Feb
18
2021
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Census raises $16M Series A to help companies put their data warehouses to work

Census, a startup that helps businesses sync their customer data from their data warehouses to their various business tools like Salesforce and Marketo, today announced that it has raised a $16 million Series A round led by Sequoia Capital. Other participants in this round include Andreessen Horowitz, which led the company’s $4.3 million seed round last year, as well as several notable angles, including Figma CEO Dylan Field, GitHub CTO Jason Warner, Notion COO Akshay Kothari and Rippling CEO Parker Conrad.

The company is part of a new crop of startups that are building on top of data warehouses. The general idea behind Census is to help businesses operationalize the data in their data warehouses, which was traditionally only used for analytics and reporting use cases. But as businesses realized that all the data they needed was already available in their data warehouses and that they could use that as a single source of truth without having to build additional integrations, an ecosystem of companies that operationalize this data started to form.

The company argues that the modern data stack, with data warehouses like Amazon Redshift, Google BigQuery and Snowflake at its core, offers all of the tools a business needs to extract and transform data (like Fivetran, dbt) and then visualize it (think Looker).

Tools like Census then essentially function as a new layer that sits between the data warehouse and the business tools that can help companies extract value from this data. With that, users can easily sync their product data into a marketing tool like Marketo or a CRM service like Salesforce, for example.

Image Credits: Census

Three years ago, we were the first to ask, ‘Why are we relying on a clumsy tangle of wires connecting every app when everything we need is already in the warehouse? What if you could leverage your data team to drive operations?’ When the data warehouse is connected to the rest of the business, the possibilities are limitless,” Census explains in today’s announcement. “When we launched, our focus was enabling product-led companies like Figma, Canva, and Notion to drive better marketing, sales, and customer success. Along the way, our customers have pulled Census into more and more scenarios, like auto-prioritizing support tickets in Zendesk, automating invoices in Netsuite, or even integrating with HR systems.

Census already integrates with dozens of different services and data tools and its customers include the likes of Clearbit, Figma, Fivetran, LogDNA, Loom and Notion.

Looking ahead, Census plans to use the new funding to launch new features like deeper data validation and a visual query experience. In addition, it also plans to launch code-based orchestration to make Census workflows versionable and make it easier to integrate them into an enterprise orchestration system.

Dec
10
2020
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Boast.ai raises $23M to help businesses get their R&D tax credits

Nobody likes dealing with taxes — until the system works in your favor. In many countries, startups can receive tax credits for their R&D work and related employee cost, but as with all things bureaucracy, that’s often a slow and onerous task. Boast.ai aims to make this process far easier, by using a mix of AI and tax experts. The company, which currently has about 1,000 customers, today announced that it has raised a $23 million Series A round led by Radian Capital.

Launched in 2012 by co-founders Alex Popa (CEO) and Lloyed Lobo (president), Boast focuses on helping companies — and especially startups — in the U.S. and Canada claim their R&D tax credits.

“Globally, over $200 billion has been given in R&D incentives to fund businesses, not only in the U.S. and Canada, but the U.K., Australia, France, New Zealand, Ireland give out these incentives,” Lobo explained. “But there’s huge red tape. It’s a cumbersome process. You got to dive in and figure out work that qualifies and what doesn’t. Then you’ve got to file it with your taxes. Then if the government audits you, it’s like a long, laborious process.”

Image Credits: Boast.ai

After working on a few other startup ideas, the co-founders decided to go all-in on Boast. And in the process of working on other ideas, they also realized that AI wasn’t going to be able to do it all, but that it was getting good enough to augment humans to make a complex process like dealing with R&D tax credits scalable.

“The way I think to bootstrap a company is three things,” Lobo explained. “One, customers are looking for an outcome. Get them that outcome in the fastest, cheapest way possible. Two, when you’re doing that, you may have to do a lot of manual work. Figure out what those manual touch points are and then build the workflow to automate that. And once you have those two things, then you’ll have enough data to start working on artificial intelligence and machine learning. Those are the key learnings that we learned the hard way.”

So after doing some of that manual work, Boast can now automatically pull in data using tech tools like JIRA and GitHub and a company’s financial tools like QuickBooks, Gusto and (soon) ADP. It then uses its algorithms to cluster this data, figure out how much time employees spend on projects that would qualify for a tax credit and automate the tax filing process. Throughout the process — and to interact with the government if necessary — the company keeps humans in the loop.

“So all our [customer success] team is engineers,” Lobo noted. “Because if you don’t have engineers they can’t inform the decision-making process. They help figure out if there are any loose ends and then they deal with the audits, communicating with the government and whatnot. That’s how we’re able to effectively get SaaS-like margins or more.”

Ideally, a tool like Boast pays for itself and the company says it has secured more than $150 million in R&D tax credits since launch. Currently, it’s also doubling growth year over year, and that’s what made the founders decide to raise outside money for the first time. That funding will go toward increasing the sales team (which is currently only four people strong) and improving the platform, but Lobo was clear that he doesn’t want to be too aggressive. The goal, he said, is not to have to raise again until Boast can hit the $30 to $50 million revenue mark.

Once fully implemented, Boast also effectively becomes a system of record for all R&D and engineering data. And indeed, that’s the company’s overall vision, with the tax credits being somewhat of a Trojan horse to get to this point. By the middle of next year, the team plans to offer a new product around R&D-based financing, Lobo tells me.

Over the years, the Boast team also focused on not just growing its customer base but also the overall startup ecosystem in the markets in which it operates, with a special focus on Canada. The Boast team, for example, is also the team behind the popular annual Traction conference in Vancouver, Canada (Disclosure: I’ve moderated sessions at the event since its inception). A thriving startup ecosystem creates a larger client base for Boast, too, after all — and coincidently, the team met its investors at the event, too.

Oct
28
2020
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Enso Security raises $6M for its application security posture management platform

Enso Security, a Tel Aviv-based startup that is building a new application security posture management platform, today announced that it has raised a $6 million seed funding round led by YL Ventures, with participation from Jump Capital. Angel investors in this round include HackerOne co-founder and CTO Alex Rice; Sounil Yu, the former chief security scientist at Bank of America; Omkhar Arasaratnam, the former head of Data Protection Technology at JPMorgan Chase and toDay Ventures.

The company was founded by Roy Erlich (CEO), Chen Gour Arie (CPO) and Barak Tawily (CTO). As is so often the case with Israeli security startups, the founding team includes former members of the Israeli Intelligence Corps, but also a lot of hands-on commercial experience. Erlich, for example, was previously the head of application security at Wix, while Gour Arie worked as an application security consultant for numerous companies across Europe and Tawily has a background in pentesting and led a security team at Wix, too.

Image Credits: Enso Security / Getty Images

“It’s no secret that, today, the diversity of R&D allows [companies] to rapidly introduce new applications and push changes to existing ones,” Erlich explained. “But this great complexity for application security teams results in significant AppSec management challenges. These challenges include the difficulty of tracking applications across environments, measuring risks, prioritizing tasks and enforcing uniform Application Security strategies across all applications.”

But as companies push out code faster than ever, the application security teams aren’t able to keep up — and may not even know about every application being developed internally. The team argues that application security today is often a manual effort to identify owners and measure risk, for example — and the resources for application security teams are often limited, especially when compared the size of the overall development team in most companies. Indeed, the Enso team argues that most AppSec teams today spend most of their time creating relationships with developers and performing operational and product-related tasks — and not on application security.

Image Credits: Enso Security / Getty Images

“It’s a losing fight from the application security side because you have no chance to cover everything,” Erlich noted. “Having said that, […] it’s all about managing the risk. You need to make sure that you take data-driven decisions and that you have all the data that you need in one place.”

Enso Security then wants to give these teams a platform that gives them a single pane of glass to discover applications, identify owners, detect changes and capture their security posture. From there, teams can then prioritize and track their tasks and get real-time feedback on what is happening across their tools. The company’s tools currently pull in data from a wide variety of tools, including the likes of JIRA, Jenkins, GitLab, GitHub, Splunk, ServiceNow and the Envoy edge and service proxy. But as the team argues, even getting data from just a few sources already provides benefits for Enso’s users.

Looking ahead, the team plans to continue improving its product and staff up from its small group of seven employees to about 20 in the next year.

“Roy, Chen and Barak have come up with a very elegant solution to a notoriously complex problem space,” said Ofer Schreiber, partner at YL Ventures . “Because they cut straight to visibility — the true heart of this issue — cybersecurity professionals can finally see and manage all of the applications in their environments. This will have an extraordinary impact on the rate of application rollout and enterprise productivity.”

Oct
08
2020
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Grid AI raises $18.6M Series A to help AI researchers and engineers bring their models to production

Grid AI, a startup founded by the inventor of the popular open-source PyTorch Lightning project, William Falcon, that aims to help machine learning engineers work more efficiently, today announced that it has raised an $18.6 million Series A funding round, which closed earlier this summer. The round was led by Index Ventures, with participation from Bain Capital Ventures and firstminute. 

Falcon co-founded the company with Luis Capelo, who was previously the head of machine learning at Glossier. Unsurprisingly, the idea here is to take PyTorch Lightning, which launched about a year ago, and turn that into the core of Grid’s service. The main idea behind Lightning is to decouple the data science from the engineering.

The time argues that a few years ago, when data scientists tried to get started with deep learning, they didn’t always have the right expertise and it was hard for them to get everything right.

“Now the industry has an unhealthy aversion to deep learning because of this,” Falcon noted. “Lightning and Grid embed all those tricks into the workflow so you no longer need to be a PhD in AI nor [have] the resources of the major AI companies to get these things to work. This makes the opportunity cost of putting a simple model against a sophisticated neural network a few hours’ worth of effort instead of the months it used to take. When you use Lightning and Grid it’s hard to make mistakes. It’s like if you take a bad photo with your phone but we are the phone and make that photo look super professional AND teach you how to get there on your own.”

As Falcon noted, Grid is meant to help data scientists and other ML professionals “scale to match the workloads required for enterprise use cases.” Lightning itself can get them partially there, but Grid is meant to provide all of the services its users need to scale up their models to solve real-world problems.

What exactly that looks like isn’t quite clear yet, though. “Imagine you can find any GitHub repository out there. You get a local copy on your laptop and without making any code changes you spin up 400 GPUs on AWS — all from your laptop using either a web app or command-line-interface. That’s the Lightning “magic” applied to training and building models at scale,” Falcon said. “It is what we are already known for and has proven to be such a successful paradigm shift that all the other frameworks like Keras or TensorFlow, and companies have taken notice and have started to modify what they do to try to match what we do.”

The service is now in private beta.

With this new funding, Grid, which currently has 25 employees, plans to expand its team and strengthen its corporate offering via both Grid AI and through the open-source project. Falcon tells me that he aims to build a diverse team, not in the least because he himself is an immigrant, born in Venezuela, and a U.S. military veteran.

“I have first-hand knowledge of the extent that unethical AI can have,” he said. “As a result, we have approached hiring our current 25 employees across many backgrounds and experiences. We might be the first AI company that is not all the same Silicon Valley prototype tech-bro.”

“Lightning’s open-source traction piqued my interest when I first learned about it a year ago,” Index Ventures’ Sarah Cannon told me. “So intrigued in fact I remember rushing into a closet in Helsinki while at a conference to have the privacy needed to hear exactly what Will and Luis had built. I promptly called my colleague Bryan Offutt who met Will and Luis in SF and was impressed by the ‘elegance’ of their code. We swiftly decided to participate in their seed round, days later. We feel very privileged to be part of Grid’s journey. After investing in seed, we spent a significant amount with the team, and the more time we spent with them the more conviction we developed. Less than a year later and pre-launch, we knew we wanted to lead their Series A.”

Aug
12
2020
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Adaptive Shield raises $4M for its SaaS security platform

Adaptive Shield, a Tel Aviv-based security startup, is coming out of stealth today and announcing its $4 million seed round led by Vertex Ventures Israel. The company’s platform helps businesses protect their SaaS applications by regularly scanning their various setting for security issues.

The company’s co-founders met in the Israeli Defense Forces, where they were trained on cybersecurity, and then worked at a number of other security companies before starting their own venture. Adaptive Shield CEO Maor Bin, who previously led cloud research at Proofpoint, told me the team decided to look at SaaS security because they believe this is an urgent problem few other companies are addressing.

Pictured is a representative sample of nine apps being monitored by the Adaptive Shield platform, including the total score of each application, affected categories and affected security frameworks and standards. (Image Credits: Adaptive Shield)

“When you look at the problems that are out there — you want to solve something that is critical, that is urgent,” he said. “And what’s more critical than business applications? All the information is out there and every day, we see people moving their on-prem infrastructure into the cloud.”

Bin argues that as companies adopt a large variety of SaaS applications, all with their own security settings and user privileges, security teams are often either overwhelmed or simply not focused on these SaaS tools because they aren’t the system owners and may not even have access to them.

“Every enterprise today is heavily using SaaS services without addressing the associated and ever-changing security risks,” says Emanuel Timor, general partner at Vertex Ventures Israel . “We are impressed by the vision Adaptive Shield has to elegantly solve this complex problem and by the level of interest and fast adoption of its solution by customers.”

Onboarding is pretty easy, as Bin showed me, and typically involves setting up a user in the SaaS app and then logging into a given service through Adaptive Shield. Currently, the company supports most of the standard SaaS enterprise applications you would expect, including GitHub, Office 365, Salesforce, Slack, SuccessFactors and Zoom.

“I think that one of the most important differentiators for us is the amount of applications that we support,” Bin noted.

The company already has paying customers, including some Fortune 500 companies across a number of verticals, and it has already invested some of the new funding round, which closed before the global COVID-19 pandemic hit, into building out more integrations for these customers. Bin tells me that Adaptive Shield immediately started hiring once the round closed and is now also in the process of hiring its first employee in the U.S. to help with sales.

May
06
2020
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GitHub gets a built-in IDE with Codespaces, discussion forums and more

Under different circumstances, GitHub would be hosting its Satellite conference in Paris this week. Like so many other events, GitHub decided to switch Satellite to a virtual event, but that isn’t stopping the Microsoft-owned company from announcing quite a bit of news this week.

The highlight of GitHub’s announcement is surely the launch of GitHub Codespaces, which gives developers a full cloud-hosted development environment in the cloud, based on Microsoft’s VS Code editor. If that name sounds familiar, that’s likely because Microsoft itself rebranded Visual Studio Code Online to Visual Studio Codespaces a week ago — and GitHub is essentially taking the same concepts and technology and is now integrating it directly inside its service. If you’ve seen VS Online/Codespaces before, the GitHub environment will look very similar.

Contributing code to a community can be hard. Every repository has its own way of configuring a dev environment, which often requires dozens of steps before you can write any code,” writes Shanku Niyogi, GitHub’s SVP of Product, in today’s announcement. “Even worse, sometimes the environment of two projects you are working on conflict with one another. GitHub Codespaces gives you a fully-featured cloud-hosted dev environment that spins up in seconds, directly within GitHub, so you can start contributing to a project right away.”

Currently, GitHub Codespaces is in beta and available for free. The company hasn’t set any pricing for the service once it goes live, but Niyogi says the pricing will look similar to that of GitHub Actions, where it charges for computationally intensive tasks like builds. Microsoft currently charges VS Codespaces users by the hour and depending on the kind of virtual machine they are using.

The other major new feature the company is announcing today is GitHub Discussions. These are essentially discussion forums for a given project. While GitHub already allowed for some degree of conversation around code through issues and pull requests, Discussions are meant to enable unstructured threaded conversations. They also lend themselves to Q&As, and GitHub notes that they can be a good place for maintaining FAQs and other documents.

Currently, Discussions are in beta for open-source communities and will be available for other projects soon.

On the security front, GitHub is also announcing two new features: code scanning and secret scanning. Code scanning checks your code for potential security vulnerabilities. It’s powered by CodeQL and free for open-source projects. Secret scanning is now available for private repositories (a similar feature has been available for public projects since 2018). Both of these features are part of GitHub Advanced Security.

As for GitHub’s enterprise customers, the company today announced the launch of Private Instances, a new fully managed service for enterprise customers that want to use GitHub in the cloud but know that their code is fully isolated from the rest of the company’s users. “Private Instances provides enhanced security, compliance, and policy features including bring-your-own-key encryption, backup archiving, and compliance with regional data sovereignty requirements,” GitHub explains in today’s announcement.

Mar
03
2020
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Stack Overflow expands its Teams service with new integrations

Most developers think of Stack Overflow as a question and answer site for their programming questions. But over the last few years, the company has also built a successful business in its Stack Overflow for Teams product, which essentially offers companies a private version of its Q&A product. Indeed, the Teams product now brings in a significant amount of revenue for the company and the new executive team at Stack Overflow is betting that it can help the company grow rapidly in the years to come.

To make Teams even more attractive to businesses, the company today launched a number of new integrations with Jira (Enterprise and Business), GitHub (Enterprise and Business) and Microsoft Teams (Enterprise). These join existing integrations with Slack, Okta and the Business tier of Microsoft Teams.

“I think the integrations that we have been building are reflective of that developer workflow and all of the number of tools that someone who is building and leveraging technology has to interact with,” Stack Overflow Chief Product Officer Teresa Dietrich told me. “When we think about integrations, we think about the vertical right, and I think that ‘developer workflow’ is one of those industry verticals that we’re thinking about. ChatOps is obviously another one, as you can see from our Slack and Teams integration. And the JIRA and GitHub [integrations] that we’re building are really at the core of a developer workflow.”

Current Stack Overflow for Teams customers include the likes of Microsoft, Expensify and Wix. As the company noted, 65 percent of its existing Teams customers use GitHub, so it’s no surprise that it is building out this integration.

Feb
28
2020
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Superhuman CEO Rahul Vohra on waitlists, freemium pricing and future products

The “Sent via Superhuman iOS” email signature has become one of the strangest flexes in the tech industry, but its influence is enduring, as the $30 per month invite-only email app continues to shape how a wave of personal productivity startups are building their business and product strategies.

I had a chance to chat with Superhuman CEO and founder Rahul Vohra earlier this month during an oddly busy time for him. He had just announced a dedicated $7 million angel fund with his friend Todd Goldberg (which I wrote up here) and we also noted that LinkedIn is killing off Sales Navigator, a feature driven by Rapportive, which Vohra founded and later sold in 2012. All the while, his buzzy email company is plugging along, amassing more interested users. Vohra tells me there are now more than 275,000 people on the waitlist for Superhuman.

Below is a chunk of my conversation with Vohra, which has been edited for length and clarity.


TechCrunch: When you go out to raise funding and a chunk of your theoretical user base is sitting on a waitlist, is it a little tougher to determine the total market for your product?

Rahul Vohra: That’s a good question. When we were doing our Series B, it was very easily answered because we’re one of a cohort of companies, that includes Notion and Airtable and Figma, where the addressable market — assuming you can build a product that’s good enough — is utterly enormous.

With my last company, Rapportive, there was a lot of conversation around, “oh, what’s the business model? What’s the market? How many people need this?” This almost never came up in any fundraising conversation. People were more like, “well, if this thing works, obviously the market is basically all of prosumer productivity and that is, no matter how you define it, absolutely huge.”

Feb
28
2020
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Superhuman CEO Rahul Vohra on waitlists, freemium pricing and future products

The “Sent via Superhuman iOS” email signature has become one of the strangest flexes in the tech industry, but its influence is enduring, as the $30 per month invite-only email app continues to shape how a wave of personal productivity startups are building their business and product strategies.

I had a chance to chat with Superhuman CEO and founder Rahul Vohra earlier this month during an oddly busy time for him. He had just announced a dedicated $7 million angel fund with his friend Todd Goldberg (which I wrote up here) and we also noted that LinkedIn is killing off Sales Navigator, a feature driven by Rapportive, which Vohra founded and later sold in 2012. All the while, his buzzy email company is plugging along, amassing more interested users. Vohra tells me there are now more than 275,000 people on the waitlist for Superhuman.

Below is a chunk of my conversation with Vohra, which has been edited for length and clarity.


TechCrunch: When you go out to raise funding and a chunk of your theoretical user base is sitting on a waitlist, is it a little tougher to determine the total market for your product?

Rahul Vohra: That’s a good question. When we were doing our Series B, it was very easily answered because we’re one of a cohort of companies, that includes Notion and Airtable and Figma, where the addressable market — assuming you can build a product that’s good enough — is utterly enormous.

With my last company, Rapportive, there was a lot of conversation around, “oh, what’s the business model? What’s the market? How many people need this?” This almost never came up in any fundraising conversation. People were more like, “well, if this thing works, obviously the market is basically all of prosumer productivity and that is, no matter how you define it, absolutely huge.”

Dec
05
2019
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Design may be the next entrepreneurial gold rush

Ten years ago, the vast majority of designers were working in Adobe Photoshop, a powerful tool with fine-tuned controls for almost every kind of image manipulation one could imagine. But it was a tool built for an analog world focused on photos, flyers and print magazines; there were no collaborative features, and much more importantly for designers, there were no other options.

Since then, a handful of major players have stepped up to dominate the market alongside the behemoth, including InVision, Sketch, Figma and Canva.

And with the shift in the way designers fit into organizations and the way design fits into business overall, the design ecosystem is following the same path blazed by enterprise SaaS companies in recent years. Undoubtedly, investors are ready to place their bets in design.

But the question still remains over whether the design industry will follow in the footprints of the sales stack — with Salesforce reigning as king and hundreds of much smaller startup subjects serving at its pleasure — or if it will go the way of the marketing stack, where a lively ecosystem of smaller niche players exist under the umbrella of a handful of major, general-use players.

“Deca-billion-dollar SaaS categories aren’t born everyday,” said InVision CEO Clark Valberg . “From my perspective, the majority of investors are still trying to understand the ontology of the space, while remaining sufficiently aware of its current and future economic impact so as to eagerly secure their foothold. The space is new and important enough to create gold-rush momentum, but evolving at a speed to produce the illusion of micro-categorization, which, in many cases, will ultimately fail to pass the test of time and avoid inevitable consolidation.”

I spoke to several notable players in the design space — Sketch CEO Pieter Omvlee, InVision CEO Clark Valberg, Figma CEO Dylan Field, Adobe Product Director Mark Webster, InVision VP and former VP of Design at Twitter Mike Davidson, Sequoia General Partner Andrew Reed and FirstMark Capital General Partner Amish Jani — and asked them what the fierce competition means for the future of the ecosystem.

But let’s first back up.

Past

Sketch launched in 2010, offering the first viable alternative to Photoshop. Made for design and not photo-editing with a specific focus on UI and UX design, Sketch arrived just as the app craze was picking up serious steam.

A year later, InVision landed in the mix. Rather than focus on the tools designers used, it concentrated on the evolution of design within organizations. With designers consolidating from many specialties to overarching positions like product and user experience designers, and with the screen becoming a primary point of contact between every company and its customers, InVision filled the gap of collaboration with its focus on prototypes.

If designs could look and feel like the real thing — without the resources spent by engineering — to allow executives, product leads and others to weigh in, the time it takes to bring a product to market could be cut significantly, and InVision capitalized on this new efficiency.

In 2012, came Canva, a product that focused primarily on non-designers and folks who need to ‘design’ without all the bells and whistles professionals use. The thesis: no matter which department you work in, you still need design, whether it’s for an internal meeting, an external sales deck, or simply a side project you’re working on in your personal time. Canva, like many tech firms these days, has taken its top-of-funnel approach to the enterprise, giving businesses an opportunity to unify non-designers within the org for their various decks and materials.

In 2016, the industry felt two more big shifts. In the first, Adobe woke up, realized it still had to compete and launched Adobe XD, which allowed designers to collaborate amongst themselves and within the organization, not unlike InVision, complete with prototyping capabilities. The second shift was the introduction of a little company called Figma.

Where Sketch innovated on price, focus and usability, and where InVision helped evolve design’s position within an organization, Figma changed the game with straight-up technology. If Github is Google Drive, Figma is Google Docs. Not only does Figma allow organizations to store and share design files, it actually allows multiple designers to work in the same file at one time. Oh, and it’s all on the web.

In 2018, InVision started to move up stream with the launch of Studio, a design tool meant to take on the likes of Adobe and Sketch and, yes, Figma.

Present

When it comes to design tools in 2019, we have an embarrassment of riches, but the success of these players can’t be fully credited to the products themselves.

A shift in the way businesses think about digital presence has been underway since the early 2000s. In the not-too-distant past, not every company had a website and many that did offered a very basic site without much utility.

In short, designers were needed and valued at digital-first businesses and consumer-facing companies moving toward e-commerce, but very early-stage digital products, or incumbents in traditional industries had a free pass to focus on issues other than design. Remember the original MySpace? Here’s what Amazon looked like when it launched.

In the not-too-distant past, the aesthetic bar for internet design was very, very low. That’s no longer the case.

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