Jul
29
2021
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Coralogix logs $55M for its new take on production analytics, now valued at $300M-$400M

Data may be the new oil, but it’s only valuable if you make good use of it. Today, a startup that has built a new kind of production analytics platform for developers, security engineers, and data scientists to track and better understand how data is moving around their networks is announcing a round of funding that underscores the demand for their technology.

Coralogix, which provides stateful streaming services to engineering teams, has picked up $55 million in a Series C round of funding.

The round was led by Greenfield Partners, with Red Dot Capital Partners, StageOne Ventures, Eyal Ofer’s O.G. Tech, Janvest Capital Partners, Maor Investments and 2B Angels also participating.

This Series C is coming about 10 months after the company’s Series B of $25 million, and from what we understand, Coralogix’s valuation is now in the range of $300 million to $400 million, a big jump for the startup, coming on the back of it growing 250% since this time last year, racking up some 2,000 paying customers, with some small teams paying as little as $100/year and large enterprises paying $1.5 million/year.

Previously, Coralogix — founded in Tel Aviv and with an HQ also in San Francisco — had also raised a round of $10 million.

Coralogix got its start as a platform aimed at quality assurance support for R&D and engineering teams. The focus here is on log analytics and metrics for platform engineers, and this still forms a big part of its business today. Added to that, in recent years, Coralogix’s tools are being applied to cloud security services, contributing to a company’s threat intelligence by providing a way to observe data for any inconsistencies that typically might point to a breach or another incident. (It integrates with Alien Vault and others for this purpose.)

The third area that is just picking up now and will be developed further — one of the uses of this investment, in fact — will be to develop how Coralogix is used for business intelligence. This is a particularly interesting area because it plays into how Coralogix is built, to provide analytics on data before it is indexed.

“It’s about high-volume, but low-value data,” Ariel Assaraf, Coralogix’s CEO, said in an interview. “Customers don’t want to store the data [or index it] but want to view it live and visualize it. We are starting to see a use case where business information and our analytics come together for sentiment analysis and other areas.”

There are dozens of strong companies providing tools these days to cover log analytics and data observability, underscoring the general growth and importance of DevOps these days. They include companies like DataDog, Sumo Logic and Splunk.

However, Assaraf believes that what sets his company apart is its approach: Essentially, it has devised a way of observing and analyzing data streams before they get indexed, giving engineers more flexibility to query the data in different ways and glean more insights, faster. The other issue with indexing, he said, is that it impacts latency, which also has a big impact on overall costs for an organization.

For many of Coralogix’s competitors, turning around the nature of the business to focus not first on indexing would be akin to completely rebuilding the business, hard to do at their scale (although this is what Coralogix did when it pivoted as a small company several years ago, which is when Assaraf took on the role of CEO). One company he believes might be more of a direct rival is Confluent.

“I think we will see Confluent getting into observability very soon because they have the streaming capabilities,” he said, “but not the tools we have.” Another potential competitor looming on the horizon: Salesforce, and its potential move into that area, underscores the shifting sands of what is powering enterprise IT investment decisions today.

Salesforce already has Heroku, Slack and Tableau, three major tools developers use for tracking and working with data, Assaraf pointed out, and there were strong rumors of it trying to buy DataDog, “so we definitely see where they are going. For sure, they understand the way things are changing. All the budgets when Salesforce first started were in marketing and sales. Now you sell to IT. Salesforce understands that shift to developers, and so that is where they are going.”

It makes for a very interesting landscape and future for companies like Coralogix, one that investors believe the startup will continue to shape as it has up to now.

“The dramatic shift in digital transformation is generating an explosion of data, which until now has forced enterprises to decide between cost and coverage,” said Shay Grinfeld, managing partner at Greenfield Partners. “Coralogix’s real-time streaming analytics pipeline employs proprietary algorithms to break this tradeoff and generate significant cost savings. Coralogix has built a customer roster that comprises some of the largest and most innovative companies in the world. We’re thrilled to partner with Ariel and the Coralogix team on their journey to reinvent the future of data observability.”

Jul
28
2021
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Atera raises $77M at a $500M valuation to help SMBs manage their remote networks like enterprises do

When it comes to software to help IT manage workers’ devices wherever they happen to be, enterprises have long been spoiled for choice — a situation that has come in especially handy in the last 18 months, when many offices globally have gone remote and people have logged into their systems from home. But the same can’t really be said for small and medium enterprises: As with so many other aspects of tech, they’ve long been overlooked when it comes to building modern IT management solutions tailored to their size and needs.

But there are signs of that changing. Today, a startup called Atera that has been building remote, and low-cost, predictive IT management solutions specifically for organizations with less than 1,000 employees, is announcing a funding round of $77 million — a sign of the demand in the market, and Atera’s own success in addressing it. The investment values Atera at $500 million, the company confirmed.

The Tel Aviv-based startup has amassed some 7,000 customers to date, managing millions of endpoints — computers and other devices connected to them — across some 90 countries, providing real-time diagnostics across the data points generated by those devices to predict problems with hardware, software and network, or with security issues.

Atera’s aim is to use the funding both to continue building out that customer footprint, and to expand its product — specifically adding more functionality to the AI that it currently uses (and for which Atera has been granted patents) to run predictive analytics, one of the technologies that today are part and parcel of solutions targeting larger enterprises but typically are absent from much of the software out there aimed at SMBs.

“We are in essence democratizing capabilities that exist for enterprises but not for the other half of the economy, SMBs,” said Gil Pekelman, Atera’s CEO, in an interview.

The funding is being led by General Atlantic, and it is notable for being only the second time that Atera has ever raised money — the first was earlier this year, a $25 million round from K1 Investment Management, which is also in this latest round. Before this year, Atera, which was founded in 2016, turned profitable in 2017 and then intentionally went out of profit in 2019 as it used cash from its balance sheet to grow. Through all of that, it was bootstrapped. (And it still has cash from that initial round earlier this year.)

As Pekelman — who co-founded the company with Oshri Moyal (CTO) — describes it, Atera’s approach to remote monitoring and management, as the space is typically called, starts first with software clients installed at the endpoints that connect into a network, which give IT managers the ability to monitor a network, regardless of the actual physical range, as if it’s located in a single office. Around that architecture, Atera essentially monitors and collects “data points” covering activity from those devices — currently taking in some 40,000 data points per second.

To be clear, these data points are not related to what a person is working on, or any content at all, but how the devices behave, and the diagnostics that Atera amasses and focuses on cover three main areas: hardware performance, networking and software performance and security. Through this, Atera’s system can predict when something might be about to go wrong with a machine, or why a network connection might not be working as it should, or if there is some suspicious behavior that might need a security-oriented response. It supplements its work in the third area with integrations with third-party security software — Bitdefender and Acronis among them — and by issuing updated security patches for devices on the network.

The whole system is built to be run in a self-service way. You buy Atera’s products online, and there are no salespeople involved — in fact most of its marketing today is done through Facebook and Google, Pekelman said, which is one area where it will continue to invest. This is one reason why it’s not really targeting larger enterprises (the others are the level of customization that would be needed; as well as more sophisticated service level agreements). But it is also the reason why Atera is so cheap: it costs $89 per month per IT technician, regardless of the number of endpoints that are being managed.

“Our constituencies are up to 1,000 employees, which is a world that was in essence quite neglected up to now,” Pekelman said. “The market we are targeting and that we care about are these smaller guys and they just don’t have tools like these today.” Since its model is $89 dollars per month per technician using the software, it means that a company with 500 people with four technicians is paying $356 per month to manage their networks, peanuts in the greater scheme of IT services, and one reason why Atera has caught on as more and more employees have gone remote and are looking like they will stay that way.

The fact that this model is thriving is also one of the reason and investors are interested.

“Atera has developed a compelling all-in-one platform that provides immense value for its customer base, and we are thrilled to be supporting the company in this important moment of its growth trajectory,” said Alex Crisses, MD, global head of New Investment Sourcing and co-head of Emerging Growth at General Atlantic, in a statement. “We are excited to work with a category-defining Israeli company, extending General Atlantic’s presence in the country’s cutting-edge technology sector and marking our fifth investment in the region. We look forward to partnering with Gil, Oshri and the Atera team to help the company realize its vision.”

Jul
26
2021
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Sedna banks $34M for a platform that parses large volumes of email and chat to automatically action items within them

Many have tried to do away with it, but email refuses to die … although in the process it might be (figuratively speaking) killing some of us with the workload it brings on to triage and use it. A startup called Sedna has built a system to help with that — specifically for enterprise and other business customers — by “reading” the text of emails and chats, and automatically actioning items within them so that you don’t have to. Today, it’s announcing funding of $34 million to expand its work.

The funding, a Series B, is being led by Insight Partners, with Stride.VC, Chalfen Ventures and the SAP.iO fund (part of SAP) also participating. The funding will be used to continue building out more data science around Sedna’s core functionality, with the aim of moving into a wider set of verticals over time. Currently its main business is in the area of supply chain players, with Glencore, Norden and Bunge among its customers. Other customers in areas like finance include the neobank Starling. London-based Sedna is not disclosing valuation.

Bill Dobie, Sedna’s CEO and founder originally from Vancouver but now in London, said the idea for the company was hatched out of his own experience.

“I spent years building software to help users be more productive, but no matter what we built we never really reduced people’s workload,” he said. The reason: The millstone that is called email, with its endless, unsolicited, inbound messages, some of which (just enough not to ignore) might be important. “What really struck me was how long it spent to move items out of and into email,” he said of the “to-do’s” that arose out of there.

Out of that, Sedna was built to “read” emails and give them more context and direction. Its system removes duplicates of action items and essentially increases the strike rate when it comes people’s inboxes: What’s in there is more likely to be what you really need to see. And it does so at a very quick speed.

“Our main value is the sheer scale at which we operate,” Dobie said. “We read millions or even billions of messages in subsecond response times.” Indeed, while many of us are not getting “millions” of emails, there is a world of messaging out there that needs reading beyond that. Think, for example, of the volume of data that will be coming down the pike from IoT-based diagnostics.

“Smart” inboxes have definitely become a thing for consumers — although arguably none work as well as you wish they did. What’s notable about Sedna has been how it’s tuned its particular algorithms to specific verticals, letting them get smarter around the kind of content and work practices in particular organizations.

Right now the work is driven by an API framework, with elements of “low code” formatting to let people shape their own Sedna experiences. The aim will be to make that even easier over time. An API-driven framework right now, some low code we’re heading into, but mostly its SAP or shipping or a trading system that understands the transaction underway, then Sedna uses a decision tree to categorize. 

Another area where Sedna might grow is in how it handles the information that it ingests. Currently, the company’s tech can be interconnected by a customer to then hand off certain work to RPA systems, as well as to specific humans. There is an obvious route to developing some of the second stage of software there — or alternatively, it’s a sign of how something like Sedna might get snapped up or copied by one of the big RPA players.

“Bill started reimagining email where it was most broken and therefore hardest to fix — large teams managing huge volumes and complicated processes,” said Rebecca Liu-Doyle, principal at Insight Partners, in a statement. “Today, Sedna’s power is in its ability to introduce immense speed, simplicity and delight to any inbox experience, regardless of scale or complexity. We are excited to partner with the Sedna team as they continue to make digital communication more intelligent for teams in global supply chain and beyond.” Liu-Doyle is joining the board with this round.

SAP is a strategic investor in this round, as Sedna potentially helps its customers be more productive while using SAP systems. “SAP continues to partner with SEDNA to deliver value to SAP customers. The ability to turn complex information into simpler intelligent collaboration has been a growing priority for many SAP customers,” said Stefan Sauer, global transport solutions lead at SAP, in a statement.

Jul
26
2021
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ActiveFence comes out of the shadows with $100M in funding and tech that detects online harm, now valued at $500M+

Online abuse, disinformation, fraud and other malicious content is growing and getting more complex to track. Today, a startup called ActiveFence is coming out of the shadows to announce significant funding on the back of a surge of large organizations using its services. ActiveFence has quietly built a tech platform to suss out threats as they are being formed and planned to make it easier for trust and safety teams to combat them on platforms.

The startup, co-headquartered in New York and Tel Aviv, has raised $100 million, funding that it will use to continue developing its tools and to continue expanding its customer base. To date, ActiveFence says that its customers include companies in social media, audio and video streaming, file sharing, gaming, marketplaces and other technologies — it has yet to disclose any specific names but says that its tools collectively cover “billions” of users. Governments and brands are two other categories that it is targeting as it continues to expand. It has been around since 2018 and is growing at around 100% annually.

The $100 million being announced today actually covers two rounds: Its most recent Series B led by CRV and Highland Europe, as well as a Series A it never announced led by Grove Ventures and Norwest Venture Partners. Vintage Investment Partners, Resolute Ventures and other unnamed backers also participated. It’s not disclosing valuation but I understand it’s over $500 million.

“We are very honored to be ActiveFence partners from the very earliest days of the company, and to be part of this important journey to make the internet a safer place and see their unprecedented success with the world’s leading internet platforms,” said Lotan Levkowitz, general partner at Grove Ventures, in a statement.

The increased presence of social media and online chatter on other platforms has put a strong spotlight on how those forums are used by bad actors to spread malicious content. ActiveFence’s particular approach is a set of algorithms that tap into innovations in AI (natural language processing) and to map relationships between conversations. It crawls all of the obvious, and less obvious and harder-to-reach parts of the internet to pick up on chatter that is typically where a lot of the malicious content and campaigns are born — some 3 million sources in all — before they become higher-profile issues. It’s built both on the concept of big data analytics as well as understanding that the long tail of content online has a value if it can be tapped effectively.

“We take a fundamentally different approach to trust, safety and content moderation,” Noam Schwartz, the co-founder and CEO, said in an interview. “We are proactively searching the darkest corners of the web and looking for bad actors in order to understand the sources of malicious content. Our customers then know what’s coming. They don’t need to wait for the damage, or for internal research teams to identify the next scam or disinformation campaign. We work with some of the most important companies in the world, but even tiny, super niche platforms have risks.”

The insights that ActiveFence gathers are then packaged up in an API that its customers can then feed into whatever other systems they use to track or mitigate traffic on their own platforms.

ActiveFence is not the only company building technology to help platform operators, governments and brands have a better picture of what is going on in the wider online world. Factmata has built algorithms to better understand and track sentiments online; Primer (which also recently raised a big round) also uses NLP to help its customers track online information, with its customers including government organizations that used its technology to track misinformation during election campaigns; Bolster (formerly called RedMarlin) is another.

Some of the bigger platforms have also gotten more proactive in bringing tracking technology and talent in-house: Facebook acquired Bloomsbury AI several years ago for this purpose; Twitter has acquired Fabula (and is working on a bigger efforts like Birdwatch to build better tools), and earlier this year Discord picked up Sentropy, another online abuse tracker. In some cases, companies that more regularly compete against each other for eyeballs and dollars are even teaming up to collaborate on efforts.

Indeed, it may well be that ultimately there will exist multiple efforts and multiple companies doing good work in this area, not unlike other corners of the world of security, which might need more than one hammer thrown at problems to crack them. In this particular case, the growth of the startup to date, and its effectiveness in identifying early warning signs, is one reason investors have been interested in ActiveFence.

“We are pleased to support ActiveFence in this important mission,” commented Izhar Armony, a general partner at CRV, in a statement. “We believe they are ready for the next phase of growth and that they can maintain leadership in the dynamic and fast-growing trust and safety market.”

“ActiveFence has emerged as a clear leader in the developing online trust and safety category. This round will help the company to accelerate the growth momentum we witnessed in the past few years,” said Dror Nahumi, general partner at Norwest Venture Partners, in a statement.

Jul
14
2021
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YuLife nabs $70M at a $346M valuation for its gamified, wellness-oriented approach to life insurance

Life insurance — financial protection you buy against your death — may not read like the liveliest of industries on paper. But a life insurance startup that believes it can turn that stigma around, by infusing the concept with gamification and a push toward wellness and health — and change the life insurance industry in the process — is today announcing significant funding, a sign of the traction it’s getting for its big ideas.

YuLife, a London startup that has built a new kind of life insurance concept — it incentivizes and rewards users to focus on their physical and mental health through a gamified interface — has raised $70 million in what is, to date, one of the largest Series Bs raised by an insurtech startup in Europe.

Led by Target Global, the round also included Eurazeo, Latitude and previous backers Creandum, Notion Capital, Anthemis, MMC Ventures, and OurCrowd. Sammy Rubin, YuLife’s CEO and founder, confirmed that the round values YuLife at $346 million (£250 million).

The company will be using the funding to continue expanding its business, build more products on its platform, and importantly continue to invest in the technology that it uses to run its service and determine how its policies should run.

“Our insurance is about helping people live healthier and longer lives,” Rubin said in an interview. “If we can help to reduce claims while incentivizing people to do that, it’s a win-win.” But it’s about more than that, he added. “We are building a new type of risk model where we are able to create new actuarial tables, which have not been updated in 200 years. Actually, I think smoker rates and how they’ve changed was the last update. So, most will just look at your age and whether you are a smoker and that’s it.”

YuLife is currently active only in the U.K. and is only sold directly to organizations, who in turn provide it to their employees. That business currently — which also includes income protection and critical illness cover — provides $15 billion of coverage and has seen 10x growth in the last year — a bumper one for life insurance policies, possibly for the worst reasons (hello, pandemic; goodbye, predicting what the future might look like). Customers include Capital One, Co-op, Curve, Havas Media, Severn Trent and Sodexo.

That $15 billion is just a drop in the bucket in an industry that is currently estimated to be worth some $2.2 trillion.

The company got its start on the back of a persistent problem that Rubin experienced at his previous insurance startup PruProtect (which is now called Vitality Life).

“Usually insurance benefits just sit on a shelf and never get used,” he said. YuLife set out to change that by making the policy “all about engagement.”

The app — built by veterans of the gaming industry — is designed around the concept of different environments, currently covering forest, ocean, desert and mountains, which YuLife collectively terms its “Yuniverse.” (This incidentally also became a template for the company’s HQ design in London.)

Within each of these environments, users are encouraged to walk, cycle, meditate and do other activities to get around their environments in a healthy way, while at the same time being able to compare their progress against other co-workers. There is a degree of personalization in everyone’s experience, in that one person leaning into one activity over another seems to produce different subsequent scenarios.

Along with this, users are offered discounts on third-party products to further engage with the game within YuLife, which could include a subscription to meditation app Calm, FitBit and Garmin devices, and more.

As users make their way through their worlds, they get rewards, in the form of something called YuCoins. The YuCoins can in turn be used to redeem vouchers from the likes of Amazon and Asos to buy things … consumerism being another way to improve happiness for some of us.

All of this sums up as more than just a policy aimed at giving people peace of mind for their families should they depart this world.

“Long term, it’s not just about health, it’s about lifestyle,” Rubin said.

It’s also about YuLife’s business: The various products that it offers are built around an affiliate model, so there is a business interest for the company around offering and seeing items purchased and redeemed. However, this is not essential to using the app as a policy holder.

The win-win theme runs strong, but so too does the fact that YuLife is taking a different approach altogether, in an industry where most of the “disruption” has up to now been more about how to buy life insurance, rather than reassessing what life insurance actually is. For others in the space doing just that, see DeadHappy, BIMA, and the Jay-Z-backed Ethos. That being said, it’s also not the only one tackling “lifestyle” as part of life insurance: Sproutt is another rethinking that area as well.

“YuLife is redefining life insurance, using the most innovative technologies to transform a largely traditional industry,” said Ben Kaminski, partner, Target Global, in a statement. “With health and well-being increasingly thrust into the limelight in the wake of COVID-19, YuLife is fundamentally changing insurance by incentivizing people to lead healthier lifestyles. YuLife is ideally positioned to build on its tenfold growth during the pandemic and lead the way in helping its clients respond to the challenges posed by an ever-changing working environment. We are very proud to partner with YuLife on its journey of becoming a global leader in life insurance.”

Jul
14
2021
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Railsbank raises $70M to build out its fintech-as-a-service platform

Financial services as a service — where entities like neobanks, retailers and others can create and sell their own financial products by way of a few lines of code and APIs — has been one of the bigger trends in the world of fintech in recent years, with embedded finance on its way to being a $7.2 trillion market by 2030, according to a forecast from Bain Capital. Now, one of the companies building and providing those APIs is announcing some growth funding to expand.

Railsbank, which builds APIs for banking, payment cards and credit products for use by fintechs but also a wide range of other kinds of businesses, has raised $70 million in new equity funding, money that the London startup plans to use to continue growing internationally and to add more features to its product set.

“Our mission is to reinvent, unbundle and democratise access to the complex, opaque and byzantine 70-year-old credit card market, which is worth $4 trillion in the U.S. alone,” Nigel Verdon, CEO and co-founder of Railsbank, told TechCrunch in an interview last year. Verdon is a repeat entrepreneur, with one of his previous companies being Currency Cloud.

Railsbank not disclosing its valuation, but Verdon hints that it is in the high hundreds of millions and close to $1 billion.

“As a policy, we rarely talk about valuation as we prefer to talk about customers,” he told TechCrunch today. “Valuation is a very inward-facing and self-centered metric. Saying that, near-unicorn would best describe us today.”

As a point of comparison data from PitchBook noted that the company was valued at just under $200 million in its last round at the end of last year (we reported on it here).

This latest round is being led by Anthos Capital, a previous backer of the company, with Central Capital, Cohen and Company, and Chris Adelsbach’s fund Outrun Ventures, as well as other unnamed previous backers also participating. Central Capital is a strategic investor: It’s the VC arm of the largest privately held bank in Indonesia, while Cohen and Company is the founder of Bancorp. Those backers speak to where Railsbank is targeting its services and who is interested in potentially working with it.

Banking as a service, and other financial products as a service, has become one of the most significant building blocks not just in the world of fintech, but in financial services overall. As with Twilio or Sinch in communications, or Stripe in payments, the idea here is that financial specialists have built out the complicated infrastructure and partnerships that underpin a product like a credit card, or a banking account.

This is then packaged up in a service that can be integrated into another one by way of an API, and the small amount of code needed to add it to another platform. In turn, that API can be used not just by another financial services company that is consumer- or business-facing, but by any kind of company that sees offering a financial product as part of a bigger customer service and loyalty play. That could mean a retailer offering its own-brand credit card, but also a “neobank” that is building a slick front end with great customer service and personalization, without needing to build the now-commoditized banking infrastructure underneath it to run it.

Railsbank is far from being the only company that has identified and built around this concept. Other big players include Rapyd, which raised a big round at a $2.5 billion valuation earlier this year; Unit, which also has been picking up funding and growing; FintechOS, which really does what its name says; and the startup 10x was even built for incumbent players to also have access to lighter fintech as a service.

Railsbank believes its distinct from many of its would-be competitors in part because it has built a lot of its own infrastructure from the ground up (hence the “rails” in its name), “bypassing” legacy players, in contrast to others that are built as software that still ultimately runs on top of stacks (and inefficiencies) of those older providers. This also means that it is regulated as a financial institution.

Railsbank is also in the business of making some acquisitions in order to grow its business, for example acquiring the U.K. business of German fintech Wirecard when it was crashing due to financial malpractices. And it doesn’t build everything from scratch: Earlier this year it also partnered with Plaid to embed some of its services within Railsbank’s.

Railsbank does not disclose a full list of customer names but has case studies on a number of smaller clients that speak to just how widely proliferated financial services are today. They include GoSolo, Kyshi and SimpledCard.

“The market has evolved so rapidly since we founded the world’s first BaaS business, the Bancorp,” noted Betsy Cohen, chairman of Fintech Masala and founder of Bancorp, in a statement. “As we move into the $7 trillion embedded finance market, it has been great watching Railsbank’s growth story. With this investment, it’s a privilege to continue to be part of the journey with a global leader like Railsbank.”

Jul
13
2021
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Remote raises $150M on a $1B+ valuation to manage payroll and more for organizations’ global workforces

For many of us, going to work these days no longer means going into a specific office like it used to; and today one of the startups that’s built a platform to help cater to that new, bigger world of employment — wherever talent might be — is announcing a major round of funding on the back of strong demand for its tools.

Remote, which provides tools to manage onboarding, payroll, benefits and other services for tech and other knowledge workers located in remote countries — be they contractors or full-time employees — has raised $150 million. Job van der Voort, the Dutch-based CEO and co-founder of New York-based Remote, confirmed in an interview that funding values Remote at over $1 billion.

Accel is leading this Series B, with participation also from previous investors Sequoia, Index Ventures, Two Sigma, General Catalyst and Day One Ventures.

The funding will be used in a couple of areas. First and foremost, it will go toward expanding its business to more markets. The startup has been built from the ground up in a fully integrated way, and in contrast to a number of others that it competes with in providing Employer of Record services, Remote fully owns all of its infrastructure. It now provides its HR services, as fully operational legal entities, for 50 countries (it has a target of growing that to 80 by the end of this year). The platform is also set to be enhanced with more tools around areas like benefits, equity incentive planning, visa and immigration support and employee relocation.

“We are doubling down on our approach,” van der Voort said. “We try to fully own the entire stack: entity, operations, experts in house, payroll, benefits and visa and immigration — all of the items that come up most often. We want to to build infrastructure products, foundational products because those have a higher level of quality and ultimately a lower price.”

In addition, Remote will be using the funding to continue building more tools and partnerships to integrate with other providers of services in what is a very fragmented human resources market. Two of these are being announced today to coincide with the funding news: Remote has launched a Global Employee API that HR platforms that focus on domestic payroll can integrate to provide their own international offering powered by Remote. HR platform Rippling (Parker Conrad’s latest act) is one of its first customers. And Remote is also getting cosier with other parts of the HR chain of services: applicant tracking system Greenhouse is now integrating with it to help with the onboarding process for new hires.

Indeed, $150 million at a $1 billion+ valuation is a very, very sizable Series B, even by today’s flush-market standards, but it comes after a bumper year for the company, and in particular since November last year when it raised a Series A of $35 million. In the last nine months, customer numbers have grown seven-fold, with users on the platform increasing 10 times. Most interestingly, perhaps, is that Remote’s revenues — its packages start at $149 per month but go up from there — have increased by a much bigger amount: 65x, the company said. That basically points to the fact that engagement from those users — how much they are leaning on Remote’s tech — has skyrocketed.

Although there are a lot of competitors in the same space as Remote — they include a number of more local players alongside a pretty big range of startups like Oyster (which announced $50 million in funding in June), Deel, which is now valued at $1.25 billionTuring; Papaya Global (now also valued at over $1 billion); and many more — the opportunity they are collectively tackling is a massive one that, if anything, appears to be growing.

Hiring internationally has always been a costly, time-consuming and organizationally challenged endeavor, so much so that many companies have opted not to do it at all, or to reserve it for very unique cases. That paradigm has drastically shifted in recent years, however.

Even before COVID-19 hit, there was a shortage of talent, resulting in a competitive struggle for good people, in companies’ home markets, which encouraged companies to look further afield when hiring. Then, once looking further afield, those employers had to give consideration to employing those people remotely — that is, letting them work from afar — because the process of relocating them had also become more expensive and harder to work through.

Then COVID-19 happened, and everyone, including people working in a company’s HQ, started to work remotely, changing the goalposts yet again on what is expected by workers, and what organizations are willing to consider when bringing on a new person, or managing someone it already knows, just from a much farther distance.

While a lot of that has played out in the idea of relocating to different cities in the same country — Miami and Austin getting a big wave of Silicon Valley “expats” being two examples of that — it seems just a short leap to consider that now that sourcing and managing is taking on a much more international slant. A lot of new hires, as well as existing employees who are possibly not from the U.S. to begin with, or simply want to see another part of the world, are now also a part of the mix. That is where companies like Remote are coming in and lowering the barriers to entry by making it as easy to hire and manage a person abroad as it is in your own city.

“Remote is at the center of a profound shift in the way that companies hire,” said Miles Clements, a partner at Accel, in a statement. “Their new Global Employee API opens up access to Remote’s robust global employment infrastructure and knowledge map, and will help any HR provider expand internationally at a speed impossible before. Remote’s future vision as a financial services provider will consolidate complicated processes into one trusted platform, and we’re excited to partner with the global leader in the quickly emerging category of remote work.”

And it’s interesting to see it now partnering with the likes of Rippling. It was a no-brainer that as the latter company matured and grew, it would have to consider how to handle the international component. Using an API from Remote is an example of how the model that has played out in communications (led by companies like Twilio and Sinch) and fintech (hello, Stripe) also has an analogue in HR, with Remote taking the charge on that.

And to be clear, for now Remote has no plans to build a product that it would sell directly to individuals.

“Individuals are reaching out to us, saying, ‘I found this job and can you help me and make sure I get paid?’ That’s been interesting,” van der Voort said. “We thought about [building a product for them] but we have so much to do with employers first.” One thing that’s heartening in Remote’s approach is that it wouldn’t want to provide this service unless it could completely follow through on it, which in the case of an individual would mean “vetting every major employer,” he said, which is too big a task for it right now.

In the meantime, Remote itself has walked the walk when it comes to remote working. Originally co-founded by two European transplants to San Francisco, the pair had firsthand experience of the paradoxical pains and opportunities of being in an organization that uses remote workforces.

Van der Voort had been the VP of product for GitLab, which he scaled from five to 450 employees working remotely (it’s now a customer of Remote’s); and before co-founding Remote, CTO Marcelo Lebre had been VP of engineering for Unbabel — another startup focused on reducing international barriers, this time between how companies and global customers communicate.

Today, not only is the CEO based out of Amsterdam in The Netherlands, with the CTO in Lisbon, Portugal, but New York-based Remote itself has grown to 220 from 50 employees, and this wider group has also been working remotely across 47 countries since November 2020.

“The world is looking very different today,” van der Voort said. “The biggest change for us has been the size of the organization. We’ve gone from 50 to more than 200 employees, and I haven’t met any of them! We have tried to follow our values of bringing opportunity everywhere so we hire everywhere as we solve that for our customers, too.”

Jul
12
2021
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Quantexa raises $153M to build out AI-based big data tools to track risk and run investigations

As financial crime has become significantly more sophisticated, so too have the tools that are used to combat it. Now, Quantexa — one of the more interesting startups that has been building AI-based solutions to help detect and stop money laundering, fraud and other illicit activity — has raised a growth round of $153 million, both to continue expanding that business in financial services and to bring its tools into a wider context, so to speak: linking up the dots around all customer and other data.

“We’ve diversified outside of financial services and working with government, healthcare, telcos and insurance,” Vishal Marria, its founder and CEO, said in an interview. “That has been substantial. Given the whole journey that the market’s gone through in contextual decision intelligence as part of bigger digital transformation, was inevitable.”

The Series D values the London-based startup between $800 million and $900 million on the heels of Quantexa growing its subscriptions revenues 108% in the last year.

Warburg Pincus led the round, with existing backers Dawn Capital, AlbionVC, Evolution Equity Partners (a specialist cybersecurity VC), HSBC, ABN AMRO Ventures and British Patient Capital also participating. The valuation is a significant hike up for Quantexa, which was valued between $200 million and $300 million in its Series C last July. It has now raised over $240 million to date.

Quantexa got its start out of a gap in the market that Marria identified when he was working as a director at Ernst & Young tasked with helping its clients with money laundering and other fraudulent activity. As he saw it, there were no truly useful systems in the market that efficiently tapped the world of data available to companies — matching up and parsing both their internal information as well as external, publicly available data — to get more meaningful insights into potential fraud, money laundering and other illegal activities quickly and accurately.

Quantexa’s machine learning system approaches that challenge as a classic big data problem — too much data for a human to parse on their own, but small work for AI algorithms processing huge amounts of that data for specific ends.

Its so-called “Contextual Decision Intelligence” models (the name Quantexa is meant to evoke “quantum” and “context”) were built initially specifically to address this for financial services, with AI tools for assessing risk and compliance and identifying financial criminal activity, leveraging relationships that Quantexa has with partners like Accenture, Deloitte, Microsoft and Google to help fill in more data gaps.

The company says its software — and this, not the data, is what is sold to companies to use over their own data sets — has handled up to 60 billion records in a single engagement. It then presents insights in the form of easily digestible graphs and other formats so that users can better understand the relationships between different entities and so on.

Today, financial services companies still make up about 60% of the company’s business, Marria said, with seven of the top 10 U.K. and Australian banks and six of the top 14 financial institutions in North America among its customers. (The list includes its strategic backer HSBC, as well as Standard Chartered Bank and Danske Bank.)

But alongside those — spurred by a huge shift in the market to rely significantly more on wider data sets, to businesses updating their systems in recent years, and the fact that, in the last year, online activity has in many cases become the “only” activity — Quantexa has expanded more significantly into other sectors.

“The Financial crisis [of 2007] was a tipping point in terms of how financial services companies became more proactive, and I’d say that the pandemic has been a turning point around other sectors like healthcare in how to become more proactive,” Marria said. “To do that you need more data and insights.”

So in the last year in particular, Quantexa has expanded to include other verticals facing financial crime, such as healthcare, insurance, government (for example in tax compliance) and telecoms/communications, but in addition to that, it has continued to diversify what it does to cover more use cases, such as building more complete customer profiles that can be used for KYC (know your customer) compliance or to serve them with more tailored products. Working with government, it’s also seeing its software getting applied to other areas of illicit activity, such as tracking and identifying human trafficking.

In all, Quantexa has “thousands” of customers in 70 markets. Quantexa cites figures from IDC that estimate the market for such services — both financial crime and more general KYC services — is worth about $114 billion annually, so there is still a lot more to play for.

“Quantexa’s proprietary technology enables clients to create single views of individuals and entities, visualized through graph network analytics and scaled with the most advanced AI technology,” said Adarsh Sarma, MD and co-head of Europe at Warburg Pincus, in a statement. “This capability has already revolutionized the way KYC, AML and fraud processes are run by some of the world’s largest financial institutions and governments, addressing a significant gap in an increasingly important part of the industry. The company’s impressive growth to date is a reflection of its invaluable value proposition in a massive total available market, as well as its continued expansion across new sectors and geographies.”

Interestingly, Marria admitted to me that the company has been approached by big tech companies and others that work with them as an acquisition target — no real surprises there — but longer term, he would like Quantexa to consider how it continues to grow on its own, with an independent future very much in his distant sights.

“Sure, an acquisition to the likes of a big tech company absolutely could happen, but I am gearing this up for an IPO,” he said.

Jul
07
2021
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AnyVision, the controversial facial recognition startup, has raised $235M led by SoftBank and Eldridge

Facial recognition has been one of the more conflicted applications of artificial intelligence in the wider world: using computer vision to detect faces and subsequent identities of people has raised numerous questions about privacy, data protection, and the ethics underpinning the purposes of the work, and even the systems themselves. But on the other hand, it’s being adopted widely in a wide variety of use cases. Now one of the more controversial, but also successful, startups in the field has closed a big round of funding.

AnyVision — an Israeli startup that has built AI-based techniques to identify people by their faces, but also related tech such as temperature checks to detect higher temperatures in a crowd — has raised $235 million in funding, the company has confirmed.

This Series C, one of the bigger rounds for an AI startup, is being co-led by SoftBank’s Vision Fund 2 and Eldridge, with previous investors also participating. (They are not named but the list includes Robert Bosch GmbH, Qualcomm Ventures and Lightspeed.) The company is not disclosing its valuation but we are asking. However, it has to be a sizable hike for the company, which had previously raised around $116 million, according to PitchBook, and has racked up a big list of customers since its last round in 2020.

Worth noting, too, that AnyVision’s CEO Avi Golan is a former operating partner at SoftBank’s investment arm.

AnyVision said the funding will be used to continue developing its SDKs, specifically to work in edge computing devices — smart cameras, body cameras, and chips that will be used in other devices — to increase the performance and speed of its systems.

Its systems, meanwhile, are used in video surveillance, watchlist alerts, and scenarios where an organization is looking to monitor crowds and control them, for example to keep track of numbers, to analyse dwell times in retail environments, or to flag illegal or dangerous behavior.

“AnyVision’s innovations in Recognition AI helped transform passive cameras into proactive security systems and empowered organizations take a more holistic view to advanced security threats,” Golan said in a statement in the investment announcement. “The Access Point AI platform is designed to protect people, places, and privacy while simultaneously reducing costs, power, bandwidth, and operational complexity.”

You may recognize the name AnyVision because of how much it has been in the press.

The startup was the subject of a report in 2019 that alleged that its technology was being quietly used by the Israeli government to run surveillance on Palestinians in the West Bank.

The company denied it, but the story quickly turned into a huge stain on its reputation, while also adding more scrutiny overall to the field of facial recognition.

That led to Microsoft, which had invested in AnyVision via its M12 venture arm, to run a full audit of the investment and its position on facial recognition investments overall. Ultimately, Microsoft divested its stake and pledged not to invest in further technology like it.

Since then, AnyVision has been working hard to spin itself as the “ethical” player in this space, acknowledging that there is a lot of work and shortcomings in the bigger market of facial recognition. But controversy has continued to court the company.

A report from Reuters in April of this year highlighted just how many companies were using AnyVision’s technology today, ranging from hospitals like Cedars Sinai in Los Angeles to major retailers like Macy’s and energy giant BP. AnyVision’s connections to power go beyond simply having big customers: it also turns out that the White House Press Secretary, Jen Psaki, once served as a communications consultant to the startup.

Then, a report published just yesterday in The Markup, combed through various public records for AnyVision, including a user guidebook from 2019, which also painted a pretty damning picture of just how much information the company can collect, and what it has been working on. (One pilot, and subsequent report resulting from it, involved tracking children in a school district in Texas: AnyVision collected 5,000 student photos and ran more than 164,000 detections in just seven days.)

There are other cases where you might imagine, however, that AnyVision’s technology might be deemed helpful or useful, maybe even welcomed. Its ability to detect temperatures, for example, and identify who may have been in contact with high-temperature people, could go a long way towards controlling less obvious cases of Covid-19, for example, helping contain the virus at mass events, providing a safeguard to enable those events to go ahead.

And to be completely clear, AnyVision is not the only company building and deploying this technology, nor the only one coming under scrutiny. Another, the U.S. company Clearview AI, is used by thousands of governments and law enforcement agencies, but earlier this year it was deemed “illegal” by Canadian privacy authorities.

Indeed, it seems that the story is not complete, either in terms of how these technologies will develop, how they will be used, and how the public comes to view them. For now, the traction AnyVision has had, even despite the controversy and ethical questions, seems to have swayed SoftBank.

“The visual recognition market is nascent but has large potential in the Western world,” said Anthony Doeh, a partner for SoftBank Investment Advisers, in a statement. “We have witnessed the transformative power of AI, biometrics and edge computing in other categories, and believe AnyVision is uniquely placed to redefine physical environment analytics across numerous industries.”

Jul
05
2021
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Pleo raises $150M at a $1.7B valuation for its new approach to managing expenses for SMBs

Whether you are part of the accounting department, or just any employee at an organization, managing expenses can be a time-consuming and error-filled, yet also quite mundane, part of your job. Today, a startup called Pleo — which has built a platform that can help some of that work more smoothly, by way of a vertically integrated system that includes payment cards, expense management software, and integrated reimbursement and pay-out services — is announcing a big round of growth funding to expand its business after seeing strong traction.

The Copenhagen-based startup has raised $150 million — money that it will be using to continue building out more features for its users, and for business development. The round, which sets a record for being the largest Series C for a Danish startup, values Pleo at $1.7 billion, the startup has confirmed.

There are around 17,000 small and medium businesses now using Pleo, with companies at the medium end of that numbering around 1,000 employees. Now with Pleo moving into slightly larger customers (up to 5,000 employees, CEO Jeppe Rindom, said), the startup has set an ambitious target of reaching 1 million users by 2025, a very lucrative goal, considering that expenses management is estimated to be a $80 billion market in Europe (with the global opportunity, of course, even bigger).

It will also be using the funds simply to expand its business. Pleo has around 330 employees today spread across London, Stockholm, Berlin and Madrid, as well as in Copenhagen, and it will be using some of the investment to grow that team and its reach.

Bain Capital Ventures and Thrive Capital co-led this round, a Series C. Previous backers, including Creandum, Kinnevik, Founders, Stripes and Seedcamp, also participated. Stripes led the startup’s Series B in 2019. It looks like this round was oversubscribed: the original intention had been to raise just $100 million.

Like other business processes, managing expenses and handling company spending has come a long way in the last many years.

Gone are the days where expenses inevitably involved collecting paper receipts and inputting them manually into a system in order to be reimbursed; now, expense management software links up with company-issued cards and taps into a range of automation tools to cut out some of the steps in the process, integrating with a company’s internal accounting policies to shuffle the process along a little less painfully. And there are a number of companies in this space, from older players like SAP’s Concur through to startups on the cusp of going public like Expensify as well as younger entrants bringing new technology into the process.

But, there is still lots more room for improvement. Rindom, Pleo’s CEO who co-founded the company with CTO Niccolo Perra, said the pair came up with the idea for Pleo on the back of years of working in fintech — both were early employees at the B2B supply chain startup Tradeshift — and seeing first-hand how short-changed, so to speak, small and medium businesses in particular were when it came to tools to handle their expenses.

Pleo’s approach has been to build, from the ground up, a system for those smaller businesses that integrate all the different stages of how an employee might spend money on behalf of the company.

Pleo starts with physical and virtual payment cards (which can be used in, for example, Apple Wallet) that are issued by Pleo (in partnership with MasterCard) to buy goods and services, which in turn are automatically itemized according to a company’s internal accounting systems, with the ability to work with e-receipts, but also let people use their phones to snap pictures of receipts when they are only on paper, if required. This is pretty much table stakes for expense software these days, but Pleo’s platform is going a couple of steps beyond that.

Users (or employers) can integrate a users’ own banking details to make it easier to get reimbursed when they have had to pay for something out of their own pocket; or conversely to pay for something that shouldn’t have been charged on the card. And if there are invoices to be paid at a later date from the time of purchase, these too can be actioned and set up within Pleo rather than having to liaise separately with an accounts payable department to get those settled. Higher priced tiers (beyond the basic service for up to five users) also lets a company set spending limits for individual users. Pricing is based on number of users, per month.

Pleo also has built fraud protection services into the platform to detect, for example, cases when a card number might have been compromised and is being used for non-work purposes.

What’s notable is that the startup has built all of the tech that it uses, including the payments feature, from the ground up, to have full control over the features and specifically to be able to add more of them more flexibly over time.

“In the beginning we ran with a partner in services like payments, but it didn’t allow us to move fast enough,” Rindom said in an interview. “So we decided to take all of that in-house.”

It seems like this opens the door to a lot of possibilities for how Pleo might evolve in the years ahead now that it’s focused on hyper-growth. However, Rindom added that whatever the next steps might be, they will remain focused on continuing to solve the expenses problem.

“When it comes to our infrastructure we use it only for ourselves,” he said. “We have no plans of selling [for example, payments] as a service, even if we do have a lot of other ideas for broadening our offerings.” Indeed, the ability to pay invoices was launched only in April of this year. “We come up with things all the time, but will launch only those relevant to customers.” For now, at least.

That focus and perhaps even more than that the execution and customer traction are what have brought investors around to backing a fintech out of Copenhagen.

“The future of work empowers employees with the tools they need to be effective, productive, and successful,” said Keri Gohman, a partner at Bain Capital Ventures, in a statement. “Pleo understands this critical shift for modern companies toward employee centricity—providing workers with a fun-to-use spend management app that automatically tracks their corporate spending and generates expense reports, paired with the powerful tools businesses need to create full visibility and management of every penny spent.”

Bain has been a pretty active investor in European fintech, also backing GoCardless in its recent round. “BCV invests in founders who aren’t afraid to tackle big problems, and Jeppe and Nicco saw a big challenge that employers faced—tracking all corporate spending and reconciling expenses back to the general ledger—and solved it with elegant technology that both employers and employees love,” added Merritt Hummer, a partner at Bain Capital Ventures.

Thrive is also a notable backer here, and it will be interesting to see how and if Pleo links up with others in the VC’s portfolio, which include companies like Plaid, Gong and Trade Republic.

“Pleo has already transformed the way that over 17,000 companies think about managing their expenses, saving them time and lowering costs while increasing transparency,” noted Kareem Zaki, a general partner at Thrive Capital, in a statement. “We are excited to partner closely with the Pleo team to help drive their next phase of growth.”

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