Dec
12
2018
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Wandelbots raises $6.8M to make programming a robot as easy as putting on a jacket

Industrial robotics is on track to be worth around $20 billion by 2020, but while it may have something in common with other categories of cutting-edge tech — innovative use of artificial intelligence, pushing the boundaries of autonomous machines that are disrupting pre-existing technology — there is one key area where it differs: each robotics firm uses its own proprietary software and operating systems to run its machines, making programming the robots complicated, time-consuming and expensive.

A startup out of Germany called Wandelbots (a portmanteau of “change” and “robots” in German) has come up with an innovative way to skirt around that challenge: using software built by the company, a person wearing a jacket fitted with dozens of sensors can now program the actions of robots from the 12 most popular industrial robotics makers.

“We are providing a universal language to teach those robots in the same way, independent of the technology stack,” said CEO Christian Piechnick said in an interview. Essentially reverse engineering the process of how a lot of software is built, Wandelbots has created a Linux-like underpinning to all of it.

With some very big deals under its belt with the likes of Volkwagen, Infineon and Midea, the startup out of Dresden has now raised €6 million ($6.8 million), a Series A to take it to its next level of growth and specifically to double down on its operations in China. The funding comes from Paua VenturesEQT Ventures and other unnamed previous investors. (It had previously raised a seed round around the time it was a finalist in our Disrupt Battlefield last year, pre-launch.)

Paua has a bit of a history backing transformational software companies (it also invests in Stripe), and EQT, being connected to a private equity firm, is treating this as a strategic investment that might be deployed across its own assets.

Piechnick — who co-founded Wandelbots with Georg Püschel, Maria Piechnick, Sebastian Werner, Jan Falkenberg and Giang Nguyen on the back of research they did at university — said that typical programming of industrial robots to perform a task could have in the past taken three months, the employment of specialist systems integrators, and of course an extra cost on top of the machines themselves.

Someone with no technical knowledge, wearing one of Wandelbots’ jackets, can bring that process down to 10 minutes, with costs reduced by a factor of ten.

“In order to offer competitive products in the face of the rapid changes within the automotive industry, we need more cost savings and greater speed in the areas of production and automation of manufacturing processes,” said Marco Weiß, Head of New Mobility & Innovations at Volkswagen Sachsen GmbH, in a statement. “Wandelbots’ technology opens up significant opportunities for automation. Using Wandelbots offering, the installation and setup of robotic solutions can be implemented incredibly quickly by teams with limited programming skills.”

Wandelbots’ focus at the moment is on programming robotic arms rather than the mobile machines that you may have seen Amazon and others using to move goods around warehouses. For now, this means that there is not a strong crossover in terms of competition between these two branches of enterprise robotics.

However, Amazon has been expanding and working on new areas beyond warehouse movements: it has, for example, been working ways of using computer vision and robotic arms to identify and pick out the most optimal fruits and vegetables out of boxes to put into grocery orders.

Innovations like that from Amazon and others could see more pressure for innovation among robotics makers, although Piechnick notes that up to now we’ve seen very little in the way of movement, and there may never be (creating more opportunity for companies like his that build more usability).

“Attempts to build robotics operating systems have been tried over and over again, and each time it’s failed,” he said. “But robotics has completely different requirements, such as real time computing, safety issues and many other different factors. A robot in operation is much more complicated than a phone.” He also added that Wandelbots itself has a number of innovations of its own currently going through the patent process, which will widen its own functionality too in terms of what and how its software can train a robot to do. (This may see more than jackets enter the mix.)

As with companies in the area of robotic process automation — which uses AI to take over more mundane back-office features — Piechnick maintains that what he has built, and the rise of robotics overall, is not going to replace workers, but put them on to other roles, while allowing businesses to expand the scope of what they can do that a human might never have been able to execute.

“No company we work with has ever replaced a human worker with a robot,” he said, explaining that generally the upgrade is from machine to better machine. “It makes you more efficient and cost reductive, and it allows you to put your good people on more complicated tasks.”

Currently, Wandelbots is working with large-scale enterprises, although ultimately, it’s smaller businesses that are its target customer, he said.

“Previously the ROI on robots was too difficult for SMEs,” he said. “With our tech this changes.”

“Wandelbots will be one of the key companies enabling the mass-adoption of industrial robotics by revolutionizing how robots are trained and used,” said Georg Stockinger, Partner at Paua Ventures, in a statement. “Over the last few years, we’ve seen a steep decline in robotic hardware costs. Now, Wandelbots’ resolves the remaining hurdle to disruptive growth in industrial automation – the ease and speed of implementation and teaching. Both factors together will create a perfect storm, driving the next wave of industrial revolution.”

 

 

Dec
12
2018
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Nexthink raises $85M to monitor and improve ’employee experience’ of apps

As companies compete for talent, a startup that has built a platform to help ensure that the talent — once it’s working for you — doesn’t get bogged down by IT frustration, has raised a significant round of funding.

Lausanne, Switzerland-based Nexthink has nailed down $85 million in funding led by Index Ventures (which has a base in nearby Geneva), with participation also from Highland Europe, Forestay Capital, Galéo Capital and TOP Funds and Olivier Pomel (co-founder and CEO of Datadog).

Nexthink’s CEO Pedro Bados said in an interview that the company will be using this round to expand its business globally and specifically in the US.

It will be doing this from a healthy base. The company already has 900 enterprise customers, covering no less than 7 million endpoints, using its platform to improve employees’ interaction and satisfaction with the IT tools that they are required to use for work. Customers include Adobe, Advocate Healthcare, BlackRock, Commerzbank, Safran, Sega HARDlight, Tiffany & Co., Vitality, Wipro and Western Union.

Network monitoring is a big and established area in the world of IT, where tech companies provide a wide array of solutions to identify and potentially fix network glitches across on-premise, cloud and hybrid environments.

What is only becoming more apparent now to organizations is that problems with the dozens of apps and other software that employees need to use can be just as much, if not more, of an issue, when it comes to getting work done — for example, because something is not working in the app, the worker is unsure how to do something, or there is a configuration issue.

That is the issue that Nexthink is tackling. The company installs a widget — it calls it a Collector — on a worker’s phone, tablet, laptop, desktop computer, or whatever device is being used. That Collector in turn monitors hundreds of metrics around how you are using your device, ranging from performance issues and policy breaches through to examining what software is being used, and what is not.

Nexthink’s algorithms both identify and even can anticipate when a problem is happening, and either provide a quick suggestion to fix it, or provide the right data to the IT team to help solve the problem.

In the “marketplace” created in an IT network, you might think of Nexthink as solving problems at two ends: for the IT team, reduces the number of calls it gets by helping solve problems and providing useful information in cases where they will really be needed. For the employees, it gives them a quick and hopefully helpful response so that they can get on with their work.

“Not only are employees happy and more productive, but costs go down on support,” Bados says.

Nexthink has actually been around for 14 years — Bados co-founded Nexthink with Patrick Hertzog and Vincent Bieri not long after he finished his graduate research work in artificial intelligence at the polytechnic in Lausanne — and this latest round is larger than all the funding that the company had raised up to now, which had been $69 million.

That in itself is a sign of how VCs and the industry are waking up to the opportunity to address the challenge of software usability and experience and how that might affect employee satisfaction and productivity.

“We’ve known the company for a while and have a lot of respect for Pedro as a CEO,” said Neil Rimer of Index Ventures in an interview. “We’ve been watching what they have been building focusing on user experience and management, and it’s an area that we find compelling.” Plus the customer caliber and loyalty helped, he said. “The retention and lack of churn are all very impressive.”

Unsurprisingly, there are a number of others also moving into the same space as Nexthink, including Microsoft, VMware and Riverbed, as well as others like New Relic around the same neighborhood of services. For now, Bados says he sees these more as potential partners than rivals.

Dec
11
2018
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TechSee nabs $16M for its customer support solution built on computer vision and AR

Chatbots and other AI-based tools have firmly found footing in the world of customer service, used either to augment or completely replace the role of a human responding to questions and complaints, or (sometimes, annoyingly, at the same time as the previous two functions) sell more products to users.

Today, an Israeli startup called TechSee is announcing $16 million in funding to help build out its own twist on that innovation: an AI-based video service, which uses computer vision, augmented reality and a customer’s own smartphone camera to provide tech support to customers, either alongside assistance from live agents, or as part of a standalone customer service “bot.”

Led by Scale Venture Partners — the storied investor that has been behind some of the bigger enterprise plays of the last several years (including Box, Chef, Cloudhealth, DataStax, Demandbase, DocuSign, ExactTarget, HubSpot, JFrog and fellow Israeli AI assistance startup WalkMe), the Series B also includes participation from Planven Investments, OurCrowd, Comdata Group and Salesforce Ventures. (Salesforce was actually announced as a backer in October.)

The funding will be used both to expand the company’s current business as well as move into new product areas like sales.

Eitan Cohen, the CEO and co-founder, said that the company today provides tools to some 15,000 customer service agents and counts companies like Samsung and Vodafone among its customers across verticals like financial services, tech, telecoms and insurance.

The potential opportunity is big: Cohen estimates there are about 2 million customer service agents in the U.S., and about 14 million globally.

TechSee is not disclosing its valuation. It has raised around $23 million to date.

While TechSee provides support for software and apps, its sweet spot up to now has been providing video-based assistance to customers calling with questions about the long tail of hardware out in the world, used for example in a broadband home Wi-Fi service.

In fact, Cohen said he came up with the idea for the service when his parents phoned him up to help them get their cable service back up, and he found himself challenged to do it without being able to see the set-top box to talk them through what to do.

So he thought about all the how-to videos that are on platforms like YouTube and decided there was an opportunity to harness that in a more organised way for the companies providing an increasing array of kit that may never get the vlogger treatment.

“We are trying to bring that YouTube experience for all hardware,” he said in an interview.

The thinking is that this will become a bigger opportunity over time as more services get digitised, the cost of components continues to come down and everything becomes “hardware.”

“Tech may become more of a commodity, but customer service does not,” he added. “Solutions like ours allow companies to provide low-cost technology without having to hire more people to solve issues [that might arise with it.]”

The product today is sold along two main trajectories: assisting customer reps; and providing unmanned video assistance to replace some of the easier and more common questions that get asked.

In cases where live video support is provided, the customer opts in for the service, similar to how she or he might for a support service that “takes over” the device in question to diagnose and try to fix an issue. Here, the camera for the service becomes a customer’s own phone.

Over time, that live assistance is used in two ways that are directly linked to TechSee’s artificial intelligence play. First, it helps to build up TechSee’s larger back catalogue of videos, where all identifying characteristics are removed with the focus solely on the device or problem in question. Second, the experience in the video is also used to build TechSee’s algorithms for future interactions. Cohen said there are now “millions” of media files — images and videos — in the company’s catalogue.

The effectiveness of its system so far has been pretty impressive. TechSee’s customers — the companies running the customer support — say they have on average seen a 40 percent increase in customer satisfaction (NPS scores), a 17 percent decrease in technician dispatches and between 20 and 30 percent increase in first-call resolutions, depending on the industry.

TechSee is not the only company that has built a video-based customer engagement platform: others include Stryng, CallVU and Vee24. And you could imagine companies like Amazon — which is already dabbling in providing advice to customers based on what its Echo Look can see — might be interested in providing such services to users across the millions of products that it sells, as well as provide that as a service to third parties.

According to Cohen, what TechSee has going for it compared to those startups, and also the potential entry of companies like Microsoft or Amazon into the mix, is a head start on raw data and a vision of how it will be used by the startup’s AI to build the business.

“We believe that anyone who wants to build this would have a challenge making it from scratch,” he said. “This is where we have strong content, millions of images, down to specific model numbers, where we can provide assistance and instructions on the spot.”

Salesforce’s interest in the company, he said, is a natural progression of where that data and customer relationship can take a business beyond responsive support into areas like quick warranty verification (for all those times people have neglected to do a product registration), snapping fender benders for insurance claims and of course upselling to other products and services.

“Salesforce sees the synergies between the sales cloud and the service cloud,” Cohen said.

“TechSee recognized the great potential for combining computer vision AI with augmented reality in customer engagement,” said Andy Vitus, partner at Scale Venture Partners, who joins the board with this round. “Electronic devices become more complex with every generation, making their adoption a perennial challenge. TechSee is solving a massive problem for brands with a technology solution that simplifies the customer experience via visual and interactive guidance.”

Dec
06
2018
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Contentful raises $33.5M for its headless CMS platform

Contentful, a Berlin- and San Francisco-based startup that provides content management infrastructure for companies like Spotify, Nike, Lyft and others, today announced that it has raised a $33.5 million Series D funding round led by Sapphire Ventures, with participation from OMERS Ventures and Salesforce Ventures, as well as existing investors General Catalyst, Benchmark, Balderton Capital and Hercules. In total, the company has now raised $78.3 million.

It’s been less than a year since the company raised its Series C round and, as Contentful co-founder and CEO Sascha Konietzke told me, the company didn’t really need to raise right now. “We had just raised our last round about a year ago. We still had plenty of cash in our bank account and we didn’t need to raise as of now,” said Konietzke. “But we saw a lot of economic uncertainty, so we thought it might be a good moment in time to recharge. And at the same time, we already had some interesting conversations ongoing with Sapphire [formerly SAP Ventures] and Salesforce. So we saw the opportunity to add more funding and also start getting into a tight relationship with both of these players.”

The original plan for Contentful was to focus almost explicitly on mobile. As it turns out, though, the company’s customers also wanted to use the service to handle its web-based applications and these days, Contentful happily supports both. “What we’re seeing is that everything is becoming an application,” he told me. “We started with native mobile application, but even the websites nowadays are often an application.”

In its early days, Contentful focused only on developers. Now, however, that’s changing, and having these connections to large enterprise players like SAP and Salesforce surely isn’t going to hurt the company as it looks to bring on larger enterprise accounts.

Currently, the company’s focus is very much on Europe and North America, which account for about 80 percent of its customers. For now, Contentful plans to continue to focus on these regions, though it obviously supports customers anywhere in the world.

Contentful only exists as a hosted platform. As of now, the company doesn’t have any plans for offering a self-hosted version, though Konietzke noted that he does occasionally get requests for this.

What the company is planning to do in the near future, though, is to enable more integrations with existing enterprise tools. “Customers are asking for deeper integrations into their enterprise stack,” Konietzke said. “And that’s what we’re beginning to focus on and where we’re building a lot of capabilities around that.” In addition, support for GraphQL and an expanded rich text editing experience is coming up. The company also recently launched a new editing experience.

Dec
06
2018
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LeanIX, the SaaS that lets enterprises map out their software architecture, closes $30M Series C

LeanIX, the Software-as-a-Service for “Enterprise Architecture Management,” has closed $30 million in Series C funding.

The round is led by Insight Venture Partners, with participation from previous investors Deutsche Telekom Capital Partners (DTCP), Capnamic Ventures and Iris Capital. It brings LeanIX’s total funding to nearly $40 million since the German company was founded in 2012.

Operating in the enterprise architecture space, previously the domain of a company’s IT team only, LeanIX’s SaaS might well be described as a “Google Maps for IT architectures.”

The software lets enterprises map out all of the legacy software or modern SaaS that the organisation is run on, including creating meta data on things like what business process it is used for or capable of supporting, what tech (and version) powers it, what teams are using or have access to it, who is responsible for it, as well as how the different architecture fits together.

From this vantage point, enterprises can not only keep a better handle on all of the software from different vendors they are buying in, including how that differs or might be better utilised across distributed teams, but also act in a more nimble way in terms of how they adopt new solutions or decommission legacy ones.

In a call with André Christ, co-founder and CEO, he described LeanIX as providing a “single source of truth” for an enterprise’s architecture. He also explained that the SaaS takes a semi-automatic approach to how it maps out that data. A lot of the initial data entry will need to be done manually, but this is designed to be done collaboratively across an organisation and supported by an “easy-to-use UX,” while LeanIX also extracts some data automatically via integrations with ServiceNow (e.g. scanning software on servers) or Signavio (e.g. how IT Systems are used in Business Processes).

More broadly, Christ tells me that the need for a solution like LeanIX is only increasing, as enterprise architecture has shifted away from monolithic vendors and software to the use of a sprawling array of cloud or on-premise software where each typically does one job or business process really well, rather than many.

“With the rising adoption of SaaS, multi-cloud and microservices, an agile management of the Enterprise Architecture is harder to achieve but more important than ever before,” he says. “Any company in any industry using more than a hundred applications is facing this challenge. That’s why the opportunity is huge for LeanIX to define and own this category.”

To that end, LeanIX says the investment will be used to accelerate growth in the U.S. and for continued product innovation. Meanwhile, the company says that in 2018 it achieved several major milestones, including doubling its global customer base, launching operations in Boston and expanding its global headcount with the appointment of several senior-level executives. Enterprises using LeanIX include Adidas, DHL, Merck and Santander, with strategic partnerships with Deloitte, ServiceNow and PwC, among others.

“For businesses today, effective enterprise architecture management is critical for driving digital transformation, and requires robust tools that enable collaboration and agility,” said Teddie Wardi, principal at Insight Venture Partners, in a statement. “LeanIX is a pioneer in the space of next-generation EA tools, achieved staggering growth over the last year, and is the trusted partner for some of today’s largest and most complex organizations. We look forward to supporting its continued growth and success as one of the world’s leading software solutions for the modernization of IT architectures.”

Nov
30
2018
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DoJ charges Autonomy founder with fraud over $11BN sale to HP

U.K. entrepreneur turned billionaire investor Mike Lynch has been charged with fraud in the U.S. over the 2011 sale of his enterprise software company.

Lynch sold Autonomy, the big data company he founded back in 1996, to computer giant HP for around $11 billion some seven years ago.

But within a year around three-quarters of the value of the business had been written off, with HP accusing Autonomy’s management of accounting misrepresentations and disclosure failures.

Lynch has always rejected the allegations, and after HP sought to sue him in U.K. courts he countersued in 2015.

Meanwhile, the U.K.’s own Serious Fraud Office dropped an investigation into the Autonomy sale in 2015 — finding “insufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction.”

But now the DoJ has filed charges in a San Francisco court, accusing Lynch and other senior Autonomy executives of making false statements that inflated the value of the company.

They face 14 counts of conspiracy and fraud, according to Reuters — a charge that carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.

We’ve reached out to Lynch’s fund, Invoke Capital, for comment on the latest development.

The BBC has obtained a statement from his lawyers, Chris Morvillo of Clifford Chance and Reid Weingarten of Steptoe & Johnson, which describes the indictment as “a travesty of justice,”

The statement also claims Lynch is being made a scapegoat for HP’s failures, framing the allegations as a business dispute over the application of U.K. accounting standards. 

Two years ago we interviewed Lynch onstage at TechCrunch Disrupt London and he mocked the morass of allegations still swirling around the acquisition as “spin and bullshit.”

Following the latest developments, the BBC reports that Lynch has stepped down as a scientific adviser to the U.K. government.

“Dr. Lynch has decided to resign his membership of the CST [Council for Science and Technology] with immediate effect. We appreciate the valuable contribution he has made to the CST in recent years,” a government spokesperson told it.

Nov
29
2018
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Asana, a work management platform, nabs $50M growth round at a $1.5B valuation

Asana, a service that teams and individuals use to plan and track the progress of work projects, is doubling down on its own project: to shape “the future of work,” in the words of co-founder and CEO Dustin Moskovitz. The startup, whose products are used by millions of free and paying users, today is announcing that it has raised another $50 million in funding — a Series E that catapults Asana into unicorn status with a $1.5 billion valuation — to invest in international and product expansion.

Asana has been on a funding tear: It raised $75 million just 11 months ago at a $900 million post-money valuation, bringing the total this year to $125 million, and $213 million since being founded in 2008.

Led by Generation Investment Management — the London firm co-founded by former US Vice President Al Gore that also led that Series D in January — this latest round also includes existing investors 8VC, Benchmark Capital and Founders Fund as well as new investors Lead Edge Capital and World Innovation Lab.

Asana has lately been focused on international growth — half of its new sales are already coming from outside the US — and expanding its product as it inches toward profitability. These are the areas where its latest investment will go, too.

Specifically, it plans to open an AWS-based data center in Frankfurt in the first half of next year, and it will set down more roots in Asia-Pacific, with offices in Sydney and Tokyo. It is also hiring in both markets. Asana has customers in 195 countries and six languages, and it looks like it’s homing in on these two regions because it’s seeing the most traction there.

On the product side, the company has been gradually adding machine learning, predictive and other AI features and it will continue to do that as part of a “long-term vision for marrying computer and human intelligence to run entire companies.”

“Our role is to help leaders understand where their attention can be most useful and what to be focused on,” Moskovitz, pictured right with co-founder Justin Rosenstein, said to me in an interview earlier this month when describing the company’s AI push.

The funding caps off an active year for Asana.

In addition to raising $75 million in January, it announced 50,000 paying organizations and “millions” of free users in September. It also introduced new products and features, such as a paid tier, Asana for Business, for larger organizations managing multiple projects; Timelines for drilling into sequential tasks and milestones; and its first steps into AI, services that start to anticipate what users need to see first and prioritise, based on previous behaviour, which team the user is on, and so on:

Asana has been close to profitability this year, although it doesn’t look like it has quite reached that point yet. Moskovitz told me that in fact, it has held on to most of its previous funding (that’s before embarking on this next wave of ambitious expansions, though).

“We have so much money in the bank that we have quite a lot of options [and are in a] strong position so choose what makes the most sense strategically,” he said. “We’ve been fortunate with investors. The prime thing is vision match: do they think about the long-term future in the same way we do? Do they have the same values and priorities? Generation nailed that on so many levels as a firm.”

How Asana fits into the mix with Slack, Box and others

Asana’s growth and mission both mirror trends in the wider world of enterprise IT and collaboration within it.

Slack, Microsoft Teams, Workplace from Facebook and other messaging and chat apps have transformed how coworkers communicate with each other, both within single offices and across wider geographies: they have replaced email, phone and other communication channels to some extent.

Meanwhile, the rise of cloud-based services like Dropbox, Box, Google Cloud, AWS and Microsoft’s Azure have transformed how people in organizations manage and ultimately collaborate on files: the rise of mobile and mobile working have increased the need for more flexible file management and access.

The third area that has been less covered is work management: as people continue to multitask on multiple projects – partly spurred by the rise in the other two collaboration categories – they need a platform that helps keep them organised and on top of all that work. This is where Asana sits.

“We think about collaboration as three markets,” Moskovitz said, “file collaboration, messaging, and work management. Each of these has a massive surface area and depth to them. We think it’s important that all companies have tools that they use from each of these big buckets.”

It is not the only one in that big bucket.

Asana alternatives include Airtable, Wrike, Trello and Basecamp. As we have pointed out before, that competitive pressure is another reason Asana is on the path to continue growing and making its service more sticky.

Indeed, just earlier this month Airtable raised $100 million at a $1.1 billion valuation. Airtable has a different approach – its platform can be used for more than project management – but it’s most definitely used to build templates precisely to track projects.

You might even argue that Airtable’s existing offering could present a type of product roadmap for what might be considered next for Asana.

For now, though, Asana is building up big customers for its existing services.

The product initially got its start when Moskovitz and Rosenstein – as respectively as co-founder and early employee of Facebook – built something to help their coworkers  at the social network manage their workloads. Now, it has a range of users that include a number of other tech firms, but also others.

London’s National Gallery, for example, uses Asana to plan and launch exhibitions and business projects; the supermarket chain Tesco’s digital campaigns; Sony Music, which also uses it for marketing management but also to track a digitization project for its back music catalog; Uber, which has managed some 600 city expansions through Asana to date.

“At Generation Investment Management, we’re grounded in the philosophy that through strategic investments in leading, mission-driven companies we can move towards a more sustainable future,” said Colin le Duc, co-founder and partner, Generation Investment Management, in a statement.

“We see Collaborative Work Management as a distinct and rapidly expanding segment, and Asana has the right product and team to lead the market. Through Dustin and the team, Asana is changing how businesses around the world collaborate, epitomizing what it means to deliver results with a mission-driven ethos.”

Nov
24
2018
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Upflow turbocharges your invoices

Meet Upflow a French startup that wants to help you deal with your outstanding invoices — the company first started at eFounders. If you’re running a small business, chances are you’re either wasting a ton of time or a ton of money on accounts receivable.

Most companies currently manage invoices using Excel spreadsheets, outdated banking interfaces and unnecessary conversations. Every time somebody signs a deal, they generate an invoice and file it in a spreadsheet somewhere.

Some companies will pay a few days later. But let’s be honest. Too many companies wait 30 days, 40 days or even more before even thinking about paying past due invoices. You end up sending emails, calling your clients and wasting a ton of time just collecting money. You might even feel bad about asking for money even though you already signed a deal.

In France, most companies use bank transfers to pay invoices. But business banking APIs are not there yet. It means that you have to log in to a slow banking website every day to check if somebody paid you. You can then tick a box in an Excel spreadsheet.

If everything I described resonates with you, Upflow wants to manage your invoices for you. It doesn’t replace your bank account, it doesn’t generate invoices for you. It integrates seamlessly with your existing workflow.

After signing up, you can send invoices to your client and cc Upflow in your email thread. Upflow then uses optical character recognition and automatically detects relevant data — the customer name, the amount, the due date, etc.

You can view all your outstanding invoices in Upflow’s interface to see where you stand. The service gives you a list of actionable tasks to get your money. For instance, Upflow tells you if you have overdue payments and tells you to contact your client again.

You can set up different rules depending on your clients. For instance, if you have many small clients, you can automate some of those messages. But if you only work with a handful of clients, you want to make sure that somebody has manually reviewed each message before Upflow sends them.

By default, you write your emails in Upflow so that your other team members can see what happened. You can browse invoices by client to see if somebody has multiple unpaid invoices. Upflow lets you assign actions to a particular team member if they’re more familiar with this specific client.

But all of this is just one part of the product. Upflow also generates banking information with the help of Treezor. This way, you can put your Upflow banking information on your invoices.

When a customer pays you, Upflow automatically matches invoices with incoming payments. This feature alone lets you save a ton of time. The startup transfers money back to your company’s bank account every day.

Upflow co-founder and CEO Alexandre Louisy drew me the following chart when we met. It’s probably easier to understand after reading my explanations:

In other words, Upflow has created a brick that sits between your company’s back office and your customers. Eventually, you could imagine more services built on top of this brick as Upflow is learning many things on your company.

According to Louisy, small and medium companies really need this kind of product — and not necessarily tech companies. Those companies don’t have a lot of money on their bank accounts, don’t have a big staff and need to save as much time as possible.

Now let’s see if it’s easy to sell a software-as-a-service solution to a family business that has been around for decades.

Nov
23
2018
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BlueCargo optimizes stacks of containers for maximum efficiency

Meet BlueCargo, a logistics startup focused on seaport terminals. The company was part of Y Combinator’s latest batch and recently raised a $3 million funding round from 1984 Ventures, Green Bay Ventures, Sound Ventures, Kima Ventures and others.

If you picture a terminal, chances are you see huge piles of containers. But current sorting methods are not efficient at all. Yard cranes end up moving a ton of containers just to reach a container sitting at the bottom of the pile.

BlueCargo wants to optimize those movements by helping you store containers at the right spot. The first container that is going to leave the terminal is going to be at the top of the pile.

“Terminals spend a lot of time making unproductive or undesired movements,” co-founder and CEO Alexandra Griffon told me. “And yet, terminals only generate revenue every time they unload or load a container.”

Right now, ERP-like solutions only manage containers according to a handful of business rules that don’t take into account the timeline of a container. Empty containers are all stored in one area, containers with dangerous goods are in another area, etc.

The startup leverages as much data as possible on each container — where it’s coming from, the type of container, if it’s full or empty, the cargo ship that carried it, the time of the year and more.

Every time BlueCargo works with a new terminal, the startup collects past data and processes it to create a model. The team can then predict how BlueCargo can optimize the terminal.

“At Saint-Nazaire, we could save 22 percent on container shifting,” Griffon told me.

The company will test its solution in Saint-Nazaire in December. It integrates directly with existing ERP solutions. Cranes already scan container identification numbers. BlueCargo could then instantly push relevant information to crane operators so that they know where to put down a container.

Saint-Nazaire is a relatively small port compared to the biggest European ports. But the company is already talking with terminals in Long Beach, one of the largest container ports in the U.S.

BlueCargo also knows that it needs to tread carefully — many companies already promised magical IT solutions in the past. But it hasn’t changed much in seaports.

That’s why the startup wants to be as seamless as possible. It only charges fees based on shifting savings — 30 percent of what it would have cost you with the old model. And it doesn’t want to alter workflows for people working at terminals — it’s like an invisible crane that helps you work faster.

There are six dominant players managing terminals around the world. If BlueCargo can convince those companies to work with the startup, it would represent a good business opportunity.

Nov
13
2018
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Cognigo raises $8.5M for its AI-driven data protection platform

Cognigo, a startup that aims to use AI and machine learning to help enterprises protect their data and stay in compliance with regulations like GDPR, today announced that it has raised an $8.5 million Series A round. The round was led by Israel-based crowdfunding platform OurCrowd, with participation from privacy company Prosegur and State of Mind Ventures.

The company promises that it can help businesses protect their critical data assets and prevent personally identifiable information from leaking outside of the company’s network. And it says it can do so without the kind of hands-on management that’s often required in setting up these kinds of systems and managing them over time. Indeed, Cognigo says that it can help businesses achieve GDPR compliance in days instead of months.

To do this, the company tells me, it’s using pre-trained language models for data classification. That model has been trained to detect common categories like payslips, patents, NDAs and contracts. Organizations can also provide their own data samples to further train the model and customize it for their own needs. “The only human intervention required is during the systems configuration process, which would take no longer than a single day’s work,” a company spokesperson told me. “Apart from that, the system is completely human-free.”

The company tells me that it plans to use the new funding to expand its R&D, marketing and sales teams, all with the goal of expanding its market presence and enhancing awareness of its product. “Our vision is to ensure our customers can use their data to make smart business decisions while making sure that the data is continuously protected and in compliance,” the company tells me.

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