Jul
18
2018
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Swim.ai raises $10M to bring real-time analytics to the edge

Once upon a time, it looked like cloud-based serviced would become the central hub for analyzing all IoT data. But it didn’t quite turn out that way because most IoT solutions simply generate too much data to do this effectively and the round-trip to the data center doesn’t work for applications that have to react in real time. Hence the advent of edge computing, which is spawning its own ecosystem of startups.

Among those is Swim.ai, which today announced that it has raised a $10 million Series B funding round led by Cambridge Innovation Capital, with participation from Silver Creek Ventures and Harris Barton Asset Management. The round also included a strategic investment from Arm, the chip design firm you may still remember as ARM (but don’t write it like that or their PR department will promptly email you). This brings the company’s total funding to about $18 million.

Swim.ai has an interesting take on edge computing. The company’s SWIM EDX product combines both local data processing and analytics with local machine learning. In a traditional approach, the edge devices collect the data, maybe perform some basic operations against the data to bring down the bandwidth cost and then ship it to the cloud where the hard work is done and where, if you are doing machine learning, the models are trained. Swim.ai argues that this doesn’t work for applications that need to respond in real time. Swim.ai, however, performs the model training on the edge device itself by pulling in data from all connected devices. It then builds a digital twin for each one of these devices and uses that to self-train its models based on this data.

“Demand for the EDX software is rapidly increasing, driven by our software’s unique ability to analyze and reduce data, share new insights instantly peer-to-peer – locally at the ‘edge’ on existing equipment. Efficiently processing edge data and enabling insights to be easily created and delivered with the lowest latency are critical needs for any organization,” said Rusty Cumpston, co-founder and CEO of Swim.ai. “We are thrilled to partner with our new and existing investors who share our vision and look forward to shaping the future of real-time analytics at the edge.”

The company doesn’t disclose any current customers, but it is focusing its efforts on manufacturers, service providers and smart city solutions. Update: Swim.ai did tell us about two customers after we published this story: The City of Palo Alto and Itron.

Swim.ai plans to use its new funding to launch a new R&D center in Cambridge, UK, expand its product development team and tackle new verticals and geographies with an expanded sales and marketing team.

Jul
17
2018
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Dialpad dials up $50M Series D led by Iconiq

Dialpad announced a $50 million Series D investment today, giving the company plenty of capital to keep expanding its business communications platform.

The round was led by Iconiq Capital with help from existing investors Andreessen Horowitz, Amasia, Scale Ventures, Section 32 and Work-Bench. With today’s round, the company has now raised $120 million.

As technology like artificial intelligence and internet of things advances, it’s giving the company an opportunity to expand its platform. Dialpad products include UberConference conferencing software and VoiceAI for voice transcription applications.

The company is competing in a crowded market that includes giants like Google and Cisco and a host of smaller companies like GoToMeeting (owned by LogMeIn), Zoom and BlueJeans. All of these companies are working to provide cloud-based meeting and communications services.

Increasingly, that involves artificial intelligence like natural language processing (NLP) to provide on the fly transcription services. While none of these services is perfect yet, they are growing increasingly accurate.

VoiceAI was launched shortly after Dialpad acquired TalkIQ in May to take this idea a step further by applying sentiment analysis and analytics to voice transcripts. The company plans to use the cash infusion to continue investing in artificial intelligence on the Dialpad platform.

Post call transcript generated by VoiceAI. Screenshot: Dialpad

CEO Craig Walker certainly sees the potential of artificial intelligence for the company moving forward. “Smart CIOs know AI isn’t just another trendy tech tool, it’s the future of work. By arming sales and support teams, and frankly everybody in the organization, with VoiceAI’s real-time artificial intelligence and insights, businesses can dramatically improve customer satisfaction and ultimately their bottom line,” Walker said in a statement.

Dialpad is also working with voice-driven devices like the Amazon Alexa and it announced Alexa integration with Dialpad in April. This allows Alexa users to make calls by saying something like, “Alexa, call Liz Green with Dialpad” and the Echo will make the phone call on your behalf using Dialpad software.

According to the company website, it has over 50,000 customers including WeWork, Stitch Fix, Uber and Reddit. The company says it has added over 10,000 new customers since its last funding round in September, 2017.

Jun
26
2018
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YC grad ZenProspect rebrands as Apollo, lands $7M Series A

ZenProspect, a startup that emerged from the Y Combinator Winter 2016 class to help companies use data and intelligence to increase sales, announced today that it was rebranding as Apollo. It also announced a $7 million Series A investment.

The round was led by Nexus Venture Partners. Social Capital and Y Combinator also participated. Apparently Y Combinator liked what they saw enough to continue to invest in the company.

Apollo helps customers connect their sales people with the right person at the right time. That is typically a customer that is most likely to buy the product. It does this by combining a number of tools including a rules engine to automate prospect routing, a lead scoring tool and analytics to measure results at a granular level, among others.

Apollo analytics. Photo: Apollo

The company also uses data they have collected from 200 million contacts at 10 million companies to match sellers to buyers along with the information in the user’s own CRM tools — typically Salesforce. Apollo is making this vast database of company and contact data available for customers to use themselves for free starting today.

Apollo CEO and founder Tim Zheng says the company was born out of a need at a previous venture. He was working at a startup that was floundering and sales had flatlined. When they couldn’t find a product on the market to help them, they decided to build it and saw the number of users increase from 5000 to 150,000 users in just five weeks. That eventually reached a million users.  As he spoke to friends at other Bay area companies about what his company had done, he heard a lot of interest, and decided to turn that sales tool into a company.

The company launched as ZenProspect in 2015 and went through Y Combinator in 2016. They were the third fastest growing company in that YC batch, generating $1 million in annual recurring revenue (ARR) during their tenure. In fact, they were profitable out of the gate, using their own software to sell the product.

Zheng points out that there are thousands of sales tools out there, but he said, even if you bought every one of them and stitched them together you still wouldn’t have a great sales process. Zheng says his company has figured out how to solve that problem and provide that structure to deliver the best prospects to sales people to close deals.

The company works closely with Salesforce as 80 percent of its customers are using data inside of Salesforce in conjunction with the Apollo tool. It’s worth noting, however, that Apollo is not built on top of Salesforce platform. It just integrates with it.

They target both early stage startups looking to increase sales and established enterprise customers with huge sales teams. So far it’s been working. Today, Apollo has 500 customers and 50 employees. With the current influx of money, they expect to get to 120 in the next 12 -18 months.

Jun
26
2018
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Celonis scores $50M Series B on $1B valuation

In the age of digital transformation, it’s important to understand your business processes and find improvements quickly, but it’s not always easy to do without bringing in expensive consultants to help. Celonis, a New York City enterprise startup, created a sophisticated software solution to help solve this problem, and today it announced a $50 million Series B investment from Accel and 83North on a $1 billion valuation.

It’s not typical for an enterprise startup to have such a lofty valuation so early in its funding cycle, but Celonis is not a typical enterprise startup. It launched in 2011 in Munich with this idea of helping companies understand their processes, which they call process mining.

“Celonis is an intelligent system using logs created by IT systems such as SAP, Salesforce, Oracle and Netsuite, and automatically understands how these processes work and then recommends intelligently how they can be improved,” Celonis CEO and co-founder Alexander Rinke explained.

The software isn’t magic, but helps customers visualize each business process, and then looks at different ways of shifting how and where humans interact with the process or bringing in technology like robotics process automation (RPA) when it makes sense.

Celonis process flow. Photo: Celonis

Rinke says the software doesn’t simply find a solution and that’s the end of the story. It’s a continuous process loop of searching for ways to help customers operate more efficiently. This doesn’t have to be a big change, but often involves lots incremental ones.

“We tell them there are lots of answers. We don’t think there is one solution. All these little things don’t execute well. We point out these things. Typically we find it’s easy to implement, ” he said.

Screenshot: Celonis

It seems to be working. Customers include the likes of Exxon-Mobile, 3M, Merck, Lockheed-Martin and Uber. Rinke reports deals are often seven figures. The company has grown an astonishing 5,000 percent in the past 4 years and 300 percent in the past year alone. What’s more, it has been profitable every year since it started. (How many enterprise startups can say that?)

The company currently has 400 employees, but unlike most Series B investments, they aren’t looking at this money to grow operationally. They wanted to have the money for strategic purposes, so if the opportunity came along to make an acquisition or expand into a new market, they would be in a position to do that.

“I see the funding as a confirmation and commitment, a sign from our investors and an indicator about what we’ve built and the traction we have. But for us it’s more important, and our investors share this, what they really invested in was the future of the company,” Rinke said. He’s sees an on-going commitment to help his customers as far more important than a billion valuation.

But that doesn’t hurt either as it moves rapidly forward.

Jun
25
2018
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BigID scores $30 million Series B months after closing A round

BigID announced a big $30 million Series B round today, which comes on the heels of closing their $14M A investment in January. It’s been a whirlwind year for the NYC data security startup as GDPR kicked in and companies came calling for their products.

The round was led by Scale Venture Partners with participation from previous investors ClearSky Security, Comcast Ventures, Boldstart Ventures, Information Venture Partners and SAP.io.

BigID has a product that helps companies inventory their data, even extremely large data stores, and identify the most sensitive information, a convenient feature at a time where GDPR data privacy rules, which went into effect at the end of May, require that companies doing business in the EU have a grip on their customer data.

That’s certainly something that caught the eye of Ariel Tseitlin from Scale Venture Partners. “We talked to a lot of companies, how they feel more specifically about GDPR, and more broadly about how they think about data within in their organizations, and we got a very strong signal that there is a lot of concern around the regulation and how to prepare for that, but also more fundamentally, that CIOs and chief data officers don’t have a good sense of where data resides within their organizations,” he explained.

Dimitri Sirota, CEO and co-founder, says that GDPR is a nice business driver, but he sees the potential to grow the data security market much more broadly than simply as a way to comply with one regulatory ruling or another. He says that American companies are calling, even some without operations in Europe because they see getting a grip on their customer data as a fundamental business imperative.

BigID product collage. Graphic: BigID

The company plans to expand their partner go-to market strategy in the coming the months, another approach that could translate to increased sales. That will include global systems integrators. Sirota says to expect announcements involving the usual suspects in the coming months. “You’ll see over the next little bit, several announcements with many of the names that you’re familiar with in terms of go-to market and global relationships,” he said.

Finally there are the strategic investors in this deal, including Comcast and SAP, which Sirota thinks will also ultimately help them get enterprise deals they might not have landed up until now. The $30 million runway also gives customers who might have been skittish about dealing with a young-ish startup, more confidence to make the deal.

BigID seems to have the right product at the right time. Scale’s Tseitlin, who will join the board as part of the deal, certainly sees the potential of this company to scale far beyond its current state.

“The area where we tend to spend a lot of time, and I think is what attracted Dimitri to having us as an investor, is that we really help with the scaling phase of company growth,” he said. True to their name, Scale tries to get the company to that next level beyond product/market fit to where they can deliver consistently and continually grow revenue. They have done this with Box and DocuSign and others and hope that BigID is next.

Jun
20
2018
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Nginx lands $43 million Series C to fuel expansion

Nginx, the commercial company behind the open source web server, announced a $43 million Series C investment today led by Goldman Sachs Growth Equity.

NEA, which has been on board as an early investor is also participating. As part of the deal, David Campbell, managing director at Goldman Sachs’ Merchant Banking Division will join the Nginx board. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $103 million, according to the company.

The company was not willing to discuss valuation for this round.

Nginx’s open source approach is already well established running 400 million websites including some of the biggest in the world. Meanwhile, the commercial side of the business has 1,500 paying customers, giving those customers not just support, but additional functionality such as load balancing, an API gateway and analytics.

Nginx CEO Gus Robertson was pleased to get the backing of such prestigious investors. “NEA is one of the largest venture capitalists in Silicon Valley and Goldman Sachs is one of the largest investment banks in the world. And so to have both of those parceled together to lead this round is a great testament to the company and the technology and the team,” he said.

The company already has plans to expand its core commercial product, Nginx Plus in the coming weeks. “We need to continue to innovate and build products that help our customers alleviate the complexity of delivery of distributed or micro service based applications. So you’ll see us release a new product in the coming weeks called Controller. Controller is the control plane on top of Nginx Plus,” Robertson explained. (Controller was launched in Beta last fall.)

But with $43 million in the bank, they want to look to build out Nginx Plus even more in the next 12-18 months. They will also be opening new offices globally to add to its international presence, while expanding its partners ecosystem. All of this means an ambitious goal to increase the current staff of 220 to 300 by the end of the year.

The open source product was originally created by Igor Sysoev back in 2002. He introduced the commercial company on top of the open source project in 2011. Robertson came on board as CEO a year later. The company has been growing 100 percent year over year since 2013 and expects to continue that trajectory through 2019.

Jun
07
2018
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Devo scores $25 million and cool new name

Logtrust is now known as Devo in one of the cooler name changes I’ve seen in a long time. Whether they intended to pay homage to the late 70s band is not clear, but investors probably didn’t care, as they gave the data operations startup a bushel of money today.

The company now known as Devo announced a $25 million Series C round led by Insight Venture Partners with participation from Kibo Ventures. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $71 million.

The company changed its name because it was about much more than logs, according to CEO Walter Scott. It offers a cloud service that allows customers to stream massive amounts of data — think terabytes or even petabytes — relieving the need to worry about all of the scaling and hardware requirements processing this amount of data would require. That could be from logs from web servers, security data from firewalls or transactions taking place on backend systems, as some examples.

The data can live on prem if required, but the processing always gets done in the cloud to provide for the scaling needs. Scott says this is about giving companies this ability to process and understand massive amounts of data that previously was only in reach of web scale companies like Google, Facebook or Amazon.

But it involves more than simply collecting the data. “It’s the combination of us being able to collect all of that data together with running analytics on top of it all in a unified platform, then allowing a very broad spectrum of the business [to make use of it],” Scott explained.

Devo dashboard. Photo: Devo

Devo sees Sumo Logic, Elastic and Splunk as its primary competitors in this space, but like many startups they often battle companies trying to build their own systems as well, a difficult approach for any company to take when you are dealing with this amount of data.

The company, which was founded in Spain is now based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and has close to 100 employees. Scott says he has the budget to double that by the end of the year, although he’s not sure they will be able to hire that many people that rapidly

May
16
2018
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Parsable secures $40M investment to bring digital to industrial workers

As we increasingly hear about automation, artificial intelligence and robots taking away industrial jobs, Parsable, a San Francisco-based startup sees a different reality, one with millions of workers who for the most part have been left behind when it comes to bringing digital transformation to their jobs.

Parsable has developed a Connected Worker platform to help bring high tech solutions to deskless industrial workers who have been working mostly with paper-based processes. Today, it announced a $40 million Series C cash injection to keep building on that idea.

The round was led by Future Fund with help from B37 and existing investors Lightspeed Venture Partners, Airbus Ventures and Aramco Ventures. Today’s investment brings the total to nearly $70 million.

The Parsable solution works on almost any smartphone or tablet and is designed to enter information while walking around in environments where a desktop PC or laptop simply wouldn’t be practical. That means being able to tap, swipe and select easily in a mobile context.

Photo: Parsable

The challenge the company faced was the perception these workers didn’t deal well with technology. Parsable CEO Lawrence Whittle says the company, which launched in 2013, took its time building its first product because it wanted to give industrial workers something they actually needed, not what engineers thought they needed. This meant a long period of primary research.

The company learned, it had to be dead simple to allow the industry vets who had been on the job for 25 or more years to feel comfortable using it out of the box, while also appealing to younger more tech-savvy workers. The goal was making it feel as familiar as Facebook or texting, common applications even older workers were used to using.

“What we are doing is getting rid of [paper] notebooks for quality, safety and maintenance and providing a digital guide on how to capture work with the objective of increasing efficiency, reducing safety incidents and increasing quality,” Whittle explained.

He likens this to the idea of putting a sensor on a machine, but instead they are putting that instrumentation into the hands of the human worker. “We are effectively putting a sensor on humans to give them connectivity and data to execute work in the same way as machines,” he says.

The company has also made the decision to make the platform flexible to add new technology over time. As an example they support smart glasses, which Whittle says accounts for about 10 percent of its business today. But the founders recognized that reality could change and they wanted to make the platform open enough to take on new technologies as they become available.

Today the company has 30 enterprise customers with 30,000 registered users on the platform. Customers include Ecolab, Schlumberger, Silgan and Shell. They have around 80 employees, but expect to hit 100 by the end of Q3 this year, Whittle says.

May
16
2018
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Dashdash, a platform to create web apps using only spreadsheet skills, nabs $8M led by Accel

Sometimes I think of spreadsheets as the dirty secret of the IT world today. We’ve seen a huge explosion in the number of productivity tools on the market tailored to help workers with different aspects of doing their job and organising their information, in part to keep them from simply dumping lots of information into Excel or whatever program they happen to use. And yet, spreadsheets are still one of the very, very most common pieces of software in use today to organise and share information: Excel alone now has around 1 billion users, and for those who are devotees, spreadsheets are not going to go away soon.

So it’s interesting that there are now startups — and larger companies like Microsoft — emerging that are tapping into that, creating new services that still appear like spreadsheets in the front end, while doing something completely different in the back.

One of the latest is a startup called dashdash, a startup out of Berlin and Porto that is building a platform for people, who might to be programmers but know their way around a spreadsheet, to use those skills to build, modify and update web apps.

The dashdash platform looks and acts like a spreadsheet up front, but behind the scenes, each ‘macro’ links to a web app computing feature, or a design element, to build something that ultimately will look nothing like a spreadsheet, bypassing all the lines of code that traditionally go into building web apps.

The startup is still in stealth mode, with plans to launch formally later this year. Today, it’s announcing that it has received $8 million in Series A funding to get there, with the round being led by Accel, with participation from Cherry Ventures, Atlantic Labs, and angel investors including Felix Jahn, founder of Home24. (It’s raised $9 million to date including $1 million in seed funding.)

Co-founded by serial entrepreneurs Humberto Ayres Pereira and Torben Schulz — who had also been co-founders of food delivery startup EatFirst — Ayres Pereira said that the idea came out of their own observations in work life and the bottleneck of getting things fixed or modified in a company’s apps (both internal and customer-facing).

“People have a lot of frustration with the IT department, and their generally access to it,” he said in an interview. “If you are part of an internet business, it’s very hard to get features prioritised in an app, no matter how small they are. Tech is like a big train on iron tracks, and it can be hard to steer it in a different direction.”

On the other hand, even among the less technical staff, there will be proficiency with certain software, including spreadsheets. “Programming and spreadsheets already store and transform data,” Ayers Pereira said. “There are already a lot of people trying to do more with incumbent spreadsheets, and [combining that with] non-IT people frustrated at having no solution for working on apps, we saw an opportunity to use this to build an elegant platform the empower people. We can’t teach people to program but we can provide them with the tools to do the exact same job.”

While in stealth mode, he said that early users have ranged from smaller businesses such as pharmacies, to “a multi-billion-dollar internet company.” (No names, of course, but it’s interesting to me that this problem even exists at large tech businesses.)

Dashdash is not the only company that is tapping this opportunity. The other week, and IoT startup called Hanhaa launched a service that would let those using Hanhaa IoT sensors in their networks to monitor and interact with them by way of an Excel spreadsheet — another tip of the hat to the realisation that those who might need to keep tabs on devices in the network might not be the people who are the engineers and technicians who have set them up.

That, in turn, is part of a bigger effort from Microsoft to catapult Excel from its reputation as a piece of clunky legacy software into something much more dynamic, playing on the company’s push into cloud services and Office 365.

In September of 2017, Microsoft gave a developer preview of new “streaming functions” for Excel on Office 365, which lets developers, IT professionals and end users the ability to bring streams of data from a variety of sources such as websites, stock tickers and hardware directly into a cell or cells in an Excel spreadsheet, by way of a custom function. “Because Excel is so widely used and familiar to so many people, the ability to do all kinds of amazing things with that data and without complex integration is now possible,” said Ben Summers, a senior product manager for the Office 365 ecosystem team, in a statement to TechCrunch.

That ability to remove the bottleneck from web app building, combined with the track record of the founders, are two of the reasons that Accel decided to invest before the product even launched.

“We believe in dashdash’s mission to democratise app creation and are excited to back Humberto and Torben at such an early stage in their journey,” said Andrei Brasoveanu, the Accel principal who led the deal. “The team has the experience and vision to build a high-impact company that brings computing to the fingertips of a broad audience. Over the past decade we’ve seen a proliferation of web services and APIs, but regular business users still need to rely on central IT and colleagues with development skills to leverage these in their day-to-day processes. With dashdash anyone will be able to access these powerful web services directly with minimal effort, empowering them to automate their day to day tasks and work more effectively.”

With every tool that emerges that frees up accessibility to more people — be they employees or consumers — there are inevitably questions about how that power will be used. In the case of dashdash, my first thought is about those who I know who work in IT: they generally don’t want anyone able to modify or “fix” their code, lest it just creates more problems. And that’s before you start wondering about how all these democratised web apps will look, and if they might inadvertently will add to more overall UI and UX confusion.

Ayres Pereira said dashdash is mindful of the design question, and will introduce ways of helping to direct this, for example for companies to implement their own house styles. And similarly, a business can put in place other controls to help channel how web apps created through dashdash’s spreadsheet interface ultimately get applied.

May
15
2018
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MemSQL raises $30M Series D round for its real-time database

MemSQL, a company best known for the real-time capabilities of its eponymous in-memory database, today announced that it has raised a $30 million Series D round, bringing the company’s overall funding to $110 million. The round was led by GV (the firm you probably still refer to as Google Ventures) and Glynn Capital. Existing investors Accell, Caffeinated Capital, Data Collective and IA Ventures also participated.

The MemSQL database offers a distributed, relational database that uses standard SQL drivers and queries for transactions and analytics. Its defining feature is the combination of its data ingestions technology that allows users to push millions of events per day into the service while its users can query the records in real time. The company recently showed that its tools can deliver a scan rate of over a trillion rows per second on a cluster with 12 servers.

The database is available for deployments on the major public clouds and on-premises.

MemSQL recently announced that it saw its fourth-quarter commercial booking hit 200 percent year-over-year growth — and that’s typically the kind of growth that investors like to see, even as MemSQL plays in a very competitive market with plenty of incumbents, startups and even open-source projects. Current MemSQL users include the likes of Uber, Akamai, Pinterest, Dell EMC and Comcast.

“MemSQL has achieved strong enterprise traction by delivering a database that enables operational analysis at unique speed and scale, allowing customers to create dynamic, intelligent applications,” said Adam Ghobarah, general partner at GV, in today’s announcement. “The company has demonstrated measurable success with its growing enterprise customer base and we’re excited to invest in the team as they continue to scale.”

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