Jan
15
2021
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Rapid growth in 2020 reveals OKR software market’s untapped potential

Last year, a number of startups building OKR-focused software raised lots of venture capital, drawing TechCrunch’s attention.

Why is everyone making software that measures objectives and key results? we wondered with tongue in cheek. After all, how big could the OKR software market really be?

It’s a subniche of corporate planning tools! In a world where every company already pays for Google or Microsoft’s productivity suite, and some big software companies offer similar planning support, how substantial could demand prove for pure-play OKR startups?


The Exchange explores startups, markets and money. Read it every morning on Extra Crunch, or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday.


Pretty substantial, we’re finding out. After OKR-focused Gtmhub announced its $30 million Series B the other day, The Exchange reached out to a number of OKR-focused startups we’ve previously covered and asked about their 2020 growth.

Gtmhub had released new growth metrics along with its funding news, plus we had historical growth data from some other players in the space. So let’s peek at new and historical numbers from Gthmhub, Perdoo, WorkBoard, Ally.io, Koan and WeekDone.

Growth (and some caveats)

A startup growing 400% in a year from a $50,000 ARR base is not impressive. It would be much more impressive to grow 200% from $1 million ARR, or 150% from $5 million.

So, percentage growth is only so good, as metrics go. But it’s also one that private companies are more likely to share than hard numbers, as the market has taught startups that sharing real data is akin to drowning themselves. Alas.

As we view the following, bear in mind that a simply higher percentage growth number does not indicate that a company added more net ARR than another; it could be growing faster from a smaller base. And some companies in the mix did not share ARR growth, but instead disclosed other bits of data. We got what we could.

Gtmhub:

  • 400% ARR growth, 2019.
  • 300% ARR growth, 2020.
  • More: The company has seen strong ACV growth and its reportedly strong gross margins from 2019 held up in 2020, it said.
  • TechCrunch coverage

Perdoo:

  • 240% paid customer growth, 2020.
  • 340% user base growth, 2020.
  • Given strong market demand, a company representative told The Exchange that Perdoo had to restrict its free tier to 10 users.
  • TechCrunch coverage

WorkBoard:

Jan
12
2021
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‘Brandtech’ company You and Mr. Jones adds $60M to its Series B

You & Mr. Jones announced today that it has added $60 million in new funding from Merian Chrysalis, bringing the Series B round announced in December to a total of $260 million.

The round values the company at $1.36 billion, post-money.

You & Mr. Jones takes its name from CEO David Jones, who founded the company in 2015. After having served as the CEO of ad giant Havas, Jones told me that his goal in starting what he called “a brandtech group” was to provide marketers with something that neither traditional agencies nor technology companies could give them.

“At that moment, the choices were to go work with an agency group, which is great at brand and marketing, but they don’t understanding tech, or with a tech company, which will only ever recommend their platform and don’t have the same [brand and marketing] expertise,” he said.

So You & Mr. Jones has built its own technology platform to help marketers with their digital, mobile and e-commerce needs, while also investing in companies like Pinterest and Niantic. And it makes acquisitions — last year, for example, it bought influencer marketing company Collectively.

You & Mr. Jones has grown to 3,000 employees, and its clients include Unilever, Accenture, Google, Adidas, Marriott and Microsoft. In fact, Jones said that as of the third quarter of 2020, its net revenue had grown 27% year-over-year.

That’s particularly impressive given the impact of the pandemic on ad spending, but Jones said that’s one of the key distinctions between digital advertising and the broader brandtech category, with he said has grown steadily, even during the pandemic, and which also sets the company apart from agencies that are “digital and tech in press release only.”

“We’re not an ad agency, we’ll never acquire agencies,” he said. “We have the technology platform, process and people to deliver all of your end-to-end, always-on content — social, digital, e-commerce, community management.”

In addition to the funding, company is announcing that it has hired Paulette Forte, who was previously senior director of human services at the NBA, as its first chief people officer.

“The Brandtech category didn’t even exist before You & Mr Jones was established,” Forte said in a statement. “The company became a true industry disruptor in short order, and growth has been swift. In order to keep up with the momentum, it’s critical to have systems in place that help talent develop their skills, encourage diversity and creativity, and find pathways to improving workflow. I am excited to join the leadership team to drive this crucial work forward.”

Jan
07
2021
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F5 snags Volterra multi-cloud management startup for $500M

Applications networking company F5 announced today that it is acquiring Volterra, a multi-cloud management startup, for $500 million. That breaks down to $440 million in cash and $60 million in deferred and unvested incentive compensation.

Volterra emerged in 2019 with a $50 million investment from multiple sources, including Khosla Ventures and Mayfield, along with strategic investors like M12 (Microsoft’s venture arm) and Samsung Ventures. As the company described it to me at the time of the funding:

Volterra has innovated a consistent, cloud-native environment that can be deployed across multiple public clouds and edge sites — a distributed cloud platform. Within this SaaS-based offering, Volterra integrates a broad range of services that have normally been siloed across many point products and network or cloud providers.

The solution is designed to provide a single way to view security, operations and management components.

F5 president and CEO François Locoh-Donou sees Volterra’s edge solution integrating across its product line. “With Volterra, we advance our Adaptive Applications vision with an Edge 2.0 platform that solves the complex multi-cloud reality enterprise customers confront. Our platform will create a SaaS solution that solves our customers’ biggest pain points,” he said in a statement.

Volterra founder and CEO Ankur Singla, writing in a company blog post announcing the deal, says the need for this solution only accelerated during 2020 when companies were shifting rapidly to the cloud due to the pandemic. “When we started Volterra, multi-cloud and edge were still buzzwords and venture funding was still searching for tangible use cases. Fast forward three years and COVID-19 has dramatically changed the landscape — it has accelerated digitization of physical experiences and moved more of our day-to-day activities online. This is causing massive spikes in global Internet traffic while creating new attack vectors that impact the security and availability of our increasing set of daily apps,” he wrote.

He sees Volterra’s capabilities fitting in well with the F5 family of products to help solve these issues. While F5 had a quiet 2020 on the M&A front, today’s purchase comes on top of a couple of major acquisitions in 2019, including Shape Security for $1 billion and NGINX for $670 million.

The deal has been approved by both companies’ boards, and is expected to close before the end of March, subject to regulatory approvals.

Jan
07
2021
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RedHat is acquiring container security company StackRox

RedHat today announced that it’s acquiring container security startup StackRox . The companies did not share the purchase price.

RedHat, which is perhaps best known for its enterprise Linux products has been making the shift to the cloud in recent years. IBM purchased the company in 2018 for a hefty $34 billion and has been leveraging that acquisition as part of a shift to a hybrid cloud strategy under CEO Arvind Krishna.

The acquisition fits nicely with RedHat OpenShift, its container platform, but the company says it will continue to support StackRox usage on other platforms including AWS, Azure and Google Cloud Platform. This approach is consistent with IBM’s strategy of supporting multicloud, hybrid environments.

In fact, Red Hat president and CEO Paul Cormier sees the two companies working together well. “Red Hat adds StackRox’s Kubernetes-native capabilities to OpenShift’s layered security approach, furthering our mission to bring product-ready open innovation to every organization across the open hybrid cloud across IT footprints,” he said in a statement.

CEO Kamal Shah, writing in a company blog post announcing the acquisition, explained that the company made a bet a couple of years ago on Kubernetes and it has paid off. “Over two and half years ago, we made a strategic decision to focus exclusively on Kubernetes and pivoted our entire product to be Kubernetes-native. While this seems obvious today; it wasn’t so then. Fast forward to 2020 and Kubernetes has emerged as the de facto operating system for cloud-native applications and hybrid cloud environments,” Shah wrote.

Shah sees the purchase as a way to expand the company and the road map more quickly using the resources of Red Hat (and IBM), a typical argument from CEOs of smaller acquired companies. But the trick is always finding a way to stay relevant inside such a large organization.

StackRox’s acquisition is part of some consolidation we have been seeing in the Kubernetes space in general and the security space more specifically. That includes Palo Alto Networks acquiring competitor TwistLock for $410 million in 2019. Another competitor, Aqua Security, which has raised $130 million, remains independent.

StackRox was founded in 2014 and raised over $65 million, according to Crunchbase data. Investors included Menlo Ventures, Redpoint and Sequoia Capital. The deal is expected to close this quarter subject to normal regulatory scrutiny.

Dec
29
2020
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CommonGround raises $19M to rethink online communication

CommonGround, a startup developing technology for what its founders describe as “4D collaboration,” is announcing that it has raised $19 million in funding.

This isn’t the first time Amir Bassan-Eskenazi and Ran Oz have launched a startup together — they also founded video networking company BigBand Networks, which won two technology-related Emmy Awards, went public in 2007 and was acquired by Arris Group in 2011. And before that, they worked together at digital compression company Optibase, which Oz co-founded and where Bassan-Eskenazi served as COO.

Although CommonGround is still in stealth mode and doesn’t plan to fully unveil its first product until next year, Bassan-Eskenazi and Oz outlined their vision for me. They acknowledged that video conferencing has improved significantly, but said it still can’t match face-to-face communication.

“Some things you just cannot achieve through a flat video conferencing-type solution,” Bassan-Eskenazi said. “Those got better over the years, but they never managed to achieve that thing where you walk into a bar … and there’s a group of people talking and you know immediately who is a little taken aback, who is excited, who is kind of ‘eh.’”

CommonGround founders Amir Bassan-Eskenazi and Ran Oz

CommonGround founders Amir Bassan-Eskenazi and Ran Oz

That, essentially, is what Bassan-Eskenazi, Oz and their team are trying to build — online collaboration software that more fully captures the nuances of in-person communication, and actually improves on face-to-face conversations in some ways (hence the 4D moniker). Asked whether this involves combining video conferencing with other collaboration tools, Oz replied, “Think of it as beyond video,” using technology like computer vision and graphics.

Bassan-Eskenazi added that they’ve been working on CommonGround for more than year, so this isn’t just a response to our current stay-at-home environment. And the opportunity should still be massive as offices reopen next year.

“When we started this, it was a problem we thought some of the workforce would understand,” he said. “Now my mother understands it, because it’s how she reads to the grandkids.”

As for the funding, the round was led by Matrix Partners, with participation from Grove Ventures and StageOne Ventures.

“Amir and Ran have a bold vision to reinvent communications,” said Matrix General Partner Patrick Malatack in a statement. “Their technical expertise, combined with a history of successful exits, made for an easy investment decision.”

Dec
23
2020
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Looking ahead after 2020’s epic M&A spree

When we examine any year in enterprise M&A, it’s tempting to highlight the biggest, gaudiest deals — and there were plenty of those in 2020. I’ve written about 34 acquisitions so far this year. Of those, 15 were worth $1 billion or more, 12 were small enough to not require that the companies disclose the price and the remainder fell somewhere in between.

Four deals involving chip companies coming together totaled over $100 billion on their own. While nobody does eye-popping M&A quite like the chip industry, other sectors also offered their own eyebrow-raising deals, led by Salesforce buying Slack earlier this month for $27.7 billion.

We are likely to see more industries consolidate the way chips did in 2020, albeit probably not quite as dramatically or expensively.

Yet in spite of the drama of these larger numbers, the most interesting targets to me were the pandemic-driven smaller deals that started popping up in May. Those small acquisitions are the ones that are so insignificant that the company doesn’t have to share the purchase price publicly. They usually involve early-stage companies being absorbed by cash-rich concerns looking for some combination of missing technology or engineering talent in a particular area like security or artificial intelligence.

It was certainly an active year in M&A, and we still might not have seen the last of it. Let’s have a look at why those minor deals were so interesting and how they compared with larger ones, while looking ahead to what 2021 M&A might look like.

Early-stage blues

It’s always hard to know exactly why an early-stage startup would give up its independence by selling to a larger entity, but we can certainly speculate on some of the reasons why this year’s rapid-fire dealing started in May. While we can never know for certain why these companies decided to exit via acquisition, we know that in April, the pandemic hit full force in the United States and the economy began to shut down.

Some startups were particularly vulnerable, especially companies low on cash in the April timeframe. Obviously companies fail when they run out of funding, and we started seeing early-stage startups being scooped up the following month.

We don’t know for sure of course if there is a direct correlation between April’s economic woes and the flurry of deals that started in May, but we can reasonably speculate that there was. For some percentage of them, I’m guessing it was a fire sale or at least a deal made under less than ideal terms. For others, maybe they simply didn’t have the wherewithal to keep going under such adverse economic conditions or the partnerships were just too good to pass up.

It’s worth noting that I didn’t cover any deals in April. But, beginning on May 7, Zoom bought Keybase for its encryption expertise; five days later Atlassian bought Halp for Slack integration; and the day after that VMware bought cloud native security startup Octarine — and we were off and running. Granted the big companies benefited from making these acquisitions, but the timing stood out.

Dec
21
2020
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IBM snags Nordcloud to add multi-cloud consulting expertise

IBM has been busy since it announced plans to spin out its legacy infrastructure management business in October, placing an all-in bet on the hybrid cloud. Today, it built on that bet by acquiring Helsinki-based multi-cloud consulting firm Nordcloud. The companies did not share the purchase price.

Nordcloud fits neatly into this strategy with 500 consultants certified in AWS, Azure and Google Cloud Platform, giving the company a trained staff of experts to help as they move away from an IBM -centric solution to choosing to work with the customer however they wish to implement their cloud strategy.

This hybrid approach harkens back to the $34 billion Red Hat acquisition in 2018, which is really the lynchpin for this approach, as CEO Arvind Krishna told CNBC’s Jon Fortt in an interview last month. Krishna is in the midst of trying to completely transform his organization, and acquisitions like this are meant to speed up that process:

The Red Hat acquisition gave us the technology base on which to build a hybrid cloud technology platform based on open-source, and based on giving choice to our clients as they embark on this journey. With the success of that acquisition now giving us the fuel, we can then take the next step, and the larger step, of taking the managed infrastructure services out. So the rest of the company can be absolutely focused on hybrid cloud and artificial intelligence.

John Granger, senior vice president for cloud application innovation and COO for IBM Global Business Services, says that IBM’s customers are increasingly looking for help managing resources across multiple vendors, as well as on premises.

“IBM’s acquisition of Nordcloud adds the kind of deep expertise that will drive our clients’ digital transformations as well as support the further adoption of IBM’s hybrid cloud platform. Nordcloud’s cloud-native tools, methodologies and talent send a strong signal that IBM is committed to deliver our clients’ successful journey to cloud,” Granger said in a statement.

After the deal closes, which is expected in the first quarter next year subject to typical regulatory approvals, Nordcloud will become an IBM company and operate to help continue this strategy.

It’s worth noting that this deal comes on the heels several other small recent deals, including acquiring Expertus last week and Truqua and Instana last month. These three companies provide expertise in digital payments, SAP consulting and hybrid cloud applications performance monitoring, respectively.

Nordcloud, which is based in Helsinki with offices in Amsterdam, was founded in 2011 and has raised more than $26 million, according to PitchBook data.

 

Dec
17
2020
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UiPath files confidential IPO paperwork with SEC

UiPath, the robotic process automation startup that has been growing like gangbusters, filed confidential paperwork with the SEC today ahead of a potential IPO.

UiPath, Inc. today announced that it has submitted a draft registration statement on a confidential basis to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”) for a proposed public offering of its Class A common stock. The number of shares of Class A common stock to be sold and the price range for the proposed offering have not yet been determined. UiPath intends to commence the public offering following completion of the SEC review process, subject to market and other conditions,” the company said in a statement.

The company has raised more than $1.2 billion from investors like Accel, CapitalG, Sequoia and others. Its biggest raise was $568 million led by Coatue on an impressive $7 billion valuation in April 2019. It raised another $225 million led by Alkeon Capital last July when its valuation soared to $10.2 billion.

At the time of the July raise, CEO and co-founder Daniel Dines did not shy away from the idea of an IPO, telling me:

We’re evaluating the market conditions and I wouldn’t say this to be vague, but we haven’t chosen a day that says on this day we’re going public. We’re really in the mindset that says we should be prepared when the market is ready, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s in the next 12-18 months.

This definitely falls within that window. RPA helps companies take highly repetitive manual tasks and automate them. So for example, it could pull a number from an invoice, fill in a number in a spreadsheet and send an email to accounts payable, all without a human touching it.

It is a technology that has great appeal right now because it enables companies to take advantage of automation without ripping and replacing their legacy systems. While the company has raised a ton of money, and seen its valuation take off, it will be interesting to see if it will get the same positive reception as companies like Airbnb, C3.ai and Snowflake.

Dec
17
2020
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2020’s top 10 enterprise M&A deals totaled a staggering $165B

While 2020 won’t be remembered fondly by many of us for much of anything, it was a blockbuster year for enterprise M&A with the top 10 deals totaling an astounding $165.2 billion.

This is the third straight year I’ve done this compilation. Last year the number was $40 billion. The year prior it was $87 billion. Those numbers pale in comparison to 2020’s result.

Last year’s biggest deal — Salesforce buying Tableau for $15.7 billion — would have only been good for fifth place on this year’s list. And last year’s fourth largest deal, where VMware bought Pivotal for $2.7 billion, wouldn’t have even made this year’s list at all.

The 2020 number was lifted by four chip company deals totaling $106 billion alone. Consider that the largest of these deals at $40 billion matched last year’s entire list. But let’s not forget the software company acquisitions, which accounted for the remainder, three of which were via private equity deals.

It’s worth noting that the $165.2 billion figure doesn’t include the Oracle-TikTok debacle, which remains for now in regulatory limbo and may never emerge from it. Nor does it include two purely fintech deals — Morgan Stanley acquiring E-Trade for $13 billion or Intuit snagging Credit Karma for $7.1 billion — but we did include the $5.3 billion Visa-Plaid deal because as it involved an enterprise-y API company we felt like it fit our criteria.

Keep in mind as you go through this year’s list that it appears to be an outlier year in terms of total deal flow. Most years have maybe one or two megadeals, which I would define as over $10 billion. There were six this year. And there were a host of unlisted deals worth between $1 billion and $3.2 billion, several of which would have made it to the list in quieter years.

Without further adieu, here is this year’s Top 10 deals in M&A organized from smallest to largest:

10. Vista snags Pluralsight for $3.5B

This deal happened just this week as we were writing the story, vaulting into 10th place past the $3.2 billion Twilio-Segment deal. Vista has been active as always and it has added Pluralsight, an online education platform for IT pros with plans to take it private again. At a time when more people are online, this deal seems like a wise move.

9. KKR acquires Epicor for $4.7B

This was one of those under-the-radar private equity deals, but one with a bushel of money changing hands. Epicor, hardly a household name, is a mature ERP company dating back to the early 1970s. The company has been on a rocky financial road for much of the 21st century. This could be one of those deals where KKR sees a way to squeeze life from maintenance contracts. Otherwise this one is hard to figure.

8. Insight Partners nabs Veeam for $5B

In yet another private equity deal, Insight acquired Veeam, a cloud data backup and recovery startup based in Switzerland for $5 billion. This one was one of the earliest deals of 2020 and set the tone for the year. The firm had previously invested $500 million into Veeam and apparently liked what it saw and bought the company. Unlike the Epicor deal, Insight probably plans to invest in the company with an end goal of going public or flipping it for a profit at some point.

Dec
15
2020
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Vista’s $3.5B purchase of Pluralsight signals a maturing edtech market

On Monday, Pluralsight, a Utah-based startup that sells software development courses to enterprises, announced that it has been acquired by Vista for $3.5 billion.

The deal, yet to close, is one of the largest enterprise buys of the year: Vista is getting an online training company that helps retrain techies with in-demand skills through online courses in the midst of a booming edtech market. Additionally, the sector is losing one of its few publicly traded companies just two years after it debuted on the stock market.

The Pluralsight acquisition is largely a positive signal that shows the strength of edtech’s capital options as the pandemic continues.

Investors and founders told Techcrunch that the Pluralsight acquisition is largely a positive signal that shows the strength of edtech’s capital options as the pandemic continues.

“What’s happening in edtech is that capital markets are liquidating,” said Deborah Quazzo, managing partner of GSV Advisors.

Quazzo, a seed investor in Pluralsight, said the ability to move fluidly between privately held and publicly held companies is a characteristic of tech sectors with deep capital markets, which is different from edtech’s “old days, where the options to exit were very narrow.”

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