May
22
2018
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Okera raises $12M to simplify data governance within companies

As companies start to gather more and more data on their users and customers, including a firehose of information from a nigh-endless flow of tests, managing and maintaining that data isn’t the only place companies are hitting a wall — and figuring out who can actually access it is becoming just as big of a problem.

That was the experience Amandeep Khurana had throughout his career and as he kept talking to more and more larger companies. So he and his co-founder decided to start Okera, which is looking to make it easier for stewards of various sets of data to ensure the right people have the right access. With data coming in from a myriad of sources — and hopefully ending up in the same database — it can be increasingly complex to track who has access to what, and the hope is that Okera can reduce that problem to flipping a few switches.

Okera is coming out of stealth mode and said it has raised a new $12 million financing round led by Bessemer Venture Partners, with existing investors Felicis Ventures and Capital One Growth Ventures participating. Bessemer’s Ethan Kurzweil and Felicis’ Wesley Chan are joining the company’s board of directors, and Okera has raised $14.6 million to date.

“I was very underwhelmed by what other vendors were offering, there was pretty much nothing happening,” co-founder Khurana said. “There were not a lot of good solutions, and no vendor was incentivized to solve the problem. What we’d hear is, [employees] were spending so much time in data management and plumbing. We saw a trend — as more and more enterprises are moving into the cloud, so they can be agile, these problems amplified. There is a lot of friction around data management, and people spent a lot of time and resources and money making one-off solutions.”

Part of the problem stems from larger companies looking to move their operations into the cloud. Those companies can run into the problem of data coming in from various discrete locations, where everyone is handling something differently, and everyone has varying levels of access to that data. For example, an analyst might be trying to dig into some customer usage data in order to tweak a product, but they only have access to half of the records they need. To fix that, they would need to hunt down the people who are in control of the rest of the information they need and get the right copies or permissions to access it. All of this includes a robust audit trail for those handling security within the company.

it is going to be an increasingly crowded space just by virtue of the problem, especially as companies collect more and more data while they look to better train various machine learning models. There are startups like Collibra also looking to improve the data governance experience for companies, and Collibra raised an additional $58 million in January this year.

But streamlining all this, in theory, reduces the overhead of just how much time it takes for those employees to hunt down the right people, and also make sure it’s easier to access everything and get to work faster. For modern systems, it’s an all-or-nothing approach, Khurana said, and the goal is to try to make it easier for the right people to get access to the right data when they need it. That isn’t necessarily limited to analysts, as employees in sales, marketing, and other various roles might also need access to certain databases in their day-to-day jobs.

May
22
2018
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Fiix raises $12M to smooth out the asset maintenance process

As sensors become cheaper and easier to install, the whole process of maintaining equipment and assets is starting to shift from just scrambling to fix problems to getting a hold of issues before they get out of control.

That’s opened the door for startups like Fiix, which are creating workflow software that helps companies manage equipment and assets. That software enables companies to keep a close eye on equipment and resolve issues quickly before they become more complex to the point of costing companies hundreds of thousands of dollars to fix. Every percentage point of efficiency, for some operations, can translate to revenue significant enough to the point that this kind of software is an easy sell. Fiix said today it has raised $12 million in a new financing round led by BuildGroup.

“It was one of the last bastions of enterprise software that’s yet to go through the same disruption that every other major software company [has gone through],” COO James Novak said. “If you look at human resource software, CRM software, accounting software, they’ve all gone through the same transition. This market was one of the last ones to go through that transition.”

Fiix takes the process of managing work orders, assets and inventories and throws it all into a set of software that’s designed to be easier to use when compared to existing complex asset management software. That includes making sure all of this is available on a phone, where managers and employees can monitor what kinds of work orders are in progress, approve them, or issue them. That’s designed to remove some of the time barriers that may keep managers from starting the maintenance process.

But because there’s a lot of money to be made here, there’s going to be an increasing amount of competition. Already, there are startups like UpKeep, which came out of Y Combinator’s winter class last year. By giving managers a way to prioritize and get work orders done quickly, employees and managers can have a more real-time level of communication — which means they can spot problems earlier and earlier, and keep things running smoothly.

May
16
2018
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Pluralsight prices its IPO at $15 per share, raising over $300M

Pluralsight priced the shares in its IPO at $15 this afternoon, above its previously set target range of between $12 and $14, and will raise as much as $357 million ahead of its public debut tomorrow morning.

Pluralsight offers software development courses, specifically ones targeting employees that are looking to advance in their careers by acquiring new skills in order to transition to higher-level roles. As knowledge workers become increasingly valuable, especially in larger enterprises with sprawling workforces, companies like Pluralsight have found a sweet spot in building tools that enable companies to help identify talent in their own workforce and train them, rather than have to aggressively search outside the company to satisfy their needs. The company has raised $310.5 million in its IPO, with underwriters having the option to purchase an additional 3.1 million shares and bring that up to $357 million.

The company is one of a continuing wave of enterprise IPOs this year, including multiple successful ones like zScalar and Dropbox — the latter of which was more of a flagship as both a hotly-anticipated one and as a company that possesses a unique business model. But nonetheless, it’s shown that there’s an appetite for enterprise startups looking to go public, which offers those companies a way to raise capital in addition to offering their employees liquidity.

Pluralsight will be another of an increasing pack of unicorns in the Utah tech scene that are on their way to going public. Founded in 2004, Pluralsight was largely bootstrapped until its first financing round in 2013 where it raised $27.5 million from Insight Venture Partners. That firm is the company’s largest shareholder, and since then Pluralsight has raised nearly $200 million in financing.

Its The company’s IPO tomorrow will once again test the appetite for fresh IPOs among public investors. Enterprise companies generally offer a more stable batch for venture portfolios, with predictable and reliable growth that eventually carries it to an IPO with varying levels of success. They’re smaller than blockbuster consumer-ish IPOs, but they are the ones that can provide a stable return for funds like IVP.

May
15
2018
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Aircall raises another $29 million

French startup Aircall has raised a funding round of $29 million for its cloud based call center solution. Draper Esprit led the round with NextWorld Capital, Balderton Capital and Newfund also participating.

The company has raised $40.5 million in total. Aircall participated in the Startup Battlefield at TechCrunch Disrupt SF a few years ago. The company first started at eFounders.

Aircall is following the software-as-a-service playbook. First, you take a boring industry like phone systems for large support and sales teams. Second, you bet everything on software. And third, you keep adding new features and integrations, and chasing new customers.

The company now has two offices in New York and Paris and handles millions of calls every day. With today’s funding round, the company plans to hire more people in both offices.

When you sign up to Aircall, you get virtual phone numbers in one or multiple countries. You can then configure a greeting message, add business hours and handle your call queue.

But the magic happens when you have multiple people handling sales or support calls. When someone calls, it can ring multiple people at once or someone specific first, then a second person if the first person isn’t available, etc. You get an overview of all your calls so you can assign them, tag them and more.

Aircall doesn’t work in a vacuum. So you can integrate Aircall with CRMs and other solutions like Salesforce, Zendesk and Zoho. The startup also launched a deep integration with Intercom that lets you switch from a text conversation to a phone call from the popup window.

It’s hard to list all the features right here. But chances are that if you’re running a call center, you’ll have everything you need for your team. Aircall currently costs $30 to $50 per user and per month to access all of this.

May
15
2018
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MemSQL raises $30M Series D round for its real-time database

MemSQL, a company best known for the real-time capabilities of its eponymous in-memory database, today announced that it has raised a $30 million Series D round, bringing the company’s overall funding to $110 million. The round was led by GV (the firm you probably still refer to as Google Ventures) and Glynn Capital. Existing investors Accell, Caffeinated Capital, Data Collective and IA Ventures also participated.

The MemSQL database offers a distributed, relational database that uses standard SQL drivers and queries for transactions and analytics. Its defining feature is the combination of its data ingestions technology that allows users to push millions of events per day into the service while its users can query the records in real time. The company recently showed that its tools can deliver a scan rate of over a trillion rows per second on a cluster with 12 servers.

The database is available for deployments on the major public clouds and on-premises.

MemSQL recently announced that it saw its fourth-quarter commercial booking hit 200 percent year-over-year growth — and that’s typically the kind of growth that investors like to see, even as MemSQL plays in a very competitive market with plenty of incumbents, startups and even open-source projects. Current MemSQL users include the likes of Uber, Akamai, Pinterest, Dell EMC and Comcast.

“MemSQL has achieved strong enterprise traction by delivering a database that enables operational analysis at unique speed and scale, allowing customers to create dynamic, intelligent applications,” said Adam Ghobarah, general partner at GV, in today’s announcement. “The company has demonstrated measurable success with its growing enterprise customer base and we’re excited to invest in the team as they continue to scale.”

May
10
2018
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Dropbox beats expectations for its first quarterly check-in with Wall Street

Dropbox made its debut as a public company earlier this year and today passed through its first milestone of reporting its results to public investors, and it more or less beat expectations set for Wall Street on the top and bottom line.

The company reported more revenue and beat expectations for earnings that Wall Street set, bringing in $316.3 million in revenue and appearing to pick up momentum among its paying user base. It also said it had 11.5 million paying users, a jump from last year. However, the stock was largely flat in extended trading. One small negative signal — and it definitely appears to be a small one — was that its GAAP gross margin slipped slightly to 61.9% from 62.3% a year earlier. Dropbox is a software company that’s supposed to have great margins as it begins to ramp up its own hardware, but that slipping margin may end up being something that investors will zero in on going forward. Still, as the company continues to ramp up the enterprise component of its business, the calculus of its business may change over time.

This is a pretty important moment for the company, as it was a darling in Silicon Valley and rocketed to a $10 billion valuation in the early phases of the Web 2.0 era but began to face a ton of criticism as to whether it could be a robust business as larger companies started to offer cloud storage as a perk and not a business. Dropbox then found itself going up against companies like Box and Microsoft as it worked to create an enterprise business, but all this was behind closed doors — and it wasn’t clear if it was able to successfully maneuver its way into a second big business. Now the company is beholden to public shareholders and has to show all this in the open, and it serves as a good barometer of not just storage and collaboration businesses, but also some companies that are looking to drastically simplify workflow processes and convert that into a real business (like Slack, for example).

Here’s the final scorecard for the company:

  • Q1 revenue: $316.3 million, compared to Wall Street estimates of $308.7 million (up 28% year over year.)
  • Q1 earnings: 8 cents per share adjusted, compared to Wall Street estimates of 5 cents per share adjusted.
  • Paying users: 11.5 million, up from 9.3 million in the same period last year.
  • GAAP gross margin: 61.9%, down from 62.3% last year in the same period last year.
  • Non-GAAP gross margin: 74.2%, up from 63.5% in the same period last year.
  • Free cash flow: $51.9 million, down from $56.5 million in the same period last year.

(The GAAP and non-GAAP comparison is typically related to share-based compensation, which is a key component of employee compensation and retention.)

Dropbox was largely considered to be a successful IPO, rising more than 40% in its trading debut. That does mean that it may have left some money on the table, but its operating losses have been largely stable, even as it looks to woo larger enterprise customers as it — which is a bit of a taller order than its typical growth amid consumers that’s heavily driven by organic growth. Those larger enterprise customers offer more stable, and larger, revenue streams than a consumer base that faces a variety of options as many companies start to offer free storage. The company is now worth well over that original $10 billion valuation as a public company. Dropbox says it has more than 500 million users.

Since going public, the stock has had its ups and downs, but for the most part hasn’t dipped below that significant jump it saw from day one. Keeping that number propped up — and growing — is an important part of growing a business as a public company as it waves off more intense scrutiny and pressure for change from public shareholders, as well as offering competitive compensation packages for incoming employees in order to attract the best talent. It’s also good for morale as it offers a kind of grade for how the company is doing in the eyes of the public, though CEOs of companies often say they are committed toward long-term goals. The company’s shares are up around 11% since going public.

While there have been a wave of enterprise IPOs this year, including zScalar and Pluralsight’s upcoming IPO, Dropbox was largely considered to be a potential gauge of whether the IPO window was still open this year because of its hybrid nature. Dropbox started off as a consumer company based around a dead-simple approach of hosting and sharing files online, and used that to build a massive user base even as the cost of cloud storage was rapidly commoditized. But it also is building a robust enterprise-focus business, and continues to roll out a variety of tools to woo those businesses with consistent updates to products like its document tool Paper. Last month, the company started rolling out templates, as it looked to make traditional workflow processes easier and easier for companies in order to capture their interest much in the same way it captured the interest of consumers at large.

May
09
2018
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Google to acquire cloud migration startup Velostrata

Google announced today it was going to acquire Israeli cloud migration startup, Velostrata. The companies did not share the purchase price.

Velostrata helps companies migrate from on-premises datacenters to the cloud, a common requirement today as companies try to shift more workloads to the cloud. It’s not always a simple matter though to transfer those legacy applications, and that’s where Velostrata could help Google Cloud customers.

As I wrote in 2014 about their debut, the startup figured out a way to decouple storage and compute and that had wide usage and appeal. “The company has a sophisticated hybrid cloud solution that decouples storage from compute resources, leaving the storage in place on-premises while running a virtual machine in the cloud,” I wrote at the time.

But more than that, in a hybrid world where customer applications and data can live in the public cloud or on prem (or a combination), Velostrata gives them control to move and adapt the workloads as needed and prepare it for delivery on cloud virtual machines.

“This means [customers] can easily and quickly migrate virtual machine-based workloads like large databases, enterprise applications, DevOps, and large batch processing to and from the cloud,” Eyal Manor VP of engineering at Google Cloud wrote in the blog post announcing the acquisition.

This of course takes Velostrata from being a general purpose cloud migration tool to one tuned specifically for Google Cloud in the future, but one that gives Google a valuable tool in its battle to gain cloud marketshare.

In the past, Google Cloud head Diane Greene has talked about the business opportunities they have seen in simply “lifting and shifting” data loads to the cloud. This acquisition gives them a key service to help customers who want to do that with the Google Cloud.

Velostrata was founded in 2014. It has raised over $31 million from investors including Intel Capital and Norwest Venture partners.

May
03
2018
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SoundHound has raised a big $100M round to take on Alexa and Google Assistant

As SoundHound looks to leverage its ten-plus years of experience and data to create a voice recognition tool that companies can bake into any platform, it’s raising another big $100 million round of funding to try to make its Houndify platform a third neutral option compared to Alexa and Google Assistant.

While Amazon works to get developers to adopt Alexa, SoundHound has been collecting data since it started as an early mobile app for the iPhone and Android devices. That’s given it more than a decade of data to work with as it tries to build a robust audio recognition engine and tie it into a system with dozens of different queries and options that it can tie to those sounds. The result was always a better SoundHound app, but it’s increasingly started to try to open up that technology to developers and show it’s more powerful (and accurate) than the rest of the voice assistants on the market — and get them to use it in their services.

“We launched [Houndify] before Google and Amazon,” CEO Keyvan Mohajer said. “Obviously, good ideas get copied, and Google and Amazon have copied us. Amazon has the Alexa fund to invest in smaller companies and bribe them to adopt the Alexa Platform. Our reaction to that was, we can’t give $100 million away, so we came up with a strategy which was the reverse. Instead of us investing in smaller companies, let’s go after big successful companies that will invest in us to accelerate Houndify. We think it’s a good strategy. Amazon would be betting on companies that are not yet successful, we would bet on companies that are already successful.”

This round is all coming in from strategic investors. Part of the reason is that taking on these strategic investments allows SoundHound to capture important partnerships that it can leverage to get wider adoption for its technology. The companies investing, too, have a stake in SoundHound’s success and will want to get it wherever possible. The strategic investors include Tencent Holdings Limited, Daimler AG, Hyundai Motor Company, Midea Group, and Orange S.A. SoundHound already has a number of strategic investors that include Samsung, NVIDIA, KT Corporation, HTC, Naver, LINE, Nomura, Sompo, and Recruit. It’s a ridiculously long list, but again, the company is trying to get that technology baked in wherever it can.

So it’s pretty easy to see what SoundHound is going to get out of this: access to China through partners, deeper integration into cars, as well as increased expansion to other avenues through all of its investors. Mohajer said the company could try to get into China on its own (or ignore it altogether), but there has been a very limited number of companies that have had any success there whatsoever. Google and Facebook, two of the largest technology companies in the world, are not on that list of successes.

“China is a very important market, it’s very big and has a lot of potential, and it’s growing,” Mohajer said. “You can go to Canada without having to rethink a big strategy, but China is so different. We saw even companies like Google and Facebook tried to do that and didn’t succeed. When those bigger companies didn’t succeed, it was a signal to us that strategy wouldn’t work. [Tencent] was looking at the space and they saw we have the best technology in the world. They appreciated it and were respectful, they helped us get there. We looked at so many partners and [Tencent and Midea Group] were the ones that worked out.”

The idea here is that developers in all sorts of different markets — whether that’s cars or apps — will want to have some element of voice interaction. SoundHound is betting that companies like Daimler will want to control the experience in their cars, and not be saying “Alexa” whenever they want to make a request while driving. Instead, it may come down to something as simple as a wake word that could change the entire user experience, and that’s why SoundHound is pitching Houndify as a flexible and customizable option that isn’t demanding a brand on top of it.

SoundHound still does have its stable of apps. The original SoundHound app is around, though those features are also baked into Hound, its main consumer app. That is more of a personal assistant-style voice recognition service where you can string together a sentence of as many as a dozen parameters and get a decent search result back. It’s more of a party trick than anything else, but it is a good demonstration of the technical capabilities SoundHound has as it looks to embed that software into lots of different pieces of hardware and software.

SoundHound may have raised a big round with a fresh set of strategic partners, but that certainly doesn’t mean it’s a surefire bet. Amazon is, after all, one of the most valuable companies in the world and Alexa has proven to be a very popular platform, even if it’s mostly for nominal requests and listening to music (and party tricks) at this point. SoundHound is going to have to convince companies — small and large — to bake in its tools, rather than go with massive competitors like Amazon with pockets deep enough to buy a whole grocery chain.

“We think every company is going to need to have a strategy in voice AI, jus like ten years ago everyone needed a mobile strategy,” Mohajer said. “Everyone should think about it. There aren’t many providers, mainly because it takes a long time to build the core technology. It took us 12 years. To Houndify everything we need to be global, we need to support all the main languages and regions in the world. We built the technology to be language independent, but there’s a lot of resources and execution involved.”

Apr
30
2018
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Suki raises $20M to create a voice assistant for doctors

When trying to figure out what to do after an extensive career at Google, Motorola, and Flipkart, Punit Soni decided to spend a lot of time sitting in doctors’ offices to figure out what to do next.

It was there that Soni said he figured out one of the most annoying pain points for doctors in any office: writing down notes and documentation. That’s why he decided to start Suki — previously Robin AI — to create a way for doctors to simply start talking aloud to take notes when working with patients, rather than having to put everything into a medical record system, or even writing those notes down by hand. That seemed like the lowest hanging fruit, offering an opportunity to make it easier for doctors that see dozens of patients to make their lives significantly easier, he said.

“We decided we had found a powerful constituency who were burning out because of just documentation,” Soni said. “They have underlying EMR systems that are much older in design. The solution aligns with the commoditization of voice and machine learning. If you put it all together, if we can build a system for doctors and allow doctors to use it in a relatively easy way, they’ll use it to document all the interactions they do with patients. If you have access to all data right from a horse’s mouth, you can use that to solve all the other problems on the health stack.”

The company said it has raised a $15 million funding round led by Venrock, with First Round, Social+Capital, Nat Turner of Flatiron Health, Marc Benioff, and other individual Googlers and angels. Venrock also previously led a $5 million seed financing round, bringing the company’s total funding to around $20 million. It’s also changing its name from Robin AI to Suki, though the reason is actually a pretty simple one: “Suki” is a better wake word for a voice assistant than “Robin” because odds are there’s someone named Robin in the office.

The challenge for a company like Suki is not actually the voice recognition part. Indeed, that’s why Soni said they are actually starting a company like this today: voice recognition is commoditized. Trying to start a company like Suki four years ago would have meant having to build that kind of technology from scratch, but thanks to incredible advances in machine learning over just the past few years, startups can quickly move on to the core business problems they hope to solve rather than focusing on early technical challenges.

Instead, Suki’s problem is one of understanding language. It has to ingest everything that a doctor is saying, parse it, and figure out what goes where in a patient’s documentation. That problem is even more complex because each doctor has a different way of documenting their work with a patient, meaning it has to take extra care in building a system that can scale to any number of doctors. As with any company, the more data it collects over time, the better those results get — and the more defensible the business becomes, because it can be the best product.

“Whether you bring up the iOS app or want to bring it in a website, doctors have it in the exam room,” Soni said. “You can say, ‘Suki, make sure you document this, prescribe this drug, and make sure this person comes back to me for a follow-up visit.’ It takes all that, it captures it into a clinically comprehensive note and then pushes it to the underlying electronic medical record. [Those EMRs] are the system of record, it is not our job to day-one replace these guys. Our job is to make sure doctors and the burnout they are having is relieved.”

Given that voice recognition is commoditized, there will likely be others looking to build a scribe for doctors as well. There are startups like Saykara looking to do something similar, and in these situations it often seems like the companies that are able to capture the most data first are able to become the market leaders. And there’s also a chance that a larger company — like Amazon, which has made its interest in healthcare already known — may step in with its comprehensive understanding of language and find its way into the doctors’ office. Over time, Soni hopes that as it gets more and more data, Suki can become more intelligent and more than just a simple transcription service.

“You can see this arc where you’re going from an Alexa, to a smarter form of a digital assistant, to a device that’s a little bit like a chief resident of a doctor,” Soni said. “You’ll be able to say things like, ‘Suki, pay attention,’ and all it needs to do is listen to your conversation with the patient. I’m, not building a medical transcription company. I’m basically trying to build a digital assistant for doctors.”

Apr
27
2018
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DocuSign CEO: ‘we’re becoming a verb,’ company up 37% following public debut

DocuSign CEO Dan Springer was all smiles at the Nasdaq on Friday, following the company’s public debut.

And he had a lot to be happy about. After pricing the IPO at a better-than-expected $29, the company raised $629 million. Then DocuSign finished its first day of trading at $39.73, up 37% in its debut.

Springer, who took over DocuSign just last year, spoke with TechCrunch in a video interview about the direction of the company. “We’ve figured out a way to help businesses really transform the way they operate,” he said about document-signing business. The goal is to “make their life more simple.”

But when asked about the competitive landscape which includes Adobe Sign and HelloSign, Springer was confident that DocuSign is well-positioned to remain the market leader. “We’re becoming a verb,” he said. Springer believes that DocuSign has convinced large enterprises that it is the most secure platform.

Yet the IPO was a long-time coming. The company was formed in 2003 and raised over $500 million over the years from Sigma Partners, Ignition Partners, Frazier Technology Partners, Bain Capital Ventures and Kleiner Perkins, amongst others. It is not uncommon for a venture-backed company to take a decade to go public, but 15 years is atypical, for those that ever reach this coveted milestone.

Dell Technologies Capital president Scott Darling, who sits on the board of DocuSign, said that now was the time to go public because he believes the company “is well positioned to continue aggressively pursuing the $25 billion e-signature market and further revolutionizing how business agreements are handled in the digital age.”

Sales are growing, but it is not yet profitable. DocuSign brought in $518.5 million in revenue for its fiscal year ending in 2018. This is an increase from $381.5 million last year and $250.5 million the year before. Losses for this year were $52.3 million, reduced from $115.4 million last year and, $122.6 million for 2016.

Springer says DocuSign won’t be in the red for much longer. The company is “on that fantastic path to GAAP profitability.” He believes that international expansion is a big opportunity for growth.

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