Oct
29
2020
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Redpoint and Sequoia are backing a startup to copyedit your shit code

Code is the lifeblood of the modern world, yet the tooling for some programming environments can be remarkably spartan. While developers have long had access to graphical programming environments (IDEs) and performance profilers and debuggers, advanced products to analyze and improve lines of code have been harder to find.

These days, the most typical tool in the kit is a linter, which scans through code pointing out flaws that might cause issues. For instance, there might be too many spaces on a line, or a particular line might have a well-known ambiguity that could cause bugs that are hard to diagnose and would best be avoided.

What if we could expand the power of linters to do a lot more though? What if programmers had an assistant that could analyze their code and actively point out new security issues, erroneous code, style problems and bad logic?

Static code analysis is a whole interesting branch of computer science, and some of those ideas have trickled into the real-world with tools like semgrep, which was developed at Facebook to add more robust code-checking tools to its developer workflow. Semgrep is an open-source project, and it’s being commercialized through r2c, a startup that wants to bring the power of this tool to the developer masses.

The whole project has found enough traction among developers that Satish Dharmaraj at Redpoint and Jim Goetz at Sequoia teamed up to pour $13 million into the company for its Series A round, and also backed the company in an earlier, unannounced seed round.

The company was founded by three MIT grads — CEO Isaac Evans and Drew Dennison were roommates in college, and they joined up with head of product Luke O’Malley. Across their various experiences, they have worked at Palantir, the intelligence community, and Fortune 500 companies, and when Evans and Dennison were EIRs at Redpoint, they explored ideas based on what they had seen in their wide-ranging coding experiences.

The r2c team, which I assume only writes bug-free code. Image by r2c.

“Facebook, Apple, and Amazon are so far ahead when it comes to what they do at the code level to bake security [into their products compared to] other companies, it’s really not even funny,” Evans explained. The big tech companies have massively scaled their coding infrastructure to ensure uniform coding standards, but few others have access to the talent or technology to be on an equal playing field. Through r2c and semgrep, the founders want to close the gap.

With r2c’s technology, developers can scan their codebases on-demand or enforce a regular code check through their continuous integration platform. The company provides its own template rulesets (“rule packs”) to check for issues like security holes, complicated errors and other potential bugs, and developers and companies can add their own custom rulesets to enforce their own standards. Currently, r2c supports eight programming languages, including JavaScript and Python, and a variety of frameworks, and it is actively working on more compatibility.

One unique focus for r2c has been getting developers onboard with the model. The core technology remains open-sourced. Evans said that “if you actually want something that’s going to get broad developer adoption, it has to be predominantly open source so that developers can actually mess with it and hack on it and see whether or not it’s valuable without having to worry about some kind of super restrictive license.”

Beyond its model, the key has been getting developers to actually use the tool. No one likes bugs, and no developer wants to find more bugs that they have to fix. With semgrep and r2c though, developers can get much more immediate and comprehensive feedback — helping them fix tricky errors before they move on and forget the context of what they were engineering.

“I think one of the coolest things for us is that none of the existing tools in the space have ever been adopted by developers, but for us, it’s about 50/50 developer teams who are getting excited about it versus security teams getting excited about it,” Evans said. Developers hate finding more bugs, but they also hate writing them in the first place. Evans notes that the company’s key metric is the number of bugs found that are actually fixed by developers, indicating that they are offering “good, actionable results” through the product. One area that r2c has explored is actively patching obvious bugs, saving developers time.

Breaches, errors and downtime are a bedrock of software, but it doesn’t have to be that way. With more than a dozen employees and a hefty pool of capital, r2c hopes to improve the reliability of all the experiences we enjoy — and save developers time in the process.

Aug
24
2020
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Sutter Hill strikes ice-cold, $2.5B pre-market return with Snowflake’s IPO filing

Today is the day for huge VC returns.

We talked a bit about Sequoia’s coming huge win with the IPO of game engine Unity this morning. Now, Sequoia might actually have the second largest return among companies filing to go public with the SEC today.

Snowflake filed its S-1 this afternoon, and it looks like Sutter Hill is going to make bank. The long-time VC firm, which invests heavily in the enterprise space and generally keeps a lower media profile, is the big winner across the board here, coming out with an aggregate 20.3% stake in the data management platform, which was last privately valued at $12.4 billion earlier this year. At its last valuation, Sutter Hill’s full stake is worth $2.5 billion. My colleagues Ron Miller and Alex Wilhelm looked a bit at the financials of the IPO filing.

Sutter Hill has been intimately connected to Snowflake’s early build-out and success, providing a $5 million Series A funding back in 2012, the year of the company’s founding, according to Crunchbase.

Now, there are some caveats on that number. Sutter Hill Ventures (aka “the fund”) owns roughly 55% of the firm’s total stake, with the balance owned by other entities owned by the firm’s management committee members. Michael Speiser, the firm’s partner who sits on Snowflake’s board, owns slightly more than 10% of Sutter Hill’s stake directly himself according to the SEC filing.

In addition to Sutter Hill, Sequoia also got a large slice of the data computing company: its growth fund is listed as having an 8.4% stake in the coming IPO. That makes for two Sequoia Growth IPOs today — a nice way to start the week this Monday afternoon.

Finally, Altimeter Capital, which did the Series C, owns 14.8%; ICONIQ owns 13.8%; and Redpoint, which did the Series B, owns 9.0%.

To see the breakdown in returns, let’s start by taking a look at the company’s share price and carrying values for each of its rounds of capital:

On top of that, what’s interesting is that Snowflake broke down the share purchases by firm for the last four rounds (D through G-1) the company fundraised:

That level of detail actually allows us to grossly compare the multiples on invested capital for these firms.

Sutter Hill, despite owning large sections of the company early on, continued to buy up shares all the way through the Series G, investing an additional $140 million in the later-stage rounds of the company. Adding in the entirety of its $5 million Series A round and a bit from the Series B assuming pro rata, the firm is looking on the order of a 16x return (assuming the IPO price is at least as good as the last round price).

Outside Sutter Hill, Redpoint has the best multiple return profile, given that it only invested $60 million in these later-stage rounds while still maintaining a 9.0% ownership stake. Both Sutter Hill and Redpoint purchased roughly 20% of their overall stakes in these later-stage rounds. Doing some roughly calculating, Redpoint is looking at a return of about 12-13x.

Sequoia’s multiple on investment is capped a bit given that it only invested in the most recent funding rounds. Its 8.4% stake was purchased for nearly $272 million, all of which came in these late-stage rounds. At Snowflake’s last round valuation of $12.4 billion, Sequoia’s stake is valued at $1.04 billion — a return of slightly less than 4x. That’s very good for mezzanine capital, but nothing like the multiple that Sutter Hill or Redpoint got for investing early.

Doing the same back-of-the-envelope math and Altimeter is looking at a better than 6x return, and ICONIQ got 7x. As before, if the stock zooms up, those returns will look all the better (and of course, if the stock crashes, well…)

One final note: The pattern for these last four funding rounds is unusual for venture capital: Snowflake appears to have “spread the love around,” having multiple firms build up stakes in the startup over several rounds rather than having one definitive lead.

Aug
06
2020
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Crossbeam announces $25M Series B to keep growing partnerships platform

As sales teams partner with other companies, they go through a process called account mapping to find common customers and prospects. This is usually a highly manual activity tracked in spreadsheets. Crossbeam, a Philadelphia startup, has come up with a way to automate partnership data integration. Today the company announced a $25 million Series B investment.

Redpoint Ventures led the round with help from existing investors FirstMark Capital, Salesforce Ventures, Slack Fund and Uncork Capital, along with new investors Okta Ventures and Partnership Leaders, a partnership industry association. All in all, an interesting mix of traditional VCs and strategic investors that Crossbeam could potentially partner with as they grow the business.

The funding comes on the heels of a $3.5 million seed round in 2018 and a $12.5 million Series A a year ago. The startup has now raised a total of $41 million.

Crossbeam has been growing steadily, and that attracted the attention of investors, whom CEO and co-founder Bob Moore says approached him. He was actually not thinking about fundraising until next year, but when the opportunity presented itself, he decided to seize it.

The platform has a natural networking effect built into it with over 900 companies using it so far. As new companies come on, they invite partners, who can join and invite more partners, and that creates a constant sales motion for them without much effort at all.

“We didn’t go out fundraising. We caught the eye of Redpoint because they could see the virality of the product and the extent to which it was being used by many of their portfolio companies and companies out in the market […],” Moore told TechCrunch.

Image Credits: Crossbeam

To accelerate interest in the product, the company also announced a new free tier, which replaces the limited free trial and a starter level that previously cost $500 per month. Prior to this move, if you didn’t move to the starter tier, you would lose your data when the trial was over.

“The idea here is what we’ve seen in the data is that we can create a whole lot of value for people and demonstrate really strong ROI once they get in the door and actually have access to that data, and they don’t have to worry about a free trial where the data is going away,” Moore explained.

Moore says they currently have 28 employees and have ambitious plans to add new people to the mix in the coming months, expecting to reach 50 employees by early 2021. As the company revs up on the personnel side, Moore says diversity is front and center of their plans.

“As far as Crossbeam specifically goes, we’ve made sure that diversity, equity and inclusion is part of our entire recruiting process and also the cultural experience that we create for people that are at the company,” he said. Although he didn’t discuss specific numbers, he said the company was making progress, particularly in the latest round of hires.

While the company has an office in Philly, even before COVID hit, it was a remote first organization with about half of the employees working from home. “I think a lot of our culture was kind of built to make sure that remote team members are first-class citizens in every respect in the company. So we already had all the controls, technology and practices in place, and when we shut the office, it was about as smooth as could be,” he said.

Jun
15
2020
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VESoft raises $8M to meet China’s growing need for graph databases

Sherman Ye founded VESoft in 2018 when he saw a growing demand for graph databases in China. Its predecessors, like Neo4j and TigerGraph, had already been growing aggressively in the West for a few years, while China was just getting to know the technology that leverages graph structures to store data sets and depict their relationships, such as those used for social media analysis, e-commerce recommendations and financial risk management.

VESoft is ready for further growth after closing an $8 million funding round led by Redpoint China Ventures, an investment firm launched by Silicon Valley-based Redpoint Ventures in 2005. Existing investor Matrix Partners China also participated in the Series pre-A round. The new capital will allow the startup to develop products and expand to markets in North America, Europe and other parts of Asia.

The 30-people team is comprised of former employees from Alibaba, Facebook, Huawei and IBM. It’s based in Hangzhou, a scenic city known for its rich history and housing Alibaba and its financial affiliate Ant Financial, where Ye previously worked as a senior engineer after his four-year stint with Facebook in California. From 2017 to 2018, the entrepreneur noticed that Ant Financial’s customers were increasingly interested in adopting graph databases as an alternative to relational databases, a model that had been popular since the 80s and normally organizes data into tables.

“While relational databases are capable of achieving many functions carried out by graph databases… they deteriorate in performance as the quantity of data grows,” Ye told TechCrunch during an interview. “We didn’t use to have so much data.”

Information explosion is one reason why Chinese companies are turning to graph databases, which can handle millions of transactions to discover patterns within scattered data. The technology’s rise is also a response to new forms of online businesses that depend more on relationships.

“Take recommendations for example. The old model recommends content based purely on user profiles, but the problem of relying on personal browsing history is it fails to recommend new things. That was fine for a long time as the Chinese [internet] market was big enough to accommodate many players. But as the industry becomes saturated and crowded… companies need to ponder how to retain existing users, lengthen their time spent, and win users from rivals.”

The key lies in serving people content and products they find appealing. Graph databases come in handy, suggested Ye, when services try to predict users’ interest or behavior as the model uncovers what their friends or people within their social circles like. “That’s a lot more effective than feeding them what’s trending.”

Neo4j compares relational and graph databases (Link)

The company has made its software open source, which the founder believed can help cultivate a community of graph database users and educate the market in China. It will also allow VESoft to reach more engineers in the English-speaking world who are well-acquainted with the open-source culture.

“There is no such thing as being ‘international’ or ‘domestic’ for a technology-driven company. There are no boundaries between countries in the open-source world,” reckoned Ye.

When it comes to generating income, the startup plans to launch a paid version for enterprises, which will come with customized plug-ins and host services.

The Nebula Graph, the brand of VESoft’s database product, is now serving 20 enterprise clients from areas across social media, e-commerce and finance, including big names like food delivery giant Meituan, popular social commerce app Xiaohongshu and e-commerce leader JD.com. A number of overseas companies are also trialing Nebula.

The time is ripe for enterprise-facing startups with a technological moat in China as the market for consumers has been divided by incumbents like Tencent and Alibaba. This makes fundraising relatively easy for VESoft. The founder is confident that Chinese companies are rapidly catching up with their Western counterparts in the space, for the gargantuan amount of data and the myriad of ways data is used in the country “will propel the technology forward.”

Feb
05
2020
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Where top VCs are investing in open source and dev tools (Part 1 of 2)

The once-polarizing world of open-source software has recently become one of the hotter destinations for VCs.

As the popularity of open source increases among organizations and developers, startups in the space have reached new heights and monstrous valuations.

Over the past several years, we’ve seen surging open-source companies like Databricks reach unicorn status, as well as VCs who cashed out behind a serious number of exits involving open-source and dev tool companies, deals like IBM’s Red Hat acquisition or Elastic’s late-2018 IPO. Last year, the exit spree continued with transactions like F5 Networks’ acquisition of NGINX and a number of high-profile acquisitions from mainstays like Microsoft and GitHub.

Similarly, venture investment in new startups in the space has continued to swell. More investors are taking shots at finding the next big payout, with annual invested capital in open-source and dev tool startups increasing at a roughly 10% compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) over the last five years, according to data from Crunchbase. Furthermore, attractive returns in the space seem to be adding more fuel to the fire, as open-source and dev tool startups saw more than $2 billion invested in the space in 2019 alone, per Crunchbase data.

As we close out another strong year for innovation and venture investing in the sector, we asked 18 of the top open-source-focused VCs who work at firms spanning early to growth stages to share what’s exciting them most and where they see opportunities. For purposes of length and clarity, responses have been edited and split (in no particular order) into part one and part two of this survey. In part one of our survey, we hear from:

Jan
16
2020
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Cyral announces $11M Series A to help protect data in cloud

Cyral, an early-stage startup that helps protect data stored in cloud repositories, announced an $11 million Series A today. The company also revealed a previous undisclosed $4.1 million angel investment, making the total $15.1 million.

The Series A was led by Redpoint Ventures. A.Capital Ventures, Costanoa VC, Firebolt, SV Angel and Trifecta Capital also participated in on the round.

Cyral co-founder and CEO Manav Mital says the company’s product acts as a security layer on top of cloud data repositories — whether databases, data lakes, data warehouse or other data repository — helping identify issues like faulty configurations or anomalous activity.

Mital says that unlike most security data products of this ilk, Cyral doesn’t use an agent or watch points to try to detect signals that indicate something is happening to the data. Instead, he says that Cyral is a security layer attached directly to the data.

“The core innovation of Cyral is to put a layer of visibility attached right to the data endpoint, right to the interface where application services and users talk to the data endpoint, and in real time see the communication,” Mital explained.

As an example, he says that Cyral could detect that someone has suddenly started scanning rows of credit card data, or that someone was trying to connect to a database on an unencrypted connection. In each of these cases, Cyral would detect the problem, and depending on the configuration, send an alert to the customer’s security team to deal with the problem, or automatically shut down access to the database before informing the security team.

It’s still early days for Cyral, with 15 employees and a handful of early access customers. Mital says for this round he’s working on building a product to market that’s well-designed and easy to use.

He says that people get the problem he’s trying to solve. “We could walk into any company and they are all worried about this problem. So for us getting people interested has not been an issue. We just want to make sure we build an amazing product,” he said.

Aug
08
2019
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Opsani helps optimize cloud applications with AI

Opsani, a Redwood City, Calif. startup, wants to go beyond performance monitoring to continually optimizing cloud applications, using artificial intelligence to help the software learn what is the optimal state.

“We have come up with a machine learning technique centered around reinforcement learning to tune the performance of applications in the cloud,” company co-founder and CEO Ross Schibler told TechCrunch.

Schibler says each company has its own unique metrics and that’s what they try to optimize around. “We’re modifying these parameters around the resource, and we’re looking at the performance of the application. So in real time, what is the key business metric that the application is producing as a service? So it might be the number of transactions or it might be latency, but if it’s important to the business, then we use that,” he explained.

He claims that what separates Opsani from a monitoring tool like New Relic or AppDynamics is that they watch performance and then provide feedback for admins, but Opsani actually changes the parameters to improve the application performance in real time, based on what it knows about the application and what the developers want to optimize for.

It is also somewhat similar to a company like Spotinst, which optimizes for the cheapest cloud resources, but instead of simply trying to find the best price, Opsani is actually tuning the application.

The company recently announced a $10 million Series A investment led by Redpoint Ventures. Previous investors Zetta Ventures and Bain Capital also participated.

For now, it’s still early days for the startup. It has a dozen employees and a handful of customers, according to Schibler. With the recent $10 million round of funding, it should be able to hire more employees and continue refining the product.

Jun
25
2019
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Tundra, the zero-fee wholesale marketplace, picks up $12 million

Tundra, a new zero-commission wholesale marketplace, has today announced the close of $12 million in Series A funding. The round was led by Redpoint’s Annie Kadavy, with participation from investors such as Initialized Capital, Peterson Ventures, FJ Labs, Switch Ventures and Background Capital.

Tundra was founded by married couple Arnold and Katie Engel who previously ran a global supply chain company called Vox Supply Chain. In that world, they quickly realized just how much inefficiency is built into the wholesale market, from disorganized trade shows to transaction fees from the incumbents to a business that’s largely done on phone with pen and paper.

That’s where Tundra comes in.

Tundra allows suppliers to list their products on the platform, which is built to look and feel like a B2C marketplace. Buyers can come on the platform and shop for products, complete with ratings and reviews, supplier performance metrics, and free shipping with easy tracking.

“The wholesale market is set up to benefit big businesses, with other platforms and distributors charging anywhere from 5 percent to 30 percent commission,” said Engel. “That can be particularly pronounced for small businesses.”

Plus, it can be perilous for small players to depend on big platforms like Amazon. Just a few weeks ago, there were rumors that Amazon would focus its attention on big brands like P&G and purge smaller suppliers from the platforms. Amazon denied the rumors, saying it evaluates suppliers on an individual basis.

For Tundra, the hope is to eliminate both the time-consuming and tedious process of negotiating deals at trade shows as well as the cost of simply buying and selling wholesale products online. And, importantly, Tundra has a zero-fee model, which means that buyers and suppliers can operate on the platform without spending a penny if they so choose.

Of course, the company has to generate revenue in some way, which is why Tundra offers premium options at checkout, such as faster shipping, order insurance, and additional custom clearance and logistics services for international orders.

Having spent a year serving as Head of Strategic Operations growing Uber Freight, Redpoint Managing Director Annie Kadavy saw first-hand just how gargantuan the wholesale market is. During a phone interview, she reminded me that almost every item within view at any given moment was shipped on a truck and purchased at a wholesale price before it was purchased by a consumer in a store.

“Tundra’s greatest challenge ahead is execution, because the market opportunity here is very obvious,” said Kadavy. “It’s a huge business that is currently transacted by fax, phone call and pen and paper, so the opportunity is very clear.”

There is clearly movement in the space. Just last month, Shopify acquired Handshake to handle B2B e-commerce directly for customers. That followed its acquisition of dropshipping platform Oberlo in 2017, signaling the fact that existing platforms realize the opportunity of wholesale e-commerce, as well.

And a recent report stated that B2B e-commerce passed the $1 trillion mark for the first time in 2018.

The opportunity is there, as is the competition, but Tundra comes to the table armed with fresh capital.

Nov
14
2016
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Zugata raises $7 million to make annual performance reviews obsolete

teens millennials Even before they began to graduate from college, millennials drove changes at work, from management and recruiting practices to the design of office interiors. But companies are still adapting and figuring out what matters most to this large demographic and employee base. Now, a tech startup called Zugata has raised $7 million in Series A venture funding to replace the crusty old… Read More

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