Mar
02
2021
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Parabol raises $8M after reaching 100,000 users of its agile meeting software

This morning Parabol, a startup that provides retrospective meeting software to agile development teams, announced that it has closed an $8 million Series A. Microsoft’s venture capital arm, M12, led the deal. The investment also saw participation from Techstars, CRV, and Haystack.

TechCrunch caught up with Parabol CEO Jordan Husney to talk about the round, and his company. We were curious how large the market that Parabol serves is, and if the company was overly-nicheing its service. While the startup is still young, the answer appears to be no – adding to our general sentiment that the software market is even larger than we perhaps thought.

Let’s explore how Parabol came to be, and how it came to pick its target market. Or more precisely, how its target market chose it.

Building horizontally, focusing vertically

After a stint in the consulting world, Husney was more than aware of the communications issues that distributed teams can endure. With multiple offices the norm among big companies, he told TechCrunch in an interview, communications between remote workers came down to an email thread, or a meeting. A self-described “recovering engineer,” Husney wondered if there was space in the business market for “structured communications,” or the type of asynchronous meetings that are popular in the code-writing world.

Borrowing from the ethos of agile development, a method of writing software that prioritizes collaboration and evolution over process and documentation, Husney built Parabol to bring agile work and communications methods to non-developer business teams. If agile principles were good at helping foster developer results through status meetings, why wouldn’t the same process translate to other work settings?

But the market had other ideas. Instead of hitting it big in the business world, owing to the friction resulting from needing what Husney described as a “behavior change” — something often lethal to rapid adoption of a new service, or product — agile teams themselves started using Parabol’s tech.

The startup followed the demand. And there’s quite a lot of it, as it turns out. Husney estimated that there are around 20 million agile developers in the world, the business from which has helped propel companies like Atlassian to enormous heights. It’s a big enough pool for the startup to swim in for a long time.

Returning to our earlier note about the depth of the software market, Parabol is a good reference point. It appears capable of building a real company on the back of supporting a subset of the software creation world’s peculiar meeting style; the market for software is simply gigantic.

Growth

After deciding to support agile software teams, growth came quickly to Parabol. In 2018 and 2019, the company saw growth of 20% to 40% each month, its CEO said. Calling his company a “rocket,” Husney gave partial credit to Parabol’s freemium go-to-market model, a common approach when selling to developers who eschew the traditional sales process.

By selling to the already-converted, Parabol found product-market fit. Husney himself had underestimated the demand from agile software developers for tools to support they work, because he thought that they’d already figured out their own needs, he told TechCrunch.

What Parabol has built is not a simple tool, however. Powering retrospective meetings and incident post-mortems, its software collects notes from workers on things that should be done, things that should no longer done, and things that should be kept up. The service then aggregates them automatically by topic, followed by users voting to decide on changes and takeaway actions. The result is an asynchronous way for developer teams to stay in sync.

The startup closed a Seed round in November of 2019, just in time to have cash on hand for the COVID-19 pandemic. The rapid switch to remote work quickly drove Parabol’s user growth from 600 per week in January of 2020, to 5,000 per week in March of the same year. The company has some public usage data available here, in case you want to check the spike yourself.

After raising its $4 million Seed, Husney decided to raise more capital after being told by others that it was a great time to do so. And after winding up with a few firms to choose between, wound up taking Microsoft’s money.

There’s a story there. Per Husney, Microsoft’s M12 was not on the top of its venture capital list; there is a somewhat good reason for that, as taking strategic capital over pure-venture capital is a choice and not the best one for every startup. But after Husney and company got to know the Microsoft partners, and each side underwent diligence, the fit became clear. According to the CEO, M12’s investing team called various Microsoft groups — Azure, GitHub, etc — to ask them about their views on Parabol. They raved. So Microsoft had strong internal signals concerning the deal, and Parabol learned that its potential investor was a heavy user of its product.

The deal worked out.

Why $8 million and not more? The startup’s growth plan isn’t super capital intensive according to Husney, and its market is pulling it instead of the other way around. The team is dilution-conscious as well, he explained. The founding team put the company together in 2015, and didn’t raise its seed round until 2019. It was ramen days back then, he explained; you’ll cling to your ownership, I suppose, when you have bought it that dearly.

Parabol runs lean on purpose. Husney said that his team was not following the Reid Hoffman blitzscaling ethos, instead focusing on hiring for individual leverage. In the CEO’s view, you don’t need to scale quickly to build collaboration products.

The $8 million raise could give Parabol infinite runway, the CEO said, but his company instead raised it for about a 24 month spend. At the end of that he expects the company to have around 30 workers, up from its current 10.

Parabol wants to quadruple its revenues this year, and triple them in 2022. And it wants to scale to 500,000 users from its current 100,000 this year, reaching one million by the end of next year. Let’s see how it performs against those goals.

Jun
30
2020
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Hunters raises $15M Series A for its threat-hunting platform

Hunters, a Tel Aviv-based cybersecurity startup that helps enterprises defend themselves from intruders and analyze attacks, today announced that it has raised a $15 million Series A funding round from Microsoft’s M12 and U.S. Venture Partners. Seed investors YL Ventures and Blumberg Captial also participated in this round, as well as new investor Okta Ventures, the venture arm of identity provider Okta. With this, Hunters has now raised a total of $20.4 million.

The company’s SaaS platform basically automates the threat-hunting processes, which has traditionally been a manual process. The general idea here is to take as much data from an enterprise’s various networking and security tools to detect stealth attacks.

“Hunters is basically this layer, a cognitive layer or connective tissue that you put on top of your telemetry stack,” Hunters co-founder and CEO Uri May told me. “So you have your [endpoint detection and response], your firewalls, cloud, production environment sensors — and all of those are shooting telemetry and detections all over the organization, generating huge amounts of data. And, basically, our place in the world depends on our ability to generate that delta. So without being able to find things that you can’t see with a single point solution or without really expediting response procedures and workflows by correlating things in a nontrivial way, we don’t have any excuse to exist. But we got pretty good at those — at showing that delta — and we onboarded customers — nice logos — and that was a very strong validation.”

Image Credits: Hunters

Hunters’ first customer was actually data management service Snowflake, which functioned as the company’s design partner. In addition to being a customer, Snowflake now also features Hunters in its partner marketplace, as does security service CrowdStrike. May also noted that Crowdstrike is a good example for the kind of customer Hunters is going after.

“Not necessarily Global 2000 or Fortune 500. It’s really high-end mid-market organizations, not necessarily tens of thousand employees, but billions of dollars in revenues, a lot of value at risk, born to the cloud, super mature tech stack, not necessarily a big security operation center, but definitely CISO and a team of security engineers and analysts, and they’re looking for the solution, that on-top solution that can make sense of a lot of the data and give them the confidence and also give them results in terms of cybersecurity, posture and their detection and response capabilities.”

Microsoft already has a large security development center in Israel and so it’s no surprise that Hunters appeared on the company’s radar. Hunters also spent some time proactively looking at the Microsoft ecosystem, May told me, but the company’s VCs also made some introductions. All of this culminated in a number of meetings at the Tel Aviv CyberTech conference in January and the RSA Conference in San Francisco in February, just before the coronavirus pandemic essentially shut down travel.

Hunters says it will use the new funding to build out its go-to-market capabilities in the U.S. and expand its R&D team in Israel. As for the product itself, the company will look to broaden its product integration and machine learning capabilities to help it generate better attack stories. May also noted that it plans to give its users capabilities to customize the system for their needs by allowing them to develop their own signals and detections to augment the company’s default tools. This, May argued, will allow the company to go after higher-end enterprise customers that already have threat-hunting teams but that are looking to automate more of the process. With that, it will also look to partner with other security firms to leverage its system to provide better services to their customers as well.

May
18
2020
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GO1, an enterprise learning platform, picks up $40M from Microsoft, Salesforce and more

With a large proportion of knowledge workers doing now doing their jobs from home, the need for tools to help them feel connected to their profession can be as important as tools to, more practically, keep them connected. Today, a company that helps do precisely that is announcing a growth round of funding after seeing engagement on its platform triple in the last month.

GO1.com, an online learning platform focused specifically on professional training courses (both those to enhance a worker’s skills as well as those needed for company compliance training), is today announcing that it has raised $40 million in funding, a Series C that it plans to use to continue expanding its business. The startup was founded in Brisbane, Australia and now has operations also based out of San Francisco — it was part of a Y Combinator cohort back in 2015 — and more specifically, it wants to continue growth in North America, and to continue expanding its partner network.

GO1 not disclosing its valuation but we are asking. It’s worth pointing out that not only has it seen engagement triple in the last month as companies turn to online learning to keep users connected to their professional lives even as they work among children and house pets, noisy neighbours, dirty laundry, sourdough starters, and the rest (and that’s before you count the harrowing health news we are hit with on a regular basis). But even beyond that, longer term GO1 has shown some strong signs that speak of its traction.

It counts the likes of the University of Oxford, Suzuki, Asahi and Thrifty among its 3,000+ customers, with more than 1.5 million users overall able to access over 170,000 courses and other resources provided by some 100 vetted content partners. Overall usage has grown five-fold over the last 12 months. (GO1 works both with in-house learning management systems or provides its own.)

“GO1’s growth over the last couple of months has been unprecedented and the use of online tools for training is now undergoing a structural shift,” said Andrew Barnes, CEO of GO1, in a statement. “It is gratifying to fill an important void right now as workers embrace online solutions. We are inspired about the future that we are building as we expand our platform with new mediums that reach millions of people every day with the content they need.”

The funding is coming from a very strong list of backers: it’s being co-led by Madrona Venture Group and SEEK — the online recruitment and course directory company that has backed a number of edtech startups, including FutureLearn and Coursera — with participation also from Microsoft’s venture arm M12; new backer Salesforce Ventures, the investing arm of the CRM giant; and another previous backer, Our Innovation Fund.

Microsoft is a strategic backer: GO1 integrated with Teams, so now users can access GO1 content directly via Microsoft’s enterprise-facing video and messaging platform.

“GO1 has been critical for business continuity as organizations navigate the remote realities of COVID-19,” said Nagraj Kashyap, Microsoft Corporate Vice President and Global Head of M12, in a statement. “The GO1 integration with Microsoft Teams offers a seamless learning experience at a time when 75 million people are using the application daily. We’re proud to invest in a solution helping keep employees learning and businesses growing through this time.”

Similarly, Salesforce is also coming in as a strategic, integrating this into its own online personal development products and initiatives.

“We are excited about partnering with GO1 as it looks to scale its online content hub globally. While the majority of corporate learning is done in person today, we believe the new digital imperative will see an acceleration in the shift to online learning tools. We believe GO1 fits well into the Trailhead ecosystem and our vision of creating the life-long learner journey,” said Rob Keith, Head of Australia, Salesforce Ventures, in a statement.

Working remotely has raised a whole new set of challenges for organizations, especially those whose employees typically have never before worked for days, weeks and months outside of the office.

Some of these have been challenges of a more basic IT nature: getting secure access to systems on the right kinds of machines and making sure people can communicate in the ways that they need to to get work done.

But others are more nuanced and long-term but actually just as important, such as making sure people remain in a healthy state of mind about work. Education is one way of getting them on the right track: professional development is not only useful for the person to do her or his job better, but it’s a way to motivate people, to focus their minds, and take a rest from their routines, but in a way that still remains relevant to work.

GO1 is absolutely not the only company pursuing this opportunity. Others include Udemy and Coursera, which have both come to enterprise after initially focusing more on traditional education plays. And LinkedIn Learning (which used to be known as Lynda, before LinkedIn acquired it and shifted the branding) was a trailblazer in this space.

For these, enterprise training sits in a different strategic place to GO1, which started out with compliance training and onboarding of employees before gravitating into a much wider set of topics that range from photography and design, through to Java, accounting, and even yoga and mindfulness training and everything in between.

It’s perhaps the directional approach, alongside its success, that have set GO1 apart from the competition and that has attracted the investment, which seems to have come ahead even of the current boost in usage.

“We met GO1 many months before COVID-19 was on the tip of everyone’s tongue and were impressed then with the growth of the platform and the ability of the team to expand their corporate training offering significantly in North America and Europe,” commented S. Somasegar, managing director, Madrona Venture Group, in a statement. “The global pandemic has only increased the need to both provide training and retraining – and also to do it remotely. GO1 is an important link in the chain of recovery.” As part of the funding Somasegar will join the GO1 board of directors.

Notably, GO1 is currently making all COVID-19 related learning resources available for free “to help teams continue to perform and feel supported during this time of disruption and change,” the company said.

May
13
2020
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FortressIQ snags $30M Series B to streamline processes with AI-fueled data

As we move through life in the pandemic, companies are being forced to review and understand how workflows happen. How do you distribute laptops to your workforce? How do you make sure everyone has the correct tool set? FortressIQ, a startup that wants to help companies use data to understand and improve internal processes, announced a $30 million Series B investment today.

M12, Microsoft’s venture fund and Tiger Global Management led the round with help from previous investors Boldstart Ventures, Comcast Ventures, Eniac Ventures and Lightspeed Venture Partners. The company has now raised almost $65 million, according to Pitchbook data.

As the product has matured, founder and CEO Pankaj Chowdhry, says its focus has shifted a bit. Whereas before it was primarily about using computer vision to understand workflows, customers are now using that data to help drive their own internal transformations.

That used to require a high priced consulting team to pull off, but FortressIQ is trying to use software, data and artificial intelligence to replace the consultant and expose processes that could be improved.

“We’re building this kind of cool computer vision to help with process discovery, mostly in the automation space to help you automate processes. But what we’ve seen is people leveraging our data to drive transformation strategies, of which automation ends up being a pretty small component,” Chowdry explained.

He said that this is helping define new ways of using the tool they hadn’t considered when they first started the company. “If you think about it, we can use analytics to drive better experiences, better training, all of that. We’ve seen how customers are driving overall improvement strategies by leveraging the data coming out of this system,” he said.

The company currently has 65 employees, but he couldn’t commit to a future number at this point because of the uncertainty that exists in the economy. He knows he wants to hire, but he’s not sure what that will look like. He said they used to revisit hiring every six months. Now it’s ever six weeks, and so they keep having to reevaluate based on an ever-shifting set of conditions.

Chowdry believes that companies will need to be more agile moving forward to react more quickly to changing circumstances beyond the current crisis, and he thinks that’s going to require solid business relationships to pull off.

“I think the idea is to be leveraging this time to build that relationship with your customers so as they do start looking at what are they going to do and where they need to be invested in the business, that we’ve got both the data and the infrastructure to help them do that.”

Mar
20
2019
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Skedulo raises $28M for its mobile workforce management service

Skedulo, a service that helps businesses manage their mobile employees, today announced that it has raised a $28 million Series B funding round led by M12, Microsoft’s venture fund. Existing investors Blackbird and Castanoa Ventures also participated in this round.

The company’s service offers businesses all the necessary tools to manage their mobile employees, including their schedules. A lot of small businesses still use basic spreadsheets and email to do this, but that’s obviously not the most efficient way to match the right employee to the right job, for example.

“Workforce management has traditionally been focused on employees that are sitting at a desk for the majority of their day,” Skedulo CEO and co-founder Matt Fairhurst told me. “The overwhelming majority — 80 percent — of workers will be deskless by 2020 and so far, there has been no one that has addressed the needs of this growing population at scale. We’re excited to help enterprises confront these challenges head-on so they can compete and lean into rapidly changing customer and employee expectations.”

At the core of Skedulo, which offers both a mobile app and web-based interface, is the company’s so-called “Mastermind” engine that helps businesses automatically match the right employee to a job based on the priorities the company has specified. The company plans to use the new funding to enhance this tool through new machine learning capabilities. Skedulo will also soon offer new analytics tools and integrations with third-party services like HR and financial management tools, as well as payroll systems.

The company also plans to use the new funding to double its headcount, which includes hiring at least 60 new employees in its Australian offices in Brisbane and Sydney.

As part of this round, Priya Saiprasad, principal of M12, will join Skedulo’s board of directors. “We found a strong sense of aligned purpose with Priya Saiprasad and the team at M12 — and their desire to invest in companies that help reduce cycles in a person’s working day,” Fairhurst said. “Fundamentally, Skedulo is a productivity company. We help companies, the back-office and mobile workforce, reduce the number of cycles it takes to get work done. This gives them time back to focus on the work that matters most.”

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