May
20
2021
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Esper raises $30M Series B for its IoT DevOps platform

There may be billions of IoT devices in use today, but the tooling around building (and updating) the software for them still leaves a lot to be desired. Esper, which today announced that it has raised a $30 million Series B round, builds the tools to enable developers and engineers to deploy and manage fleets of Android-based edge devices. The round was led by Scale Venture Partners, with participation from Madrona Venture Group, Root Ventures, Ubiquity Ventures and Haystack.

The company argues that there are thousands of device manufacturers who are building these kinds of devices on Android alone, but that scaling and managing these deployments comes with a lot of challenges. The core idea here is that Esper brings to device development the DevOps experience that software developers now expect. The company argues that its tools allow companies to forgo building their own internal DevOps teams and instead use its tooling to scale their Android-based IoT fleets for use cases that range from digital signage and kiosks to custom solutions in healthcare, retail, logistics and more.

“The pandemic has transformed industries like connected fitness, digital health, hospitality, and food delivery, further accelerating the adoption of intelligent edge devices. But with each new use case, better software automation is required,” said Yadhu Gopalan, CEO and co-founder at Esper. “Esper’s mature cloud infrastructure incorporates the functionality cloud developers have come to expect, re-imagined for devices.”

Image Credits: Esper

Mobile device management (MDM) isn’t exactly a new thing, but the Esper team argues that these tools weren’t created for this kind of use case. “MDMs are the solution now in the market. They are made for devices being brought into an environment,” Gopalan said. “The DNA of these solutions is rooted in protecting the enterprise and to deploy applications to them in the network. Our customers are sending devices out into the wild. It’s an entirely different use case and model.”

To address these challenges, Esper offers a range of tools and services that includes a full development stack for developers, cloud-based services for device management and hardware emulators to get started with building custom devices.

“Esper helped us launch our Fusion-connected fitness offering on three different types of hardware in less than six months,” said Chris Merli, founder at Inspire Fitness. “Their full stack connected fitness Android platform helped us test our application on different hardware platforms, configure all our devices over the cloud, and manage our fleet exactly to our specifications. They gave us speed, Android expertise, and trust that our application would provide a delightful experience for our customers.”

The company also offers solutions for running Android on older x86 Windows devices to extend the life of this hardware, too.

“We spent about a year and a half on building out the infrastructure,” said Gopalan. “Definitely. That’s the hard part and that’s really creating a reliable, robust mechanism where customers can trust that the bits will flow to the devices. And you can also roll back if you need to.”

Esper is working with hardware partners to launch devices that come with built-in Esper-support from the get-go.

Esper says it saw 70x revenue growth in the last year, an 8x growth in paying customers and a 15x growth in devices running Esper. Since we don’t know the baseline, those numbers are meaningless, but the investors clearly believe that Esper is on to something. Current customers include the likes of CloudKitchens, Spire Health, Intelity, Ordermark, Inspire Fitness, RomTech and Uber.

Apr
21
2021
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AppOmni raises $40M for tools to secure enterprise SaaS apps

Enterprises are adopting an ever-wider range of SaaS applications to work and interface with customers, and that is proving to be a major security concern: It’s not just the prospect of phishing, credential stuffing and other malicious tricks to get into systems that are a worry, but the fact that more applications mean more attack surfaces, and more integrations between apps mean more inadvertent holes that get exposed in the process.

And that is leading to a surge of interest in security applications that can help. Today, a startup called AppOmni — which has built a platform to help monitor SaaS apps and their activity, provide guidance to warn or block when things might go wrong and fix problems when they do occur — is announcing some funding to fuel its growth.

The startup has raised $40 million in a Series B round led by Scale Venture Partners, with Salesforce Ventures and ServiceNow Ventures, as well as previous backers ClearSky, Costanoa Ventures, Inner Loop Capital and Silicon Valley Data Capital also participating.

The funding is coming on the back of a huge year for AppOmni. The company grew 900%, co-founder and CEO Brendan O’Connor told TechCrunch, and it has managed to stay at 100% customer retention — that is, AppOmni has yet to lose a single customer since it was founded.

The company today integrates with more than 100 connectors, platforms used by developers and IT teams at companies to manage the apps that their businesses use, such as tools like Splunk and Sumo Logic. Through this, AppOmni is able to aggregate and normalize event data around those apps, in addition to deeper monitoring in cases where it can integrate with apps themselves (those integrations to date include some of the most popular apps that enterprises use today, including Salesforce and Slack, Zoom, Microsoft 365, Box and GitHub).

As O’Connor describes it, the sheer number of apps that enterprise teams use and adopt has made managing security around them very complex. Partly because of how SaaS is set up for usage by as many people in and outside the organization as possible (to make the apps more useful), AppOmni estimates that some 95% of enterprises “overprovision” permissions for external users.

On top of that, some of the biggest problems occur indirectly, specifically when applications are linked together, creating a flow of sensitive data. AppOmni says that some 55% of companies have sensitive data living in SaaS systems that has been inadvertently exposed to the anonymous internet, sitting there completely unguarded, in this way. (See Zack’s story here for a recent example of how this can play out.)

This is an issue, he said, that is unique to SaaS, which he describes as different architecturally to any software that companies might have used in the past. “There is no operating system, no network that is exposed to customers,” he said.

The idea is that AppOmni provides a dashboard to make that monitoring much less murky. “One of our customers described using AppOmni as being akin to turning a light on in a dark room,” O’Connor said.

O’Connor and his co-founder, Brian Soby (the CTO), have firsthand knowledge of the challenges of securing SaaS applications: both spent years at Salesforce — with O’Connor the company’s SVP and “chief trust officer”, a role he left to join ServiceNow as its security CTO, before leaving there to co-found AppOmni with Soby.

It’s partly that track record, along with AppOmni’s own track record, that has given the startup the attention that it has from investors. Interestingly, Scale came to know AppOmni not over a coffee or a pitch deck, but as one of those satisfied customers, which eventually led the VC to offer to invest.

“Scale Venture Partners became an AppOmni customer in 2020. We know firsthand how powerful and differentiated the AppOmni product when it comes to protecting our sensitive SaaS data, and we’re excited to now be both a customer and an investor,” said Ariel Tseitlin, a partner at Scale Venture Partners, in a statement. “AppOmni’s 9x growth last year, driven by the acquisition of customers across a wide range of industries, proves that AppOmni is the market leader in the increasingly important SaaS Security Management market. We expect the momentum to continue in 2021 and beyond as companies accelerate their shift to cloud applications to support their larger remote workforces.”

The company has raised $53 million to date, and it is not disclosing valuation.

Sep
29
2020
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Papaya Global raises $40M for a payroll and HR platform aimed at global workforces

Workforces are getting more global, and people who work day in, day out for organizations don’t always sit day in, day out in a single office, in a single country, to get a job done. Today, one of the startups building HR to help companies provision services for and manage those global workers better is announcing a funding round to capitalise on a surge in business that it has seen in the last year — spurred in no small part by the global health pandemic, the impact it’s had on travel and the way it has focused the minds of companies to get their cloud services and workforce management in order.

Papaya Global, an Israeli startup that provides cloud-based payroll, as well as hiring, onboarding and compliance services for organizations that employ full-time, part-time, or contract workers outside of their home country, has raised $40 million in a Series B round of funding led by Scale Venture Partners. Workday Ventures — the corporate investment arm of the HR company — Access Industries (via its Israeli vehicle Claltech), and previous investors Insight Partners, Bessemer Venture Partners, New Era Ventures, Group 11 and Dynamic Loop also participated

The money comes less than a year after its Series A of $45 million, following the company growing 300% year-over-year annually since 2016. It has now raised $95 million and is not disclosing valuation. But Eynat Guez, the CEO who co-founded the company in that year with Ruben Drong and Ofer Herman, said in an interview that it’s 5x the valuation it had in its round last year.

Its customers include fast-growing startups (precisely the kind of customer that not only has global workforces, but is expanding its employee base quickly) like OneTrust, nCino and Hopin, as well as major corporates like Toyota, Microsoft, Wix and General Dynamics.

Guez said Papaya Global was partly born out of the frustrations she herself had with HR solutions — she’s worked in the field for years. Different countries have different employment regulations, varied banking rules, completely different norms in terms of how people get paid, and so on. While there have been some really modern tools built for local workforces — Rippling, Gusto and Zenefits now going head to head with incumbents like ADP — they weren’t built to address these issues.

Other HR people who have dealt with international workers would understand her pain; those who control the purse strings might have been less aware of the fragmentation. All that changed in the last eight months (and for the foreseeable future), a period when companies have had to reassess everything about how they work to make sure that they can get through the current period without collapsing.

“The major impact of COVID-19 for us has been changing attitudes,” said Guez. “People usually think that payroll works by itself, but it’s one of the more complex parts of the organization, covering major areas like labor, accounting, tax. Eight months ago, a lot of clients thought, it just happens. But now they realize they didn’t have control of the data, some don’t even have a handle on who is being paid.”

As people moved into and out of jobs, and out of offices into working from home, as the pandemic kicked off, some operations fell apart as a result, she said. “Payroll continuity is like IT continuity, and so all of a sudden when COVID started its march, we had prospects calling us saying they didn’t have data on, for example, their Italian employees, and the office they were using wasn’t answering the phone.”

Guez herself is walking the walk on the remote working front. Papaya Global itself has offices around the world, and Guez is normally based in Tel Aviv. But our interview was conducted with her in the Maldives. She said she and her family decided to decamp elsewhere before Israel went into a second lockdown, which was very tough to handle in a small flat with small children. Working anywhere, as we have found out, can work.

The company is not the only one that has identified and is building to help organizations handle global workforces. In fact, just when you think the unemployment, furlough and layoff crunch is affecting an inordinate number of people and the job market is in a slump, a rush of them, along with other HR companies, have all been announcing significant funding rounds this year on the back of surges in business.

Others that have raised money during the pandemic include Deel, which like Papaya Global is also addressing the complexities of running global workforces; Turing, which helps with sourcing and then managing international teams; Factorial with its platform targeting specifically SMBs; Lattice focused on the bigger challenges of people management; and Rippling, the second act from Zenefits’ Parker Conrad.

“Papaya Global’s accelerating growth is a testament to their top-notch executive leadership as well as their ability to streamline international payroll management, a first for many enterprises that have learned to live with highly manual payroll processes,” said Rory O’Driscoll, a partner at Scale Venture Partners, in a statement. “The complexity and cost of managing multi-region workforces cannot be understated. Eynat and her team are uniquely serving their customers’ needs, bringing an advanced SaaS platform into a market long-starved for more effective software solutions.”

Dec
11
2018
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TechSee nabs $16M for its customer support solution built on computer vision and AR

Chatbots and other AI-based tools have firmly found footing in the world of customer service, used either to augment or completely replace the role of a human responding to questions and complaints, or (sometimes, annoyingly, at the same time as the previous two functions) sell more products to users.

Today, an Israeli startup called TechSee is announcing $16 million in funding to help build out its own twist on that innovation: an AI-based video service, which uses computer vision, augmented reality and a customer’s own smartphone camera to provide tech support to customers, either alongside assistance from live agents, or as part of a standalone customer service “bot.”

Led by Scale Venture Partners — the storied investor that has been behind some of the bigger enterprise plays of the last several years (including Box, Chef, Cloudhealth, DataStax, Demandbase, DocuSign, ExactTarget, HubSpot, JFrog and fellow Israeli AI assistance startup WalkMe), the Series B also includes participation from Planven Investments, OurCrowd, Comdata Group and Salesforce Ventures. (Salesforce was actually announced as a backer in October.)

The funding will be used both to expand the company’s current business as well as move into new product areas like sales.

Eitan Cohen, the CEO and co-founder, said that the company today provides tools to some 15,000 customer service agents and counts companies like Samsung and Vodafone among its customers across verticals like financial services, tech, telecoms and insurance.

The potential opportunity is big: Cohen estimates there are about 2 million customer service agents in the U.S., and about 14 million globally.

TechSee is not disclosing its valuation. It has raised around $23 million to date.

While TechSee provides support for software and apps, its sweet spot up to now has been providing video-based assistance to customers calling with questions about the long tail of hardware out in the world, used for example in a broadband home Wi-Fi service.

In fact, Cohen said he came up with the idea for the service when his parents phoned him up to help them get their cable service back up, and he found himself challenged to do it without being able to see the set-top box to talk them through what to do.

So he thought about all the how-to videos that are on platforms like YouTube and decided there was an opportunity to harness that in a more organised way for the companies providing an increasing array of kit that may never get the vlogger treatment.

“We are trying to bring that YouTube experience for all hardware,” he said in an interview.

The thinking is that this will become a bigger opportunity over time as more services get digitised, the cost of components continues to come down and everything becomes “hardware.”

“Tech may become more of a commodity, but customer service does not,” he added. “Solutions like ours allow companies to provide low-cost technology without having to hire more people to solve issues [that might arise with it.]”

The product today is sold along two main trajectories: assisting customer reps; and providing unmanned video assistance to replace some of the easier and more common questions that get asked.

In cases where live video support is provided, the customer opts in for the service, similar to how she or he might for a support service that “takes over” the device in question to diagnose and try to fix an issue. Here, the camera for the service becomes a customer’s own phone.

Over time, that live assistance is used in two ways that are directly linked to TechSee’s artificial intelligence play. First, it helps to build up TechSee’s larger back catalogue of videos, where all identifying characteristics are removed with the focus solely on the device or problem in question. Second, the experience in the video is also used to build TechSee’s algorithms for future interactions. Cohen said there are now “millions” of media files — images and videos — in the company’s catalogue.

The effectiveness of its system so far has been pretty impressive. TechSee’s customers — the companies running the customer support — say they have on average seen a 40 percent increase in customer satisfaction (NPS scores), a 17 percent decrease in technician dispatches and between 20 and 30 percent increase in first-call resolutions, depending on the industry.

TechSee is not the only company that has built a video-based customer engagement platform: others include Stryng, CallVU and Vee24. And you could imagine companies like Amazon — which is already dabbling in providing advice to customers based on what its Echo Look can see — might be interested in providing such services to users across the millions of products that it sells, as well as provide that as a service to third parties.

According to Cohen, what TechSee has going for it compared to those startups, and also the potential entry of companies like Microsoft or Amazon into the mix, is a head start on raw data and a vision of how it will be used by the startup’s AI to build the business.

“We believe that anyone who wants to build this would have a challenge making it from scratch,” he said. “This is where we have strong content, millions of images, down to specific model numbers, where we can provide assistance and instructions on the spot.”

Salesforce’s interest in the company, he said, is a natural progression of where that data and customer relationship can take a business beyond responsive support into areas like quick warranty verification (for all those times people have neglected to do a product registration), snapping fender benders for insurance claims and of course upselling to other products and services.

“Salesforce sees the synergies between the sales cloud and the service cloud,” Cohen said.

“TechSee recognized the great potential for combining computer vision AI with augmented reality in customer engagement,” said Andy Vitus, partner at Scale Venture Partners, who joins the board with this round. “Electronic devices become more complex with every generation, making their adoption a perennial challenge. TechSee is solving a massive problem for brands with a technology solution that simplifies the customer experience via visual and interactive guidance.”

Aug
24
2016
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DroneDeploy raises $20 million to help any business put drones to work

An elevation map created using DroneDeploy. A San Francisco-based startup called DroneDeploy has raised $20 million in Series B funding to grow their drone data management platform. The drone tech startup closed its Series B deal just before the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration is scheduled to implement new rules governing commercial and industrial drone use. The Part 107 rules, announced by the FAA in June this year, will take… Read More

Apr
01
2014
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WalkMe, A Guidance Platform For Confusing Sites, Raises Another $11M As It Tackles Enterprise

Screen Shot 2014-04-02 at 01.22.44 WalkMe, a platform that provides visual cues for website visitors so that users can navigate around them more easily, has raised $11 million in funding to expand its business and building out its customer base among enterprises. Read More

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