Arculus raises €16M to upgrade assembly lines with its ‘modular production platform’


This post is by Steve O'Hear from Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

Arculus, the Ingolstadt, Germany-based startup that has developed a “modular production platform” to bring assembly lines into the 21st century, has raised €16 million in Series A investment.

Leading the round is European venture firm Atomico, with participation from Visionaries Club and previous investor La Famiglia. Arculus says it will use the injection of capital to “strengthen product development, broaden customer base and prepare for a global rollout”.

As part of the investment, Atomico partner Siraj Khaliq is joining the Arculus board. (Khaliq seems to be on a bit of a run at the moment after quietly leading the firm’s investment in quantum computing company PsiQuantum last month.)

Founded in 2016, Arculus already works with some of the leading manufacturing companies across a range of industries. They include Siemens in robotics, heating, ventilation and air conditioning, Viessmann in logistics, and Audi in automotive.

Its self-described mission is to transform the “one-dimensional” assembly line of the 20th century into a more flexible modular production process that is capable of manufacturing today’s most complex products in a much more efficient way.

Instead of a single line with a conveyor belt, a factory powered by Arculus’ hardware and software is made up of modules in which individual tasks are performed and the company’s robots — dubbed “arculees” — move objects between these modules automatically based on which stations are free at that moment. Underlying this system is the assembly priority chart, a tree of interdependencies that connects all the processes needed to complete individual products.

That’s in contrast to more traditional linear manufacturing, which, claims Arculus, hasn’t been able to keep up as demand for customisation increases and “innovation cycles speed up”.

Explains Fabian Rusitschka, co-founder and CEO of Arculus: “Manufacturers can hardly predict what their customers will demand in the future, but they need to invest in production systems designed for specific outputs that will last for years. With Modular Production we can now ensure optimal productivity for our customers, whatever the volume or mix. This technological shift in manufacturing, from linear to bespoke, has been long overdue but for manufacturers looking ahead at the coming decades of shifting consumer buying behaviours it is mission critical to survival”.

To that end, Arculus is making some bold claims, namely that the company’s technology increases worker productivity by 30% and reduces space consumption by 20%. It also reckons it can save its customers up to €155 million per plant every year “at full implementation”.

Siraj Khaliq, Partner at Atomico, says the manufacturing sector “is huge and the inefficiencies are well known”.

“We estimate that the auto industry alone could save nearly $100bn, were all manufacturers to adopt Arculus’s modular production technology,” he tells TechCrunch. “And beyond auto, their technology applies to any linear/assembly line manufacturing process – in time perhaps a tenfold greater market still. We’ve already seen the Covid-19 crisis hugely boost interest in the wave of startups democratizing automation, as companies try to build resilience into their supply chains. If you’re an exec thinking through this kind of thing right now, the way we see it, using Arculus’s technology is just common sense”.

Asked why it is only now that assembly lines can be reinvented, the Atomico VC says a number of building blocks weren’t in place until now. They include cheap, versatile sensors, reliable connectivity, “sufficiently powerful compute resources”, machine vision, and “learning-driven” control systems.

“And even if the tech could have been deployed, the motivation doesn’t come until you buckle under the pressure of increasing product customisation,” he says. “High-speed linear production lines are pretty efficient if you’re only producing one thing, ideally in one colour. But as this has become less and less the case, the industry reacted by incrementally improving, such as adding sub-assemblies that feed into the main line. You can only go so far with that… to be really efficient you’ve got to start fresh and be modular from the ground up. That’s hard”.

Meanwhile, Arculus also counts a number of German entrepreneurs as previous backers. They include Hakan Koc (founder of Auto 1), Johannes Reck (founder of GetYourGuide), Valentin Stalf (founder of N26), as well as the founders of Flixbus.

Verizon wraps up BlueJeans acquisition lickety split


This post is by Ron Miller from Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

When Verizon (which owns this publication) announced it was buying video conferencing company BlueJeans for around $500 million last month, you probably thought it was going take awhile to bake, but the companies announced today that they has closed the deal.

While it’s crystal clear that video conferencing is a hot item during the pandemic, all sides maintained that this deal was about much more than the short-term requirements of COVID-19. In fact, Verizon saw an enterprise-grade video conferencing platform that would fit nicely into its 5G strategy around things like tele-medicine and online learning.

They believe these needs will far outlast the current situation, and BlueJeans puts them in good shape to carry out a longer-term video strategy, especially on the burgeoning 5G platform. As BlueJean’s CEO Quentin Gallivan and co-founders, Krish Ramakrishnan and Alagu Periyannan reiterated in a blog post today announcing the deal has been finalized, they saw a lot of potential for growth inside the Verizon Business family that would have been difficult to achieve as a stand-alone company.

“Today, organizations are relying on connectivity and digital communications now more than ever. As Verizon announced, adding BlueJeans’ trusted, enterprise-grade video conferencing and event platform to the company’s Advanced Communications portfolio is critical to keep businesses, from small organizations to some of the world’s largest multinational brands, operating at the highest level,” the trio wrote.

As Alan Pelz-Sharpe, founder and principal analyst at Deep Analysis told TechCrunch at the time of the acquisition announcement, Verizon got a good deal here.

Verizon is getting one of the only true enterprise-grade online conferencing systems in the market at a pretty low price,” he told TechCrunch. “On one level, all these systems do pretty much the same thing, but BlueJeans has always prided itself on superior sound and audio quality. It is also a system that scales well and can handle large numbers of participants as well, if not better, than its nearest competitors.

BlueJean brings with it 15,000 enterprise customers. It raised $175 million since its founding in 2009.

Venafi acquires Jetpack, the startup behind the cert-manager Kubernetes certificate controller


This post is by Ingrid Lunden from Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

It seems that we are in the middle of a mini acquisition spree for Kubernetes startups, specifically those that can help with Kubernetes security. In the latest development, Venafi, a vendor of certificate and key management for machine-to-machine connections, is acquiring Jetstack, a UK startup that helps enterprises migrate and work within Kubernetes and cloud-based ecosystems, which has also been behind the development of cert-manager, a popular, open source native Kubernetes certificate management controller.

Financial terms of the deal, which is expected to close in June of this year, have not been disclosed, but Jetstack has been working with Venafi to integrate its services and had a strategic investment from Venafi’s Machine Identity Protection Development Fund.

Venafi is part of the so-called “Silicon Slopes” cluster of startups in Utah. It has raised about $190 million from investors that include TCV, Silver Lake and Intel Capital and was last valued at $600 million. That was in 2018, when it raised $100 million, so now it’s likely Venafi is worth more, especially considering its customers, which include the top five U.S. health insurers; the top five U.S. airlines; the top four credit card issuers; three out of the top four accounting and consulting firms; four of the top five U.S., U.K., Australian and South African banks; and four of the top five U.S. retailers.

For the time being, the two organizations will continue to operate separately, and cert-manager — which has hundreds of contributors and millions of downloads — will continue on as before, with a public release of version 1 expected in the June-July timeframe.

The deal underscores not just how Kubernetes-based containers have quickly gained momentum and critical mass in the enterprise IT landscape, in particular around digital transformation; but specifically the need to provide better security services around that at speed and at scale. The deal comes just one day after VMware announced that it was acquiring Octarine, another Kubernetes security startup, to fold into Carbon Black (an acquisition it made last year).

“Nowadays, business success depends on how quickly you can respond to the market,” said Matt Barker, CEO and co-founder of Jetstack. “This reality led us to re-think how software is built and Kubernetes has given us the ideal platform to work from. However, putting speed before security is risky. By joining Venafi, Jetstack will give our customers a chance to build fast while acting securely.”

To be clear, Venafi had been offering Kubernetes integrations prior to this — and Venafi and Jetstack have worked together for two years. But acquiring Jetstack will give it direct, in-house expertise to speed up development and deployment of better tools to meet the challenges of a rapidly expanding landscape of machines and applications, all of which require unique certificates to connect securely.

“In the race to virtualize everything, businesses need faster application innovation and better security; both are mandatory,” said Jeff Hudson, CEO of Venafi, in a statement. “Most people see these requirements as opposing forces, but we don’t. We see a massive opportunity for innovation. This acquisition brings together two leaders who are already working together to accelerate the development process while simultaneously securing applications against attack, and there’s a lot more to do. Our mutual customers are urgently asking for more help to solve this problem because they know that speed wins, as long as you don’t crash.”

The crux of the issue is the sheer volume of machines that are being used in computing environments, thanks to the growth of Kubernetes clusters, cloud instances, microservices and more, with each machine requiring a unique identity to connect, communicate, and execute securely, Venafi notes, with disruptions or misfires in the system leaving holes for security breaches.

Jetstack’s approach to information security came by way of its expertise in Kubernetes, developing cert-mananger specifically so that its developer customers could easily create and maintain certificates for their networks.

“At Jetstack we help customers realize the benefits of Kubernetes and cloud native infrastructure, and we see transformative results to businesses firsthand,” said Matt Bates, CTO and co-founder of Jetstack, in a statement. “We developed cert-manager to make it easy for developers to scale Kubernetes with consistent, secure, and declared-as-code machine identity protection. The project has been a huge hit with the community and has been adopted far beyond our expectations. Our team is thrilled to join Venafi so we can accelerate our plans to bring machine identity protection to the cloud native stack, grow the community and contribute to a wider range of projects across the ecosystem.” Both Bates and Barker will report to Venafi’s Hudson and join the bigger company’s executive team.

Kustomer acquires Reply.ai to enhance chatbots on its CRM platform


This post is by Ingrid Lunden from Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

Last December, when CRM startup Kustomer was announcing its latest round of funding — a $60 million round led by Coatue — its co-founder and CEO Brad Birnbaum said it would use some of the money to build more RPA-style automations into its platform to expand KustomerIQ, its AI-based product that helps understand and respond to customer enquiries to take some of the more repetitive load off of agents. Today, Kustomer is announcing some M&A that will help in that strategy: it is acquiring Reply.ai, a startup originally founded in Madrid that has built a code-free platform for companies to create customised chatbots to handle customer service enquires that use machine learning to, over time, become better at responding to those inbound contacts.

Kustomer, which has raised more than $170 million and is now valued at $710 million (per PitchBook), said it is not disclosing the financial terms of the deal.

Reply.ai — whose customers include Coca Cola, Starbucks, Samsung, and a number of retailers and major ad and marketing agencies working on behalf of clients — had by comparison raised a modest $4 million in funding (with the last round back in 2018). Its list of investors included strategic backers like Aflac and Westfield (the shopping mall giant), as well as Seedcamp, Madrid’s JME Ventures, and Y Combinator, where Reply.ai was a part of its Startup School cohort in 2017.

Birnbaum said that the conversation for acquiring Reply.ai started before the global health pandemic — the two already worked together, as part of Reply.ai’s integrations with a number of CRM platforms. But active discussions, due diligence, and the closing of the deal were all done over Zoom. “We were fortunate that we got to meet before Corona, but for the most part we did this remotely,” he said.

Reply.ai was founded back in 2016 — the year when chatbots suddenly became all the rage — and it managed to make it through that and then the subsequent the trough of disillusionment, when a lot of the early novelty wore off after they were discovered to be not quite as effective as many had hoped or assumed they would be. One of the reasons for Reply.ai’s survival was that it had proven to be a builder of effective applications in one of the only segments of the market became a willing customer and user of chatbots: customer service.

While a large part of the CRM industry — estimated to be worth some $40 billion in 2019 —  is still based around human interactions, there has been a growing push to leverage advances in AI, cloud services, and use of the Internet as a point of interaction to bring more automation into the process, both to help those who are agents deal with more tricky issues, and to help bring overall costs down for those who rely on customer support as part of their service proposition.

That trend, if anything, is only getting a boost right now. In some cases, agents are unable to work because of social distancing rules in cases where customer queries cannot be handled by remote workers. In others, companies are seeing a lot of financial pressure and are looking to reduce expenses. But at the same time, with more people at home and unable to my physical queries to stores and more, the whole medium of customer support is seeing new levels of usage.

Kustomer has been taking on the bigger names in CRM, including Salesforce (where Birnbaum and his cofounder Jeremy Suriel previously worked), Zendesk and Oracle, by providing a platform that makes it easier for human agents to handle inbound “omni-channel” customer requests — another big trend, leveraging the rise of multiple messaging and communications platforms as potential routes to both speaking to customers and seeing them complain for all the world to see. So moving deeper into chatbots and other AI-powered tools is a natural progression.

Birnbaum said that one of its key interests with Reply.ai was its focus on “deflection” — the term for using non-human tools and services to help resolve inbound requests before needing to call in a human agent. Reply.ai’s tools have been shown to help deflect 40% of initial inbound queries, he noted.

“Some companies have been dealing with a significant increase in inbound volume, and it’s been hard to scale their teams of agents, especially when they are remote,” he said. “So those companies are looking for ways to respond more rapidly. So anything they can do to help with that deflection and let their agents be more productive to drive higher levels of satisfaction, anything that can enable self service, is what this is about.”

Other tools in the Reply toolkit, in addition to its chatbot-building platform and deflection capabilities, include agent assistant tools for suggesting relevant answers, as well as suggestions for tagging (for analytics) and re-routing.

“We are excited for Reply to join Kustomer and share its mission to make customer service more efficient, effective and personalized,” said said Omar Pera, one of Reply.ai’s founders, in a statement. “As a long-time partner of Kustomer, we are able to seamlessly integrate our deflection and chatbots technologies into Kustomer’s platform and help brands more cost-effectively increase efficiency. We look forward to working with Brad and the entire team.”

VMware to acquire Kubernetes security startup Octarine and fold it into Carbon Black


This post is by Ron Miller from Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

VMware announced today that it intends to buy early-stage Kubernetes security startup, Octarine and fold it into Carbon Black, a security company it bought last year for $2.1 billion. The company did not reveal the price of today’s acquisition.

According to a blog post announcing the deal from Patrick Morley, general manager and senior vice president at VMware’s Security Business Unit, Octarine should fit in with what Carbon Black calls its “intrinsic security strategy” — that is, protecting content and applications wherever they live. In the case of Octarine, it’s cloud native containers in Kubernetes environments.

“Acquiring Octarine enables us to advance intrinsic security for containers (and Kubernetes environments), by embedding the Octarine technology into the VMware Carbon Black Cloud, and via deep hooks and integrations with the VMware Tanzu platform,” Morley wrote in a blog post.

This also fits in with VMware’s Kubernetes strategy, having purchased Heptio, an early Kuberentes company started by Craig McLuckie and Joe Beda, two folks who helped develop Kubernets while at Google before starting their own company,

We covered Octarine last year when it released a couple of open source tools to help companies define the Kubernetes security parameters. As we quoted head of product Julien Sobrier at the time:

“Kubernetes gives a lot of flexibility and a lot of power to developers. There are over 30 security settings, and understanding how they interact with each other, which settings make security worse, which make it better, and the impact of each selection is not something that’s easy to measure or explain.”

As for the startup, it now gets folded into VMware’s security business. While the CEO tried to put a happy face on the acquisition in a blog post, it seems its days as an independent entity are over. “VMware’s commitment to cloud native computing and intrinsic security, which have been demonstrated by its product announcements and by recent acquisitions, makes it an ideal home for Octarine,” the company CEO Shemer Schwarz wrote in the post.

Octarine was founded in 2017 and has raised $9 million, according to Pitchbook data.

Atlassian acquires Halp to bring Slack integration to the forefront


This post is by Ron Miller from Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

Atlassian announced today that it was acquiring Halp, an early stage startup that enables companies to build integrated help desk ticketing and automated answers inside Slack. The companies did not disclose the purchase price.

It was a big day for Halp, which also announced its second product today called Halp Answers. The new tool will work hand in glove with its previous entry Halp Tickets, which lets Slack users easily create a Help Desk ticket without leaving the tool.

“Halp Answers enables your teams to leverage the knowledge that already exists within your company to automatically answer tickets right in Slack . That knowledge can be pulled in from Slack messages, Confluence articles or any piece of knowledge in your organization,” the company wrote in a blog post announcing the deal.

Note that integration with Confluence, which is an Atlassian tool. The company also sees it integrating with Jira support for other enterprise communications tools down the road. “Existing Halp users can look forward to deeper (and new) integrations with Jira and Confluence. We’re committed to supporting Microsoft Teams customers as well,” Atlassian wrote in a blog post.

Halp is selling early, having just launched last year. The company had raised a $2 million seed round in April 2019 on a 9.5 million post valuation, according to Pitchbook data. The startup sees an opportunity with Atlassian that it apparently didn’t think it could achieve alone.

“We’ll be able to harness the vast resources at Atlassian to continue with our mission to make Halp the best tool for any team collaborating on requests with other teams. Our team will grow and be able to focus on making the core experience of Halp even more powerful. We’ll also develop a deeper integration with the Atlassian suite — improving our existing Jira and Confluence integrations and discovering the possibilities of Halp generating alerts in Opsgenie, cards in Trello, and much more,” the company wrote.

Halp’s founders promise that it won’t be abandoning its existing customers as it joins the larger organization. As a matter of fact, Halp is bringing with them a slew of big-name customers including Adobe, VMware, Github and Slack.

As private investment cools, enterprise startups may try tapping corporate dollars


This post is by Ron Miller from Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

Founders hunting down capital in the middle of this pandemic may feel like they’re on a fool’s errand, but some investors are still offering financing, even if the terms might not be as good as they once were. One avenue that appears to remain open: corporate venture capital.

The corporate route offers its own set of unique challenges, depending on the philosophy of the organization’s investment arm. Some are looking strictly for companies that fit neatly into their platform, while others believe a solid investment is more important than a perfect fit.

Regardless of style, these firms want their investment targets to succeed on their own merits, rather than as part of the organization the funding arm represents. To get the lay of the land, we spoke to a couple of firms that take very different approaches to their investments: Dell Technologies Capital and Salesforce Ventures.

Corporate venture is a different animal

Corporate venture funds aren’t typically as large as private ones, but they have a lot to offer, such as global sales and marketing support and a depth of knowledge that offers direct benefits to a young upstart. This can help founders avoid mistakes, but there is danger in becoming too dependent on the company.

The good news is that these companies are often not leading the round, but are instead providing some cash and guidance, which leaves entrepreneurs to develop and grow on their own. While the pandemic is forcing many changes in approaches to investment, the two corporate venture capital firms we spoke to said they will continue to invest, and their theses remains pretty much the same.

If you have an enterprise focus and you can convince these firms to take a chance, they offer some interesting perks a private firm might not be able to, or at the very least provide a piece of your funding puzzle in these difficult times.

Daily Crunch: Zoom acquires security startup Keybase


This post is by Anthony Ha from Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

Zoom acquires some encryption expertise, Uber makes a big investment in scooters and we review the new 13-inch Macbook Pro.

Here’s your Daily Crunch for May 7, 2020.

1. Zoom acquires Keybase to get end-to-end encryption expertise

Keybase, whose encryption products include secure file sharing and collaboration tools, should give Zoom some security credibility as it goes through pandemic demand growing pains. A number of Zoom security issues have come to light the last couple of months as demand as soared and exposed security weaknesses in the platform.

Under the terms of the deal, Keybase will become a subsidiary of Zoom and co-founder and Max Krohn will lead the Zoom security engineering team, reporting directly to Yuan to help build the security product.

2. Uber leads $170 million Lime investment, offloads Jump to Lime

As part of the deal (which was reported earlier this week but is now official), Lime is also acquiring Uber’s micro-mobility subsidiary Jump. There will be more integrations between Uber and Jump in the future, but both apps will remain active for now.

3. Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch review

With this week’s news, the 13-inch becomes the third and final member of the MacBook family to get the new keyboard. It’s not “Magic” as the name implies (Apple really does love the M-word), but Brian Heater says improvements are immediate and vast.

4. Nintendo sells a lot more Switches, as people stay and home playing Animal Crossing

The company says it has sold 21 million Switch units in the past year, handily beating a 19.5 million forecast. 6.2 million of those systems were the newer, cheaper Switch Lite, which hit the market in September. All of this comes as Nintendo has run up against shortage through a combination of increased popularity and a a global supply chain knocked off balance from COVID-19.

5. How will digital media survive the ad crash?

Bustle Digital Group’s Jason Wagenheim told us that he’s anticipating a 35% decline in ad revenue for this quarter. And where he’d once hoped BDG would reach $120 or $125 million in ad revenue this year, he’s now trying to figure out “what does our company look like at $75 or $90 million?” (Extra Crunch membership required.)

6. Apple awards $10 million to rapidly scale COVID-19 sample collection kit production

Apple has awarded $10 million from its Advanced Manufacturing Fund to COPAN Diagnostics, a company focused on producing sample collection kits for testing COVID-19 to hospitals in the U.S. The money comes from the fund that Apple established to support the development and growth of U.S.-based manufacturing — to date, the fund has been used to support companies tied more directly to Apple’s own supply chain.

7. Sonos debuts new Arc soundbar, next-generation Sonos Sub, and Sonos Five speaker

Sonos has introduced a trio of new hardware today, adding three new smart speakers to its lineup, including the Sonos Arc soundbar that includes Dolby Atmos support, as well as Sonos Five, the next version of its Sonos Play:5 speaker, and a third-generation Sonos Sub.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

Zoom acquires Keybase to get end-to-end encryption expertise


This post is by Ron Miller from Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

Zoom announced this morning that it has acquired Keybase, a startup with encryption expertise. It did not reveal the purchase price.

Keybase, which has been building encryption products for several years including secure file sharing and collaboration tools, should give Zoom some security credibility as it goes through pandemic demand growing pains.

The company has faced a number of security issues in the last couple of months as demand as soared and exposed some security weaknesses in the platform. As the company has moved to address these issues, having a team of encryption experts on staff should help the company build a more secure product.

In a blog post announcing the deal, CEO Eric Yuan said they acquired Keybase to give customers a higher level of security, something that’s increasingly important to enterprise customers as more operations are relying on the platform, working from home during the pandemic.

“This acquisition marks a key step for Zoom as we attempt to accomplish the creation of a truly private video communications platform that can scale to hundreds of millions of participants, while also having the flexibility to support Zoom’s wide variety of uses,” Yuan wrote.

He added that that tools will be available for all paying customers as soon as it is incorporated into the product. “Zoom will offer an end-to-end encrypted meeting mode to all paid accounts. Logged-in users will generate public cryptographic identities that are stored in a repository on Zoom’s network and can be used to establish trust relationships between meeting attendees,” he wrote.

Under the terms of the deal, the Keybase will become a subsidiary of Zoom and co-founder and Max Krohn will lead the Zoom security engineering team, reporting directly to Yuan to help build the security product. The other almost two dozen employees will become Zoom employees. The vast majority are security engineers.

It’s not clear what will happen to Keybase’s products, but the company did say Zoom is working with Keybase to figure that out.

Keybase was founded in 2014 and has raised almost $11 million according to Crunchbase data.

Orca Security raises $20M Series A for its multi-cloud security platform


This post is by Frederic Lardinois from Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

Orca Security, an Israeli cloud security firm that focuses on giving enterprises better visibility into their multi-cloud deployments on AWS, Azure and GCP, today announced that it has raised a $20 million Series A round led by GGV Capital. YL Ventures and Silicon Valley CISO Investments also participated in this round. Together with its seed investment led by YL Ventures, this brings Orca’s total funding to $27 million.

One feature that makes Orca stand out is its ability to quickly provide workload-level visibility with the need for an agent or network scanner. Instead, Orca uses low-level APIs that allow it to gain visibility into what exactly is running in your cloud.

The founders of Orca all have a background as architects and CTOs at other companies, including the likes of Check Point Technologies, as well as the Israeli army’s Unit 8200. As Orca CPO and co-founder Gil Geron told me in a meeting in Tel Aviv earlier this year, the founders were looking for a big enough problem to solve and it quickly became clear that at the core of most security breaches were misconfigurations or the lack of security tools in the right places. “What we deduced is that in too many cases, we have the security tools that can protect us, but we don’t have them in the right place at the right time,” Geron, who previously led a security team at Check Point, said. “And this is because there is this friction between the business’ need to grow and the need to have it secure.”

Orca delivers its solution as a SaaS platform and on top of providing work level visibility into these public clouds, it also offers security tools that can scan for vulnerabilities, malware, misconfigurations, password issues, secret keys in personally identifiable information.

“In a software-driven world that is moving faster than ever before, it’s extremely difficult for security teams to properly discover and protect every cloud asset,” said GGV managing partner Glenn Solomon . “Orca Security’s novel approach provides unparalleled visibility into these assets and brings this power back to the CISO without slowing down engineering.”

Orca Security is barely a year and a half old, but it also counts companies like Flexport, Fiverr, Sisene and Qubole among its customers.

Rapid7 is acquiring DivvyCloud for $145M to beef up cloud security


This post is by Ron Miller from Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

Rapid7 announced today after the closing bell that it will be acquiring DivvyCloud, a cloud security and governance startup, for $145 million in cash and stock.

With Divvy, the company moves more deeply into the cloud, something that Lee Weiner, chief innovation officer, says the company has been working toward, even before the pandemic pushed that agenda.

Like any company looking at expanding its offering, it balanced building versus buying and decided that buying was the better way to go. “DivvyCloud has a fantastic platform that really allows companies the freedom to innovate as they move to the cloud in a way that manages their compliance and security,” Weiner told TechCrunch.

CEO Corey Thomas says it’s not possible to make a deal right now without looking at the economic conditions due to the pandemic, but he says this was a move they felt comfortable making.

“You have to actually think about everything that’s going on in the world. I think we’re in a fortunate position in that we have had the benefit of both growing in the past couple years but also getting the business more efficient,” Thomas said.

He said that this acquisition fits in perfectly with what he’s been hearing from customers about what they need right now. “One area of new projects that is actually going forward is how people are trying to figure out how to digitize their operations in a world where they aren’t sure how soon employees will be able to congregate and work together. And so from that context, focusing on the cloud and supporting our customers’ journey to the cloud has become an even more important priority for the organization,” he said.

Brian Johnson, CEO and co-founder at DivvyCloud, says that is precisely what his company offers, and why it should fit in well with the Rapid7 family. “We help customers achieve rapid innovation in the cloud while ensuring they remain secure, well governed and compliant,” he said. That takes a different playbook than when customers were on prem, particularly requiring automation and real-time remediation.

With DivvyCloud, Rapid 7 is getting a 7-year-old company with 70 employees and 54 customers. It raised $27.5 million on an $80 million post-money valuation, according to PitchBook data. All of the employees will become part of the Rapid7 organization when the deal closes, which is expected to happen some time this quarter.

The companies say that as they come together, they will continue to support existing Divvy customers, while working to integrate it more deeply into the Rapid7 platform.

Spark fast follows with a $25M Series B round into customer success platform Catalyst


This post is by Danny Crichton from Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

The world has been turned upside down the past few weeks, but one lesson of business remains as important as ever: treating your customers well is the best avenue to future business strength, particularly at a moment of extreme stress.

As businesses come to terms with the economic crisis underway, executives are moving resources from customer acquisition to customer retention — and that’s proving very lucrative to startups that service the customer success market.

Case in point: New York City-based Catalyst, which I profiled just last summer following its $15 million Series A led by Accel’s Vas Natarajan, has seen huge revenue growth the past few months. The data-driven customer success platform has seen its revenue grow by 380% since the Series A financing according to CEO Edward Chiu.

Steep revenue growth is (unsurprisingly) attractive to investors, and in a moment of fortuitous timing, the company signed a $25 million Series B term sheet with Spark Capital just as the COVID-19 crisis was getting underway.

Chiu said Catalyst wasn’t seeking the investment, having much of its Accel round still in the bank, but he ultimately decided that having the extra capital in hand through a looming economic recession was the right decision. The capital officially hit the bank account at the end of March, and was led by the firm’s growth investor Will Reed.

While the company didn’t disclose the valuation, a source with knowledge of the matter quoted a valuation of $125 million. That’s a serious valuation for a company that launched just two years ago in April of 2018.

Outside of more funding, the core story of the company’s product remains the same. Catalyst wants to bring together all the data sources and team members who interact with customers — everyone from designers and engineers to customer success managers — into one dashboard to ensure that everyone has accurate and up-to-date access to all the information they need on the health of every customer.

The one airbrush: the company’s previous URL of getcatalyst.io has become catalyst.io, and officially re-launched this morning.

One growth area that the company is exploring outside of the B2B space of its existing customers is in healthcare, where the company has seen some inbound interest. Chiu says that Catalyst is exploring the steps required to reach HIPAA compliance with its platform, and hopes to expand to more sectors over time with the capital from its Series B.

The Catalyst team. Photo via Catalyst.

When we last checked in with the company, Catalyst had 19 employees and was targeting 40 employees by July 2020. Chiu said that Catalyst is already at 35 employees, and will likely hit 60 to 70 employees by the end of the year.

Seed investors take long view on promising enterprise startups


This post is curated by Keith Teare. It was written by Ron Miller. The original is [linked here]

The job of an early-stage startup founder is challenging in good times, never mind a crash like the one we are experiencing today.

While most expect private investing to slow down, it’s clear that some investments are still happening in spite of the pandemic, if the stories we are writing on TechCrunch are any indication.

But the downturn is bound to have an impact on the types of deals that receive funding; any startup that offers a good or service requiring human interaction or installation will face an uphill battle, at least in the short term. That said, enterprise SaaS vendors, especially ones that solve hard problems, help with work-from-home or collaboration, or better yet, help increase efficiency and save money, are still very much in demand.

Nobody can do anything about the CIO who is hunkering down until things improve — but that’s not everyone. Companies might be thinking twice about where they spend money, but some are still helping drive the net-new, post-COVID-19 investments happening from seed to late stage across many sectors.

We looked at data and spoke to a couple of enterprise-focused, NYC-based seed investors to better understand their investing cadence. Nobody painted a rosy picture of today’s climate, but seed investors were never about immediate gratification, especially where enterprise startups are concerned. That means, if a seed-stage investor believes in the founders and their vision and the company can ride out today’s economic upset, there’s still money in the till — at least for now.

Seed investment generally in decline

Factorial raises $16M to take on the HR world with a platform for SMBs


This post is by Ingrid Lunden from Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

A startup that’s hoping to be a contender in the very large and fragmented market of human resources software has captured the eye of a big investor out of the US and become its first investment in Spain.

Barcelona-based Factorial, which is building an all-in-one HR automation platform aimed at small and medium businesses that manages payroll, employee onboarding, time off and other human resource functions, has raised €15 ($16 million) in a Series A round of funding led by CRV, with participation also from existing investors Creandum, Point Nine and K Fund.

The money comes on the heels of Factorial — which has customers in 40 countries — seeing eightfold growth in revenues in 2019, with more than 60,000 customers now using its tools.

Jordi Romero, the CEO who co-founded the company with Pau Ramon (CTO) and Bernat Farrero (head of corporate), said in an interview that the investment will be used both to expand to new markets and add more customers, as well as to double down on tech development to bring on more features. These will include RPA integrations to further automate services, and to move into more back-office product areas such as handling expenses,

Factorial has now raised $18 million and is not disclosing its valuation, he added.

The funding is notable on a couple of levels that speak not just to the wider investing climate but also to the specific area of human resources.

In addition to being CRV’s first deal in Spain, the investment is being made at a time when the whole VC model is under a lot of pressure because of the global coronavirus pandemic — not least in Spain, which has a decent, fledgling technology scene but has been one of the hardest-hit countries in the world when it comes to COVID-19.

“It made the closing of the funding very, very stressful,” Romero said from Barcelona last week (via video conference). “We had a gentleman’s agreement [so to speak] before the virus broke out, but the money was still to be wired. Seeing the world collapse around you, with some accounts closing, and with the bigger business world in a very fragile state, was very nerve wracking.”

Ironically, it’s that fragile state that proved to be a saviour of sorts for Factorial.

“We target HR leaders and they are currently very distracted with furloughs and layoffs right now, so we turned around and focused on how we could provide the best value to them,” Romero said.

The company made its product free to use until lockdowns are eased up, and Factorial has found a new interest from businesses that had never used cloud-based services before but needed to get something quickly up and running to use while working from home. He noted that among new companies signing up to Factorial, most either previously kept all their records in local files or at best a “Dropbox folder, but nothing else.”

The company also put in place more materials and other tools specifically to address the most pressing needs those HR people might have right now, such as guidance on how to implement furloughs and layoffs, best practices for communication policies and more. “We had to get creative,” Romero said.

At $16 million, this is at the larger end of Series A rounds as of January 2020, and while it’s definitely not as big as some of the outsized deals we’ve seen out of the US, it happens to be the biggest funding round so far this year in Spain.

Its rise feels unlikely for another reason, too: it comes at a time when we already have dozens (maybe even hundreds) of human resources software businesses, with many an established name — they include PeopleHR, Workday, Infor, ADP, Zenefits, Gusto, IBM, Oracle, SAP, Rippling, and many others — in a market that analysts project will be worth $38.17 billion by 2027 growing at a CAGR of over 11%.

But as is often the case in tech, status quo breeds disruption, and that’s the case here. Factorial’s approach has been to build HR tools specifically for people who are not HR professionals per se: companies that are small enough not to have specialists, or if they do, they share a lot of the tasks and work with other managers who are not in HR first and foremost.

It’s a formula that Romero said could potentially see the company taking on bigger customers, but for now, investors like it for having built a platform approach for the huge but often under-served SME market.

“Factorial was built for the users, designed for the modern web and workplace,” said Reid Christian, General Partner at CRV, in a statement. “Historically the HR software market has been one of the most lucrative categories for enterprise tech companies, and today, the HR stack looks much different. As we enter the third generation of cloud HR products, with countless point solutions, there’s a strong need for an underlying platform to integrate work across these.”

Medallia acquires voice-to-text specialist Voci Technologies for $59M


This post is by Ingrid Lunden from Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

M&A has largely slowed down in the current market, but there remain pockets of activity when the timing and price are right. Today, Medallia — a customer experience platform that scans online reviews, social media, and other sources to provide better insights into what a company is doing right and wrong and what needs to get addressed — announced that it would acquire Voci Technologies, a speech-to-text startup, for $59 million in cash.

Medallia plans to integrate the startup’s AI technology so that voice-based interactions — for example from calls into call centers — can be part of the data crunched by its analytics platform. Despite the rise of social media, messaging channels, and (currently) a shift for people to do a lot more online, voice still accounts for the majority of customer interactions for a business, so this is an important area for Medallia to tackle.

“Voci transcribes 100% of live and recorded calls into text that can be analyzed quickly to determine customer satisfaction, adding a powerful set of signals to the Medallia Experience Cloud,” said Leslie Stretch, president and CEO of Medallia, in a statement. “At the same time, Voci enables call analysis moments after each interaction has completed, optimizing every aspect of call center operations securely. Especially important as virtual and remote contact center operations take shape.”

While there are a lot of speech-to-text offerings in the market today, the key with Voci is that it is able to discern a number of other details in the call, including emotion, gender, sentiment, and voice biometric identity. It’s also able to filter out personal identifiable information to ensure more privacy around using the data for further analytics.

Voci started life as a spinout from Carnegie Mellon University (its three founders were all PhDs from the school), and it had raised a total of about $18 million from investors that included Grotech Ventures, Harbert Growth Parnters, and the university itself. It was last valued at $28 million in March 2018 (during a Series B raise), meaning that today’s acquisition was slightly more than double that value.

The company seems to have been on an upswing with its business. Voci has to date processed some 2 billion minutes of speech, and in January, the company published some momentum numbers that said bookings had grown some 63% in the last quarter, boosted by contact center customers.

In addition to contact centers, the company catered to companies in finance, healthcare, insurance and others areas of business process outsourcing, although it does not disclose names. As with all companies and organizations that have products that cater to offering services remotely, Voci has seen stronger demand for its business in recent weeks, at a time when many have curtailed physical contact due to COVID-19-related movement restrictions.

“Our whole company is delighted to be joining forces with experience management leader Medallia. We are thrilled that Voci’s powerful speech to text capabilities will become part of Medallia Experience Cloud,” said Mike Coney, CEO of Voci, in a statement. “The consolidation of all contact center signals with video, survey and other critical feedback is a game changer for the industry.”

It’s not clear whether Voci had been trying to raise money in the last few months, or if this was a proactive approach from Medallia. But more generally, M&A has found itself in a particularly key position in the world of tech: startups are finding it more challenging right now to raise money, and one big question has been whether that will lead to more hail-mary-style M&A plays, as one route for promising businesses and technologies to avoid shutting down altogether.

For its part, Medallia, which went public in July 2019 after raising money from the likes of Sequoia, has seen its stock hit like the rest of the market in recent weeks. Its current market cap is at around $2.8 billion, just $400 million more than its last private valuation.

The deal is expected to close in May 2020, Medallia said.

 

Fishtown Analytics raises $12.9M Series A for its open-source analytics engineering tool


This post is by Frederic Lardinois from Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

Philadelphia-based Fishtown Analytics, the company behind the popular open-source data engineering tool dbt, today announced that it has raised a $12.9 million Series A round led by Andreessen Horowitz, with the firm’s general partner Martin Casada joining the company’s board.

“I wrote this blog post in early 2016, essentially saying that analysts needed to work in a fundamentally different way,” Fishtown founder and CEO Tristan Handy told me, when I asked him about how the product came to be. “They needed to work in a way that much more closely mirrored the way the software engineers work and software engineers have been figuring this shit out for years and data analysts are still like sending each other Microsoft Excel docs over email.”

The dbt open-source project forms the basis of this. It allows anyone who can write SQL queries to transform data and then load it into their preferred analytics tools. As such, it sits in-between data warehouses and the tools that load data into them on one end, and specialized analytics tools on the other.

As Casada noted when I talked to him about the investment, data warehouses have now made it affordable for businesses to store all of their data before it is transformed. So what was traditionally “extract, transform, load” (ETL) has now become “extract, load, transform” (ELT). Andreessen Horowitz is already invested in Fivetran, which helps businesses move their data into their warehouses, so it makes sense for the firm to also tackle the other side of this business.

“Dbt is, as far as we can tell, the leading community for transformation and it’s a company we’ve been tracking for at least a year,” Casada said. He also argued that data analysts — unlike data scientists — are not really catered to as a group.

Before this round, Fishtown hadn’t raised a lot of money, even though it has been around for a few years now, except for a small SAFE round from Amplify.

But Handy argued that the company needed this time to prove that it was on to something and build a community. That community now consists of more than 1,700 companies that use the dbt project in some form and over 5,000 people in the dbt Slack community. Fishtown also now has over 250 dbt Cloud customers and the company signed up a number of big enterprise clients earlier this year. With that, the company needed to raise money to expand and also better service its current list of customers.

“We live in Philadelpha. The cost of living is low here and none of us really care to make a quadro-billion dollars, but we do want to answer the question of how do we best serve the community,” Handy said. “And for the first time, in the early part of the year, we were like, holy shit, we can’t keep up with all of the stuff that people need from us.”

The company plans to expand the team from 25 to 50 employees in 2020 and with those, the team plans to improve and expand the product, especially its IDE for data analysts, which Handy admitted could use a bit more polish.

Verizon’s BlueJeans acquisition is about more than the work-from-home trend


This post is by Ron Miller from Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

It would be easy to assume that Verizon’s purchase last week of video-conferencing tool BlueJeans was an opportunistic move to capitalize on the sudden shift to remote work, but the ball began rolling last June and has implications far beyond current work-from-home requirements.

The video-chat darling of the moment is Zoom, but BlueJeans is considered by many to be the enterprise tool of choice. The problem, it seems, is that it had grown as far as it could on its own and went looking for a larger partner to help it reach the next level.

BlueJeans started working with Verizon (which owns this publication) as an authorized reseller before the talks turned toward a deeper relationship that culminated in the acquisition. Assuming the deal passes regulatory scrutiny, Verizon will use its emerging 5G technology to produce much more advanced video-conferencing scenarios.

We spoke to the principals involved in this deal and several industry experts to get a sense of where this could lead. As with any large company buying a startup, outcomes are uncertain; sometimes the acquired company gets lost in the larger corporate bureaucracy, and sometimes additional resources will help grow the company much faster than it could have on its own.

What is BlueJeans?

Verizon is buying b2b videoconferencing firm BlueJeans


This post is by Natasha Lomas from Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

US carrier Verizon* has splashed out to buy veteran b2b videoconferencing platform, BlueJeans Network — shelling out less than $500 million on the acquisition, according to the Wall Street Journal which first reported the news.

A Verizon spokeswoman confirmed to TechCrunch that the price-tag is sub-$500M but did not provide a more exact figure. Videoconferencing platform BlueJeans has raised ~$175M since being founded around a decade ago, per Crunchbase, with US investor NEA leading a Series E round back in 2015.

In a press release announcing the deal, Verizon said it has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire the enterprise-grade videoconferencing and event platform in order to expand its “immersive unified communications portfolio”.

“Customers will benefit from a BlueJeans enterprise-grade video experience on Verizon’s high-performance global networks. In addition, the platform will be deeply integrated into Verizon’s 5G product roadmap, providing secure and real-time engagement solutions for high growth areas such as telemedicine, distance learning and field service work,” it wrote.

“As the way we work continues to change, it is absolutely critical for businesses and public sector customers to have access to a comprehensive suite of offerings that are enterprise ready, secure, frictionless and that integrate with existing tools,” added Tami Erwin, CEO of Verizon Business, in a supporting statement. “Collaboration and communications have become top of the agenda for businesses of all sizes and in all sectors in recent months. We are excited to combine the power of BlueJeans’ video platform with Verizon Business’ connectivity networks, platforms and solutions to meet our customers’ needs.”

The acquisition comes at a time when videoconferencing is seeing a massive uptick in usage as white collar workers around the world log on to meetings from home during the coronavirus pandemic.

Although it’s BlueJeans’ rival, Zoom, that’s been the most high profile name linked to the viral videoconferencing boom in recent weeks. The latter recently revealed that daily meeting participants on its platform jumped from a modest 10M in December to 200M in March.

However such booming growth and consumer usage has brought increased scrutiny for Zoom — leading to a spate of warnings (and even some bans), related to security and privacy concerns. And earlier this month the company said it would freeze product dev to focus on the laundry list of issues that have surfaced as users have piled in and kicked its tires, taking a little of the shine off of surging growth. 

On the sheer usage front BlueJeans is certainly small fish in comparison to Zoom — having remained b2b focused. A BlueJeans spokeswoman told us it has more than $100M ARR and over 15,000 customers at this point. (Some notable users include Facebook and Disney.)

But it’s paying users that are likely of most interest to Verizon, hence talk of telemedicine, distance learning and field service work — areas ripe for coronavirus-accelerated digitization. Carriers generally, meanwhile, haven’t been able to translate increased usage during the pandemic into a revenue growth story — as a result of a combination of fixed costs, debt and market disruption that’s been hitting their shares during the coronavirus crisis, per Reuters. Bolting on more b2b tools looks to be one way of growing network revenues.

“The combination of BlueJeans’ world class enterprise video collaboration platform and trusted brand with Verizon Business’ next generation edge computing innovation will deliver highly differentiated and compelling solutions to our joint customers,” said Quentin Gallivan, BlueJeans CEO, in a statement. “We are very excited about joining the Verizon team and we truly believe the future of business communications starts today!”

Verizon said today that said BlueJeans founders and “key management” will join the company as part of the acquisition, with BlueJeans employees set to become Verizon employees immediately following the close of the deal — which is expected in the second quarter, pending customary closing conditions.

BlueJeans co-founder Krish Ramakrishnan has a history of exits, selling a couple of his previous startups to networking giant Cisco — where he has also worked, in between spinning out his own companies.

*Disclosure: Verizon is also TechCrunch’s parent company

Replace non-stop Zoom with remote office avatars app Pragli


This post is by Josh Constine from Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

Could avatars that show what co-workers are up to save work-from-home teams from constant distraction and loneliness? That’s the idea behind Pragli, the Bitmoji for the enterprise. It’s a virtual office app that makes you actually feel like you’re in the same building.

Pragli uses avatars to signal whether co-workers are at their desk, away, in a meeting, in the zone while listening to Spotify, taking a break at a digital virtual water coooler or done for the day. From there, you’ll know whether to do a quick ad hoc audio call, cooperate via screenshare, schedule a deeper video meeting or a send a chat message they can respond to later. Essentially, it translates the real-word presence cues we use to coordinate collaboration into an online workplace for distributed teams.

“What Slack did for email, we want to do for video conferencing,” Pragli co-founder Doug Safreno tells me. “Traditional video conferencing is exclusive by design, whereas Pragli is inclusive. Just like in an office, you can see who is talking to who.” That means less time wasted planning meetings, interrupting colleagues who are in flow or waiting for critical responses. Pragli offers the focus that makes remote work productive with the togetherness that keeps everyone sane and in sync.

The idea is to solve the top three problems that Pragli’s extensive interviews and a Buffer/AngelList study discovered workers hate:

  1. Communication friction
  2. Loneliness
  3. Lack of boundaries

You never have to worry about whether you’re intruding on someone’s meeting, or if it’d be quicker to hash something out on a call instead of vague text. Avatars give remote workers a sense of identity, while the Pragli water cooler provides a temporary place to socialize rather than an endless Slack flood of GIFs. And because you clock in and out of the Pragli office just like a real one, co-workers understand when you’ll reply quickly versus when you’ll respond tomorrow unless there’s an emergency.

“In Pragli, you log into the office in the morning and there’s a clear sense of when I’m working and when I’m not working. Slack doesn’t give you a strong sense if they’re online or offline,” Safreno explains. “Everyone stays online and feels pressured to respond at any time of day.”

Pragli co-founder Doug Safreno

Safreno and his co-founder Vivek Nair know the feeling first-hand. After both graduating in computer science from Stanford, they built StacksWare to help enterprise software customers avoid overpaying by accurately measuring their usage. But when they sold StacksWare to Avi Networks, they spent two years working remotely for the acquirer. The friction and loneliness quickly crept in.

They’d message someone, not hear back for a while, then go back and forth trying to discuss the problem before eventually scheduling a call. Jumping into synchronous communicating would have been much more efficient. “The loneliness was more subtle, but it built up after the first few weeks,” Safreno recalls. “We simply didn’t socially bond while working remotely as well as in the office. Being lonely was de-motivating, and it negatively affected our productivity.”

The founders interviewed 100 remote engineers, and discovered that outside of scheduled meetings, they only had one audio or video call with co-workers per week. That convinced them to start Pragli a year ago to give work-from-home teams a visual, virtual facsimile of a real office. With no other full-time employees, the founders built and released a beta of Pragli last year. Usage grew 6X in March and is up 20X since January 1.

Today Pragli officially launches, and it’s free until June 1. Then it plans to become freemium, with the full experience reserved for companies that pay per user per month. Pragli is also announcing a small pre-seed round today led by K9 Ventures, inspired by the firm’s delight using the product itself.

To get started with Pragi, teammates download the Pragli desktop app and sign in with Google, Microsoft or GitHub. Users then customize their avatar with a wide range of face, hair, skin and clothing options. It can use your mouse and keyboard interaction to show if you’re at your desk or not, or use your webcam to translate occasional snapshots of your facial expressions to your avatar. You can also connect your Spotify and calendar to show you’re listening to music (and might be concentrating), reveal or hide details of your meeting and decide whether people can ask to interrupt you or that you’re totally unavailable.

From there, you can by audio, video or text communicate with any of your available co-workers. Guests can join conversations via the web and mobile too, though the team is working on a full-fledged app for phones and tablets. Tap on someone and you can instantly talk to them, though their mic stays muted until they respond. Alternatively, you can jump into Slack-esque channels for discussing specific topics or holding recurring meetings. And if you need some down time, you can hang out in the water cooler or trivia game channel, or set a manual “away” message.

Pragli has put a remarkable amount of consideration into how the little office social cues about when to interrupt someone translate online, like if someone’s wearing headphones, in a deep convo already or if they’re chilling in the microkitchen. It’s leagues better than having no idea what someone’s doing on the other side of Slack or what’s going on in a Zoom call. It’s a true virtual office without the clunky VR headset.

“Nothing we’ve tried has delivered the natural, water-cooler-style conversations that we get from Pragli,” says Storj Labs VP of engineering JT Olio. “The ability to switch between ‘rooms’ with screen sharing, video and voice in one app is great. It has really helped us improve transparency across teams. Plus, the avatars are quite charming as well.”

With Microsoft’s lack of social experience, Zoom consumed with its scaling challenges and Slack doubling down on text as it prioritizes Zoom integration over its own visual communication features, there’s plenty of room for Pragli to flourish. Meanwhile, COVID-19 quarantines are turning the whole world toward remote work, and it’s likely to stick afterwards as companies de-emphasize office space and hire more abroad.

The biggest challenge will be making comprehensible enough to onboard whole teams such a broad product encompassing every communication medium and tons of new behaviors. How do you build a product that doesn’t feel distracting like Slack but where people can still have the spontaneous conversations that are so important to companies innovating?,” Safreno asks. The Pragli founders are also debating how to encompass mobile without making people feel like the office stalks them after hours.

“Long-term, [Pragli] should be better than being in the office because you don’t actually have to walk around looking for [co-workers], and you get to decide how you’re presented,” Safreno concludes. “We won’t quit, because we want to work remotely for the rest of our lives.”

German security firm Avira has been acquired by Investcorp at a $180M valuation


This post is by Ingrid Lunden from Fundings & Exits – TechCrunch

Mergers and acquisitions largely grinded to a halt at the end of March, in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic spreading around the world, but today comes news of a deal out of Europe that underscores where pockets of activity are still happening. Avira, a cybersecurity company based out of Germany that provides antivirus, identity management and other tools both to consumers and as a white-label offering from a number of big tech brands, has been snapped up by Investcorp Technology Partners, the PE division of Investcorp Bank. Investcorp’s plan is to help Avira make acquisitions in a wider security consolidation play.

The financial terms of the acquisition are not being disclosed in the companies’ joint announcement, but the CEO of Avira, Travis Witteveen, and ITP’s MD, Gilbert Kamieniecky, both said it gives Avira a total valuation of $180 million. The deal will involve ITP taking a majority ownership in the company, with Avira founder Tjark Auerbach retaining a “significant” stake of the company in the deal, Kamieniecky added.

Avira is not a tech startup, or not in the typical sense. It was founded in 1986, and has been bootstrapped, in that it seems never to have taken any outside investment as it has grown. Witteveen said that it has “tens of millions” of users today of its own-branded products — its anti-virus software has been resold by the likes of Facebook (as part of its now-dormant antivirus marketplace) — and many more via the white-label deals it makes with big names. Strategic partners today include NTT, Deutsche Telekom, IBM, Canonical, and more.

He said that the company has had many strategic approaches for acquisition from the ranks of tech companies, and also from more typical investors, but these were not routes that it has wanted to follow, since it wanted to grow as its own business, and needed more of a financial injection to do that than what it could get from more standard VC deals.

“We wanted a partnership where someone could step in and support our organic growth, and the inorganic [acquisition] opportunity,” he said.

The plan will be to make more acquisitions to expand Avira’s footprint, both in terms of products and especially to grow its geographic footprint: today the company is active in Asia, Europe and to a lesser extent in the US, while Investcorp has a business that also extends deep into the Middle East.

Cybersecurity, meanwhile, may never go out of style as an investment and growth opportunity in tech. Not only have cyber threats become more sophisticated and ubiquitous and targeted at individual consumers and businesses over the last several years, but our increasing reliance on technology and internet-connected systems will increase the demand and need to keep these safe from malicious attacks.

That has become no more apparent than in recent weeks, when much of the world’s population has been confined to shelter in place. People have in turn spent unprecedented amounts of time online using their phones, computers and other devices to read news, communicate with their families and friends, entertain themselves, and do critical work that they may have in part done in the past offline.

“In the current market you can imagine a lot are concerned about the uncertainties of the technology landscape, but this is one that continues to thrive,” said Kamieniecky. “In security we have seen companies develop quite rapidly and quickly, and here we have an opportunity to do that.”

Avira has been somewhat of a consolidator up to now, buying companies like SocialShield (which provided online security specifically for younger and social media users), while ITP, with Investcorp having some $34 billion under management, has made many acquisitions (and divestments) over the years, with some of the tech deals including Ubisense, Zeta Interactive and Dialogic.