Jul
05
2019
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A 23-year-old B2B company has shown how keen India is for tech IPOs

Away from the limelight of the press and the frenzy of fundraising, a tech startup in India has achieved a feat that few of its peers have managed: going public.

IndiaMART, the country’s largest online platform for selling products directly to businesses, raised nearly $70 million in a rare tech IPO for India this week.

The milestone for the 23-year-old firm is so uncommon for India’s otherwise burgeoning startup ecosystem that, beyond being over-subscribed 36 times, pent up demand for IndiaMART’s stock saw its share price pop 40% on its first day of trading on National Stock Exchange on Thursday — a momentum that it sustained on Friday.

The stock ended Friday at Rs 1326 ($19.3), compared to its issue price of Rs 973 ($14.2).

IndiaMART is the first business-to-business e-commerce firm to go public in India. Its IPO also marks the first listing for a firm following the May reelection of Narendra Modi as the nation’s Prime Minister and the months-long drought that led to it.

Accounting firm EY said it expects more companies from India to follow suit and file for IPO in the coming months.

“Now that national elections are over and favorable results secured, IPO activity is expected to gain momentum in H2 2019 (second half of the year). Companies that had filed their offer documents with the Indian stock markets regulator during H2 2018 and Q1 2019 may finally come to market in the months ahead,” it said in a statement (PDF).

IndiaMART’s origin

The fireworks of the IPO are just as impressive as IndiaMART’s journey.

The startup was founded in 1996 and for the first 13 years, it focused on exports to customers abroad, but it has since modernized its business following the wave of the internet.

“The thesis was, in 1996, there were no computers or internet in India. The information about India’s market to the West was very limited,” Dinesh Agarwal, co-founder and CEO of IndiaMART, told TechCrunch in an interview.

Until 2008, IndiaMART was fully bootstrapped and profitable with $10 million in revenue, Agarwal said. But things started to dramatically change in that year.

“The Indian rupee became very strong against the dollar, which dwindled the exports business. This is also when the stock market was collapsing in the West, which further hurt the exports demand,” he explained.

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Dinesh Agarwal, founder and CEO of IndiaMart.com, poses for a profile shot on July 29, 2015 in Noida, India.

By this time, millions of people in India were on the internet and, with tens of millions of people owning a feature phone, the conditions of the market had begun to shift towards digital.

“This is when we decided to pursue a completely different path. We started to focus on the domestic market,” Agarwal said.

Over the last 10 years, IndiaMART has become the largest e-commerce platform for businesses with about 60% market share, according to research firm KPMG. It handles 97,000 product categories — ranging from machine parts, medical equipment and textile products to cranes — and has amassed 83 million buyers and 5.5 million suppliers from thousands of towns and cities of India.

According to the most recent data published by the Indian government, there are about 50 to 60 million small and medium-sized businesses in India, but only around 10 million of them have any presence on the web. Some 97% of the top 50 companies listed on National Stock Exchange use IndiaMART’s services, Agarwal said.

That’s not to say that the transition to the current day was a straightforward process for the company. IndiaMART tried to capitalize on its early mover advantage with a stream of new services which ultimately didn’t reap the desired rewards.

In 2002, it launched a travel portal for businesses. A year later, it launched a business verification service. It also unveiled a payments platform called ABCPayments. None of these services worked and the firm quickly moved on.

Part of IndiaMART’s success story is its firm leadership and how cautiously it has raised and spent its money, Rajesh Sawhney, a serial angel investor who sits on IndiaMART’s board, told TechCrunch in an interview.

IndiaMART, which employs about 4,000 people, is operationally profitable as of the financial year that ended in March this year. It clocked some $82 million in revenue in the year. It has raised about $32 million to date from Intel Capital, Amadeus Capital Partners and Quona Capital. (Notably, Agarwal said that he rejected offers from VCs for a very long time.)

The firm makes most of its revenue from subscriptions it sells to sellers. A subscription gives a seller a range of benefits including getting featured on storefronts.

Where the industry stands

There are only a handful of internet companies in India that have gone public in the last decade. Online travel service MakeMyTrip went public in 2010. Software firm Intellect Design Arena and e-commerce store Koovs listed in 2014, then travel portal Yatra and e-commerce firm Infibeam followed two years later.

India has consistently attracted billions of dollars in funding in recent years and produced many unicorns. Those include Flipkart, which was acquired by Walmart last year for $16 billion, Paytm, which has raised more than $2 billion to date, Swiggy, which has bagged $1.5 billion to date, Zomato, which has raised $750 million, and relatively new entrant Byju’s — but few of them are nearing profitability and most likely do not see an IPO in their immediate future.

In that context, IndiaMART may set a benchmark for others to follow.

“The fact that we have a homegrown digital commerce business, serving both the urban and smaller cities, and having struggled and been around for so long building a very difficult business and finally going public in the local exchange is a phenomenal story,” Ganesh Rengaswamy, a partner at Quona Capital, told TechCrunch in an interview. “It keeps the story of India tech, to the Western world, going.”

Generally, it is agreed that there are too few IPOs in India and the industry can benefit from momentum and encouragement of high profile and successful public listings.

“There is a firm consensus that in India, markets will prefer only the IPOs of companies that are profitable. And investors in India might not value those companies. Both of these issues are being addressed by IndiaMART,” said Sawhney.

“We need 30 to 40 more IPOs. This will also mean that the stock market here has matured and understands the tech stocks and how it is different from other consumer stocks they usually handle. More tech companies going public would also pave the way for many to explore stock exchanges outside of India.

“Indian market is ready for more tech stocks. We just need to get more companies to go out there,” Sawhney added, although he did predict that it will take a few years before the vast majority of leading startups are ready for the public market.

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The Indian government, for its part, this week announced a number of incentives to uplift the “entrepreneurial spirit” in the nation.

Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman said the government would ease foreign direct investment rules for certain sectors — including e-commerce, food delivery, grocery — and improve the digital payments ecosystem. Sitharaman, who is the first woman to hold this position in India, said the government would also launch a TV program to help startups connect with venture capitalists.

The path ahead for IndiaMART

IndiaMART has managed to build a sticky business that compels more than 55% of its customers to come back to the platform and make another transaction within 90 days, Agarwal — its CEO — said. With some 3,500 of its 4,000 employees classified as sales executives, the company is aggressive in its pursuit of new customers. Moving forward, that will remain one of its biggest focuses, according to Agarwal.

“Most of our time still goes into educating MSMEs on how to use the internet. That was a challenge 20 years ago and it remains a challenge today,” he told TechCrunch.

In recent years, IndiaMART has begun to expand its suite of offerings to its business customers in a bid to increase the value they get from its platform and thus increase their reliance on its service.

IndiaMART has built a customer relationship management (CRM) tool so that customers need not rely on spreadsheets or other third-party services.

“We will continue to explore more SaaS offerings and look into solving problems in accounting, invoice management and other areas,” said Agarwal.

The firm also recently started to offer payment facilitation between buyers and sellers through a PayPal -like escrow system.

“This will bridge the trust gap between the entities and improve an MSME’s ability to accept all kinds of payment options including the new age offerings.”

There’s an elephant in the room, however.

A bigger challenge that looms for IndiaMART is the growing interest of Amazon and Walmart in the business-to-business space. Several startups including Udaan — which has raised north of $280 million from DST Global and Lightspeed Venture Partners — have risen up in recent years and are increasingly expanding their operations. Agarwal did not seem much worried, however, telling TechCrunch that he believes that his prime competition is more focused on B2C and serving niche audiences. Besides he has $100 million in the bank himself.

Indeed, as Quona Capital’s Rengaswamy astutely noted, competition is not new for IndiaMART — the company has survived and thrived more than two decades of it.

“Alibaba came and gave up,” he noted.

An important — and unanswered question — that follows the successful IPO is how IndiaMART’s stock will fare over the coming months. A glance to the U.S. — where hyped companies like Uber, Lyft and others have seen prices taper off — shows clearly that early demand and sustained stock performance are not one and the same.

Nobody knows at this point, and the added complexity at play is that the concept of a tech IPO is so uncommon in India that there is no definitive answer to it… yet. But IndiaMART’s biggest achievement may be that it sets the pathway that many others will follow.

Apr
02
2019
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Pixeom raises $15M for its software-defined edge computing platform

Pixeom, a startup that offers a software-defined edge computing platform to enterprises, today announced that it has raised a $15 million funding round from Intel Capital, National Grid Partners and previous investor Samsung Catalyst Fund. The company plans to use the new funding to expand its go-to-market capacity and invest in product development.

If the Pixeom name sounds familiar, that may be because you remember it as a Raspberry Pi-based personal cloud platform. Indeed, that’s the service the company first launched back in 2014. It quickly pivoted to an enterprise model, though. As Pixeom CEO Sam Nagar told me, that pivot came about after a conversation the company had with Samsung about adopting its product for that company’s needs. In addition, it was also hard to find venture funding. The original Pixeom device allowed users to set up their own personal cloud storage and other applications at home. While there is surely a market for these devices, especially among privacy-conscious tech enthusiasts, it’s not massive, especially as users became more comfortable with storing their data in the cloud. “One of the major drivers [for the pivot] was that it was actually very difficult to get VC funding in an industry where the market trends were all skewing towards the cloud,” Nagar told me.

At the time of its launch, Pixeom also based its technology on OpenStack, the massive open-source project that helps enterprises manage their own data centers, which isn’t exactly known as a service that can easily be run on a single machine, let alone a low-powered one. Today, Pixeom uses containers to ship and manage its software on the edge.

What sets Pixeom apart from other edge computing platforms is that it can run on commodity hardware. There’s no need to buy a specific hardware configuration to run the software, unlike Microsoft’s Azure Stack or similar services. That makes it significantly more affordable to get started and allows potential customers to reuse some of their existing hardware investments.

Pixeom brands this capability as “software-defined edge computing” and there is clearly a market for this kind of service. While the company hasn’t made a lot of waves in the press, more than a dozen Fortune 500 companies now use its services. With that, the company now has revenues in the double-digit millions and its software manages more than a million devices worldwide.

As is so often the case in the enterprise software world, these clients don’t want to be named, but Nagar tells me they include one of the world’s largest fast food chains, for example, which uses the Pixeom platform in its stores.

On the software side, Pixeom is relatively cloud agnostic. One nifty feature of the platform is that it is API-compatible with Google Cloud Platform, AWS and Azure and offers an extensive subset of those platforms’ core storage and compute services, including a set of machine learning tools. Pixeom’s implementation may be different, but for an app, the edge endpoint on a Pixeom machine reacts the same way as its equivalent endpoint on AWS, for example.

Until now, Pixeom mostly financed its expansion — and the salary of its more than 90 employees — from its revenue. It only took a small funding round when it first launched the original device (together with a Kickstarter campaign). Technically, this new funding round is part of this, so depending on how you want to look at this, we’re either talking about a very large seed round or a Series A round.

Feb
04
2019
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Chicago RPA startup Catalytic hauls in $30M Series B

Robotics process automation (RPA) is as hot as any enterprise technology at the moment, as companies look for ways to marry their legacy systems with a more modern flavor of automation. Catalytic, a startup from the Midwest, is putting its own flavor on RPA, aiming at more unstructured data. Today it was rewarded with a $30 million Series B investment.

The investment was led by Intel Capital, with participation from Redline Capital and existing investors NEA, Boldstart and Hyde Park Angel. Today’s round brings the total raised to almost $42 million, according to the company.

RPA helps automate highly mundane processes. Sean Chou, Catalytic co-founder and CEO, says there are a couple of ways his company’s solution diverts from his competition, which includes companies like Blue Prism, Automation Anywhere and UIPath.

For starters, Chou says, his company’s solution concentrates on unstructured data, like pulling information from documents or emails using a variety of techniques, depending on requirements. It could be old-fashioned scanning and OCR or more modern natural language process (NLP) to “read” the document, depending on requirements.

It is designed like all RPA tools to take humans out of the loop when it comes to the most mundane business processes, but, as Chou says, his company wants human employees in the loop whenever needed, whether that’s exception processing or tasks that are simply too challenging to program at the moment.

The company launched in 2015 using money Chou had earned from the sale of his previous company, Fieldglass, which he had sold the previous year to SAP for more than $1 billion dollars. Fieldglass helped with outsourcing, and as Chou developed that company, he saw a growing problem around automating certain tedious business processes, especially when they touched legacy systems inside an organization. He raised $3.1 million in seed money from Boldstart Ventures in NYC in 2016 and began building out the product in earnest.

Today, Catalytic has a dozen customers, including Bosch, the German manufacturing conglomerate. It employs 60 people in its Chicago headquarters. While its investors come from the coasts, Catalytic is building a company in the heart of the Midwest, a part of the country that has often been left out of the startup economy.

With $30 million, Catalytic can begin expanding the number of employees, including helping service its large customers, building out it partner network with other software companies and systems integrators and bringing in more engineering talent to continue building out the product.

The product is offered on a subscription basis as a cloud service.

May
08
2018
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Intel Capital pumps $72M into AI, IoT, cloud and silicon startups, $115M invested so far in 2018

Intel Capital, the investment arm of the computer processor giant, is today announcing $72 million in funding for the 12 newest startups to enter its portfolio, bringing the total invested so far this year to $115 million. Announced at the company’s global summit currently underway in southern California, investments in this latest tranche cover artificial intelligence, Internet of Things, cloud services, and silicon. A detailed list is below.

Other notable news from the event included a new deal between the NBA and Intel Capital to work on more collaborations in delivering sports content, an area where Intel has already been working for years; and the news that Intel has now invested $125 million in startups headed by minorities, women and other under-represented groups as part of its Diversity Initiative. The mark was reached 2.5 years ahead of schedule, it said.

The range of categories of the startups that Intel is investing in is a mark of how the company continues to back ideas that it views as central to its future business — and specifically where it hopes its processors will play a central role, such as AI, IoT and cloud. Investing in silicon startups, meanwhile, is a sign of how Intel is also focusing on businesses that are working in an area that’s close to the company’s own DNA.

It’s hasn’t been a completely smooth road. Intel became a huge presence in the world of IT and early rise of desktop and laptop computers many years ago with its advances in PC processors, but its fortunes changed with the shift to mobile, which saw the emergence of a new wave of chip companies and designs for smaller and faster devices. Mobile is area that Intel itself acknowledged it largely missed out.

Later years have seen still other issues hit the company. For example, the Spectre security flaw (fixes for which are still being rolled out). And some of the business lines where Intel was hoping to make a mark have not panned out as it hoped they would. Just last month, Intel shut down development of its Vaunt smart glasses and reportedly the entirety of its new devices group.

The investments that Intel Capital makes, in contrast, are a fresher and more optimistic aspect of the company’s operations: they represent hopes and possibilities that still have everything to play for. And given that, on balance, things like AI and cloud services still have a long way to go before being truly ubiquitous, there remains a lot of opportunity for Intel.

“These innovative companies reflect Intel’s strategic focus as a data leader,” said Wendell Brooks, Intel senior vice president and president of Intel Capital, in a statement. “They’re helping shape the future of artificial intelligence, the future of the cloud and the Internet of Things, and the future of silicon. These are critical areas of technology as the world becomes increasingly connected and smart.”

Intel Capital since 1991 has put $12.3 billion into 1,530 companies covering everything from autonomous driving to virtual reality and e-commerce and says that more than 660 of these startups have gone public or been acquired. Intel has organised its investment announcements thematically before: last October, it announced $60 million in 15 big data startups.

Here’s a rundown of the investments getting announced today. Unless otherwise noted, the startups are based around Silicon Valley:

Avaamo is a deep learning startup that builds conversational interfaces based on neural networks to address problems in enterprises — part of the wave of startups that are focusing on non-consumer conversational AI solutions.

Fictiv has built a “virtual manufacturing platform” to design, develop and deliver physical products, linking companies that want to build products with manufacturers who can help them. This is a problem that has foxed many a startup (notable failures have included Factorli out of Las Vegas), and it will be interesting to see if newer advances will make the challenges here surmoutable.

Gamalon from Cambridge, MA, says it has built a machine learning platform to “teaches computers actual ideas.” Its so-called Idea Learning technology is able to order free-form data like chat transcripts and surveys into something that a computer can read, making the data more actionable. More from Ron here.

Reconova out of Xiamen, China is focusing on problems in visual perception in areas like retail, smart home and intelligent security.

Syntiant is an Irvine, CA-based AI semiconductor company that is working on ways of placing neural decision making on chips themselves to speed up processing and reduce battery consumption — a key challenge as computing devices move more information to the cloud and keep getting smaller. Target devices include mobile phones, wearable devices, smart sensors and drones.

Alauda out of China is a container-based cloud services provider focusing on enterprise platform-as-a-service solutions. “Alauda serves organizations undergoing digital transformation across a number of industries, including financial services, manufacturing, aviation, energy and automotive,” Intel said.

CloudGenix is a software-defined wide-area network startup, addressing an important area as more businesses take their networks and data into the cloud and look for cost savings. Intel says its customers use its broadband solutions to run unified communications and data center applications to remote offices, cutting costs by 70 percent and seeing big speed and reliability improvements.

Espressif Systems, also based in China, is a fabless semiconductor company, with its system-on-a-chip focused on IoT solutions.

VenueNext is a “smart venue” platform to deliver various services to visitors’ smartphones, providing analytics and more to the facility providing the services. Hospitals, sports stadiums and others are among its customers.

Lyncean Technologies is nearly 18 years old (founded in 2001) and has been working on something called Compact Light Source (CLS), which Intel describes as a miniature synchrotron X-ray source, which can be used for either extremely detailed large X-rays or very microscopic ones. This has both medical and security applications, making it a very timely business.

Movellus “develops semiconductor technologies that enable digital tools to automatically create and implement functionality previously achievable only with custom analog design.” Its main focus is creating more efficient approaches to designing analog circuits for systems on chips, needed for AI and other applications.

SiFive makes “market-ready processor core IP based on the RISC-V instruction set architecture,” founded by the inventors of RISC-V and led by a team of industry veterans.

Jan
16
2018
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Nyansa lands $15 million led by Intel Capital to grow user performance management

 Companies like New Relic and AppDynamics have been offering applications performance management solutions to help operations teams track external performance issues for years. Nyansa (pronounced ‘knee-ans-sah’) is bringing that kind of performance management to internal networks. Today, the company announced a $15 million Series B investment. The round was led by Intel Capital… Read More

Oct
19
2017
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Data is the name of the game, as Intel Capital puts $60M in 15 startups, $566M in 2017 overall

 Intel Capital, the investment arm of the processor giant, is today announcing its latest tranche of investments, a total of nearly $60 million going in to 15 startups that are working on solving different problems in the bigger area of big data (with a full rundown below). The investments come on the back of a big year for the group: In 2017 so far, Intel says that it’s invested $566… Read More

Sep
18
2017
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Matroid picks up $10M Series A to automate video stream monitoring

 As computer vision and object recognition technology continue to mature, we’re edging closer to automating away the exceedingly boring task of monitoring closed circuit TV cameras. Matroid is one of the startups leading the democratization of this variety of machine intelligence. The company is announcing a $10 million Series A this morning from NEA and Intel Capital that brings… Read More

Nov
18
2016
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French IoT startup Sigfox confirms €150M Series E at €600M valuation

sigfox-logo Sigfox, the IoT company based out of France that is building a dedicated, global network to connect, monitor and control devices like smart-home alarms, machinery, refrigerators and city streetlights, today confirmed that it has closed its latest round of funding, a Series E round of €150 million ($160 million). We broke the news of this round in October, noting it was likely to be… Read More

Aug
03
2016
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Panoply.io raises $7M Series A for its data analytics and warehousing platform

Panoply.io, a startup that wants to make setting up a data warehousing and analytics infrastructure as easy as spinning up an AWS server, today announced that it has raised a $7 million Series A round led by Intel Capital, with participation from previous investor Blumberg Capital. This follows Panoply’s $1.3 million seed round from late last year. Read More

Nov
10
2015
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Suddenly Every Company Is Becoming A Venture Capitalist

Person handing another person a stack of bills. It has often been said that every company is a software company or even a big data company, but as I attended the Intel Capital Global Summit last week, another thought occurred to me: every company is now also an investment company. The star of the show last week was Intel Capital of course, the venture arm of Intel Corporation, but it’s far from alone. Over dinner strictly by… Read More

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