Nov
20
2020
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Onit acquires legal startup McCarthyFinch to inject AI into legal workflows

Onit, a workflow software company based in Houston, announced this week that it has acquired 2018 TechCrunch Disrupt Battlefield alum McCarthyFinch. Onit intends to use the startup’s AI skills to beef up its legal workflow software offerings.

The companies did not share the purchase price.

After evaluating a number of companies in the space, Onit focused on McCarthyFinch, which gives it an artificial intelligence component the company’s legal workflow software had been lacking. “We evaluated about a dozen companies in the AI space and dug in deep on six of them. McCarthyFinch stood out from the pack. They had the strongest technology and the strongest team,” Eric M. Elfman, CEO and co-founder of Onit told TechCrunch.

The company intends to inject that AI into its existing Aptitude workflow platform. “Part of what really got me excited about McCarthyFinch was the very first conversation I had with their CEO, Nick Whitehouse. They considered themselves an AI platform, which complemented our approach and our workflow automation platform, Aptitude,” Elfman said.

McCarthyFinch CEO and co-founder Whitehouse says the startup was considering whether to raise more money or look at being acquired earlier this year when Onit made its interest known. At first, he wasn’t really interested in being acquired and was hoping to go the partner route, but over time that changed.

“I was very much on the partner track, and was probably quite dismissive to begin with because I was quite focused on that partner strategy. But as we talked, all egos aside, it just made sense [to move to acquisition talks],” Whitehouse said.

The talks heated up in May and the deal officially closed last week. With Onit headquartered in Houston and McCarthyFinch in New Zealand the negotiations and meetings all happened on Zoom. The two companies’ principals have never met in person. The plan is for McCarthyFinch to stay in place, even after the pandemic ends. Whitehouse expects to make a trip to Houston whenever it is safe to do so.

Whitehouse says his experience with Battlefield has had a huge influence on him. “Just the insights that we got through Battlefield, the coaching that we got, those things have stuck with me and they’ll stick with me for the rest of my life,” he said.

The company had 45 customers and 17 employees at the time of the acquisition. It raised US$5 million along the way. Now it becomes part of Onit as the journey continues.

Nov
19
2020
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FireEye acquires Respond Software for $186M, announces $400M investment

The security sector is ever frothy and acquisitive. Just last week Palo Alto Networks grabbed Expanse for $800 million. Today it was FireEye’s turn, snagging Respond Software, a company that helps customers investigate and understand security incidents, while reducing the need for highly trained (and scarce) security analysts. The deal has closed, according to the company.

FireEye had its eye on Respond’s Analyst product, which it plans to fold into its Mandiant Solutions platform. Like many companies today, FireEye is focused on using machine learning to help bolster its solutions and bring a level of automation to sorting through the data, finding real issues and weeding out false positives. The acquisition gives them a quick influx of machine learning-fueled software.

FireEye sees a product that can help add speed to its existing tooling. “With Mandiant’s position on the front lines, we know what to look for in an attack, and Respond’s cloud-based machine learning productizes our expertise to deliver faster outcomes and protect more customers,” Kevin Mandia, FireEye CEO said in a statement announcing the deal.

Mike Armistead, CEO at Respond, wrote in a company blog post that today’s acquisition marks the end of a four-year journey for the startup, but it believes it has landed in a good home with FireEye. “We are proud to announce that after many months of discussion, we are becoming part of the Mandiant Solutions portfolio, a solution organization inside FireEye,” Armistead wrote.

While FireEye was at it, it also announced a $400 million investment from Blackstone Tactical Opportunities fund and ClearSky (an investor in Respond), giving the public company a new influx of cash to make additional moves like the acquisition it made today.

It didn’t come cheap. “Under the terms of its investment, Blackstone and ClearSky will purchase $400 million in shares of a newly designated 4.5% Series A Convertible Preferred Stock of FireEye (the ‘Series A Preferred’), with a purchase price of $1,000 per share. The Series A Preferred will be convertible into shares of FireEye’s common stock at a conversion price of $18.00 per share,” the company explained in a statement. The stock closed at $14.24 today.

Respond, which was founded in 2016, raised $32 million, including a $12 million Series A in 2017 led by CRV and Foundation Capital and a $20 million Series B led by ClearSky last year, according to Crunchbase data.

Nov
19
2020
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Datafold raises seed from NEA to keep improving the lives of data engineers

Data engineering is one of these new disciplines that has gone from buzzword to mission critical in just a few years. Data engineers design and build all the connections between sources of raw data (your payments information or ad-tracking data or what have you) and the ultimate analytics dashboards used by business executives and data scientists to make decisions. As data has exploded, so has their challenge of doing this key work, which is why a new set of tools has arrived to make data engineering easier, faster and better than ever.

One of those tools is Datafold, a YC-backed startup I covered just a few weeks ago as it was preparing for its end-of-summer Demo Day presentation.

Well, that Demo Day presentation and the company’s trajectory clearly caught the eyes of investors, since the startup locked in $2.1 million in seed funding from NEA, the company announced this morning.

As I wrote back in August:

With Datafold, changes made by data engineers in their extractions and transformations can be compared for unintentional changes. For instance, maybe a function that formerly returned an integer now returns a text string, an accidental mistake introduced by the engineer. Rather than wait until BI tools flop and a bunch of alerts come in from managers, Datafold will indicate that there is likely some sort of problem, and identify what happened.

Definitely read our profile if you want to learn more about the product and origin story.

Not a whole heck of a lot has changed over the past few weeks (some new features, some new customers), but with more money in its billfold, Datafold is going to keep on growing, hiring and taking on the world of data engineering.

Nov
18
2020
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Will Zoom Apps be the next hot startup platform?

When Zoom announced Zapps last month — the name has since been wisely changed to Zoom Apps — VC Twitter immediately began speculating that Zoom could make the leap from successful video conferencing service to becoming a launching pad for startup innovation. It certainly caught the attention of former TechCrunch writer and current investor at Signal Fire Josh Constine, who tweeted that “Zoom’s new ‘Zapps’ app platform will crush or king-make lots of startups.”

As Zoom usage exploded during the pandemic and it became a key tool for business and education, the idea of using a video conferencing platform to build a set of adjacent tooling makes a lot of sense. While the pandemic will come to an end, we have learned enough about remote work that the need for tools like Zoom will remain long after we get the all-clear to return to schools and offices.

We are already seeing promising startups like Mmhmm, Docket and ClassEdu built with Zoom in mind, and these companies are garnering investor attention. In fact, some investors believe Zoom could be the next great startup ecosystem.

Moving beyond video conferencing

Salesforce paved the way for Zoom more than a decade ago when it opened up its platform to developers and later launched the AppExchange as a distribution channel. Both were revolutionary ideas at the time. Today we are seeing Zoom building on that.

Jim Scheinman, founding managing partner at Maven Ventures and an early Zoom investor (who is credited with naming the company) says he always saw the service as potentially a platform play. “I’ve been saying publicly, before anyone realized it, that Zoom is the next great open platform on which to build billion-dollar businesses,” Scheinman told me.

He says he talked with Zoom leadership about opening up the platform to external developers several years ago before the IPO. It wasn’t really a priority at that point, but COVID-19 pushed the idea to the forefront. “Post-IPO and COVID, with the massive growth of Zoom on both the enterprise and consumer side, it became very clear that an app marketplace is now a critical growth area for Zoom, which creates a huge opportunity for nascent startups to scale,” he said.

Jason Green, founder and managing director at Emergence Capital (another early investor in Zoom and Salesforce) agreed: “Zoom believes that adding capabilities to the core Zoom platform to make it more functional for specific use cases is an opportunity to build an ecosystem of partners similar to what Salesforce did with AppExchange in the past.”

Building the platform

Before a platform can succeed with developers, it requires a critical mass of users, a bar that Zoom has clearly passed. It also needs a set of developer tools to connect to the various services on the platform. Then the substantial user base acts as a ready market for the startup. Finally, it requires a way to distribute those creations in a marketplace.

Zoom has been working on the developer components and brought in industry veteran Ross Mayfield, who has been part of two collaboration startups in his career, to run the developer program. He says that the Zoom Apps development toolset has been designed with flexibility to allow developers to build applications the way that they want.

For starters, Zoom has created WebViews, a way to embed functionality into an application like Zoom. To build WebViews in Zoom, the company created a JS Kit, which in combination with existing Zoom APIs enables developers to build functionality inside the Zoom experience. “So we’re giving developers a lot of flexibility in what experience they create with WebViews plus using our very rich set of API’s that are part of the existing platform and creating some new API’s to create the experience,” he said.

Nov
18
2020
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IBM is acquiring APM startup Instana as it continues to expand hybrid cloud vision

As IBM transitions from software and services to a company fully focussed on hybrid cloud management, it announced  its intention to buy Instana, an applications performance management startup with a cloud native approach that fits firmly within that strategy.

The companies did not reveal the purchase price.

With Instana, IBM can build on its internal management tools, giving it a way to monitor containerized environments running Kubernetes. It hopes by adding the startup to the fold it can give customers a way to manage complex hybrid and multi-cloud environments.

“Our clients today are faced with managing a complex technology landscape filled with mission-critical applications and data that are running across a variety of hybrid cloud environments – from public clouds, private clouds and on-premises,” Rob Thomas, senior vice president for cloud and data platform said in a statement. He believes Instana will help ease that load, while using machine learning to provide deeper insights.

At the time of the company’s $30 million Series C in 2018, TechCrunch’s Frederic Lardinois described the company this way. “What really makes Instana stand out is its ability to automatically discover and monitor the ever-changing infrastructure that makes up a modern application, especially when it comes to running containerized microservices.” That would seem to be precisely the type of solution that IBM would be looking for.

As for Instana, the founders see a good fit for the two companies, especially in light of the Red Hat acquisition in 2018 that is core to IBM’s hybrid approach. “The combination of Instana’s next generation APM and Observability platform with IBM’s Hybrid Cloud and AI technologies excited me from the day IBM approached us with the idea of joining forces and combining our technologies,” CEO Mirko Novakovic wrote in a blog post announcing the deal.

Indeed, in a recent interview IBM CEO Arvind Krishna told CNBC’s Jon Fortt, that they are betting the farm on hybrid cloud management with Red Hat at the center. When you combine that with the decision to spin out the company’s managed infrastructure services business, this purchase shows that they intend to pursue every angle

“The Red Hat acquisition gave us the technology base on which to build a hybrid cloud technology platform based on open-source, and based on giving choice to our clients as they embark on this journey. With the success of that acquisition now giving us the fuel, we can then take the next step, and the larger step, of taking the managed infrastructure services out. So the rest of the company can be absolutely focused on hybrid cloud and artificial intelligence,” Krishna told CNBC.

Instana, which is based in Chicago with offices in Munich, was founded in 2015 in the early days of Kubernetes and the startup’s APM solution has evolved to focus more on the needs of monitoring in a cloud native environment. The company raised $57 million along the way with the most recent round being that Series C in 2018.

The deal per usual is subject to regulatory approvals, but the company believes it should close in the next few months.

Nov
18
2020
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Grouparoo snares $3M seed to build open source customer data integration framework

Creating a great customer experience requires a lot of data from a variety of sources, and pulling that disparate data together has captured the attention of companies and big and small from Salesforce and Adobe to Segment and Klaviyo. Today, Grouparoo, a new startup from three industry vets is the next company up with an open source framework designed to make it easier for developers to access and make use of customer data.

The company announced a $3 million seed investment led by Eniac Ventures and Fuel Capital with participation from Hack VC, Liquid2, SCM Advisors and several unnamed angel investors.

Grouparoo CEO and co-founder Brian Leonard says that his company has created this open source customer data framework based on his own experience and difficulty getting customer data into the various tools he has been using since he was technical founder at TaskRabbit in 2008.

“We’re an open source data framework that helps companies easily sync their customer data from their database or warehouse to all of the SaaS tools where they need it. [After you] install it, you teach it about your customers, like what properties are important in each of those profiles. And then it allows you to segment them into the groups that matter,” Leonard explained.

This could be something like high earners in San Francisco along with names and addresses. Grouparoo can grab this data and transfer it to a marketing tool like Marketo or Zendesk and these tools could then learn who your VIP customers are.

For now the company is just the three founders Leonard, CTO Evan Tahler and COO Andy Jih, and while he wasn’t ready to commit to how many people he might hire in the next 12 months, he sees it being less than 10. At this early stage, the three co-founders have already been considering how to build a diverse and inclusive company, something he helped contribute to while he was at TaskRabbit.

“So, coming from [what we built at TaskRabbit] and starting something new, it’s important to all three of us to start [building a diverse company] from the beginning, and especially combined with this notion that we’re building something open source. We’ve been talking a lot about being open about our culture and what’s important to us,” he said.

TaskRabbit also comes into play in their investment where Fuel GP Leah Solivan was also founder of TaskRabbit. “Grouparoo is solving a real and acute issue that companies grapple with as they scale — giving every member of the team access to the data they need to drive revenue, acquire customers and improve real-time decision making. Brian, Andy and Evan have developed an elegant solution to an issue we experienced firsthand at TaskRabbit,” she said.

For now the company is taking an open source approach to build a community around the tool. It is still pre-revenue, but the plan is to find a way to build something commercial on top of the open source tooling. They are considering an open core license where they can add features or support or offer the tool as a service. Leonard says that is something they intend to work out in 2021.

Nov
18
2020
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CloudBolt announces $35M Series B debt/equity investment to help manage hybrid cloud

CloudBolt, a Bethesda, Maryland startup that helps companies manage hybrid cloud environments, announced a $35 million Series B investment today. It was split between $15 million in equity investment and $20 million in debt.

Insight Partners provided the equity side of the equation, while Hercules Capital and Bridge Bank supplied the venture debt. The company has now raised more than $61 million in equity and debt, according to Crunchbase data.

CEO Jeff Kukowski says that his company helps customers with cloud and DevOps management including cost control, compliance and security. “We help [our customers] take advantage of the fact that most organizations are already hybrid cloud, multi cloud and/or multi tool. So you have all of this innovation happening in the world, and we make it easier for them to take advantage of it,” he said.

As he sees it, the move to cloud and DevOps, which was supposed to simplify everything, has actually created new complexity, and the tools his company sells are designed to help companies reduce some of that added complexity. What they do is provide a way to automate, secure and optimize their workloads, regardless of the tools or approach to infrastructure they are using.

The company closed the funding round at the end of last quarter and put it to work with a couple of acquisitions — Kumolus and SovLabs — to help accelerate and fill in the road map. Kumolus, which was founded in 2011 and raised $1.7 million, according to Crunchbase, really helps CloudBolt extend its vision from managing on premises to the public cloud.

SovLabs was an early-stage startup working on a very specific problem creating a framework for extending VMware automation.

CloudBolt currently has 170 employees. While Kukowski didn’t want to get specific about the number of additional employees he might be adding to that in the next 12 months, he says that as he does, he thinks about diversity in three ways.

“One is just pure education. So we as a company regularly meet and educate on issues around inclusion, social justice and diversity. We also recruit with those ideas in mind. And then we also have a standing committee within the company that continues to look at issues not only for discussion, but quite frankly for investment in terms of time and fundraising,” he said.

Kukowski says that going remote because of COVID has allowed the company to hire from anywhere, but he still looks forward to a time when he can meet face-to-face with his employees and customers, and sees that as always being part of his company’s culture.

CloudBolt was founded in 2012 and has around 200 customers. Kukowski says that the company is growing between 40% and 50% year over year, although he wouldn’t share specific revenue numbers.

Nov
17
2020
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Dropbox shifts business product focus to remote work with Spaces update

In a September interview at TechCrunch Disrupt, Dropbox co-founder and CEO Drew Houston talked about how the pandemic had forced the company to rethink what work means, and how his company is shifting with the new requirements of a work-from-home world. Today, the company announced broad changes to Dropbox Spaces, the product introduced last year, to make it a collaboration and project management tool designed with these new requirements in mind.

Dropbox president Timothy Young says that the company has always been about making it easy to access files wherever you happen to be and whatever device you happen to be on, whether that was in a consumer or business context. As the company has built out its business products over the last several years, that involved sharing content internally or externally. Today’s announcement is about helping teams plan and execute around the content you create with a strong project focus.

“Now what we’re basically trying to do is really help distributed teams stay organized, collaborate together and keep moving along, but also do so in a really secure way and support IT, administrators and companies with some features around that as well, while staying true to Dropbox principles,” Young said.

This involves updating Spaces to be a full-fledged project management tool designed with a distributed workforce in mind. Spaces connects to other tools like your calendar, people directory, project management software — and of course files. You can create a project, add people and files, then set up a timeline and assign and track tasks, In addition, you can access meetings directly from Spaces and communicate with team members, who can be inside or outside the company.

Houston suggested a product like this could be coming in his September interview when he said:

“Back in March we started thinking about this, and how [the rapid shift to distributed work] just kind of happened. It wasn’t really designed. What if you did design it? How would you design this experience to be really great? And so starting in March we reoriented our whole product road map around distributed work,” he said.

Along these same lines, Young says the company itself plans to continue to be a remote first company even after the pandemic ends, and will continue to build tools to make it easier to collaborate and share information with that personal experience in mind.

Today’s announcement is a step in that direction. Dropbox Spaces has been in private beta and should be available at the beginning of next year.

Nov
17
2020
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Cato Network snags $130M Series E on $1B valuation as cloud wide area networking thrives

Cato Networks has spent the last five years building a cloud-based wide area network that lets individuals connect to network resources regardless of where they are. When the pandemic hit, and many businesses shifted to work from home, it was the perfect moment for technology like this. Today, the company was rewarded with a $130 million Series E investment on $1 billion valuation.

Lightspeed Venture Partners led the round, with participation from new investor Coatue and existing investors Greylock, Aspect Ventures/Acrew Capital, Singtel Innov8 and Shlomo Kramer (who is the co-founder and CEO of the company). The company reports it has now raised $332 million since inception.

Kramer is a serial entrepreneur. He co-founded Check Point Software, which went public in 1996, and Imperva, which went public in 2011 and was later acquired by private equity firm Thoma Bravo in 2018. He helped launch Cato in 2015. “In 2015, we identified that the wide area networks (WANs), which is a tens of billions of dollars market, was still built on the same technology stack […] that connects physical locations, and appliances that protect physical locations and was primarily sold by the telcos and MSPs for many years,” Kramer explained.

The idea with Cato was to take that technology and redesign it for a mobile and cloud world, not one that was built for the previous generation of software that lived in private data centers and was mostly accessed from an office. Today they have a cloud-based network of 60 Points of Presence (PoPs) around the world, giving customers access to networking resources and network security no matter where they happen to be.

The bet they made was a good one because the world has changed, and that became even more pronounced this year when COVID hit and forced many people to work from home. Now suddenly having the ability to sign in from anywhere became more important than ever, and they have been doing well, with 2x growth in ARR this year (although he wouldn’t share specific revenue numbers).

As a company getting Series E funding, Kramer doesn’t shy away from the idea of eventually going public, especially since he’s done it twice before, but neither is he ready to commit any time table. For now, he says the company is growing rapidly, with almost 700 customers — and that’s why it decided to take such a large capital influx right now.

Cato currently has 270 employees, with plans to grow to 400 by the end of next year. He says that Cato is a global company with headquarters in Israel, where diversity involves religion, but he is trying to build a diverse and inclusive culture regardless of the location.

“My feeling is that inclusion needs to happen in the earlier stages of the funnel. I’m personally involved in these efforts, at the educational sector level, and when students are ready to be recruited by startups, we are already competitive, and if you look at our employee base it’s very diverse,” Kramer said.

With the new funds, he plans to keep building the company and the product. “There’s a huge opportunity and we want to move as fast as possible. We are also going to make very big investments on the engineering side to take the solution and go to the next level,” he said.

Nov
16
2020
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PingCAP, the open-source developer behind TiDB, closes $270 million Series D

PingCAP, the open-source software developer best known for NewSQL database TiDB, has raised a $270 million Series D. TiDB handles hybrid transactional and analytical processing (HTAP), and is aimed at high-growth companies, including payment and e-commerce services, that need to handle increasingly large amounts of data.

The round’s lead investors were GGV Capital, Access Technology Ventures, Anatole Investment, Jeneration Capital and 5Y Capital (formerly known as Morningside Venture Capital). It also included participation from Coatue, Bertelsmann Asia Investment Fund, FutureX Capital, Kunlun Capital, Trustbridge Partners, and returning investors Matrix Partners China and Yunqi Partners.

The funding brings PingCAP’s total raised so far to $341.6 million. Its last round, a Series C of $50 million, was announced back in September 2018.

PingCAP says TiDB has been adopted by about 1,500 companies across the world. Some examples include Square; Japanese mobile payments company PayPay; e-commerce app Shopee; video-sharing platform Dailymotion; and ticketing platfrom BookMyShow. TiDB handles online transactional processing (OLTP) and online analytical processing (OLAP) in the same database, which PingCAP says results in faster real-time analytics than other distributed databases.

In June, PingCAP launched TiDB Cloud, which it describes as fully-managed “TiDB as a Service,” on Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud. The company plans to add more platforms, and part of the funding will be used to increase TiDB Cloud’s global user base.

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