Sep
20
2019
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Vianai emerges with $50M seed and a mission to simplify machine learning tech

You don’t see a startup get a $50 million seed round all that often, but such was the case with Vianai, an early-stage startup launched by Vishal Sikka, former Infosys managing director and SAP executive. The company launched recently with a big check and a vision to transform machine learning.

Just this week, the startup had a coming out party at Oracle Open World, where Sikka delivered one of the keynotes and demoed the product for attendees. Over the last couple of years, since he left Infosys, Sikka has been thinking about the impact of AI and machine learning on society and the way it is being delivered today. He didn’t much like what he saw.

It’s worth noting that Sikka got his PhD from Stanford with a specialty in AI in 1996, so this isn’t something that’s new to him. What’s changed, as he points out, is the growing compute power and increasing amounts of data, all fueling the current AI push inside business. What he saw when he began exploring how companies are implementing AI and machine learning today was a lot of complex tooling, which, in his view, was far more complex than it needed to be.

He saw dense Jupyter notebooks filled with code. He said that if you looked at a typical machine learning model, and stripped away all of the code, what you found was a series of mathematical expressions underlying the model. He had a vision of making that model-building more about the math, while building a highly visual data science platform from the ground up.

The company has been iterating on a solution over the last year with two core principles in mind: explorability and explainability, which involves interacting with the data and presenting it in a way that helps the user attain their goal faster than the current crop of model-building tools.

“It is about making the system reactive to what the user is doing, making it completely explorable, while making it possible for the developer to experiment with what’s happening in a way that is incredibly easy. To make it explainable means being able to go back and forth with the data and the model, using the model to understand the phenomenon that you’re trying to capture in the data,” Sikka told TechCrunch.

He says the tool isn’t just aimed at data scientists, it’s about business users and the data scientists sitting down together and iterating together to get the answers they are seeking, whether it’s finding a way to reduce user churn or discover fraud. These models do not live in a data science vacuum. They all have a business purpose, and he believes the only way to be successful with AI in the enterprise is to have both business users and data scientists sitting together at the same table working with the software to solve a specific problem, while taking advantage of one another’s expertise.

For Sikka, this means refining the actual problem you are trying to solve. “AI is about problem solving, but before you do the problem solving, there is also a [challenge around] finding and articulating a business problem that is relevant to businesses and that has a value to the organization,” he said.

He is very clear, that he isn’t looking to replace humans, but instead wants to use AI to augment human intelligence to solve actual human problems. He points out that this product is not automated machine learning (AutoML), which he considers a deeply flawed idea. “We are not here to automate the jobs of data science practitioners. We are here to augment them,” he said.

As for that massive seed round, Sikka knew it would take a big investment to build a vision like this, and with his reputation and connections, he felt it would be better to get one big investment up front, and he could concentrate on building the product and the company. He says that he was fortunate enough to have investors who believe in the vision, even though as he says, no early business plan survives the test of reality. He didn’t name specific investors, only referring to friends and wealthy and famous people and institutions. A company spokesperson reiterated they were not revealing a list of investors at this time.

For now, the company has a new product and plenty of money in the bank to get to profitability, which he states is his ultimate goal. Sikka could have taken a job running a large organization, but like many startup founders, he saw a problem, and he had an idea how to solve it. That was a challenge he couldn’t resist pursuing.

Sep
18
2019
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Aliro comes out of stealth with $2.7M to ‘democratize’ quantum computing with developer tools

It’s still early days for quantum computing, but we’re nonetheless seeing an interesting group of startups emerging that are helping the world take advantage of the new technology now. Aliro Technologies, a Harvard startup that has built a platform for developers to code more easily for quantum environments — “write once, run anywhere” is one of the startup’s mottos — is today coming out of stealth and announcing its first funding of $2.7 million to get it off the ground.

The seed round is being led Flybridge Capital Partners, with participation from Crosslink Ventures and Samsung NEXT’s Q Fund, a fund the corporate investor launched last year dedicated specifically to emerging areas like quantum computing and AI.

Aliro is wading into the market at a key moment in the development of quantum computing.

While vendors continue to build new quantum hardware to be able to tackle the kinds of complex calculations that cannot be handled by current binary-based machines, for example around medicine discovery, or multi-variabled forecasting — just today IBM announced plans for a 53-qubit device — even so, it’s widely acknowledged that the computers that have been built so far face a number of critical problems that will hamper wide adoption.

The interesting development of recent times is the emergence of startups that are tackling these specific critical problems, dovetailing that progress with that of building the hardware itself. Take the fact that quantum machines so far have been too prone to error when used for extended amounts of time: last week, I wrote about a startup called Q-CTRL that has built firmware that sits on top of the machines to identify when errors are creeping in and provide fixes to stave off crashes.

The specific area that Aliro is addressing is the fact that quantum hardware is still very fragmented: each machine has its own proprietary language and operating techniques and sometimes even purpose for which it’s been optimised. It’s a landscape that is challenging for specialists to engage in, let alone the wider world of developers.

“We’re at the early stage of the hardware, where quantum computers have no standardisation, even those based on the same technology have different qubits (the basic building block of quantum activity) and connectivity. It’s like digital computing in 1940s,” said CEO and chairman Jim Ricotta. (The company is co-founded by Harvard computational materials science professor Prineha Narang along with Michael Cubeddu and Will Finigan, who are actually still undergraduate students at the university.)

“Because it’s a different style of computing, software developers are not used to quantum circuits,” said Ricotta, and engaging with them is “not the same as using procedural languages. There is a steep on-ramp from high-performance classical computing to quantum computing.”

While Aliro is coming out of stealth, it appears that the company is not being specific with details about how its platform actually works. But the basic idea is that Aliro’s platform will essentially be an engine that will let developers work in the languages that they know, and identify problems that they would like to solve; it will then assess the code and provide a channel for how to optimise that code and put it into quantum-ready language, and suggest the best machine to process the task.

The development points to an interesting way that we may well see quantum computing develop, at least in its early stages. Today, we have a handful of companies building and working on quantum computers, but there is still a question mark over whether these kinds of machines will ever be widely deployed, or if — like cloud computing — they will exist among a smaller amount of providers that will provide access to them on-demand, SaaS-style. Such a model would seem to fit with how much computing is sold today in the form of instances, and would open the door to large cloud names like Amazon, Google and Microsoft playing a big role in how this would be disseminated.

Such questions are still theoretical, of course, given some of the underlying problems that have yet to be fixed, but the march of progress seems inevitable, with forecasts predicting that quantum computing is likely to be a $2.2 billion industry by 2025, and if this is a route that is taken, the middlemen like Aliro could play an important role.

“I have been working with the Aliro team for the past year and could not be more excited about the opportunity to help them build a foundational company in Quantum Computing software, “ said David Aronoff, general partner at Flybridge, in a statement. “Their innovative approach and unique combination of leading Quantum researchers and a world-class proven executive team, make Aliro a formidable player in this exciting new sector.

“At Samsung NEXT we are focused on what the world will look like in the future, helping to make that a reality,” said Ajay Singh, Samsung NEXT’s Q Fund, in a statement. “We were drawn to Prineha and her team by their impressive backgrounds and extent of research into quantum computing. We believe that Aliro’s unique software products will revolutionize the entire category, by speeding up the inflection point where quantum becomes as accessible as classical computing. This could have implications on anything from drug discovery, materials development or chemistry. Aliro’s ability to map quantum circuits to heterogeneous hardware in an efficient way will be truly transformative and we’re thrilled to be on this journey with them.”

Sep
17
2019
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GitLab hauls in $268M Series E on 2.75B valuation

GitLab is a company that doesn’t pull any punches or try to be coy. It actually has had a page on its website for some time stating it intends to go public on November 18, 2020. You don’t see that level of transparency from late-stage startups all that often. Today, the company announced a huge $268 million Series E on a tidy $2.75 billion valuation.

Investors include Adage Capital Management, Alkeon Capital, Altimeter Capital, Capital Group, Coatue Management, D1 Capital Partners, Franklin Templeton, Light Street Capital, Tiger Management Corp. and Two Sigma Investments.

The company seems to be primed and ready for that eventual IPO. Last year, GitLab co-founder and CEO Sid Sijbrandij said that his CFO Paul Machle told him he wanted to begin planning to go public, and he would need two years in advance to prepare the company. As Sijbrandij tells it, he told him to pick a date.

“He said, I’ll pick the 16th of November because that’s the birthday of my twins. It’s also the last week before Thanksgiving, and after Thanksgiving, the stock market is less active, so that’s a good time to go out,” Sijbrandij told TechCrunch.

He said that he considered it a done deal and put the date on the GitLab Strategy page, a page that outlines the company’s plans for everything it intends to do. It turned out that he was a bit too quick on the draw. Machle had checked the date in the interim and realized that it was a Monday, which is not traditionally a great day to go out, so they decided to do it two days later. Now the target date is officially November 18, 2020.

Screenshot 2019 09 17 08.35.33 2

GitLab has the date it’s planning to go public listed on its Strategy page.

As for that $268 million, it gives the company considerable runway ahead of that planned event, but Sijbrandij says it also gives him flexibility in how to take the company public. “One other consideration is that there are two options to go public. You can do an IPO or direct listing. We wanted to preserve the optionality of doing a direct listing next year. So if we do a direct listing, we’re not going to raise any additional money, and we wanted to make sure that this is enough in that case,” he explained.

Sijbrandij says that the company made a deliberate decision to be transparent early on. Being based on an open-source project, it’s sometimes tricky to make that transition to a commercial company, and sometimes that has a negative impact on the community and the number of contributions. Transparency was a way to combat that, and it seems to be working.

He reports that the community contributes 200 improvements to the GitLab open-source product every month, and that’s double the amount of just a year ago, so the community is still highly active in spite of the parent company’s commercial success.

It did not escape his notice that Microsoft acquired GitHub last year for $7.5 billion. It’s worth noting that GitLab is a similar kind of company that helps developers manage and distribute code in a DevOps environment. He claims in spite of that eye-popping number, his goal is to remain an independent company and take this through to the next phase.

“Our ambition is to stay an independent company. And that’s why we put out the ambition early to become a listed company. That’s not totally in our control as the majority of the company is owned by investors, but as long as we’re more positive about the future than the people around us, I think we can we have a shot at not getting acquired,” he said.

The company was founded in 2014 and was a member of Y Combinator in 2015. It has been on a steady growth trajectory ever since, hauling in more than $426 million. The last round before today’s announcement was a $100 million Series D last September.

Sep
16
2019
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FOSSA scores $8.5 million Series A to help enterprise manage open-source licenses

As more enterprise developers make use of open source, it becomes increasingly important for companies to make sure that they are complying with licensing requirements. They also need to ensure the open-source bits are being updated over time for security purposes. That’s where FOSSA comes in, and today the company announced an $8.5 million Series A.

The round was led by Bain Capital Ventures, with help from Costanoa Ventures and Norwest Venture Partners. Today’s round brings the total raised to $11 million, according to the company.

Company founder and CEO Kevin Wang says that over the last 18 months, the startup has concentrated on building tools to help enterprises comply with their growing use of open source in a safe and legal way. He says that overall this increasing use of open source is great news for developers, and for these bigger companies in general. While it enables them to take advantage of all the innovation going on in the open-source community, they need to make sure they are in compliance.

“The enterprise is really early on this journey, and that’s where we come in. We provide a platform to help the enterprise manage open-source usage at scale,” Wang explained. That involves three main pieces. First it tracks all of the open-source and third-party code being used inside a company. Next, it enforces licensing and security policy, and, finally, it has a reporting component. “We automate the mass reporting and compliance for all of the housekeeping that comes from using open source at scale,” he said.

The enterprise focus is relatively new for the company. It originally launched in 2017 as a tool for developers to track individual use of open source inside their programs. Wang saw a huge opportunity inside the enterprise to apply this same kind of capability inside larger organizations, which were hungry for tools to help them comply with the myriad open-source licenses out there.

“We found that there was no tooling out there that can manage the scale and breadth across all the different enterprise use cases and all the really complex mission-critical code bases,” he said. What’s more, he found that where there were existing tools, they were vastly underutilized or didn’t provide broad enough coverage.

The company announced a $2.2 million seed round in 2017, and since then has grown from 10 to 40 employees. With today’s funding, that should increase as the company is expanding quickly. Wang reports that the startup has been tripling its revenue numbers and customer accounts year over year. The new money should help accelerate that growth and expand the product and markets it can sell into.

Sep
12
2019
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SmartDrive snaps up $90M for in-truck video telematics solutions for safety and fuel efficiency

Trucks and other large commercial vehicles are the biggest whales on the road today — are they also, by virtue of that size, some of the most dangerous and inefficient if they are driven badly. Today, a startup that has built a platform aimed at improving both of those areas has raised a large round of funding to continue fuelling (so to speak) its own growth: SmartDrive, a San Diego-based provider of video-based telematics and transportation insights, has snapped up a round of $90 million.

The company is not disclosing its valuation but according to PitchBook, it was last valued (in 2017) at $290 million, which would put the valuation now around $380 million. But given that the company has been growing well — it says that in the first half of this year, its contracted units were up 48%, while sales were up by 44% — that figure may well be higher. (We are asking.)

The funding comes at an interesting time for fleet management and the trucking industry. A lot of the big stories about automotive technology at the moment seem to be focused on autonomous vehicles for private usage, but that leaves a large — and largely legacy — market in the form of fleet management and commercial vehicles.

That’s not to say it’s been completely ignored, however. Bigger companies like Uber, Telsa and Volvo, and startups like Nikola and more are all building smarter trucks, and just yesterday Samsara, which makes an industrial IoT platform that works, in part, to provide fleet management to the trucking industry, raised $300 million on a $6.3 billion valuation.

The telematics market was estimated to be worth $25.5 billion in 2018 and is forecast to grow to some $98 billion by 2026.

The round was led by TPG Sixth Street Partners, a division of investment giant TPG (which backs the likes of Spotify and many others), which earlier this year was raising a $2 billion fund for growth-stage investments. Unnamed existing investors also participated. The company prior to this had raised $230 million, with other backers including Founders Fund, NewView Capital, Oak Investment Partners, Michelin and more. (NEA had also been an investor but has more recently sold its stake.)

SmartDrive has been around since 2005 and focuses on a couple of key areas. Tapping data from the many sensors that you have today in commercial vehicles, it builds up a picture of how specific truckers are handling their vehicles, from their control on tricky roads to what gears and speed they are using as they go up inclines, and how long they idle their engines. The resulting data is used both to provide a better picture to fleet managers of that performance, and to highlight specific areas where the trucker can improve his or her performance, and how.

Analytics and data provided to customers include multi-camera 360-degree views, extended recording and U-turn triggering, along with diagnostics on specific driver performance. The company claims that the information has led to more satisfaction among drivers and customers, with driver retention rates of 70% or higher and improvements to 9 miles per gallon (mpg) on trips, versus industry averages of 20% driver retention and 6 mpg.

“This is an exciting time at SmartDrive and in the transportation sector overall as adoption of video-based telematics continues to accelerate,” stated Steve Mitgang, SmartDrive CEO, in a statement. “Building on our pioneering video-based safety program, our vision of an open platform powering best-of-breed video, compliance and telematics applications is garnering significant traction across a diverse range of fleets given the benefits of choice, flexibility and a lower total cost of ownership. The investment from TPG Sixth Street Partners and our existing investors will fuel continued innovation in areas such as computer vision and AI, while also enhancing sales and marketing initiatives and further international expansion.”

The focus for SmartDrive seems to be on how drivers are doing in specific circumstances: it doesn’t seem to suggest whether there could have been better routes, or if better fleet management could have resulted in improved performance. (That could be one area where it grows, or fits into a bigger platform, however.)

“SmartDrive is a market leader in the large and expanding transportation safety and intelligence sector and we are pleased to be investing in a growing company led by such a talented team,” noted Bo Stanley, partner and co-head of the Capital Solutions business at TPG Sixth Street Partners, in a statement. “SmartDrive’s proprietary data analytics platform and strong subscriber base put it in a great position to continue to capitalize on its track record of innovation and the broader secular trend of higher demand for safer and smarter transportation.”

Sep
10
2019
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Snyk grabs $70M more to detect security vulnerabilities in open-source code and containers

A growing number of IT breaches has led to security becoming a critical and central aspect of how computing systems are run and maintained. Today, a startup that focuses on one specific area — developing security tools aimed at developers and the work they do — has closed a major funding round that underscores the growth of that area.

Snyk — a London and Boston-based company that got its start identifying and developing security solutions for developers working on open-source code — is today announcing that it has raised $70 million, funding that it will be using to continue expanding its capabilities and overall business. For example, the company has more recently expanded to building security solutions to help developers identify and fix vulnerabilities around containers, an increasingly standard unit of software used to package up and run code across different computing environments.

Open source — Snyk works as an integration into existing developer workflows, compatible with the likes of GitHub, Bitbucket and GitLab, as well as CI/CD pipelines — was an easy target to hit. It’s used in 95% of all enterprises, with up to 77% of open-source components liable to have vulnerabilities, by Snyk’s estimates. Containers are a different issue.

“The security concerns around containers are almost more about ownership than technology,” Guy Podjarny, the president who co-founded the company with Assaf Hefetz and Danny Grander, explained in an interview. “They are in a twilight zone between infrastructure and code. They look like virtual machines and suffer many of same concerns such as being unpatched or having permissions that are too permissive.”

While containers are present in fewer than 30% of computing environments today, their growth is on the rise, according to Gartner, which forecasts that by 2022, more than 75% of global organizations will run containerized applications. Snyk estimates that a full 44% of Docker image scans (Docker being one of the major container vendors) have known vulnerabilities.

This latest round is being led by Accel with participation from existing investors GV and Boldstart Ventures. These three, along with a fourth investor (Heavybit) also put $22 million into the company as recently as September 2018. That round was made at a valuation of $100 million, and from what we understand from a source close to the startup, it’s now in the “range” of $500 million.

“Accel has a long history in the security market and we believe Snyk is bringing a truly unique, developer-first approach to security in the enterprise,” said Matt Weigand of Accel said in a statement. “The strength of Snyk’s customer base, rapidly growing free user community, leadership team and innovative product development prove the company is ready for this next exciting phase of growth and execution.”

Indeed, the company has hit some big milestones in the last year that could explain that hike. It now has some 300,000 developers using it around the globe, with its customer base growing some 200% this year and including the likes of Google, Microsoft, Salesforce and ASOS (side note: you know that if developers at developer-centric places themselves working at the vanguard of computing, like Google and Microsoft, are using your product, that is a good sign). Notably, that has largely come by word of mouth — inbound interest.

The company in July of this year took on a new CEO, Peter McKay, who replaced Podjarny. McKay was the company’s first investor and has a track record in helping to grow large enterprise security businesses, a sign of the trajectory that Snyk is hoping to follow.

“Today, every business, from manufacturing to retail and finance, is becoming a software business,” said McKay. “There is an immediate and fast growing need for software security solutions that scale at the same pace as software development. This investment helps us continue to bring Snyk’s product-led and developer-focused solutions to more companies across the globe, helping them stay secure as they embrace digital innovation – without slowing down.”

Sep
10
2019
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Q-CTRL raises $15M for software that reduces error and noise in quantum computing hardware

As hardware makers continue to work on ways of making wide-scale quantum computing a reality, a startup out of Australia that is building software to help reduce noise and errors on quantum computing machines has raised a round of funding to fuel its U.S. expansion.

Q-CTRL is designing firmware for computers and other machines (such as quantum sensors) that perform quantum calculations, firmware to identify the potential for errors to make the machines more resistant and able to stay working for longer (the Q in its name is a reference to qubits, the basic building block of quantum computing).

The startup is today announcing that it has raised $15 million, money that it plans to use to double its team (currently numbering 25) and set up shop on the West Coast, specifically Los Angeles.

This Series A is coming from a list of backers that speaks to the startup’s success to date in courting quantum hardware companies as customers. Led by Square Peg Capital — a prolific Australian VC that has backed homegrown startups like Bugcrowd and Canva, but also those further afield such as Stripe — it also includes new investor Sierra Ventures as well as Sequoia Capital, Main Sequence Ventures and Horizons Ventures.

Q-CTRL’s customers are some of the bigger names in quantum computing and IT, such as Rigetti, Bleximo and Accenture, among others. IBM — which earlier this year unveiled its first commercial quantum computer — singled it out last year for its work in advancing quantum technology.

The problem that Q-CTRL is aiming to address is basic but arguably critical to solving if quantum computing ever hopes to make the leap out of the lab and into wider use in the real world.

Quantum computers and other machines like quantum sensors, which are built on quantum physics architecture, are able to perform computations that go well beyond what can be done by normal computers today, with the applications for such technology including cryptography, biosciences, advanced geological exploration and much more. But quantum computing machines are known to be unstable, in part because of the fragility of the quantum state, which introduces a lot of noise and subsequent errors, which results in crashes.

As Frederic pointed out recently, scientists are confident that this is ultimately a solvable issue. Q-CTRL is one of the hopefuls working on that, by providing a set of tools that runs on quantum machines, visualises noise and decoherence and then deploys controls to “defeat” those errors.

Q-CTRL currently has four products it offers to the market: Black Opal, Boulder Opal, Open Controls and Devkit — aimed respectively at students/those exploring quantum computing, hardware makers, the research community and end users/algorithm developers.

Q-CTRL was founded in 2017 by Michael Biercuk, a professor of Quantum Physics & Quantum Technology at the University of Sydney and a chief investigator in the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Engineered Quantum Systems, who studied in the U.S., with a PhD in physics from Harvard.

“Being at the vanguard of the birth of a new industry is extraordinary,” he said in a statement. “We’re also thrilled to be assembling one of the most impressive investor syndicates in quantum technology. Finding investors who understand and embrace both the promise and the challenge of building quantum computers is almost magical.”

Why choose Los Angeles for building out a U.S. presence, you might ask? Southern California, it turns out, has shaped up to be a key area for quantum research and development, with several of the universities in the region building out labs dedicated to the area, and companies like Lockheed Martin and Google also contributing to the ecosystem. This means a strong pipeline of talent and conversation in what is still a nascent area.

Given that it is still early days for quantum computing technology, that gives a lot of potential options to a company like Q-CTRL longer-term: The company might continue to build a business as it does today, selling its technology to a plethora of hardware makers and researchers in the field; or it might get snapped up by a specific hardware company to integrate Q-CTRL’s solutions more closely onto its machines (and keep them away from competitors).

Or, it could make like a quantum particle and follow both of those paths at the same time.

“Q-CTRL impressed us with their strategy; by providing infrastructure software to improve quantum computers for R&D teams and end-users, they’re able to be a central player in bringing this technology to reality,” said Tushar Roy, a partner at Square Peg. “Their technology also has applications beyond quantum computing, including in quantum-based sensing, which is a rapidly-growing market. In Q-CTRL we found a rare combination of world-leading technical expertise with an understanding of customers, products and what it takes to build an impactful business.”

Sep
08
2019
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Spendesk raises $38.4 million for its corporate card and expense service

French startup Spendesk has raised another $38.4 million in a Series B round, with existing investor Index Ventures leading the round. The company has raised $49.4 million (€45 million) over the years.

Spendesk is an all-in-one corporate expense and spend management service. It lets you track expenses across your company, empower your employees with a clear approval process and simplify your bookkeeping.

The service essentially works like Revolut or N26, but for corporate needs. After you sign up, you get your own Spendesk account with an IBAN. You can top up that account and define different sets of policies.

For instance, you can set payment limits depending on everyone’s job and define who’s in charge of approving expensive payments. After that, everyone can generate virtual cards for online payments and get a physical card for business travel.

When you’re on the road, you can pay directly using Spendesk just like any corporate card. If you have to pay in cash or with another card, you can take a photo of the receipt from the Spendesk mobile app and get your money back.

Many Spendesk users also leverage the service for other use cases. For instance, you can define a marketing budget and let the marketing team spend it on Facebook or Google ads using a virtual card.

You also can track all your online subscriptions from the Spendesk interface to make sure that you don’t pay for similar tools. If you hire freelancers, you can upload all your invoices to the platform, export an XML with your outstanding invoices and import it to your banking portal.

Spendesk tries to be smarter than legacy expense solutions. For instance, the company tries to leverage optical character recognition (OCR) to match receipts with payments, autofill the VAT rate, etc.

With today’s funding round, the company plans to open offices in Berlin and London, add more currencies and develop new features. Over the past year, the company went from 20 employees to 120 employees. There are now 1,500 companies using Spendesk in Europe.

Sep
05
2019
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Newly renamed Superside raises $3.5M for its outsourced design platform

Superside, a startup aiming to create a premium alternative to the existing crowdsourced design platforms, is announcing that it has raised $3.5 million in new funding.

It’s also adding new features like the ability to work on user interfaces, interaction design and motion graphics. Co-founder and CEO Fredrik Thomassen said this allows the company to offer “a full-service design solution.”

You may have heard about Superside under its old name Konsus . In a blog post, Thomassen explained the recent change in name and branding, writing, “We changed our name and look to align with what we had become: The world’s top team of international designers and creatives.”

He told me Superside was created to address his own frustrations after trying to use marketplaces like 99designs and Fiverr. He argued that there’s a problem with “adverse selection on those platforms.” In other words, “The best people … don’t remain, because they don’t have a career path — they’re fighting with other freelancers to get the jobs.”

Superside, on the other hand, is picky about the designers it works with — it claims to select 100 designers from the more than 50,000 applications it receives each year. But if they are accepted, they’re guaranteed full-time work.

superside step1 orderwizard

Thomassen said the platform is built for large enterprises that have their own design and marketing teams but still need additional support. Customers include Amazon, BBDO, Publicis and Clear Channel.

In addition to choosing good designers, Superside also built a broader project management platform.

“We’re basically automating everything: Finding people, screening people, on-boarding, on-the-job learning, invoicing of customers, project management, all of the nitty gritty,” Thomassen said. “The only thing not automated is design — that’s where the human element and the creativity come in.”

Plus, Thomassen said Superside can turn around a standard piece of artwork in 12 hours: “Nobody else can do what we’re doing in terms of speed.”

The new funding comes from Freestyle Capital, with participation from High Alpha Ventures, Y Combinator and Alliance Ventures.

“We’re very much a mission-driven company,” Thomassen added. “For me, the reason to go to work in the morning is to help build an online labor market and create equal economic opportunity for everyone in the world.”

Sep
03
2019
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OpenGov raises $51M to boost its cloud-based IT services for government and civic organizations

OpenGov, the firm co-founded by Palantir’s Joe Lonsdale that helps government and other civic organizations organise, analyse and present financial and other data using cloud-based architecture, has raised another big round of funding to continue expanding its business. The startup has picked up an additional $51 million in a Series D round led by Weatherford Capital and 8VC (Lonsdale’s investment firm), with participation from existing investor Andreessen Horowitz.

The funding brings the total raised by the company to $140 million, with previous investors in the firm including JC2 Ventures, Emerson Collective, Founders Fund and a number of others. The company is not disclosing its valuation — although we are asking — but for some context, PitchBook noted it was around $190 million in its last disclosed round — although that was in 2017 and has likely increased in the interim, not least because of the startup’s links in high places, and its growth.

On the first of these, the company says that its board of directors includes, in addition to Lonsdale (who is now the chairman of the company); Katherine August-deWilde, Co-Founder and Vice-Chair of First Republic Bank; John Chambers, Founder and CEO of JC2 Ventures and Former Chairman and CEO of Cisco Systems; Marc Andreessen, Co-Founder and General Partner of Andreessen Horowitz; and Zac Bookman, Co-Founder and CEO of OpenGov .

And in terms of its growth, OpenGov says today it counts more than 2,000 governments as customers, with recent additions to the list including the State of West Virginia, the State of Oklahoma, the Idaho State Controller’s Office, the City of Minneapolis MN, and Suffolk County NY. For comparison, when we wrote in 2017 about the boost the company had seen since Trump’s election (which has apparently seen a push for more transparency and security of data), the company noted 1,400 government customers.

Government data is generally associated with legacy systems and cripplingly slow bureaucratic processes, and that has spelled opportunity to some startups, who are leveraging the growth of cloud services to present solutions tailored to the needs of civic organizations and the people who work in them, from city planners to finance specialists. In the case of OpenGov, it packages its services in a platform it calls the OpenGov Cloud.

“OpenGov’s mission to power more effective and accountable government is driving innovation and transformation for the public sector at high speed,” said OpenGov CEO Zac Bookman in a statement. “This new investment validates OpenGov’s position as the leader in enterprise cloud solutions for government, and it fuels our ability to build, sell, and deploy new mission-critical technology that is the safe and trusted choice for government executives.”

City Manager Dashboard Screen

It’s also, it seems, a trusted choice for government executives who have left public service and moved into investing, leveraging some of the links they still have into those who manage procurement for public services. Weatherford Capital, one of the lead investors, is led in part by managing partner Will Weatherford, who is the former Speaker of the House for the State of Florida.

“OpenGov’s innovative technology, accomplished personnel, market leadership, and mission-first approach precisely address the growing challenges inherent in public administration,” he said in a statement. “We are thrilled at the opportunity to partner with OpenGov to accelerate its growth and continue modernizing how this important sector operates.”

It will be interesting to see how and if the company uses the funding to consolidate in its particular area of enterprise technology. There are other firms like LiveStories that have also been building services to help better present civic data to the public that you could see as complementary to what OpenGov is doing. OpenGov has made acquisitions in the past, such as Ontodia to bring more open-source data and technology into its platform.

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