Feb
18
2021
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Anthony Lin named permanent managing director and head of Intel Capital

When Wendell Brooks stepped down as managing partner and head of Intel Capital last August, Anthony Lin was named to replace him on an interim basis. At the time, it wasn’t clear if he would be given the role permanently, but today, six months later, the answer is known.

In a letter to the firm’s portfolio CEOs published on the company website, Lin mentioned, almost casually that he had taken on the two roles on a permanent basis. “Personally, I want to share that I have been appointed to managing partner and head of Intel Capital. I have been a member of the investment committee for the past several years and am humbly awed by the talent of our entrepreneurs and our team,” he wrote.

Lin takes over in a time of turmoil for Intel as the company struggles to regain its place in the semiconductor business that it dominated for decades. Meanwhile, Intel itself has a new CEO with Pat Gelsinger returning in January from VMware to lead the organization.

As the corporate investment arm of Intel, it looks for companies that can help the parent company understand where to invest resources in the future. If that is its goal, perhaps it hasn’t done a great job as Intel has lost some of its edge when it comes to innovation.

Lin, who was formerly head of mergers and acquisitions and international investing at the firm, can use the power of the firm’s investment dollars to try help point the parent company in the right direction and help find new ways to build innovative solutions on the Intel platform.

Lin acknowledged how challenging 2020 was for everyone, and his company was no exception, but the firm invested in 75 startups including 35 new deals and 40 deals involving companies it had previously invested in. It  has also made a commitment to invest in companies with more diverse founders. To that end, 30% of new venture stage dollars went to startups led by diverse leaders, according to Lin.

What’s more, the company made a five year commitment that 15% of all of its deals would go to companies with Black founders. It made some progress towards that goal, but there is still a ways to go. “At the end of 2020, 9% of our new venture deals and 15% of our venture dollars committed were in companies led by Black founders. We know there is more progress to be made and we will continue to encourage, foster and invest in diverse and inclusive teams,” he wrote.

Lin faces a big challenge ahead as he takes over a role that had the same leader for the first 28 years in Arvind Sodhani. His predecessor, Brooks, was there for five years. Now it passes to Lin and he needs to use the firm’s investment might to help Gelsinger advance the goals of the broader firm, while making sound investments.

Sep
22
2020
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EasySend raises $16M from Intel, more for its no-code approach to automating B2C interfaces

No-code and low-code software have become increasingly popular ways for companies — especially those that don’t count technology as part of their DNA — to bring in more updated IT processes without the heavy lifting needed to build and integrate services from the ground up.

As a mark of that trend, today, a company that has taken this approach to speeding up customer experience is announcing some funding. EasySend, an Israeli startup which has built a no-code platform for insurance companies and other regulated businesses to build out forms and other interfaces to take in customer information and subsequently use AI systems to process it more efficiently, is announcing that it has raised $16 million.

The funding has actually come in two tranches, a $5 million seed round from Vertex Ventures and Menora Insurance that it never disclosed, and another $11 million round that closed more recently, led by Hanaco with participation from Intel Capital. The company is already generating revenue, and did so from the start, enough that it was actually bootstrapped for the first three years of its life.

Tal Daskal, EasySend’s CEO and co-founder, said that the funding being announced today will be used to help it expand into more verticals: up to now its primary target has been insurance companies, although organically it’s picked up customers from a number of other verticals, such as telecoms carriers, banks and more.

The plan will be now to hone in on specifically marketing to and building solutions for the financial services sector, as well as hiring and expanding in Asia, Europe and the US.

Longer term, he said, that another area EasySend might like to look at more in the future is robotic process automation (RPA). RPA, and companies that deal in it like UIPath, Automation Anywhere and Blue Prism, is today focused on the back office, and EasySend’s focus on the “front office” integrates with leaders in that area. But over time, it would make sense for EasySend to cover this in a more holistic way, he added.

Menora was a strategic backer: it’s one of the largest insurance providers in Israel, Daskal said, and it used EasySend to build out better ways for consumers to submit data for claims and apply for insurance.

Intel, he said, is also strategic although how is still being worked out: what’s notable to mention here is that Intel has been building out a huge autonomous driving business in Israel, anchored by MobileEye, and not only will insurance (and overall risk management) play a big part in how that business develops, but longer term you can see how there will be a need for a lot of seamless customer interactions (and form filling) between would-be car owners, operators, and passengers in order for services to operate more efficiently.

Intel Capital chose to invest in EasySend because of its intelligent and impactful approach to accelerating digital transformation to improve customer experiences,” said Nick Washburn, senior managing director, Intel Capital, in a statement. “EasySend’s no-code platform utilizes AI to digitize thousands of forms quickly and easily, reducing development time from months to days, and transforming customer journeys that have been paper-based, inefficient and frustrating. In today’s world, this is more critical than ever before.”

The rise and persistence of Covid-19 globally has had a big, multi-faceted impact how we all do business, and two of those ways have fed directly into the growth of EasySend.

First, the move to remote working has given organizations a giant fillip to work on digital transformation, refreshing and replacing legacy systems with processes that work faster and rely on newer technologies.

Second, consumers have really reassessed their use of insurance services, specifically health and home policies, respectively to make sure they are better equipped in the event of a Covid-19-precipitated scare, and to make sure that they are adequately covered for how they now use their homes all hours of the day.

EasySend’s platform for building and running interfaces for customer experience fall directly into the kinds of apps and services that are being identified and updated, precisely at a time when its initial target customers, insurers, are seeing a surge in business. It’s that “perfect storm” of circumstances that the startup wouldn’t have wished on the world, but which has definitely helped it along.

While there are a lot of companies on the market today that help organizations automate and run their customer interaction processes, the Daskal said that EasySend’s focus on using AI to process information is what makes the startup more unique, as it can be used not just to run things, but to help improve how things work.

It’s not just about taking in character recognition and organizing data, it’s “understanding the business logic,” he said. “We have a lot of data and we can understand [for example] where customers left the process [when filling out forms]. We can give insights into how to increase the conversion rates.”

It’s that balance of providing tools to do business better today, as well as to focus on how to build more business for tomorrow, that has caught the eye of investors.

“Hanaco is firmly invested in building a digital future. By bridging the gap between manual processes and digitization, EasySend is making this not only possible, but also easy, affordable, and practical,” said Hanaco founding partner Alon Lifshitz, in a statement.

Aug
25
2020
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MIT CSAIL grad launches machine learning platform with $10M Series A

Manasi Vartak, founder and CEO of Verta, conceived of the idea of the open-source project ModelDB database as a way to track versions of machine models while she was still in grad school at MIT. After she graduated, she decided to expand on that vision to build a product that could not only track model versions, but provide a way to operationalize them — and Verta was born.

Today, that company emerged from stealth with a $10 million Series A led by Intel Capital with participation from General Catalyst, which also led the company’s $1.7 million seed round.

Beyond providing a place to track model versioning, which ModelDB gave users, Vartak wanted to build a platform for data scientists to deploy those models into production, which has been difficult to do for many companies. She also wanted to make sure that once in production, they were still accurately reflecting the current data and not working with yesterday’s playbook.

“Verta can track if models are still valid and send out alarms when model performance changes unexpectedly,” the company explained.

Verta interface

Image Credits: Verta

Vartak says having that open-source project helped sell the company to investors early on, and acts as a way to attract possible customers now. “So for our seed round, it was definitely different because I was raising as a solo founder, a first-time founder right out of school, and that’s where having the open-source project was a huge win,” she said.

Certainly Mark Rostick, VP and senior managing director at lead investor Intel Capital, recognized that Verta was trying to solve a fundamental problem around machine learning model production. “Verta is addressing one of the key challenges companies face when adopting AI — bridging the gap between data scientists and developers to accelerate the deployment of machine learning models,” Rostick said.

While Vartak wasn’t ready to talk about how many customers she has just yet at this early stage of the company, she did say there were companies using the platform and getting models into production much faster.

Today, the company has 9 employees, and even at this early stage, she is taking diversity very seriously. In fact, her current employee makeup includes four Indian, three Caucasian, one Latino and one Asian, for a highly diverse mix. Her goal is to continue on this path as she builds the company. She is looking at getting to 15 employees this year, then doubling that by next year.

One thing Vartak also wants to do is have a 50/50 gender split, something she was able to achieve while at MIT in her various projects, and she wants to carry on with her company. She is also working with a third party, Sweat Equity Ventures, to help with recruiting diverse candidates.

She says that she likes to work iteratively to build the platform, while experimenting with new features, even with her small team. Right now, that involves interoperability with different machine learning tools out there like Amazon SageMaker or Kubeflow, the open-source machine learning pipeline tool.

“We realized that we need to meet customers where they are at their level of maturity. So we focused a lot the last couple of quarters on building a system that was interoperable so you can pick and choose the components kind of like Lego blocks and have a system that works end to end seamlessly.”

Aug
18
2020
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Movable Ink raises $30M as it expands its personalization technology beyond email marketing

Movable Ink, a company that helps businesses deliver more personalized and relevant email marketing, is announcing that it has raised $30 million in Series C funding.

The company will be 10 years old in October, and founder and CEO Vivek Sharma told me that it’s always been “capital efficient” — even with the new round, Movable Ink has only raised a total of $39 million.

However, Sharma noted that with COVID-19, it felt like “a good idea to have some dry powder on our balance sheet … if things turned south.”

At the same time, he suggested that the pandemic’s impact has been more limited than he anticipated, and has been “really focused” on a few sectors like travel, hospitality and “old line retailers.”

“Those who are adopting to e-commerce really quickly have done well, financial services has done well, media has done well,” he said.

The company’s senior vice president of strategy Alison Lindland added that clients using Movable Ink were able to move much more quickly, with campaigns that would normally take months launching in just a few days.

“We really saw those huge, wholesale digital transformations in a time of duress,” Lindland said. “Obviously, large Fortune 500 companies were making difficult decisions, were putting vendors on hold, but email marketers are always the last people furloughed themselves, because of how critical email marketing is to their businesses. We were just as critical to their operations.”

Movable Ink Image

Image Credits: Movable Ink

The company said it now works with more than 700 brands, and in the run up to the 2020 election, its customers include the Democratic National Committee.

The new funding comes from Contour Venture Partners, Intel Capital and Silver Lake Waterman. Sharma said the money will be spent on three broad categories: “Platforms, partners and people.”

On the platform side, that means continuing to develop Movable Ink’s technology and expanding into new channels. He estimated that around 95% of Movable Ink’s revenue comes from email marketing, but he sees a big opportunity to grow the web and mobile side of the business.

“We take any data the brand has available to it and activate and translate it into really engaging creative,” he said, arguing that this approach is applicable in “every other channel where there’s pixels in front of the consumer’s eyes.”

The company also plans to make major investments into AI. Sharma said it’s too early to share details about those plans, but he pointed to the recent hire of Ashutosh Malaviya as the company’s vice president of artificial intelligence.

As for partners, the company has launched the Movable Ink Exchange, a marketplace for integrations with data partners like Oracle Commerce Cloud, MessageGears Engage, Trustpilot and Yopto.

And Movable Ink plans to expand its team, both through hiring and potential acquisitions. To that end, it has hired Katy Huber as its senior vice president of people.

Sharma also said that in light of the recent conversations about racial justice and diversity, the company has been looking at its own hiring practices and putting more formal measures in place to track its progress.

“We use OKRs to track other areas of the business, so if we don’t incorporate [diversity] into our business objectives, we’re only paying lip service,” he said. “For us, it was really important to not just have a big spike of interest, and instead save some of that energy so that it’s sustained into the future.”

Aug
07
2020
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Wendell Brooks has resigned as president of Intel Capital

When Wendell Brooks was promoted to president of Intel Capital, the investment arm of the chip giant, in 2015, he knew he had big shoes to fill. He was taking over from Arvind Sodhani, who had run the investment component for 28 years since its inception. Today, the company confirmed reports that Brooks has resigned that role.

Wendell Brooks has resigned from Intel to pursue other opportunities. We thank Wendell for all his contributions and wish him the best for the future,” a company spokesperson told TechCrunch in a rather bland send off.

Anthony Lin, who has been leading mergers and acquisitions and international investing, will take over on an interim basis. Interestingly, when Brooks was promoted, he too was in charge of mergers and acquisitions. Whether Lin keeps that role remains to be seen.

When I spoke to Brooks in 2015 as he was about to take over from Sodhani, he certainly sounded ready for the task at hand. “I have huge shoes to fill in maintaining that track record,” he said at the time. “I view it as a huge opportunity to grow the focus of organization where we can provide strategic value to portfolio companies.”

In that same interview, Brooks described his investment philosophy, saying he preferred to lead, rather than come on as a secondary investor. “I tend to think the lead investor is able to influence the business thesis, the route to market, the direction, the technology of a startup more than a passive investor,” he said. He added that it also tends to get board seats that can provide additional influence.

Comparing his firm to traditional VC firms, he said they were as good or better in terms of the investing record, and as a strategic investor brought some other advantages as well. “Some of the traditional VCs are focused on a company-building value. We can provide strategic guidance and complement some of the company building over other VCs,” he said.

Over the life of the firm, it has invested $12.9 billion in more than 1,500 companies, with 692 of those exiting via IPO or acquisition. Just this year, under Brooks’ leadership, the company has invested $225 million so far, including 11 new investments and 26 investments in companies already in the portfolio.

Apr
16
2020
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Anodot grabs $35M Series C to help monitor business operations

Anodot, a startup that helps customers monitor business operations against a set of KPIs, announced a $35 million Series C investment today.

Intel Capital led this round with a lot of help. New investors SoftBank Ventures Asia, Samsung NEXT and La Maison also participated along with existing investors Disruptive Technologies L.P., Aleph Venture Capital and Redline Capital. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $62.5 million, according to the company.

Anodot lets you take any kind of data, whatever your company finds important, and it tracks it automatically and reports on changes that would have an impact on the business, according to David Drai, CEO and co-founder.

“We take any kind of normalized data into our platform and learn all the behavior of the data against normal behavior. When I say normal behavior, it means any time-based data in what is called a time series. And we understand all the trends of that data, and we do this autonomously without any configuration, except defining what is interesting for you,” Drai explained.

That means that the platform will let you know, for example, of any drop in your business, any drop in your conversions, any spike in your costs — and so forth. What you track depends on your vertical and what’s important to your business.

He compares it to applications performance monitoring, but instead of monitoring the company’s technology systems, it’s monitoring the systems that run the business. Just as you don’t want to miss signals that your servers could be going down, neither do you want to let factors that could cost your business money go unnoticed.

This dashboard lets you monitor unusual changes in cloud costs. Image Credit: Anodot

The way it works is you connect to the systems that matter, and Anodot can review those systems, learn what constitutes a level of normal behavior, then identify when anomalies occur. It does this by mapping against your KPIs, and this can involve thousands or even tens of thousands of KPIs based on an individual company.

As Drai points out, an eCommerce company with 1000 products in 50 countries, will have 50,000 KPIs, one for each product in each country, and you can track these in Anodot.

He says that under the current economic conditions, he is taking a two-pronged approach to building his business involving both offense and defense. On defense, he will take a cautious approach to hiring, but he sees his product helping companies understand and control costs, so he will continue to sell the product as a cost-saving device at a time when that is of increasing importance to businesses everywhere.

The company was founded in 2014. It currently has 70 employees and 100 paying customers including Atlassian, T Mobile, Lyft and Pandora.

Feb
12
2020
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Model9 gets $9M Series A to move data between mainframes and cloud

Model9, an Israeli startup launched by mainframe vets, has come up with a way to transfer data between mainframe computers and the cloud, and today the company announced a $9 million Series A.

Intel Capital led the round with help from existing investors, including StageOne, North First Ventures and Glenrock Israel. The company reports it has now raised almost $13 million.

You may not realize it, but the largest companies in the world, like big banks, insurance companies, airlines and retailers, still use mainframes. These companies require the massive transaction processing capabilities of these stalwart machines, but find it’s difficult to get the valuable data out for more modern analytics capabilities. This is the hard problem that Model9 is attempting to solve.

Gil Peleg, CEO and co-founder at Model9, says that his company’s technology is focused on helping mainframe users get their data to the cloud or other on-prem storage. “Mainframe data is locked behind proprietary storage that is inaccessible to anything that’s happening in the evolving, fast-moving technology world in the cloud. And this is where we come in with patented technology that enables mainframes to read and write data directly to the cloud or any non-mainframe distributed storage system,” Peleg explained.

This has several important use cases. For starters, it can act as a disaster recovery system, eliminating the need to maintain expensive tape backups. It also can move this data to the cloud where customers can apply modern analytics to data that was previously inaccessible.

The company’s solution works with AWS, Google Cloud Platform, Microsoft Azure and IBM’s cloud solution. It also works with other on-prem storage solutions like EMC, Nutanix, NetApp and Hitatchi. He says the idea is to give customers true hybrid cloud options, whether a private cloud or a public cloud provider.

“Ideally our customers will deploy a hybrid cloud topology and benefit from both worlds. The mainframe keeps doing what it should do as a reliable, secure, trusted [machine], and the cloud can manage the scale and the rapidly growing amount of data and provide the new modern technologies for disaster recovery, data management and analytics,” he said.

The company was founded in 2016 and took a couple of years to develop the solution. Today, the company is working with a number  of large organizations using mainframes. Peleg says he wants to use the money to expand the sales and marketing operation to grow the market for this solution.

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.

GettyImages 519406304

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.

GettyImages 505226744

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.

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