Sep
22
2020
--

EasySend raises $16M from Intel, more for its no-code approach to automating B2C interfaces

No-code and low-code software have become increasingly popular ways for companies — especially those that don’t count technology as part of their DNA — to bring in more updated IT processes without the heavy lifting needed to build and integrate services from the ground up.

As a mark of that trend, today, a company that has taken this approach to speeding up customer experience is announcing some funding. EasySend, an Israeli startup which has built a no-code platform for insurance companies and other regulated businesses to build out forms and other interfaces to take in customer information and subsequently use AI systems to process it more efficiently, is announcing that it has raised $16 million.

The funding has actually come in two tranches, a $5 million seed round from Vertex Ventures and Menora Insurance that it never disclosed, and another $11 million round that closed more recently, led by Hanaco with participation from Intel Capital. The company is already generating revenue, and did so from the start, enough that it was actually bootstrapped for the first three years of its life.

Tal Daskal, EasySend’s CEO and co-founder, said that the funding being announced today will be used to help it expand into more verticals: up to now its primary target has been insurance companies, although organically it’s picked up customers from a number of other verticals, such as telecoms carriers, banks and more.

The plan will be now to hone in on specifically marketing to and building solutions for the financial services sector, as well as hiring and expanding in Asia, Europe and the US.

Longer term, he said, that another area EasySend might like to look at more in the future is robotic process automation (RPA). RPA, and companies that deal in it like UIPath, Automation Anywhere and Blue Prism, is today focused on the back office, and EasySend’s focus on the “front office” integrates with leaders in that area. But over time, it would make sense for EasySend to cover this in a more holistic way, he added.

Menora was a strategic backer: it’s one of the largest insurance providers in Israel, Daskal said, and it used EasySend to build out better ways for consumers to submit data for claims and apply for insurance.

Intel, he said, is also strategic although how is still being worked out: what’s notable to mention here is that Intel has been building out a huge autonomous driving business in Israel, anchored by MobileEye, and not only will insurance (and overall risk management) play a big part in how that business develops, but longer term you can see how there will be a need for a lot of seamless customer interactions (and form filling) between would-be car owners, operators, and passengers in order for services to operate more efficiently.

Intel Capital chose to invest in EasySend because of its intelligent and impactful approach to accelerating digital transformation to improve customer experiences,” said Nick Washburn, senior managing director, Intel Capital, in a statement. “EasySend’s no-code platform utilizes AI to digitize thousands of forms quickly and easily, reducing development time from months to days, and transforming customer journeys that have been paper-based, inefficient and frustrating. In today’s world, this is more critical than ever before.”

The rise and persistence of Covid-19 globally has had a big, multi-faceted impact how we all do business, and two of those ways have fed directly into the growth of EasySend.

First, the move to remote working has given organizations a giant fillip to work on digital transformation, refreshing and replacing legacy systems with processes that work faster and rely on newer technologies.

Second, consumers have really reassessed their use of insurance services, specifically health and home policies, respectively to make sure they are better equipped in the event of a Covid-19-precipitated scare, and to make sure that they are adequately covered for how they now use their homes all hours of the day.

EasySend’s platform for building and running interfaces for customer experience fall directly into the kinds of apps and services that are being identified and updated, precisely at a time when its initial target customers, insurers, are seeing a surge in business. It’s that “perfect storm” of circumstances that the startup wouldn’t have wished on the world, but which has definitely helped it along.

While there are a lot of companies on the market today that help organizations automate and run their customer interaction processes, the Daskal said that EasySend’s focus on using AI to process information is what makes the startup more unique, as it can be used not just to run things, but to help improve how things work.

It’s not just about taking in character recognition and organizing data, it’s “understanding the business logic,” he said. “We have a lot of data and we can understand [for example] where customers left the process [when filling out forms]. We can give insights into how to increase the conversion rates.”

It’s that balance of providing tools to do business better today, as well as to focus on how to build more business for tomorrow, that has caught the eye of investors.

“Hanaco is firmly invested in building a digital future. By bridging the gap between manual processes and digitization, EasySend is making this not only possible, but also easy, affordable, and practical,” said Hanaco founding partner Alon Lifshitz, in a statement.

Sep
16
2020
--

User-generated e-learning site Kahoot acquires Actimo for up to $33M to double down on corporate sector

Norwegian company Kahoot originally made its name with a platform that lets educators and students create and share game-based online learning lessons, in the process building up a huge public catalogue of gamified lessons created by its community. Today the startup — now valued at more than $2 billion — is announcing an acquisition to give a boost to another segment of its business: corporate customers.

Kahoot has acquired Danish startup Actimo, which provides a platform for businesses to train and engage with employees. Kahoot said that the purchase is being made with a combination of cash and shares, and works out to a total enterprise value of between $26 million and $33 million for the smaller company, with the sale expected to be completed in October 2020.

It may sound like a modest sum in a tech market where companies are currently and regularly seeing paper valuations in the hundreds of millions at Series A stage, but it also presents a different kind of trajectory both for founders and their investors.

This is actually a strong exit for Actimo, which had raised less than $500,000, according to data from PitchBook. And it puts Actimo under the wing of a company that has been scaling globally fast, finding — like others in the areas of online education and remote working — that the current state of social distancing due to COVID-19 is resulting in a boost to its business.

To give you an idea of the scale and growth of Kahoot, the company says that currently it has over 1 billion “participating players,” on top of some 4.4 billion users in aggregate since first launching the platform in 2013. In the last 12 months, some 200 million games have been played on its platform. In June, when Kahoot announced that it had raised $28 million in funding, it told us that 100 million games had been played.

In light of its growth and the future opportunity — even putting aside the progression of the coronavirus, it looks like remote work and remote learning will at least become a lot more common as a longer-term option — the company has also seen a rise in its valuation. With some of its shares traded on the Merkur Market in Norway, the company currently has a market cap of 18.716 billion Norwegian Krone, which at today’s rates is about $2.08 billion. That figure was $1.4 billion in June.

Kahoot’s targeting of the corporate sector is not new. The company has been building a business in this space for years. It says that in the last 12 months, it logged 2 million sessions across 20 million participating “players” of its corporate training “games,” with some 97% of the Fortune 500 among those users. Customers include the likes of Facebook (for sales training), Oyo (hospitality training and onboarding) and Qualys (for taking polls during a conference), among others.

Critically, while a lot of Kahoot’s audience is in education, it’s corporate that most of the revenues come in —  one reason why it’s keen to grow that segment with more services and users.

The aim with Actimo, Kahoot says, is to build out a product set aimed at helping organisations with company culture — which, with many organisations now going on eight months and counting of entire teams working regularly outside of their physical offices, has grown as a priority.

Keeping a team feeling like a team, and an individual feeling more than a transactional regard for an employer, is not a simple thing in the best of times. Now, as we continue to work physically away from each other, it will take even more tools and efforts to get the balance right.

In that context, Actimo’s solution is just one aspect, but potentially an interesting one: it has built a platform where employees can track the training that they have done or need to do, engage with other co-workers, and provide feedback, and employers can use it to generally track and encourage how employees are engaging across the company and its various efforts. It counts some 200 enterprises, including Circle K, Hi3G and Compass Group, among its customers, and has current ARR of $5 million.

For comparison, Kahoot, in its Q2 financials published in August, reported ARR of $25 million, with invoiced revenue for the quarter at $9.6 million, growing some 317% on the same quarter a year before. The company has also raised some $110 million in private funding from the likes of Microsoft and Disney.

As Kahoot looks to find more than just a transient place in a company’s IT and software fabric — transience of attention always being a risk with anything gaming-based — it makes a lot of sense to pick up Actimo and work on ways of coupling the platform with its other corporate work. You can also imagine a time when it might create a similar kind of dashboard for the educational sector.

“We are excited to welcome the Actimo team to be part of the fast-growing Kahoot! family,” said Kahoot CEO, Eilert Hanoa, in a statement. “This acquisition will further extend Kahoot!’s corporate learning offerings, by providing solutions tailored for the frontline segment, as well as to solidify company culture and engagement among remote and distributed teams in companies of all types and sizes. This continues our expressed ambition to also grow through M&A by adding strategic capabilities that we can leverage across our global platform.”

“We are thrilled to join forces with Kahoot! in our mission to develop next-level solutions that connect remote employees and boost employee engagement and productivity,” said Eske Gunge, CEO at Actimo, in a statement. “Being part of Kahoot! and with our experience from working with innovative and ambitious enterprises across industries, we can together set a new standard for corporate learning and engagement.”

Sep
15
2020
--

In 2020, Warsaw’s startup ecosystem is ‘a place to observe carefully’

If you listed the trends that have captured the attention of 20 Warsaw-focused investors who replied to our recent surveys, automation/AI, enterprise SaaS, cleantech, health, remote work and the sharing economy would top the list. These VCs said they are seeking opportunities in the “digital twin” space, proptech and expanded blockchain tokenization inside industries.

Investors in Central and Eastern Europe are generally looking for the same things as VCs based elsewhere: startups that have a unique value proposition, capital efficiency, motivated teams, post-revenue and a well-defined market niche.

Out of the cohort we interviewed, several told us that COVID-19 had not yet substantially transformed how they do business. As Micha? Papuga, a partner at Flashpoint VC put it, “the situation since March hasn’t changed a lot, but we went from extreme panic to extreme bullishness. Neither of these is good and I would recommend to stick to the long-term goals and not to be pressured.”

Said Pawel Lipkowski of RBL_VC, “Warsaw is at its pivotal point — think Berlin in the ‘90s. It’s a place to observe carefully.”

Here’s who we interviewed for part one:

For the conclusion, we spoke to the following investors:

Karol Szubstarski, partner, OTB Ventures

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
Gradual shift of enterprises toward increased use of automation and AI, that enables dramatic improvement of efficiency, cost reduction and transfer of enterprise resources from tedious, repeatable and mundane tasks to more exciting, value added opportunities.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
One of the most exciting opportunities is ICEYE. The company is a leader and first mover in synthetic-aperture radar (SAR) technology for microsatellites. It is building and operating its own commercial constellation of SAR microsatellites capable of providing satellite imagery regardless of the cloud cover, weather conditions and time of the day and night (comparable resolution to traditional SAR satellites with 100x lower cost factor), which is disrupting the multibillion dollar satellite imagery market.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
I would love to see more startups in the digital twin space; technology that enables creation of an exact digital replica/copy of something in physical space — a product, process or even the whole ecosystem. This kind of solution enables experiments and [the implementation of] changes that otherwise could be extremely costly or risky – it can provide immense value added for customers.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
A company with unique value proposition to its customers, deep tech component that provides competitive edge over other players in the market and a founder with global vision and focus on execution of that vision.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
No market/sector is too saturated and has no room for innovation. Some markets seem to be more challenging than others due to immense competitive landscape (e.g., food delivery, language-learning apps) but still can be the subject of disruption due to a unique value proposition of a new entrant.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
OTB is focused on opportunities with links to Central Eastern European talent (with no bias toward any hub in the region), meaning companies that leverage local engineering/entrepreneurial talent in order to build world-class products to compete globally (usually HQ outside CEE).

Which industries in your city and region seem well-positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
CEE region is recognized for its sizable and highly skilled talent pool in the fields of engineering and software development. The region is well-positioned to build up solutions that leverage deep, unique tech regardless of vertical (especially B2B). Historically, the region was especially strong in AI/ML, voice/speech/NLP technologies, cybersecurity, data analytics, etc.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
CEE (including Poland and Warsaw) has always been recognized as an exceptionally strong region in terms of engineering/IT talent. Inherent risk aversion of entrepreneurs has driven, for a number of years, a more “copycat”/local market approach, while holding back more ambitious, deep tech opportunities. In recent years we are witnessing a paradigm shift with a new generation of entrepreneurs tackling problems with unique, deep tech solutions, putting emphasis on global expansion, neglecting shallow local markets. As such, the quality of deals has been steadily growing and currently reflects top quality on global scale, especially on tech level. CEE market demonstrates also a growing number of startups (in total), which is mostly driven by an abundance of early-stage capital and success stories in the region (e.g., DataRobot, Bolt, UiPath) that are successfully evangelizing entrepreneurship among corporates/engineers.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
I believe that local hubs will hold their dominant position in the ecosystem. The remote/digital workforce will grow in numbers but proximity to capital, human resources and markets still will remain the prevalent force in shaping local startup communities.

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19? What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?
OTB invests in general in companies with clearly defined technological advantage, making quantifiable and near-term difference to their customers (usually in the B2B sector), which is a value-add regardless of the market cycle. The economic downturn works generally in favor of technological solutions enabling enterprise clients to increase efficiency, cut costs, bring optimization and replace manual labour with automation — and the vast majority of OTB portfolio fits that description. As such, the majority of the OTB portfolio has not been heavily impacted by the COVID pandemic.

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
The COVID pandemic has not impacted our investment strategy in any way. OTB still pursues unique tech opportunities that can provide its customers with immediate value added. This kind of approach provides a relatively high level of resilience against economic downturns (obviously, sales cycles are extending but in general sales pipeline/prospects/retention remains intact). Liquidity in portfolio is always the number one concern in uncertain, challenging times. Lean approach needs to be reintroduced, companies need to preserve cash and keep optimizing — that’s the only way to get through the crisis.

Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
A good example in our portfolio is Segron, a provider of an automated testing platform for applications, databases and enterprise network infrastructure. Software development, deployment and maintenance in enterprise IT ecosystem requires continuous and rigorous testing protocols and as such a lot of manual heavy lifting with highly skilled engineering talent being involved (which can be used in a more productive way elsewhere). The COVID pandemic has kept engineers home (with no ability for remote testing) while driving demand for digital services (and as such demand for a reliable IT ecosystem). The Segron automated framework enables full automation of enterprise testing leading to increased efficiency, cutting operating costs and giving enterprise customers peace of mind and a good night’s sleep regarding their IT infrastructure in the challenging economic environment.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
I remain impressed by the unshakeable determination of multiple founders and their teams to overcome all the challenges of the unfavorable economic ecosystem.

Sep
02
2020
--

Hypatos gets $11.8M for a deep learning approach to document processing

Process automation startup Hypatos has raised a €10 million (~$11.8 million) seed round of funding from investors including Blackfin Tech, Grazia Equity, UVC Partners and Plug & Play Ventures.

The Germany and Poland-based company was spun out of AI for accounting startup Smacc at the back end of 2018 to apply deep learning tech to power a wider range of back-office automation, with a focus on industries with heavy financial document processing needs, such as the financial and insurance sectors.

Hypatos is applying language processing AI and computer vision tech to speed up financial document processing for business use cases such as invoices, travel and expense management, loan application validation and insurance claims handling via — touting a training data set of more than 10 million annotated data entities.

It says the new seed funding will go on R&D to expand its portfolio of AI models so it can automate business processing for more types of documents, as well as for fueling growth in Europe, North American and Asia. Its customer base at this point includes Fortune 500 companies, major accounting firms and more than 300 software companies.

While there are plenty of business process automation plays, Hypatos says its use of deep learning tech supports an “in-depth understanding” of document content — which in turn allows it to offer customers a “soup to nuts” automation menu that covers document classification, information capturing, content validation and data enrichment.

It dubs its approach “cognitive process automation” (CPA) versus more basic applications of business process automation with software robots (RPA), which it argues aren’t so contextually savvy — thereby claiming an edge.

As well as document processing solutions, it has developed machine learning modules for enhancing customers’ existing systems (e.g. ECM, ERP, CRM, RPA); and offers APIs for software providers to draw on its machine learning tech for their own applications.

“All offerings include machine learning pipeline software for continuous model training in the cloud or in on-premise deployments,” it notes in a press release.

“We have deep knowledge of how financial documents are processed and millions of data entities in our training data,” says chief commercial officer Cem Dilmegani, discussing where Hypatos fits in the business process automation landscape. “We get compared to RPA companies like UiPath, enterprise content management (ECM) companies like Kofax Readsoft as well as generalist ML document automation companies like Hyperscience. However, we are quite different.

“We focus on end-to-end automation, we don’t only help companies capture data, we help them process it using our deep domain understanding, enabling higher rates of automation. For example, to automate incoming invoice processing (A/P automation) we apply our document understanding AI to capture all data, classify the document, identify the specific goods and services, validate for internal/external compliance and assign financial accounts, cost centers, cost categories etc. to automate all processing tasks.

“Finally, we offer this technology as components easily accessible via APIs. This allows RPA or ECM users to leverage our technology and increase their level of automation.”

Hypatos claims it’s seeing uplift as a result of the coronavirus pandemic — noting it’s providing a service to more than a dozen Fortune 500 companies to help with in-shoring efforts, which it says are accelerating as a result of COVID-19 putting pressure on the traditional business process outsourcing model as offshore workforce productivity in lower wage regions is affected by coronavirus lockdowns.

“We believe that we are in a pivotal moment of machine learning adoption in large organizations,” adds Andreas Unseld, partner at UVC Partners, in a supporting statement. “Hypatos’ technology provides ample opportunity to transform many core business processes. We’re impressed by the Hypatos machine learning technology and see the team in a perfect position to take a leading role in the machine learning revolution to come.”

Sep
01
2020
--

12 Paris-based VCs look at the state of their city

Four years after the Great Recession, France’s newly elected socialist president François Hollande raised taxes and increased regulations on founder-led startups. The subsequent flight of entrepreneurs to places like London and Silicon Valley portrayed France as a tough place to launch a company. By 2016, France’s national statistics bureau estimated that about three million native-born citizens had moved abroad.

Those who remained fought back: The Family was an early accelerator that encouraged French entrepreneurs to adopt Silicon Valley’s startup methodology, and the 2012 creation of Bpifrance, a public investment bank, put money into the startup ecosystem system via investors. Organizers founded La French Tech to beat the drum about native startups.

When President Emmanuel Macron took office in May 2017, he scrapped the wealth tax on everything except property assets and introduced a flat 30% tax rate on capital gains. Station F, a giant startup campus funded by billionaire entrepreneur Xavier Niel on the site of a former railway station, began attracting international talent. Tony Fadell, one of the fathers of the iPod and founder of Nest Labs, moved to Paris to set up investment firm Future Shape; VivaTech was created with government backing to become one of Europe’s largest startup conference and expos.

Now, in the COVID-19 era, the government has made €4 billion available to entrepreneurs to keep the lights on. According to a recent report from VC firm Atomico, there are 11 unicorns in France, including BlaBlaCar, OVHcloud, Deezer and Veepee. More appear to be coming; last year Macron said he wanted to see “25 French unicorns by 2025.”

According to Station F, by the end of August, there had been 24 funding rounds led by international VCs and a few big transactions. Enterprise artificial intelligence and machine-learning platform Dataiku raised a $100 million Series D round, and Paris-based gaming startup Voodoo raised an undisclosed amount from Tencent Holdings.

We asked 12 Paris-based investors to comment on the state of play in their city:

Alison Imbert, Partech

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?

All the fintechs addressing SMBs to help them to focus more on their core business (including banks disintermediation by fintech, new infrastructures tech that are lowering the barrier to entry to nonfintech companies).

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?

77foods (plant-based bacon) — love that alternative proteins trend as well. Obviously, we need to transform our diet toward more sustainable food. It’s the next challenge for humanity.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
Impact investment: Logistic companies tackling the life cycle of products to reduce their carbon footprint and green fintech that reinvent our spending and investment strategy around more sustainable products.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
D2C products.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
100% investing in France as I’m managing Paris Saclay Seed Fund, a €53 million fund, investing in pre-seed and seed startups launched by graduates and researchers from the best engineering and business schools from this ecosystem.

Which industries in your city and region seem well-positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Deep tech, biotech and medical devices. Paris, and France in general, has thousands of outstanding engineers that graduate each year. Researchers are more and more willing to found companies to have a true impact on our society. I do believe that the ecosystem is more and more structured to help them to build such companies.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
Paris is booming for sure. It’s still behind London and Berlin probably. But we are seeing more and more European VC offices opening in the city to get direct access to our ecosystem. Even in seed rounds, we start to have European VCs competing against us. It’s good — that means that our startups are moving to the next level.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
For sure startups will more and more push for remote organizations. It’s an amazing way to combine quality of life for employees and attracting talent. Yet I don’t think it will be the majority. Not all founders are willing/able to build a fully remote company. It’s an important cultural choice and it’s adapted to a certain type of business. I believe in more flexible organization (e.g., tech team working remotely or 1-2 days a week for any employee).

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19? What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?
Travel and hospitality sectors are of course hugely impacted. Yet there are opportunities for helping those incumbents to face current challenges (e.g., better customer care and services, stronger flexibility, cost reduction and process automation).

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
Cash is king more than ever before. My only piece of advice will be to keep a good level of cash as we have a limited view on events coming ahead. It’s easy to say but much more difficult to put in practice (e.g., to what extend should I reduce my cash burn? Should I keep on investing in the product? What is the impact on the sales team?). Startups should focus only on what is mission-critical for their clients. Yet it doesn’t impact our seed investments as we invest pre-revenue and often pre-product.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
There is no reason to be hopeless. Crises have happened in the past. Humanity has faced other pandemics. Humans are resilient and resourceful enough to adapt to a new environment and new constraints.

Sep
01
2020
--

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.”

Aug
21
2020
--

As the pandemic creates supply chain chaos, Craft raises $10M to apply some intelligence

During the COVID-19 pandemic, supply chains have suddenly become hot. Who knew that would ever happen? The race to secure PPE, ventilators and minor things like food was and still is an enormous issue. But perhaps, predictably, the world of “supply chain software” could use some updating. Most of the platforms are deployed “empty” and require the client to populate them with their own data, or “bring their own data.” The UIs can be outdated and still have to be juggled with manual and offline workflows. So startups working in this space are now attracting some timely attention.

Thus, Craft, the enterprise intelligence company, today announces it has closed a $10 million Series A financing round to build what it characterizes as a “supply chain intelligence platform.” With the new funding, Craft will expand its offices in San Francisco, London and Minsk, and grow remote teams across engineering, sales, marketing and operations in North America and Europe.

It competes with some large incumbents, such as Dun & Bradstreet, Bureau van Dijk and Thomson Reuters . These are traditional data providers focused primarily on providing financial data about public companies, rather than real-time data from data sources such as operating metrics, human capital and risk metrics.

The idea is to allow companies to monitor and optimize their supply chain and enterprise systems. The financing was led by High Alpha Capital, alongside Greycroft. Craft also has some high-flying angel investors, including Sam Palmisano, chairman of the Center for Global Enterprise and former CEO and chairman of IBM; Jim Moffatt, former CEO of Deloitte Consulting; Frederic Kerrest, executive vice chairman, COO and co-founder of Okta; and Uncork Capital, which previously led Craft’s seed financing. High Alpha partner Kristian Andersen is joining Craft’s board of directors.

The problem Craft is attacking is a lack of visibility into complex global supply chains. For obvious reasons, COVID-19 disrupted global supply chains, which tended to reveal a lot of risks, structural weaknesses across industries and a lack of intelligence about how it’s all holding together. Craft’s solution is a proprietary data platform, API and portal that integrates into existing enterprise workflows.

While many business intelligence products require clients to bring their own data, Craft’s data platform comes pre-deployed with data from thousands of financial and alternative sources, such as 300+ data points that are refreshed using both Machine Learning and human validation. Its open-to-the-web company profiles appear in 50 million search results, for instance.

Ilya Levtov, co-founder and CEO of Craft, said in a statement: “Today, we are focused on providing powerful tracking and visibility to enterprise supply chains, while our ultimate vision is to build the intelligence layer of the enterprise technology stack.”

Kristian Andersen, partner with High Alpha commented: “We have a deep conviction that supply chain management remains an underinvested and under-innovated category in enterprise software.”

In the first half of 2020, Craft claims its revenues have grown nearly threefold, with Fortune 100 companies, government and military agencies, and SMEs among its clients.

Aug
04
2020
--

Yotpo raises $75M for its e-commerce marketing cloud

“Marketing cloud” has become an increasingly popular concept in the world of marketing technology — used by the likes of Salesforce, Adobe, Oracle and others to describe their digital tool sets for organizations to identify and connect with customers. Now, a startup that is building its own take on the idea aimed specifically at e-commerce companies is announcing some funding after seeing a surge of business in the last few months.

Yotpo, which provides a suite of tool to help direct-to-consumer and other e-commerce players build better relationships with customers, is today announcing that it has raised $75 million in funding, money it will use to continue growing its suite of products, as well as to acquire more customers and build out more integration partnerships.

The Series E included a number of Yotpo’s existing investors, namely Bessemer Venture Partners, Access industries (the owner of Warner Music Group, among a number of other holdings) and Vertex Ventures (a subsidiary of Temasek), new investor Hanaco (which focuses on Israeli startups — Yotpo is co-headquartered in Tel Aviv and New York) and other unnamed investors.

It brings the total raised by the startup to $176 million, and while it’s not disclosing valuation, its CEO Tomer Tagrin — who co-founded the company with COO Omri Cohen — describes it as “nearly a unicorn.”

“I like to call what we’re building a flamingo, which is also a rare and beautiful animal but also a real thing, and we are a proper business,” he said in an interview, adding that Yotpo is on target for ARR next year to be $100 million.

The company had its start as an app in Shopify’s App Store, providing tools to Shopify customers to help with customer engagement by way of user-generated content, and while it has outgrown that single relationship — it now has some 500 additional strategic partners, including Salesforce, Adobe, BigCommerce and others — Yotpo’s CEO still likes to describe his company in Shopify-ish terms.

“Just as Shopify manages your business, we manage your customers end to end,” Tagrin said. He said that while it’s great to see the bigger trend of consolidation around marketing clouds, it’s not a one-size-fits-all problem. He believes Yotpo’s e-commerce-specific approach to that stands apart from the pack because it addresses issues unique to D2C and other e-commerce companies.

Yotpo’s services today include SMS and visual marketing, loyalty and referral services and reviews and ratings, which are used by a range of e-commerce companies, spanning from newer direct-to-consumer brands like Third Love and Away, to more established names like Patagonia and 1-800-Flowers. Some of these have been built in-house, and some by way of acquisition — most recently, SMSBump, in January. The plan is to use some of the funding to continue that acquisition strategy.

“Since our first investment more than three years ago, Tomer and Omri have executed flawlessly, expanding the product suite, serving a wider range of customers, and continually hiring strong talent across the organization,” says Adam Fisher, a partner at BVP, in a statement. “Yotpo is singularly focused on helping direct-to-consumer eCommerce brands solve the dual challenge of engaging consumers and increasing revenue, and with their multi-product strategy and innovative edge, they are uniquely positioned to dominate the eCommerce industry for years to come.”

Yotpo is built as a freemium platform, with some 9,000 customers paying for services, and a further 280,000 customers on its free-usage tier. Customer count grew by 250% in the last year, Tagrin said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a well-documented impact on internet use, and specifically e-commerce, as people turned to digital channels in record numbers to procure things while complying with shelter-in-place orders, or trying to increase social distancing to slow down the spread of the coronavirus.

E-commerce has been on the rise for years, but the acceleration of that trend has been drastic since February, with revenue and spend both regularly exceeding baseline figures over the last several months, according to research from digital marketing agency Common Thread Collective.

That, in turn, had a big impact on companies that help enable those e-commerce enterprises operate in more direct and personable ways. Yotpo was a direct beneficiary: It said it had a surge of sign-ups of new customers, many taking paid services, working out to a 170% year-on-year ARR and lower customer churn.

The bigger picture, of course, is not completely rosy, with thousands of layoffs across the whole tech service, and a huge number of brick-and-mortar business closures. Those economic indicators could ultimately also have a knock-on effect not just in more business moving online, but also a slowdown in spending overall.

That will inevitably have an impact on startups like Yotpo, too, which is definitely on a rise now but will continue to think longer term about the impact and how it can continue to diversify its products to meet a wider set of customer use cases.

For example, today, the company addresses customer care needs by way of integrations with companies like Zendesk, but longer term it might consider how it can bring in services like this to continue to build out the touchpoints between D2C brands and their customers, and specifically running those through a bigger picture of the customer as profiled on Yotpo’s platform.

This is a big part of our product in our meetings and debates,” Tagrin said about product expansions.

“I do think any celebration of growth and funding comes to me with something else: we need to be internalising more what is going on,” he said. “The world is not back to normal and we shouldn’t act like it is.”

Jul
28
2020
--

ComplyAdvantage nabs $50M for an AI platform and database to detect and stop financial crime

The growth of digital banking has opened up a wealth of opportunities for making the world of finance more accessible and transparent to a greater number of people. But the darker underbelly is that it has also created more avenues for illicit activity to flourish, with some $2 trillion laundered annually but only 1-3% of that sum “caught.”

To help combat that, a London-based startup called ComplyAdvantage, which has built an AI platform and wider database of some 10 million entities to help identify and track those involved in financial crime, is today announcing a growth round of funding of $50 million to expand its reach and operations.

Specifically, the plan will be to use the funding for hiring, to invest in the tools it uses to detect entities and map the relationships between them and to bring on more clients.

“We’ve been focused on more granular analysis and being able to scale to hundreds of millions of searches across our database,” said Charles Delingpole, founder and CEO, said in an interview. “The next phase is more around the network of contacts and more enhanced diligence.” The company today has some 250 staff, mainly in the U.K. and Romania.

The Series C is being led by Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan Board (Ontario Teachers’), a huge pension plan out of Canada (U.S. $155 billion) that is known as a prolific growth-stage tech investor.  Previous backers Balderton and Index are also in the round. The company has raised $88 million to date, and while it’s not disclosing its valuation, for some context, it was last valued at around $141 million in its last round a year ago, per PitchBook data.

Today, ComplyAdvantage has more than 500 customers, primarily financial institutions using it to meet regulatory compliance requirements as well as to reduce their own exposure and risk, providing some automated services to complement (and potentially replace) some of the manual checks that they make to prove you are who you say you are.

It also has a growing business with other groups that are tracking fraud for their own ends, such as insurance companies trying to stem fraudulent claims and government entities. It also has a number of partners that access its database and use that as part of their own solutions (Quantexa, which announced a big funding round of its own last week, is one of those licensing partners).

“A lot of companies in the wider identity space are powered by our data, even if they don’t disclose it,” Delingpole said.

The company had its start originally focusing on the process of helping banks meet regulatory compliance around fraud detection by ingesting and analysing documents provided by customers ahead of opening accounts, initiating larger transactions with new entities and so on. That has taken on a more targeted purpose in recent years as ComplyAdvantage’s database has grown deeper.

Today the core of the business is based around a central database of known money launderers, human traffickers, terrorists, drug lords and others who exploit financial rails to run illegal operations and make a profit from them.

It’s formed, Delingpole said, by way of “automatically ingesting tens of thousands of data points, from websites, national warning lists, linked real-time databases of companies and various other applications on top of that.” That central database is still growing, and Delingpole believes that it’s not unrealistic for it to run to a much higher number in order to get the most accurate picture possible.

“Although we have 10 million today, we want to cover every company and person one day. We think the right number is 8 billion” — that is, the world’s population. “With that larger database we can solve other kinds of crimes too.”

The startup already has a straight channel through to government agencies, reporting connections and discoveries on behalf of their clients directly to them. And to be clear, although there are now strong data protection measures in place in Europe, when people are linked to illegal activity, that puts them on a list that supersedes that. When someone is suspected and is tipped to authorities, that information is kept private.

While all institutions will continue to have teams of people dedicated to risk analysis and investigations into activity, the idea here is to supercharge that work with more data that helps those investigators tackle the greater scale of data in the world today.

“Detecting financial crime in billions of transactions that take place around the globe has become nearly impossible without the application of data science and machine learning. It is this approach that has made ComplyAdvantage into a leader in the category, and the go-to partner for organizations that seek to automate what are still very often manual or inadequate processes,” said Jan Hammer, a partner at Index Ventures, in a statement.

The longer-term opportunity is to build out ComplyAdvantage’s customer base by leveraging information that the company is already surfacing that might be relevant to other verticals.

Insurance is a key example, Delingpole said. “We already see a mention of a person having defaulted on a loan then making an insurance claim,” he said. “We see credit, fraud and ownership data together.”

This, of course, puts the company into close competition not just with others building credit databases but those building strong AI platforms to leverage data to gain deeper insights into seemingly disparate digital actions and to build better pictures of activity on behalf of their clients. That includes not just partners like Quantexa, but others like Palantir.

The strength here, said Delingpole, is the sheer size of ComplyAdvantage’s database and its very specific focus on financial crime and how that sits for companies that need to police that, both for their own business health and for regulatory reasons. It’s that focus that has attracted investment.

“ComplyAdvantage offers mission-critical technology solutions for combating financial crime and keeping pace with an ever-evolving regulatory landscape,” said Olivia Steedman, senior managing director, TIP, at Ontario Teachers’. “The company is well-positioned to continue its rapid growth as its powerful technology platform transforms the compliance and risk management process for its clients.”

Jul
08
2020
--

PQShield raises $7M for quantum-ready cryptographic security solutions

A deep tech startup building cryptographic solutions to secure hardware, software, and communications systems for a future when quantum computers may render many current cybersecurity approaches useless is today emerging out of stealth mode with $7 million in funding and a mission to make cryptographic security something that cannot be hackable, even with the most sophisticated systems, by building systems today that will continue to be usable in a post-quantum future.

PQShield (PQ being short for “post-quantum”), a spin out from Oxford University, is being backed in a seed round led by Kindred Capital, with participation also Crane Venture Partners, Oxford Sciences Innovation and various angel investors, including Andre Crawford-Brunt, Deutsche Bank’s former global head of equities.

PQShield was founded in 2018, and its time in stealth has not been in vain.

The startup claims to have the UK’s highest concentration of cryptography PhDs outside academia and classified agencies, and it is one of the biggest contributors to the NIST cybersecurity framework (alongside academic institutions and huge tech companies), which is working on creating new cryptographic standards, which take into account the fact that quantum computing will likely make quick work of breaking down the standards that are currently in place.

“The scale is massive,” Dr Ali El Kaafarani, a research fellow at Oxford’s Mathematical Institute and former engineer at Hewlett-Packard Labs, who is the founder and CEO of PQShield said of that project. “For the first time we are changing the whole of public key infrastructure.”

And according to El Kaafarani, the startup has customers — companies that build hardware and software services, or run communications systems that deal with sensitive information and run the biggest risks from being hacked.

They include entities in the financial and government sectors that it’s not naming, as well as its first OEM customer, Bosch. El Kaafarani said in an interview that it is also in talks with at least one major communications and messaging provider exploring more security for end-to-end encryption on messaging networks. Other target applications could include keyless cars, connected IoT devices, and cloud services.

The gap in the market the PQShield is aiming to address is the fact that while there are already a number of companies exploring the cutting edge of cryptographic security in the market — they include large tech companies like Amazon and MicrosoftHub Security, Duality, another startup out of the UK focused on post-quantum cryptography called Post Quantum and a number of others — the concern is that quantum computing will be utilised to crack even the most sophisticated cryptography such as the RSA and Elliptic Curve cryptographic standards.

This has not been much of a threat so far since quantum computers are still not widely available and used, but there have been a number of signs of a breakthrough on the horizon.

El Kaafarani says that PQShield is the first startup to approach that predicament with a multi-pronged solution aimed at a variety of use cases, including solutions that encompass current cryptographic standards and provide a migration path the next generation of how they will look — meaning, they can be commercially deployed today, even without quantum computers being a commercial reality, but in preparation for that.

“Whatever we encrypt now can be harvested, and once we have a fully functioning quantum computer people can use that to get back to the data and the sensitive information,” he said.

For hardware applications, it’s designed a System on Chip (SoC) solution that will be licensed to hardware manufacturers (Bosch being the first OEM). For software applications, there is an SDK that secures messaging and is protected by “post-quantum algorithms” based on a secure, Signal-derived protocol.

Thinking about and building for the full spectrum of applications is central to PQShield’s approach, he added. “In security it’s important to understand the whole ecosystem since everything is about connected components.”

Some sectors in the tech world have been especially negatively impacted by the coronavirus and its consequences, a predicament that has been exacerbated by uncertainties over the future of the global economy.

I asked El Kaafarani if that translated to a particularly tricky time to raise money as a deep tech startup, given that deep tech companies so often work on long-term problems that may not have immediate commercial outcomes.

Interestingly, he said that wasn’t the case.

“We talked to VCs that were interested in deep tech to begin with, which made the discussion a lot easier,” he said. “And the fact is that we’re a security company, and that is one of the areas that is doing well. Everything has become digitised, and we have all become more heavily reliant on our digital connections. We ultimately help make the digital world more secure. There are people who understand that, and so it wasn’t too difficult to talk to them and understand the importance of this company.”

Indeed, Chrysanthos Chrysanthou, partner at Kindred Capital, echoed that sentiment:

“With some of the brightest minds in cryptography, mathematics and engineering, and boasting world-class software and hardware solutions, PQShield is uniquely positioned to lead the charge in protecting businesses from one of the most profound threats to their future,” he said. “We couldn’t be happier to support the team as it works to set a new standard for information security and defuse risks resulting from the rise of quantum.”

Powered by WordPress | Theme: Aeros 2.0 by TheBuckmaker.com