Jul
10
2018
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Box acquires Butter.ai to make search smarter

Box announced today that it has acquired Butter.ai, a startup that helps customers search for content intelligently in the cloud. The terms of the deal were not disclosed, but the Butter.AI team will be joining Box.

Butter.AI was started by two ex-Evernote employees, Jack Hirsch and Adam Walz. The company was partly funded by Evernote founder and former CEO Phil Libin’s Turtle Studios. The latter is a firm established with a mission to use machine learning to solve real business problems like finding the right document wherever it is.

Box has been adding intelligence to its platform for some time, and this acquisition brings the Butter.AI team on board and gives them more machine learning and artificial intelligence known-how while helping to enhance search inside of the Box product.

“The team from Butter.ai will help Box to bring more intelligence to our Search capabilities, enabling Box’s 85,000 customers to more easily navigate through their unstructured information — making searching for files in Box more contextualized, predictive and personalized,” Box’s Jeetu Patel wrote in a blog post announcing the acquisition.

That means taking into account the context of the search and delivering documents that make sense given your role and how you work. For instance, if you are a salesperson and you search for a contract, you probably want a sales contract and not one for a freelancer or business partnership.

For Butter, the chance to have access to all those customers was too good to pass up. “We started Butter.ai to build the best way to find documents at work. As it turns out, Box has 85,000 customers who all need instant access to their content. Joining Box means we get to build on our original mission faster and at a massive scale,” company CEO and co-founder Jack Hirsch said.

The company launched in September 2017, and up until now it has acted as a search assistant inside Slack you can call upon to search for documents and find them wherever they live in the cloud. The company will be winding down that product as it becomes part of the Box team.

As is often the case in these deals, the two companies have been working closely together and it made sense for Box to bring the Butter.AI team into the fold where it can put its technology to bear on the Box platform.

“After launching in September 2017 our customers were loud and clear about wanting us to integrate with Box and we quickly delivered. Since then, our relationship with Box has deepened and now we get to build on our vision for a MUCH larger audience as part of the Box team,” the founders wrote in a Medium post announcing the deal.

The company raised $3.3 million over two seed rounds. Investors included Slack and General Catalyst.

Jul
02
2018
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Dell will soon be a public company (again)

Dell, which went private in one of the the largest leveraged buyouts in tech circa 2013, announced today that it will once again be going public through a relatively complex mechanism that will once again bring the company back onto the public markets with founder Michael Dell and Silver Lake Partners largely in control.

Dell’s leveraged buyout largely marked the final page in the company’s storied history as a PC provider, going back to the old “dude, you’re getting a Dell” commercials. The company rode that wave to dominance, but as computing shifted to laptops, mobile phones, and complex operations were offloaded into cloud services like Amazon Web Services, Azure and Google Cloud, Dell found itself navigating a complex environment while having to make a significant business transition beyond the PC era. That meant Dell would be beholden to the whims of public markets, perhaps laden with short-term pessimism over the company’s urgent need to find a transition.

The transaction is actually an offer to buy shares that track the company’s involvement in VMWare, converting that tracking stock into Dell Technologies stock that would mark its return as a publicly-traded company. Those shares will end up traded on the NYSE, around five years later after its founder took the company private with Silver Lake Partners in a deal worth roughly $25 billion. Silver Lake Partners owns around 24% of the company, while Dell owns 72% and will continue to serve as the chairman and CEO of the company. This move helps the company bypass the IPO process, which would remove the whole time period of potential investors scrutinizing the company (which has taken on a substantial debt load).

Dell said in its most recent quarter it recorded revenue of $21.4 billion, up 19% year-over-year, and over the past 12 months the company generated $82.4 billion of revenue with a net loss of $2.3 billion. The company said it has also paid down $13 billion of gross debt since its combination with EMC back in 2016. All this has been part of the company’s transition to find new businesses beyond just selling computers, though there’s clearly still demand for those computers in offices around the world. As it has expanded into a broader provider of IT services, it’s potentially positioned itself as a modern enterprise tools provider, which would allow it to more securely navigate public markets while offering investors a way to correctly calibrate its value.

Jun
27
2018
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Intermix.io looks to help data engineers find their worst bottlenecks

For any company built on top of machine learning operations, the more data it has, the better it is off — as long as it can keep it all under control. But as more and more information pours in from disparate sources, gets logged in obscure databases and is generally hard (or slow) to query, the process of getting that all into one neat place where a data scientist can actually start running the statistics is quickly running into one of machine learning’s biggest bottlenecks.

That’s a problem Intermix.io and its founders, Paul Lappas and Lars Kamp, hope to solve. Engineers get a granular look at all of the different nuances behind what’s happening with some specific function, from the query all the way through all of the paths it’s taking to get to its end result. The end product is one that helps data engineers monitor the flow of information going through their systems, regardless of the source, to isolate bottlenecks early and see where processes are breaking down. The company also said it has raised seed funding from Uncork Capital, S28 Capital, PAUA Ventures along with Bastian Lehman, CEO of Postmates and Hasso Plattner, founder of SAP.

“Companies realize being data driven is a key to success,” Kamp said. “The cloud makes it cheap and easy to store your data forever, machine learning libraries are making things easy to digest. But a company that wants to be data driven wants to hire a data scientist. This is the wrong first hire. To do that they need access to all the relevant data, and have it be complete and clean. That falls to data engineers who need to build data assembly lines where they are creating meaningful types to get data usable to the data scientist. That’s who we serve.”

Intermix.io works in a couple of ways: First, it tags all of that data, giving the service a meta-layer of understanding what does what, and where it goes; second, it taps every input in order to gather metrics on performance and help identify those potential bottlenecks; and lastly, it’s able to track that performance all the way from the query to the thing that ends up on a dashboard somewhere. The idea here is that if, say, some server is about to run out of space somewhere or is showing some performance degradation, that’s going to start showing up in the performance of the actual operations pretty quickly — and needs to be addressed.

All of this is an efficiency play that might not seem to make sense at a smaller scale. The waterfall of new devices that come online every day, as well as more and more ways of understanding how people use tools online, even the smallest companies can quickly start building massive data sets. And if that company’s business depends on some machine learning happening in the background, that means it’s dependent on all that training and tracking happening as quickly and smoothly as possible, with any hiccups leading to real-term repercussions for its own business.

Intermix.io isn’t the first company to try to create some application performance management software. There are others like Data Dog and New Relic, though Lappas says that the primary competition from them comes in the form of traditional APM software with some additional scripts tacked on. However, data flows are a different layer altogether, which means they require a more unique and custom approach to addressing that problem.

Jun
26
2018
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YC grad ZenProspect rebrands as Apollo, lands $7M Series A

ZenProspect, a startup that emerged from the Y Combinator Winter 2016 class to help companies use data and intelligence to increase sales, announced today that it was rebranding as Apollo. It also announced a $7 million Series A investment.

The round was led by Nexus Venture Partners. Social Capital and Y Combinator also participated. Apparently Y Combinator liked what they saw enough to continue to invest in the company.

Apollo helps customers connect their sales people with the right person at the right time. That is typically a customer that is most likely to buy the product. It does this by combining a number of tools including a rules engine to automate prospect routing, a lead scoring tool and analytics to measure results at a granular level, among others.

Apollo analytics. Photo: Apollo

The company also uses data they have collected from 200 million contacts at 10 million companies to match sellers to buyers along with the information in the user’s own CRM tools — typically Salesforce. Apollo is making this vast database of company and contact data available for customers to use themselves for free starting today.

Apollo CEO and founder Tim Zheng says the company was born out of a need at a previous venture. He was working at a startup that was floundering and sales had flatlined. When they couldn’t find a product on the market to help them, they decided to build it and saw the number of users increase from 5000 to 150,000 users in just five weeks. That eventually reached a million users.  As he spoke to friends at other Bay area companies about what his company had done, he heard a lot of interest, and decided to turn that sales tool into a company.

The company launched as ZenProspect in 2015 and went through Y Combinator in 2016. They were the third fastest growing company in that YC batch, generating $1 million in annual recurring revenue (ARR) during their tenure. In fact, they were profitable out of the gate, using their own software to sell the product.

Zheng points out that there are thousands of sales tools out there, but he said, even if you bought every one of them and stitched them together you still wouldn’t have a great sales process. Zheng says his company has figured out how to solve that problem and provide that structure to deliver the best prospects to sales people to close deals.

The company works closely with Salesforce as 80 percent of its customers are using data inside of Salesforce in conjunction with the Apollo tool. It’s worth noting, however, that Apollo is not built on top of Salesforce platform. It just integrates with it.

They target both early stage startups looking to increase sales and established enterprise customers with huge sales teams. So far it’s been working. Today, Apollo has 500 customers and 50 employees. With the current influx of money, they expect to get to 120 in the next 12 -18 months.

Jun
26
2018
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CoverWallet looks to make it easy for businesses to get commercial insurance

If a coffee fanatic decides they want to open up a coffee shop somewhere, odds are they’ll have to end up Googling “liability insurance” at some point — and trying to navigate the complex legal web to get all of that nailed down before they even sell their first iced latte.

Inaki Berenguer instead hopes they’ll stumble upon CoverWallet in that Google search, which streamlines the process of setting up commercial insurance for a small business. The company is trying to take another step now by saying it will create an open-ended tool that allows third parties to plug directly into its services, giving small businesses a way to pick up commercial insurance while they are going through the flow of another set of SMB management software. All of this is geared toward ensuring that more and more users are able to start tapping the service, which allows it to pick up additional business — and data — even if it means partially handing off the branding and user experience to another service.

“[When I had founded my previous company] when we had three employees and we moved to New York, we were told, if you want to sign a lease you have to buy insurance.” Berenguer said. “I wanted to go to a website, and input my square footage, and my revenue, and get a quote, and do everything else in five to ten minutes — but I was told that didn’t exist for business insurance. I had to go to a general provider, complete a 20-page PDF, which the broker sends it to the insurance company, and then they’ll come back with a quote. This process is analog and time consuming and opaque. I know this process can be reinvented. There are 25m small businesses in the U.S., and they all need to buy insurance.”

CoverWallet is much like what Berenguer explained in his dream scenario when he was moving his last company into an office. The insurance policies are personalized for restaurants, startups, retail stores, contractors, or various other types of commercial insurance products. Users input their business information, and then are able to pay for the policies — up front or in monthly installments — and get their policy set up in short order. If that doesn’t work, CoverWallet also has a team of agents to cover the rest of the questions they have, and users can modify any of those policies whenever they want.

But in the end, it may be that users are looking to keep things simple – especially if it’s a small- to medium-sized business that isn’t the kind of technically savvy ones you’ll often find in a major metropolitan area like New York or San Francisco. While CoverWallet looks to simplify the whole process of getting commercial insurance, which can be a major roadblock to getting something as simple as a coffee shop off the ground, integrating into other tools and making the whole process more and more seamless ensures that it’ll be able to keep that flow of businesses coming in — and those businesses may eventually start to spread the word on their own.

“Businesses might already be using accounting software or payroll,” Berenguer said. “Those systems have all the company info. Why do they need to come to a platform, and type everything, when that info is somewhere else. It’s like white labeling your solution. But if you want to be customer centric, the less they have to type the better.”

There likely isn’t much stopping the larger insurance carriers from offering a similar sort of plug-and-play API. But Berenguer said building a whole aggregation across all of those insurance providers, and then giving that pipeline to customers as they look to pick up insurance through another SMB tool like Gusto (though Gusto isn’t one of the clients, Berenguer said), gives them enough of a compelling argument for those employment suites to bring them in. Certain providers may only offer certain kinds of policies, or cover certain geographic regions, and CoverWallet hopes it will make a good enough case that it can cover all those gaps.

Jun
26
2018
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Celonis scores $50M Series B on $1B valuation

In the age of digital transformation, it’s important to understand your business processes and find improvements quickly, but it’s not always easy to do without bringing in expensive consultants to help. Celonis, a New York City enterprise startup, created a sophisticated software solution to help solve this problem, and today it announced a $50 million Series B investment from Accel and 83North on a $1 billion valuation.

It’s not typical for an enterprise startup to have such a lofty valuation so early in its funding cycle, but Celonis is not a typical enterprise startup. It launched in 2011 in Munich with this idea of helping companies understand their processes, which they call process mining.

“Celonis is an intelligent system using logs created by IT systems such as SAP, Salesforce, Oracle and Netsuite, and automatically understands how these processes work and then recommends intelligently how they can be improved,” Celonis CEO and co-founder Alexander Rinke explained.

The software isn’t magic, but helps customers visualize each business process, and then looks at different ways of shifting how and where humans interact with the process or bringing in technology like robotics process automation (RPA) when it makes sense.

Celonis process flow. Photo: Celonis

Rinke says the software doesn’t simply find a solution and that’s the end of the story. It’s a continuous process loop of searching for ways to help customers operate more efficiently. This doesn’t have to be a big change, but often involves lots incremental ones.

“We tell them there are lots of answers. We don’t think there is one solution. All these little things don’t execute well. We point out these things. Typically we find it’s easy to implement, ” he said.

Screenshot: Celonis

It seems to be working. Customers include the likes of Exxon-Mobile, 3M, Merck, Lockheed-Martin and Uber. Rinke reports deals are often seven figures. The company has grown an astonishing 5,000 percent in the past 4 years and 300 percent in the past year alone. What’s more, it has been profitable every year since it started. (How many enterprise startups can say that?)

The company currently has 400 employees, but unlike most Series B investments, they aren’t looking at this money to grow operationally. They wanted to have the money for strategic purposes, so if the opportunity came along to make an acquisition or expand into a new market, they would be in a position to do that.

“I see the funding as a confirmation and commitment, a sign from our investors and an indicator about what we’ve built and the traction we have. But for us it’s more important, and our investors share this, what they really invested in was the future of the company,” Rinke said. He’s sees an on-going commitment to help his customers as far more important than a billion valuation.

But that doesn’t hurt either as it moves rapidly forward.

Jun
26
2018
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Ping Identity acquires stealthy API security startup Elastic Beam

At the Identiverse conference in Boston today, Ping Identity announced that it has acquired Elastic Beam, a pre-Series A startup that uses artificial intelligence to monitor APIs and help understand when they have been compromised.

Ping also announced a new product, PingIntelligence for APIs, based on the Elastic Beam technology. They did not disclose the sale price.

The product itself is a pretty nifty piece of technology. It automatically detects all the API IP addresses and URLs running inside a customer. It then uses artificial intelligence to search for anomalous behavior and report back when it finds it (or it can automatically shut down access depending on how it’s configured).

“APIs are defined either in the API gateway because that facilitates creation or implemented on an application server like node.js. We created a platform that could bring a level of protection to both,” company founder Bernard Harguindeguy told TechCrunch.

It may seem like an odd match for Ping, which after all, is an enterprise identity company, but there are reasonable connections here. Perhaps the biggest is that CEO Andre Durand wants to see his company making increasing use of AI and machine learning for identity security in general. It’s also worth noting that his company has had an API security product in its portfolio for over five years, so it’s not a huge stretch to buy Elastic Beam.

With this purchase, Ping has not only acquired some advanced technology, it has also acqui-hired a team of AI and machine learning experts that could help inject the entire Ping product line with AI and machine learning smarts. “Nobody should be surprised who has been watching that Ping will drive machine learning AI and general intelligence into our identity platform,” Durand said.

Harguindeguy certainly sees the potential here. “I think we can over time bring a high level of monitoring and intelligence to Ping to understand whether an identity may have been used by someone else or being misused somehow,” he said.

Elastic Beam interface. Photo: Elastic Beam website

Harguindeguy will join Ping Identity as Senior Vice President of Intelligence along with his entire team. Neither company would divulge the exact number of employees, but Durand did acknowledge it fell somewhere between the 11 and 50 mentioned in the company Crunchbase profile. The original team consisted of around 10 according to  Harguindeguy and they have been hiring for some time, so fair to say more than 11, but less than 50.

Harguindeguy says they were pursued by more than one company (although he wouldn’t say who those other companies were), but he felt that Ping provided a good cultural match for his company and could take them where they wanted to go faster than they could on their own, even with Series A money.

“We realized this is going to be really big. How do we go after the market really strongly really fast? We saw that we could fuse this really fast with Ping and have strong go to market with them,” he said.

Durand acknowledged that Ping, which was itself acquired by Vista Equity Partners for $600 million two years ago, couldn’t have made such an acquisition without the backing of a larger firm like this. “There was there was no chance we could have done either UnboundID (which the company acquired in August 2016) or Elastic Beam on our own. This was purely an artifact of being part of the Vista family portfolio,” he said.

PingIntelligence for APIs, the product based on Elastic Beam’s technology, is currently in private preview. It should be generally available some time later this year.

Jun
25
2018
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BigID scores $30 million Series B months after closing A round

BigID announced a big $30 million Series B round today, which comes on the heels of closing their $14M A investment in January. It’s been a whirlwind year for the NYC data security startup as GDPR kicked in and companies came calling for their products.

The round was led by Scale Venture Partners with participation from previous investors ClearSky Security, Comcast Ventures, Boldstart Ventures, Information Venture Partners and SAP.io.

BigID has a product that helps companies inventory their data, even extremely large data stores, and identify the most sensitive information, a convenient feature at a time where GDPR data privacy rules, which went into effect at the end of May, require that companies doing business in the EU have a grip on their customer data.

That’s certainly something that caught the eye of Ariel Tseitlin from Scale Venture Partners. “We talked to a lot of companies, how they feel more specifically about GDPR, and more broadly about how they think about data within in their organizations, and we got a very strong signal that there is a lot of concern around the regulation and how to prepare for that, but also more fundamentally, that CIOs and chief data officers don’t have a good sense of where data resides within their organizations,” he explained.

Dimitri Sirota, CEO and co-founder, says that GDPR is a nice business driver, but he sees the potential to grow the data security market much more broadly than simply as a way to comply with one regulatory ruling or another. He says that American companies are calling, even some without operations in Europe because they see getting a grip on their customer data as a fundamental business imperative.

BigID product collage. Graphic: BigID

The company plans to expand their partner go-to market strategy in the coming the months, another approach that could translate to increased sales. That will include global systems integrators. Sirota says to expect announcements involving the usual suspects in the coming months. “You’ll see over the next little bit, several announcements with many of the names that you’re familiar with in terms of go-to market and global relationships,” he said.

Finally there are the strategic investors in this deal, including Comcast and SAP, which Sirota thinks will also ultimately help them get enterprise deals they might not have landed up until now. The $30 million runway also gives customers who might have been skittish about dealing with a young-ish startup, more confidence to make the deal.

BigID seems to have the right product at the right time. Scale’s Tseitlin, who will join the board as part of the deal, certainly sees the potential of this company to scale far beyond its current state.

“The area where we tend to spend a lot of time, and I think is what attracted Dimitri to having us as an investor, is that we really help with the scaling phase of company growth,” he said. True to their name, Scale tries to get the company to that next level beyond product/market fit to where they can deliver consistently and continually grow revenue. They have done this with Box and DocuSign and others and hope that BigID is next.

Jun
20
2018
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Stensul raises $7M to make email creation easier for marketers

Email marketing startup Stensul is announcing that it has raised $7 million.

Stensul spun out of founder and CEO Noah Dinkin’s previous company FanBridge. Dinkin explained via email that the startup isn’t competing with the big email service providers — in fact, it integrates with ESPs including Salesforce Marketing Cloud, Oracle Marketing Cloud, Adobe Marketing Cloud and Marketo.

Dinkin said that while ESPs include email creation tools, most companies ignore them. Instead, the marketer has to work with specialists like designers, developers and agencies: “That process often takes weeks, everyone hates it, and it is SUPER expensive.”

Stensul, meanwhile, is focused exclusively on the email creation process. Marketers at large enterprises can build the email themselves, without having to rely on anyone else, in less than 20 minutes.

“They don’t need to know how to code, they don’t need to know how to use Photoshop or have memorized the 100 page pdf of brand guidelines,” Dinkin said. “The platform controls for brand governance and rules, and also guarantees that the output will be technically perfect.”

Stensul

Javelin Venture Partners led the Series A, with participation from Arthur Ventures, First Round Capital, Uncork Capital, Lowercase Capital and former ExactTarget President Scott McCorkle.

“Stensul has zeroed in on a massive problem space hiding in plain sight,” said Javelin’s Alex Gurevich in the funding announcement. “Email Marketing is used by every large company in the world, and the amount of time and money spent on email creation is far more than most people realize. The quality of top-tier customers that stensul has been able to bring on made it clear to us that they have a solution that really delivers value on day 1.”

Companies that have used Stensul include YouTube, Grubhub, BMW, Lyft and Box. Dinkin said he will continue to invest in product, but the big goal with the new funding is to grow sales and marketing.

Jun
20
2018
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Beamery closes $28M Series B to stoke support for its ‘talent CRM’

Beamery, a London-based startup that offers self-styled “talent CRM”– aka ‘candidate relationship management’ — and recruitment marketing software targeted at fast-growing companies, has closed a $28M Series B funding round, led by EQT Ventures.

Also participating in the round are M12, Microsoft’s venture fund, and existing investors Index Ventures, Edenred Capital Partners and Angelpad Fund. Beamery last raised a $5M Series A, in April 2017, led by Index.

Its pitch centers on the notion of helping businesses win a ‘talent war’ by taking a more strategic and pro-active approach to future hires vs just maintaining a spreadsheet of potential candidates.

Its platform aims to help the target enterprises build and manage a talent pool of people they might want to hire in future to get out ahead of the competition in HR terms, including providing tools for customized marketing aimed at nurture relations with possible future hires.

Customer numbers for Beamery’s software have stepped up from around 50 in April 2017 to 100 using it now — including the likes of Facebook (which is using it globally), Continental, VMware, Zalando, Grab and Balfour Beatty.

It says the new funding will be going towards supporting customer growth, including by ramping up hiring in its offices in London (HQ), Austin and San Francisco.

It also wants to expand into more markets. “We’re focusing on some of the world’s biggest global businesses that need support in multiple timezones and geographies so really it’s a global approach,” said a spokesman on that.

“Companies adopting the system are large enterprises doing talent at scale, that are innovative in terms of being proactive about recruiting, candidate experience and employer brand,” he added.

A “significant” portion of the Series B funds will also go towards R&D and produce development focused on its HR tech niche.

“Across all sectors, there’s a shift towards proactive recruitment through technology, and Beamery is emerging as the category leader,” added Tom Mendoza, venture lead and investment advisor at EQT, in a supporting statement.

“Beamery has a fantastic product, world-class high-ambition founders, and an outstanding analytics-driven team. They’ve been relentless about building the best talent CRM and marketing platform and gaining a deep understanding of the industry-wide problems.”

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