Mar
24
2021
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Bevy raises $40M Series C with 20% coming from Black investors

You might expect that a startup that makes community building software would be thriving during a pandemic when it’s so difficult for us to be together. And Bevy, a company whose product powers community sites like Salesforce Trailblazers and Google Developers announced it has raised a $40 million Series C this morning, at least partly due to the growth related to that dynamic.

The round was led by Accel with participation from Upfront Ventures, Qualtrics co-founder Ryan Smith and LinkedIn, but what makes this investment remarkable is that it included 25 Black investors representing 20% of the investment.

One of those investors, James Lowery, who is a management consultant and entrepreneur, and was the first Black employee hired at McKinsey in 1968, sees the opportunity for this approach to be a model to attract investment from other under-represented groups.

“I know for a fact because of my friendship and my network that there are a lot of people, if they had the opportunity to invest in opportunities like this, they will do it, and they have the money to do it. And I think we can be the model for the nation,” Lowery said.

Unfortunately, there has been a dearth of Black VC investment in startups like Bevy. In fact, only around 3% of venture capitalists are Black and 81% of VC firms don’t have a single Black investor.

Kobie Fuller, who is general partner at investor Upfront Ventures, a Bevy board member and runs his own community called Valence, says that investments like this can lead to a flywheel effect that can lead to increasing Black investment in startups.

“So for me, it’s about how do we get more Black investors on cap tables of companies early in their lifecycle before they go public, where wealth can be created. How do we get key members of executive teams being Black executives who have the ability to create wealth through options and equity. And how do we also make sure that we have proper representation on the boards of these companies, so that we can make sure that the CEOs and the C suite is held accountable towards the diversity goals,” Fuller said.

He sees a software platform like Bevy that facilitates community as a logical starting point for this approach, and the company needs to look like the broader communities it serves. “Making sure that our workforce is appropriately represented from a perspective of having appropriate level of Black employees to the board to the actual investors is just good business sense,” he said.

But the diversity angle doesn’t stop with the investor group. Bevy CEO and co-founder Derek Anderson says that last May when George Floyd was killed, his firm didn’t have a single person of color among the company’s 27 employees and not a single Black investor in his cap table. He wanted to change that, and he found that in diversifying, it not only was the right thing to do from a human perspective, it was also from a business one.

“We realized that if we really started including people from the Black and brown communities inside of Bevy that the collective bar of a talent was going to go up. We were going to look from a broader pool of candidates, and what we found as we’ve done this is that as the culture has started to change, the customer satisfaction is going up, our profits and our revenues — the trajectory is going up — and I see this thing is completely correlated,” Anderson said.

Last summer the company set a two year goal to get to 20% of employees being Black. While the number of employees is small, Bevy went from zero to 5% in June, and 10% by September. Today it is just under 15% and expects to hit the 20% goal by summer, a year ahead of the goal it set last year.

Bevy grew out of a community called Startup Grind that Anderson started several years ago. Unable to find software to run and manage the community, he decided to build it himself. In 2017, he spun that product into a separate company that became Bevy, and he has raised $60 million, according to the company.

In addition to Salesforce and Google, other large enterprises are using Bevy to power their communities and events, including Adobe, Atlassian, Twilio, Slack and Zendesk.

Today, the startup is valued at $325 million, which is 4x the amount it was valued at when it raised its $15 million Series B in May 2019. It expects to reach $30 million in ARR by the end of this year.

Sep
01
2020
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InfoSum raises $15.1M for its privacy-first, federated approach to big data analytics

Data protection and data privacy have gone from niche concerns to mainstream issues in the last several years, thanks to new regulations and a cascade of costly breaches that have laid bare the problems that arise when information and data security are treated haphazardly.

Yet that swing has also thrown up a whole series of issues for organisations and business functions that depend on sharing and exchanging data in order to work. Today, a startup that has built a new way of exchanging data while still keeping privacy in mind — starting first by applying the concept to the “marketing industrial complex” — is announcing a round of funding as it continues to pick up momentum.

InfoSum, a London startup that has built a way for organizations to share their data with each other without passing it on to each other — by way of a federated, decentralized architecture that uses mathematical representations to organise, “read” and query the data — is today announcing that it has raised $15.1 million.

Data may be the new oil, but according to founder and CEO Nick Halstead, that just means “it’s sticky and gets all over the place.” That is to say, InfoSum is looking for a new way to use data that is less messy, and less prone to leakage, and ultimately devaluation.

The Series A is being co-led by Upfront Ventures and IA Ventures. A number of strategics using InfoSum — Ascential, Akamai, Experian, British broadcaster ITV and AT&T’s Xandr — are also participating in the round. The startup has raised $23 million to date.

Nicholas Halstead, the founder and CEO who previously had founded and led another big data company, DataSift (the startup that gained early fame as a middleman for Twitter’s firehose of data, until Twitter called time on that relationship to push its own business strategy), said in an interview that the plan is to use the funding to continue fueling its growth, with a specific focus on the U.S. market.

To that end, Brian Lesser — the founder and former CEO of Xandr (AT&T’s adtech business that is now a part of AT&T’s WarnerMedia), and previous to that the North American CEO of GroupM — is joining the company as executive chairman. Lesser had originally led Xandr’s investment into InfoSum and had previously been on the board of the startup.

InfoSum got its start several years ago as CognitiveLogic, founded at a time when Halstead was first starting to get his head around the problems that were becoming increasingly urgent in how data was being used by companies, and how newer information architecture models using data warehousing and cloud computing could help solve that.

“I saw the opportunity for data collaboration in a more private way, helping enable companies to work together when it came to customer data,” he said. This eventually led to the company releasing its first product two years ago.

In the interim, and since then, that trend, he noted, has only gained momentum, spurred by the rise of companies like Snowflake that have disrupted the world of data warehousing, cookies have started to increasingly go out of style (and some believe will disappear altogether over time) and the concept of federated architecture has become much more ubiquitous, applied to identity management and other areas.

All of this means that InfoSum’s solution today may be aimed at martech, but it is something that affects a number of industries. Indeed, the decision to focus on marketing technology, he said, was partly because that is the industry that Halstead worked most closely with at DataSift, although the plan is to expand to other verticals as well.

“We’ve done a lot of work to change the marketing industrial complex,” said Lesser, “but its bigger use cases are in areas like finance and healthcare.”

Mar
14
2020
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This startup got a meeting with Mark Suster by getting clever with Google ads

Startups have done some wild things to get the attention of VCs. In fact, Instacart founder Apoorva Mehta sent YC partner (at the time) Garry Tan a six-pack of beer through the service after missing the deadline for Y Combinator by two months.

Yesterday, the ingenuity of startups struck again.

Tadabase.io, an enterprise startup that offers no-code tools to help businesses automate their processes, has had an ad running that was… well, hyper targeted.

ProductHunt founder and WeekendFund investor Ryan Hoover discovered the ad and shared it on Twitter.

Hoover told TechCrunch he was Googling Mark Suster to facilitate an introduction between Suster and one of Hoover’s portfolio companies. Instead, he found a Google ad directed squarely at Suster from Tadabase.io.

“Mark Suster, you haven’t invested in nocode” read the paid listing. “Therefore, we put this ad here to get your attention. If you’re not Mark, please don’t click here and save us some money.”

I reached out to Suster, managing partner at UpFront Ventures, to see what he thought of the ad. He told me he “loved it” and has already contacted the CEO to set up a call for next week.

Whether this clever Google ad will result in an actual investment is yet to be determined. Also unclear: will Ryan Hoover get in on the deal?

I reached out to Tadabase founder and CEO Moe Levine via email to ask about the ad, how they went about targeting, and how he feels about his upcoming phone call next week. He hasn’t responded yet. I’ll update if/when he does.

Nov
12
2019
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Lawyers hate timekeeping — Ping raises $13M to fix it with AI

Counting billable time in six-minute increments is the most annoying part of being a lawyer. It’s a distracting waste. It leads law firms to conservatively under-bill. And it leaves lawyers stuck manually filling out timesheets after a long day when they want to go home to their families.

Life is already short, as Ping CEO and co-founder Ryan Alshak knows too well. The former lawyer spent years caring for his mother as she battled a brain tumor before her passing. “One minute laughing with her was worth a million doing anything else,” he tells me. “I became obsessed with the idea that we spend too much of our lives on things we have no need to do — especially at work.”

That’s motivated him as he’s built his startup Ping, which uses artificial intelligence to automatically track lawyers’ work and fill out timesheets for them. There’s a massive opportunity to eliminate a core cause of burnout, lift law firm revenue by around 10% and give them fresh insights into labor allocation.

Ping co-founder and CEO Ryan Alshak (Image Credit: Margot Duane)

That’s why today Ping is announcing a $13.2 million Series A led by Upfront Ventures, along with BoxGroup, First Round, Initialized and Ulu Ventures. Adding to Ping’s quiet $3.7 million seed led by First Round last year, the startup will spend the cash to scale up enterprise distribution and become the new timekeeping standard.

I was a corporate litigator at Manatt Phelps down in LA and joke that I was voted the world’s worst timekeeper,” Alshak tells me. “I could either get better at doing something I dreaded or I could try and build technology that did it for me.”

The promise of eliminating the hassle could make any lawyer who hears about Ping an advocate for the firm buying the startup’s software, like how Dropbox grew as workers demanded easier file sharing. “I’ve experienced first-hand the grind of filling out timesheets,” writes Initialized partner and former attorney Alda Leu Dennis. “Ping takes away the drudgery of manual timekeeping and gives lawyers back all those precious hours.”

Traditionally, lawyers have to keep track of their time by themselves down to the tenth of an hour — reviewing documents for the Johnson case, preparing a motion to dismiss for the Lee case, a client phone call for the Sriram case. There are timesheets built into legal software suites like MyCase, legal billing software like TimeSolv and one-off tools like Time Miner and iTimeKeep. They typically offer timers that lawyers can manually start and stop on different devices, with some providing tracking of scheduled appointments, call and text logging, and integration with billing systems.

Ping goes a big step further. It uses AI and machine learning to figure out whether an activity is billable, for which client, a description of the activity and its codification beyond just how long it lasted. Instead of merely filling in the minutes, it completes all the logs automatically, with entries like “Writing up a deposition – Jenkins Case – 18 minutes.” Then it presents the timesheet to the user for review before they send it to billing.

The big challenge now for Alshak and the team he’s assembled is to grow up. They need to go from cat-in-sunglasses logo Ping to mature wordmark Ping.  “We have to graduate from being a startup to being an enterprise software company,” the CEO tells meThat means learning to sell to C-suites and IT teams, rather than just build a solid product. In the relationship-driven world of law, that’s a very different skill set. Ping will have to convince clients it’s worth switching to not just for the time savings and revenue boost, but for deep data on how they could run a more efficient firm.

Along the way, Ping has to avoid any embarrassing data breaches or concerns about how its scanning technology could violate attorney-client privilege. If it can win this lucrative first business in legal, it could barge into the consulting and accounting verticals next to grow truly huge.

With eager customers, a massive market, a weak status quo and a driven founder, Ping just needs to avoid getting in over its heads with all its new cash. Spent well, the startup could leap ahead of the less tech-savvy competition.

Alshak seems determined to get it right. “We have an opportunity to build a company that gives people back their most valuable resource — time — to spend more time with their loved ones because they spent less time working,” he tells me. “My mom will live forever because she taught me the value of time. I am deeply motivated to build something that lasts . . . and do so in her name.”

Feb
09
2016
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CognitiveLogic Raises $3M To Help Enterprises Pool Big Data While Keeping Privacy Intact

circular maze DataSift made a name for itself as a company that took large unstructured datasets — such as anonymised firehoses from social media services like Facebook (and previously, Twitter) and ordered them in a way for enterprises and brands to get a better idea of consumer preferences and other insights. Now Nick Halstead, the person who founded and led DataSift but left the role in… Read More

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