Feb
19
2020
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SentinelOne raises $200M at a $1.1B valuation to expand its AI-based endpoint security platform

As cybercrime continues to evolve and expand, a startup that is building a business focused on endpoint security has raised a big round of funding. SentinelOne — which provides a machine learning-based solution for monitoring and securing laptops, phones, containerised applications and the many other devices and services connected to a network — has picked up $200 million, a Series E round of funding that it says catapults its valuation to $1.1 billion.

The funding is notable not just for its size but for its velocity: it comes just eight months after SentinelOne announced a Series D of $120 million, which at the time valued the company around $500 million. In other words, the company has more than doubled its valuation in less than a year — a sign of the cybersecurity times.

This latest round is being led by Insight Partners, with Tiger Global Management, Qualcomm Ventures LLC, Vista Public Strategies of Vista Equity Partners, Third Point Ventures and other undisclosed previous investors all participating.

Tomer Weingarten, CEO and co-founder of the company, said in an interview that while this round gives SentinelOne the flexibility to remain in “startup” mode (privately funded) for some time — especially since it came so quickly on the heels of the previous large round — an IPO “would be the next logical step” for the company. “But we’re not in any rush,” he added. “We have one to two years of growth left as a private company.”

While cybercrime is proving to be a very expensive business (or very lucrative, I guess, depending on which side of the equation you sit on), it has also meant that the market for cybersecurity has significantly expanded.

Endpoint security, the area where SentinelOne concentrates its efforts, last year was estimated to be around an $8 billion market, and analysts project that it could be worth as much as $18.4 billion by 2024.

Driving it is the single biggest trend that has changed the world of work in the last decade. Everyone — whether a road warrior or a desk-based administrator or strategist, a contractor or full-time employee, a front-line sales assistant or back-end engineer or executive — is now connected to the company network, often with more than one device. And that’s before you consider the various other “endpoints” that might be connected to a network, including machines, containers and more. The result is a spaghetti of a problem. One survey from LogMeIn, disconcertingly, even found that some 30% of IT managers couldn’t identify just how many endpoints they managed.

“The proliferation of devices and the expanding network are the biggest issues today,” said Weingarten. “The landscape is expanding and it is getting very hard to monitor not just what your network looks like but what your attackers are looking for.”

This is where an AI-based solution like SentinelOne’s comes into play. The company has roots in the Israeli cyberintelligence community but is based out of Mountain View, and its platform is built around the idea of working automatically not just to detect endpoints and their vulnerabilities, but to apply behavioral models, and various modes of protection, detection and response in one go — in a product that it calls its Singularity Platform that works across the entire edge of the network.

“We are seeing more automated and real-time attacks that themselves are using more machine learning,” Weingarten said. “That translates to the fact that you need defence that moves in real time as with as much automation as possible.”

SentinelOne is by no means the only company working in the space of endpoint protection. Others in the space include Microsoft, CrowdStrike, Kaspersky, McAfee, Symantec and many others.

But nonetheless, its product has seen strong uptake to date. It currently has some 3,500 customers, including three of the biggest companies in the world, and “hundreds” from the global 2,000 enterprises, with what it says has been 113% year-on-year new bookings growth, revenue growth of 104% year-on-year and 150% growth year-on-year in transactions over $2 million. It has 500 employees today and plans to hire up to 700 by the end of this year.

One of the key differentiators is the focus on using AI, and using it at scale to help mitigate an increasingly complex threat landscape, to take endpoint security to the next level.

“Competition in the endpoint market has cleared with a select few exhibiting the necessary vision and technology to flourish in an increasingly volatile threat landscape,” said Teddie Wardi, managing director of Insight Partners, in a statement. “As evidenced by our ongoing financial commitment to SentinelOne along with the resources of Insight Onsite, our business strategy and ScaleUp division, we are confident that SentinelOne has an enormous opportunity to be a market leader in the cybersecurity space.”

Weingarten said that SentinelOne “gets approached every year” to be acquired, although he didn’t name any names. Nevertheless, that also points to the bigger consolidation trend that will be interesting to watch as the company grows. SentinelOne has never made an acquisition to date, but it’s hard to ignore that, as the company to expand its products and features, that it might tap into the wider market to bring in other kinds of technology into its stack.

“There are definitely a lot of security companies out there,” Weingarten noted. “Those that serve a very specific market are the targets for consolidation.”

Feb
12
2020
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Model9 gets $9M Series A to move data between mainframes and cloud

Model9, an Israeli startup launched by mainframe vets, has come up with a way to transfer data between mainframe computers and the cloud, and today the company announced a $9 million Series A.

Intel Capital led the round with help from existing investors, including StageOne, North First Ventures and Glenrock Israel. The company reports it has now raised almost $13 million.

You may not realize it, but the largest companies in the world, like big banks, insurance companies, airlines and retailers, still use mainframes. These companies require the massive transaction processing capabilities of these stalwart machines, but find it’s difficult to get the valuable data out for more modern analytics capabilities. This is the hard problem that Model9 is attempting to solve.

Gil Peleg, CEO and co-founder at Model9, says that his company’s technology is focused on helping mainframe users get their data to the cloud or other on-prem storage. “Mainframe data is locked behind proprietary storage that is inaccessible to anything that’s happening in the evolving, fast-moving technology world in the cloud. And this is where we come in with patented technology that enables mainframes to read and write data directly to the cloud or any non-mainframe distributed storage system,” Peleg explained.

This has several important use cases. For starters, it can act as a disaster recovery system, eliminating the need to maintain expensive tape backups. It also can move this data to the cloud where customers can apply modern analytics to data that was previously inaccessible.

The company’s solution works with AWS, Google Cloud Platform, Microsoft Azure and IBM’s cloud solution. It also works with other on-prem storage solutions like EMC, Nutanix, NetApp and Hitatchi. He says the idea is to give customers true hybrid cloud options, whether a private cloud or a public cloud provider.

“Ideally our customers will deploy a hybrid cloud topology and benefit from both worlds. The mainframe keeps doing what it should do as a reliable, secure, trusted [machine], and the cloud can manage the scale and the rapidly growing amount of data and provide the new modern technologies for disaster recovery, data management and analytics,” he said.

The company was founded in 2016 and took a couple of years to develop the solution. Today, the company is working with a number  of large organizations using mainframes. Peleg says he wants to use the money to expand the sales and marketing operation to grow the market for this solution.

Feb
11
2020
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Google backs productivity startup building algorithmic inbox for Slacks, emails and texts

There have been plenty of stories written about the so-called “Slack-lash” and the growing unrest among workers dealing with DM interruptions that take their attention away from the task at hand. Slack is a poster child for the problem, but VCs have invested heavily in a number of collaboration tools over the past several years that have compartmentalized chat and commenting systems and have left workers reeling.

It seems fairly likely that we’ve reached peak VC interest in collaboration, but VCs are dealing with any slowdown by betting more heavily on tools that help workers make sense of the panoply of slick interfaced messaging tools. The latest bet, ’nuffsaid, is, yes, yet another productivity startup, though one that seems devoted to making the messaging realities of 2020 employment a bit more tolerable.

The Utah startup is emerging from stealth, launching the first element of their productivity platform in early access, and disclosing that they’ve raised $4.3 million in seed funding from General Catalyst, Google’s Gradient Ventures, Global Founders Capital, Work Life Ventures, SV Angel and Wasabi Ventures.

The oddly named company is releasing its first oddly named product, ‘nflow, into early access, bringing multiple collaboration platforms and a calendar into a single inbox. Just as the algorithmic timeline shaped how we digest the firehose of social media content, algorithmic inboxes might be the solution to a Slack-lash. And ’nuffsaid is taking this algorithmic approach for prioritizing Slack messages, as well as emails, texts and Zoom messages, with ‘nflow. The searchable unified inbox brings all of your messages into a single app, letting you know what’s urgent and what can probably wait until you’re finished taking care of the task at hand.

“We think there’s going to be an entire category of products that are all about adding AI into existing workflows. With ‘nflow, we think we’re taking our first baby step to our vision of that future,” CEO and co-founder Chris Hicken tells TechCrunch. Hicken was previously COO of UserTesting.

One of the more exciting elements of ‘nflow is the way it brings the calendar inside the communications hub. Google Calendar is still among the more estranged elements of productivity workflows. Using messages and emails as the basis for calendar events has always been a wishlist item, but the integration is rarely tight enough. Although ’nuffsaid’s drag-and-drop interface for creating calendar events while tagging team members and adding additional info showcases seems to be a pretty attractive solution, I’ll wait until I can poke around the app myself before making any full-throated endorsements.

The ’nuffsaid team says ‘nflow will launch commercially at (a rather pricey) $25 per month, but that people who sign up for their early access waitlist will unlock a lifetime rate of $10 per month.

The team of 18 has bigger near-term ambitions than the product they’re launching in early access today. If ‘nflow represents a more mass-market approach to delivering a productivity tool to workers frustrated by a messaging overload, their future launches signify a desire to dig deeper into specific enterprise workflows and bring specific types of teams on board.

Over the summer, the company plans to roll out a separate AI-driven customer success module that integrates with a variety of apps to give workers more actionable insights on what tasks are the most critical to maintaining and building customer relationships. The startup plans to build and roll out dedicated versions of the module for engineering, product and marketing, as well.

“There are so many collaboration tools, what I like about ’nuffsaid is that it’s where the work is actually happening and they’re not asking users to change their procedures,” General Catalyst Managing Director Niko Bonatsos tells TechCrunch. “Users still have the same email address, they’re still contacting their customers the same ways, they don’t have to start doing unnatural things that disrupt their workflows.”

Feb
11
2020
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Negotiatus, looking to help businesses optimize purchasing, raises $10 million

Negotiatus, a SaaS business meant to optimize and streamline the purchasing and procurement process for businesses, has today announced the close of a $10 million Series A round.

The funding was led by Rally Ventures, with participation from ERA, 645 Ventures, Green Visor Capital and Stage 2 Capital. This brings the company’s total funding to nearly $20 million.

Negotiatus was founded by Zach Garippa and Tom Jaklitsch with an idea to detangle the process of purchasing supplies for a business. Garippa told TechCrunch that most solutions to this problem focus on one piece of the puzzle, serving finance or operations or the purchasers themselves, but ultimately making the process more difficult for the other functions in the business.

Negotiatus pulls all of those stakeholders into a single platform where they can shop, place orders, track delivery information and manage spend all from one place.

For example, finance departments often have to manually review and remit payment for thousands of invoices a month, normally across at least several vendors and various formats. Negotiatus allows the finance department to view all of that in a weekly or monthly invoice.

Before Negotiatus, purchasers had to cross-reference approved brands, vendors and products each time they needed a new set of pens or toilet paper, jumping from one website to another and tracking shipments across multiple websites. Negotiatus scrapes your past purchase history to show purchasers what they want in a single place. And, of course, users can track those products directly from the Negotiatus dashboard.

Operations can centralize order requests and approvals within the Negotiatus platform, and leverage analytics provided by the company to make better purchasing decisions. Negotiatus scrapes the SKUs themselves, across vendors, to make sure that businesses are making the smartest possible decision with their budget.

The company says that it takes less than a day to get going on the platform.

Negotiatus generates revenue in two ways. The first is a regular subscription model that charges on a monthly basis for each location on the platform. The second is based on spend volume on the platform (which comes from the vendor side).

Thus far, Negotiatus has 300 customers, with a particular popularity among health and wellness businesses (SoulCycle, Orangetheory, CorePower Yoga) and co-working businesses (WeWork, Zeus, Domio). The company hopes to soon expand beyond physical products into software services.

Feb
10
2020
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Facebook Workplace co-founder launches downtime fire alarm Kintaba

“It’s an open secret that every company is on fire,” says Kintaba co-founder John Egan. “At any given moment something is going horribly wrong in a way that it has never gone wrong before.” Code failure downtimes, server outages and hack attacks plague engineering teams. Yet the tools for waking up the right employees, assembling a team to fix the problem and doing a post-mortem to assess how to prevent it from happening again can be as chaotic as the crisis itself.

Text messages, Slack channels, task managers and Google Docs aren’t sufficient for actually learning from mistakes. Alerting systems like PagerDuty focus on the rapid response, but not the educational process in the aftermath. Finally, there’s a more holistic solution to incident response with today’s launch of Kintaba.

The Kintaba team experienced these pains firsthand while working at Facebook after Egan and Zac Morris’ Y Combinator-backed data transfer startup Caffeinated Mind was acqui-hired in 2012. Years later, when they tried to build a blockchain startup and the whole stack was constantly in flames, they longed for a better incident alert tool. So they built one themselves and named it after the Japanese art of Kintsugi, where gold is used to fill in cracked pottery, “which teaches us to embrace the imperfect and to value the repaired,” Egan says.

With today’s launch, Kintaba offers a clear dashboard where everyone in the company can see what major problems have cropped up, plus who’s responding and how. Kintaba’s live activity log and collaboration space for responders let them debate and analyze their mitigation moves. It integrates with Slack, and lets team members subscribe to different levels of alerts or search through issues with categorized hashtags.

“The ability to turn catastrophes into opportunities is one of the biggest differentiating factors between successful and unsuccessful teams and companies,” says Egan. That’s why Kintaba doesn’t stop when your outage does.

Kintaba Founders (from left): John Egan, Zac Morris and Cole Potrocky

As the fire gets contained, Kintaba provides a rich text editor connected to its dashboard for quickly constructing a post-mortem of what went wrong, why, what fixes were tried, what worked and how to safeguard systems for the future. Its automated scheduling assistant helps teams plan meetings to internalize the post-mortem.

Kintaba’s well-pedigreed team and their approach to an unsexy but critical software-as-a-service attracted $2.25 million in funding led by New York’s FirstMark Capital.

“All these features add up to Kintaba taking away all the annoying administrative overhead and organization that comes with running a successful modern incident management practice,” says Egan, “so you can focus on fixing the big issues and learning from the experience.”

Egan, Morris and Cole Potrocky met while working at Facebook, which is known for spawning other enterprise productivity startups based on its top-notch internal tools. Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz built a task management system to reduce how many meetings he had to hold, then left to turn that into Asana, which filed to go public this week.

The trio had been working on internal communication and engineering tools as well as the procedures for employing them. “We saw firsthand working at companies like Facebook how powerful those practices can be and wanted to make them easier for anyone to implement without having to stitch a bunch of tools together,” Egan tells me. He stuck around to co-found Facebook’s enterprise collaboration suite Workplace while Potrocky built engineering architecture there and Morris became a mobile security lead at Uber.

Like many blockchain projects, Kintaba’s predecessor, crypto collectibles wallet Vault, proved an engineering nightmare without clear product market fit. So the team ditched it and pivoted to build out the internal alerting tool they’d been tinkering with. That origin story sounds a lot like Slack’s, which began as a gaming company that pivoted to turn its internal chat tool into a business.

So what’s the difference between Kintaba and just using Slack and email or a monitoring tool like PagerDuty, Splunk’s VictorOps or Atlassian’s OpsGenie? Here’s how Egan breaks a site downtime situation handled with Kintaba:

You’re on call and your pager is blowing up because all your servers have stopped serving data. You’re overwhelmed and the root cause could be any of the multitude of systems sending you alerts. With Kintaba, you aren’t left to fend for yourself. You declare an incident with high severity and the system creates a collaborative space that automatically adds an experienced IMOC (incident manager on call) along with other relevant on calls. Kintaba also posts in a company-wide incident Slack channel. Now you can work together to solve the problem right inside the incident’s collaborative space or in Slack while simultaneously keeping stakeholders updated by directing them to the Kintaba incident page instead of sending out update emails. Interested parties can get quick info from the stickied comments and #tags. Once the incident is resolved, Kintaba helps you write a postmortem of what went wrong, how it was fixed, and what will be done to prevent it from happening. Kintaba then automatically distributes the postmortem and sets up an incident review on your calendar.

Essentially, instead of having one employee panicking about what to do until the team struggles to coordinate across a bunch of fragmented messaging threads, a smoother incident reporting process and all the discussion happens in Kintaba. And if there’s a security breach that a non-engineer notices, they can launch a Kintaba alert and assemble the legal and PR team to help, too.

Alternatively, Egan describes the downtime fiascoes he’d experience without Kintaba like this:

The on call has to start waking up their management chain to try and figure out who needs to be involved. The team maybe throws a Slack channel together but since there’s no common high severity incident management system and so many teams are affected by the downtime, other teams are also throwing slack channels together, email threads are happening all over the place, and multiple groups of people are trying to solve the problem at once. Engineers begin stepping all over each other and sales teams start emailing managers demanding to know what’s happening. Once the problem is solved, no one thinks to write up a postmortem and even if they do it only gets distributed to a few people and isn’t saved outside that email chain. Managers blame each other and point fingers at people instead of taking a level headed approach to reviewing the process that led to the failure. In short: panic, thrash, and poor communication.

While monitoring-apps like PagerDuty can do a good job of indicating there’s a problem, they’re weaker at the collaborative resolution and post-mortem process, and designed just for engineers rather than everyone, like Kintaba. Egan says, “It’s kind of like comparing the difference between the warning lights on a piece of machinery and the big red emergency button on a factory floor. We’re the big red button . . . That also means you don’t have to rip out PagerDuty to use Kintaba,” since it can be the trigger that starts the Kintaba flow.

Still, Kintaba will have to prove that it’s so much better than a shared Google Doc, an adequate replacement for monitoring solutions or a necessary add-on that companies should pay $12 per user per month. PagerDuty’s deeper technical focus helped it go public a year ago, though it has fallen about 60% since to a market cap of $1.75 billion. Still, customers like Dropbox, Zoom and Vodafone rely on its SMS incident alerts, while Kintaba’s integration with Slack might not be enough to rouse coders from their slumber when something catches fire.

If Kintaba can succeed in incident resolution with today’s launch, the four-person team sees adjacent markets in task prioritization, knowledge sharing, observability and team collaboration, though those would pit it against some massive rivals. If it can’t, perhaps Slack or Microsoft Teams could be suitable soft landings for Kintaba, bringing more structured systems for dealing with major screw-ups to their communication platforms.

When asked why he wanted to build a legacy atop software that might seem a bit boring on the surface, Egan concluded that, “Companies using Kintaba should be learning faster than their competitors . . . Everyone deserves to work within a culture that grows stronger through failure.”

Feb
06
2020
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Netskope hauls in another $340M investment on nearly $3B valuation

Netskope has always focused its particular flavor of security on the cloud, and as more workloads have moved there, it has certainly worked in its favor. Today the company announced a $340 million investment on a valuation of nearly $3 billion.

Sequoia Capital Global Equities led the round, but in a round this large, there were a bunch of other participating firms, including new investors Canada Pension Plan Investment Board and PSP Investments, along with existing investors Lightspeed Venture Partners, Accel, Base Partners, ICONIQ Capital, Sapphire Ventures, Geodesic Capital and Social Capital. Today’s investment brings the total raised to more than $740 million, according to Crunchbase data.

As with so many large rounds recently, CEO Sanjay Beri said the company wasn’t necessarily looking for more capital, but when brand name investors came knocking, they decided to act. “We did not necessarily need this level of capital but having a large balance sheet and a legendary set of investors like Sequoia, Lightspeed and Accel putting all their chips behind Netskope for the long term to dominate the largest market in security is a very strong signal to the industry,” Beri said.

From the start, Netskope has taken aim at cloud and mobile security, eschewing the traditional perimeter security that was still popular when the company launched in 2012. “Legacy products based on traditional notions of perimeter security have gone obsolete and inhibit the needs of digital businesses. Today’s urgent requirement is security that is fast, delivered from the cloud, and provides real-time protection against network and data threats when cloud services, websites, and private apps are being accessed from anywhere, anytime, on any device,” he explained.

When Netskope announced its $168.7 million round at the end of 2018, the company had a valuation over $1 billion at that time. Today, it announced it has almost tripled that number, with a valuation close to $3 billion. That’s a big leap in just two years, but it reports 80% year-over-year growth, and claims to be “the fastest-growing company at scale in the fastest-growing areas of cybersecurity: secure access server edge (SASE) and cloud security,” according to Beri.

The next natural step for a company at this stage of maturity would be to look to become a public company, but Beri wasn’t ready to commit to that just yet. “An IPO is definitely a possible milestone in the journey, but it’s certainly not limited to that and we’re not in a rush and have no capital needs, so we’re not commenting on timing.”

Feb
05
2020
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Aiven raises $40M to democratize access to open-source projects through managed cloud services

The growing ubiquity of open-source software has been a big theme in the evolution of enterprise IT. But behind that facade of popularity lies another kind of truth: Companies may be interested in using more open-source technology, but because there is a learning curve with taking on an open-source project, not all of them have the time, money and expertise to adopt it. Today, a startup out of Finland that has built a platform specifically to target that group of users is announcing a big round of funding, underscoring not just demand for its products, but its growth to date.

Aiven — which provides managed, cloud-based services designed to make it easier for businesses to build services on top of open-source projects — is today announcing that it has raised $40 million in funding, a Series B being led by IVP (itself a major player in enterprise software, backing an illustrious list that includes Slack, Dropbox, Datadog, GitHub and HashiCorp).

Previous investors Earlybird VC, Lifeline Ventures and the family offices of Risto Siilasmaa (chairman of Nokia), and Olivier Pomel (founder of Datadog), also participated. The deal brings the total raised by Aiven to $50 million.

Oskari Saarenmaa, the CEO of Aiven who co-founded the company with Hannu Valtonen, Heikki Nousiainen and Mika Eloranta, said in an interview that the company is not disclosing its valuation at this time, but it comes in the wake of some big growth for the company.

It now has 500 companies as customers, including Atlassian, Comcast, OVO Energy and Toyota, and over the previous two years it doubled headcount and tripled its revenues.

“We are on track to do better than that this year,” Saarenmaa added.

It’s a surprising list, given the size of some of those companies. Indeed, Saarenmaa even said that originally he and the co-founders — who got the idea for the startup by first building such implementations for previous employers, which included Nokia and F-Secure — envisioned much smaller organisations using Aiven.

But in truth, the actual uptake speaks not just to the learning curve of open-source projects, but to the fact that even if you do have the talent to work with these, it makes more sense to apply that talent elsewhere and use implementations that have been tried and tested.

The company today provides services on top of eight different open-source projects — Apache Kafka, PostgreSQL, MySQL, Elasticsearch, Cassandra, Redis, InfluxDB and Grafana — which cover a variety of basic functions, from data streams to search and the handling of a variety of functions that involve ordering and managing vast quantities of data. It works across big public clouds, including Google, Azure, AWS, Digital Ocean and more.

The company is running two other open-source technologies in beta — M3 and Flink — which will also soon be added on general release, and the plan will be to add a few more over time, but only a few.

“We may want to have something to help with analytics and data visualisation,” Saarenmaa said, “but we’re not looking to become a collection of different open-source databases. We want to provide the most interesting and best to our customers. The idea is that we are future-proofing. If there is an interesting technology that comes up and starts to be adopted, our users can trust it will be available on Aiven.”

He says that today the company does not — and has no plans to — position itself as a system integrator or consultancy around open-source technologies. The work that it does do with customers, he said, is free and tends to be part of its pre- and after-sales care.

One primary use of the funding will be to expand its on-the-ground offices in different geographies — Aiven has offices in Helsinki, Berlin and Sydney today — with a specific focus on the U.S., in order to be closer to customers to continue to do precisely that.

But sometimes the mountain comes to Mohamed, so to speak. Saarenmaa said that he was first introduced to IVP at Slush, an annual tech conference in Helsinki held in November, and the deal came about quickly after that introduction.

“The increasing adoption of open-source infrastructure software and public cloud usage are among the incredibly powerful trends in enterprise technology and Aiven is making it possible for customers of all sizes to benefit from the advantages of open source infrastructure,” Eric Liaw, a general partner at IVP, said in a statement.

“In addition to their market potential and explosive yet capital-efficient growth, we were most impressed to hear from customer after customer that ‘Aiven just works.’ The overwhelmingly positive feedback from customers is a testament to their hiring practices and the strong engineering team they have built. We’re thrilled to partner with Aiven’s team and help them build their vision of a single open-source data cloud that serves the needs of customers of all sizes.”

Liaw is joining the board with this round.

Feb
04
2020
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Emerge raises $20M to take its digital freight marketplace for truckers up a gear

Trucking is currently the most popular mode of transporting freight in the U.S., accounting for around $12.5 billion of the $17 billion freight market, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. But with thousands of small and single-vehicle operators and legacy (often paper-based) systems underpinning communications, it’s also one of the most inefficient.

Now there are signs that this is changing. A startup out of Phoenix, Ariz. called Emerge, which has built a platform for shippers and brokers to find and allocate truck freight more effectively across the long tail of available truck-based carriers (a little like a Flexport but for trucks), is announcing a round of $20 million, funding it will use to continue building out its technology, as well as to keep expanding business.

The Series A — led by NewRoad Capital Partners, with previous investors Greycroft and 9Yards Capital also participating — comes on the heels of some already strong traction for Emerge. Since being founded in 2018 by brothers Andrew and Michael Leto, the company has processed more than $1 billion in freight with 1,500% year-over-year growth between 2018 and 2019. Emerge has now raised just over $40 million and we understand that its valuation is currently at more than $100 million. 

Some of its traction so far is down to the founders. Both are vets of the trucking industry whose previous company, a multimodal shipment visibility/supply chain solutions platform called 10-4, sold to Trimble in a $400 million deal. And some of that is down to the gap in the market that Emerge is filling.

“Gap” is actually the operative word here. How shipments are booked on trucks today is quite inefficient, with orders often leaving empty spaces on truck beds that could be filled with goods going in the same direction; and in about 20% of all journeys carrying no load at all.

Part of the reason for this is the antiquated way that shippers book space on trucks, and part of the reason is because there is just simply too much fragmentation in the system, with 80% of all shipments today contract-based and the remaining 20% operating as a “spot market” and booked on the fly, and neither of them particularly efficient when it comes to truck occupancy. (Most of the latter spot market is booked through spreadsheets and email, Michael Leto, the CEO, said in an interview.)

Emerge’s solution is something of a stick-and-carrot approach that reminds me a little also of how advertising exchanges work.

A shipper that wants to use the Emerge platform essentially activates/lists its entire inventory of truck providers on the platform to get started. That list and inventory, in turn, become part of a bigger database of other providers: and again, this is a long-tail approach, with typically the trucking companies on the platform having no more than 200 trucks (and often fewer) in their fleets.

Then, when a shipper goes to Emerge to book a shipment, options are provided that might include previous truckers, but might also include others. The idea is that this provides a more efficient picture, and that in turn gets passed on as cost savings to the customers, who can typically reduce shipping costs by as much as 20% using the platform.

If the cost savings and expanded choice are the carrots, the stick comes in the form of the requirement to upload truck data and share it with other shippers: you can’t use the system without doing it.

“But it’s a network effect,” Leto explained when I asked if Emerge ever saw resistance to the model. “We allow these companies to share capacity to drive efficiencies, and to drive and lower costs with less deadhead miles. There are a lot of benefits to capacity sharing.” It doesn’t seem to have deterred too many in any case. There are currently some 30,000 carrier profiles on the platform, and 12,000 transportation entities — including carriers, brokers or other shippers — transacted in Q4 alone, speaking to activity on the platform being strong. 

Emerge is not the only company that has identified the opportunity in providing a better and more updated platform to communicate and book space in the fragmented truck market. Sennder out of Berlin — which last year raised a sizeable round of funding — has also built a platform to centralise communications around booking shipments. It, however, seems to have less of an emphasis on encouraging shippers to take the lead in expanding that network effect that Leto describes.

Others that are tackling the wider shipping and logistics market and trying to improve how it runs include Sendy out of Kenya, which recently also announced a $20 million raise; Flexport, which now has a $3.2 billion valuation; Zencargo, which has also raised $20 million; and FreightHub ($30 million), Bringg ($25 million) and NEXT ($97 million).

But within that, Emerge’s performance so far, coupled with the Leto brothers’ history as founders, is giving the startup some extra mileage as we enter the next phase of what trucking might hold, which could include a critical mass of autonomous and electric vehicles on pre-defined routes.

“Uniquely, Emerge combines an exciting new technology designed to serve existing, unmet market need with experienced industry operators and entrepreneurs,” said Tracy Black of NewRoad in a statement. “Andrew and Michael are building the most innovative marketplace we’ve seen in the freight and digital marketplace industry — bringing contracts and carriers together to create new capacity. We are excited to be leading their Series A and I am thrilled to join the board to support their growth.”

Feb
04
2020
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Nomagic, a startup out of Poland, picks up $8.6M for its pick-and-place warehouse robots

Factories and warehouses have been two of the biggest markets for robots in the last several years, with machines taking on mundane, if limited, processes to speed up work and free up humans to do other, more complex tasks. Now, a startup out of Poland that is widening the scope of what those robots can do is announcing funding, a sign not just of how robotic technology has been evolving, but of the growing demand for more automation, specifically in the world of logistics and fulfilment.

Nomagic, which has developed way for a robotic arm to identify an item from an unordered selection, pick it up and then pack it into a box, is today announcing that it has raised $8.6 million in funding, one of the largest-ever seed rounds for a Polish startup. Co-led by Khosla Ventures and Hoxton Ventures, the round also included participation from DN Capital, Capnamic Ventures and Manta Ray, all previous backers of Nomagic.

There are a number of robotic arms on the market today that can be programmed to pick up and deposit items from Point A to Point B. But we are only starting to see a new wave of companies focus on bringing these to fulfilment environments because of the limitations of those arms: they can only work when the items are already “ordered” in a predictable way, such as on an assembly line, which has mean that fulfilment of, for example, online orders is usually carried out by humans.

Nomagic has incorporated a new degree of computer vision, machine learning and other AI-based technologies to  elevate the capabilities of those robotic arm. Robots powered by its tech can successfully select items from an “unstructured” group of objects — that is, not an assembly line, but potentially another box — before picking it up and placing it elsewhere.

Kacper Nowicki, the ex-Googler CEO of Nomagic who co-founded the company with Marek Cygan (an academic) and Tristan d’Orgeval (formerly of Climate Corporation), noted that while there has been some work on the problem of unstructured objects and industrial robots — in the US, there are some live implementations taking shape, with one, Covariant, recently exiting stealth mode — it has been mostly a “missing piece” in terms of the innovation that has been done to make logistics and fulfilment more efficient.

That is to say, there has been little in the way of bigger commercial roll outs of the technology, creating an opportunity in what is a huge market: fulfilment services are projected to be a $56 billion market by 2021 (currently the US is the biggest single region, estimated at between $13.5 billion and $15.5 billion).

“If every product were a tablet or phone, you could automate a regular robotic arm to pick and pack,” Nowicki said. “But if you have something else, say something in plastic, or a really huge diversity of products, then that is where the problems come in.”

Nowicki was a longtime Googler who moved from Silicon Valley back to Poland to build the company’s first engineering team in the country. In his years at Google, Nowicki worked in areas including Google Cloud and search, but also saw the AI developments underway at Google’s DeepMind subsidiary, and decided he wanted to tackle a new problem for his next challenge.

His interest underscores what has been something of a fork in artificial intelligence in recent years. While some of the earliest implementations of the principles of AI were indeed on robots, these days a lot of robotic hardware seems clunky and even outmoded, while much more of the focus of AI has shifted to software and “non-physical” systems aimed at replicating and improving upon human thought. Even the word “robot” is now just as likely to be seen in the phrase “robotic process automation”, which in fact has nothing to do with physical robots, but software.

“A lot of AI applications are not that appealing,” Nowicki simply noted (indeed, while Nowicki didn’t spell it out, DeepMind in particular has faced a lot of controversy over its own work in areas like healthcare). “But improvements in existing robotics systems by applying machine learning and computer vision so that they can operate in unstructured environments caught my attention. There has been so little automation actually in physical systems, and I believe it’s a place where we still will see a lot of change.”

Interestingly, while the company is focusing on hardware, it’s not actually building hardware per se, but is working on software that can run on the most popular robotic arms in the market today to make them “smarter”.

“We believe that most of the intellectual property in in AI is in the software stack, not the hardware,” said Orgeval. “We look at it as a mechatronics problem, but even there, we believe that this is mainly a software problem.”

Having Khosla as a backer is notable given that a very large part of the VC’s prolific investing has been in North America up to now. Nowicki said he had a connection to the firm by way of his time in the Bay Area, where before Google, Vinod Khosla backed a startup of his (which went bust in one of the dot-com downturns).

While there is an opportunity for Nomagic to take its idea global, for now Khosla’s interested because of the a closer opportunity at home, where Nomagic is already working with third-party logistics and fulfilment providers, as well as retailers like Cdiscount, a French Amazon-style, soup-to-nuts online marketplace.

“The Nomagic team has made significant strides since its founding in 2017,” says Sven Strohband, Managing Director of Khosla Ventures, in a statement. “There’s a massive opportunity within the European market for warehouse robotics and automation, and NoMagic is well-positioned to capture some of that market share.”

Jan
30
2020
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OpsRamp raises $37.5M for its hybrid IT operations platform

OpsRamp, a service that helps IT teams discover, monitor, manage and — maybe most importantly — automate their hybrid environments, today announced that it has closed a $37.5 million funding round led by Morgan Stanley Expansion Capital, with participation from existing investor Sapphire Ventures and new investor Hewlett Packard Enterprise.

OpsRamp last raised funding in 2017, when Sapphire led its $20 million Series A round.

At the core of OpsRamp’s services is its AIOps platform. Using machine learning and other techniques, this service aims to help IT teams manage increasingly complex infrastructure deployments, provide intelligent alerting and eventually automate more of their tasks. The company’s overall product portfolio also includes tools for cloud monitoring and incident management.

The company says its annual recurrent revenue increased by 300% in 2019 (though we obviously don’t know what number it started 2019 with). In total, OpsRamp says it now has 1,400 customers on its platform and alliances with AWS, ServiceNow, Google Cloud Platform and Microsoft Azure.

OpsRamp co-founder and CEO Varma Kunaparaju

According to OpsRamp co-founder and CEO Varma Kunaparaju, most of the company’s customers are mid to large enterprises. “These IT teams have large, complex, hybrid IT environments and need help to simplify and consolidate an incredibly fragmented, distributed and overwhelming technology and infrastructure stack,” he said. “The company is also seeing success in the ability of our partners to help us reach global enterprises and Fortune 5000 customers.”

Kunaparaju told me that the company plans to use the new funding to expand its go-to-market efforts and product offerings. “The company will be using the money in a few different areas, including expanding our go-to-market motion and new pursuits in EMEA and APAC, in addition to expanding our North American presence,” he said. “We’ll also be doubling-down on product development on a variety of fronts.”

Given that hybrid clouds only increase the workload for IT organizations and introduce additional tools, it’s maybe no surprise that investors are now interested in companies that offer services that rein in this complexity. If anything, we’ll likely see more deals like this one in the coming months.

“As more of our customers transition to hybrid infrastructure, we find the OpsRamp platform to be a differentiated IT operations management offering that aligns well with the core strategies of HPE,” said Paul Glaser, vice president and head of Hewlett Packard Pathfinder. “With OpsRamp’s product vision and customer traction, we felt it was the right time to invest in the growth and scale of their business.”

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