Sep
09
2021
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Nuula raises $120M to build out a financial services ‘super app’ aimed at SMBs

A Canadian startup called Nuula that is aiming to build a super app to provide a range of financial services to small and medium businesses has closed $120 million of funding, money that it will use to fuel the launch of its app and first product, a line of credit for its users.

The money is coming in the form of $20 million in equity from Edison Partners, and a $100 million credit facility from funds managed by the Credit Group of Ares Management Corporation.

The Nuula app has been in a limited beta since June of this year. The plan is to open it up to general availability soon, while also gradually bringing in more services, some built directly by Nuula itself but many others following an embedded finance strategy: business banking, for example, will be a service provided by a third party and integrated closely into the Nuula app to be launched early in 2022. Alongside that, the startup will also be making liberal use of APIs to bring in other white-label services, such as B2B and customer-focused payment services, starting first in the U.S. and then expanding to Canada and the U.K. before expanding further into countries across Europe.

Current products include cash flow forecasting, personal and business credit score monitoring, and customer sentiment tracking; and monitoring of other critical metrics including financial, payments and e-commerce data are all on the roadmap.

“We’re building tools to work in a complementary fashion in the app,” CEO Mark Ruddock said in an interview. “Today, businesses can project if they are likely to run out of money, and monitor their credit scores. We keep an eye on customers and what they are saying in real time. We think it’s necessary to surface for SMBs the metrics that they might have needed to get from multiple apps, all in one place.”

Nuula was originally a side-project at BFS, a company that focused on small business lending, where the company started to look at the idea of how to better leverage data to build out a wider set of services addressing the same segment of the market. BFS grew to be a substantial business in its own right (and it had raised its own money to that end, to the tune of $184 million from Edison and Honeywell). Over time, it became apparent to management that the data aspect, and this concept of a super app, would be key to how to grow the business, and so it pivoted and rebranded earlier this year, launching the beta of the app after that.

Nuula’s ambitions fall within a bigger trend in the market. Small and medium enterprises have shaped up to be a huge business opportunity in the world of fintech in the last several years. Long ignored in favor of building solutions either for the giant consumer market, or the lucrative large enterprise sector, SMBs have proven that they want and are willing to invest in better and newer technology to run their businesses, and that’s leading to a rush of startups and bigger tech companies bringing services to the market to cater to that.

Super apps are also a big area of interest in the world of fintech, although up to now a lot of what we’ve heard about in that area has been aimed at consumers — just the kind of innovation rut that Nuula is trying to get moving.

“Despite the growth in services addressing the SMB sector, overall it still lacks innovation compared to consumer or enterprise services,” Ruddock said. “We thought there was some opportunity to bring new thinking to the space. We see this as the app that SMBs will want to use everyday, because we’ll provide useful tools, insights and capital to power their businesses.”

Nuula’s priority to build the data services that connect all of this together is very much in keeping with how a lot of neobanks are also developing services and investing in what they see as their unique selling point. The theory goes like this: banking services are, at the end of the day, the same everywhere you go, and therefore commoditized, and so the more unique value-added for companies will come from innovating with more interesting algorithms and other data-based insights and analytics to give more power to their users to make the best use of what they have at their disposal.

It will not be alone in addressing that market. Others building fintech for SMBs include Selina, ANNA, Amex’s Kabbage (an early mover in using big data to help loan money to SMBs and build other financial services for them), Novo, Atom Bank, Xepelin and Liberis, biggies like Stripe, Square and PayPal, and many others.

The credit product that Nuula has built so far is a taster of how it hopes to be a useful tool for SMBs, not just another place to get money or manage it. It’s not a direct loaning service, but rather something that is closely linked to monitoring a customers’ incomings and outgoings and only prompts a credit line (which directly links into the users’ account, wherever it is) when it appears that it might be needed.

“Innovations in financial technology have largely democratized who can become the next big player in small business finance,” added Gary Golding, General Partner, Edison Partners. “By combining critical financial performance tools and insights into a single interface, Nuula represents a new class of financial services technology for small business, and we are excited by the potential of the firm.”

“We are excited to be working with Nuula as they build a unique financial services resource for small businesses and entrepreneurs,” said Jeffrey Kramer, Partner and Head of ABS in the Alternative Credit strategy of the Ares Credit Group, in a statement. “The evolution of financial technology continues to open opportunities for innovation and the emergence of new industry participants. We look forward to seeing Nuula’s experienced team of technologists, data scientists and financial service veterans bring a new generation of small business financial services solutions to market.”

Apr
28
2021
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Atlassian’s in-house incubator lets employees put their product ideas to work

Every company wants to maintain that initial spark it had when it was an early stage startup, but keeping that going as you scale into a public company isn’t always easy. Atlassian is taking a unique approach by opening up product ideas to an internal competition, and actually funding and building the best ones with the goal of bringing them to market.

Steve Goldsmith, who is heading up the project for Atlassian says that it’s an in-house startup incubator called Point A. The company wants to encourage employees to be constantly thinking about new ways to improve the products. And every employee is encouraged to participate, not just engineers or product managers, as my might think.

“Point A is our internal framework for turning ideas into products. It’s our way of finding the innovation that’s happening all over the company, and giving a process and framework for those ideas to reach the maturity of actually becoming products that we offer to our customers,” Goldsmith told me.

He says that like many companies they hold internal hackathons and other events where many times employees come up with creative concepts for products, but they tend to get put on a shelf after the event is over and never get looked at again. With Point A, they can actually compete to put their experiments to work and see if they are actually viable.

“So we think of Point A as a way of finding all those different ideas and prototypes and concepts that people have in their brains or on the side of their desk kind of thing, and giving a process and a structure for those ideas to get out the door, and really invest in the ones that have some traction,” Goldsmith said.

He says by providing an official internal process to vet and maybe fund some of them, people inside the organization know that their proposals are being heard and they have a mechanism for submitting them, and the company has a way of seeing them.

The company launched Point A in 2019 looking at 35 possible projects, and testing them as possible products. Last January, they chose 9 that made the final cut and 4 turned into actual products and made it out the door this week including the Jira Work Management tool, which is being released today.

The next program is ready to roll with employees ready to present their ideas in a pitch day competition to get things going. “Our first class is graduating out of this program, and […] we start the process again. We actually just went through our big list of all the ideas to do it a second time, and we are doing a pitch day. It’s going t be a fun Shark Tank, The Voice kind of inspired [competition],” he said.

Company co-founders and co-CEOs Mike Cannon-Brookes and Scott Farquhar both participate in judging the competition, so it has executive buy-in giving more clout to the program and sending a message to employees that their ideas are being taken seriously.

The company provides funding, time away from your regular job, executive coaches and combines that with customer collaboration and early founder involvement with the goal of finding a scalable, repeatable process with defined phases that helps teams take the most innovative ideas from concept to customer.

Some make it. Some don’t as you might expect, but so far the plan seems to be working and is successfully encouraging innovation from within, something every company should be trying to do.

Apr
23
2019
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Oracle turns to innovation hubs to drive cultural and business shift to cloud

Oracle was founded in 1977. While it’s not exactly GE or IBM, which date back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries respectively, it is old enough to be experiencing a fair bit of disruption in its own right. For a good part of its existence, it sold databases to some of the biggest companies in the world. But today, as the market changes and shifts from on-prem data centers to the cloud, how does a company like Oracle make that transition?

Of course, Oracle has been making the shift to the cloud for the last several years, but it would be fair to say that it came late. Plus, it takes more than building some data centers and pushing out some products to change a company the size of Oracle. The company leadership recognizes this, and has been thinking at the highest levels of the organization about how to, from a cultural and business perspective, successfully transform into a cloud company.

To that end, Oracle has opened five innovation hubs over the last several years, with locations in Austin, Texas; Reston, Va.; Burlington, Mass.; Bangalore, India and Santa Monica, Calif. What are these centers hoping to achieve, and how will it extend to the rest of the company the lessons learned? Those are big questions Oracle must answer to make some headway in the cloud market.

Understanding the problem

Oracle seems to understand it has to do something different to change market perception and its flagging market position. Synergy Research, a firm that tracks cloud market share, reports that the company is struggling.

“For cloud infrastructure services (IaaS, PaaS, hosted private cloud services) — Oracle has a 2 percent share,” John Dinsdale, chief analyst and managing director at Synergy told TechCrunch. He added, “It is a top-10 player, but it is nowhere near the scale of the leading cloud providers; and its market share has been steadily eroding.”

The news is a bit better when it comes SaaS. “Along with SAP, Oracle is one of the leaders in the ERP segment. But enterprise SaaS is much broader than ERP and across all of enterprise SaaS it is the No. 4-ranked provider behind Microsoft, Salesforce and Adobe. Oracle worldwide market share in Q4 was 6 percent,” Dinsdale said.

The company knows that it will take a vast shift to change from an organization that mostly sold software licenses and maintenance agreements. It pushed those hard, sometimes so hard that it left IT pros with a sour taste in their mouths. Today, with the cloud, the selling landscape has changed dramatically to a partnership model. The company knows that it must change, too. The question is, how?

That will take an entirely new approach to product development, sales and marketing; and the innovation hubs have become a kind of laboratory where engineers can experiment with more focused projects, and learn to present their ideas with goal of showing instead of telling customers what they can do.

And the young shall lead

One way to change the culture is to infuse it with fresh-thinking, smart young people, and that’s what Oracle is attempting to do with these centers, where they are hiring youthful engineers, many right out of college, to lead the change with the help of more seasoned Oracle executives.

They are looking for ways to rethink Oracle’s cloud products, to pull the services together into packages of useful tools that helped solve specific business problems, from prescription opioid abuse to predicting avocado yields. The idea isn’t just to have some section of the company where people work on dream projects. They want them to relate to real business problems that results, eventually, in actual sales and measurable results.

Hamza Jahangir, group vice president for the cloud solution hubs at Oracle, says they look for people who want to dig into new solutions, but they want a practical streak in their innovation hub hires. “We don’t want just tinkerers. If the only problem you’re solving is that of your own boredom, that’s not the type of person we are looking for,” he said.

Executive buy-in

The idea of the innovation center actually began with CEO Mark Hurd, according to Jahangir. He had been working for several years to change the nature of the sales force, the one that had a reputation of strong-arming IT pros, with a new generation, by hiring people right out of college with a fresh approach.

Hurd didn’t want to stop with sales, though. He began looking at taking that same idea of hiring younger employees to drive that cultural shift in engineering, too. “About two years ago, Mark challenged us to think about how can we change the customer-facing tech workforce as the business model was moving to the cloud,” Jahangir said.

Hurd gave him some budget to open the first two centers in Austin and Reston and he began experimenting, trying to find the right kinds of employees and projects to work on. The funding came without of a lot of strings or conditions associated with it. Hurd wanted to see what could happen if they unleashed a new generation of workers and gave them a certain amount of freedom to work differently than the traditional way of working at Oracle.

Changing expectations

Jahangir was very frank when it came to assessing customer’s expectations around Oracle moving to the cloud. There has been a lot of skepticism, and part of the reason for the innovation centers was to find practical solutions that could show customers that they actually had modern approaches to computing, given a chance.

The general customer stance has been, “We don’t believe you have anything real, and we need to see true value realized by us before we pay you any money,” he said. That took a fundamental shift to focusing on actual solutions. It started with the premise that the customers shouldn’t believe any of the marketing stuff. Instead, it would show them.

“Don’t bother watching a PowerPoint presentation. Ask us to show you real solutions and use cases where we have solved real material problems — and then we can have a discussion.”

Even chairman and company founder Larry Ellison recognizes the relationship and selling model needed to change as the company moves to the cloud. Jahangir relayed something he said in a recent internal meeting, “In the cloud we are now no longer selling giant monolithic software. Instead we are selling small bites of the apple. The relationship between the vendor and the buyer is becoming more like a consumer model.” That in turn requires a new way of selling and delivering solutions, precisely what they are trying to figure out at the innovation hubs.

Putting the idea to work

Once you have a new way of thinking, you have to put it to work, and as the company has created these various hubs, that has been the approach. As an example, one that isn’t necessarily original, but that puts Oracle features together in a practical way, is the connected patient. The patient wears a Fitbit-like monitor and uses a smart blood pressure cuff and a smart pill box.

The patient can then monitor his or her own health with these tools in a consolidated mobile application that pulls this data together for them using the Internet of Things cloud service, Oracle Mobile Cloud and Oracle Integration Cloud. What’s more, that information gets shared with the patient’s pharmacy and doctor, who can monitor the patient’s health and get warnings when there is a serious issue, such as dangerously high blood pressure.

Another project involved a partnership with Waypoint Robotics, where they demonstrated a robot that worked alongside human workers. The humans interacted with the robots, but the robot moved the goods from workstation to workstation, acting as a quality control agent along the way. If it found defects or problems, it communicated that to the worker via a screen on the side of the unit, and to the cloud. Every interaction between the humans, goods and robot was updated in the Oracle cloud.

Waypoint Robotics robot inspecting iPhones. Information on the display shows it communicating with the Oracle cloud. Photo: Ron Miller

One other project worked with farmers and distributors to help stores stay stocked with avocados, surely as good a Gen Z project as you are likely to find. The tool looks at weather data, historical sales and information coming from sensors at the farm, and it combines all of that data to make predictions about avocado yields, making use of Oracle Autonomous Data Warehouse, Oracle Analytics Cloud and other services from the Oracle cloud stack.

Moving beyond the hubs

This type of innovation hub has become popular in recent years as a way to help stave off disruption, and Oracle’s approach is actually in line with this trend. While companies sometimes isolate these innovation hubs to protect them from negativity and naysayers in an organization, leaving them isolated often prevents the lessons learned from being applied to the broader organization at large, essentially defeating the very purpose of creating them in the first place.

Jahangir says that they are attempting to avoid that problem by meeting with others in the company and sharing their learnings and the kinds of metrics that they use in the innovation center to measure success, which might be different from the rest of the company.

He says to put Oracle on the customer agenda, they have to move the conversation from religious battles, as he calls how people support or condemn tech from certain companies. “We have to overcome religious battles and perceptions. I don’t like to fight religion with more religion. We need to step out of that conversation. The best way we have seen for engaging developer community is to show them how to build really cool things, then we can hire developers to do that, and showcase that to the community to show that it’s not just lip service.”

The trick will be doing that, and perhaps the innovation centers will help. As of today, the company is not sharing its cloud revenue, so it’s hard to measure just how well this is helping contribute to the overall success of the company. But Oracle clearly has a lot of work to do to change the perception of the enterprise buyer about its cloud products and services, and to increase its share of the growing cloud pie. It hopes these innovations hubs will lead the way to doing that.

Jahangir recognizes that he has to constantly keep adjusting the approach. “The hub model is still maturing. We are finding and solving new problems where we need new tooling and engagement models in the organization. We are still learning and evolving,” he said.

Nov
25
2017
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How bad decision making could undermine good innovation

 Here’s a scary thought for decision makers inside large organizations grappling with digital transformation. You can actually be innovative and have mechanisms in place to react to disruptive forces, and still get steamrolled as layers of internal management turn your creative ideas into something unrecognizable. Kodak is a company that’s always held up as the poster child for… Read More

Sep
20
2017
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Our favorite pitches from Alchemist Accelerator’s 16th batch

 Alchemist Accelerator, known for its specialty in working with enterprise startups, held its 16th demo day at Microsoft’s offices in Mountain View, California. 18 startups pitched ideas ranging from more traditional marketplaces to frontier aerospace technology. Addressing the packed auditorium before the pitches began, Ravi Belani, managing partner at Alchemist, reasserted his core… Read More

Sep
20
2017
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Jul
04
2017
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Outside of AI, companies are doing less research and more development

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Apr
04
2017
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Pluto AI raises $2.1 million to bring intelligence to water treatment

 Former 500 Startups accelerator company Pluto AI is announcing $2.1 million in fundraising today from Fall Line Capital, Refactor Capital, Unshackled Ventures, Comet Labs and additional angels. Pluto is taking advantage of the sensorification of modern water treatment plants to extrapolate insights that can save operators precious time, money and water. Read More

Aug
11
2015
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In The Age of Disruption, Customer Love Is More Important Than Ever

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May
31
2015
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Labs And Incubators Fuel Enterprise Innovation

Group of people working around a computer inside incubation space at Fidelity Labs. Change doesn’t come easily to large organizations. Over time they have established a firm set of core business processes to give  them the structure to manage massive workforces, which makes sense, but it also means they lack the agility of smaller companies. They have created systems to provide safe and effective ways of doing business, which protects companies from chaotic… Read More

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