Sep
16
2021
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The Org nabs $20M led by Tiger Global to expand its platform based on public organizational charts

LinkedIn normalized the idea of making people’s resume’s visible to anyone who wanted to look at them, and today a startup that’s hoping to do the same for companies and how they are organized and run is announcing some funding. The Org, which wants to build a global, publicly viewable database of company organizational charts — and then utilize that database as a platform to power a host of other services — has raised $20 million, money that it will be using to hire more people, add on more org charts and launch new features, with a recruitment toolkit being first on the list.

The Series B is led by Tiger Global, with previous backers Sequoia, Founders Fund and Balderton Capital also participating alongside new investors Thursday Ventures, Lars Fjeldsoe-Nielsen (a former Balderton partner), Neeraj Arora (formative early WhatsApp exec), investor Gavin Baker, and more. From what we understand, the investment values The Org at $100 million.

Founders Fund led the company’s last round, a Series A in February 2020, and the whole world of work has really changed a lot in the interim because of COVID-19: companies have become more distributed (a result of offices shutting down); the make-up of businesses has changed because of new demands; and many of us have had our sense of connection to our jobs tested in ways that we never thought it would.

All of that has had a massive impact on The Org, and has played into its theory of why org charts are useful, and most useful as a tool for transparency.

“In many ways the pandemic has forced us to reevaluate the norms of how work happens. One of the misconceptions was the idea that you are only working when you are at the office, 9-5. But the future of work is a hybrid set up but you get a lot of issues that arise out of that, communication being one of them. Now it’s much more important to create alignment, a sense of connection, and really feeling a sense of belonging in your company,” Christian Wylonis, the CEO who co-founded the company with Andreas Jarbøl, said in an interview (the two are pictured below). “We think that a lot of these issues are rooted around transparency and that is what The Org is about. Who is doing what, and why?”

Image Credits: The Org

He said that when the coronavirus suddenly ramped up into a global issue — and it really was sudden; our conversation in February 2020 had nothing whatsoever to do with it, yet it was only weeks later that everything shut down — it wasn’t obvious that The Org would have a place in the so-called “new normal.”

“We were as nervous as anyone else, but the idea of what work would look like and how we enable people around that has gotten a lot higher on the agenda,” he said. “The appetite for new tools has improved dramatically, and we can see that in our traffic.”

The Org has indeed seen some very impressive growth. The company now hosts some 130,000 public org charts, sees 30,000 daily visitors and has more than 120,000 registered users. And more casual usage has boomed, too. Wylonis notes that The Org now has close to 1 million visitors each month versus just 100,000 in February 2020, when it only had 16,000 org charts on its platform.

Monetization is coming slowly for the startup. Building, editing and officially “claiming” a profile on the platform are all still free, but in the meantime The Org is working on its platform play and using the database that it is building to power other services. Job hunting is the first area that it will tackle.

Posting jobs will be free, and it’s integrating with Greenhouse to feed information into its system, but recruiters and HR pros are given an option to manage the sourcing and screening process through The Org, a kind of executive recruitment tool, which will come at a charge. Down the line there are plans for more communications and HR tools, Wylonis said. Some of this will be built by way of integrations and APIs with other services, and some tools — such as communications features — will be built in-house, from the ground up.

When I covered the company’s last round, I’d noted that there were some obvious hurdles for The Org, as well as potentially others like Charthop or Visier building business models on providing more transparency and information around hiring and how companies are run.

Sometimes the companies in question don’t actually want to have more transparency. And any database that is based around self-reporting runs the risk of being only as good as the data that is put into it — meaning it may be incomplete, or simply wrong, or just presented to the contributors’ best advantage, not that of the company itself. (This is one of the issues with LinkedIn, too: Even with people’s resumes being public, it’s still very easy to lie about what you actually do, or have done.)

So far, the theory is that some of this will be resolved by way of who The Org is targeting and how it is growing. Today the company’s “sweet spot” is early-stage startups with about 50-200 employees, and generally org charts are created for these businesses in part by The Org itself, and then largely by way of wiki-style user-edited content (anyone with a company email can get involved).

The plan is both to continue working with those smaller startups as they scale up, but also target bigger and bigger businesses. These, however, can be trickier to snag — not least because they will stretch into the realm of public companies, but also because their charts will be more complicated to map and manage consistently. For that reason, The Org is also adding in more features around how companies can “claim” their profiles, including managing permissions for who can edit profiles.

This might mean more managed public profiles, but the idea is that it will be a start, and once more companies post more information, we will see more transparency overall, not unlike how LinkedIn evolved, Wylonis said.

The LinkedIn analogy is interesting for another reason. It seems a no-brainer that LinkedIn, which is at its heart a massive database of information about the world of professional work, and the people and companies involved in it, would have wanted to build its own version of org charts at some point. And yet it hasn’t.

Some of this might be down to how LinkedIn has fundamentally built and organised its own database and knowledge graph, but Wylonis believes it might also be a conceptual difference.

“We think that this might be the fundamental difference between us and them,” Wylonis said of LinkedIn. “They are a database of resumes. ‘I can say whatever I want.’ But for us, the atomic unit is the organization itself. That is an important distinction because it’s a one to many relationship. It can’t be only me editing my profile. And allows us to build structures.”

He added that this was one of the reasons that Keith Rabois — who was an early exec at LinkedIn — became an early investor in The Org: “LinkedIn has been looking at this forever, but they haven’t been able to build it, and so that is how we caught his attention.”

Aug
19
2021
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Tiger Global backs Nacelle with $50M for its e-commerce infrastructure

Consumer shift to buying online during the global pandemic — and keeping that habit — continues to boost revenue for makers of developer tools that help e-commerce sites provide better shopping experiences.

LA-based Nacelle is one of the e-commerce infrastructure companies continuing to attract investor attention, and at a speedy clip, too. It closed on a $50 million Series B round from Tiger Global. This is just six months after its $18 million Series A round, led by Inovia, and follows a $4.8 million seed round in 2020.

The company is working in “headless” commerce, which means it is disconnecting the front end of a website, a.k.a. the storefront, from the back end, where all of the data lives, to create a better shopping experience, CEO Brian Anderson told TechCrunch. By doing this, the back end of the store, essentially where all the magic happens, can be updated and maintained without changing the front end.

“Online shopping is not new, but how the customer relates to it keeps changing,” he said. “The technology for online shopping is not up to snuff — when you click on something, everything has to reload compared to an app like Instagram.”

More people shopping on their mobile devices creates friction due to downloading an app for each brand. That is “sucking the fun out of shopping online,” because no one wants that many apps on their phone, Anderson added.

Steven Kramer, board member and former EVP of Hybris, said via email that over the past two decades, the e-commerce industry went through several waves of innovation. Now, maturing consumer behaviors and expectations are accelerating the current phase.

“Retailers and brands are struggling with adopting the latest technologies to meet today’s requirements of agility, speed and user experience,” Kramer added. “Nacelle gives organizations a future-proof way to accelerate their innovation, leverage existing investments and do so with material ROI.”

Data already shows that COVID-era trends accelerated e-commerce by roughly five years, and Gartner predicts that 50% of new commerce capabilities will be incorporated as API-centric SaaS services by 2023.

Those kinds of trends are bringing in competitors that are also attracting investor attention — for example, Shopistry, Swell, Fabric, Commerce Layer and Vue Storefront are just a few of the companies that raised funding this year alone.

Anderson notes that the market continues to be hot and one that can’t be ignored, especially as the share of online retail sales grows. He explained that some of his competitors force customers to migrate off of their current tech stack and onto their respective platforms so that their users can get a good customer experience. In contrast, Nacelle enables customers to keep their tech stack and put components together as they see fit.

“That is painful in any vertical, but especially for e-commerce,” he said. “That is your direct line to revenue.”

Meanwhile, Nacelle itself grew 690% in the past year in terms of revenue, and customers are signing multiyear contracts, Anderson said.

Anderson, who is an engineer by trade, wants to sink his teeth into new products as adoption of headless commerce grows. These include providing a dynamic layer of functionality on top of the tech stack for storefronts that are traditionally static, and even introducing some livestream capabilities later this year.

As such, Nacelle will invest the new round into its go-to-market strategy and expand its customer success, partner relations and product development. He said Nacelle is already “the de facto standard” for Shopify Plus merchants going headless.

“We want to put everything in a tailor-made API for e-commerce that lets front-end developers do their thing with ease,” Anderson added. “We also offer starter kits for merchants as a starting point to get up-and-running.”

Jul
27
2021
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Business messaging platform Gupshup raises $240 million from Tiger Global, Fidelity and others

Gupshup, a business messaging platform that began its journey in India 15 years ago, surprised many when it raised $100 million in April this year, roughly 10 years after its last financing round, and attained the coveted unicorn status. Now just three months later, the San Francisco-headquartered startup has secured even more capital from high-profile investors.

On Wednesday, Gupshup said it had raised an additional $240 million as part of the same Series F financing round. The new investment was led by Fidelity Management, Tiger Global, Think Investments, Malabar Investments, Harbor Spring Capital, certain accounts managed by Neuberger Berman Investment Advisers and White Oak.

Neeraj Arora, formerly a high-profile executive at WhatsApp who played an instrumental role in helping the messaging platform sell to Facebook, also wrote a significant check to Gupshup in the new tranche of investment, which continues to value the startup at $1.4 billion as in April.

In an interview with TechCrunch earlier this week, Beerud Sheth, co-founder and chief executive of Gupshup, said he extended the financing round after receiving too many inbound requests from investors. The new investors will provide the startup with crucial insight and expertise, he said. The round is now closed, he continued.

The startup, which operates a conversational messaging platform that is used by over 100,000 businesses and developers today to build their own messaging and conversational experiences to serve their users and customers, is beginning to consider exploring the public markets by next year, said Sheth, though he cautioned a final decision is yet to be made.

“Conversation is becoming a bigger part of doing business and it has partly been driven by the pandemic,” he said over a phone call. “Second, we have always been the leader in this space, but the product innovation we have focused on in the last two to three years has worked in our favor.”

The new investment, which includes some secondary buyback (some early investors and employees are selling their stakes), will be deployed into broadening the product offerings of Gupshup, he said. The startup is also eyeing some M&A opportunities and may close some deals this year, he added.

Some of the notable customers of Gupshup, which leads the business messaging market. Image Credits: Gupshup

Before Gupshup became so popular with businesses, it existed in a different avatar. For the first six years of its existence, Gupshup was best known for enabling users in India to send group messages to friends. (These cheap texts and other clever techniques enabled tens of millions of Indians to stay in touch with one another on phones a decade ago.)

That model eventually became unfeasible to continue, Sheth told TechCrunch in an earlier interview.

“For that service to work, Gupshup was subsidizing the messages. We were paying the cost to the mobile operators. The idea was that once we scale up, we will put advertisements in those messages. Long story short, we thought as the volume of messages increases, operators will lower their prices, but they didn’t. And also the regulator said we can’t put ads in the messages,” he said earlier this year.

That’s when Gupshup decided to pivot. “We were neither able to subsidize the messages, nor monetize our user base. But we had all of this advanced technology for high-performance messaging. So we switched from a consumer model to an enterprise model. So we started to serve banks, e-commerce firms and airlines that need to send high-level messages and can afford to pay for it,” said Sheth, who also co-founded freelance workplace Elance in 1998.

Over the years, Gupshup has expanded to newer messaging channels, including conversational bots and it also helps businesses set up and run their WhatsApp channels to engage with customers.

Sheth said scores of major firms worldwide in banking, e-commerce, travel and hospitality and other sectors are among the clients of Gupshup. These firms are using Gupshup to send their customers transaction information and authentication codes, among other use cases. “These are not advertising or promotional messages. These are core service information,” he said.

“We have followed Gupshup’s progress for a long while and believe that they are the most evolved customer communications platform In India and increasingly in other emerging markets, with a leadership position in the most attractive and fastest growing subsegments of the market,” said Sumeet Nagar, managing director of Malabar Investments, in a statement.

“We believe that Beerud and team have the unique opportunity to expand the addressable market on the back of new offerings and scale the business up significantly, which is a perfect recipe for massive value creation. I have known Beerud for over three decades, and all of us at Malabar are delighted to partner with Gupshup in the next stage of their journey.”

Jul
19
2021
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Dover raises $20M to bring the concept of ‘orchestration’ to recruitment

Despite being one of the earliest adopters of using the world wide web to disrupt how its business is done and connect with more potential customers, the recruitment industry ironically remains one of the more fragmented and behind the times when it comes to using new, cloud-based services to work more efficiently. A new startup is hoping to change that, and it’s picked up some funding on strong, early signs of traction.

Dover, which has built what CEO and co-founder Max Kolysh describes as a “recruitment orchestration platform” — aimed at recruiters, it helps them juggle and aggregate multiple candidate pools to source suitable job candidates automatically, and then manage the process of outreach (including using tools to automatically re-write job descriptions, as well as to write recruitment and rejection letters) — has raised $20 million from an impressive list of investors.

Tiger Global led the Series A round, with Founders Fund, Abstract Ventures and Y Combinator also investing. Dover was part of YC’s Summer 2019 class (which debuted in August 2020), and Founders Fund led its seed round. Since leaving the incubator, it has picked up more than 100 customers, mostly from the world of tech, including ClearCo, Lattice, Samsara and others, even larger companies that you might have assumed would have their own in-house orchestration and automation platforms in place already.

“Orchestration” in the world of business IT is commonly used for software built for the fields of sales and marketing: In both of these, there is a lot of fragmentation and work involved in sourcing good leads to become potential customers, and so tech companies have built platforms both to source interesting contacts and handle some of the initial steps needed to reach out to them, and get them engaged.

That, it turns out, is a very apt way to think of the recruitment industry, too, not least because it also, to a degree, involves a company “selling” itself to candidates to get them interested.

“I would say recruiting is sales and marketing,” Kolysh said. “We’re comparable to sales ops, but sales is five-10 years ahead in terms of technology.”

Recruiters and hiring managers, especially those working in industries where talent is at a premium and therefore proactively hiring good people can be a challenge, are faced with a lot of busy work to find interesting candidates and engage them to consider open jobs, and subsequently handling the bigger process of screening, reaching out to them and potentially rejecting some while making offers to others.

This is mainly because the process of doing all of these is typically very fragmented: Not only are there different tools built to handle these different processes, but there is an almost endless list of sources today where people go to look for work, or get their names out there.

Dover’s approach is based on embracing that fragmentation and making it easier to handle. Using AI, it taps platforms like LinkedIn, Indeed and Triplebyte — a likely list, given its initial focus on tech — to source candidates that it believes are good fits for a particular opening at a company.

Dover does this with a mix of AI and understanding what a recruiter is looking for, plus any extra parameters if they have been set by the recruiter to carry this out (for example, diversity screening, if the employer would like to have a candidate pool that is in line with a company’s inclusion targets).

Dover also uses data science and AI to help calibrate a recruiter’s communications with would-be candidates, from the opening job description through to job offer or rejection letters. (Why dwell on rejection letters? Because these candidates are already in a short list, and so even if they didn’t get one particular job, they are likely good prospects for future roles.)

“No human wants to write 100 cold emails per week, but on the other hand, there are many people to hit up and connect with,” Kolysh said of the challenges that recruiters face. “When a company is seeing a lot of growth, it needs to scale fast. You just can’t do that without technology anymore.” Kolysh — who co-founded the company with Anvisha Pai (CTO) and George Carollo (COO) — said all three founders experienced that firsthand working at previous startups and trying to recruit while also building the other aspects of the business. (They are pictured above, along with founding engineer John Holliman.)

Given how much orchestration has caught on in the world of sales, there is a strong opportunity here for Dover to bring a similar approach to recruitment, based on what seems to be a very close understanding of the flawed recruitment process as it exists today. Whether that brings more competitors to the space — or more tools from some of the bigger players in, say, candidate sourcing — will be one factor to watch, as will how and if Dover manages to make the leap to other industries beyond tech.

But for now, its usefulness for a particular segment of the market is also what caught the eye of Tiger Global.

John Luttig, the partner who led the investment for Founders Fund, noted in an interview that most recruiting tools in the market today might best be described as point solutions, addressing scheduling or interviews, for example.

“It’s the full stack here that is appealing,” he told me. “And it’s automated, which is particularly valuable for early and mid-stage tech companies, to keep candidates from falling through the cracks. It also saves time from having to build up big recruiting departments. And because Dover owns all that work, those working in recruitment can instead focus on culture building, or assessing the candidates.”

Updated to note that Luttig is at Founders Fund, and to correct that the customer is ClearCo.

May
25
2021
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Forter raises $300M on a $3B valuation to combat e-commerce fraud

E-commerce is on the rise, but that also means the risk, and occurrence, of e-commerce fraud is, too. Now, Forter, one of the startups building a business to tackle that malicious activity, has closed $300 million in funding — a sign both of the size of the issue and its success in tackling it to date.

The new funding, a Series F, values Forter at $3 billion — notable not least because the funding is coming only about six months since Forter’s previous round, a $125 million Series E that valued it at over $1.3 billion.

Tiger Global Management is leading this latest equity infusion, with new backers Third Point Ventures and Adage Capital Management, and existing investors Bessemer Venture Partners, Sequoia Capital, March Capital, NewView Capital, Salesforce Ventures and Scale Venture Partners, also involved.

The plan will be to use to the money to expand Forter — founded in Tel Aviv and now based in New York — geographically, bring more functionality into its product and explore adjacent areas where Forter might expand its capabilities, either organically or by way of acquisition.

Forter today focuses mainly on identifying fraud at the point of transaction and building an AI-based platform that “learns” more behaviors to improve its accuracy; it also builds models that keep more people transacting and helps bring down the number of “false positives” where activity that appears suspicious actually is not.

One area on its roadmap for expansion is remediation after the fraud occurs, said Liron Damri, Forter’s co-founder and president.

“Our vision is to serve the merchant as the go-to trusted partner for everything, so remediation is definitely on our roadmap,” he said of potential acquisition targets.

Damri, who co-founded the company with Michael Reitblat, CEO, and Alon Shemesh, chief analyst, said in an interview that the startup — which works with some 350 large customers like Priceline and Instacart and a growing number of service providers like FreedomPay and Flutterwave, altogether seeing some $250 billion worth of transactions globally last year — wasn’t proactively looking for more money.

“All we wanted to do was go back to run the company,” he said. “But in the past six months we’ve seen such a great momentum, doubling revenue and ARR, and seeing our customer volumes grow.”

That led to a lot of investors proactively reaching out and asking questions, he continued. He described Tiger as a “kingmaker” in the category of e-commerce, so it was an easy decision to make, and gave it the “gas” it needed to take its next growth steps.

E-commerce has been one of the major technology growth stories of the last year, fueled by a rush of consumers and businesses playing out their lives online at a time when it has been harder, and in some cases impossible, to transact in person.

While we have definitely seen a lot of growth, and growing sophistication, in the number of tools on the market to combat cybercrime, it’s in some ways an ouroboros of a problem: The more transactions that are made, the more there are that need to be monitored for suspicious activity. And in any case, fraud in e-commerce is not exactly going away. It’s estimated that it will cost retailers some $20 billion in 2021 and is always on the rise.

Forter got its start in 2013 focusing first on monitoring activity on sites wherever customers happened to be to identify suspicious behavior — a sign that it might be a bot or someone on an illicit spending spree racking up a lot of items in quick succession — with the bigger concept being to build a network of activity from which to learn and help make more informed decisions over time.

In more recent years, the essence of the issue has expanded somewhat, and also grown more sophisticated. As companies have grown their businesses to reach beyond early adopters and core audiences, and into a more “omnichannel” environment beyond basic check-outs on their own sites, so too have the kinds of consumers coming to shop.

This has meant that traditional “signals” of legitimate buyers no longer were the same as before — a predicament that really rose in profile in the last year, as many newcomers came to e-commerce for the first time during the pandemic. In fact, Damri told me that in 2020 there were seven times more “newcomers” to sites than in 2019.

So with most of the flagging of suspicious activity coming up at the point of transaction, Forter expanded to analyzing activity there.

As with a recent acquisition of Stripe’s, Bouncer, to build out its own anti-fraud product, a large part of Forter’s attention these days is on providing tools to companies to identify suspicious purchasing, but even more than that, to make sure that the many occasions that might look suspicious are not, to help reduce the amount of “cart abandonment” and increase conversions.

The old way of doing things, Damri said, involved “thousands of rules and applying suspicion on everyone. You were guilty unless proved otherwise.”

Using its AI engine and some risk analysis (not unlike the kind that, say, an insurance or loan provider might apply in their businesses), Forter turned the proposition on its head.

“We wanted to approve as much as possible. We wanted to gradually increase the trust you have of your own customers. We changed the sentiment and approach… especially in areas that were neglected, such as those who saw significant changes in life,” Damri said. “This was extremely important as COVID-19 hit.”

Forter’s risk tolerance model, it seems, has so far proven out. Damri said that its algorithms applied reduce the total number of declines by 80%, but also reduce the number of chargebacks — one indicator of a mistake — by 60%.

This implies that it’s blocking more of the “wrong” kind of purchases, and letting through more of the legitimate ones. (That is, he pointed out, in addition to a few bad actors Forter intentionally lets buy things, just to learn how they operate. Damri referred to this as “paid-tuition.”)

Risk-based approvals, coupled with algorithms to learn what is truly bad, has resonated with customers, and investors.

“With the unprecedented rate of digital transformation and the fierce competition in creating the slickest user experience, superior fraud prevention plays an ever more critical role in e-commerce revenue growth” said John Curtius, a partner at Tiger Global Management, in a statement. “After we talked with dozens of customers of every relevant solution in this space, it was very clear to us that Forter is the clear leader in performance and scale.”

“As a longtime investor, it’s been incredible to see Forter’s ascent,” added Ravi Viswanathan, NewView Capital. “It’s a testament to the leadership team’s vision and execution in allowing merchants to provide the seamless experiences customers expect and to be able to accept as many transactions as possible, while still accurately identifying and blocking fraud.”

May
20
2021
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Pitch, a platform for making and sharing presentations, raises $85M on a $600M valuation

PowerPoint may still dominate the landscape for presentations in many people’s minds, but some might say that legacy status also makes Microsoft’s software ripe for disruption. Now, a startup out of Berlin called Pitch has just picked up a substantial Series B of $85 million to take it on with what it believes is a more dynamic approach.

The round is being led by Lakestar and Tiger Global, with previous backers Index Ventures and Thrive Capital also participating. We understand from sources close to the company that the valuation is now at $600 million for the Berlin-based startup.

In the words of CEO and co-founder Christian Reber, the ambition is to create the “YouTube for presentations,” with the ability for people to create, collaborate on and share presentations with each other through an online-based interface.

His interest, meanwhile, in taking on Microsoft has a deeper story to it. As we have covered before, Reber’s previous startup, the planning startup Wunderlist, was acquired by Microsoft and folded into its productivity suite, only to eventually be killed off, much to Reber’s disbelief and disappointment.

Not to dwell too much in the past, the funding Pitch has now raised will be used in several areas, including hiring more people and reach. The startup has already seen good progress on the latter front. Pitch is already being used by tens of thousands of teams, it says, who have created some 125,000 workspaces on the platform. Customers include (ironically) a number of other trailblazers in the world of business productivity: Intercom, Superhuman and Notion are among the list.

The plan will be to work on bringing on more users into its freemium universe, while converting more to its Pitch Pro $10/user/month paid tier, which includes more extensions like unlimited storage, video uploads, version history and advanced permissioning. Pro already has a “couple of thousand” subscribers, Reber said, enough to prove out that “we definitely see our business model working.” Pitch is also working on rolling out an enterprise version so that it can sell Pitch into the bigger businesses and deployments that dominate usage of PowerPoint.

And the other way that Pitch plans to bring more people into the fold will be with more functionality. Along with the funding, Pitch is rolling out some new features that will include the beginnings of an ecosystem, where presentation designers and creators will be able to upload presentation templates, as well as presentations themselves, to help other people get started in creating their own presentations.

The idea here is to celebrate creators, Reber said, but it’s (at least for now) stopping short of paying them, seeing this more as a way of sharing designs and ideas in a more collaborative exchange with each other. Both, however, seem to me to be ripe opportunities down the line for building a marketplace. Creating a great pitch deck for a startup is great to share as a resource, but if you are also, say, a leadership coach who makes a living out of giving people inspiring direction on how to handle something, a pitch deck with that IP in it perhaps might not be something you’d always be willing to part with for free. (Reber says his inspiration here was the world of design forums like Dribble, where an exchange of ideas has thrived.)

Initially, the user-generated content will be selected by Pitch itself, although the plan over time will be to make it something that will be open to everyone, Reber said.

Another new feature will be presentation analytics. This will not be unlike the kind of data that people currently can apply to, say, email or web traffic to measure what people are clicking on, how long they are spending looking at content and where they are dropping off. Pitch will apply the same to its presentations — which are HTML-coded — so that those who are making them and sending them around can get a better idea of how they are performing, and even begin the process of A-B testing to try out different approaches.

Reber points out that analytics will be opt-in only: If users choose not to share that tracking, it won’t be shared, he said.

“As a German business, we have a special relationship with data privacy in the greatest sense,” he said. “We care deeply about making sure we approach features in a privacy-first way.” The idea is to make it less like spyware, and more like the kind of analytics one might have on YouTube for videos there.

Finally, it’s adding in more video features to bring in narrative recording and playback. These first will be “recorded” around the presentations themselves, but longer term, it’s likely that the feature will also have a live element, which makes a lot of sense since a lot of presentations have had their most highly trafficked exposure by way of webinars or live presentations (say, around an earnings call), where you might not only have multiple presenters talking along a slide deck, but also people feeding back, asking questions in relation to the presentation and so on.

If this all sounds a little WordPress-like, that’s not a coincidence. Reber noted that website building is something else that Pitch wants to bring into the platform. “We are experimenting with that,” he said. “In my opinion, presentations are collections of information and we want to publish them in various ways. Slides just happens to be one format. But if it’s all already written in HTML, why not build it also into a site? That will be another feature coming, and something that we will be also using the funding for.”

Indeed, that may not work for deeper content efforts (such as publications like the one you are reading right now), but would be perfectly adequate for, say, basic sites along the kind that are built on sites like Squarespace to lay out some online real estate for a small business. The scope of what you can already do, and what Pitch wants you to do, is precisely what makes this all so interesting to investors, they say.

“The exciting vision that Christian and the team at Pitch have is beyond just being a superior alternative to legacy presentation software,” said Stephen Nundy, partner at Lakestar, in a statement. “A reimagining of the entire workflow surrounding presentations is very much overdue, and when coupled with the ability to harness new data and media integrations, Pitch will lead the way in changing how stories are told. I’m very proud to be joining the board of a European company with its sights set on a truly global opportunity.”

“We are incredibly impressed by the quality of Pitch’s offering today and Christian’s vision for the future. Pitch will be a true productivity platform, and we are excited to become investors in this special company,” John Curtius, partner at Tiger Global, added.

Reber’s take on the new tools are also here:

Apr
21
2021
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ActiveCampaign raises $240M at a $3B valuation as marketing and sales automation come into focus for SMBs

As businesses continue to adopt new digital tools to get their names out into the world, a startup that’s built a sales and marketing platform specifically for small and medium businesses is announcing a big round of funding. ActiveCampaign, which has built what it describes as a “customer experience automation” platform — providing a way not just to run digital campaigns but to follow up aspects of them automatically to make sales and marketing work more efficiently — has closed a $240 million round of funding. The Series C values the Chicago startup at over $3 billion.

The round is being led by a new, big-name investor, Tiger Global, with participation from another new backer Dragoneer, along with Susquehanna Growth Equity and Silversmith Capital Partners, which had both invested previously.

This funding round represents a huge leap for ActiveCampaign. It was only in January 2020 that it raised $100 million, and before that, the company, which was founded in 2003, had only raised $20 million.

But as we have seen in many other ways, the pandemic resulted in a surge of interest among businesses to do more — a lot more — online than ever before, not least because so many people were spending more time at home, carrying out their consumer lives over the internet. That led to ActiveCampaign growing to a customer base of 145,000 customers, up from 90,000 16 months ago.

That points not just to the company already growing at a decent clip before the pandemic, but how it capitalized on that at a time when companies were looking for more tools to run their businesses in the new world.

The growth was not about ActiveCampaign throwing more money into business development, founder and CEO Jason VandeBoom said in an interview. “It was the network effect of people finding success. Even today, organic word of mouth is our primary driver.”

The company’s tools fit into a wider overall trend in the world of business: automation, built on the back of new, cloud-based technology, is being adopted to carry out some of the less interesting and repetitive aspects of running a business.

In the case of sales, an example of what ActiveCampaign might provide is a way for an e-commerce business to identify when a logged-in customer (that is, a user who has an account already and is signed in) might have ‘abandoned’ a visit to a site before buying a product that had already been searched for, or clicked on, or even added to a cart. In these cases, it sends an email to customers reminding them of those items, with options for other follow-ups, in the event that the choice was due to being distracted or having second thoughts that might be persuaded otherwise.

Users can opt-out of these, but they can be useful given the genuine distraction exercise that is browsing online — with all of the unrelated notifications, plus other options for considering a purchase. Tellingly, ActiveCampaign integrates with 850 different apps, a measure of just how fragmented the online landscape is, and also how many ways your attention might be distracted, or snagged depending on your perspective.

Abandoned carts can cost a company, in aggregate, a lot of lost revenue, yet chasing those down is not the kind of task that a company would typically assign to a valuable employee to carry out. And that’s where companies like ActiveCampaign come in.

This, plus some 500 other actions like it around sales and marketing campaigns — VandeBoom calls them “recipes” — some of which have been contributed by ActiveCampaign’s own users, form the basis of the company’s platform.

The marketing and sales automation market is estimated to be worth billions of dollars today, and, thanks to the rise of social media and simply more places to spend time online (and more time spent online) is expected to be worth more than $8 billion by 2027, so it’s going after a lucrative and much-used tool for doing business online. (And others are looking at it as well, of couse, including newer entrants like Shopify coming from a different angle to the same problem. Shopify today is a valued partner of the company, VandeBoom said when I asked him about it.)

That gives ActiveCampaign not just a big opportunity to continue targeting, but possibly also makes it a target itself, for an acquisition.

The other key aspect of ActiveCampaign’s growth that is worth watching is related to its customers. While the company has a client base that includes recognized names like the Museum of Science and Industry based out of ActiveCampaign’s hometown, it also has some 145,000 others across nearly 200 countries with a big emphasis on small and medium businesses.

SMBs form the vast majority of all businesses globally, collectively representing a huge win for tech companies that can capture them as customers. But traditionally, they have proven to be a challenging sector, given that they cover so many different verticals, are in many ways more price-sensitive than their enterprise-sized counterparts, among other factors.

So for ActiveCampaign to have found successful traction with SMBs — including with pricing that works for many of them (using it starts at $9 for accounts with less than 500 contacts) — is likely another reason why the startup has caught the eye of investors keen to back winning horses.

While the company did not need to raise money, VandeBoom said he “saw it as an opportunity to bring in more partners, saying that investors like how it purposely went after the idea of customer experience not on vertical or locale.”

“We’ve been lucky enough to have a front row seat on this journey from early on – and it’s been pretty breathtaking,” said Todd MacLean, managing partner, Silversmith Capital Partners, in a statement to TechCrunch. “Even compared to other great growth companies, the momentum and capital efficiency are rare.  But Jason is a rare entrepreneur and has built a team in his image.  While there’s lots left to do, we believe we’ve only scratched the surface of this market opportunity and are excited to double-down on Jason and his vision.”

Apr
07
2021
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Berlin’s Bryter raises $66M to take its no-code tools for enterprises to the US

No-code startups continue to see a lot of traction among enterprises, where employees — strictly speaking, non-technical, but still using software every day — are getting hands-on and building apps to take on some of the more repetitive aspects of their jobs, the so-called “citizen coders” of the working world.

And in one of the latest developments, Bryter — an AI-based no-code startup that has built a platforms used by some 100 global enterprises to date across some 2,000 business applications and workflows — is announcing a new round of funding to double down on that opportunity. The Berlin-based company has closed a Series B of $66 million, money that it will be investing into its platform and expanding in the U.S. out of a New York office it opened last year. The funding comes on the heels of seeing a lot of demand for its tools, CEO and co-founder Michael Grupp said in an interview.

“It was a great year for low-code and no-code platforms,” said Grupp, who co-founded the company with Micha-Manuel Bues and Michael Hübl. “What everyone has realized is that most people don’t actually care about the tech. They only care about the use cases. They want to get things done.” Customers using the service include the likes of McDonald’s, Telefónica, PwC, KPMG and Deloitte in Europe, as well as banks, healthcare and industrial enterprises.

Tiger Global is leading this round, with previous backers Accel, Dawn Capital, Notion Capital and Cavalry Ventures also participating, along with a number of individual backers (they include Amit Agarwal, CPO of Datadog; Lars Björk, former CEO of Qlik; Ulf Zetterberg, founder and CEO of Seal Software; and former ServiceNow global SVP James Fitzgerald). The valuation is not being disclosed; Bryter has raised around $90 million to date.

Accel and Dawn co-led Bryter’s Series A of $16 million less than a year ago, in June 2020, a rapid funding pace that underscores both interest in the no-code/low-code space — Bryter’s enterprise customer base has doubled from 50 since then — and the fact that startups in it are striking while the iron is hot.

Bryter’s not the only one: Airtable, Genesis, Rows, Creatio and Ushur are among the many startups building “hands-on tech creation for non-techie people” that have raised money in the last several months.

Automation has been the bigger trend that has propelled a lot of this activity. Knowledge workers spend most of their time these days in apps — a state of affairs that pre-dates the COVID-19 pandemic, but has definitely been furthered throughout it. While some of that work still requires manual involvement and evaluation from those workers, software has automated large swathes of those jobs.

RPA — robotic process automation, where companies like UiPath, Automation Anywhere and Blue Prism have taken a big lead — has accounted for a significant chunk of that activity, especially when it comes to reading forms and lots of data entry. But there remains a lot of other transactions and activities within specific apps where RPA is typically not used (not yet at least!). And this is where non-tech workers are finding that no-code tools like Bryter, which use artificial intelligence to deliver more personalised, yet scalable, automation, can play a very useful role.

“We sit on top of RPA in many cases,” said Grupp.

The company says that business functions where its platform has been implemented include compliance, legal, tax, privacy and security, procurement, administration and HR, and the kinds of features that are being built include virtual assistants, chatbots, interactive self-service tools and more.

These don’t replace people as such, but cut down the time they need to spend in specific tasks to process and handle information within them, and could in theory also be used to build tools for customers to interact with services more easily, cutting down on the amount of time that agents are getting details and handling engagements.

That scalability and the rapid customer up-take from a pool of users that extends beyond tech early adopters are part of what attracted the funding.

“Bryter has all the characteristics of a top-tier software company: high quality product that solves a real customer pain point, a large market opportunity and a world-class founding team,” said John Curtius, a partner at Tiger Global, in a statement. “The feedback from Bryter’s customers was resoundingly positive in our research, and we are excited to see the company reach new heights over the coming years.”

“Bryter has seen explosive growth over the last year, signing landmark customers across a large number of sectors and use cases. This does not come as a surprise. In the pandemic-affected world, digitalisation is no longer a nice to have, it is an imperative,” added Evgenia Plotnikova, a partner at Dawn Capital.

Feb
17
2021
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TigerGraph raises $105M Series C for its enterprise graph database

TigerGraph, a well-funded enterprise startup that provides a graph database and analytics platform, today announced that it has raised a $105 million Series C funding round. The round was led by Tiger Global and brings the company’s total funding to over $170 million.

“TigerGraph is leading the paradigm shift in connecting and analyzing data via scalable and native graph technology with pre-connected entities versus the traditional way of joining large tables with rows and columns,” said TigerGraph founder and CEO, Yu Xu. “This funding will allow us to expand our offering and bring it to many more markets, enabling more customers to realize the benefits of graph analytics and AI.”

Current TigerGraph customers include the likes of Amgen, Citrix, Intuit, Jaguar Land Rover and UnitedHealth Group. Using a SQL-like query language (GSQL), these customers can use the company’s services to store and quickly query their graph databases. At the core of its offerings is the TigerGraphDB database and analytics platform, but the company also offers a hosted service, TigerGraph Cloud, with pay-as-you-go pricing, hosted either on AWS or Azure. With GraphStudio, the company also offers a graphical UI for creating data models and visually analyzing them.

The promise for the company’s database services is that they can scale to tens of terabytes of data with billions of edges. Its customers use the technology for a wide variety of use cases, including fraud detection, customer 360, IoT, AI and machine learning.

Like so many other companies in this space, TigerGraph is facing some tailwind thanks to the fact that many enterprises have accelerated their digital transformation projects during the pandemic.

“Over the last 12 months with the COVID-19 pandemic, companies have embraced digital transformation at a faster pace driving an urgent need to find new insights about their customers, products, services, and suppliers,” the company explains in today’s announcement. “Graph technology connects these domains from the relational databases, offering the opportunity to shrink development cycles for data preparation, improve data quality, identify new insights such as similarity patterns to deliver the next best action recommendation.”

Dec
16
2020
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BigID keeps rolling with $70M Series D on $1B valuation

BigID has been on the investment fast track, raising $94 million over three rounds that started in January 2018. Today, that investment train kept rolling as the company announced a $70 million Series D on a valuation of $1 billion.

Salesforce Ventures and Tiger Global co-led the round with participation from existing investors Bessemer Venture Partners, Scale Venture Partners and Boldstart Ventures. The company has raised almost $165 million in just over two years.

BigID is attracting this kind of investment by building a security and privacy platform. When I first spoke to CEO and co-founder Dimitri Sirota in 2018, he was developing a data discovery product aimed at helping companies coping with GDPR find the most sensitive data, but since then the startup has greatly expanded the vision and the mission.

“We started shifting I think when we spoke back in September from being this kind of best of breed data discovery privacy to being a platform anchored in data intelligence through our kind of unique approach to discovery and insight,” he said.

That includes the ability for BigID and third parties to build applications on top of the platform they have built, something that might have attracted investor Salesforce Ventures. Salesforce was the first cloud company to offer the ability for third parties to build applications on its platform and sell them in a marketplace. Sirota says that so far their marketplace includes just apps built by BigID, but the plan is to expand it to third-party developers in 2021.

While he wasn’t ready to talk about specific revenue growth, he said he expects a material uplift in revenue for this year, and he believes that his investors are looking at the vast market potential here.

He has 235 employees today with plans to boost it to 300 next year. While he stopped hiring for a time in Q2 this year as the pandemic took hold, he says that he never had to resort to layoffs. As he continues hiring in 2021, he is looking at diversity at all levels from the makeup of his board to the executive level to the general staff.

He says that the ability to use the early investments to expand internationally has given them the opportunity to build a more diverse workforce. “We have staff around the world and we did very early […] so we do have diversity within our broader company. But clearly not enough when it came to the board of directors and the executives. So we realized that, and we are trying to change that,” he said.

As for this round, Sirota says like his previous rounds in this cycle he wasn’t necessarily looking for additional money, but with the pandemic economy still precarious, he took it to keep building out the BigID platform. “We actually have not purposely gone out to raise money since our seed. Every round we’ve done has been preemptive. So it’s been fairly easy,” he told me. In fact, he reports that he now has five years of runway and a much more fully developed platform. He is aiming to accelerate sales and marketing in 2021.

The company’s previous rounds included a $14 million Series A in January 2018, a $30 million B in June that year and a $50 million C in September 2019.

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