Jan
16
2019
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Infor lands $1.5 billion investment ahead of IPO

Infor, a NYC-based enterprise software company, announced a massive $1.5 billion investment today that could be the precursor to an IPO in the next 12-24 months. One analyst is estimating that the valuation could be at least $60 billion.

The investment is being led by Koch Industries’ investment arm, Koch Equity Development, and Golden Gate Capital. Today’s investment comes on top of a $2 billion+ cash infusion from Koch in 2017, bringing the total raised to at least more than $3.5 billion along with a hefty $6.1 billion in debt. That’s a lot of cash.

In fact, the company plans to use a large portion of today’s investment to pay down part of that debt, including $500 million in senior secured notes due in 2020, which it plans to pay off next month, and $750 million in HoldCo senior contingent cash pay notes due in 2021, which it plans to pay off in May. The thinking is that the company wants to reduce its debt load ahead of its IPO.

“We expect this paydown, in combination with cash flows and estimated IPO proceeds, will provide Infor with leverage levels consistent with other successful IPOs over the past few years,” Infor CFO Kevin Samuelson explained during an investor call today.

The company wouldn’t rule out additional investments before going public, but it was looking firmly toward an IPO. “We’ve spoken for some time about the many advantages that we believe Infor will receive if the company goes public, including improved brand recognition, a broader employee equity program, additional currency for M&A and more financial clarity for our customers and prospects,” Samuelson said.

Infor may be the largest company you never heard of, with more than 17,000 employees and 68,000 customers in more than 100 countries worldwide. All of those customers generated $3 billion in revenue in 2018. That’s a significant presence.

Ray Wang, founder and principal analyst at Constellation Research, told TechCrunch that based on that revenue, he believes the valuation could be in the neighborhood of $60 billion. He based that on $3 billion in revenue, while using Oracle and SAP as similar industry comparisons. These companies have a 20X price/earnings ratio. He adds, that would make it the largest tech IPO ever for a NYC tech company if that comes to pass. Infor would not confirm this number with a spokesperson telling TechCrunch, “We cannot comment on value at this time.”

What does this company do to achieve this size and scope? It’s not unlike many other large enterprise companies, says Wang. It produces cloud software solutions around typical enterprise needs such as CRM, ERP and supply chain asset management.

Daniel Newman, principal analyst at Futurum Research, says that Infor has grown rapidly through a series of acquisitions and an unusual approach to enterprise software. “What makes its approach to enterprise software unique is that rather than building software and then attempting to customize it for the unique [customer] needs, Infor takes an industry-based approach that incorporates both subtle and material capabilities to address specific industry needs that more generic ERP tools aren’t capable of out of the box,” Newman told TechCrunch.

He adds that this difference is attractive to many companies seeking ERP and enterprise asset management tools that are built with their business in mind, rather than completely customizing a software designed for any business in any industry.

As it turns out, Koch isn’t just an investor, it’s an Infor customer. “Koch was a customer of Infor before we became an investor in the company, and Koch Industries’ companies continue to move their most mission critical applications to Infor CloudSuites,” Jim Hannan, executive vice president and CEO for Enterprises at Koch Industries said in a statement.

The company, which was founded way back in 2002, has been shifting to the cloud over the last five years. It reports that more than 70 percent of its revenue is now derived from cloud products, fueled in part by an aggressive acquisition strategy.

Jan
16
2019
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HyperScience, the machine learning startup tackling data entry, raises $30 million Series B

HyperScience, the machine learning company that turns human readable data into machine readable data, has today announced the close of a $30 million Series B funding round led by Stripes Group, with participation from existing investors FirstMark Capital and Felicis Ventures, as well as new investors Battery Ventures, Global Founders Capital, TD Ameritrade and QBE.

HyperScience launched out of stealth in 2016 with a suite of enterprise products focused on the healthcare, insurance, finance and government industries. The original products were HSForms (which handled data-entry by converting hand-written forms to digital), HSFreeForm (which did a similar function for hand-written emails or other non-form content) and HSEvaluate (which could parse through complex data on a form to help insurance companies approve or deny claims by pulling out all the relevant info).

Now, the company has combined all three of those products into a single product called HyperScience. The product is meant to help companies and organizations reduce their data-entry backlog and better serve their customers, saving money and resources.

The idea is that many of the forms we use in life or in the workplace are in an arbitrary format. My bank statements don’t look the same as your bank statements, and invoices from your company might look different than invoices from my company.

HyperScience is able to take those forms and pipe them into the system quickly and easily, without help from humans.

Instead of charging by seat, HyperScience charges by documents, as the mere use of HyperScience should mean that fewer humans are actually “using” the product.

The latest round brings HyperScience’s total funding to $50 million, and the company plans to use a good deal of that funding to grow the team.

“We have a product that works and a phenomenally good product market fit,” said CEO Peter Brodsky. “What will determine our success is our ability to build and scale the team.”

Jan
15
2019
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Box hires former SAP exec as chief information security officer

Box announced today that it has hired Lakshmi Hanspal to be the company’s new chief information security officer (CISO). She boasts 20 years of security experience, including holding executive security roles at SAP Ariba and Bank of America. She also spent time in a senior role at PayPal.

In a blog post announcing the hire, the company defined her role this way: “In the role of CISO, Lakshmi will be responsible for Box’s cyber security practice, security operations and data and platform protection.”

Hanspal sees similarities in Box from her time at SAP Ariba, but she recognizes that she will face a different set of challenges. “My role at Box is similar to what I focused on at SAP Ariba with the biggest difference being Box’s geographical footprint. Box is a born in the cloud company and expanding rapidly globally, so my focus will also include securing public cloud operations (future stack) and risk transparency for our customers,” she told TechCrunch.

She said that will involve improving service maturity and sustainability through automation, while continuing to ensure the highest level of security of both Box corporate and product platforms.

Box CEO Aaron Levie indicated that security is central to everything Box does, so finding the right chief information security officer was absolutely critical. “Not only does Lakshmi bring with her an impressive and diverse leadership experience from her time at SAP, PayPal and Bank of America, but she’s an incredible team builder and culture add for Box that will take our security team to the next level,” Levie said.

Hanspal is the third woman on Box’s executive team, joining Stephanie Carullo, who was hired as chief operating officer in 2017 and chief people officer, Christie Lake.

Jan
15
2019
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Microsoft continues to build government security credentials ahead of JEDI decision

While the DoD is in the process of reviewing the $10 billion JEDI cloud contract RFPs (assuming the work continues during the government shutdown), Microsoft continues to build up its federal government security bona fides, regardless.

Today the company announced it has achieved the highest level of federal government clearance for the Outlook mobile app, allowing US Government Community Cloud (GCC) High and Department of Defense employees to use the mobile app. This is on top of FedRamp compliance, the company achieved last year.

“To meet the high level of government security and compliance requirements, we updated the Outlook mobile architecture so that it establishes a direct connection between the Outlook mobile app and the compliant Exchange Online backend services using a native Microsoft sync technology and removes middle tier services,” the company wrote in a blog post announcing the update.

The update will allows these highly security-conscious employees to access some of the more recent updates to Outlook Mobile such as the ability to add a comment when canceling an event.

This is in line with government security updates the company made last year. While none of these changes are specifically designed to help win the $10 billion JEDI cloud contract, they certainly help make a case for Microsoft from a technology standpoint

As Microsoft corporate vice president for Azure, Julia White stated in a blog post last year, which we covered, “Moving forward, we are simplifying our approach to regulatory compliance for federal agencies, so that our government customers can gain access to innovation more rapidly,” White wrote at the time. The Outlook Mobile release is clearly in line with that.

Today’s announcement comes after the Pentagon announced just last week that it has awarded Microsoft a separate large contract for $1.7 billion. This involves providing Microsoft Enterprise Services for the Department of Defense (DoD), Coast Guard and the intelligence community, according to a statement from DoD.

All of this comes ahead of decision on the massive $10 billion, winner-take-all cloud contract. Final RFPs were submitted in October and the DoD is expected to make a decision in April. The process has not been without controversy with Oracle and IBM submitting a formal protests even before the RFP deadline — and more recently, Oracle filing a lawsuit alleging the contract terms violate federal procurement laws. Oracle has been particularly concerned that the contract was designed to favor Amazon, a point the DoD has repeatedly denied.

Jan
15
2019
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Data management startup Rubrik gets $261M at a $3.3B valuation as it moves into security and compliance

There is a growing demand for stronger security at every point in the IT ecosystem, and today, one of the the more successful enterprise startups to emerge in the last several years is announcing a big round of funding to provide that.

Rubrik, which provides enterprise data management and backup services across on-premise, cloud and hybrid networks, has raised $261 million in funding at a $3.3 billion valuation from Bain Capital Ventures and previous investors Lightspeed Venture Partners, Greylock Partners, Khosla Ventures and IVP. It intends to use the funding to build (and buy) tech to expand deeper into security and compliance services alongside its existing data management products.

“As we have demonstrated leadership in data recovery, our customers have been demanding new products and services from us,” CEO and co-founder Bipul Sinha said in an interview, “so we’ve raised capital to double down on that.”

This Series E brings the total raised by Rubrik to $553 million, and it is a big leap for the company: its last raise of $180 million, in 2017, valued Rubrik at $1.3 billion.

Rubrik is not disclosing any other specific financial numbers with the news — Sinha’s response to the question was that he thinks the valuation jump speaks for itself. He also confirmed the company is not profitable, but intentionally so.

“Our goal is to build a long-term, iconic company, and so we want to become profitable but not at the cost of growth,” he said. “We are leading this market transformation while it continues to grow.”

That market transformation is to provide services — and up to now, specifically data back-up services — for enterprises that operate their networks across a hybrid environment, with data used and stored on premises, in the cloud, and sometimes in multiple clouds.

There are a number of other companies that compete with it in backup including biggies like Druva, CommVault and EMC, but Rubrik was an early mover in identifying a need to backup and provide data recovery across a mix of locations.

Moving into security and compliance is a natural progression for the company.

There has always been a synergy between Rubrik’s core business and security/compliance. Often the need for backup and recovery arises specifically as a result of security breaches or other glitches that result from people accessing data when they are not supposed to, and that issue gets compounded when you have data stored and used across multiple locations.

“The fragmentation across cloud and on-prem services creates issues around security and data management,” Sinha said. “The more fragmentation you have, the more important Rubrik [or other data management services] get.”

Similarly, moving into security and compliance together goes hand-in-hand because both address similar needs at companies to be handling information responsibly. “Security and compliance are joined at the hip from a regulatory perspective,” Sinha said.

Up to now, Rubrik has mostly built its service from the ground up. One notable exception has been that it made an acquisition — its first — last year when it acquired NoSQL data backup specialist Datos IO, which helped Rubrik further expand from appliance-based management to cloud-based.

In the case of adding on more security and compliance offerings, it’s not clear yet whether that will be built organically or via acquisition (and there are indeed a number of security startups out there that could be candidates if it’s the latter).

“Rubrik is fundamentally an innovation driven company,” Sinha said. “We like coherent and consistent architecture. Having said that, as a responsible and ambitious company, we are always looking at the marketplace, at where there are the teams that we can acquire.”

Notably, the company has started to signal its growing interest in this area in recent months. The latest build of its flagship Andes data management platform placed security features center stage, and now we can expect to see more of that.

Existing customer loyalty has always attracted investors to the company, and that’s been the case here, too.

At a time when many tech observers are wondering if we are gearing up for a “winter” in the startup ecosystem — where, in a buoyant climate, investors have gone all-in with perhaps too much exuberance that will not bear out in terms of startups’ actual performance — the thinking is that Rubrik’s track record will help it continue to win business both on its legacy services, and as it ventures into newer areas.

“Rubrik has won the trust and loyalty of large enterprise customers around the globe by offering a simple and reliable solution that solves the challenge of protecting and managing data in a hybrid cloud world,” said Enrique Salem, former CEO at Symantec and Partner at Bain Capital Ventures, in a statement. “Given my experience leading the largest enterprise data protection company, we are confident that Rubrik is positioned to win and be the market leader in enterprise cloud data management.”

Jan
15
2019
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Smartsheet acquires Slope to help creatives collaborate

Smartsheet, the project management and collaboration tool that went public last April, announced the acquisition of Seattle-based TernPro, Inc., makers of Slope, a collaboration tool designed for sharing creative assets.

The companies did not share the acquisition price.

Bringing Slope into the fold will enable Smartsheet users to share assets like video and photos natively inside the application, and also brings the ability to annotate, comment or approve these assets. Smartsheet sees this native integration through a broad enterprise lens. It might be HR sharing training videos, marketing sharing product photos or construction company employees inspecting a site and sharing photos of a code violation, complete with annotations to point out the problem.

Alan Lepofsky, an analyst at Constellation Research who specializes in collaboration tools in the enterprise, sees this as a significant enhancement to the product. “Smartsheet’s focus is on being more than just project management, but instead helping coordinate end-to-end business processes. Slope is going to allow content to become more of a native part of those processes, rather than people having to switch context to another tool,” he explained.

That last point is particularly important, as today’s collaboration tools, whether Slack or Microsoft Teams or any other similar tool, have been working hard to provide that kind of integration to keep people focused on the task at hand without having to switch applications.

Mike Gotta, a longtime analyst at Gartner, says collaboration that happens within the flow of work can help make employees more productive, but being able to build specific use cases is even more critical. “The collaboration space remains open for innovation and new ways to addressing old challenges. For organizations though, the trick is how to create a collaboration portfolio that balances broad-based foundational investments with the more domain-specific or situational scenarios they might have where this type of use-case driven collaboration can make more sense,” Gotta told TechCrunch.

That is precisely what Smartsheet is trying to achieve with this purchase, giving them the ability to incorporate workflows involving creative assets, whether that’s including all of the documents required to onboard a new employee or a training workflow that includes learning objectives, lesson plans, photos, videos and so forth.

Smartsheet, which launched in 2005, raised more than $113 million before going public last April. The company’s stock price has held up, gaining ground in a volatile stock market. It sits above its launch price of $19.50, closing at $25.24 yesterday.

Slope was founded in 2014 and has raised $1.4 million, according to Crunchbase data. Customers include Microsoft, CBS Sports and the Oakland Athletics baseball team. The company’s employees, including co-founders Dan Bloom and Brian Boschè, have already joined Smartsheet.

Jan
14
2019
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Salesforce Commerce Cloud updates keep us shopping with AI-fueled APIs

As people increasingly use their mobile phones and other devices to shop, it has become imperative for vendors to improve the shopping experience, making it as simple as possible, given the small footprint. One way to do that is using artificial intelligence. Today, Salesforce announced some AI-enhanced APIs designed to keep us engaged as shoppers.

For starters, the company wants to keep you shopping. That means providing an intelligent recommendation engine. If you searched for a particular jacket, you might like these similar styles, or this scarf and gloves. That’s fairly basic as shopping experiences go, but Salesforce didn’t stop there. It’s letting developers embed this ability to recommend products in any app, whether that’s maps, social or mobile.

That means shopping recommendations could pop up anywhere developers think it makes sense, like on your maps app. Whether consumers see this as a positive thing, Salesforce says when you add intelligence to the shopping experience, it increases sales anywhere from 7-16 percent, so however you feel about it, it seems to be working.

The company also wants to make it simple to shop. Instead of entering a multi-faceted search, as has been the traditional way of shopping in the past — footwear, men’s, sneakers, red — you can take a picture of a sneaker (or anything you like) and the visual search algorithm should recognize it and make recommendations based on that picture. It reduces data entry for users, which is typically a pain on the mobile device, even if it has been simplified by checkboxes.

Salesforce has also made inventory availability as a service, allowing shoppers to know exactly where the item they want is available in the world. If they want to pick up in-store that day, it shows where the store is on a map and could even embed that into your ridesharing app to indicate exactly where you want to go. The idea is to create this seamless experience between consumer desire and purchase.

Finally, Salesforce has added some goodies to make developers happy, too, including the ability to browse the Salesforce API library and find the ones that make the most sense for what they are creating. This includes code snippets to get started. It may not seem like a big deal, but as companies the size of Salesforce increase their API capabilities (especially with the MuleSoft acquisition), it’s harder to know what’s available. The company has also created a sandboxing capability to let developers experiment and build capabilities with these APIs in a safe way.

The basis of Commerce Cloud is Demandware, the company Salesforce acquired two years ago for $2.8 billion. Salesforce’s intelligence platform is called Einstein. In spite of its attempt to personify the technology, it’s really about bringing artificial intelligence across the Salesforce platform of products, as it has with today’s API announcements.

Jan
09
2019
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AWS gives open source the middle finger

AWS launched DocumentDB today, a new database offering that is compatible with the MongoDB API. The company describes DocumentDB as a “fast, scalable, and highly available document database that is designed to be compatible with your existing MongoDB applications and tools.” In effect, it’s a hosted drop-in replacement for MongoDB that doesn’t use any MongoDB code.

AWS argues that while MongoDB is great at what it does, its customers have found it hard to build fast and highly available applications on the open-source platform that can scale to multiple terabytes and hundreds of thousands of reads and writes per second. So what the company did was build its own document database, but made it compatible with the Apache 2.0 open source MongoDB 3.6 API.

If you’ve been following the politics of open source over the last few months, you’ll understand that the optics of this aren’t great. It’s also no secret that AWS has long been accused of taking the best open-source projects and re-using and re-branding them without always giving back to those communities.

The wrinkle here is that MongoDB was one of the first companies that aimed to put a stop to this by re-licensing its open-source tools under a new license that explicitly stated that companies that wanted to do this had to buy a commercial license. Since then, others have followed.

“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so it’s not surprising that Amazon would try to capitalize on the popularity and momentum of MongoDB’s document model,” MongoDB CEO and president Dev Ittycheria told us. “However, developers are technically savvy enough to distinguish between the real thing and a poor imitation. MongoDB will continue to outperform any impersonations in the market.”

That’s a pretty feisty comment. Last November, Ittycheria told my colleague Ron Miller that he believed that AWS loved MongoDB because it drives a lot of consumption. In that interview, he also noted that “customers have spent the last five years trying to extricate themselves from another large vendor. The last thing they want to do is replay the same movie.”

MongoDB co-founder and CTO Eliot Horowitz echoed this. “In order to give developers what they want, AWS has been pushed to offer an imitation MongoDB service that is based on the MongoDB code from two years ago,” he said. “Our entire company is focused on one thing — giving developers the best way to work with data with the freedom to run anywhere. Our commitment to that single mission will continue to differentiate the real MongoDB from any imitation products that come along.”

A company spokesperson for MongoDB also highlighted that the 3.6 API that DocumentDB is compatible with is now two years old and misses most of the newest features, including ACID transactions, global clusters and mobile sync.

To be fair, AWS has become more active in open source lately and, in a way, it’s giving developers what they want (and not all developers are happy with MongoDB’s own hosted service). Bypassing MongoDB’s licensing by going for API comparability, given that AWS knows exactly why MongoDB did that, was always going to be a controversial move and won’t endear the company to the open-source community.

Jan
08
2019
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Baidu announces Apollo Enterprise, its new platform for mass-produced autonomous vehicles

Baidu made several big announcements about Apollo, its open-source autonomous vehicle technology platform, today at CES. The first is the launch of Apollo Enterprise for vehicles that will be put into mass production. The company claims that Apollo is already used by 130 partners around the world. One of its newest partners, Chinese electric vehicle startup WM Motors, plans to deploy level 3 autonomous vehicles by 2021.

Apollo Enterprise’s main product lines will include solutions for highway autonomous driving; autonomous valet parking; fully autonomous mini-buses; an intelligent map data service platform; and DuerOS (Baidu’s voice assistant) for cars.

Baidu also released Apollo 3.5, the latest version of its platform, which now supports “complex urban and suburban driving environments.” Apollo 3.5 is already used by customers, including Udelv, an autonomous delivery van startup that recently partnered with Walmart to test grocery deliveries. Baidu says up to 100 self-driving vehicles based on Apollo 3.5 will be deployed in the San Francisco Bay Area and other regions in the United States.

In China, Baidu plans to launch 100 robo-taxis that will cover 130 miles of city roads in Changsha, the capital city of Hunan province. The robo-taxis will use Baidu’s V2X (i.e. vehicle-to-everything) technology, to enable them to communicate with road infrastructure, like traffic lights.

CES 2019 coverage - TechCrunch

Jan
08
2019
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Managed by Q ends 2018 with a fresh $25 million in funding

Managed by Q, the office management platform that launched back in 2013, has today revealed that it raised an additional $25 million as a part of its Series C, led by existing investors RRE and Google Ventures, with participation from new investors DivCo West, Oxford Properties and others. The fresh capital brings the total round to $55 million.

Managed by Q launched as an all-encompassing platform for office management, offering IT support, supply inventory management, cleaning and equipment repair. Since, the company has added a full-fledged marketplace, allowing office managers to choose vendors for various needs around the office.

But for 2019, the company is focused on tools and services.

“We want to spend 2019 putting even greater focus on the tools used by our vendors and workplace management teams, like task management tools,” said co-founder and CEO Dan Teran . “We want to build the first set of collaboration tools for the workplace team, the same way that designers use InVision and engineers use GitHub and salespeople use Salesforce. Something purposely built for the workplace team.”

Teran described tools that would allow for employee requests, work orders, task management, inventory management and budgeting to all live on the same platform.

The company hasn’t shared much by way of revenue or customer growth, but Teran told TechCrunch that the marketplace business has been doubling since it launched and is on track to continue on that trajectory. He also wrote in a company blog post that Managed by Q’s top five vendor partners have done more than $1 million in business on the Managed by Q platform, and more than 30 partners will have earned over $100,000 on the platform in 2018.

The NY-based startup also brokered a partnership with Staples to provide office supplies to clients, and acquired Hivy and NVS to further fill out their office management suite of products.

Managed by Q has raised a total of $128.25 million, according to Crunchbase.

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