working on better office guest check-in to eliminate the annoying iPad sign-in process in the lobby. Next, Mars is eyeing “Your car, your home, all your devices. All these things are going to ask ‘can I sense you and do something useful for you?’ ”

After demoing at Y Combinator, thousands of companies reached out to Proxy, from hotel chains to corporate conglomerates to theme parks. Proxy charges for its hardware, plus a monthly subscription fee per reader. Employees are eager to ditch their keycards, so Proxy sees 90 percent adoption across all its deployments. Customers only churn if something breaks, and it hasn’t lost a customer in two years, Mars claims.

The status quo of keycards, competitors like Openpath and long-standing incumbents all typically only handle doors, while Proxy wants to build an omni-device identity system. Now Proxy has the cash to challenge them, thanks to the $13.6 million from Kleiner, Y Combinator, Coatue Management and strategic investor WeWork. In fact, Proxy now counts WeWork’s headquarters and Dropbox as clients. “With Proxywe can give our employees, contractors and visitors a seamless smartphone-enabled access experience they love, while actually bolstering security,” says Christopher Bauer, Dropbox’s physical security systems architect.

The cash will help answer the question of “How do we turn this into a protocol so we don’t have to build the other side for everyone?,” Mars explains. Proxy will build out SDKs that can be integrated into any device, like a smoke detector that could recognize which people are in the vicinity and report that to first responders. Mars thinks hotel rooms that learn your climate, wake-up call and housekeeping preferences would be a no-brainer. Amazon Go-style autonomous retail could also benefit from the tech.

When asked what keeps him up at night, Mars concludes that “the biggest thing that scares me is that this requires us to be the most trustworthy company on the planet. There is no ‘move fast, break things’ here. It’s ‘move fast, do it right, don’t screw it up.’ “

Mar
27
2019
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Goodly replaces lame office perks with student loan repayment

There are better employee perks than a ping-pong table. Seventy percent of Americans graduate college with student loan debt. That’s 45 million people who owe $1.6 trillion. So when employers use Goodly to offer $100 per month in student loan payback for a $6 fee, talent sticks around. The startup found 86 percent of employees said they’d stay with a company for at least five years if their employer helped pay down their student loans. Yet employers break even if workers stay just two extra months, and get a 5X return if they stay an extra year because it costs so much to hire and train replacement staff.

Now, Y Combinator-backed Goodly has raised a $1.3 million seed round led by Norwest. The startup hopes to capitalize on corporate America waking up to student loan payback as a benefit, which is expected to grow from being offered by 4 percent of companies today to 32 percent by 2021.

Goodly co-founder and CEO Greg Poulin knows the student loan crisis personally. “When I was in school, my father passed away very unexpectedly due to a heart attack. I had to borrow $80,000 for college at Dartmouth,” he tells me. His monthly payment is now $900. The stress that debt creates can poison the rest of your life. He says 21 percent of employees with student loan debt have delayed marriage, 28 percent have put off starting a family and 1 out of 8 divorces is now directly attributed to student loan debt. “I’ve seen first-hand how challenging it is for employees to save for retirement or start a family” when they’re strapped with debt, Poulin says.

He met his co-founder and CTO Hemant Verma when they started working at Zenefits’ founder Parker Conrad’s new employee onboarding startup, Rippling, in 2017. That taught them how simplifying the benefits sign-up process could become its own business. Typically it requires that benefits be integrated with a company’s financial software, like payroll, and be set up with proper provisioning access. It’s enough of a chore that companies don’t go to the trouble of offering student loan repayment.

Poulin and Verma started Goodly to create a “set it and forget it” system that automates everything. They charge $6 per month per participating employee and typically see adoption by 30 percent to 40 percent of employees. Rather than help with their monthly payment that includes interest, Goodly clients pay down their employees’ core debt so they can escape more quickly. Employees get a dashboard where they can track their debt and all of the contributions their company has made. Goodly hasn’t had a single customer churn since launch, demonstrating how badly employers want to keep job-hopping talent in their roles.

“We found that our people put off contributing to their 401ks and buying a house because of their student loan debt. We thought that offering a Student Loan Repayment Benefit would be a great low-cost and high-impact benefit to attract and retain talent while alleviating some of the stress and the financial burden on our employees,” says Kim Alessi, an HR generalist.

Goodly’s founders and first employees

The business opportunity here is relatively young, but there are a few competitors. Boston-based Gratify was acquired by First Republic, which Santa Monica’s Tuition.io pivoted to offering student loan benefits. But Goodly’s connection to so many potential clients plus its new funding could help it make student loan repayment a ubiquitous perk. Along with Norwest and YC, the funding comes from ACE & Company, Arab Angel, Zeno Ventures and angel investors, including Optimizely’s Pete Koomen, DreamHost’s Josh Jones, ShipStation’s Jason Hodges, Fairy’s Avlok Kohli and Telly’s Mo Al Adham.

Beyond improving talent retention, Goodly may also help erase some of the systematic discrimination against minorities in our country. Women hold 66 percent of all student loan debt, black and Latinx Americans have 31 percent more student debt than their peers and LGBTQ borrowers owe $16,000 more than an average member of the population. Convincing employers to address student loan debt could give everyone more freedom of choice when it comes to what they work on and how they live their lives.

Mar
26
2019
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Vlocity nabs $60M Series C investment on $1B valuation

As we wrote last week in How Salesforce paved the way for the SaaS platform approach, the ability to build extensions, applications and even whole companies on top of the Salesforce platform set the stage and the bar for every SaaS company since. Vlocity certainly recognized that. Targeting five verticals, it built industry-specific CRM solutions on the Salesforce platform, and today announced a $60 million Series C round on a fat unicorn $1 billion valuation.

The round was led by Sutter Hill Ventures and Salesforce Ventures. New investors Bessemer Venture Partners and existing strategic investors Accenture and New York Life also participated. The company has now raised $163 million.

Company co-founder and CEO David Schmaier, whose extensive career includes stints with Siebel Systems and Oracle, says he and his co-founders (three of whom helped launch Veeva) wanted to take the idea of Veeva, which is a life sciences-focused company built on top of Salesforce, and extend that idea across five verticals instead of just one. Those five verticals include communications and media, insurance and financial services, health, energy and utilities and government and nonprofits.

The idea he said was to build a company with a market that was 10x the size of life sciences. “What we’re doing now is building five Veevas at once. If you could buy a product already tailored to the needs of your industry, why wouldn’t you do that?,” Schmaier said.

The theory seems to be working. He says that the company, which was founded in 2014, has already reached $100 million in revenue and expects to double that by the end of this year. Then of course, there is the unicorn valuation. While perhaps not as rare as it once was, reaching the $1 billion level is still a significant milestone for a startup.

In the Salesforce platform story, co-founder and CTO Parker Harris addressed the need for solutions like the ones from Veeva and Vlocity. “…Harris said they couldn’t build one Salesforce for healthcare and another for insurance and a third one for finance. We knew that wouldn’t scale, and so the platform [eventually] just evolved out of this really close relationship with our customers and the needs they had.” In other words, Salesforce made the platform flexible enough for companies like these to fill in the blanks.

“Vlocity is a perfect example of the incredible innovation occurring in the Salesforce ecosystem and how we are working together to provide customers in all industries the technologies they need to attract and serve customers in smarter ways,” Jujhar Singh, EVP and GM for Salesforce Industries said in a statement.

It’s also telling that of the three strategic investors in this round — New York Life, Accenture and Salesforce Ventures — Salesforce is the biggest investor, according to Schmaier.

The company has 150 customers, including investor New York Life, Verizon (which owns this publication), Cigna and the City of New York. It already has 700 employees in 20 countries. With this additional investment, you can expect those numbers to increase.

“What this Series C round allows us to do is to really put the gas on investing in product development, because verticals are all about going deep,” Schmaier said.

Mar
20
2019
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Iterable lands $50M Series C investment to expand cross-channel marketing platform

Iterable, a startup that helps companies build complex marketing campaigns across channels to reduce churn and increase usage, announced a $50 million Series C round today.

Investors include Blue Cloud Ventures, CRV, Harmony Partners, Index Ventures and Stereo Capital. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $80 million.

Company co-founder and CEO Justin Zhu says the Iterable platform captures a constant stream of data from consumers from a variety of sources to give marketers the ability to build segments or event triggers based on consumer behavior.

“Customers are streaming real-time updates of who they are, where they’re purchasing, what they’re doing in the app, what they’re up to on the website, and we’re taking all that data and making it available in real time,” Zhu explained.

Photo: Iterable

This could allow marketers to contact people based on behaviors, such as a segment of people who haven’t opened the app in two weeks. Marketers also can use event triggers to automate contact. In the classic scenario of the abandoned shopping cart, a marketer could set a trigger to send an email or an SMS message two hours after the cart was abandoned to prompt the customer to come back.

As a platform, Iterable is offering a set of tools in a single solution that marketers would have had to buy separately. “In the past, what you typically would do is cobble together a variety of point solutions. You may buy a product just for mobile and buy one just for email. You may have engineers cobble together custom code to handle the lifecycle management. With Iterable, that can be all done in one place, and it can be done by a marketer, which would be the focus for their job,” Zhu said.

He said the company is streaming customer data from the various data sources directly to the marketers, so there is no data sharing involved with third parties. “This is a first-party data from our own customers,” he said.

The company is reporting triple-digit year-over-year growth, although it would not share specific revenue numbers. Iterable has 300 customers, including Box, DoorDash and Zillow. It currently has 200 employees spread across three locations, including the company headquarters in San Francisco and offices in Denver and New York City.

Zhu says the company’s vision is to be a global company, and with this funding it plans to expand into Europe and Asia as it continues to build the company.

Mar
20
2019
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Abstract, a versioning platform that helps designers work like developers, raises $30M

Design and engineering are two sides of the same coin when it comes to building software and hardware, and yet — unlike engineers, who can use services like GitHub, Bitbucket, GitLab or many others to help manage their development process — it has traditionally been slim pickings for designers when it comes to tools to manage the iterations and collaborations that are a part of their workflow.

Now, we are seeing a rising wave of startups responding to that vacuum in the market. In the latest development, Abstract, which has built a platform to help manage versioning and workflow for design projects, is announcing $30 million in funding led by Lightspeed Venture Partners with participation from previous investors Scale Venture Partners, Amplify Partners and Cowboy Ventures.

Abstract is not disclosing valuation, but I understand from sources that it is now $190 million, a decent leap from the $76 million valuation (according to PitchBook) it reached in its last round. Abstract has raised around $55 million since 2016.

This latest round, a Series C, comes at a time when we are seeing a number of other startups that are building tools for designers — some competing with Abstract, and some significantly larger — also raising big money.

In December, InVision (which has an ambition to be the “Salesforce of design”), raised $115 million at a $1.9 billion valuation. Last month, Figma (building both design development and collaboration tools) raised $40 million at a $440 million valuation. Last week, Sketch (which also makes design tools) raised its first outside round of $20 million after a long track record as a very popular bootstrapped startup.

Abstract fits very much in the middle of this spread. The problem that it has identified is that many designers still work in an inefficient way compared to their engineering counterparts (as well as those in other parts of an operation, including people who collaborate on creating documents or presentations). Designers still typically sling around multiple versions of the same file, or try to handle all passing around and working on one single file. That loose structure makes for many errors and lost changes, not to mention an inability to track who has done what and when.

To address this, Abstract offers a number of features. First and foremost, it provides a way for designers to track versions of files — it automatically uploads the most recent copy even if you are working locally, so that whoever works next will use the most updated version. It also lets a project manager task different people with different parts of a project and manage the reviewing system. When a project is in progress or already completed, there is a way to present it and also gather feedback. And then, importantly, the design team can also use Abstract to interface with engineering teams that are building the tech underneath and around that design.

The funding is going to help Abstract expand that with more features, including a better and more streamlined way to export the most current files, as well as more security integrations for better control over who can access materials and when.

It started with a hashtag…

Abstract was co-founded by Josh Brewer and Kevin Smith — the former a designer, the latter an engineer who has also headed up design teams. Brewer, the CEO, said in an interview that his own past experience — his track record includes a period as Twitter’s principal designer — was the kindling that eventually led to the building of Abstract. One example he gave was the rebuild of Twitter back in 2011, which needed a redesign across web, mobile web, iOS and Android with a consistent navigation pattern, and new behavioral/usage patterns. (Not a small task.)

“We had only 12 designers at that time, a relatively small crew, but also a short timeline,” he recalled. “We decided to try to standardize on one tool to manage everything, but didn’t really have much to work with.” He and the team decided to “hack some of the tools we were using at the time,” which included Apache Subversion and GitHub for software development, “to solve the problem.” This helped him identify that there was a clear opportunity to build something that spoke specifically to designers’ needs.

That something has indeed started to find some traction: there are now more than 5,000 design teams using Abstract, with companies using it including Shopify, Cisco, Intuit, Spotify, Salesforce, Zappos and Instacart.

“As design becomes an increasingly significant competitive advantage, the tools designers use have to become more sophisticated, collaborative, and transparent to the broader organization. At Lightspeed, we invest in the sort of exceptional teams that are poised to transform a market,” said Nakul Mandan, who is also joining the board. “Josh, Kevin and the rest of the Abstract team have reimagined a design workflow that is quickly becoming the professional standard for how growing design teams work together and with functional stakeholders. We are excited to partner with Abstract to help the company continue its explosive growth.”

Abstract’s first efforts have been to support Sketch, the design tool that raised money just last week. The two are often associated with each other, it seems: many tend to use Abstract and Sketch together as an alternative to using Figma. But in addition to adding more versioning tools, the plan will be to add more design software to the list Abstract supports, starting with Adobe XD and Illustrator (it has currently opened early access waitlists for both). But even in the effort to be the go-to platform for all kinds of design projects, there are lines being drawn. It seems there are no plans, for example, to support Figma.

Another thing Abstract does not plan to do, Smith added, is to start building and offering many of those design tools itself.

“We are focused on expanding support for other file formats and bringing all your design files, whether it’s for a font or data to populate a design,” he said. There might be exceptions down the line, however: the company launched an SDK last fall, which Smith described as “our first step to exposing data to developers and design engineers, and that is part of our vision, which may or may not involve other kinds of tooling on the Abstract platform.”

He noted that “one of the things we’re been hearing about is the need for light-weight editing,” so that might be one area where Abstract might build or offer a third-party tool. “If we understand the data we are storing it’s not outside the realm of possibility to expose that. From a tooling perspective, it would be coming from the needs of our customers.”

Mar
20
2019
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Blameless emerges from stealth with $20M investment to help companies transition to SRE

Site Reliability Engineering (SRE) is an extension of DevOps designed for more complex environments. The problem is that this type of approach is difficult to implement and has usually only been in reach of large companies, requiring custom software. Blameless, a Bay Area startup, wants to put it reach of everyone. It emerged from stealth today with an SRE platform for the masses and around $20 million in funding.

For starters, the company announced two rounds of funding with $3.6 million in seed money last April and a $16.5 million Series A investment more recently in January. Investors included Accel,  Lightspeed Venture Partners and others.

Company co-founder and CEO Ashar Rizqi knows first-hand just how difficult it is to implement an SRE system. He built custom systems for Box and Mulesoft before launching Blameless two years ago. He and his co-founder COO Lyon Wong saw a gap in the market where companies who wanted to implement SRE were being limited because of a lack of tooling and decided to build it themselves.

Rizqi says SRE changes the way you work and interact and Blameless gives structure to that change. “It changes the way you communicate, prioritize and work, but we’re adding data and metrics to support that shift” he said.

Screenshot: Blameless

As companies move to containers and continuous delivery models, it brings a level of complexity to managing the developers, who are working to maintain the delivery schedule, and operations, who must make sure the latest builds get out with a minimum of bugs. It’s not easy to manage, especially given the speed involved.

Over time, the bugs build up and the blame circulates around the DevOps team as they surface. The company name comes because their platform should remove blame from the equation by providing the tooling to get deeper visibility into all aspects of the delivery model.

At that point, companies can understand more clearly the kinds of compromises they need to make to get products out the door, rather than randomly building up this technical debt over time. This is exacerbated by the fact that companies are building their software from a variety of sources, whether open source or API services, and it’s hard to know the impact that external code is having on your product.

“Technical debt is accelerating as there is greater reliability on micro services. It’s a black box. You don’t own all the lines of code you are executing,” Rizqi explained. His company’s solution is designed to help with that problem.

The company currently has 23 employees and 20 customers including DigitalOcean and Home Depot.

Mar
14
2019
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ProdPerfect gets $2.6 million to automate QA testing for web apps

ProdPerfect, a Boston-based startup focused on automating QA testing for web apps, has announced the close of a $2.6 million Seed round co-led by Eniac Ventures and Fika Ventures, with participation from Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator.

ProdPerfect started when co-founder and CEO Dan Widing was VP of engineering at WeSpire, where he saw firsthand the pain points associated with web application QA testing. Whereas there were all kinds of product analytics tools for product engineers, the same data wasn’t there for the engineers building QA tests that are meant to replicate user behavior.

He imagined a platform that would use live data around real user behavior to formulate these QA tests. That’s how ProdPerfect was born. The platform sees user behavior, builds and delivers test scripts to the engineering team.

The service continues to build on what it knows about a product, and can then simulate new tests when new features are added based on aggregated flows of common user behavior. This data doesn’t track any information about the user, but rather anonymizes them and watches how they move through the web app. The hope is that ProdPerfect gives engineers the opportunity to keep building the product instead of spreading their resources across building a QA testing suite.

The new funding will go toward expanding the sales team and further building out the product. For now, ProdPerfect simply offers functional testing, which uses a single virtual user to test whether a product breaks or not. But president and co-founder Erik Fogg sees an opportunity to build more integrated testing, including performance, security and localization testing.

Fogg says the company is growing 40 percent month over month in booked revenue.

The company says it can deploy within two weeks of installing a data tracker, and provide more than 70 percent coverage of all user interactions with 95 percent+ test stability.

“The greatest challenge is going to be finding people who share our company’s core values and are of high enough talent, ambition and autonomy in part because our hiring road map is so steep,” said Fogg. “Growing pains catch up with businesses as a team expands quickly and we have to make sure that we’re picky and that we reinforce the values we have.”

Mar
13
2019
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Determined AI nabs $11M Series A to democratize AI development

Deep learning involves a highly iterative process where data scientists build models and test them on GPU-powered systems until they get something they can work with. It can be expensive and time-consuming, often taking weeks to fashion the right model. New startup Determined AI wants to change that by making the process faster, cheaper and more efficient. It emerged from stealth today with $11 million in Series A funding.

The round was led by GV (formerly Google Ventures) with help from Amplify Partners, Haystack and SV Angel. The company also announced an earlier $2.6 million seed round from 2017, for a total $13.6 million raised to date.

Evan Sparks, co-founder and CEO at Determined AI, says that up until now, only the largest companies like Facebook, Google, Apple and Microsoft could set up the infrastructure and systems to produce sophisticated AI like self-driving cars and voice recognition technologies. “Our view is that a big reason why [these big companies] can do that is that they all have internal software infrastructure that enables their teams of machine learning engineers and data scientists to be effective and produce applications quickly,” Sparks told TechCrunch.

Determined’s idea is to create software to handle everything from managing cluster compute resources to automating workflows, thereby putting some of that big-company technology within reach of any organization. “What we exist to do is to build that software for everyone else,” he said. The target market is Fortune 500 and Global 2000 companies.

The company’s solution is based on research conducted over the last several years at AmpLab at the University of California, Berkeley (which is probably best known for developing Apache Spark). It used the knowledge generated in the lab to build sophisticated solutions that help make better use of a customer’s GPU resources.

“We are offering kind of a base layer that is scheduling and resource sharing for these highly expensive resources, and then on top of that we’ve layered some services around workflow automation.” Sparks said the team has generated state of the art results that are somewhere between five and 50 times faster than the results from tools that are available to most companies today.

For now, the startup is trying to help customers move away from generic kinds of solutions currently available to more customized approaches, using Determined AI tools to help speed up the AI production process. The money from today’s round should help fuel growth, add engineers and continue building the solution.

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