Jun
16
2020
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Outreach nabs $50M at a $1.33B valuation for software that helps with sales engagement

CRM software has become a critical piece of IT when it comes to getting business done, and today a startup focusing on one specific aspect of that stack — sales automation — is announcing a growth round of funding underscoring its own momentum. Outreach, which has built a popular suite of tools used by salespeople to help identify and reach out to prospects and improve their relationships en route to closing deals, has raised $50 million in a Series F round of funding that values the company at $1.33 billion. 

The funding will be used to continue expanding geographically — headquartered in Seattle, Outreach also has an office in London and wants to do more in Europe and eventually Asia — as well as to invest in product development.

The platform today essentially integrates with a company’s existing CRM, be it Salesforce, or Microsoft’s, or Kustomer, or something else — and provides an SaaS-based set of tools for helping to source and track meetings, have to-hand information on sales targets, and a communications manager that helps with outreach calls and other communication in real time. It will be investing in more AI around the product, such as its newest product Kaia (an acronym for “knowledge AI assistant”), and it has also hired a new CFO, Melissa Fisher, from Qualys, possibly a sign of where it hopes to go next as a business.

Sands Capital — an investor out of Virginia that also backs the likes of UiPath and DoorDash — is leading the round, Outreach noted, with “strong participation” also from strategic backer Salesforce Ventures. Other investors include Operator Collective (a new backer that launched last year and focuses on B2B) and previous backers Lone Pine Capital, Spark Capital, Meritech Capital Partners, Trinity Ventures, Mayfield and Sapphire Ventures.

Outreach has raised $289 million to date, and for some more context, this is definitely an up round: the startup was last valued at $1.1 billion when it raised a Series E in April 2019.

The funding comes on the heels of strong growth for the company: More than 4,000 businesses now use its tools, including Adobe, Tableau, DoorDash, Splunk, DocuSign and SAP, making Outreach the biggest player in a field that also includes Salesloft (which also raised a significant round last year on the heels of Outreach’s), ClariChorus.aiGongConversica and Afiniti. Its sweet spot has been working with technology-led businesses and that sector continues to expand its sales operations, even as much of the economy has contracted in recent months. 

“You are seeing a cambric explosion of B2B startups happening everywhere,” Manny Medina, CEO and co-founder of Outreach, said in a phone interview this week. “It means that sales roles are being created as we speak.” And that translates to a growing pool of potential customers for Outreach.

It wasn’t always this way.

When Outreach was first founded in 2011 in Seattle, it wasn’t a sales automation company. It was a recruitment startup called GroupTalent working on software to help source and hire talent, aimed at tech companies. That business was rolling along, until it wasn’t: In 2015, the startup found itself with only two months of runway left, with little hope of raising more. 

“We were not hitting our stride, and growth was hard. We didn’t make the numbers in 2014 and then had two months of cash left and no prospects of raising more,” Medina recalled. “So I sat down with my co-founders,” — Gordon Hempton, Andrew Kinzer and Wes Hather, none of whom are at the company anymore — “and we decided to sell our way out of it. We thought that if we generated more meetings we could gain more opportunities to try to sell our recruitment software.

“So we built the engine to do that, and we saw that we were getting 40% reply rates to our own outreaching emails. It was so successful we had a 10x increase in productivity. But we ran out of sales capacity, so we started selling the meetings we had managed to secure with potential talent directly to the tech companies themselves,” in other words, the other side of its marketplace, those looking to fill vacancies.

That quickly tipped over into a business opportunity of its own. “Companies were saying to us, ‘I don’t want to buy the recruitment software. I need that sales engine!” The company never looked back, and changed its name to work for the pivot.

Fast-forward to 2020, and times are challenging in a completely different way, defined as we are by a global health pandemic that affects what we do every day, where we go, how we work, how we interact with people and much more. 

Medina says the impact of the novel coronavirus has been a significant one for the company and its customers, in part because it fits well with two main types of usage cases that have emerged in the world of sales in the time of COVID-19.

“Older sellers now working from home are accomplished and don’t need to be babysat,” he said, but added they can’t rely on their traditional touchpoints “like meetings, dinners and bar mitzvahs” anymore to seal deals. “They don’t have the tools to get over the line. So our product is being called in to help them.”

Another group at the other end of the spectrum, he said, are “younger and less experienced salespeople who don’t have the physical environment [many live in smaller places with roommates] nor experience to sell well alone. For them it’s been challenging not to come into an office because especially in smaller companies, they rely on each other to train, to listen to others on calls to learn how to sell.”

That’s the other scenario where Outreach is finding some traction: They’re using Outreach’s tools as a proxy for physically sitting alongside and learning from more experienced colleagues, and using it as a supplement to learning the ropes in the old way.

“Outreach’s leadership position in the market, clear mission, and value-added approach make the company a natural investment choice for us,” said Michael Clarke, partner at Sands Capital’s Global Innovation Fund, in a statement. “Now more than ever, companies need an AI-powered sales engagement platform like Outreach. Enterprise sales teams are rapidly adopting sales engagement platforms and Outreach’s rapid growth reflects this.”

Like a lot of sales tools that are powered by AI, Outreach in part is taking on some of the more mundane jobs of salespeople.

But Medina doesn’t believe that this will play out in the “man versus machine” scenario we often ponder when we think about human obsolescence in the face of technological efficiency. In other words, he doesn’t think we’re close to replacing the humans in the mix, even at a time when we’re seeing so many layoffs.

“We are at the early innings,” he said. “There are 6.8 million sales people and we only have north of 100,000 users, not even 2% of the market. There may be a redefinition of the role, but not a reduction.”

Jun
01
2020
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Bonusly, the platform for employee recognition, raises $9 million Series A

Bonusly, a platform that involves the entire organization in recognizing employees and rewarding them, closed on a $9 million Series A financing round led by Access Venture Partners. Next Frontier Capital, Operator Partners and existing investor FirstMark Capital also participated in the round.

Bonusly launched in 2013 when co-founder and CEO Raphael Crawford-Marks saw the opportunity to reinvent the way employers and colleagues recognize and reward their employees/coworkers.

“I knew that, in order to be successful, companies would be shifting their approach to employee experience and I thought software could enable that shift,” said Crawford-Marks. “Bonusly was this elegant idea of empowering employees to give each other timely, frequent and meaningful recognition that would not only benefit employees because they would feel recognized but also surface previously hidden information to the entire company about who was working with whom and on what and what strengths they were bringing to the workplace.”

Most employers use year-end bonuses and performance reviews to motivate workers, with some employers providing some physical rewards.

Bonusly thinks recognition should happen year-round. The platform works with the employers on their overall budget for recognition and rewards, and breaks that down into “points” that are allotted to all employees at the organization.

These employees can give out points to other co-workers, whether they’re direct reports or managers or peers, at any time throughout the year. Those points translate to a monetary value that can be redeemed by the employee at any time, whether it’s through PayPal as a cash reward or with one of Bonusly’s vendor partners, including Amazon, Tango Card and Cadooz. Bonusly also partners with nonprofit organizations to let employees redeem their points via charitable donation.

In fact, Crawford-Marks noted that Bonusly users just crossed the $500,000 mark for total donations, and have donated more than $100,000 to the WHO in six weeks.

Bonusly integrates with several collaboration platforms, including Gmail and Slack, to give users the flexibility to give points in whatever venue they choose. Bonusly also has a feed, not unlike social media sites like Twitter, that shows in real time employees who have received recognition.

The company has also built in some technical features to help with usability. For example, Bonusly understands the social organization of a company, surfacing the most relevant folks in the point feed based on who employees have given or received points to/from in the past. In a company with tens of thousands of employees, this keeps Bonusly relevant.

Bonusly has also incorporated tools for employers, including an auto-scale button for employers with workers in multiple jurisdictions or companies. The button allows employers to scale up or down the point allotments in different geographies based on cost of living.

There are also privacy controls on Bonusly that allow high-level employees and leadership to give each other recognition for projects that may not be widely known about at the company yet, like say for an acquisition that was completed.

Bonusly says that peer-to-peer recognition is more powerful than manager-only recognition, saying it’s nearly 36% more likely to have better financial outcomes.

The company also cites research that says that a happy workforce raises business productivity by more than 30%.

Bonusly competes with Kazoo and Motivocity, and Crawford-Marks says that the biggest differentiation factor is participation.

“We set a very high bar for how we measure participation and engagement in the platform,” he said. “You’ll see other companies claiming really high participation rates, but typically if you dig into that they’re talking about getting recognition every six months or every year or just logging in, rather than giving recognition every single month, month over month.”

He noted that 75% of employees on average give recognition in the first month of deployment with an organization, and that number gradually increases over time. By the two-year mark, 80% of employees are giving recognition every month.

Bonusly has raised a total of nearly $14 million in funding since inception.

Apr
22
2020
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Human Capital is an engineering talent agency and a VC fund all in one

Michael Ovitz didn’t invent the idea of a talent agency, but one might argue that he perfected it. He founded the CAA in 1975, and grew it into the world’s leading talent agency, serving as chairman for 20 years. Now, Ovitz is investing in a brand new type of talent agency called Human Capital.

Human Capital is a hybrid organization, one part VC fund, one part recruiting business and one part creative agency. (Human Capital did not invest in its agency startup from its VC fund.) The Human Capital VC fund has $210 million in assets under management.

The Human Capital recruitment/agency company, founded by former General Catalyst associate Armaan Ali and Stanford grad Baris Akis, looks to provide for tech engineers the same services that Ovitz provided to actors and creatives back in the 70s, 80s and 90s. Engineers are some of the most sought-after talent in Silicon Valley and across the globe. And while big corporations and high-growth startups duke it out over these young engineers, the candidates themselves have little to no guidance around where they should go, what they should expect during the process, and, in some cases, what they should expect to earn.

Ovitz — alongside Qasar Younis, founder of Applied Intuition and former partner and COO of YC; Adam Zoia, founder and chairman of Glocap; Stephen Ehikian, co-founder and CEO of Airkit; and other financial institutions and LPs — recently injected $15 million into Human Capital, which is valued in the hundreds of millions according to the company.

Human Capital looks to pair the brightest engineers with the right company for them, while giving startups a new way to approach recruitment. Thus far, the company has 5,000 members (engineers) and has placed them at startups like Brex, Grammarly, Robinhood and more.

Human Capital starts by doing outreach on university campuses with outstanding engineering programs, setting up coffee with engineers who have been recommended or referred by alumni of the program. Once accepted as a member, the engineer explains to Human Capital what type of role they’re interested in, whether it’s at a big corporation, a high-growth startup or an early-stage company where they have the opportunity to build something from scratch.

The recruitment team at Human Capital then coaches the engineer through the interview process and beyond, helping with decision-making around promotions, understanding equity and negotiating new offers.

The org never charges the engineer, but rather takes a commission on the engineer’s annual income for the first year from the startup that recruited them.

Ali explained to TechCrunch how Human Capital is operating during the coronavirus pandemic, describing a situation in which the top talent that is in the market right now has a level of uncertainty about the future, leading them to seek positions at huge companies like Facebook and Google.

“Our hypothesis when we started this was that there are amazing businesses that are being run better at an earlier stage and have a proxy for that same type of stability [at a Google or Facebook] via their access to capital, alongside other foundational pieces of business security, such as their business model, unit economics, long-term vision for the company, gross margin rate, and growth opportunities for individuals at those companies.”

He said that Human Capital believed that, if a macro event occurred in the market place — we’re right in the middle of one of the least predictable and most impactful macro economic events ever — some of those “stable” earlier-stage businesses wouldn’t be hit in the same way as public companies who have to worry about short-term profitability.

“The issue is that you have to know a lot about those businesses in order to be able to discern that, and that’s our job,” said Ali. “And what we’ve seen is that a number of the companies in that position are actually ramping up recruiting right now.”

There is no mandatory link between Human Capital’s venture capital fund and their recruiting/agency entity, though the fund does like to invest in engineers who have gone through the program and move on to start their own businesses. Those types of investments include Brex, Bolt and Qualia, among others. Human Capital also invests in companies for whom they’ve recruited, such as Livongo, Snowflake, Clumio, Wildlife and Trackonomy. Human Capital has a preference for leading rounds only for companies that are started by its engineer members.

The model isn’t unlike SignalFire or Glocap, founded by Adam Zoia (investor in Human Capital). The idea is that VC funds are great for capital injections, but with the cut-throat recruiting atmosphere and a finite number of engineers, that money can be relatively useless if it can’t be used to bring on the best talent. So firms like SignalFire (in the tech world) and Glocap (in the business/finance world) put recruitment front and center in their value proposition. (Glocap doesn’t invest, but is the premier recruitment platform in the financial sector.)

Human Capital is also starting to look at potential acquisitions that can beef up its agency business, recently acqui-hiring Khonvo Corporation, a recruitment agency founded by Archit Bhise and Andrew Rising.

Ovitz explained to TechCrunch that his ultra-successful career as an agent stemmed from his ability to make decisions about people and projects quickly. He sees the same type of intuition in Ali and Akis at a much younger age and with less experience than he had.

“It’s a checklist in your head,” said Ovitz. “It’s a combination of when your brain meets your stomach, your intellect meets your gut that lets you know you’ve hit a winner. The thing that’s allowed Ali and Akis to build a company that’s worth the hundreds of millions in such a short period of time is that they had that when I met them without having an enormous amount of experience.”

He added that access to the internet, which he did not have during his agency days, is an amazing learning tool and an “epic crutch” that, when paired with good instincts, can accelerate the learning curve on building a business.

(It’s worth noting that this isn’t Ovitz’s first foray into Silicon Valley. The entertainment powerhouse was one of the earliest advisors to Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz during the formation of the legendary VC firm a16z, helping them model the firm after CAA itself. Ovitz has been quietly investing in and advising tech startups for the past 15 years.)

Apr
01
2020
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A former chaos engineer offers 5 tips for handling online disasters remotely

I recently had a scheduled video conference call with a Fortune 100 company.

Everything on my end was ready to go; my presentation was prepared and well-practiced. I was set to talk to 30 business leaders who were ready to learn more about how they could become more resilient to major outages.

Unfortunately, their side hadn’t set up the proper permissions in Zoom to add new people to a trusted domain, so I wasn’t able to share my slides. We scrambled to find a workaround at the last minute while the assembled VPs and CTOs sat around waiting. I ended up emailing my presentation to their coordinator, calling in from my mobile and verbally indicating to the coordinator when the next slide needed to be brought up. Needless to say, it wasted a lot of time and wasn’t the most effective way to present.

At the end of the meeting, I said pointedly that if there was one thing they should walk away with, it’s that they had a vital need to run an online fire drill with their engineering team as soon as possible. Because if a team is used to working together in an office — with access to tools and proper permissions in place — it can be quite a shock to find out in the middle of a major outage that they can’t respond quickly and adequately. Issues like these can turn a brief outage into one that lasts for hours.

Quick context about me: I carried a pager for a decade at Amazon and Netflix, and what I can tell you is that when either of these services went down, a lot of people were unhappy. There were many nights where I had to spring out of bed at 2 a.m., rub the sleep from my eyes and work with my team to quickly identify the problem. I can also tell you that working remotely makes the entire process more complicated if teams are not accustomed to it.

There are many articles about best practices aimed at a general audience, but engineering teams have specific challenges as the ones responsible for keeping online services up and running. And while leading tech companies already have sophisticated IT teams and operations in place, what about financial institutions and hospitals and other industries where IT is a tool, but not a primary focus? It’s often the small things that can make all the difference when working remotely; things that seem obvious in the moment, but may have been overlooked.

So here are some tips for managing incidents remotely:

There were many nights where I had to spring out of bed at 2 a.m., rub the sleep from my eyes and work with my team to quickly identify the problem… working remotely makes the entire process more complicated if teams are not accustomed to it.

Mar
16
2020
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Torch & Everwise merge into affordable exec coaching for all

While companies might pay for a CEO coach, lower level employees often get stuck with lame skill-building worksheets or no mentorship at all. Not only does that limit their potential productivity, but it also makes them feel stagnated and undervalued, leading them to jump ship.

Therapy… err… executive coaching is finally becoming destigmatized as entrepreneurs and their teams realize that everyone can’t be crushing it all the time. Building a business is hard. It’s okay to cry sometimes. But the best thing you can do is be vulnerable and seek help.

Torch emerged from stealth last year with $18 million in funding to teach empathy to founders and C-suite execs. Since 2013, Everwise has raised $26 million from Sequoia and others for its peer-to-peer mentorship marketplace that makes workplace guidance accessible to rank-and-file staffers. Tomorrow they’ll official announce their merger under the Torch name to become a full-stack career coach for every level of employee.

“As human beings, we face huge existential challenges in the form of pandemics, climate change, the threats coming down the pipe from automation and AI” says Torch co-founder and CEO Cameron Yarbrough. “We need to create leaders at every single level of an organization and ignite these people with tools and human support in order to level up in the world.”

Startup acquisitions and mergers can often be train wrecks because companies with different values but overlapping products are jammed together. But apparently it’s gone quite smoothly since the products are so complementary, with all 70 employees across the two companies keeping their jobs. “Everwise is much more bottom up whereas Torch is about the upper levels, and it just sort of made sense” says Garry Tan, partner and co-founder of Initialized Capital that funded Torch’s Series A and is also a client of its coaching.

How does each work? Torch goes deep, conducting extensive 360-interviews with an executive as well as their reports, employees, and peers to assess their empathy, communication, vision, conflict resolution, and collaboration. Clients’ executives do extensive 360-interviews. It establishes quantifiable goals that executives work towards through video call sessions with Torch’s coaches. They learn about setting healthy workplace boundaries, staying calm amidst arguments, motivating staff without seeming preachy, and managing their own ego.

This coaching can be exceedingly valuable for the leaders setting a company’s strategy and tone. But the one-on-one sessions are typically too expensive to buy for all levels of employees. That’s where Everwise comes in.

Everwise goes wide, offering a marketplace with 6,000 mentors across different job levels and roles that can provide more affordable personal guidance or group sessions with 10 employees all learning from each other. It also provides a mentorship platform where bigger companies can let their more senior staffers teach junior employees exactly what it takes to succeed. That’s all stitched together with a curated and personalized curriculum of online learning materials. Meanwhile, a company’s HR team can track everyone’s progress and performance through its Academy Builder dashboard.

“We know Gen Z has grown up with mentors by their side from SAT prep” says Torch CMO Cari Jacobs. Everwise lets them stay mentored, even at early stages of their professional life. “As they advance through their career, they might notch up to more executive private coaching.” Post-merger, Torch can keep them sane and ambitious throughout the journey. 

“It really allows us to move up market without sacrificing all the traction we’ve built working with startups and mid-market companies,” Yarbrough tells me. Clients have included Reddit and ZenDesk, but also giants like Best Buy, Genentech, and T-Mobile.

The question is whether Everwise’s materials are engaging enough to not become just another employee handbook buried on an HR site that no one ever reads. Otherwise, it could just feel like bloat tacked onto Torch. Meanwhile, scaling up to bigger clients pits Torch against long-standing pillars of the executive coaching industry like Aon and Korn Ferry that have been around for decades and have billions in revenue. Meanwhile, new mental health and coaching platforms are emerging like BetterUp and Sounding Board.

But the market is massive since so few people get great coaching right now. “No one goes to work and is like, ‘Man, I wish my boss was less mindful,’” Tan jokes. When Yarbrough was his coach, the Torch CEO taught the investor that while many startup employees might think they thrive on flexibility, “people really want high love and high structure.” In essence, that’s what Torch is trying to deliver — a sense of emotional camaraderie mixed with a prod in the direction of fulfilling their destiny.

Mar
03
2020
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$75M legal startup Atrium shuts down, lays off 100

Justin Kan’s hybrid legal software and law firm startup Atrium is shutting down today after failing to figure out how to deliver better efficiency than a traditional law firm, the CEO tells TechCrunch exclusively. The startup has now laid off all its employees, which totaled just over 100. It will return some of its $75.5 million in funding to investors, including Series B lead Andreessen Horowitz. The separate Atrium law firm will continue to operate.

“I’m really grateful to the customers and the team members who came along with me and our investors. It’s unfortunate that this wasn’t the outcome that we wanted but we’re thankful to everyone that came with us on the journey,” said Kan. He’d previously founded Justin.tv, which pivoted to become Twitch and later sold to Amazon for $970 million. “We decided to call it and wind down the startup operations. There will be some capital returned to investors post wind-down,” Kan told me.

Atrium had attempted a pivot back in January, laying off its in-house lawyers to become a more pure software startup with better margins. Some of its lawyers formed a separate standalone legal firm and took on former Atrium clients. But Kan tells me that it was tough to regain momentum coming out of that change, which some Atrium customers tell me felt chaotic and left them unsure of their legal representation.

More layoffs quietly ensued as divisions connected to those lawyers were eliminated. But trying to build software for third-party lawyers, many of whom have entrenched processes and older leadership, proved difficult. The streamlined workflows may not have seemed worth the thrash of adopting new technology.

“If you look at our original business model with the verticalized law firm, a lot of these companies that have this kind of full stack model are not going to survive,” Kan explained. “A lot of these companies, Atrium included, did not figure out how to make a dent in operational efficiency.”

Disrupting law firms proves difficult

Founded in 2017, Atrium built software for startups to navigate fundraising, hiring, acquisition deals and collaboration with their legal team. Atrium also offered in-house lawyers that could provide counsel and best practices in these matters. The idea was that the collaboration software would make its lawyers more efficient than a traditional law firm so they could get work done faster, translating to savings for clients and Atrium.

Atrium’s software included Records, a Dropbox-esque system for keeping track of legal documents, and Hiring, which instantly generated employment offer letters based on details punched into a form while keeping track of signatures. The startup hoped it could prevent clients and lawyers from wasting time digging through email chains or missing a sign-off that could put them in legal jeopardy.

The company tried to generate client leads by hosting fundraising workshops for startups, starring Kan and his stories from growing Twitch. A charismatic leader with a near-billion-dollar exit under his belt, investors and founders alike were quick to buy into Kan’s vision and advice. Startups saw Atrium as an ally with industry expertise that could help them avoid dirty term sheets or botched hires.

But keeping a large squad of lawyers on staff proved costly. Atrium priced packages of its software and legal assistance under subscriptions, with momentous deals like acquisitions incurring add-on fees. The model relied less on milking clients with steep hourly rates measured down to six-minute increments like most law firms.

Yet eliminating the busywork for lawyers through its software didn’t materialize into bountiful profits. The pivot sought to create a professional services network where Atrium could route clients to attorneys. The layoffs had shaken faith in the startup as clients demanded stability, lest they be caught without counsel at a tough time.

Rather than trudge on, Kan decided to fold the company. The standalone Atrium law firm will continue to operate under partners Michel Narganes and Matthew Melville, but the startup developing legal software is done.

Atrium’s implosion could send ripples through the legal tech scene, and push other entrepreneurs to start with a more focused software-only approach.

Feb
04
2020
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Layoffs hit Flexport, another SoftBank-backed startup worth $3.2B

Fearing weak fundraising options in the wake of the WeWork implosion, late-stage startups are tightening their belts. The latest is another Softbank-funded company, joining Zume Pizza (80 percent of staff laid off), Wag (80 percent),  Fair (40%), Getaround (25 percent), Rappi (6 percent), and Oyo (5 percent) that have all cut staff to slow their burn rate and reduce their funding needs. Now freight forwarding startup Flexport is laying off 3 percent of its global staff.

“We’re restructuring some parts of our organization to move faster and with greater clarity and purpose. With that came the difficult decision to part ways with around 50 employees” a Flexport spokesperson tells TechCrunch after we asked today if it had seen layoffs like its peers.

Flexport CEO Ryan Petersen

Flexport had raised a $1 billion Series D led by SoftBank at a $3.2 billion valuation a year ago, bringing it to $1.3 billion in funding. The company helps move shipping containers full of goods between manufacturers and retailers using digital tools unlike its old-school competitors.

“We underinvested in areas that help us serve clients efficiently, and we over-invested in scaling our existing process when we actually needed to be agile and adaptable to best serve our clients, especially in a year of unprecedented volatility in global trade,” the spokesperson explained.

Flexport still had a record year, working with 10,000 clients to finance and transport goods. The shipping industry is so huge that it’s still only the seventh largest freight forwarder on its top Trans-Pacific Eastbound leg. The massive headroom for growth plus its use of software to coordinate supply chains and optimize routing is what attracted SoftBank.

Flexport Dashboard

The Flexboard Platform dashboard offers maps, notifications, task lists, and chat for Flexport clients and their factory suppliers.

But many late-stage startups are worried about where they’ll get their next round after taking huge sums of cash from SoftBank at tall valuations. As of November, SoftBank had only managed to raise about $2 billion for its Vision Fund 2 despite plans for a total of $108 billion, Bloomberg reported. LPs were partially spooked by SoftBank’s reckless investment in WeWork. Further layoffs at its portfolio companies could further stoke concerns about entrusting it with more cash.

Unless growth-stage startups can cobble together enough institutional investors to build big rounds, or other huge capital sources like sovereign wealth funds materialize for them, these startups might not be able to raise enough to keep rapidly burning. Those that can’t reach profitability or find an exit may face down-rounds that can come with onerous terms, trigger talent exodus death spirals, or just not provide enough money.

Flexport has managed to escape with just 3 percent layoffs for now. Being proactive about cuts to reach sustainability may be smarter than gambling that one’s business or the funding climate with suddenly improve. But while other SoftBank startups had to spend tons to edge out direct competitors or make up for weak on-demand service margins, Flexport at least has a tried and true business where incumbents have been asleep at the wheel.

Jan
17
2020
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DigitalOcean is laying off staff, sources say 30-50 affected

After appointing a new CEO and CFO last summer, cloud infrastructure provider DigitalOcean is embarking on a wider reorganisation: the startup has announced a round of layoffs, with potentially between 30 and 50 people affected.

DigitalOcean has confirmed the news with the following statement:

“DigitalOcean recently announced a restructuring to better align its teams to its go-forward growth strategy. As part of this restructuring, some roles were, unfortunately, eliminated. DigitalOcean continues to be a high-growth business with $275M in [annual recurring revenues] and more than 500,000 customers globally. Under this new organizational structure, we are positioned to accelerate profitable growth by continuing to serve developers and entrepreneurs around the world.”

Before the confirmation was sent to us this morning, a number of footprints began to emerge last night, when the layoffs first hit, with people on Twitter talking about it, some announcing that they are looking for new opportunities and some offering help to those impacted. Inbound tips that we received estimate the cuts at between 30 and 50 people. With around 500 employees (an estimate on PitchBook), that would work out to up to 10% of staff affected.

It’s not clear what is going on here — we’ll update as and when we hear more — but when Yancey Spruill and Bill Sorenson were respectively appointed CEO and CFO in July 2019 (Spruill replacing someone who was only in the role for a year), the incoming CEO put out a short statement that, in hindsight, hinted at a refocus of the business in the near future:

“My aspiration is for us to continue to provide everything you love about DO now, but to also enhance our offerings in a way that is meaningful, strategic and most helpful for you over time.”

The company provides a range of cloud infrastructure services to developers, including scalable compute services (“Droplets” in DigitalOcean terminology), managed Kubernetes clusters, object storage, managed database services, Cloud Firewalls, Load Balancers and more, with 12 data centers globally. It says it works with more than 1 million developers across 195 countries. It has also been expanding the services that it offers to developers, including more enhancements in its managed database services, and a free hosting option for continuous code testing in partnership with GitLab.

All the same, as my colleague Frederic pointed out when DigitalOcean appointed its latest CEO, while developers have generally been happy with the company, it isn’t as hyped as it once was, and is a smallish player nowadays.

And in an area of business where economies of scale are essential for making good margins on a business, it competes against some of the biggest leviathans in tech: Google (and its Google Cloud Platform), Amazon (which as AWS) and Microsoft (with Azure). That could mean that DigitalOcean is either trimming down as it talks to investors for a new round; or to better conserve cash as it sizes up how best to compete against these bigger, deep-pocketed players; or perhaps to start thinking about another kind of exit.

In that context, it’s notable that the company not only appointed a new CFO last summer, but also a CEO with prior CFO experience. It’s been a while since DigitalOcean has raised capital. According to PitchBook data, DigitalOcean last raised money in 2017, an undisclosed amount from Mighty Capital, Glean Capital, Viaduct Ventures, Black River Ventures, Hanaco Venture Capital, Torch Capital and EG Capital Advisors. Before that, it took out $130 million in debt, in 2016. Altogether it has raised $198 million, and its last valuation was from a round in 2015, $683 million.

It’s been an active week for layoffs among tech startups. Mozilla laid off 70 employees this week; and the weed delivery platform Eaze is also gearing up for more cuts amid an emergency push for funding.

We’ll update this post as we learn more. Best wishes to those affected by the news.

Jan
13
2020
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Atrium lays off lawyers, explains pivot to legal tech

Seventy-five-million-dollar-funded legal services startup Atrium doesn’t want to be the next company to implode as the tech industry tightens its belt and businesses chase margins instead of growth via unsustainable economics. That’s why Atrium is laying off most of its in-house lawyers.

Now, Atrium will focus on its software for startups navigating fundraising, hiring and collaborating with lawyers. Atrium plans to ramp up its startup advising services. And it’s also doubling down on its year-old network of professional service providers that help clients navigate day-to-day legal work. Atrium’s laid-off attorneys will be offered spots as preferred providers in that network if they start their own firm or join another.

“It’s a natural evolution for us to create a sustainable model,” Atrium co-founder and CEO Justin Kan tells TechCrunch. “We’ve made the tough decision to restructure the company to accommodate growth into new business services through our existing professional services network,” Kan wrote on Atrium’s blog. He wouldn’t give exact figures, but confirmed that more than 10 but less than 50 staffers are impacted by the change, with Atrium having a headcount of 150 as of June.

The change could make Atrium more efficient by keeping fewer expensive lawyers on staff. However, it could weaken its $500 per month Atrium membership that included some services from its in-house lawyers that might be more complicated for clients to get through its professional network. Atrium will also now have to prove the its client-lawyer collaboration software can survive in the market with firms paying for it rather than it being bundled with its in-house lawyers’ services.

“We’re making these changes to move Atrium to a sustainable model that provides high-quality services to our clients. We’re doing it proactively because we see the writing on the wall that it’s important to have a sustainable business,” Kan says. “That’s what we’re doing now. We don’t anticipate any disruption of services to clients. We’re still here.”

Justin Kan (Atrium) at TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2017

Founded in 2017, Atrium promised to merge software with human lawyers to provide quicker and cheaper legal services. Its technology can help automatically generate fundraising contracts, hiring offers and cap tables for startups while using machine learning to recommend procedures and clauses based on anonymized data from its clients. It also serves like a Dropbox for legal, organizing all of a startup’s documents to ensure everything’s properly signed and teams are working off the latest versions without digging through email.

The $500 per month Atrium membership offered this technology plus limited access to an in-house startup lawyer for consultation, plus access to guide books and events. Clients could pay extra if they needed special help such as with finalizing an acquisition deal, or access to its Fundraising Concierge service for aid with developing a pitch and lining up investor meetings.

Kan tells me Atrium still has some in-house lawyers on staff, which will help it honor all its existing membership contracts and power its new emphasis on advising services. He wouldn’t say if Atrium is paid any equity for advising, or just cash. The membership plan may change for future clients, so lawyer services are provided through its professional network instead.

“What we noticed was that Atrium has done a really good job of building a brand with startups. Often what they wanted from attorneys was…advice on ‘how to set my company up,’ ‘how to set my sales and marketing team up,’ ‘how to get great terms in my fundraising process,’ ” so Atrium is pursuing advising, Kan tells me. “As we sat down to look at what’s working and what’s not working, our focus has been to help founders with their super-hero story, connect them with the right providers and advisors, and then helping quarterback everything you need with our in-house specialists.”

LawSites first reported Saturday that Atrium was laying off in-house lawyers. A source tells TechCrunch that Atrium’s lawyers only found out a week ago about the changes, and they’ve been trying to pitch Atrium clients on working with them when they leave. One Atrium client said they weren’t surprised by the changes because they got so much legal advice for just $500 per month, which they suspected meant Atrium was losing money on the lawyers’ time as it was so much less expensive than competitors. They also said these cheap legal services rather than the software platform were the main draw of Atrium, and they’re unsure if the tech on its own is valuable enough.

One concern is Atrium might not learn as quickly about which services to translate into software if it doesn’t have as many lawyers in-house. But Kan believes third-party lawyers might be more clear and direct about what they need from legal technology. “I feel like having a true market for the software you’re building is better than having an internal market,” he says. “We get feedback from the outside firms we work with. I think in some ways that’s the most valuable feedback. I think there’s a lot of false signals that can happen when you’re the both the employer and the supplier.”

It was critical for Atrium to correct course before getting any bigger, given the fundraising problems hitting late-stage startups with poor economics in the wake of the WeWork debacle and SoftBank’s troubles. Atrium had raised a $10.5 million Series A in 2017 led by General Catalyst alongside Kleiner, Founders Fund, Initialized and Kindred Ventures. Then in September 2018, it scored a huge $65 million Series B led by Andreessen Horowitz.

Raising even bigger rounds might have been impossible if Atrium was offering consultations with lawyers at far below market rate. Now it might be in a better position to attract funding. But the question is whether clients will stick with Atrium if they get less access to a lawyer for the same price, and whether the collaboration platform is useful enough for outside law firms to pay for.

Kan had gone through tough pivots in the past. He had strapped a camera to his head to create content for his live-streaming startup Justin.tv, but wisely recentered on the 3% of users letting people watch them play video games. Justin.tv became Twitch and eventually sold to Amazon for $970 million. His on-demand personal assistant startup Exec had to switch to just cleaning in 2013 before shutting down due to rotten economics.

Rather than deny the inevitable and wait until the last minute, with Atrium Kan tried to make the hard decision early.

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2019
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Refocusing on relocation, Jobbatical launches new offices in Spain and Germany

I’ve been following Estonia-headquartered Jobbatical and its founder, Karoli Hindriks, for years. Part of the vanguard of startups working on infrastructure for digital nomads, the startup has been building the base platform to help global job seekers hire and fire their governments.

As Jobbatical has worked with more and more companies and governments though, it has learned that the friction here is not just finding employment globally for talented individuals, but rather the actual process of applying for immigration and work permits, ranging from forms that must be filed in person to the hours of labor it can take to fill out an application.

“What started to happen was that the relocation part… became something that the clients came back to us and said, ‘Can you do relocation for everyone and not just those coming through Jobbatical?’” Hindriks explained.

Last year, Jobbatical began to refocus its platform on powering relocation for workers at companies, and now its new strategy is coming into focus with the launch of the company’s new offices in Spain and Germany, announced on stage earlier today at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin.

In the process, the company hopes to not just make the immigration process easier — but also much faster.

“How much time are government officials doing dummy work?” Hindriks asked. “30-40% of the consulate’s time is spent on answering the question of ‘what is the status of my visa?’”

The problem is that feedback in the immigration system is not available to all the players involved. Immigration process agents at companies who handle their workers’ visas have to constantly search around to make sure they are moving each of their cases forward. Managers have no idea when their workers may move, while employees are kept in the dark about their current status, inducing anxiety.

Hindriks’ vision is to help each of these three sides use a “TurboTax for immigration” to streamline the process. Jobbatical now can handle immigration applications in Estonia, Germany, and Spain and hopes to add Finland early next year.

But the more ambitious vision is ultimately to help governments drive their processes faster. Similar to how, say, the U.S. tax agency the Internal Revenue Service offers eFiling, Hindriks sees a future where Jobbatical can help facilitate immigration filings and massively speed up the efficiency of governments around these processes by allowing workers to directly submit applications to the government. She is working with two countries today to create exactly these sorts of digital submission systems.

It’s a space that has heated up in recent years as immigration continues to flow across the world. Boundless, for instance, helps individuals apply for U.S. green cards. Jobbatical is focused on the B2B market, focused on companies with global workforces.

Despite the deep debate in many countries over immigration, the reality is that every country has skills deficits that can be helped with smart and efficient immigration. Jobbatical is one company that may make the system more fair and relaxing for stressed workers looking to build their international careers.

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