Aug
04
2020
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Qualified raises $12M to make websites smarter about sales and marketing

Qualified, a startup co-founded by former Salesforce executives Kraig Swensrud and Sean Whiteley, has raised $12 million in Series A funding.

Swensrud (Qualified’s CEO) said the startup is meant to solve a problem that he faced when he was CMO at Salesforce. Apparently he’d complain about being “blind,” because he knew so little about who was visiting the Salesforce website.

“There could be 10 or 100 or 100,000 people on my website right now, and I don’t know who they are, I don’t know what they’re interested in, my sales team has no idea that they’re even there,” he said.

Apparently, this is a big problem in business-to-business sales, where waiting five minutes after a lead leaves your website can result in a 10x decrease in the odds of making contact. But the solution currently adopted by many websites is just a chatbot that treats every visitor similarly.

Qualified, meanwhile, connects real-time website visitor information with a company’s Salesforce customer database. That means it can identify visitors from high-value accounts and route them to the correct salesperson while they’re still on the website, turning into a full-on sales meeting that can also include a phone call and screensharing.

Qualified screenshot

Image Credits: Qualified

Of course, the amount of data Qualified has access to will differ from visitor to visitor. Some visitors may be purely incognito, while in other cases, the platform might simply know your city or where you work. In still others (say if you click on a link from marketing email), it can identify you individually.

That’s something I experienced myself, when I decided to take a look at the Qualified website this morning and was quickly greeted with a message that read, “? Welcome TechCrunch! We’re excited about our funding announcement…” It was a little creepy, but also much more effective than my visits to other marketing technology websites, where someone usually sends me a generic sales message.

Swensrud acknowledged that using Qualified represents “a change to people’s selling processes,” as it requires sales to respond in real time to website visitors (as a last resort, Qualified can also use chatbots and schedule future calls), but he argued that it’s a necessary change.

“If you email them later, some percentage of those people, they ghost you, they get bored, they moved on to the competition,” he said. “This real-time approach, it forces organizations to think differently in terms of their process.”

And it’s an approach that seems to be working. Among Qualified’s customers, the company says ThoughtSpot increased conversations with its target accounts by 10x, Bitly grew its enterprise sales pipeline by 6x and Gamma drove over $2.5 million in new business pipeline.

The Series A brings Qualified’s total funding to $17 million. It was led by Norwest Venture Partners, with participation from existing investors including Redpoint Ventures and Salesforce Ventures. Norwest’s Scott Beechuk is joining Qualified’s board of directors.

“The conversational model is simply a better way to connect with new customers,” Beechuk said in a statement. “Buyers love the real-time engagement, sellers love the instant connections, and marketers have the confidence that every dollar spent on demand generation is maximized. The multi-billion-dollar market for Salesforce automation software is going to adopt this new model, and Qualified is perfectly positioned to capture that demand.”

May
07
2020
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Dtex, a specialist in insider threat cybersecurity, raises $17.5M

A lot of enterprise cybersecurity efforts focus on malicious hackers that work on behalf of larger organizations, be they criminal groups or state actors — and for good reason, since the majority of incidents these days come from phishing and other malicious techniques that originate outside the enterprise itself.

But there has also been a persistent, and now growing, focus also on “insider threats” — that is, breaches that start from within organizations themselves. And today a startup that specialises in this area is announcing a round of growth funding to expand its reach.

Dtex, which uses machine learning to monitor network activity within the perimeter and around all endpoints to detect unusual patterns or behaviour around passwords, data movement and other network activities, is today announcing that it has raised $17.5 million in funding.

The round is being led by new investor Northgate Capital with Norwest Venture Partners and Four Rivers Group, both previous investors, also participating. Prior to this, the San Jose-based startup had raised $57.5 million, according to data from PitchBook, while CrunchBase puts the total raised at $40 million.

CEO Bahman Mahbod said the startup is not disclosing valuation except to say that it’s “very excited” about it.

For some context, the company works with hundreds of large enterprises, primarily in the financial, critical infrastructure, government and defence sectors. The plan is to now extend further into newer verticals where it’s started to see more activity more recently: pharmaceuticals, life sciences and manufacturing. Dtex says that over the past 12 months, 80% of its top customers have been increasing their level of engagement with the startup.

Dtex’s focus on “insider” threats sounds slightly sinister at first. Is the implication here that people are more dishonest and nefarious these days and thus need to be policed and monitored much more closely for wrongdoing? The answer is no. There are no more dishonest people today than there ever have been, but there are a lot more opportunities to make mistakes that result in security breaches.

The working world has been on a long-term trend of becoming increasingly digitised in all of its interactions, and bringing on a lot more devices onto those networks. Across both “knowledge” and front-line workers, we now have a vastly larger number of devices being used to help workers do their jobs or just keep in touch with the company as they work, with many of them being brought by the workers themselves rather than being provisioned by the companies. There has also been a huge increase in cloud services,

And in the realm of “knowledge” workers, we’re seeing a lot more remote or peripatetic working, where people don’t have fixed desks and often work outside the office altogether — something that has skyrocketed in recent times with stay-at-home orders put in place to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 cases.

All of this translates into a much wider threat “horizon” within organizations themselves, before even considering the sophistication of external malicious hackers.

And the current state of business has exacerbated that. Mahbod tells us that Dtex is currently seeing spikes in unusual activity from the rise in home workers, who sometimes circumvent VPNs and other security controls, thus committing policy violations; as well as more problems arising from the fact that home networks have been compromised and that is leaving work networks, accessed from home, more vulnerable. These started, he said, with COVID-19 phishing attacks but have progressed to undetected malware from drive-by downloads.

And, inevitably, he added that there has been a rise in intentional data theft and accidental loss arising in cases where organizations have had to lay people off or run a round of furloughs, but might still result from negligence rather than intentional actions.

There are a number of other cybersecurity companies that provide ways to detect insider threats — they include CloudKnox and Obsidian Security, along with a number of larger and established vendors. But Mabhod says that Dtex “is the only company with ‘next-generation’ capabilities that are cloud-first, AI/ML baked-in, and enterprise scalable to millions of users and devices, which it sells as DMAP+.

“Effectively, Next-Gen Insider Threat solutions must replace legacy Insider Threat point solutions which were borne out of the UAM, DLP and UEBA spaces,” he said.

Those providing legacy approaches of that kind include Forcepoint with its SureView product and Proofpoint with its ObserveIT product. Interestingly, CyberX, which is currently in the process of getting acquired by Microsoft (according to reports and also our sources), also includes insider threats in its services.

This is one reason why investors have been interested.

“Dtex has built a highly scalable platform that utilizes a cloud-first, lightweight endpoint architecture, offering clients a number of use cases including insider threat prevention and business operations intelligence,” said Thorsten Claus, partner, Northgate Capital, in a statement. Northgate has a long list of enterprise startups in its portfolio that represent potential customers but also a track record of experience in assessing the problem at hand and building products to address it. “With Dtex, we have found a fast-growing, long-term, investible operation that is not just a band-aid collection of tools, which would be short-lived and replaced.”

May
14
2019
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Algorithmia raises $25M Series B for its AI automation platform

Algorithmia, a Seattle-based startup that offers a cloud-agnostic AI automation platform for enterprises, today announced a $25 million Series B funding round led by Norwest Partners. Madrona, Gradient Ventures, Work-Bench, Osage University Partners and Rakuten Ventures also participated in this round.

While the company started out five years ago as a marketplace for algorithms, it now mostly focuses on machine learning and helping enterprises take their models into production.

“It’s actually really hard to productionize machine learning models,” Algorithmia CEO Diego Oppenheimer told me. “It’s hard to help data scientists to not deal with data infrastructure but really being able to build out their machine learning and AI muscle.”

To help them, Algorithmia essentially built out a machine learning DevOps platform that allows data scientists to train their models on the platform and with the framework of their choice, bring it to Algorithmia — a platform that has already been blessed by their IT departments — and take it into production.

“Every Fortune 500 CIO has an AI initiative but they are bogged down by the difficulty of managing and deploying ML models,” said Rama Sekhar, a partner at Norwest Venture Partners, who has now joined the company’s board. “Algorithmia is the clear leader in building the tools to manage the complete machine learning life cycle and helping customers unlock value from their R&D investments.”

With the new funding, the company will double down on this focus by investing in product development to solve these issues, but also by building out its team, with a plan to double its headcount over the next year. A year from now, Oppenheimer told me, he hopes that Algorithmia will be a household name for data scientists and, maybe more importantly, their platform of choice for putting their models into production.

“How does Algorithmia succeed? Algorithmia succeeds when our customers are able to deploy AI and ML applications,” Oppenheimer said. “And although there is a ton of excitement around doing this, the fact is that it’s really difficult for companies to do so.”

The company previously raised a $10.5 million Series A round led by Google’s AI fund. It’s customers now include the United Nations, a number of U.S. intelligence agencies and Fortune 500 companies. In total, more than 90,000 engineers and data scientists are now on the platform.

Mar
27
2019
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Goodly replaces lame office perks with student loan repayment

There are better employee perks than a ping-pong table. Seventy percent of Americans graduate college with student loan debt. That’s 45 million people who owe $1.6 trillion. So when employers use Goodly to offer $100 per month in student loan payback for a $6 fee, talent sticks around. The startup found 86 percent of employees said they’d stay with a company for at least five years if their employer helped pay down their student loans. Yet employers break even if workers stay just two extra months, and get a 5X return if they stay an extra year because it costs so much to hire and train replacement staff.

Now, Y Combinator-backed Goodly has raised a $1.3 million seed round led by Norwest. The startup hopes to capitalize on corporate America waking up to student loan payback as a benefit, which is expected to grow from being offered by 4 percent of companies today to 32 percent by 2021.

Goodly co-founder and CEO Greg Poulin knows the student loan crisis personally. “When I was in school, my father passed away very unexpectedly due to a heart attack. I had to borrow $80,000 for college at Dartmouth,” he tells me. His monthly payment is now $900. The stress that debt creates can poison the rest of your life. He says 21 percent of employees with student loan debt have delayed marriage, 28 percent have put off starting a family and 1 out of 8 divorces is now directly attributed to student loan debt. “I’ve seen first-hand how challenging it is for employees to save for retirement or start a family” when they’re strapped with debt, Poulin says.

He met his co-founder and CTO Hemant Verma when they started working at Zenefits’ founder Parker Conrad’s new employee onboarding startup, Rippling, in 2017. That taught them how simplifying the benefits sign-up process could become its own business. Typically it requires that benefits be integrated with a company’s financial software, like payroll, and be set up with proper provisioning access. It’s enough of a chore that companies don’t go to the trouble of offering student loan repayment.

Poulin and Verma started Goodly to create a “set it and forget it” system that automates everything. They charge $6 per month per participating employee and typically see adoption by 30 percent to 40 percent of employees. Rather than help with their monthly payment that includes interest, Goodly clients pay down their employees’ core debt so they can escape more quickly. Employees get a dashboard where they can track their debt and all of the contributions their company has made. Goodly hasn’t had a single customer churn since launch, demonstrating how badly employers want to keep job-hopping talent in their roles.

“We found that our people put off contributing to their 401ks and buying a house because of their student loan debt. We thought that offering a Student Loan Repayment Benefit would be a great low-cost and high-impact benefit to attract and retain talent while alleviating some of the stress and the financial burden on our employees,” says Kim Alessi, an HR generalist.

Goodly’s founders and first employees

The business opportunity here is relatively young, but there are a few competitors. Boston-based Gratify was acquired by First Republic, which Santa Monica’s Tuition.io pivoted to offering student loan benefits. But Goodly’s connection to so many potential clients plus its new funding could help it make student loan repayment a ubiquitous perk. Along with Norwest and YC, the funding comes from ACE & Company, Arab Angel, Zeno Ventures and angel investors, including Optimizely’s Pete Koomen, DreamHost’s Josh Jones, ShipStation’s Jason Hodges, Fairy’s Avlok Kohli and Telly’s Mo Al Adham.

Beyond improving talent retention, Goodly may also help erase some of the systematic discrimination against minorities in our country. Women hold 66 percent of all student loan debt, black and Latinx Americans have 31 percent more student debt than their peers and LGBTQ borrowers owe $16,000 more than an average member of the population. Convincing employers to address student loan debt could give everyone more freedom of choice when it comes to what they work on and how they live their lives.

Oct
04
2017
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Bluecore marketing automation platform raises $35 million in Series C

 Bluecore, the automated marketing platform for ecommerce brands, has today announced the close of a $35 million Series C round of funding. Norwest Venture Partners led the round, with participation from existing investors including Georgian Partners, FirstMark Capital, and Felicis Ventures. As part of the deal, NVP’s Scott Beechuk will join the board of directors at Bluecore. When… Read More

Aug
11
2016
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Zenoti raises $15 million for spa bookings

Mobile-POS Zenoti The spa industry is in need of a technology makeover and Zenoti thinks it can help. The Seattle-based startup is raising $15 million in a round led by Norwest Venture Partners to help salons run their businesses. A cloud-based management platform, Zenoti helps spa chains with everything from billing to inventory management. They aim to create a tailored enterprise software experience for what… Read More

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