Apr
15
2021
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Bigeye (formerly Toro) scores $17M Series A to automate data quality monitoring

As companies create machine learning models, the operations team needs to ensure the data used for the model is of sufficient quality, a process that can be time consuming. Bigeye (formerly Toro), an early stage startup is helping by automating data quality.

Today the company announced a $17 million Series A led Sequoia Capital with participation from existing investor Costanoa Ventures. That brings the total raised to $21 million with the $4 million seed, the startup raised last May.

When we spoke to Bigeye CEO and co-founder Kyle Kirwan last May, he said the seed round was going to be focussed on hiring a team — they are 11 now — and building more automation into the product, and he says they have achieved that goal.

“The product can now automatically tell users what data quality metrics they should collect from their data, so they can point us at a table in Snowflake or Amazon Redshift or whatever and we can analyze that table and recommend the metrics that they should collect from it to monitor the data quality — and we also automated the alerting,” Kirwan explained.

He says that the company is focusing on data operations issues when it comes to inputs to the model such as the table isn’t updating when it’s supposed to, it’s missing rows or there are duplicate entries. They can automate alerts to those kinds of issues and speed up the process of getting model data ready for training and production.

Bogomil Balkansky, the partner at Sequoia who is leading today’s investment sees the company attacking an important part of the machine learning pipeline. “Having spearheaded the data quality team at Uber, Kyle and Egor have a clear vision to provide always-on insight into the quality of data to all businesses,” Balkansky said in a statement.

As the founding team begins building the company, Kirwan says that building a diverse team is a key goal for them and something they are keenly aware of.

“It’s easy to hire a lot of other people that fit a certain mold, and we want to be really careful that we’re doing the extra work to [understand that just because] it’s easy to source people within our network, we need to push and make sure that we’re hiring a team that has different backgrounds and different viewpoints and different types of people on it because that’s how we’re going to build the strongest team,” he said.

Bigeye offers on prem and SaaS solutions, and while it’s working with paying customers like Instacart, Crux Informatics, and Lambda School, the product won’t be generally available until later in the year.

Apr
15
2021
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Cado Security locks in $10M for its cloud-native digital forensics platform

As computing systems become increasingly bigger and more complex, forensics have become an increasingly important part of how organizations can better secure them. As the recent SolarWinds breach has shown, it’s not always just a matter of being able to identify data loss, or prevent hackers from coming in in the first place. In cases where a network has already been breached, running a thorough investigation is often the only way to identify what happened, if a breach is still active and whether a malicious hacker can strike again.

As a sign of this growing priority, a startup called Cado Security, which has built forensics technology native to the cloud to run those investigations, is announcing $10 million in funding to expand its business.

Cado’s tools today are used directly by organizations, but also security companies like Redacted — a somewhat under-the-radar security startup in San Francisco co-founded by Facebook’s former chief security officer Max Kelly and John Hering, the co-founder of Lookout. It uses Cado to carry out the forensics part of its work.

The funding for London-based Cado is being led by Blossom Capital, with existing investors Ten Eleven Ventures also participating, among others. As another signal of demand, this Series A is coming only six months after Cado raised its seed round.

The task of securing data on digital networks has grown increasingly complex over the years: Not only are there more devices, more data and a wider range of configurations and uses around it, but malicious hackers have become increasingly sophisticated in their approaches to needling inside networks and doing their dirty work.

The move to the cloud has also been a major factor. While it has helped a wave of organizations expand and run much bigger computing processes as part of their business operations, it has also increased the so-called attack surface and made investigations much more complicated, not least because a lot of organizations run elastic processes, scaling their capacity up and down: This means when something is scaled down, logs of previous activity essentially disappear.

Cado’s Response product — which works proactively on a network and all of its activity after it’s installed — is built to work across cloud, on-premise and hybrid environments. Currently it’s available for AWS EC2 deployments and Docker, Kubernetes, OpenShift and AWS Fargate container systems, and the plan is to expand to Azure very soon. (Google Cloud Platform is less of a priority at the moment, CEO James Campbell said, since it rarely comes up with current and potential customers.)

Campbell co-founded Cado with Christopher Doman (the CTO) last April, with the concept for the company coming out of their respective experiences working on security services together at PwC, and respectively for government organizations (Campbell in Australia) and AlienVault (the security firm acquired by AT&T). In all of those, one persistent issue the two continued to encounter was the issue with adequate forensics data, essential for tracking the most complex breaches.

A lot of legacy forensics tools, in particular those tackling the trove of data in the cloud, was based on “processing data with open source and pulling together analysis in spreadsheets,” Campbell said. “There is a need to modernize this space for the cloud era.”

In a typical breach, it can take up to a month to run a thorough investigation to figure out what is going on, since, as Doman describes it, forensics looks at “every part of the disk, the files in a binary system. You just can’t find what you need without going to that level, those logs. We would look at the whole thing.”

However, that posed a major problem. “Having a month with a hacker running around before you can do something about it is just not acceptable,” Campbell added. The result, typically, is that other forensics tools investigate only about 5% of an organization’s data.

The solution — for which Cado has filed patents, the pair said — has essentially involved building big data tools that can automate and speed up the very labor intensive process of looking through activity logs to figure out what looks unusual and to find patterns within all the ones and zeros.

“That gives security teams more room to focus on what the hacker is getting up to, the remediation aspect,” Campbell explained.

Arguably, if there were better, faster tracking and investigation technology in place, something like SolarWinds could have been better mitigated.

The plan for the company is to bring in more integrations to cover more kinds of systems, and go beyond deployments that you’d generally classify as “infrastructure as a service.”

“Over the past year, enterprises have compressed their cloud adoption timelines while protecting the applications that enable their remote workforces,” said Imran Ghory, partner at Blossom Capital, in a statement. “Yet as high-profile breaches like SolarWinds illustrate, the complexity of cloud environments makes rapid investigation and response extremely difficult since security analysts typically are not trained as cloud experts. Cado Security solves for this with an elegant solution that automates time-consuming tasks like capturing forensically sound cloud data so security teams can move faster and more efficiently. The opportunity to help Cado Security scale rapidly is a terrific one for Blossom Capital.”

Apr
14
2021
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PlexTrac raises $10M Series A round for its collaboration-centric security platform

PlexTrac, a Boise, ID-based security service that aims to provide a unified workflow automation platform for red and blue teams, today announced that it has raised a $10 million Series A funding round led by Noro-Moseley Partners and Madrona Venture Group. StageDot0 ventures also participated in this round, which the company plans to use to build out its team and grow its platform.

With this new round, the company, which was founded in 2018, has now raised a total of $11 million, with StageDot0 leading its 2019 seed round.

PlexTrac CEO and President Dan DeCloss

PlexTrac CEO and President Dan DeCloss. Image Credits: PlexTrac

“I have been on both sides of the fence, the specialist who comes in and does the assessment, produces that 300-page report and then comes back a year later to find that some of the critical issues had not been addressed at all. And not because the organization didn’t want to but because it was lost in that report,” PlexTrac CEO and President Dan DeCloss said. “These are some of the most critical findings for an entity from a risk perspective. By making it collaborative, both red and blue teams are united on the same goal we all share, to protect the network and assets.”

With an extensive career in security that included time as a penetration tester for Veracode and the Mayo Clinic, as well as senior information security advisor for Anthem, among other roles, DeCloss has quite a bit of firsthand experience that led him to found PlexTrac. Specifically, he believes that it’s important to break down the wall between offense-focused red teams and defense-centric blue teams.

Image Credits: PlexTrac

“Historically there has been more of the cloak and dagger relationship but those walls are breaking down — and rightfully so, there isn’t that much of that mentality today — people recognize they are on the same mission whether they are an internal security team or an external team,” he said. “With the PlexTrac platform the red and blue teams have a better view into the other teams’ tactics and techniques — and it makes the whole process into an educational exercise for everyone.”

At its core, PlexTrac makes it easier for security teams to produce their reports — and hence free them up to actually focus on “real” security work. To do so, the service integrates with most of the popular scanners like Qualys, and Veracode, but also tools like ServiceNow and Jira in order to help teams coordinate their workflows. All the data flows into real-time reports that then help teams monitor their security posture. The service also features a dedicated tool, WriteupsDB, for managing reusable write-ups to help teams deliver consistent reports for a variety of audiences.

“Current tools for planning, executing and reporting on security testing workflows are either nonexistent (manual reporting, spreadsheets, documents, etc. …) or exist as largely incomplete features of legacy platforms,” Madrona’s S. Somasegar and Chris Picardo write in today’s announcement. “The pain point for security teams is real and PlexTrac is able to streamline their workflows, save time, and greatly improve output quality. These teams are on the leading edge of attempting to find and exploit vulnerabilities (red teams) and defend and/or eliminate threats (blue teams).”

 

Apr
13
2021
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SambaNova raises $676M at a $5.1B valuation to double down on cloud-based AI software for enterprises

Artificial intelligence technology holds a huge amount of promise for enterprises — as a tool to process and understand their data more efficiently; as a way to leapfrog into new kinds of services and products; and as a critical stepping stone into whatever the future might hold for their businesses. But the problem for many enterprises is that they are not tech businesses at their core, so bringing on and using AI will typically involve a lot of heavy lifting. Today, one of the startups building AI services is announcing a big round of funding to help bridge that gap.

SambaNova — a startup building AI hardware and integrated systems that run on it that only officially came out of three years in stealth last December — is announcing a huge round of funding today to take its business out into the world. The company has closed on $676 million in financing, a Series D that co-founder and CEO Rodrigo Liang has confirmed values the company at $5.1 billion.

The round is being led by SoftBank, which is making the investment via Vision Fund 2. Temasek and the government of Singapore Investment Corp. (GIC), both new investors, are also participating, along with previous backers BlackRock, Intel Capital, GV (formerly Google Ventures), Walden International and WRVI, among other unnamed investors. (Sidenote: BlackRock and Temasek separately kicked off an investment partnership yesterday, although it’s not clear if this falls into that remit.)

Co-founded by two Stanford professors, Kunle Olukotun and Chris Ré, and Liang, who had been an engineering executive at Oracle, SambaNova has been around since 2017 and has raised more than $1 billion to date — both to build out its AI-focused hardware, which it calls DataScale, and to build out the system that runs on it. (The “Samba” in the name is a reference to Liang’s Brazilian heritage, he said, but also the Latino music and dance that speaks of constant movement and shifting, not unlike the journey AI data regularly needs to take that makes it too complicated and too intensive to run on more traditional systems.)

SambaNova on one level competes for enterprise business against companies like Nvidia, Cerebras Systems and Graphcore — another startup in the space which earlier this year also raised a significant round. However, SambaNova has also taken a slightly different approach to the AI challenge.

In December, the startup launched Dataflow-as-a-Service as an on-demand, subscription-based way for enterprises to tap into SambaNova’s AI system, with the focus just on the applications that run on it, without needing to focus on maintaining those systems themselves. It’s the latter that SambaNova will be focusing on selling and delivering with this latest tranche of funding, Liang said.

SambaNova’s opportunity, Liang believes, lies in selling software-based AI systems to enterprises that are keen to adopt more AI into their business, but might lack the talent and other resources to do so if it requires running and maintaining large systems.

“The market right now has a lot of interest in AI. They are finding they have to transition to this way of competing, and it’s no longer acceptable not to be considering it,” said Liang in an interview.

The problem, he said, is that most AI companies “want to talk chips,” yet many would-be customers will lack the teams and appetite to essentially become technology companies to run those services. “Rather than you coming in and thinking about how to hire scientists and hire and then deploy an AI service, you can now subscribe, and bring in that technology overnight. We’re very proud that our technology is pushing the envelope on cases in the industry.”

To be clear, a company will still need data scientists, just not the same number, and specifically not the same number dedicating their time to maintaining systems, updating code and other more incremental work that comes managing an end-to-end process.

SambaNova has not disclosed many customers so far in the work that it has done — the two reference names it provided to me are both research labs, the Argonne National Laboratory and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory — but Liang noted some typical use cases.

One was in imaging, such as in the healthcare industry, where the company’s technology is being used to help train systems based on high-resolution imagery, along with other healthcare-related work. The coincidentally-named Corona supercomputer at the Livermore Lab (it was named after the 2014 lunar eclipse, not the dark cloud of a pandemic that we’re currently living through) is using SambaNova’s technology to help run calculations related to some COVID-19 therapeutic and antiviral compound research, Marshall Choy, the company’s VP of product, told me.

Another set of applications involves building systems around custom language models, for example in specific industries like finance, to process data quicker. And a third is in recommendation algorithms, something that appears in most digital services and frankly could always do to work a little better than it does today. I’m guessing that in the coming months it will release more information about where and who is using its technology.

Liang also would not comment on whether Google and Intel were specifically tapping SambaNova as a partner in their own AI services, but he didn’t rule out the prospect of partnering to go to market. Indeed, both have strong enterprise businesses that span well beyond technology companies, and so working with a third party that is helping to make even their own AI cores more accessible could be an interesting prospect, and SambaNova’s DataScale (and the Dataflow-as-a-Service system) both work using input from frameworks like PyTorch and TensorFlow, so there is a level of integration already there.

“We’re quite comfortable in collaborating with others in this space,” Liang said. “We think the market will be large and will start segmenting. The opportunity for us is in being able to take hold of some of the hardest problems in a much simpler way on their behalf. That is a very valuable proposition.”

The promise of creating a more accessible AI for businesses is one that has eluded quite a few companies to date, so the prospect of finally cracking that nut is one that appeals to investors.

“SambaNova has created a leading systems architecture that is flexible, efficient and scalable. This provides a holistic software and hardware solution for customers and alleviates the additional complexity driven by single technology component solutions,” said Deep Nishar, senior managing partner at SoftBank Investment Advisers, in a statement. “We are excited to partner with Rodrigo and the SambaNova team to support their mission of bringing advanced AI solutions to organizations globally.”

Apr
13
2021
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Meroxa raises $15M Series A for its real-time data platform

Meroxa, a startup that makes it easier for businesses to build the data pipelines to power both their analytics and operational workflows, today announced that it has raised a $15 million Series A funding round led by Drive Capital. Existing investors Root, Amplify and Hustle Fund also participated in this round, which together with the company’s previously undisclosed $4.2 million seed round now brings total funding in the company to $19.2 million.

The promise of Meroxa is that businesses can use a single platform for their various data needs and won’t need a team of experts to build their infrastructure and then manage it. At its core, Meroxa provides a single software-as-a-service solution that connects relational databases to data warehouses and then helps businesses operationalize that data.

Image Credits: Meroxa

“The interesting thing is that we are focusing squarely on relational and NoSQL databases into data warehouse,” Meroxa co-founder and CEO DeVaris Brown told me. “Honestly, people come to us as a real-time FiveTran or real-time data warehouse sink. Because, you know, the industry has moved to this [extract, load, transform] format. But the beautiful part about us is, because we do change data capture, we get that granular data as it happens.” And businesses want this very granular data to be reflected inside of their data warehouses, Brown noted, but he also stressed that Meroxa can expose this stream of data as an API endpoint or point it to a Webhook.

The company is able to do this because its core architecture is somewhat different from other data pipeline and integration services that, at first glance, seem to offer a similar solution. Because of this, users can use the service to connect different tools to their data warehouse but also build real-time tools on top of these data streams.

Image Credits: Meroxa

“We aren’t a point-to-point solution,” Meroxa co-founder and CTO Ali Hamidi explained. “When you set up the connection, you aren’t taking data from Postgres and only putting it into Snowflake. What’s really happening is that it’s going into our intermediate stream. Once it’s in that stream, you can then start hanging off connectors and say, ‘Okay, well, I also want to peek into the stream, I want to transfer my data, I want to filter out some things, I want to put it into S3.’ ”

Because of this, users can use the service to connect different tools to their data warehouse but also build real-time tools to utilize the real-time data stream. With this flexibility, Hamidi noted, a lot of the company’s customers start with a pretty standard use case and then quickly expand into other areas as well.

Brown and Hamidi met during their time at Heroku, where Brown was a director of product management and Hamidi a lead software engineer. But while Heroku made it very easy for developers to publish their web apps, there wasn’t anything comparable in the highly fragmented database space. The team acknowledges that there are a lot of tools that aim to solve these data problems, but few of them focus on the user experience.

Image Credits: Meroxa

“When we talk to customers now, it’s still very much an unsolved problem,” Hamidi said. “It seems kind of insane to me that this is such a common thing and there is no ‘oh, of course you use this tool because it addresses all my problems.’ And so the angle that we’re taking is that we see user experience not as a nice-to-have, it’s really an enabler, it is something that enables a software engineer or someone who isn’t a data engineer with 10 years of experience in wrangling Kafka and Postgres and all these things. […] That’s a transformative kind of change.”

It’s worth noting that Meroxa uses a lot of open-source tools but the company has also committed to open-sourcing everything in its data plane as well. “This has multiple wins for us, but one of the biggest incentives is in terms of the customer, we’re really committed to having our agenda aligned. Because if we don’t do well, we don’t serve the customer. If we do a crappy job, they can just keep all of those components and run it themselves,” Hamidi explained.

Today, Meroxa, which the team founded in early 2020, has more than 24 employees (and is 100% remote). “I really think we’re building one of the most talented and most inclusive teams possible,” Brown told me. “Inclusion and diversity are very, very high on our radar. Our team is 50% black and brown. Over 40% are women. Our management team is 90% underrepresented. So not only are we building a great product, we’re building a great company, we’re building a great business.”  

Apr
09
2021
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SnackMagic picks up $15M to expand from build-your-own snack boxes into a wider gifting marketplace

The office shut-down at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic last year spurred huge investment in digital transformation and a wave of tech companies helping with that, but there were some distinct losers in the shift, too — specifically those whose business models were predicated on serving the very offices that disappeared overnight. Today, one of the companies that had to make an immediate pivot to keep itself afloat is announcing a round of funding, after finding itself not just growing at a clip, but making a profit, as well.

SnackMagic, a build-your-own snack box service, has raised $15 million in a Series A round of funding led by Craft Ventures, with Luxor Capital also participating.

(Both investors have an interesting track record in the food-on-demand space: Most recently, Luxor co-led a $528 million round in Glovo in Spain, while Craft backs/has backed the likes of Cloud Kitchens, Postmates and many more.)

The funding comes on the back of a strong year for the company, which hit a $20 million revenue run rate in eight months and turned profitable in December 2020.

Founder and CEO Shaunak Amin said in an interview that the plan will be to use the funding both to continue growing SnackMagic’s existing business, as well as extend into other kinds of gifting categories. Currently, you can ship snacks anywhere in the world, but the customizable boxes — recipients are gifted an amount that they can spend, and they choose what they want in the box themselves from SnackMagic’s menu, or one that a business has created and branded as a subset of that — are only available in locations in North America, serviced by SnackMagic’s primary warehouse. Other locations are given options of pre-packed boxes of snacks right now, but the plan is to slowly extend its pick-and-mix model to more geographies, starting with the U.K.

Alongside this, the company plans to continue widening the categories of items that people can gift each other beyond chocolates, chips, hot sauces and other fun food items, into areas like alcohol, meal kits and nonfood items. There’s also scope for expanding to more use cases into areas like corporate gifting, marketing and consumer services, as well as analytics coming out of its sales.

Amin calls the data that SnackMagic is amassing about customer interest in different brands and products “the hidden gem” of the platform.

“It’s one of the most interesting things,” he said. Brands that want to add their items to the wider pool of products — which today numbers between 700 and 800 items — also get access to a dashboard where they monitor what’s selling, how much stock is left of their own items, and so on. “One thing that is very opaque [in the CPG world] is good data.”

For many of the bigger companies that lack their own direct sales channels, it’s a significantly richer data set than what they typically get from selling items in the average brick and mortar store, or from a bigger online retailer like Amazon. “All these bigger brands like Pepsi and Kellogg not only want to know this about their own products more but also about the brands they are trying to buy,” Amin said. Several of them, he added, have approached his company to partner and invest, so I guess we should watch this space.

SnackMagic’s success comes from a somewhat unintended, unlikely beginning, and it’s a testament to the power of compelling, yet extensible technology that can be scaled and repurposed if necessary. In its case, there is personalization technology, logistics management, product inventory and accounting, and lots of data analytics involved.

The company started out as Stadium, a lunch delivery service in New York City that was leveraging the fact that when co-workers ordered lunch or dinner together for the office — say around a team-building event or a late-night working session, or just for a regular work day — oftentimes they found that people all hankered for different things to eat.

In many cases, people typically make separate orders for the different items, but that also means if you are ordering to all eat together, things would not arrive at the same time; if it’s being expensed, it’s more complicated on that front too; and if you’re thinking about carbon footprints, it might also mean a lot less efficiency on that front too.

Stadium’s solution was a platform that provided access to multiple restaurants’ menus, and people could pick from all of them for a single order. The business had been operating for six years and was really starting to take off.

“We were quite well known in the city, and we had plans to expand, and we were on track for March 2020 being our best month ever,” Amin said. Then, COVID-19 hit. “There was no one left in the office,” he said. Revenue disappeared overnight, since the idea of delivering many items to one place instantly stopped being a need.

Amin said that they took a look at the platform they had built to pick many options (and many different costs, and the accounting that came with that) and thought about how to use that for a different end. It turned out that even with people working remotely, companies wanted to give props to their workers, either just to say hello and thanks, or around a specific team event, in the form of food and treats — all the more so since the supply of snacks you typically come across in so many office canteens and kitchens were no longer there for workers to tap.

It’s interesting, but perhaps also unsurprising, that one of the by-products of our new way of working has been the rise of more services that cater (no pun intended) to people working in more decentralised ways, and that companies exploring how to improve rewarding people in those environments are also seeing a bump.

Just yesterday, we wrote about a company called Alyce raising $30 million for its corporate gifting platform that is also based on personalization — using AI to help understand the interests of the recipient to make better choices of items that a person might want to receive.

Alyce is taking a somewhat different approach than SnackMagic: it’s not holding any products itself, and there is no warehouse but rather a platform that links buyers with those providing products. And Alyce’s initial audience is different, too: instead of internal employees (the first, but not final, focus for SnackMagic) it is targeting corporate gifting, or presents that sales and marketing people might send to prospects or current clients as a please and thank you gesture.

But you can also see how and where the two might meet in the middle — and compete not just with each other, but the many other online retailers, Amazon and otherwise, plus the consumer goods companies themselves looking for ways of diversifying business by extending beyond the B2C channel.

“We don’t worry about Amazon. We just get better,” Amin said when I asked him about whether he worried that SnackMagic was too easy to replicate. “It might be tough anyway,” he added, since “others might have the snacks but picking and packing and doing individual customization is very different from regular e-commerce. It’s really more like scalable gifting.”

Investors are impressed with the quick turnaround and identification of a market opportunity, and how it quickly retooled its tech to make it fit for purpose.

“SnackMagic’s immediate success was due to an excellent combination of timing, innovative thinking and world-class execution,” said Bryan Rosenblatt, principal investor at Craft Ventures, in a statement. “As companies embrace the future of a flexible workplace, SnackMagic is not just a snack box delivery platform but a company culture builder.”

Apr
08
2021
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EHR startup Canvas Medical raises $17M and partners with insurance heavyweight Anthem

Canvas Medical, an electronic health records (EHR) startup, today announced their $17 million Series A and a new partnership with Anthem, one of the biggest health insurance companies in the country.

The round was co-led by Inspired Capital and IA Ventures, with participation from Upfront Ventures. This round brings the company’s total funding to date to $20 million. 

The San Francisco-based company, which launched in 2015, aims to help doctors experience a more efficient — and painless — approach to delivering value-based care by offering an EHR platform that promises “80% fewer clicks, 3x faster workflows, and the ability to truly work on one screen,” said Andrew Hines, the company’s CEO and founder.

Andrew Hines

Andrew Hines. Image Credits: Canvas Medical

Value-based care is a delivery model where providers are paid based on patient health outcomes as opposed to the traditional pay-per-service model where doctors are reimbursed per visit.

We’ve seen a transition in the U.S. toward value-based care over the last several years, and that shift is also being reflected in how doctors are getting reimbursed. As a result, existing EHR companies find themselves having to add bells and whistles to their platforms, which in turn has compromised the doctor’s workflow experience.

“What has happened over time is we have asked our clinicians to become sophisticated coders. They are clicking through screens that are cluttered, that are not designed with human factors in mind,” said Steve Strongwater in Catalyst, a journal on innovation in care delivery published by the New England Journal of Medicine. Strongwater is a physician and the CEO of Atrius Health in Boston.

“Current EHRs are a workplace hazard from an ergonomics perspective,” said Hines. “It’s like if you sit in the wrong chair day in and day out, your back is going to hurt.” 

While technology has made many people’s jobs easier, that’s not the case for doctors. Studies have shown that EHRs are actually a source of physician burnout in the U.S., which is in and of itself a problem of national concern. 

The EHR market is extremely fragmented (there are several hundred EHR companies in the U.S.) which makes sharing medical records between physicians a challenge. Because health insurance claims contain significant medical information, insurance companies are a reliable alternative source for a lot of the important data about their members. But if a doctor needs to access that information for treatment purposes – which they have to do regularly – they have to log into a different portal or access a different report depending on each patient’s insurance. That’s one of the problems Canvas aims to solve, and their partnership with Anthem is just the beginning.

While there’s often a major amount of inertia — and associated cost — with changing EHRs, Hines, a data scientist-turned-entrepreneur, says the company assuages these concerns by leading its sale efforts with its numbers.

“Doctors who use Canvas experience 30% more productivity in the first month and are able to save 1-2 hours a day charting — which allows them to see more patients or go home early,” he added.

 

Apr
07
2021
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Swyft raises $17.5 million to bring same-day delivery to all the retailers that aren’t Amazon

Thanks to major players like Amazon and Walmart, we’ve become accustomed to next- or same-day delivery. But the pandemic has also renewed our interest in buying from smaller businesses and retailers.

Swyft, a company that has just raised $17.5 million in a Series A, helps retailers of any size provide affordable same-day delivery. The round was co-led by Inovia Capital and Forerunner Ventures, with participation from Shopify and existing investors Golden Ventures and Trucks VC.

Swyft is a marketplace, connecting a network of shipping carriers with vendors. But the company also provides software to those carriers to make them more efficient, and turns them into a vast network that allows them to pick up more inventory without adding to their infrastructure.

In other words, several regional carriers may play a part in delivering a parcel shipped via Swyft without making any big changes to their original routes or adding new drivers, trucks, etc.

To date, major players in both shipping and retail have dominated this space, thanks in large part to their ability to deliver quickly. Swyft is looking to amass an army, for lack of a better term, comprised of all of the smaller players, including mom and pop retailers and vendors as well as smaller, regional carriers. Banded together through software, these carriers and retailers can match the scale and influence of the behemoths without spending a fortune.

Swyft was co-founded by Aadil Kazmi (CEO), Zeeshan Hamid (head of Engineering) and Maraz Rahman (head of Sales). Kazmi and Hamid both spent their careers at Amazon, working on data and last-mile operations for the behemoth. Rahman was an early employee at a YC-backed proptech startup.

The trio started asking themselves early last year why retailers weren’t able to offer same-day delivery and chose to tackle the gap they discovered.

The key ingredient to Swyft is not its aggregation of couriers, but the software it provides to them. Because Swyft is increasing demand for these carriers, it also needs to make them more efficient. The back-end software allows carriers to digitize or automate a good deal of what they’re traditionally doing by hand.

Kazmi says that Swyft is able to come in anywhere between 25-30% cheaper than the incumbent option.

“I don’t know what percent of your purchases are from Amazon, but for me it’s like 150%,” said Eurie Kim. “I’d prefer to buy elsewhere with the pandemic, and support local and independent brands, but Amazon’s trained us all to have fast and free shipping. It feels like an opportunity where the consumer experience is really lacking and the burden on merchants and retailers is extremely heavy.”

Swyft currently has 16 full-time employees; 12% percent are female and 75% are people of color, according to the company.

Since April 2020, Swyft has facilitated the delivery of more than 180,000 packages, and expanded gross margin from 78% to 82%, thanks in large part to revenue from the software side of the business and a zero-asset model.

Apr
07
2021
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Pathlight, a performance management tool for customer-facing teams and the individuals in them, raises $25M

The longer we continue to work with either all or part of our teams in remote, out-of-physical-office environments, the more imperative it becomes for those teams to have some tools in place to keep the channels of communication and management open, and for the individuals in those teams to have a sense of how well they are performing. Today, one of the startups that provides a team productivity app with that in mind is announcing a round of funding to fuel its growth.

Pathlight, which has built a performance management platform for customer-facing teams — sales, field service and support — to help managers and employees themselves track and analyze how they are doing, to coach them when and where it’s needed and to communicate updates and more, has picked up $25 million — money that it will be using to continue growing its customer base and the functionality across its app.

The funding is being led by Insight Partners, with previous backers Kleiner Perkins and Quiet Capital also participating, alongside Uncorrelated Ventures; Jeremy Stoppelman, CEO of Yelp; David Glazer, CFO of Palantir; and Michael Ovitz, co-founder of CAA and owner of Broad Beach Ventures. Pathlight has now raised $35 million.

Pathlight today provides users with a range of tools to visualize team and individual performance across various parameters set by managers, using data that teams integrate from other platforms like Salesforce, Zendesk and Outreach, among others.

Using that data and specific metrics for the job in question, managers can then initiate conversations with individuals to focus on specific areas where things need attention, and provide some coaching to help fix it. It can also be used to provide team-wide updates and encouragement, which sits alongside whatever other tools a person might use in their daily customer-facing work.

Since launching in March 2020, the startup has picked up good traction, with customers including Twilio, Earnin, Greenhouse and CLEAR. But perhaps even more importantly, the pandemic and resulting switch to remote work has underscored how necessary tools like Pathlight’s have become: The startup says that engagement on its platform has shot up 300% in the last 12 months.

Alexander Kvamme, the CEO of Pathlight, said that he first became aware of the challenges of communicating across customer-facing teams, and having transparency on how they are doing as individuals and as a group, when he was at Yelp. Yelp had acquired his startup, reservations service SeatMe, and used the acquisition to build and run Yelp Reservations.

He was quick to realize that there weren’t really effective tools for him to see how individuals in the sales team were doing, how they were doing compared to goals the company wanted to achieve and based on the sales data they already had in other systems, how to work more effectively with people to communicate when something needed changing, and how to tailor all that in line with new variations in the formula — in their case, how to sell new products like a reservations service alongside advertising and other Yelp services for businesses.

“Whether it’s five or 3,000 people, the problem doesn’t go away,” he said. “Everyone uses their own systems, and it hurts front-line employees when they don’t know how they are doing, or don’t get recognition when they are doing well, or don’t get coaching when they are not. Our thesis was that if software is eating the world, and you as a company are buying more software and analytics, over time managers will be more like data analysts. So we are providing a way for managers to be more data-driven.”

Five years down the line, Kvamme got the bug again to start a company and decided to return to that problem, teaming up with co-founder Trey Doig, the engineer who designed SeatMe and then turned it into Yelp Reservations and is now Pathlight’s CTO.

As they see it, the challenge has still not really been addressed. That’s not to say that there are not a number of companies — competitors to Pathlight — looking to fill that gap as well. Another people management platform called Lattice last year picked up $45 million  (I’m guessing it will be raising money again around about now); HubSpot, Zoho, SalesLoft and a number of others also are taking different approaches to the same challenge: front-line customer-facing people spend the majority of their time and attention on interacting with people, and so there need to be better tools in place to help them figure out how to make that communication more effective, figure out what is working and what is not.

And all of this, of course, is not at all new: It’s not like we all woke up one day and suddenly wanted to know how we are doing at work, or managers suddenly felt they needed to communicate with staff.

What has changed, however, is how we work: Many of us have not seen the inside of our offices for more than a year at this point, and for a large proportion of us, we may never return again, or if we do it will be under different circumstances.

All of this means that some of the more traditional metrics and indicators of our performance, praising, management relationships and learning from teammates simply is not there anymore.

In customer-facing areas like sales, support and field service, that lack of contact may be even more acute, since many of the teams working in these environments have long relied on huddles and communication throughout the day, week and month to continuously tweak work and improve it. So while tools like Pathlight’s will be useful as data analytics provision for teams regardless of how we work, it can be argued that they are even more important right now.

“I think people have started to realize that if you can empower front line to be more independent, your numbers will go up and do better,” Kvamme said.

This is part of what went into the investment decision made here.

“With the acceleration of digital transformation across the enterprise, it’s not enough to rethink the way we work — we must also rethink the way we manage,” said Jeff Lieberman, MD at Insight Partners. “Pathlight is ushering in a new age of data-driven management, an ethos that we believe every enterprise will need to embrace — quickly. We are excited to partner with the Pathlight team as they bring their powerful platform to companies across the world.”

Apr
07
2021
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Blue dot raises $32M for AI that helps businesses manage their tax accounting

Artificial intelligence has become a fundamental cornerstone of how a lot of business software works, providing a useful boost in reading, understanding and using the often-fragmented trove of data that organizations generate these days. In the latest development, an Israeli startup called Blue dot, which uses AI to help companies handle their tax accounting, is announcing $32 million in funding to continue its growth, specifically addressing the demand from companies for more user-friendly tools to help read and correctly itemize expenses for tax purposes.

“The tax sector is very complicated, and we are playing in a very large space, but it’s a huge revolution,” Blue dot’s CEO and co-founder Isaac Saft said in an interview. “Business and enterprise accounting is just not going to look the same in the future as it does today.”

The funding is being led by Ibex Investors in partnership with Lutetia Technology Partners, with past investors La Maison Partners, Viola and Target Global also contributing. Blue dot rebranded only last week from its original name, VATBox (part of the funding will be used to help Blue dot move deeper into the U.S. market, where the concept of VAT is not quite so ubiquitous: there is no national sales tax and states determine the rates themselves).

PitchBook notes that under its previous name, the startup last raised money in 2017, a $20 million Series B led by Viola at a $120 million post-money valuation.

While Blue dot is not disclosing valuation today, it’s likely to be significantly higher than this based on some of its engagements. In addition to customers like Amazon, tobacco giant BAT and Dell, it also has a partnership with one of the bigger names in expense accounting, SAP Concur, which uses Blue dot to power its expense data entry tool to automatically read charges and figure out how to itemize them so that employees or accountants don’t need to go through the pain of that themselves.

As Saft describes it, part of what is propelling his company’s business is the bigger trend of consumerization and the role that it has played in enterprise services: the working world has picked up a lot of technology tools, led by the smartphone, to help them organize their personal lives, and a lot of what they are being “served” through technology is increasingly personalized with lower barriers of entry, whether its on e-commerce sites, entertainment or social media. In the working world, people can often be frustrated as a result with how much work something like expenses can involve — a process that gets ever more complicated the more strict tax regimes become.

Blue dot’s approach is to essentially view the tax accounting process as something that can be improved with AI to make it easier for people to use — whether those people are workers itemizing their expenses, or accountants auditing them and running those through even bigger accounting processes. With a machine learning system that both takes into account a company’s own internal compliance and company policies, and the wider tax and regulatory framework, Blue dot helps “read” an expense and figure out how to notate it, how much tax should be accounted and where, and so on.

This is especially important as the process of entering and managing expenses gets pushed out to the people spending the money, rather than dedicated accountants handling that work on their behalf. An awareness of how modern offices are functioning today and evolving is one reason why investors were interested here.

“We believe Blue dot can change the way organizations worldwide manage accounting and its tax implications for their expenses,” Gal Gitter, a partner at Ibex, said in a statement. “There’s been a major market shift away from centralization of enterprise functions, including procurement. As that accelerates, more companies will be looking for ways to replace costly and complex manual processes with digital, automated solutions that use data and AI to essentially enable transactions to report themselves, which Blue dot delivers.”

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