May
20
2020
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Identity management startup Truework raises $30M to help you verify your work history

As organizations look for safe and efficient ways of running their services in the new global paradigm of increased social distancing, a startup that has built a platform to help people verify their work details in a secure way is announcing a round of growth funding.

Truework, which provides a way for banks, apartment-rental agencies, and others to check the employment details of an applicant in a quick and secure manner online, has raised $30 million, money that CEO and co-founder Ryan Sandler said in an interview that it would use both grow its existing business, as well to explore adding more details — both via its own service and via third-party partnerships — to the identity information that it shares.

The Series B is being led by Activant Capital — a VC that focuses on B2B2C startups — with participation also from Sequoia Capital and Khosla Ventures, as well as a number of high profile execs and entrepreneurs — Jeff Weiner (LinkedIn); Tom Gonser (Docusign); William Hockey (Plaid); and Daniel Yanisse (Checkr) among them.

The LinkedIn connection is an interesting one. Both Sandler and co-founder Victor Kabdebon were engineers at LinkedIn working on profile and improving the kind of data that LinkedIn sources on its users (the third co-founder, Ethan Winchell, previously worked elsewhere), and while Sandler tells me that the idea for Truework came to them after both left the company, he sees LinkedIn “as a potential partner here,” so watch this space.

The problem that Truework is aiming to solve is the very clunky, and often insecure, nature of how organizations typically verify an individual’s employment information. Details about salary and where you work, and the job you do, are typically essential for larger financial transactions, whether it’s securing a mortgage or another financing loan, or renting an apartment, or for others who might need to verify that information for other purposes, such as staffing agencies.

Typically that kind of information gathering is time-consuming both to reach out to get and to confirm (Sandler cites statistics that say on average an HR person spends over 1,000 hours annually answering questions like these). And some of the systems that have been put in place to do that work — specifically consumer reporting agencies — have been proven not be as watertight in their security as you would hope.

“Your data is flowing around lots of third party platforms,” Sandler said. “You’re releasing a lot of information about yourself and you don’t know where the data is going and if it’s even accurate.”

Truework’s solution is based around a platform, and now an API, that a company buys into. In turn, it gives its employees the ability to consent to using it. If the employee agrees, Truework sources a worker’s place of employment and salary details. Then when a third party wants to verify that information for the person in question, it uses Truework to do so, rather than contacting the company directly.

Then, when those queries come in, Truework contacts the individual with an email or text about the inquiry, so that he/she can okay (or reject) the request. Truework’s Sandler said that it uses ISO27001, SOC2 Type 1 & 2 protections, but he also confirmed that it does store your data.

Currently the idea is that if you leave your job, your next employer would need to also be a Truework customer in order to update the information it has on you: the startup makes money by charging both larger enterprises to make the platform accessible to employees as well as those organizations that are querying for the information/verifications (small business employers using the platform can use it for free).

Over time, the plan will be to configure a way to update your profiles regardless of where you work.

So far, the concept has seen a lot of traction: there are 20,000 small businesses using the platform, as well as 100 enterprises, with the number of verifiers (its term for those requesting information) now at 40,000. Customers include The College Board, The Real Real, Oscar Health, The Motley Fool, and Tuft & Needle.

While all of this was built at a time before COVID-19, the global health pandemic has highlighted the importance of having more efficient and secure systems for doing work, especially at a time when many people are not in the office.

“Our biggest competitor is the fax machine and the phone call,” Sandler said, “but as companies move to more remote working, no one is manning the phones or fax machines. But these operations still need to happen.” Indeed, he points out that at the end of 2019, Truework had 25,000 verifiers. Nearly doubling its end-user customers speaks to the huge boost in business it has seen in the last five months.

That is part of the reason the company has attracted the investment it has.

“Truework’s platform sits at the center of consumers’ most important transactions and life events – from purchasing a home, to securing a new job,” said Steve Sarracino, founder and partner at Activant Capital, in a statement. “Up until now, the identity verification process has been painful, expensive, and opaque for all parties involved, something we’ve seen first-hand in the mortgage space. Starting with income and employment, Truework is setting the standard for consent-based verifications and unlocking the next wave of the digital economy. We’re thrilled to be partnering with this exceptional team as they continue to scale the platform.” Sarracino is joining the board with this round.

While a big focus in the world of tech right now may be on building more and better ways of connecting goods and services to people in as contact-free a way as possible, the bigger play around identity management has been around for years, and will continue to be a huge part of how the internet develops in the future.

The fax and phone may be the primary tools these days for verifying employment information, but on a more general level, there are companies like Facebook, Google and Apple already playing a big role in how we “log in” and use all kinds of services online. They, along with others focused squarely on the identity and verification space (and Truework works with some of them), and using a myriad of approaches that include biometrics, ‘wallet’-style passports that link to information elsewhere, and more, will all continue to try to make the case for why they might be the most trusted provider of that layer of information, at a time when we may want to share less and especially share less with multiple parties.

That is the bigger opportunity that investors are betting on here.

“The increasing momentum Truework has seen since its founding in 2017 demonstrates the critical need for transformation in this space,” said Alfred Lin, partner at Sequoia, in a statement. “Privacy, especially around identity data, is becoming increasingly top of mind for consumers and how they make transactions online.”

Truework has now raised close to $45 million, and it’s not disclosing its valuation.

Jan
28
2020
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RealityEngines launches its autonomous AI service

RealityEngines.AI, an AI and machine learning startup founded by a number of former Google executives and engineers, is coming out of stealth today and announcing its first set of products.

When the company first announced its $5.25 million seed round last year, CEO Bindu Reddy wasn’t quite ready to disclose RealityEngines’ mission beyond saying that it planned to make machine learning easier for enterprises. With today’s launch, the team is putting this into practice by launching a set of tools that specifically tackle a number of standard enterprise use cases for ML, including user churn predictions, fraud detection, sales lead forecasting, security threat detection and cloud spend optimization. For use cases that don’t fit neatly into these buckets, the service also offers a more general predictive modeling service.

Before co-founding RealiyEngines, Reddy was the head of product for Google Apps and general manager for AI verticals at AWS. Her co-founders are Arvind Sundararajan (formerly at Google and Uber) and Siddartha Naidu (who founded BigQuery at Google). Investors in the company include Eric Schmidt, Ram Shriram, Khosla Ventures and Paul Buchheit.

As Reddy noted, the idea behind this first set of products from RealityEngines is to give businesses an easy entry into machine learning, even if they don’t have data scientists on staff.

Besides talent, another issue that businesses often face is that they don’t always have massive amounts of data to train their networks effectively. That has long been a roadblock for many companies that want to see what AI can do for them but that didn’t have the right resources to do so. RealityEngines overcomes this by creating realistic synthetic data that it can then use to augment a company’s existing data. In its tests, this creates models that are up to 15% more accurate than models that were trained without the synthetic data.

“The most prominent use of generative adversarial networks — GANS — has been to create deepfakes,” said Reddy. “Deepfakes have captured the public’s imagination by highlighting how easy it to spread misinformation with these doctored videos and images. However, GANS can also be applied to productive and good use. They can be used to create synthetic data sets which when then be combined with the original data, to produce robust AI models even when a business doesn’t have much training data.”

RealityEngines currently has about 20 employees, most of whom have a deep background in ML/AI, both as researchers and practitioners.

Nov
04
2019
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Volterra announces $50M investment to manage apps in hybrid environment

Volterra is an early-stage startup that has been quietly working on a comprehensive solution to help companies manage applications in hybrid environments. The company emerged from stealth today with a $50 million investment and a set of products.

Investors include Khosla Ventures and Mayfield, along with strategic investors M12 (Microsoft’s venture arm), Itochu Technology Ventures and Samsung NEXT. The company, which was founded in 2017, already has 100 employees and more than 30 customers.

What attracted these investors and customers is a full-stack solution that includes both hardware and software to manage applications in the cloud or on-prem. Volterra founder and CEO Ankur Singla says when he was at his previous company, Contrail Systems, which was acquired by Juniper Networks in 2012 for $176 million, he saw first-hand how large companies were struggling with the transition to hybrid.

“The big problem we saw was in building and operating applications that scale is a really hard problem. They were adopting multiple hybrid cloud strategies, and none of them solved the problem of unifying the application and the infrastructure layer, so that the application developers and DevOps teams don’t have to worry about that,” Singla explained.

He says the Volterra solution includes three main products — VoltStack?, VoltMesh and VoltConsole — to help solve this scaling and management problem. As Volterra describes the total solution, “Volterra has innovated a consistent, cloud-native environment that can be deployed across multiple public clouds and edge sites — a distributed cloud platform. Within this SaaS-based offering, Volterra integrates a broad range of services that have normally been siloed across many point products and network or cloud providers.” This includes not only the single management plane, but security, management and operations components.

Diagram: Volterra

The money has come over a couple of rounds, helping to build the solution to this point, and it required a complex combination of hardware and software to do it. They are hoping organizations that have been looking for a cloud-native approach to large-scale applications, such as industrial automation, will adopt this approach.

Sep
24
2019
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Fundbox raises $176 million Series C to build ‘Visa’ for B2B payments

Credit cards have become all but ubiquitous for consumer transactions, and it isn’t hard to see why. By intermediating payments, networks like Visa allow buyers and sellers to exchange money for goods and services without knowing the financial risk profile of the counter-party. Rather than applying for credit at every merchant you shop at, you apply once at your issuing institution, and then can transact with every merchant on the network. It’s the simple formula: reducing friction means more sales, and therefore more profits.

Yet for all the innovation in the consumer side of the economy, there has been an astonishingly limited amount of innovation in the B2B world. Payments between businesses are still conducted through invoices, with net payment terms that can exceed 90 days and with little knowledge of the financial risk of the counter-parties. There is no FICO score for business as there is with consumers, nor is there a system that can intermediate those transactions and reduce their friction.

That’s where Fundbox comes in. The SF-headquartered startup wants to ultimately transform B2B payments by creating a Visa-like payments network that allows businesses to transact with each other without having to know counter-party risk while also getting everyone paid faster.

It’s a vision that has pulled in the attention of even more venture capital. The company, which was founded in 2013, announced today that it has raised $176 million in a series C equity financing led by a consortium of funders, including Allianz X, Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan, HarbourVest and a litany of others. Existing backers Khosla, General Catalyst, and Spark Capital Growth also participated. With this new round of capital, the company’s total equity funding reaches upwards of $300 million.

In addition to the equity capital, the company also announced that it has raised a $150 million credit facility to underwrite its product.

Fundbox CEO Eyal Shinar said that a priority in this fundraise was to select backers who not only could invest in equity, but also had large balance sheets who could expand the company’s underwriting capability as it scales.

Today, Fundbox’s core product is a revolving line of credit for small businesses. Cash flow is a huge concern for many companies, since they often have to wait for a payment from an invoice to arrive before investing in their next projects or hiring more employees. A revolving line of credit allows companies to flexibly draw down and pay back a loan, while only paying fees on what a company uses.

To apply for the loan, companies connect Fundbox to their financial data store (for example, QuickBooks), and Fundbox slurps in the data and offers a credit decision in as fast as minutes. Companies can then tap their line of credit almost immediately and use it as working capital. As invoices are paid, companies can then pay off their line of credit and stop paying fees.

From that product base, Shinar ultimately sees Fundbox as a GDP-scale startup, given the value it could potentially unlock for companies and the economy at large. “There are more than $3 trillion locked in those invoices,” he explained to me, “$3.4 trillion flows through consumer credit cards, but $23 trillion are in invoices … and even if you focus on [just] small and medium business, it’s $9 trillion.”

As the company collects data from all the players in the market, it wants to build upon those data network effects to ultimately operate the payment rails for B2B transactions. So instead of offering a line of credit to the seller, it could facilitate both sides of the transaction and get rid of the root complexity in the first place.

It’s a bold vision, and certainly one that has attracted a variety of players. In the startup world, Kabbage (whose co-founder and president Kathryn Petralia I will be interviewing at TechCrunch Disrupt SF next week) has built a business around line of credit lending and has similarly raised large amounts of venture capital.

Larger companies like Square, PayPay, and Intuit (which owns the popular accounting software QuickBooks) have introduced various lending products to B2B customers. And in terms of payments, Stripe through its new credit card and Brex offer the means for companies to empower their employees to make purchases on behalf of the company.

Shinar said that a huge priority for Fundbox has been to make underwriting more efficient. He said that a large percentage of the current employee base at the company is data scientists, and the company has built upon the wave of digitalization that has taken place among small and medium businesses. “Every company has at least one set of APIs … and it is accessible, and it is granular,” Shinar said. By just tapping into those existing data feeds, Fundbox is able to avoid the human underwriting common with much of business lending today.

One initiative the company has undertaken is a tool dubbed “X-Ray” to better describe how the company’s machine learning models are really underwriting its loan products. Shinar noted that payments is a highly-regulated space, and that the company has to be able to explain its decisions and how they are unbiased to any regulator that might start asking questions.

The company today has 240 employees spread across SF, Tel Aviv, and a recently launched office in Dallas. Shinar says that he wants to use the new funds to “go on the offensive” and “double and triple down on what is working.”

Jun
12
2019
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RealityEngines.AI raises $5.25M seed round to make ML easier for enterprises

RealityEngines.AI, a research startup that wants to help enterprises make better use of AI, even when they only have incomplete data, today announced that it has raised a $5.25 million seed funding round. The round was led by former Google CEO and Chairman Eric Schmidt and Google founding board member Ram Shriram. Khosla Ventures, Paul Buchheit, Deepchand Nishar, Elad Gil, Keval Desai, Don Burnette and others also participated in this round.

The fact that the service was able to raise from this rather prominent group of investors clearly shows that its overall thesis resonates. The company, which doesn’t have a product yet, tells me that it specifically wants to help enterprises make better use of the smaller and noisier data sets they have and provide them with state-of-the-art machine learning and AI systems that they can quickly take into production. It also aims to provide its customers with systems that can explain their predictions and are free of various forms of bias, something that’s hard to do when the system is essentially a black box.

As RealityEngines CEO Bindu Reddy, who was previously the head of products for Google Apps, told me, the company plans to use the funding to build out its research and development team. The company, after all, is tackling some of the most fundamental and hardest problems in machine learning right now — and that costs money. Some, like working with smaller data sets, already have some available solutions like generative adversarial networks that can augment existing data sets and that RealityEngines expects to innovate on.

Reddy is also betting on reinforcement learning as one of the core machine learning techniques for the platform.

Once it has its product in place, the plan is to make it available as a pay-as-you-go managed service that will make machine learning more accessible to large enterprise, but also to small and medium businesses, which also increasingly need access to these tools to remain competitive.

May
16
2019
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Unveiling its latest cohort, Alchemist announces $4 million in funding for its enterprise accelerator

The enterprise software and services-focused accelerator Alchemist has raised $4 million in fresh financing from investors BASF and the Qatar Development Bank, just in time for its latest demo day unveiling 20 new companies.

Qatar and BASF join previous investors, including the venture firms Mayfield, Khosla Ventures, Foundation Capital, DFJ and USVP, and corporate investors like Cisco, Siemens and Juniper Networks.

While the roster of successes from Alchemist’s fund isn’t as lengthy as Y Combinator, the accelerator program has launched the likes of the quantum computing upstart Rigetti, the soft-launch developer tool LaunchDarkly and drone startup Matternet .

Some (personal) highlights of the latest cohort include:

  • Bayware: Helmed by a former head of software-defined networking from Cisco, the company is pitching a tool that makes creating networks in multi-cloud environments as easy as copying and pasting.
  • MotorCortex.AI: Co-founded by a Stanford engineering professor and a Carnegie Mellon roboticist, the company is using computer vision, machine learning and robotics to create a fruit packer for packaging lines. Starting with avocados, the company is aiming to tackle the entire packaging side of pick and pack in logistics.
  • Resilio: With claims of a 96% effectiveness rate and $35,000 in annual recurring revenue with another $1 million in the pipeline, Resilio is already seeing companies embrace its mobile app that uses a phone’s camera to track stress levels and application-based prompts on how to lower it, according to Alchemist.
  • Operant Networks: It’s a long-held belief (of mine) that if computing networks are already irrevocably compromised, the best thing that companies and individuals can do is just encrypt the hell out of their data. Apparently Operant agrees with me. The company is claiming 50% time savings with this approach, and have booked $1.9 million in 2019 as proof, according to Alchemist.
  • HPC Hub: HPC Hub wants to democratize access to supercomputers by overlaying a virtualization layer and pre-installed software on underutilized super computers to give more companies and researchers easier access to machines… and they’ve booked $92,000 worth of annual recurring revenue.
  • DinoPlusAI: This chip developer is designing a low latency chip for artificial intelligence applications, reducing latency by 12 times over a competing Nvidia chip, according to the company. DinoPlusAI sees applications for its tech in things like real-time AI markets and autonomous driving. Its team is led by a designer from Cadence and Broadcom and the company already has $8 million in letters of intent signed, according to Alchemist.
  • Aero Systems West: Co-founders from the Air Force’s Research Labs and MIT are aiming to take humans out of drone operations and maintenance. The company contends that for every hour of flight time, drones require seven hours of maintenance and check ups. Aero Systems aims to reduce that by using remote analytics, self-inspection, autonomous deployment and automated maintenance to take humans out of the drone business.

Watch a live stream of Alchemist’s demo day pitches, starting at 3PM, here.

 

Apr
03
2019
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Okta unveils $50M in-house venture capital fund

Identity management software provider Okta, which went public two years ago in what was one of the first pure-cloud subscription-based company IPOs, wants to fund the next generation of identity, security and privacy startups.

At its big customer conference Oktane, where the company has also announced a new level of identity protection at the server level, chief operating officer Frederic Kerrest (pictured above, right, with chief executive officer Todd McKinnon) will unveil a $50 million investment fund meant to back early-stage startups leveraging artificial intelligence, machine learning and blockchain technology.

“We view this as a natural extension of what we are doing today,” Okta senior vice president Monty Gray told TechCrunch. Gray was hired last year to oversee corporate development, i.e. beef up Okta’s M&A strategy.

Gray and Kerrest tell TechCrunch that Okta Ventures will invest capital in existing Okta partners, as well as other companies in the burgeoning identity management ecosystem. The team managing the fund will look to Okta’s former backers, Sequoia, Andreessen Horowitz and Greylock, for support in the deal sourcing process.

Okta Ventures will write checks sized between $250,000 and $2 million to eight to 10 early-stage businesses per year.

“It’s just a way of making sure we are aligning all our work and support with the right companies who have the right vision and values because there’s a lot of noise around identity, ML and AI,” Kerrest said. “It’s about formalizing the support strategy we’ve had for years and making sure people are clear of the fact we are helping these organizations build because it’s helpful to our customers.”

Okta Ventures’ first bet is Trusted Key, a blockchain-based digital identity platform that previously raised $3 million from Founders Co-Op. Okta’s investment in the startup, founded by former Microsoft, Oracle and Symantec executives, represents its expanding interest in the blockchain.

“Blockchain as a backdrop for identity is cutting edge if not bleeding edge,” Gray said.

Okta, founded in 2009, had raised precisely $231 million from Sequoia, Andreessen Horowitz, Greylock, Khosla Ventures, Floodgate and others prior to its exit. The company’s stock has fared well since its IPO, debuting at $17 per share in 2017 and climbing to more than $85 apiece with a market cap of $9.6 billion as of Tuesday closing.

Oct
05
2018
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Former Formation 8 GP Shirish Sathaye joins Cervin Ventures

Longtime venture capitalist Shirish Sathaye has quietly joined early-stage investor Cervin Ventures as a general partner.

Most recently, Sathaye was a general partner at Formation 8, the embattled venture firm co-founded by Palantir’s Joe Lonsdale, Brian Koo (a scion of the Koo family, owners of the electronics giant LG) and former Khosla GP Jim Kim. Formation 8 announced in 2015 that it would not raise a third fund and would begin winding down operations.

Sathaye, who’s been in the VC business since 2001 as a GP at Matrix Partners, then at Khosla Ventures, remains a partner in Formation 8’s sophomore fund. His previous investments include Nutanix, Samsung-acquired Grandis, McAfee-acquired Solidcore Systems, cybersecurity startup Vectra Networks and data storage provider Panzura.

He’d only been at Formation 8 for one year when the firm began to crumble. As we now know, conflict between the firm’s founding partners led to its demise. Lonsdale quickly raised $425 million for a spin-off fund called 8VC; Koo, in a similar fashion, brought in $357 million for Formation Group and Kim followed up with a $200 million fund called Builders.

Sathaye, for his part, had grown tired of the “bigger is better” mentality and opted to leave the business of big VC for good.

He began making angel investments and advising startups at Cervin Ventures, a pre-Series A VC fund focused on the enterprise. It closed a $56 million fund in 2017, its largest vehicle to date.

“Smaller funds, in general, make better decisions,” Sathaye told TechCrunch. “At a larger fund, there are more people around the table to make decisions. I think returns are better when there are fewer people making those decisions.”

Watching funds swell past the billion-dollar mark and investors deploy the “spray and pray” strategy was a turn-off, Sathaye said. Startups have more access to capital than ever before, yet most companies can get off the ground with very little funding, thanks to recent innovations like Google Cloud and Amazon Web Services.

“With AWS, companies can bring products to market quickly and they can reach their customers with much less money,” Sathaye said. “If you look at it just from a returns profile, the smaller funds will get better cash-on-cash returns simply because companies don’t need that much money to be successful.”

Palo Alto-based Cervin is led by two other GPs, Preetish Nijhawan and Neeraj Gupta. It invests $1 million to $2 million in early-stage startups. Sathaye says he’ll be focused specifically on the security, mobile, cloud and data verticals.

Jan
19
2017
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With a $1.5M seed round, Eloquent Labs mixes AI and Mechanical Turk to fix customer service

widget_on_store Keenon Werling would be the first to agree that conversational AI is regularly overhyped. So instead of taking the traditional approach and gloating about a glitzy new deeper learning algorithm to pitch his new venture Eloquent Labs, Werling instead opted to differentiate by optimizing something far more low-tech, people. The startup’s special sauce is embracing a mix of AI,… Read More

Sep
15
2015
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Clear Labs Aims To Be Google Search For GMOs In Packaged Food

6854633574_5b359ee7fd_k How much gluten, genetically modified organisms and other allergens are in that cereal you ate this morning? Not many people know what is in their food right now, but genomic data startup Clear Labs hopes to index all the packaged fare in the world so we do. The startup uses technology related to sequencing human genomes in clinical trials but applies it to food products. And it’s… Read More

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