Jul
30
2020
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Buildots raises $16M to bring computer vision to construction management

Buildots, a Tel Aviv and London-based startup that is using computer vision to modernize the construction management industry, today announced that it has raised $16 million in total funding. This includes a $3 million seed round that was previously unreported and a $13 million Series A round, both led by TLV Partners. Other investors include Innogy Ventures, Tidhar Construction Group, Ziv Aviram (co-founder of Mobileye & OrCam), Magma Ventures head Zvika Limon, serial entrepreneurs Benny Schnaider and  Avigdor Willenz, as well as Tidhar chairman Gil Geva.

The idea behind Buildots is pretty straightforward. The team is using hardhat-mounted 360-degree cameras to allow project managers at construction sites to get an overview of the state of a project and whether it remains on schedule. The company’s software creates a digital twin of the construction site, using the architectural plans and schedule as its basis, and then uses computer vision to compare what the plans say to the reality that its tools are seeing. With this, Buildots can immediately detect when there’s a power outlet missing in a room or whether there’s a sink that still needs to be installed in a kitchen, for example.

“Buildots have been able to solve a challenge that for many seemed unconquerable, delivering huge potential for changing the way we complete our projects,” said Tidhar’s Geva in a statement. “The combination of an ambitious vision, great team and strong execution abilities quickly led us from being a customer to joining as an investor to take part in their journey.”

The company was co-founded in 2018 by Roy Danon, Aviv Leibovici and Yakir Sundry. Like so many Israeli startups, the founders met during their time in the Israeli Defense Forces, where they graduated from the Talpiot unit.

“At some point, like many of our friends, we had the urge to do something together — to build a company, to start something from scratch,” said Danon, the company’s CEO. “For us, we like getting our hands dirty. We saw most of our friends going into the most standard industries like cloud and cyber and storage and things that obviously people like us feel more comfortable in, but for some reason we had like a bug that said, ‘we want to do something that is a bit harder, that has a bigger impact on the world.’ ”

So the team started looking into how it could bring technology to traditional industries like agriculture, finance and medicine, but then settled upon construction thanks to a chance meeting with a construction company. For the first six months, the team mostly did research in both Israel and London to understand where it could provide value.

Danon argues that the construction industry is essentially a manufacturing industry, but with very outdated control and process management systems that still often relies on Excel to track progress.

Image Credits: Buildots

Construction sites obviously pose their own problems. There’s often no Wi-Fi, for example, so contractors generally still have to upload their videos manually to Buildots’ servers. They are also three dimensional, so the team had to develop systems to understand on what floor a video was taken, for example, and for large indoor spaces, GPS won’t work either.

The teams tells me that before the COVID-19 lockdowns, it was mostly focused on Israel and the U.K., but the pandemic actually accelerated its push into other geographies. It just started work on a large project in Poland and is scheduled to work on another one in Japan next month.

Because the construction industry is very project-driven, sales often start with getting one project manager on board. That project manager also usually owns the budget for the project, so they can often also sign the check, Danon noted. And once that works out, then the general contractor often wants to talk to the company about a larger enterprise deal.

As for the funding, the company’s Series A round came together just before the lockdowns started. The company managed to bring together an interesting mix of investors from both the construction and technology industries.

Now, the plan is to scale the company, which currently has 35 employees, and figure out even more ways to use the data the service collects and make it useful for its users. “We have a long journey to turn all the data we have into supporting all the workflows on a construction site,” said Danon. “There are so many more things to do and so many more roles to support.”

Image Credits: Buildots

Jul
28
2020
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Hevo draws in $8 million Series A for its no-code data pipeline service

Hevo founders Manish Jethani and Sourabh Agarwal.

According to data pipeline startup Hevo, many small to medium-sized companies juggle more than 40 different applications to manage sales, marketing, finance, customer support and other operations. All of these applications are important sources of data that can be analyzed to improve a company’s performance. That data often remains separate, however, making it difficult for different teams to collaborate.

Hevo enables its clients’ employees to integrate data from more than 150 different sources, including enterprise software from Salesforce and Oracle, even if they don’t have any technical experience. The company announced today that it has raised an $8 million Series A round led by Singapore-based venture capital firm Qualgro and Lachy Groom, a former executive at payments company Stripe.

The round, which brings Hevo’s total raised so far to $12 million, also included participation from returning investors Chiratae Ventures and Sequoia Capital India’s early-stage startup program Surge. The company was first covered by TechCrunch when it raised seed funding in 2017.

Hevo’s Series A will be used to increase the number of integrations available on its platform, and hire sales and marketing teams in more countries, including the United States and Singapore. The company currently has clients in 16 markets, including the U.S., India, France, Australia and Hong Kong, and counts payments company Marqeta among its customers.

In a statement, Puneet Bysani, tech lead manager at Marqeta, said, “Hevo saved us many engineering hours, and our data teams could focus on creating meaningful KPIs that add value to Marqeta’s business. With Hevo’s pre-built connectors, we were able to get data from many sources into Redshift and Snowflake very quickly.”

Based in Bangalore and San Francisco, Hevo was founded in 2017 by chief executive officer Manish Jethani and chief technology officer Sourabh Agarwal. The two previously launched SpoonJoy, a food delivery startup that was acquired by Grofers, one of India’s largest online grocery delivery services, in 2015. Jethani and Agarwal spent a year working at Grofers before leaving to start Hevo.

Hevo originated in the challenges Jethani and Agarwal faced while developing tech for SpoonJoy’s order and delivery system.

“All of our team members would come to us and say, ‘hey, we want to look at these metrics,’ or we would ask our teams questions if something wasn’t working. Oftentimes, they would not have the data available to answer those questions,” Jethani told TechCrunch.

Then at Grofers, Jethani and Agarwal realized that even large companies face the same challenges. They decided to work on a solution to allow companies to quickly integrate data sources.

For example, a marketing team at an e-commerce company might have data about its advertising on social media platforms, and how much traffic campaigns bring to their website or app. But they might not have access to data about how many of those visitors actually make purchases, or if they become repeat customers. By building a data pipeline with Hevo, they can bring all that information together.

Hevo is designed to serve all sectors, including e-commerce, healthcare and finance. In order to use it, companies sign up for Hevo’s services on its website and employees enter their credentials for software supported by the platform. Then Hevo automatically extracts and organizes the data from those sources and prepares it for cloud-based data warehouses, such as Amazon Redshift and Snowflake. A user dashboard allows companies to customize integrations or hide sensitive data.

Hevo is among several “no code, low code” startups that have recently raised venture capital funding for building tools that enable non-developers to add features to their existing software. The founders say its most direct competitor is Fivetran, an Oakland, California-based company that also builds pipelines to move data to warehouses and prepare it for analysis.

Jethani said Hevo differentiates by “optimizing our product for non-technical users.”

“The number of companies who need to use data is very high and there is not enough talent available in the market. Even if it is available, it is very competitive and expensive to hire that engineering talent because big companies like Google and Amazon are also competing for the same talent,” he added. “So we felt that there has to be some democratization of who can use this technology.”

Hevo also focuses on integrating data in real time, which is especially important for companies that provide on-demand deliveries or services. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Jethani says e-commerce clients have used Hevo to manage an influx in orders as people under stay-at-home orders purchase more items online. Companies are also relying on Hevo to help organize and manage data as their employees continue to work remotely.

In a statement about the funding, Qualgro managing partner Heang Chhor said, “Hevo provides a truly innovative solution for extracting and transforming data across multiple data sources — in real time with full automation. This helps enterprises to fully capture the benefit of data flowing though the many databases and software they currently use. Hevo’s founders are the type of globally-minded entrepreneurs that we like to support.”

Jul
28
2020
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YC alum Paragon snags $2.5M seed for low-code app integration platform

Low-code is a hot category these days. It helps companies build workflows or simple applications without coding skills, freeing up valuable engineering resources for more important projects. Paragon, a member of the Y Combinator Winter 2020 cohort, announced a $2.5 million seed round today for its low-code application integration platform.

Investors include Y Combinator, Village Global, Global Founders Capital, Soma Capital and FundersClub.

“Paragon makes it easier for non-technical people to be able to build out integrations using our visual workflow editor. We essentially provide building blocks for things like API requests, interactions with third party APIs and conditional logic. And so users can drag and drop these building blocks to create workflows that describe business logic in their application,” says company co-founder Brandon Foo.

Foo acknowledges there are a lot of low-code workflow tools out there, but many like UIPath, Blue Prism and Automation Anywhere concentrate on robotic process automation (RPA) to automate certain tasks. He says he and co-founder Ishmael Samuel wanted to focus on developers.

“We’re really focused on how can we improve developer efficiency, and how can we bring the benefits of low code to product and engineering teams and make it easier to build products without writing manual code for every single integration, and really be able to streamline the product development process,” Foo told TechCrunch.

The way it works is you can drag and drop one of 1,200 predefined connectors for tools like Stripe, Slack and Google Drive into a workflow template, and build connectors very quickly to trigger some sort of action. The company is built on AWS serverless architecture, so you define the trigger action and subsequent actions, and Paragon handles all of the back-end infrastructure requirements for you.

It’s early days for the company. After launching in private beta in January, the company has 80 customers. It currently has six employees, including Foo, who previously co-founded Polymail, and Samuel, who was previously lead engineer at Uber. They plan to hire four more employees this year.

With both founders people of color, they definitely are looking to build a diverse team around them. “I think it’s already sort of built into our DNA. As a diverse founding team we have perhaps a broader viewpoint and perspective in terms of hiring the kind of people that we seek to work with. Of course, I think there’s always room for improvement, and so we’re always looking for new ways that we can be more inclusive in our hiring recruiting process [as we grow],” he said.

As far as raising during a pandemic, he says it’s been a crazy time, but he believes they are solving a real problem and that they can succeed in spite of the macro economic conditions of the moment.

Jul
28
2020
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Explorium reels in $31M Series B as data discovery platform grows

In a world with growing amounts of data, finding the right set for a particular machine learning model can be a challenge. Explorium has created a platform to make that an easier task, and today the startup announced a $31 million Series B.

The round was led by Zeev Ventures, with help from Dynamic Loop, Emerge, 01 Advisors and F2 Capital. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $50 million, according to the company.

CEO and co-founder Maor Shlomo says the company’s platform is designed to help people find the right data for their model. “The next frontier in analytics will not be about how you fine tune or improve a certain algorithm, it will be how do you find the right data to fit into those algorithms to make them as useful and impactful as possible,” he said.

He says that companies need this more than ever during the pandemic because this can help customers find more relevant data at a time when their historical data might not be useful to help build predictive models. For instance, if you’re a retailer, your historical shopping data won’t be relevant if you are in an area where you can no longer open your store, he says.

“There are so many environmental factors that are now influencing every business problem that organizations are trying to solve that Explorium is becoming this […] layer where you search for data to solve your business problems to fuel your predictive models,” he said.

When the pandemic hit in March, he worried about how it would affect his company, and he put a hold on hiring, but as he saw business increasing in April and May, he decided to accelerate again. The company currently has 87 employees between offices in Israel and the United States and he plans to be at 100 in the next couple of months.

When it comes to hiring, he says he doesn’t try to have hard and fast hiring rules like you have a certain degree or have gone to a certain school. “The only thing that’s important is getting good people hungry to succeed. The more diverse the culture is, the more diverse the group is, we find the more fun it is for people to discover each other and to discover different cultures,” Shlomo explained.

In terms of fundraising, while the company needs money to fuel its growth, at the same time it still had plenty of money in the bank from last year’s round. “We got into the pandemic and we didn’t know how long it’s going to last, and [early on] we didn’t yet know how it would impact the business. Existing investors were always bullish about the company. We decided to just go with that,” he said.

The company was founded in 2017 and previously raised a $19.1 million Series A round last year.

Jul
28
2020
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ComplyAdvantage nabs $50M for an AI platform and database to detect and stop financial crime

The growth of digital banking has opened up a wealth of opportunities for making the world of finance more accessible and transparent to a greater number of people. But the darker underbelly is that it has also created more avenues for illicit activity to flourish, with some $2 trillion laundered annually but only 1-3% of that sum “caught.”

To help combat that, a London-based startup called ComplyAdvantage, which has built an AI platform and wider database of some 10 million entities to help identify and track those involved in financial crime, is today announcing a growth round of funding of $50 million to expand its reach and operations.

Specifically, the plan will be to use the funding for hiring, to invest in the tools it uses to detect entities and map the relationships between them and to bring on more clients.

“We’ve been focused on more granular analysis and being able to scale to hundreds of millions of searches across our database,” said Charles Delingpole, founder and CEO, said in an interview. “The next phase is more around the network of contacts and more enhanced diligence.” The company today has some 250 staff, mainly in the U.K. and Romania.

The Series C is being led by Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan Board (Ontario Teachers’), a huge pension plan out of Canada (U.S. $155 billion) that is known as a prolific growth-stage tech investor.  Previous backers Balderton and Index are also in the round. The company has raised $88 million to date, and while it’s not disclosing its valuation, for some context, it was last valued at around $141 million in its last round a year ago, per PitchBook data.

Today, ComplyAdvantage has more than 500 customers, primarily financial institutions using it to meet regulatory compliance requirements as well as to reduce their own exposure and risk, providing some automated services to complement (and potentially replace) some of the manual checks that they make to prove you are who you say you are.

It also has a growing business with other groups that are tracking fraud for their own ends, such as insurance companies trying to stem fraudulent claims and government entities. It also has a number of partners that access its database and use that as part of their own solutions (Quantexa, which announced a big funding round of its own last week, is one of those licensing partners).

“A lot of companies in the wider identity space are powered by our data, even if they don’t disclose it,” Delingpole said.

The company had its start originally focusing on the process of helping banks meet regulatory compliance around fraud detection by ingesting and analysing documents provided by customers ahead of opening accounts, initiating larger transactions with new entities and so on. That has taken on a more targeted purpose in recent years as ComplyAdvantage’s database has grown deeper.

Today the core of the business is based around a central database of known money launderers, human traffickers, terrorists, drug lords and others who exploit financial rails to run illegal operations and make a profit from them.

It’s formed, Delingpole said, by way of “automatically ingesting tens of thousands of data points, from websites, national warning lists, linked real-time databases of companies and various other applications on top of that.” That central database is still growing, and Delingpole believes that it’s not unrealistic for it to run to a much higher number in order to get the most accurate picture possible.

“Although we have 10 million today, we want to cover every company and person one day. We think the right number is 8 billion” — that is, the world’s population. “With that larger database we can solve other kinds of crimes too.”

The startup already has a straight channel through to government agencies, reporting connections and discoveries on behalf of their clients directly to them. And to be clear, although there are now strong data protection measures in place in Europe, when people are linked to illegal activity, that puts them on a list that supersedes that. When someone is suspected and is tipped to authorities, that information is kept private.

While all institutions will continue to have teams of people dedicated to risk analysis and investigations into activity, the idea here is to supercharge that work with more data that helps those investigators tackle the greater scale of data in the world today.

“Detecting financial crime in billions of transactions that take place around the globe has become nearly impossible without the application of data science and machine learning. It is this approach that has made ComplyAdvantage into a leader in the category, and the go-to partner for organizations that seek to automate what are still very often manual or inadequate processes,” said Jan Hammer, a partner at Index Ventures, in a statement.

The longer-term opportunity is to build out ComplyAdvantage’s customer base by leveraging information that the company is already surfacing that might be relevant to other verticals.

Insurance is a key example, Delingpole said. “We already see a mention of a person having defaulted on a loan then making an insurance claim,” he said. “We see credit, fraud and ownership data together.”

This, of course, puts the company into close competition not just with others building credit databases but those building strong AI platforms to leverage data to gain deeper insights into seemingly disparate digital actions and to build better pictures of activity on behalf of their clients. That includes not just partners like Quantexa, but others like Palantir.

The strength here, said Delingpole, is the sheer size of ComplyAdvantage’s database and its very specific focus on financial crime and how that sits for companies that need to police that, both for their own business health and for regulatory reasons. It’s that focus that has attracted investment.

“ComplyAdvantage offers mission-critical technology solutions for combating financial crime and keeping pace with an ever-evolving regulatory landscape,” said Olivia Steedman, senior managing director, TIP, at Ontario Teachers’. “The company is well-positioned to continue its rapid growth as its powerful technology platform transforms the compliance and risk management process for its clients.”

Jul
23
2020
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IObeya raises $17M to digitize management planning processes like Agile

As we move deeper into the pandemic, companies are looking for ways to digitize processes that previously required in-person meetings with manual approaches. Investors appear to be rewarding companies that can achieve this. IObeya, a French company that helps digitize management planning processes like lean and agile, announced a $17 million Series A today.

Red River West led the round with help from Atlantic Bridge Capital and Fortino Capital Partners. It has now raised a total of $20 million, according to the company.

Tim McCracken, who heads up the company’s U.S. operations, says the name comes from the Japanese word for the large room where companies did all their planning. Many companies gather a group of people in a conference room and line the walls with sticky notes and white boards with their plans for the coming weeks and months.

Even before the pandemic struck, it wasn’t the most effective way to record this valuable business content, and iObeya has developed a service to put it in the digital realm. “And so one of the things that they did with those obeya rooms was they had lots of different visual management boards with Post-it notes and with different types of indicators that they would use to manage their business. And so what iObeya does is digitize that type of visual management, so that you can access it from multiple locations and share it amongst teams and basically eliminate the need for doing it on paper and on walls,” McCracken explained.

This involves digitizing four main areas that include lean management, factory floor management, agile programming and, finally, what they call the digital workplace, which includes design thinking, virtual whiteboarding and brainstorming. All of these approaches have lots of planning associated with them and could benefit from being moved online.

Image Credits: iObeya

They are approaching 100 employees, with the majority in France right now, with a small office in the U.S. (in Seattle), but they will be using this money to expand with plans to add 50 more people. He says the company has always looked at diversity when it comes to its hiring practices.

“We want to try to attract, not only experienced salespeople, as well as the support organization around them, but also really do as much outreach in the local community to see how we can ensure that our workforce reflects the community,” he said.

As the company had to shut down offices due to COVID-19, McCracken says their own software helped them make that transition more smoothly. “We actually use our own software to manage business so we had very little disruption to our actual work. At the same time, the volume of work increased probably four to five fold, simply because of increased demand for the software. So we had to manage not only moving from working in an office to work at home, but also the increased workload,” he said.

The company was founded near Paris in 2011. They plan to use the money to expand operations in the U.S. and build awareness of the company through greater sales and marketing spend.

Jul
23
2020
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Quantexa raises $64.7M to bring big data intelligence to risk analysis and investigations

The wider field of cybersecurity — not just defending networks, but identifying fraudulent activity — has seen a big boost in activity in the last few months, and that’s no surprise. The global health pandemic has led to more interactions and transactions moving online, and the contractions we’re feeling across the economy and society have led some to take more desperate and illegal actions, using digital challenges to do it.

Today, a U.K. company called Quantexa — which has built a machine learning platform branded “Contextual Decision Intelligence” (CDI) that analyses disparate data points to get better insight into nefarious activity, as well as to (more productively) build better profiles of a company’s entire customer base — is raising a growth round of funding to address that opportunity.

The London-based startup has picked up $64.7 million, a Series C it will be using to continue building out both its tools and the use cases for applying them, as well as expanding geographically, specifically in North America, Asia-Pacific and more European territories.

The mission, said Vishal Marria, Quantexa’s founder and CEO, is to “connect the dots to make better business decisions.”

The startup built its business on the back of doing work for major banks and others in the financial services sector, and Marria added that the plan will be to continue enhancing tools for that vertical while also expanding into two growing opportunities: working with insurance and government/public sector organizations.

The backers in this round speak to how Quantexa positions itself in the market, and the traction it’s seen to date for its business. It’s being led by Evolution Equity Partners — a VC that specialises in innovative cybersecurity startups — with participation also from previous backers Dawn Capital, AlbionVC, HSBC and Accenture, as well as new backers ABN AMRO Ventures. HSBC, Accenture and ABN AMRO are all strategic investors working directly with the startup in their businesses.

Altogether, Quantexa has “thousands of users” across 70+ countries, it said, with additional large enterprises, including Standard Chartered, OFX and Dunn & Bradstreet.

The company has now raised some $90 million to date, and reliable sources close to the company tell us that the valuation is “well north” of $250 million — which to me sounds like it’s between $250 million and $300 million.

Marria said in an interview that he initially got the idea for Quantexa — which I believe may be a creative portmanteau of “quantum” and “context” — when he was working as an executive director at Ernst & Young and saw “many challenges with investigations” in the financial services industry.

“Is this a money launderer?” is the basic question that investigators aim to answer, but they were going about it, “using just a sliver of information,” he said. “I thought to myself, this is bonkers. There must be a better way.”

That better way, as built by Quantexa, is to solve it in the classic approach of tapping big data and building AI algorithms that help, in Marria’s words, connect the dots.

As an example, typically, an investigation needs to do significantly more than just track the activity of one individual or one shell company, and you need to seek out the most unlikely connections between a number of actions in order to build up an accurate picture. When you think about it, trying to identify, track, shut down and catch a large money launderer (a typical use case for Quantexa’s software) is a classic big data problem.

While there is a lot of attention these days on data protection and security breaches that leak sensitive customer information, Quantexa’s approach, Marria said, is to sell software, not ingest proprietary data into its engine to provide insights. He said that these days deployments typically either are done on premises or within private clouds, rather than using public cloud infrastructure, and that when Quantexa provides data to complement its customers’ data, it comes from publicly available sources (for example, Companies House filings in the U.K.).

There are a number of companies offering services in the same general area as Quantexa. They include those that present themselves more as business intelligence platforms that help detect fraud (such as Looker) through to those that are secretive and present themselves as AI businesses working behind the scenes for enterprises and governments to solve tough challenges, such as Palantir, through to others focusing specifically on some of the use cases for the technology, such as ComplyAdvantage and its focus on financial fraud detection.

Marria says that it has a few key differentiators from these. First is how its software works at scale: “It comes back to entity resolution that [calculations] can be done in real time and at batch,” he said. “And this is a platform, software that is easily deployed and configured at a much lower total cost of ownership. It is tech and that’s quite important in the current climate.”

And that is what has resonated with investors.

“Quantexa’s proprietary platform heralds a new generation of decision intelligence technology that uses a single contextual view of customers to profoundly improve operational decision making and overcome big data challenges,” said Richard Seewald, founding and managing partner of Evolution, in a statement. “Its impressive rapid growth, renowned client base and potential to build further value across so many sectors make Quantexa a fantastic partner whose team I look forward to working with.” Seewald is joining the board with this round.

Jul
16
2020
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Qumulo scores $125M Series E on $1.2B valuation as storage biz accelerates

Qumulo, a Seattle storage startup helping companies store vast amounts of data, announced a $125 million Series E investment today on a $1.2 billion valuation.

BlackRock led the round with help from Highland Capital Partners, Madrona Venture Group, Kleiner Perkins and new investor Amity Ventures. The company reports it has now raised $351 million.

CEO Bill Richter says the valuation is more than 2x its most recent round, a $93 million Series D in 2018. While the valuation puts his company in the unicorn club, he says that it’s more important than simple bragging rights. “It puts us in the category of raising at a billion-plus dollar level during a very complicated environment in the world. Actually, that’s probably the more meaningful news,” he told TechCrunch.

It typically hasn’t been easy raising money during the pandemic, but Richter reports the company started getting inbound interest in March just before things started shutting down nationally. What’s more, as the company’s quarter closed at the end of April, they had grown almost 100% year over year, and beaten their pre-COVID revenue estimate. He says they saw that as a signal to take additional investment.

“When you’re putting up nearly 100% year over year growth in an environment like this, I think it really draws a lot of attention in a positive way,” he said. And that attention came in the form of a huge round that closed this week.

What’s driving that growth is that the amount of unstructured data, which plays to the company’s storage strength, is accelerating during the pandemic as companies move more of their activities online. He says that when you combine that with a shift to the public cloud, he believes that Qumulo is well positioned.

Today the company has 400 customers and more than 300 employees, with plans to add another 100 before year’s end. As he adds those employees, he says that part of the company’s core principles includes building a diverse workforce. “We took the time as an organization to write out a detailed set of hiring practices that are designed to root out bias in the process,” he said.

One of the keys to that is looking at a broad set of candidates, not just the ones you’ve known from previous jobs. “The reason for that is that when you force people to go through hiring practices, you open up the position to a broader, more diverse set of candidates and you stop the cycle of continuously creating what I call ‘club memberships’, where if you were a member of the club before you’re a member in the future,” he says.

The company has been around since 2012 and spent the first couple of years conducting market research before building its first product. In 2014 it released a storage appliance, but over time it has shifted more toward hybrid solutions.

Jul
15
2020
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Crisp, the platform for demand forecasting the food supply chain, gets $12 million in funding

Crisp, a demand forecasting platform for the food industry, has today announced the close of a $12 million Series A funding round led by FirstMark Capital, with participation from Spring Capital and Swell Partners.

Crisp launched out of beta in January of this year with a product that aimed to give food suppliers and distributors a clearer picture of customer demand at retailers. Before Crisp, these organizations usually had several data scientists compiling data from various sources into an unintelligible spreadsheet, making it difficult to see general demand outlooks, and nearly impossible to spot anomalies.

Not only does this lead to losses in revenue, but it also contributes to a terrible amount of food waste.

Crisp looks to solve this by giving these suppliers and distributors a visualization of their data instantly and in real time. The company has built integrations with a large number of ERP software, ingesting historical data from food brands and combining them with a wide range of other signals around demand drivers, such as seasonality, holidays, price sensitivity, past marketing campaigns, changes in the competitive landscape and weather that might affect the sale or shipment of ingredients or the product itself.

The end goal is to consolidate data across the industry, from brands to distributors to grocery stores, so that each individual link in the food chain can do a better job of matching their supply with their demand on an individual basis.

Since launching out of beta, Crisp has expanded beyond food brands and suppliers into retail and distributor space. The company has also expanded beyond produce and dairy into verticals like beverages, bakery, CPG, flowers, meat and poultry. The startup says its seen an 80% increase in the number of customers using the platform since January.

Obviously, the coronavirus pandemic brings its own unique challenges and opportunities to Crisp’s business. On the one hand, grocery store shopping is booming and the supply chain behind it is certainly in need of better data science and demand forecasting as user behavior shifts rapidly. On the other hand, user behavior is shifting rapidly.

With state by state, and sometimes county by county, lockdowns and shifts in the restrictions imposed on small businesses, Crisp has had to manually track what’s going on around the country in order to provide clear insights to its customers.

“This period we’re in has increased that willingness to share data and increased collaboration between everybody in the supply chain,” said founder and CEO Are Traasdahl. “We’ve seen a big shift there. Earlier, everyone assumed that everyone else was able to deliver, but now this ability to have a full, top-down visibility across a whole depth of companies, not just the companies next to you in your trading relationships, but being able to unify data and have more insights from multiple steps away from yourself, and get that data in real time been accelerated.”

Crisp currently has 33 employees (with plans to hire on the back of the funding), which is 33% women and 15% people of color. Half of Crisp’s management team are women.

Jul
14
2020
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Macro just raised $4.3M to make your never-ending Zoom calls more useful

In this pandemic world, in-person meetings are a thing of the past. Most meetings these days are done via video conference, and no company has capitalized on the shift quite like Zoom.

Macro, a new FirstMark-backed company, is looking to capitalize on the capitalization. To Capitalism!

Sorry. Let’s get back on track. Macro is a native app that employs the Zoom SDK to add depth and analysis to your daily work meetings.

There are two modes. The first is essentially focused on collaboration, which turns the usual Zoom meeting into a light overlay, where folks are shown in small, circular bubbles at the top of the screen. This mode is to be used when folks are working on the same project, such as a wireframe or a collaborative document. The UI is meant to kind of fade into the background, allowing users to click on taps or objects behind other attendees’ bubbles.

The other mode is an Arena or Stadium mode, which is meant for hands-on meetings and presentations. It has two distinct features. The first is an Airtime feature, which shows how much different participants have ‘had the floor’ for the past five minutes, thirty minutes, or in total during the meeting. The second is a text-input system on the right side of the UI that lets people enter Questions, Takeaways, Action Items and Insights from the call.

Macro automatically adds that text to a Google Doc, and formats it into something instantly shareable.

There is no extra hassle involved in getting Macro up and running. When a user installs Macro on their computer, they’re instantly loaded into Macro each time they click a Zoom link, whether it’s in an email, a calendar invite, or in Slack.

Macro cofounders Ankith Harathi and John Keck explained to TechCrunch that this isn’t your usual enterprise play. The product is free to use and, with the Google Doc export, is still useful even as a single-player product. The Google Doc is auto-formatted with Macro messaging, explaining that it was compiled by the company with a link to the product.

In other words, Harathi and Keck want to see individuals within organizations get Macro for themselves and let the product grow organically within an organization, rather than trying to sell to large teams right off the bat.

“A lot of collaborative productivity SaaS applications need your whole team to switch over to get any value out of them,” said Harathi. “That’s a pretty big barrier, especially since so many new products are coming out and teams are constantly switching and that creates a lot of noise. So our plan was to ensure one person can use this and get value out of it, and nobody else is affected. They get the better interface and other team members will want to switch over without any requirement to do so.”

This is possible in large part to the cost of the Zoom SDK, which is $0. The heavy lifting of audio and video is handled by Zoom, as is the high compute cost. This means that Macro can offer its product for free at a relatively low cost to the company as it tries to grow.

Of course, there is some risk involved with building on an existing platform. Namely, one Zoom platform change could wreak havoc on Macro’s product or model. However, the team has plans to expand beyond Zoom to other video conferencing platforms like Google, BlueJeans, WebEx, etc. Roelof Botha told TechCrunch back in May that businesses built on other platforms have a much greater chance of success when there is platform across that sector, as there certainly is here.

And there seems to be some competition for Macro in particular — for one, Microsoft Teams just added some new features to its video conferencing UI to relieve brain fatigue and Hello is looking to offer app-free video chat via browser.

Macro is also looking to add additional functionality to the platform, such as the ability to integrate an agenda into the meeting and break up the accompanying Google doc by agenda item.

The company has raised a total of $4.8 million since launch, including a new $4.3 million seed round from FirstMark Capital, General Catalyst and Underscore VC. Other investors include NextView Ventures, Jason Warner (CTO GitHub), Julie Zhuo (former VP Design Facebook), Harry Stebbings (Founder/Host of 20minVC), Adam Nash (Dropbox, Wealthfront, LinkedIn), Clark Valberg (CEO Invision), among others.

Macro has more than 25,000 users and has been a part of 50,000 meetings to date.

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