May
05
2021
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Shift Technology raises $220M at a $1B+ valuation to fight insurance fraud with AI

While incumbent insurance providers continue to get disrupted by startups like Lemonade, Alan, Clearcover, Pie and many others applying tech to rethink how to build a business around helping people and companies mitigate against risks with some financial security, one issue that has not disappeared is fraud. Today, a startup out of France is announcing some funding for AI technology that it has built for all insurance providers, old and new, to help them detect and prevent it.

Shift Technology, which provides a set of AI-based SaaS tools to insurance companies to scan and automatically flag fraud scenarios across a range of use cases — they include claims fraud, claims automation, underwriting, subrogation detection and financial crime detection — has raised $220 million, money that it will be using both to expand in the property and casualty insurance market, the area where it is already strong, as well as to expand into health, and to double down on growing its business in the U.S. It also provides fraud detection for the travel insurance sector.

This Series D is being led by Advent International, via Advent Tech, with participation from Avenir and others. Accel, Bessemer Venture Partners, General Catalyst and Iris Capital — who were all part of Shift’s Series C led by Bessemer in 2019 — also participated. With this round, Paris-and-Boston-based Shift Technology has now raised some $320 million and has confirmed that it is now valued at over $1 billion.

The company currently has around 100 customers across 25 different countries — with the list including Generali France and Mitsui Sumitomo, to give you an idea of where it’s pitching its business — and says that it has already analyzed nearly two billion claims, data that’s feeding its machine learning algorithms to improve how they work.

The challenge (or I suppose, opportunity) that Shift is tackling, however, is much bigger. The Coalition Against Insurance Fraud, a nonprofit in the U.S., estimates that at least $80 billion of fraudulent claims are made annually in the U.S. alone, but the figure is likely significantly higher. One problem has, ironically, been the move to more virtualized processes, which open the door to malicious actors exploiting loopholes in claims filing and fudging information. Another is the fact that insurance has grown as a market, but so too has the amount of people who are in financial straights, leading to more desperate and illegal acts to gain an edge.

Shift is also not alone in tackling this issue: the market for insurance fraud detection technology globally was estimated to be worth $2.5 billion in 2019 and projected to be worth as much as $8 billion by 2024.

In addition to others in claims management tech such as Brightcore and Guidewire, many of the wave of insurtech startups are building in their own in-house AI-based fraud protection, and it’s very likely that we’ll see a rise of other fraud protection services, built out of adjacent areas like fintech to guard against financial crime, making their way to insurance. As many a fintech entrepreneur has said to me in the past, the mechanics of how the two verticals work and the compliance issues both face are very closely aligned.

“The entire Shift team has worked tirelessly to build this company and provide insurers with the technology solutions they need to empower employees to best be there for their policyholders. We are thrilled to partner with Advent International, given their considerable sector expertise and global reach and are taking another giant step forward with this latest investment,” stated Jeremy Jawish, CEO and co-founder, Shift Technology, in a statement. “We have only just scratched the surface of what is possible when AI-based decision automation and optimization is applied to the critical processes that drive the insurance policy lifecycle.”

For its backers, one key point with Shift is that it’s helping older providers bring on more tools and services that can help them improve their margins as well as better compete against the technology built by newer players.

“Since its founding in 2014, Shift has made a name for itself in the complex world of insurance,” said Thomas Weisman, an Advent director, in a statement. “Shift’s advanced suite of SaaS products is helping insurers to reshape manual and often time-consuming claims processes in a safer and more automated way. We are proud to be part of this exciting company’s next wave of growth.”

Apr
26
2021
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n8n raises $12M for its ‘fair code’ approach to low-code workflow automation

As businesses continue to look for better ways to work more efficiently, a pioneer in the space of low-code tools to help automate how apps work together is announcing a round of funding on the back of impressive early traction.

Berlin-based n8n — which provides a framework for both technical and non-technical people to synchronize and integrate data and workflows — has raised $12 million in a Series A round of funding.

The startup plans to use the money to continue expanding its team, which now numbers 60 people, and to expand its platform and the services it provides to users.

Currently, n8n can help link up and integrate data and functions between more than 200 established applications, as well as any custom apps or services that you might be using in your specific organization. And since launching in October 2019, the startup has picked up an impressive 16,000 users — including both developers and “citizen developers” (those whose jobs might be described as non-technical but they are not afraid to be more hands-on in trying to build in ways to work better).

Now it wants to make the service easier for more of the latter group to get stuck in with using it.

“We are still seen as a technical product and less of one for citizen developers,” founder and CEO Jan Oberhauser said in an interview. “Our plan is to make n8n simpler to use, so that it’s much easier to adopt. We want to give everyone technical superpowers, whether it’s the marketing team or the IT department.” That means for example building not just chatbots but more intelligent ones, or creating new ways of visualizing data in Slack or something else altogether. And n8n’s platform can also be used to build automation within products, for example to monitor performance and flag when something might need maintenance.

The round is being led by Felicis Ventures, with Sequoia Capital, firstminute Capital and Harpoon Ventures also participating. Sequoia and firstminute co-led n8n’s seed round about a year ago, which also included participation from Eventbrite’s Kevin Hartz, Supercell’s Ilkka Paananen and unnamed early employees of Google and Zendesk, among others. The startup has now raised around $14 million and is not disclosing valuation.

There are a number of low-code and no-code startups on the market today and many of them have been seeing a surge of in interest in the last year. It’s a trend I suspect was brought about in no small part by the arrival of COVID-19.

The pandemic not only led to more people working remotely and relying on apps and other cloud-based services to get what they needed to do done, but in many cases it led organizations to refocus on how they were working, and what could be improved. In some cases, it also has meant a severe tightening of belts, and so companies are needing to do more with less human power, another factor leading to more proactive efforts to use software to get more out of… software.

That’s meant more strain on IT teams, and that too has led to more people within departments themselves getting proactive in improving their own workflows.

Other startups in the space include Bryter (which raised a $66 million Series B earlier this month) and Genesis (which raised $45 million in March), along with Zapier, Airtable, Rows, GyanaUshurCreatio, EasySend and CapivateIQ, some of which are coming to the market with a variety of solutions targeting a set of generic tools, while others are building solutions for more narrow use cases.

In the case of n8n, the company might be considered a “pioneer” in the space not just because of its focus on the growing area of low-code tools, but because of how it views the world of software.

The basic approach n8n is taking is around the idea of “fair code.” This is somewhat similar to open-source, and is analogous to a freemium-style model for the concept. The code is available in a public repository and the idea is that this will never disappear (one issue many enterprises face on the bleeding edge of tech: companies and their services sometimes shut down). However, n8n itself limits how much it can be used for free, before users start to pay to use it so that n8n can monetize its work, which it does in the form of consulting and integration services. (In the case of n8n, that limit looks to be up to a limit of $30,000 in support services revenues.)

Oberhauser was an early proponent of the concept of n8n and he runs a site dedicated to spreading the word. (You can also read about the different approaches to fair code, and some of what led to the creation of the concept, here.)

While basic and limited access to the code will remain free, and even as a company like n8n aims to make it easier and easier for non-developers to build integrations, there will be areas that need attention to make those services accessible to the people within an organization. For starters, there is the issue of setting up the basic integration connectors, especially in cases where the software a company is using is proprietary or customized.

There is also another issue that is likely to become more prominent as low-code and no-code tools continue to grow in popularity, and that is security. While IT departments may not have oversight of every single integration, neither will the security teams, which means that new data vulnerabilities might well become more commonplace, too. For all of these reasons, n8n is betting that there will still be some integration and consulting involved in implementation.

“Almost every company needs help connecting outside and internal systems, to make it easier for people to get started,” Oberhauser said.

Aydin Senkut, founder and managing partner of Felicis Ventures, who led the round, said that what attracted him to n8n was the extensibility of the platform — that it could be applied not just for app integration and workflow automation in those apps but a much wider set of use cases — and the very early traction of 16,000 users that it’s picked up with very little fanfare, a sign that the service has some stickiness and usefulness to it.

And the fact that it lets developers — “citizen” or otherwise — play with so many options is also a key part of it.

“We feel that data is the new oil, and one of the special things here is not just low or no-code per se, but how n8n is making it seamless and easy to connect tens or even hundreds of apps.” Senkut said that it reminded him a little of Felicis’ early investment in Plaid. “Essentially, the more data and APIs you have the more valuable the company can be. I think to measure the potential of a company, look at the APIs. If you can connect disparate things together, that is key.”

Apr
20
2021
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FintechOS nabs $60M for a low-code approach to modernizing legacy banking and insurance services

“Challenger” startups in banking and insurance have upended their industries, and picked up significant business, by building more customer-friendly tools and services — more personalized, easier to access and usually competitively priced — than those typically provided by their bigger, incumbent rivals. Now, a startup out of Romania that is building tools to help the incumbents respond with better services of their own is announcing a significant round of funding as its business grows.

FintechOS, which has built a low-code platform aimed at larger (older) banking and insurance companies to help them build new services and analytics on top of and around their existing infrastructure, has raised €51 million ($61.5 million at today’s rates, but $60 million at the time of the deal closing) in a Series B round of funding.

FintechOS’s opportunity has been to target the wave of incumbents in the insurance and banking industries that have been slowly watching as newer players like Lemonade (in insurance) and a huge plethora of challenger banks (Revolut, N26, Monzo and many others) are swooping in and picking up customers, especially among younger demographics, while they have been unable to respond mostly because their infrastructure is too old and big. Turning a huge ship around, as we have seen, is no small task — a situation that has become only more apparent in the last year of pandemic living and the big shift to digital interactions that resulted from it.

“When we launched FintechOS in 2017, we could already see existing solutions to digital transformation would struggle to deliver tangible results. By contrast, our unique approach has quickly inspired a sea-change in how financial institutions address digitization and engage with their customers,” said Teodor Blidarus, co-founder and CEO at FintechOS, in a statement. “Events over the last year have only increased pressure on our industry to evolve and as a result we’re seeing growing demand for our powerful platforms. Our latest round of funding will help us grow at the pace needed to improve outcomes for financial institutions and their customers globally.”

(It is not the only one. Others out of Europe in the space of bringing new tools to incumbent banks to help them make more modern and competitive products include 10x, Thought Machine, Temenos, Mambu and many more.)

The Series B round of funding is being led by Draper Esprit, with Earlybird, Gapminder Ventures, Launchub and OTB Ventures (which all participated in its Series A in December 2019) also participating. There are other backers in the round that are not being disclosed at this time, the startup added. FintechOS is also not disclosing its valuation. The company, based out of Bucharest, has raised just under $80 million to date.

FintechOS is active today in the U.K. and Europe — where it has been growing at a CAGR of 200% and says its services touch “millions” of people, with some of its key customers including the likes of banking giants Societe Generale and IdeaBank and international insurance brokers Howden. The plan will be to continue investing in those markets, as well as expanding internationally.

And it will be adding more services. Today, the banking platform is designed to help banks launch more retail services for consumers and small and medium business customers, and for insurance companies to build new health, life and general insurance products (there are a lot of synergies in how insurance and financial services companies have been built over the years, and so it’s a natural couplet when it comes to building tools for those industries).

In the financial sector, FintechOS lets banks build in new digital onboarding flows, credit cards and loan products, savings and mortgage products. Insurance products include new approaches to generating and handling quotes, customer onboarding and management and claims automation — which may well bring FintechOS into closer contact and collaboration with the most successful startup to come out of its home country to date, the RPA juggernaut UiPath. In all cases, it helps stitch together data from a bank’s own systems with more modern tooling, and to link that up with yet more modern tools to help process that data more easily.

This is “low code,” but it typically means that the company needs to work with third parties to enable all of this. Partners include the likes of integrators and other global services technicians, such as Microsoft, Deloitte, CapGemini, KPMG and so on. (And the founders of the startup themselves come from consulting backgrounds so they well understand the role these companies play in the process of bringing technology into big businesses.)

FintechOS is tapping into a couple of very big trends that have arguably been the biggest in the financial and related insurance industries.

The first of these is the fact that core services around things like credit/loans, current deposits and savings are not just very complex to build but actually have largely become commoditized — similar to digital payments — and so packaging them up and turning them into services that can be integrated by way of an API makes them more easily accessed without the heavy lifting needed to build them from scratch. This lets companies focus instead on customer service or building more interesting tools around those basic services to customise them (for example AI-based personalization). Disintermediating basic functions from the services built around them is arguably a bigger trend, but it has been especially prevalent in enterprise, which has long been a slow-moving space when it comes to innovation in the back-end, and the front-end.

The second of these is the big swing toward using no-code and low-code tools to empower more people within organizations to get stuck in when they can see something not working as efficiently as it could, and building the workflows themselves to improve that. This also applies to trying out and testing new products — again something that typically has not been done in financial and insurance services but can now be possible with low-code and no-code tools.

“Not only is our technology helping financial institutions become customer centric, but it’s also helping them provide products and services to more people and businesses,” said Sergiu Negut, the other co-founder who is FintechOS’s CFO and COO, in a separate statement. “With so many markets still underserved, the ability to tailor offerings to a segment of one offers the opportunity to increase financial inclusion and adheres to our ideal that easy access to financial services is essential. We’re delighted to be working with investors who share our views on how fintech should be transforming the financial services industry.”

Notably, Draper Esprit also has backed Thought Machine, another big player in the world of fintech that is taking some of the learnings and models that have helped new entrants disrupt incumbents, and is packaging them up as services for incumbents, too. It takes a different approach to doing this, not using low-code but smart contracts, which could be one reason why the VC doesn’t see the investments as conflict of interest. They are also tackling an enormous market, and so at least for now there is room for them, and many others in the space, such as 10x, Temenos, Mambu, Rapyd and many others.

“When we met Teo and Sergiu, we were immediately convinced of their vision: a data led, end-to-end platform, facilitated with a low-code/no-code infrastructure,” Vinoth Jayakumar, partner at Draper Esprit, said in a statement. “Incumbent financial services firms have cost-to-income ratios up to 90%, so we see a huge and increasing need for infrastructure software that allows digitisation at speed, ease and lower cost. Draper Esprit builds enduring partnerships; with the team at FintechOS we hope to build an enduring fintech company that will dramatically change financial services experiences for people all over the world.”

 

 

Apr
15
2021
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IBM acquires Italy’s myInvenio to integrate process mining directly into its suite of automation tools

Automation has become a big theme in enterprise IT, with organizations using RPA, no-code and low-code tools, and other technology to speed up work and bring more insights and analytics into how they do things every day, and today IBM is announcing an acquisition as it hopes to take on a bigger role in providing those automation services. The IT giant has acquired myInvenio, an Italian startup that builds and operates process mining software.

Process mining is the part of the automation stack that tracks data produced by a company’s software, as well as how the software works, in order to provide guidance on what a company could and should do to improve it. In the case of myInvenio, the company’s approach involves making a “digital twin” of an organization to help track and optimize processes. IBM is interested in how myInvenio’s tools are able to monitor data in areas like sales, procurement, production and accounting to help organizations identify what might be better served with more automation, which it can in turn run using RPA or other tools as needed.

Terms of the deal are not being disclosed. It is not clear if myInvenio had any outside investors (we’ve asked and are awaiting a response). This is the second acquisition IBM has made out of Italy. (The first was in 2014, a company called CrossIdeas that now forms part of the company’s security business.)

IBM and myInvenio are not exactly strangers: The two inked a deal as recently as November 2020 to integrate the Italian startup’s technology into IBM’s bigger automation services business globally.

Dinesh Nirmal, GM of IBM Automation, said in an interview that the reason IBM acquired the company was two-fold. First, it lets IBM integrate the technology more closely into the company’s Cloud Pak for Business Automation, which sits on and is powered by Red Hat OpenShift and has other automation capabilities already embedded within it, specifically robotic process automation (RPA), document processing, workflows and decisions.

Second and perhaps more importantly, it will mean that IBM will not have to tussle for priority for its customers in competition with other solution partners that myInvenio already had. IBM will be the sole provider.

“Partnerships are great but in a partnership you also have the option to partner with others, and when it comes to priority, who decides?” he said. “From the customer perspective, will they work just on our deal, or others first? Now, our customers will get the end result of this… We can bring a single solution to an end user or an enterprise, saying, ‘look you have document processing, RPA, workflow, mining.’ That is the beauty of this and what customers will see.”

He said that IBM currently serves with its automation products customers across a range of verticals, including financial, insurance, healthcare and manufacturing.

Notably, this is not the first acquisition that IBM has made to build out this stack. Last year, it acquired WDG to expand into robotic process automation.

And interestingly, it’s not even the only partnership that IBM has had in process mining. Just earlier this month, it announced a deal with one of the bigger names in the field, Celonis, a German startup valued at $2.5 billion in 2019.

Ironically, at the time, my colleague Ron wondered aloud why IBM wasn’t just buying Celonis outright in that deal. It’s hard to speculate if price was one reason. Remember: We don’t know the terms of this acquisition, but given myInvenio was off the fundraising radar, chances are it’s possibly a little less than Celonis’s price tag.

We’ve asked and IBM has confirmed that it will continue to work with Celonis alongside now offering its own native process mining tools.

“In keeping with IBM’s open approach and $1 billion investment in ecosystem, [Global Business Services, IBM’s enterprise services division] works with a broad range of technologies based on client and market demand, including IBM AI and Automation software,” a spokesperson said in a statement. “Celonis focuses on execution management which supports GBS’ transformation of clients’ business processes through intelligent workflows across industries and domains. Specifically, Celonis has deep connectivity into enterprise systems such as Salesforce, SAP, Workday or ServiceNow, so the Celonis EMS platform helps GBS accelerate clients’ transformations and BPO engagements with these ERP platforms.”

Indeed, at the end of the day, companies that offer services, especially suites of services, are working in environments where they have to be open to customers using their own technology, or bringing in something else.

There may have been another force pushing IBM to bring more of this technology in-house, and that’s wider competitive climate. Earlier this year, SAP acquired another European startup in the process mining space, Signavio, in a deal reportedly worth about $1.2 billion. As more of these companies get snapped up by would-be IBM rivals, and those left standing are working with a plethora of other parties, maybe it was high time for IBM to make sure it had its own horse in the race.

“Through IBM’s planned acquisition of myInvenio, we are revolutionizing the way companies manage their process operations,” said Massimiliano Delsante, CEO, myInvenio, who will be staying on with the deal. “myInvenio’s unique capability to automatically analyze processes and create simulations — what we call a ‘Digital Twin of an Organization’ — is joining with IBM’s AI-powered automation capabilities to better manage process execution. Together we will offer a comprehensive solution for digital process transformation and automation to help enterprises continuously transform insights into action.”

Apr
15
2021
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Cado Security locks in $10M for its cloud-native digital forensics platform

As computing systems become increasingly bigger and more complex, forensics have become an increasingly important part of how organizations can better secure them. As the recent SolarWinds breach has shown, it’s not always just a matter of being able to identify data loss, or prevent hackers from coming in in the first place. In cases where a network has already been breached, running a thorough investigation is often the only way to identify what happened, if a breach is still active and whether a malicious hacker can strike again.

As a sign of this growing priority, a startup called Cado Security, which has built forensics technology native to the cloud to run those investigations, is announcing $10 million in funding to expand its business.

Cado’s tools today are used directly by organizations, but also security companies like Redacted — a somewhat under-the-radar security startup in San Francisco co-founded by Facebook’s former chief security officer Max Kelly and John Hering, the co-founder of Lookout. It uses Cado to carry out the forensics part of its work.

The funding for London-based Cado is being led by Blossom Capital, with existing investors Ten Eleven Ventures also participating, among others. As another signal of demand, this Series A is coming only six months after Cado raised its seed round.

The task of securing data on digital networks has grown increasingly complex over the years: Not only are there more devices, more data and a wider range of configurations and uses around it, but malicious hackers have become increasingly sophisticated in their approaches to needling inside networks and doing their dirty work.

The move to the cloud has also been a major factor. While it has helped a wave of organizations expand and run much bigger computing processes as part of their business operations, it has also increased the so-called attack surface and made investigations much more complicated, not least because a lot of organizations run elastic processes, scaling their capacity up and down: This means when something is scaled down, logs of previous activity essentially disappear.

Cado’s Response product — which works proactively on a network and all of its activity after it’s installed — is built to work across cloud, on-premise and hybrid environments. Currently it’s available for AWS EC2 deployments and Docker, Kubernetes, OpenShift and AWS Fargate container systems, and the plan is to expand to Azure very soon. (Google Cloud Platform is less of a priority at the moment, CEO James Campbell said, since it rarely comes up with current and potential customers.)

Campbell co-founded Cado with Christopher Doman (the CTO) last April, with the concept for the company coming out of their respective experiences working on security services together at PwC, and respectively for government organizations (Campbell in Australia) and AlienVault (the security firm acquired by AT&T). In all of those, one persistent issue the two continued to encounter was the issue with adequate forensics data, essential for tracking the most complex breaches.

A lot of legacy forensics tools, in particular those tackling the trove of data in the cloud, was based on “processing data with open source and pulling together analysis in spreadsheets,” Campbell said. “There is a need to modernize this space for the cloud era.”

In a typical breach, it can take up to a month to run a thorough investigation to figure out what is going on, since, as Doman describes it, forensics looks at “every part of the disk, the files in a binary system. You just can’t find what you need without going to that level, those logs. We would look at the whole thing.”

However, that posed a major problem. “Having a month with a hacker running around before you can do something about it is just not acceptable,” Campbell added. The result, typically, is that other forensics tools investigate only about 5% of an organization’s data.

The solution — for which Cado has filed patents, the pair said — has essentially involved building big data tools that can automate and speed up the very labor intensive process of looking through activity logs to figure out what looks unusual and to find patterns within all the ones and zeros.

“That gives security teams more room to focus on what the hacker is getting up to, the remediation aspect,” Campbell explained.

Arguably, if there were better, faster tracking and investigation technology in place, something like SolarWinds could have been better mitigated.

The plan for the company is to bring in more integrations to cover more kinds of systems, and go beyond deployments that you’d generally classify as “infrastructure as a service.”

“Over the past year, enterprises have compressed their cloud adoption timelines while protecting the applications that enable their remote workforces,” said Imran Ghory, partner at Blossom Capital, in a statement. “Yet as high-profile breaches like SolarWinds illustrate, the complexity of cloud environments makes rapid investigation and response extremely difficult since security analysts typically are not trained as cloud experts. Cado Security solves for this with an elegant solution that automates time-consuming tasks like capturing forensically sound cloud data so security teams can move faster and more efficiently. The opportunity to help Cado Security scale rapidly is a terrific one for Blossom Capital.”

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.

Mar
30
2021
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MessageBird acquires 24sessions to bring video to its ‘omnichannel’ platform

MessageBird, the omnichannel cloud communications platform recently valued at $3 billion, is continuing to ramp up its M&A activity. Following last year’s acquisition of Pusher, a company that provides real-time web technologies, it is announcing that it has acquired “video-first” customer engagement platform 24sessions, and customer data platform Hull.

Terms of the two new deals aren’t being disclosed, although MessageBird founder and CEO Robert Vis tells me the three acquisitions add up to about $100 million in total, and we alreadly know that Pusher’s acquisition price was $35 million. I also understand that the 24sessions and Hull acquisitions saw both companies’ investors exit entirely.

Originally seen as a European or “rest of the world” competitor to U.S.-based Twilio — offering a cloud communications platform that supports voice, video and text capabilities all wrapped up in an API — MessageBird has since repositioned itself as an “Omnichannel Platform-as-a-Service” (OPaaS). The idea is to easily enable enterprises and medium and smaller-sized companies to communicate with customers on any channel of their choosing.

Out of the box, this includes support for WhatsApp, Messenger, WeChat, Twitter, Line, Telegram, SMS, email and voice. Customers can start online and then move their support request or query over to a more convenient channel, such as their favourite mobile messaging app, which, of course, can go with them. It’s all part of MessageBird Vis’ big bet that the future of customer interactions is omni-channel.

To that end, the acquisition of 24sessions adds another channel: video. This, Vis tells me, is a particularly important channel where in-person interactions are being replicated digitally. However, he says it’s not just enough to have a video option — you need one that is compliant and secure. This is especially true for regulated industries such as financial services and healthcare. In addition, 24sessions is web-based, meaning that end-users aren’t required to install an app.

“Bringing a safe, secure and customizable video platform into the MessageBird family is the next step in our strategic journey,” said Vis in a statement. “Our portfolio of owned services already includes SMS, voice, email, OTT, social, live chat and push. The addition of 24sessions’ video platform gives us one of the world’s most comprehensive and powerful omnichannel offerings, and is consistent with our having end-to-end control of the stack in order to create magical experiences for our customers”.

“By joining forces with MessageBird, we’re making a leap forward in our mission to improve personal customer contact and turn it into a smooth digital experience, without losing the human touch,” adds Rutger Teunissen, CEO of 24sessions. “Video has become a more embedded, instant, intelligent, and integrated part of the omnichannel customer experience”.

However, communicating with customers more efficiently doesn’t just mean interacting with them on the channels of their choosing and building backend workflows to support this, it also requires a better understanding of the customer and the context of their query. That’s where the acquisition of Hull, based in France and the U.S., comes into play.

Described as a customer data platform (CDP), Hull’s team and technology will be deployed to create an “in-depth analytics layer” between MessageBird’s omnichannel offering and the workflow solutions it provides to customers.

“We want to empower clients to have easy, frictionless conversations with customers, so it’s crucial that we understand where those customers are and how they like to communicate,” said Vis. “To do that, it’s crucial that our platform is able to collect, unify and enrich product, marketing, and sales data and synchronize it across the workflow.”

In total, 45 staff will join from 24sessions, and 14 will join from Hull. The combined M&A brings MessageBird’s total headcount to almost 500 people across its nine hubs globally.

Mar
24
2021
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Feedzai raises $200M at a $1B+ valuation for AI tools to fight financial fraud

On the heels of Jumio announcing a $150 million injection this week to continue building out its AI-based ID verification and anti-money laundering platform, another startup in the space is levelling up. Feedzai, which provides banks, others in the financial sector, and any company managing payments online with AI tools to spot and fight fraud — its cornerstone service involves super-quick (3 millisecond) checks happening in the background while transactions are being made — has announced a Series D of $200 million. It said that the new financing is being made at a valuation of over $1 billion.

The round is being led by KKR, with Sapphire Ventures and strategic backer Citi Ventures — both past investors — also participating. Feedzai said it will be using the funds for further R&D and product development, to expand into more markets outside the U.S. — it was originally founded in Portugal but now is based out of San Mateo — and towards business development, specifically via partnerships to integrate and sell its tools.

One of those partners looks to be Citi itself:

“Citi is committed to advancing global payments anchored on transparency, efficiency, and control, and our partnership with Feedzai is allowing us to provide customers with technology that seamlessly balances agility and security,” said Manish Kohli, global head of Payments and Receivables, with Citi’s Treasury and Trade Solutions, in a statement.

This latest round comes nearly four years after Feedzai raised its Series C, a $50 million round led by an unnamed investor and with an undisclosed valuation. Sapphire also participated in that round. It has now raised some $182 million to date.

Feedzai’s funding is happening at a time when the need for fraud protection for those managing transactions online has reached a high watermark, leading to a rush of customers for companies in the field.

Feedzai says that its customers include four of the five largest banks in North America, 80% of the world’s Fortune 500 companies, 154 million individual and business taxpayers in the U.S., and has processed $9 billion in online transactions for two of the world’s most valuable athletic brands. In total its reach covers some 800 million customers of businesses that use its services.

In addition to Citibank, its customers include Fiserv, Santander, SoFi and Standard Chartered’s Mox.

While money laundering, fraud and other kinds of illicit financial activity were already problems then, in the interim, the problem has only compounded, not least because of how much activity has shifted online, accelerating especially in the last year of pandemic-driven lockdowns. That’s been exacerbated also by a general rise in cybercrime — of which financial fraud remains the biggest component and motivator.

Within that bigger trend, solutions based on artificial intelligence have really emerged as critical to the task of identifying and fighting those illicit activities. Not only is that because AI solutions are able to make calculations and take actions and simply process more than non-AI based tools, or humans for that matter, but they are then able to go head to head with much of the fraud taking place, which itself is being built out on AI-based platforms and requires more sophistication to identify and combat.

For banking customers, Feedzai’s approach has been disruptive in part because of how it has conceived of the problem: It has built solutions that can be used across different scenarios, making them more powerful since the AI system is subsequently “learning” from more data. This is in contrast to how many financial service providers had conceived and tackled the issue in the past.

“Until now banks have used solutions based on verticals,” Nuno Sebastiao, co-founder and CEO of Feedzai, said in the past to TechCrunch. “The fraud solution you have for an ATM wouldn’t be the same fraud solution you would use for online banking which wouldn’t be the same fraud solution you would have for a voice call center.” As these companies have refreshed their systems, many have taken a more agnostic approach like the kind Feedzai has built.

The scale of the issue is clear, and unfortunately also something many of us have experienced firsthand. Feedzai says its data indicates that the last quarter of 2020 shows consumers saw a 650% increase in account takeover scams, a 600% in impersonation scams and a 250% increase in online banking fraud attacks versus the first quarter of 2020.  (Those periods are, essentially, before-pandemic and during-pandemic comparisons.)

“The past 12 months have accelerated the world’s dependency on electronic financial services – from online banking to mobile payments, and in turn have increased fraud and money laundering activity. Our services are in more demand than ever,” said Sebastiao in a statement today.

Indeed, yesterday, when I covered Jumio’s $150 million round, I said I wouldn’t consider its funding to be an outlier (even though Jumio made clear it was the largest funding to date in its space): the fast follow from Feedzai, with an even higher amount of financing, really does underscore the trend at the moment.

In addition to these two, one of Feedzai’s biggest competitors, Kount, was acquired by credit ratings giant Equifax earlier this year for $640 million to move deeper into the space. (And related to that field, in the area of identity management, which goes hand-in-hand with tools for laundering and fraud, Okta acquired Auth0 for $6.5 billion.)

Other big rounds for startups in the wider space have included ForgeRock ($96 million round), Onfido ($100 million), Payfone ($100 million), ComplyAdvantage ($50 million), Ripjar ($36.8 million) Truework ($30 million), Zeotap ($18 million) and Persona ($17.5 million).

KKR’s involvement in this round is notable as another example of a private equity firm getting in earlier with venture rounds with fast-scaling startups, similar to Great Hill’s investment in Jumio yesterday and a number of other examples. The firm says it’s making this investment out of its Next Generation Technology Growth Fund II, which is focused on making growth equity investment opportunities in the technology space.

“Feedzai offers a powerful solution to one of the biggest challenges we are facing today: financial crime in the digital age. Global commerce depends on future-proof technologies capable of dealing with a rapidly evolving threat landscape. At the same time, consumers rightfully demand a great customer experience, in addition to strong security layers when using banking or payments services,” said Stephen Shanley, managing director at KKR, in a statement

“We believe Feedzai’s platform uniquely meets these expectations and more, and we are looking forward to working with Nuno and the rest of the team to expand their offering even further,” added Spencer Chavez, principal at KKR.

Mar
18
2021
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Saleor scores $2.5M seed round for its ‘headless’ e-commerce platform

Saleor, a Poland and U.S.-based startup that offers a “headless” e-commerce platform to make it easier for developers to build better online shopping experiences, has raised $2.5 million in seed funding.

The round is led by Berlin’s Cherry Ventures, with participation from various angels. They include Guillermo Rauch (Vercel CEO and inventor of Next.js), Chris Schagen (former CMO of Contentful) and Kevin Mahaffey (co-founder of Lookout).

Saleor says the injection of capital will be invested in further developing Saleor‘s headless e-commerce platform, including a soon-to-launch cloud product and GraphQL API for front-end engineers.

Founded in 2020 but with a history going back to 2013, years before founders Mirek Mencel and Patryk Zawadzki spun out the product separate from their agency, Saleor is described as an “API-first” e-commerce platform that takes a “headless” approach. The idea is that the platform does the back-end heavy lifting so that developers can focus on the front end where most of the value is created for users.

“Saleor was born of necessity when our agency work at Mirumee Software required more modular, flexible and scalable e-commerce software,” Saleor co-founder Mirek Mencel recalls. “Most solutions for bigger brands came with proprietary baggage like vendor lock-in, slow adoption of new technologies and commercial certification programs. On the open-source side, we didn’t enjoy Magento’s developer experience and felt alternatives weren’t viable at scale”.

And so Saleor was conceived as an open-source platform focused on “technical excellence and quality” that could deliver greater scalability and extensibility than existing proprietary software. By 2016, the product had grown from something Mencel and Zawadzki’s agency used internally into a platform used by developers around the world.

“We could have stopped there, but saw brands pressing for more revolutionary front-end experiences,” Mencel says. “Decoupling Saleor’s core from its presentation layer was the obvious path to revolutionary front-ends. As difficult as it was, we tore down what was a rather good open-source e-commerce platform and rebuilt it API-first”.

Beyond their early headless conviction, the pair also came to the realisation that GraphQL delivered “more power, precision and developer happiness” than REST. Reasoning that most developers prefer “a few things done superbly to many things done well,” they committed exclusively to Saleor’s GraphQL API. “We have never looked back,” says Mencel.

In 2018, the original six-person team shipped Saleor 2.0. Now with a headcount of 20, Mencel says Saleor has a simple vision of developer-first commerce: open-source, GraphQL and “fair-priced” cloud — a vision that Cherry Ventures has clearly bought into.

“We are currently witnessing a paradigm shift with developers switching to headless commerce solutions, allowing more flexible, differentiated shopping experiences,” says Filip Dames, founding partner of Cherry. “Mirek, Patryk, and their team are at the forefront of this development and will enable innovative merchants to build state-of-the-art shopping experiences that scale across all consumer touch points and devices”.

“We decided to pursue venture backing as a way to increase the Saleor core team size and accelerate buildout of Saleor Cloud, which we’ll launch this year,” adds Mencel.

Mar
15
2021
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Genesis raises $45M to expand its fintech-focussed low-code platform to more verticals

Low-code and no-code tools have been a huge hit with enterprises keen to give their operations more of a tech boost, but often lack the resources to handle more complex integrations. Today, one of the startups that has been building low-code finance tools is announcing funding to tap into that trend and expand its business.

Genesis — which has to date primarily worked with financial services companies, giving non-technical employees the tools to create ways to monitor and manage real-time risk, high-frequency trades and other activities — has picked up $45 million. It plans to use the funding to bring the tools it has already built to a wider set of verticals that have some of the same needs to manage risk, compliance and other factors as finance — healthcare and manufacturing are two examples — as well as to continue building more into the stack. 

This Series B includes a mix of financial investors along with strategic backers that speak to who already integrates with Genesis’ tools on their own platforms.

Led by Accel, it also includes participation from new backers GV (formerly Google Ventures) and Salesforce Ventures, in addition to existing investors Citi, Illuminate Financial and Tribeca Venture Partners, who also invested in this round. To give you an idea of who it works with, Citi, ING, London Clearing House and XP Investments are some of Genesis’ customers.

Originally conceived in 2012 in Brazil by a pair of British co-founders — Stephen Murphy (CEO) and James Harrison (CTO), who cut their teeth in the world of investment banking — Genesis had raised less than $5 million before this round, mostly bootstrapping its business and leaning on Murphy and Harrison’s existing relationships in the world of finance to grow its customer base.

Today, Murphy lives in and leads the business from Miami — where he moved from New York just as the COVID-19 pandemic was starting to gain steam last year — while James Harrison (CTO) leads part of the team based out of the U.K.

As you might imagine with so little funding before now for a company going on nine years old, Genesis was doing fine financially before this Series B, so the plan is to use the funding specifically to grow faster than it could have on its own steam. The startup is not disclosing its valuation with this round.

“We were not really fixated on valuation,” said Murphy in an interview, who said the funding came about after a number of VCs had approached the startup. “The most important thing is the future opportunity and where we could take the company with additional funding… this will help us hyper scale up.” He did note that the term sheets contained “some amazing numbers and multiples,” given the current interest in no-code and low-code technology.

Indeed, the vogue for no-code and low-code tech — other well-funded names in the crowded space include startups like Zapier, Airtable, Rows, Gyana, Bryter, Ushur, Creatio and EasySend, as well as significant launches from Google and Microsoft and other bigger players — is coming out of two trends colliding.

On one side, we’ve well and truly entered an era in enterprise technology — with the same trend playing out in consumer tech, too — where smart developers are taking sophisticated and complex services and putting “wrappers” around them by way of APIs and simpler (low- or no-code) interfaces, so that those sophisticated tools can in turn be integrated and implemented in more places. This saves needing to build or integrate that complexity from scratch and expands access to the processes within those wrappers.

On the other side, the thirst for tech knowledge has become well and truly mainstream and as a result is getting far more democratized. Working in a variety of applications, using different digital tools and devices and seeing the fruits of tech pay off are all second nature to today’s working world — whether or not you are a technologist. So it’s no surprise to see more proactive, non-technical people looking for more ways to get their hands on these tools themselves.

“You now have a whole citizen developer world, for example business analysts who understand the solution you want but might not know how to get there,” Murphy said. “We play to seasoned developers first but the investment will help us put more low-code and no-code tools into place to widen the tools out to them.”

Starting out in finance made sense not just because that was where the two founders had previously worked, but also because of the history of how different software tools were already being used. Specifically, he noted that the ubiquity of microservices — which themselves are collections of services as apps — laid the groundwork for more low-code. “We saw that if we could build a low-code entry point to microservices, that would be powerful.”

On top of that, investment banks, he said, have a history of wanting to build things themselves to tailor to their specific needs. “Buying off the shelf means you are at the mercy of the vendor,” he said. These factors made financial services companies very receptive to what Genesis was offering.

While a lot of the no/low-code players are coming at the concept with specific verticals in mind — no surprise, since different verticals have very specific use cases and needs — what’s interesting with Genesis is how the company is leveraging what it already knows about finance, and then looking at other industries that have similar demands, structures and rules.

Murphy said that Genesis will stay “very focused on financial markets for 2021” but that it’s identified a number of other verticals similar to it, and is actually already seeing some inbound interest from them.

“A number of people have already approached us from the world of healthcare,” he said, pointing out that these organizations, like financial services, face challenges around how to audit data and regulations around performing transactions. Manufacturing, meanwhile, has some parallels around the area of complex event processing similar to equity algorithmic trading, he said. (In short, this relates to how external events might trigger more transactions, not unlike how external factors affect manufacturing operations.)

The trend is one that analysts forecast will only grow in the coming years: Gartner, for example, says that by 2024, low-code platforms will account for no less than 65% of all app development activity.

“Low-code promises business users the autonomy to make their own technology usage and purchase decisions while enabling them to actually build their own applications without having to rely on IT,” said Andrei Brasoveanu, a partner at Accel, said in a statement. “By bringing one of the most transformative innovations in software development to financial services, Steve and the Genesis team are taking on a huge market of legacy vendors — and winning too — while delivering on the promise of low-code. The confidence they’ve gained from serving such large institutions is proof that there’s a real and urgent need for a purpose-built low-code solution for financial markets. We’re excited to partner with Genesis and support them in delivering this across the world.” Brasoveanu is joining the startup’s board with this round.

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