May
07
2021
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5 investors discuss the future of RPA after UiPath’s IPO

Robotic process automation (RPA) has certainly been getting a lot of attention in the last year, with startups, acquisitions and IPOs all coming together in a flurry of market activity. It all seemed to culminate with UiPath’s IPO last month. The company that appeared to come out of nowhere in 2017 eventually had a final private valuation of $35 billion. It then had the audacity to match that at its IPO. A few weeks later, it still has a market cap of over $38 billion in spite of the stock price fluctuating at points.

Was this some kind of peak for the technology or a flash in the pan? Probably not. While it all seemed to come together in the last year with a big increase in attention to automation in general during the pandemic, it’s a market category that has been around for some time.

RPA allows companies to automate a group of highly mundane tasks and have a machine do the work instead of a human. Think of finding an invoice amount in an email, placing the figure in a spreadsheet and sending a Slack message to Accounts Payable. You could have humans do that, or you could do it more quickly and efficiently with a machine. We’re talking mind-numbing work that is well suited to automation.

In 2019, Gartner found RPA was the fastest-growing category in enterprise software. In spite of that, the market is still surprisingly small, with IDC estimates finding it will reach just $2 billion in 2021. That’s pretty tiny for the enterprise, but it shows that there’s plenty of room for this space to grow.

We spoke to five investors to find out more about RPA, and the general consensus was that we are just getting started. While we will continue to see the players at the top of the market — like UiPath, Automation Anywhere and Blue Prism — jockeying for position with the big enterprise vendors and startups, the size and scope of the market has a lot of potential and is likely to keep growing for some time to come.

To learn about all of this, we queried the following investors:

  • Mallun Yen, founder and partner, Operator Collective
  • Jai Das, partner and president, Sapphire Ventures
  • Soma Somasegar, managing director, Madrona Venture Group
  • Laela Sturdy, general partner, CapitalG
  • Ed Sim, founder and managing partner, Boldstart Ventures

We have seen a range of RPA startups emerge in recent years, with companies like UiPath, Blue Prism and Automation Anywhere leading the way. As the space matures, where do the biggest opportunities remain?

Mallun Yen: One of the fastest-growing categories of software, RPA has been growing at over 60% in recent years, versus 13% for enterprise software generally. But we’ve barely scratched the surface. The COVID-19 pandemic forced companies to shift how they run their business, how they hire and allocate staff.

Given that the workforce will remain at least partially permanently remote, companies recognize that this shift is also permanent, and so they need to make fundamental changes to how they run their businesses. It’s simply suboptimal to hire, train and deploy remote employees to run routine processes, which are prone to, among other things, human error and boredom.

Jai Das: All the companies that you have listed are focused on automating simple repetitive tasks that are performed by humans. These are mostly data entry and data validation jobs. Most of these tasks will be automated in the next couple of years. The new opportunity lies in automating business processes that involve multiple humans and machines within complicated workflow using AI/ML.

Sometimes this is also called process mining. There have been BPM companies in the past that have tried to automate these business processes, but they required a lot of services to implement and maintain these automated processes. AI/ML is providing a way for software to replace all these services.

Soma Somasegar: For all the progress that we have seen in RPA, I think it is still early days. The global demand for RPA market size in terms of revenue was more than $2 billion this past year and is expected to cross $20 billion in the coming decade, growing at a CAGR of more than 30% over the next seven to eight years, according to analysts such as Gartner.

That’s an astounding growth rate in the coming years and is a reflection of how early we are in the RPA journey and how much more is ahead of us. A recent study by Deloitte indicates that up to 50% of the tasks in businesses performed by employees are considered mundane, administrative and labor-intensive. That is just a recipe for a ton of process automation.

There are a lot of opportunities that I see here, including process discovery and mining; process analytics; application of AI to drive effective, more complex workflow automation; and using low code/no code as a way to enable a broader set of people to be able to automate tasks, processes and workflows, to name a few.

Laela Sturdy: We’re a long way from needing to think about the space maturing. In fact, RPA adoption is still in its early infancy when you consider its immense potential. Most companies are only now just beginning to explore the numerous use cases that exist across industries. The more enterprises dip their toes into RPA, the more use cases they envision.

I expect to see market leaders like UiPath continue to innovate rapidly while expanding the breadth and depth of their end-to-end automation platforms. As the technology continues to evolve, we should expect RPA to penetrate even more deeply into the enterprise and to automate increasingly more — and more critical — business processes.

Ed Sim: Most large-scale automation projects require a significant amount of professional services to deliver on the promises, and two areas where I still see opportunity include startups that can bring more intelligence and faster time to value. Examples include process discovery, which can help companies quickly and accurately understand how their business processes work and prioritize what to automate versus just rearchitecting an existing workflow.

May
05
2021
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Timescale grabs $40M Series B as it goes all in on cloud version of time series database

Timescale, makers of the open-source TimescaleDB time series database, announced a $40 million Series B financing round today. The investment comes just over two years after it got a $15 million Series A.

Redpoint Ventures led today’s round, with help from existing investors Benchmark, New Enterprise Associates, Icon Ventures and Two Sigma Ventures. The company reports it has now raised approximately $70 million.

TimescaleDB lets users measure data across a time dimension, so anything that would change over time. “What we found is we need a purpose-built database for it to handle scalability, reliability and performance, and we like to think of ourselves as the category-defining relational database for time series,” CEO and co-founder Ajay Kulkarni explained.

He says that the choice to build their database on top of Postgres when it launched four years ago was a key decision. “There are a few different databases that are designed for time series, but we’re the only one where developers get the purpose-built time series database plus a complete Postgres database all in one,” he said.

While the company has an open-source version, last year it decided rather than selling an enterprise version (as it had been), it was going to include all of that functionality in the free version of the product and place a bet entirely on the cloud for revenue.

“We decided that we’re going to make a bold bet on the cloud. We think cloud is where the future of database adoption is, and so in the last year […] we made all of our enterprise features free. If you want to test it yourself, you get the whole thing, but if you want a managed service, then we’re available to run it for you,” he said.

The community approach is working to attract users, with over 2 million monthly active databases, some of which the company is betting will convert to the cloud service over time. Timescale is based in New York City, but it’s a truly remote organization, with 60 employees spread across 20 countries and every continent except Antarctica.

He says that as a global company, it creates new dimensions of diversity and different ways of thinking about it. “I think one thing that is actually kind of an interesting challenge for us is what does D&I mean in a totally global org. A lot of people focus on diversity and inclusion within the U.S., but we think we’re doing better than most tech companies in terms of racial diversity, gender diversity,” he said.

And being remote-first isn’t going to change even when we get past the pandemic. “I think it may not work for every business, but I think being remote first has been a really good thing for us,” he said.

 

May
05
2021
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Cymulate nabs $45M to test and improve cybersecurity defenses via attack simulations

With cybercrime on course to be a $6 trillion problem this year, organizations are throwing ever more resources at the issue to avoid being a target. Now, a startup that’s built a platform to help them stress-test the investments that they have made into their security IT is announcing some funding on the back of strong demand from the market for its tools.

Cymulate, which lets organizations and their partners run machine-based attack simulations on their networks to determine vulnerabilities and then automatically receive guidance around how to fix what is not working well enough, has picked up $45 million, funding that the startup — co-headquartered in Israel and New York — will be using to continue investing in its platform and to ramp up its operations after doubling its revenues last year on the back of a customer list that now numbers 300 large enterprises and mid-market companies, including the Euronext stock exchange network as well as service providers such as NTT and Telit.

London-based One Peak Partners is leading this Series C, with previous investors Susquehanna Growth Equity (SGE), Vertex Ventures Israel, Vertex Growth and Dell Technologies Capital also participating.

According to Eyal Wachsman, the CEO and co-founder, Cymulate’s technology has been built not just to improve an organization’s security, but an automated, machine learning-based system to better understand how to get the most out of the security investments that have already been made.

“Our vision is to be the largest cybersecurity ‘consulting firm’ without consultants,” he joked.

The valuation is not being disclosed, but as some measure of what is going on, David Klein, managing partner at One Peak, said in an interview that he expects Cymulate to hit a $1 billion valuation within two years at the rate it’s growing and bringing in revenue right now. The startup has now raised $71 million, so it’s likely the valuation is in the mid-hundreds of millions. (We’ll continue trying to get a better number to have a more specific data point here.)

Cymulate — pronounced “sigh-mulate”, like the “cy” in “cyber” and a pun of “simulate”) is cloud-based but works across both cloud and on-premises environments and the idea is that it complements work done by (human) security teams both inside and outside of an organization, as well as the security IT investments (in terms of software or hardware) that they have already made.

“We do not replace — we bring back the power of the expert by validating security controls and checking whether everything is working correctly to optimize a company’s security posture,” Wachsman said. “Most of the time, we find our customers are using only 20% of the capabilities that they have. The main idea is that we have become a standard.”

The company’s tools are based in part on the MITRE ATT&CK framework, a knowledge base of threats, tactics and techniques used by a number of other cybersecurity services, including a number of others building continuous validation services that compete with Cymulate. These include the likes of FireEye, Palo Alto Networks, Randori, Khosla-backed AttackIQ and many more.

Although Cymulate is optimized to help customers better use the security tools they already have, it is not meant to replace other security apps, Wachsman noted, even if the by-product might become buying fewer of those apps in the future.

“I believe my message every day when talking with security experts is to stop buying more security products,” he said in an interview. “They won’t help defend you from the next attack. You can use what you’ve already purchased as long as you configure it well.”

In his words, Cymulate acts as a “black box” on the network, where it integrates with security and other software (it can also work without integrating, but integrations allow for a deeper analysis). After running its simulations, it produces a map of the network and its threat profile, an executive summary of the situation that can be presented to management and a more technical rundown, which includes recommendations for mitigations and remediations.

Alongside validating and optimising existing security apps and identifying vulnerabilities in the network, Cymulate also has built special tools to fit different kinds of use cases that are particularly relevant to how businesses operate today. They include evaluating remote working deployments, the state of a network following an M&A process, the security landscape of an organization that links up with third parties in supply chain arrangements, how well an organization’s security architecture is meeting (or potentially conflicting) with privacy and other kinds of regulatory compliance requirements, and it has built a “purple team” deployment, where in cases where security teams do not have the resources for running separate “red teams” to stress test something, blue teams at the organization can use Cymulate to build a machine learning-based “team” to do this.

The fact that Cymulate has built the infrastructure to run all of these processes speaks to a lot of potential of what more it could build, especially as our threat landscape and how we do business both continue to evolve. Even as it is, though, the opportunity today is a massive one, with Gartner estimating that some $170 billion will be spent on information security by enterprises in 2022. That’s one reason why investors are here, too.

“The increasing pace of global cyber security attacks has resulted in a crisis of trust in the security posture of enterprises and a realization that security testing needs to be continuous as opposed to periodic, particularly in the context of an ever-changing IT infrastructure and rapidly evolving threats. Companies understand that implementing security solutions is not enough to guarantee protection against cyber threats and need to regain control,” said Klein, in a statement. “We expect Cymulate to grow very fast,” he told me more directly.

Apr
30
2021
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The health data transparency movement is birthing a new generation of startups

In the early 2000s, Jeff Bezos gave a seminal TED Talk titled “The Electricity Metaphor for the Web’s Future.” In it, he argued that the internet will enable innovation on the same scale that electricity did.

We are at a similar inflection point in healthcare, with the recent movement toward data transparency birthing a new generation of innovation and startups.

Those who follow the space closely may have noticed that there are twin struggles taking place: a push for more transparency on provider and payer data, including anonymous patient data, and another for strict privacy protection for personal patient data. What’s the main difference?

This sector is still somewhat nascent — we are in the first wave of innovation, with much more to come.

Anonymized data is much more freely available, while personal data is being locked even tighter (as it should be) due to regulations like GDPR, CCPA and their equivalents around the world.

The former trend is enabling a host of new vendors and services that will ultimately make healthcare better and more transparent for all of us.

These new companies could not have existed five years ago. The Affordable Care Act was the first step toward making anonymized data more available. It required healthcare institutions (such as hospitals and healthcare systems) to publish data on costs and outcomes. This included the release of detailed data on providers.

Later legislation required biotech and pharma companies to disclose monies paid to research partners. And every physician in the U.S. is now required to be in the National Practitioner Identifier (NPI), a comprehensive public database of providers.

All of this allowed the creation of new types of companies that give both patients and providers more control over their data. Here are some key examples of how.

Allowing patients to access all their own health data in one place

This is a key capability of patients’ newly found access to health data. Think of how often, as a patient, providers aren’t aware of treatment or a test you’ve had elsewhere. Often you end up repeating a test because a provider doesn’t have a record of a test conducted elsewhere.

Apr
29
2021
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Wasabi scores $112M Series C on $700M valuation to take on cloud storage hyperscalers

Taking on Amazon S3 in the cloud storage game would seem to be a fool-hearty proposition, but Wasabi has found a way to build storage cheaply and pass the savings onto customers. Today the Boston-based startup announced a $112 million Series C investment on a $700 million valuation.

Fidelity Management & Research Company led the round with participation from previous investors. It reports that it has now raised $219 million in equity so far, along with additional debt financing, but it takes a lot of money to build a storage business.

CEO David Friend says that business is booming and he needed the money to keep it going. “The business has just been exploding. We achieved a roughly $700 million valuation on this round, so  you can imagine that business is doing well. We’ve tripled in each of the last three years and we’re ahead of plan for this year,” Friend told me.

He says that demand continues to grow and he’s been getting requests internationally. That was one of the primary reasons he went looking for more capital. What’s more, data sovereignty laws require that certain types of sensitive data like financial and healthcare be stored in-country, so the company needs to build more capacity where it’s needed.

He says they have nailed down the process of building storage, typically inside co-location facilities, and during the pandemic they actually became more efficient as they hired a firm to put together the hardware for them onsite. They also put channel partners like managed service providers (MSPs) and value added resellers (VARs) to work by incentivizing them to sell Wasabi to their customers.

Wasabi storage starts at $5.99 per terabyte per month. That’s a heck of a lot cheaper than Amazon S3, which starts at 0.23 per gigabyte for the first 50 terabytes or $23.00 a terabyte, considerably more than Wasabi’s offering.

But Friend admits that Wasabi still faces headwinds as a startup. No matter how cheap it is, companies want to be sure it’s going to be there for the long haul and a round this size from an investor with the pedigree of Fidelity will give the company more credibility with large enterprise buyers without the same demands of venture capital firms.

“Fidelity to me was the ideal investor. […] They don’t want a board seat. They don’t want to come in and tell us how to run the company. They are obviously looking toward an IPO or something like that, and they are just interested in being an investor in this business because cloud storage is a virtually unlimited market opportunity,” he said.

He sees his company as the typical kind of market irritant. He says that his company has run away from competitors in his part of the market and the hyperscalers are out there not paying attention because his business remains a fraction of theirs for the time being. While an IPO is far off, he took on an institutional investor this early because he believes it’s possible eventually.

“I think this is a big enough market we’re in, and we were lucky to get in at just the right time with the right kind of technology. There’s no doubt in my mind that Wasabi could grow to be a fairly substantial public company doing cloud infrastructure. I think we have a nice niche cut out for ourselves, and I don’t see any reason why we can’t continue to grow,” he said.

Apr
29
2021
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RapidDeploy raises $29M for a cloud-based dispatch platform aimed at 911 centers

The last year of pandemic living has been real-world, and sometimes harrowing, proof of how important it can be to have efficient and well-equipped emergency response services in place. They can help people remotely if need be, and when they cannot, they make sure that in-person help can be dispatched quickly in medical and other situations. Today, a company that’s building cloud-based tools to help with this process is announcing a round of funding as it continues to grow.

RapidDeploy, which provides computer-aided dispatch technology as a cloud-based service for 911 centers, has closed a round of $29 million, a Series B round of funding that will be used both to grow its business and continue expanding the SaaS tools that it provides to its customers. In the startup’s point of view, the cloud is essential to running emergency response in the most efficient manner.

“911 response would have been called out on a walkie talkie in the early days,” said Steve Raucher, the co-founder and CEO of RapidDeploy, in an interview. “Now the cloud has become the nexus of signals.”

Washington, DC-based RapidDeploy provides data and analytics to 911 centers — the critical link between people calling for help and connecting those calls with the nearest medical, police or fire assistance — and today it has about 700 customers using its RadiusPlus, Eclipse Analytics and Nimbus CAD products.

That works out to about 10% of all 911 centers in the U.S. (7,000 in total), and covering 35% of the population (there are more centers in cities and other dense areas). Its footprint includes state coverage in Arizona, California and Kansas. It also has operations in South Africa, where it was originally founded.

The funding is coming from an interesting mix of financial and strategic investors. Led by Morpheus Ventures, the round also had participation from GreatPoint Ventures, Ericsson Ventures, Samsung Next Ventures, Tao Capital Partners and Tau Ventures, among others. It looks like the company had raised about $30 million before this latest round, according to PitchBook data. Valuation is not being disclosed.

Ericsson and Samsung, as major players in the communication industry, have a big stake in seeing through what will be the next generation of communications technology and how it is used for critical services. (And indeed, one of the big leaders in legacy and current 911 communications is Motorola, a would-be competitor of both.) AT&T is also a strategic go-to-market (distribution and sales) partner of RapidDeploy’s, and it also has integrations with Apple, Google, Microsoft and OnStar to feed data into its system.

The business of emergency response technology is a fragmented market. Raucher describes them as “mom-and-pop” businesses, with some 80% of them occupying four seats or less (a testament to the fact that a lot of the U.S. is actually significantly less urban than its outsized cities might have you think it is), and in many cases a lot of these are operating on legacy equipment.

However, in the U.S. in the last several years — buffered by innovations like the Jedi project and FirstNet, a next-generation public safety network — things have been shifting. RapidDeploy’s technology sits alongside (and in some areas competes with) companies like Carbyne and RapidSOS, which have been tapping into the innovations of cell phone technology both to help pinpoint people and improve how to help them.

RapidDeploy’s tech is based around its RadiusPlus mapping platform, which uses data from smart phones, vehicles, home security systems and other connected devices and channels it to its data stream, which can help a center determine not just location but potentially other aspects of the condition of the caller. Its Eclipse Analytics services, meanwhile, are meant to act as a kind of assistant to those centers to help triage situations and provide insights into how to respond. The Nimbus CAD then helps figure out who to call out and routing for response. 

Longer term, the plan will be to leverage cloud architecture to bring in new data sources and ways of communicating between callers, centers and emergency care providers.

“It’s about being more of a triage service rather than a message switch,” Raucher said. “As we see it, the platform will evolve with customers’ needs. Tactical mapping ultimately is not big enough to cover this. We’re thinking about unified communications.” Indeed, that is the direction that many of these services seem to be going, which can only be a good thing for us consumers.

“The future of emergency services is in data, which creates a faster, more responsive 9-1-1 center,” said Mark Dyne, founding partner at Morpheus Ventures, in a statement. “We believe that the platform RapidDeploy has built provides the necessary breadth of capabilities that make the dream of Next-Gen 9-1-1 service a reality for rural and metropolitan communities across the nation and are excited to be investing in this future with Steve and his team.” Dyne has joined the RapidDeploy board with this round.

Apr
28
2021
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Near acquires the location data company formerly known as UberMedia

Data intelligence company Near is announcing the acquisition of another company in the data business — UM.

In some ways, this echoes Near’s acquisition of Teemo last fall. Just as that deal helped Singapore-headquartered Near expand into Europe (with Teemo founder and CEO Benoit Grouchko becoming Near’s chief privacy officer), CEO Anil Mathews said that this new acquisition will help Near build a presence in the United States, turning the company into “a truly global organization,” while also tailoring its product to offer “local flavors” in each country.

The addition of UM’s 60-person team brings Near’s total headcount to around 200, with UM CEO Gladys Kong becoming CEO of Near North America.

At the same time, Mathews suggested that this deal isn’t simply about geography, because the data offered by Near and UM are “very complementary,” allowing both teams to upsell current customers on new offerings. He described Near’s mission as “merging two diverse worlds, the online world and the offline world,” essentially creating a unified profile of consumers for marketers and other businesses. Apparently, UM is particularly strong on the offline side, thanks to its focus on location data.

Near CEO Anil Mathews and UM CEO Gladys Kong

Near CEO Anil Mathews and UM CEO Gladys Kong. Image Credits: Near

“UM has a very strong understanding of places, they’ve mastered their understanding of footfalls and dwell times,” Mathews added. “As a result, most of the use cases where UM is seeing growth — in tourism, retail, real estate — are in industries struggling due to the pandemic, where they’re using data to figure out, ‘How do we come out of the pandemic?’ ”

TechCrunch readers may be more familiar with UM under its old name, UberMedia, which created social apps like Echofon and UberSocial before pivoting its business to ad attribution and location data. Kong said that contrary to her fears, the company had “an amazing 2020” as businesses realized they needed UM’s data (its customers include RAND Corporation, Hawaii Tourism Authority, Columbia University and Yale University).

And the year was capped by connecting with Near and realizing that the two companies have “a lot of synergies.” In fact, Kong recalled that UM’s rebranding last month was partly at Mathews’ suggestion: “He said, ‘Why do you have media in your name when you don’t do media?’ And we realized that’s probably how the world saw us, so we decided to change [our name] to make it clear what we do.”

Founded in 2010, UM raised a total of $34.6 million in funding, according to Crunchbase. The financial terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.

 

Apr
28
2021
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Opsera raises $15M for its continuous DevOps orchestration platform

Opsera, a startup that’s building an orchestration platform for DevOps teams, today announced that it has raised a $15 million Series A funding round led by Felicis Ventures. New investor HMG Ventures, as well as existing investors Clear Ventures, Trinity Partners and Firebolt Ventures also participated in this round, which brings the company’s total funding to $19.3 million.

Founded in January 2020, Opsera lets developers provision their CI/CD tools through a single framework. Using this framework, they can then build and manage their pipelines for a variety of use cases, including their software delivery lifecycle, infrastructure as code and their SaaS application releases. With this, Opsera essentially aims to help teams set up and operate their various DevOps tools.

The company’s two co-founders, Chandra Ranganathan and Kumar Chivukula, originally met while working at Symantec a few years ago. Ranganathan then spent the last three years at Uber, where he ran that company’s global infrastructure. Meanwhile, Chivukula ran Symantec’s hybrid cloud services.

Image Credits: Opsera

“As part of the transformation [at Symantec], we delivered over 50+ acquisitions over time. That had led to the use of many cloud platforms, many data centers,” Ranganathan explained. “Ultimately we had to consolidate them into a single enterprise cloud. That journey is what led us to the pain points of what led to Opsera. There were many engineering teams. They all had diverse tools and stacks that were all needed for their own use cases.”

The challenge then was to still give developers the flexibility to choose the right tools for their use cases, while also providing a mechanism for automation, visibility and governance — and that’s ultimately the problem Opsera now aims to solve.

Image Credits: Opsera

“In the DevOps landscape, […] there is a plethora of tools, and a lot of people are writing the glue code,” Opsera co-founder Chivukula noted. “But then they’re not they don’t have visibility. At Opsera, our mission and goal is to bring order to the chaos. And the way we want to do this is by giving choice and flexibility to the users and provide no-code automation using a unified framework.”

Wesley Chan, a managing director for Felicis Ventures who will join the Opsera board, also noted that he believes that one of the next big areas for growth in DevOps is how orchestration and release management is handled.

“We spoke to a lot of startups who are all using black-box tools because they’ve built their engineering organization and their DevOps from scratch,” Chan said. “That’s fine, if you’re starting from scratch and you just hired a bunch of people outside of Google and they’re all very sophisticated. But then when you talk to some of the larger companies. […] You just have all these different teams and tools — and it gets unwieldy and complex.”

Unlike some other tools, Chan argues, Opsera allows its users the flexibility to interface with this wide variety of existing internal systems and tools for managing the software lifecycle and releases.

“This is why we got so interested in investing, because we just heard from all the folks that this is the right tool. There’s no way we’re throwing out a bunch of our internal stuff. This would just wreak havoc on our engineering team,” Chan explained. He believes that building with this wide existing ecosystem in mind — and integrating with it without forcing users onto a completely new platform — and its ability to reduce friction for these teams, is what will ultimately make Opsera successful.

Opsera plans to use the new funding to grow its engineering team and accelerate its go-to-market efforts.

Apr
28
2021
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MessageBird acquires SparkPost for $600M using $800M Series C extension

MessageBird, a communications platform out of the Netherlands, had a busy day today, with two huge announcements. For starters, the company got an $800 million extension on its $200 million Series C round announced last October. It then applied $600 million of the extension to buy email marketing platform SparkPost. The company’s C round now totals at least $1 billion.

Let’s start with the acquisition. MessageBird CEO Robert Vis says his company had an email component prior to the acquisition, but the chance to pick up the largest email provider in the world was too good to pass up.

“If you talk about infrastructure, we’re defining largest […] as a matter of interactions, so basically the amount of emails sent. SparkPost sends about 5 trillion emails a year. And the second thing that’s very important to us is to be able to send high-scale emails when it’s really critical,” Vis told me.

With the company in the fold, it enables MessageBird, which has mostly been in Europe and Asia, to get a stronger foothold in the U.S. market. “So this is as much for us about the technology around SparkPost as it actually is for us to have market entry into the United States with a significant workforce instead of having to build that from scratch,” Vis said.

Rich Harris, CEO of SparkPost, sees the deal as a way to expand SparkPost to multiple channels already available on the MessageBird platform and be a much more powerful combination together than it could have been alone.

“By joining forces with MessageBird, we will be able to bring broader, deeper value to all of our customers through any digital communications,” Harris said in a statement.

Vis agrees saying it gives his company the opportunity to upsell other MessageBird services to SparkPost customers. “SparkPost obviously only offers email. We can offer SparkPost customers way more channels. We can offer them texting, Instagram, WhatsApp or Apple Business Chat. So we feel very excited about leveraging them to go sell much more broad messenger products to their customers,” Vis said.

MessageBird announced its $240 million Series C on a $3 billion valuation last October. The company’s whopping $800 million extension brings the round to around $1 billion. It’s worth noting that the round isn’t completely closed yet, so that’s not an official figure.

“The round isn’t completely closed yet as we are still waiting on some of the funds to come in, so we cannot give you 100% final figures on the round, but we can say with confidence that the round will close at $1 billion or slightly higher,” a company spokesperson explained. It is announcing the funding before everything is 100% done due to regulatory requirements around the acquisition.

Eurazeo, Tiger Global, BlackRock and Owl Rock participated in the extension along with Bonnier, Glynn Capital, LGT Lightstone, Longbow, Mousse Partners and NewView Capital, as well as existing investors such as Accel, Atomico (they led the Series A and B rounds) and Y Combinator. The mix is 70% equity and 30% debt, according to the company.

Today’s acquisition comes on the heels of two others just last month, when the company announced it was acquiring video meeting startup 24Sessions and Hull, a synchronization technology startup. The company also acquired Pusher, a push notification company in January, as MessageBird is using its Series C cash to quickly expand the platform.

Apr
27
2021
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What can the OKR software sector tell us about startup growth more generally?

In the never-ending stream of venture capital funding rounds, from time to time, a group of startups working on the same problem will raise money nearly in unison. So it was with OKR-focused startups toward the start of 2020.

How were so many OKR-focused tech upstarts able to raise capital at the same time? And was there really space in the market for so many different startups building software to help other companies manage their goal-setting? OKRs, or “objectives and key results,” a corporate planning method, are no longer a niche concept. But surely, over time, there would be M&A in the group, right?

During our first look into the cohort, we concluded that it felt likely that there was “some consolidation” ahead for the group “when growth becomes more difficult.” At the time, however, it was clear that many founders and investors expected the OKR software market to have material depth.

They were right, and we were wrong. A year later, in early 2021, we asked the same group how their previous year had gone. Nearly every single company had a killer year, with many players growing by well over 100%.


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OKR company Ally.io grew 3.3x in 2020, for example, while its competitor Gtmhub grew by 3x over the same time period. More capital followed. Ally.io raised $50 million in a Series C in the first quarter, while Gtmhub put together a $30 million Series B during the same period.

They won’t be the final startups in the OKR cohort to raise this year. We know this because we reached out to the group again this week, this time probing their Q1 performance, and, critically, asking the startups to discuss their level of optimism regarding the rest of 2021.

As before, the group’s recent results are strong, at least when compared to their own planning. But notably, the collection of competing companies is more optimistic than before about the rest of the year than they were before Q1 2021. Things are heating up for the OKR startup world.

A takeaway from our work today is that our prior notes about how impressively deep the software market is proving to be may have been too modest. And frankly, that’s super-good news for startups and investors alike. So much for SaaS-fatigue.

In a sense, we should not be surprised that OKR startups are doing well or that the startup software market is so large. You’d imagine that the historic pace of venture capital investment that we’ve seen so far in 2021 in Europe and the United States was based on results, or evidence that there was lots more room for software-focused startups to grow.

Interestingly, while these companies look similar to outsiders, they are each betting on strategies and differentiators that could help them win in their selected portion of the OKR space. Which also means that the sector may not be as crowded as it seems.

Don’t take our word for it. Let’s hear from Gtmhub COO Seth Elliott, Workboard CEO and co-founder Deidre Paknad, Koan CEO and co-founder Matt Tucker, Ally.io CEO and co-founder Vetri Vellore, and Perdoo CEO and founder Henrik-Jan van der Pol about just what the software market looks like to them.

We’ll start with how the startups performed in Q1 2021, dig into how they feel about the rest of the year, and then talk about how differentiation among the cohort could be helping them not step on each other’s toes.

Rapid growth

WorkBoard is having a strong start to 2021. Paknad’s company, which raised in both March of 2019 and January of 2020, told The Exchange that it hired 82 people in the first three months of 2021, and that it plans on doing it again in the current quarter. WorkBoard is “investing heavily,” Paknad said via DM, and “made [its] Q1 targets.”

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