Monthly Archives: January 2020

Chicago’s ActiveCampaign raises $100M for an all-in-one marketing and sales automation platform

Posted by on 28 January, 2020

This post was originally published on this site

Marketing and sales automation — tools that leverage the advances and data of our digital age to better identify and then interact with customers — is big business, with the whole market expected to generate some $6.6 billion in revenues for related companies by 2025.

But “companies” is the operative word here: it’s a very fragmented space, with dozens of hopefuls covering different aspects of marketing and sales, each with its own unique approach. There is an alternative trend, though, and today a customer experience automation company called ActiveCampaign, catering not just to large enterprises but small and medium businesses too, has raised a large round of funding to build out its own one-stop-shop model. It includes the tools to run email and messaging-based marketing campaigns; marketing automation across sites and events; and sales and CRM.

The Chicago-based company is today announcing that it has closed a Series B of $100 million, money that it will use to invest in building out new technology and to expand internationally. The funding is being led by Susquehanna Growth Equity, with PE firm Silversmith Capital Partners also participating.

ActiveCampaign is not your typical startup. It has been around since 2003, and this is only the second time that it has raised money — the first time was in 2016, a modest $20 million round from Silversmith. Fundraising is not the only thing that sets it apart: it’s also profitable and has been for years (one reason it hasn’t raised money), and it’s actually already quite large, with 90,000 customers in 161 countries.

Yet it’s something of a theme in the world of “startups” — meaning tech companies that are still privately owned and raising from VCs and related backers — particularly those that are B2B focused, that some of the more interesting and successfully bootstrapped of them at some point turn to VC and private equity when it comes to needing an extra boost to move beyond what has become its natural growth rate.

In the case of ActiveCampaign, it had a taste of what a little outside investment could do in the last few years: Jason VandeBoom, founder and CEO of ActiveCampaign, said that the company has seen its annual recurring revenues grow 6x since 2016 to $90 million, with employees booming from 65 to more than 550.

The company’s core proposition is that it provides a less fragmented approach to businesses interested in building in some digital marketing or sales tools into their outreach and then considering what to do next.

“What we are up against are a number of companies focused on a single slice of customer experience, either CRM or a customer success platform,” VandeBoom said. “We’re still at this point in the industry where the category is taking shape,” which spells a ripe opportunity for ActiveCampaign.

The need for what ActiveCampaign provides is a basic one: whether you are an online retailer or any business that wants to expand its audience or make sure to stay connected to the one you already have, you need tools to reach users, figure out what they want to see from you, and connect in a relevant way.

VandeBoom added while there are no specific plans for acquisitions that can be discussed now, the funding also gives the company “optionality” in terms of what it might do next.

Part of the company’s approach is to build technology in-house, but in the spirit of all-in-one platforms, its value also lies in how many other things its users can plug into using ActiveCampaign.

The company has some 260 technology partners and a “recipe library” with more than 250 automations already built, or users can build and customise themselves from more than 300 possible apps that can be integrated, including Shopify, Square, Facebook, Eventbrite, and Salesforce.

With this round, Martin Angert, Director at Susquehanna, is joining ActiveCampaign’s board of directors. His existing roles on the boards of Workfront, WhiteSource, XebiaLabs, and Allocadia speaks to interesting potential strategic partnerships for ActiveCampaign.

“ActiveCampaign and the CXA category have grown significantly and our investment in the series B reconfirms Silversmith’s commitment to ActiveCampaign’s future,” said Todd Maclean, Co-Founder & Managing Partner of Silversmith Capital Partners, in a statement.

Posted Under: Tech News
Persona raises $17.5M for an identify verification platform that goes beyond user IDs and passwords

Posted by on 28 January, 2020

This post was originally published on this site

The proliferation of data breaches based on leaked passwords, and the rising tide of regulation that puts a hard stop on just how much user information can be collected, stored and used by companies have laid bare the holes in simple password and memorable-information-based verification systems.

Today a startup called Persona, which has built a platform to make it easier for organisations to implement more watertight methods based on third-party documentation, real-time evaluation, and AI to verify users, is announcing a funding round, speaking to the shift in the market and subsequent demand for new alternatives to the old way of doing things.

The startup has raised $17.5 million in a Series A from a list of impressive investors that include Coatue and First Round Capital, money that it plans to use to double down on its core product: a platform that businesses and organisations can access by way of an API, which lets them use a variety of documents, from government-issued IDs through to biometrics, to verify that customers are who they say they are.

Current customers include Rippling, Petal, UrbanSitter, Branch, Brex, Postmates, Outdoorsy, Rently, SimpleHealth and Hipcamp, among others. Persona’s target user today is any company involved in any kind of online financial transaction to verify for regulatory compliance, fraud prevention and for trust and safety.

The startup is young and is not disclosing valuation. Previously, Persona had raised an undisclosed amount of funding from Kleiner Perkins and FirstRound, according to data from PitchBook. Angels in the company have included Zach Perret and William Hockey (co-founders of Plaid), Dylan Field (founded Figma), Scott Belsky (Behance) and Tony Xu (DoorDash).

Founded by Rick Song and Charles Yeh, respectively former engineers from Square and Dropbox (companies that have had their own concerns with identity verification and breaches), Persona’s main premise is that most companies are not security companies and therefore lack the people, skills, time and money to build strong authentication and verification services — much less to keep up with the latest developments on what is best practice.

And on top of that, there have been too many breaches that have underscored the problem with companies holding too much information on users, collected for identification purposes but then sitting there waiting to be hacked. While a number of services have arisen to help protect identity for repeat users of products — for example Duo and Okta on the enterprise front, or authenticators for online applications as a more secure alternative to two-factor authentication using text messaging — these don’t really fill the use case of verification for the kinds of companies that are typical Persona customers.

The name of the game for Persona is to provide services that are easy to use and as wide as possible in their applicability. For those who can’t or don’t access the code of their apps or websites for registration flows, they can even verify users by way of email-based links.

“Digital identity is one of the most important things to get right, but there is no silver bullet,” Song, who is the CEO, said in an interview. “I believe longer term we’ll see that it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach.” Not least because malicious hackers have an ever-increasing array of tools to get around every system that gets put into place. (The latest is the rise of deep-fakes to mimic people, putting into question how to get around that in, say, a video verification system.)

At Persona, the company currently gives customers the option to ask for social security numbers, biometric verification such as fingerprints or pictures, or government ID uploads and phone lookups, some of which (like biometrics) is built by Persona itself and some of which is accessed via third-party partnerships.

Added to that are other tools like quizzes and video-based interactions. Song said the list is expanding, and the company is looking at ways of using the AI engine that it’s building — which actually performs the matching — to also potentially suggest the best tools for each and every transaction.

It’s notable to me that the platform has been conceived of and built in part by an engineer from a payments company.

API-based platforms taking out some of the extreme complexity of payment systems by doing all the hard work “under the hood” have been a building block of how a lot of financial services get integrated into workflows in cases where the business in question may rely on them but is actually not actually a fintechs (or payment tech provider) in and of themselves. This has been the premise of companies like Stripe, Adyen, CurrencyCloud and even Square to an extent, since its customers are integrating the tool that Square has built for them.

Another key point with Persona is that it provides a way for its customers to access and use information for verification by linking up with other databases, meaning the data is then not kept by the customer itself.

This is a moving target, and one that is becoming increasingly harder to focus on, given not just the rise in malicious hacking, but also regulation that limits how and when data can be accessed and used by online businesses.

Persona notes a McKinsey forecast that the personal identify and verification market will be worth some $20 billion by 2022, which is not a surprising figure when you consider the nearly $9 billion that Google has been fined so far for GDPR violations, or the $700 million Equifax paid out, or the $50 million Yahoo (a sister company now) paid out for its own user-data breach.

Posted Under: Tech News
Pantheon bets on WebOps as it charts a course to an IPO

Posted by on 27 January, 2020

This post was originally published on this site

It has been 10 years since Pantheon launched. At the time, it was mostly a hosting service for Drupal sites, but about six years ago, it added WordPress hosting to its lineup and raised more VC money as some of its competitors did the same. After its 2016 Series C round, things started quieting down, though the company has clear ambitions to become a public company in the next few years. To chat about those plans and the overall state of the business, I sat down with Pantheon co-founder and CEO Zack Rosen and new Pantheon board member Elissa Fink, former CMO of Tableau.

Maybe the biggest change at Pantheon is that when it launched, its team was almost solely focused on the developer experience. And while Pantheon was essentially a hosting service and offers personal plans, its focus was never on individuals who wanted a WordPress blog (which a lot of companies focused on, especially in the pre-Twitter days). Its efforts always revolved around businesses, large enterprises and the agencies that serve them.

“Back then, our overriding focus was really around the developer experience — the practitioner experience — of using our product,” Rosen explained. “And frankly, at the time, we actually really didn’t know what to call it. It really didn’t have a category, but we always felt it was something new.” He noted that over the last few years, Pantheon started talking to a lot of marketers and realized that the needs of these marketing leaders are driving this space.

Posted Under: Tech News
As SaaS stocks set new records, Atlassian’s earnings show there’s still room to grow

Posted by on 24 January, 2020

This post was originally published on this site

Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between.

SaaS stocks had a good run in late 2019. TechCrunch covered their ascent, a recovery from early-year doldrums and a summer slowdown. In 2020 so far, SaaS and cloud stocks have surged to all-time highs. The latest records are only a hair higher than what the same companies saw in July of last year, but they represent a return to form all the same.

Given that public SaaS companies have now managed to crest their prior highs and have been rewarded for doing so with several days of flat trading, you might think that there isn’t much room left for them to rise. Not so, at least according to Atlassian . The well-known software company reported earnings after-hours yesterday and the market quickly pushed its shares up by more than 10%.

Why? It’s worth understanding, because if we know why Atlassian is suddenly worth lots more, we’ll better grok what investors — public and private — are hunting for in SaaS companies and how much more room they may have to rise.

Posted Under: Tech News
Xerox wants to replace HP board that rejected takeover bid

Posted by on 23 January, 2020

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In Xerox’s latest effort to get HP to bend to its will and combine the two companies, it announced its intent today to try to replace the entire HP board of directors at the company’s stockholder’s meeting in April. That would be the same board that unanimously rejected Xerox’s takeover bid.

Xerox and HP have been playing a highly public game of tit for tat in recent months. Xerox wants very much to combine with HP, and offered $34 billion, an offer HP summarily rejected at the end of last year. Xerox threatened to take it to shareholders.

Now it wants to take over the board, announcing today that it had nominated 11 people to replace the current slate of directors.

As you might imagine, HP was none too pleased with this latest move by Xerox. “We believe these nominations are a self-serving tactic by Xerox to advance its proposal, that significantly undervalues HP and creates meaningful risk to the detriment of HP shareholders,” HP fired back in a statement today emailed to TechCrunch.

It went on to blame Xerox shareholder Carl Icahn for the continued pressure. “We believe that Xerox’s proposal and nominations are being driven by Carl Icahn, and his large ownership position in Xerox means that his interests are not aligned with those of other HP shareholders. Due to Mr. Icahn’s ownership position, he would disproportionately benefit from an acquisition of HP by Xerox at a price that undervalues HP,” the company stated.

The two companies exchanged increasingly harsh letters in November as Xerox signaled its intent to take over the much larger HP. HP questioned Xerox’s ability to raise the money, but earlier this month it announced had in fact raised the $24 billion it would need to buy the company. HP was still not convinced.

Today’s exchange is just the latest between the two companies in an increasingly hostile bid by Xerox to combine the two companies.

Posted Under: Tech News
Crisp, the demand forecast platform for the food industry, goes live

Posted by on 23 January, 2020

This post was originally published on this site

The food industry may be the biggest industry in the world, but it’s also one of the least efficient. BCG says 1.6 billions tons of food, worth $1.2 trillion, is wasted in food every year and those numbers are only expected to go up.

A number of players have stepped up to try and solve their own portion of the problem, and one such solution is Crisp. The company, which received $14 million in Series A funding last year led by FirstMark Capital, is today going live with its platform (which has been in beta).

Crisp aims to solve the global food waste problem via demand forecasts. Founder and CEO Are Traasdahl, a serial founder, believes that a lack of communication and data flow between the many players in the supply chain is a main cause for all this waste, a great deal of which happens long before the food reaches the consumer.

Right now, forecasting demand is no where close to a perfect science for many of these players. From food brands to distributors to grocery stores, the problem is usually solved by looking at a spreadsheet from last year’s sales for hours to try to determine the signals that played into this or that SKU’s sales performance.

And then there was Crisp.

Integrated with almost any ERP software a company might have, Crisp ingests historical data from these food brands and combines that data with signals around other demand drivers, such as seasonality, holidays, price sensitivity and other pricing information, marketing campaigns, competitive landscape, weather that might affect the sale or shipment of certain produce or other ingredients.

Using these data points, and historical sales data, Crisp believes it can give a much more accurate picture of demand over the next day, week, month or year.

But Crisp isn’t just for food brands, such as Nounós Creamery, a Crisp customer that says its reduced scrapped inventory by 80 percent since switching to the platform. Crisp serves almost every player in the food supply chain, from retailers to distributors to brands to brokers.

And the more customers it gets, the better it is at predicting demand on a very specific level. For instance, the demand forecasting Crisp offers for a particular grocery store, based on external data, will obviously get much better once that grocery store is a customer on the platform.

Traasdahl was initially concerned that his customers would be reluctant to hand over this type of sensitive sales data, and also that players within the industry might be anxious to hand over such data to a platform that’s aggregating everyone’s data, including their competitors. Turns out, the food industry has more of a “better together” mentality.

“Other industries are not as dependent on each other,” said Traasdahl. “If I am a creamery and need to buy blueberries for my yogurt, I may have five different vendors for those blueberries. And if they don’t get delivered on the right day, Costco will yell at me for being late with the yogurt. Everyone in the supply chain is somewhat dependent on each other.”

For that reason, it’s been easier to attract clients to the platform than expected. The prospect of a collaborative demand forecast platform, that’s pulling signals from across the entire industry, is going to be more accurate than siloed demand forecasts produced by a single vendor or brand.

During the beta program, which launched in October, Crisp brought on more than 30 companies to the platform, including Gilbert’s Craft Sausages, SunFed Perfect Produce, Nounós Creamery, Hofseth, REMA and Superior Farms.

Posted Under: Tech News
In latest JEDI contract drama, AWS files motion to stop work on project

Posted by on 23 January, 2020

This post was originally published on this site

When the Department of Defense finally made a decision in October on the decade long, $10 billion JEDI cloud contract, it seemed that Microsoft had won. But nothing has been simple about this deal from the earliest days, so  it shouldn’t come as a surprise that last night Amazon filed a motion to stop work on the project until the court decides on its protest of the DoD’s decision.

The company announced on November 22nd that it had filed suit in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims protesting the DoD’s decision to select Microsoft. Last night’s motion is an extension of that move to put the project on hold until the court decides on the merits of the case.

“It is common practice to stay contract performance while a protest is pending and it’s important that the numerous evaluation errors and blatant political interference that impacted the JEDI award decision be reviewed. AWS is absolutely committed to supporting the DoD’s modernization efforts and to an expeditious legal process that resolves this matter as quickly as possible,” a spokesperson said in a statement last night.

As we previously reported, the statement echoes sentiments AWS CEO Andy Jassy made at a press event during AWS re:Invent in December:

“I would say is that it’s fairly obvious that we feel pretty strongly that it was not adjudicated fairly,” he said. He added, “I think that we ended up with a situation where there was political interference. When you have a sitting president, who has shared openly his disdain for a company, and the leader of that company, it makes it really difficult for government agencies, including the DoD, to make objective decisions without fear of reprisal.”

This is just the latest turn in a contract procurement process for the ages. It will now be up to the court to decide if the project should stop or not, and beyond that if the decision process was carried out fairly.

Posted Under: Tech News
Proxyclick raises $15M Series B for its visitor management platform

Posted by on 23 January, 2020

This post was originally published on this site

If you’ve ever entered a company’s office as a visitor or contractor, you probably know the routine: check in with a receptionist, figure out who invited you, print out a badge and get on your merry way. Brussels, Belgium- and New York-based Proxyclick aims to streamline this process, while also helping businesses keep their people and assets secure. As the company announced today, it has raised a $15 million Series B round led by Five Elms Capital, together with previous investor Join Capital.

In total, Proxyclick says it’s systems have now been used to register over 30 million visitors in 7,000 locations around the world. In the UK alone, over 1,000 locations use the company’s tools. Current customers include L’Oreal, Vodafone, Revolut, PepsiCo and Airbnb, as well as a number of other Fortune 500 firms.

Gregory Blondeau, founder and CEO of Proxyclick, stresses that the company believes that paper logbooks, which are still in use in many companies, are simply not an acceptable solution anymore, not in the least because that record is often permanent and visible to other visitors.

Proxyclick’s founding team.

“We all agree it is not acceptable to have those paper logbooks at the entrance where everyone can see previous visitors,” he said. “It is also not normal for companies to store visitors’ digital data indefinitely. We already propose automatic data deletion in order to respect visitor privacy. In a few weeks, we’ll enable companies to delete sensitive data such as visitor photos sooner than other data. Security should not be an excuse to exploit or hold visitor data longer than required.”

What also makes Proxyclick stand out from similar solutions is that it integrates with a lot of existing systems for access control (including C-Cure and Lenel systems). With that, users can ensure that a visitor only has access to specific parts of a building, too.

In addition, though, it also supports existing meeting rooms, calendaring and parking systems and integrates with Wi-Fi credentialing tools so your visitors don’t have to keep asking for the password to get online.

Like similar systems, Proxyclick provides businesses with a tablet-based sign-in service that also allows them to get consent and NDA signatures right during the sign-in process. If necessary, the system can also compare the photos it takes to print out badges with those on a government-issued ID to ensure your visitors are who they say they are.

Blondeau noted that the whole industry is changing, too. “Visitor management is becoming mainstream, it is transitioning from a local, office-related subject handled by facility managers to a global, security and privacy driven priority handled by Chief Information Security Officers. Scope, decision drivers and key people involved are not the same as in the early days,” he said.

It’s no surprise then that the company plans to use the new funding to accelerate its roadmap. Specifically, it’s looking to integrate its solution with more third-party systems with a focus on physical security features and facial recognition, as well as additional new enterprise features.

Posted Under: Tech News
Google Cloud gets a Secret Manager

Posted by on 22 January, 2020

This post was originally published on this site

Google Cloud today announced Secret Manager, a new tool that helps its users securely store their API keys, passwords, certificates and other data. With this, Google Cloud is giving its users a single tool to manage this kind of data and a centralized source of truth, something that even sophisticated enterprise organizations often lack.

“Many applications require credentials to connect to a database, API keys to invoke a service, or certificates for authentication,” Google developer advocate Seth Vargo and product manager Matt Driscoll wrote in today’s announcement. “Managing and securing access to these secrets is often complicated by secret sprawl, poor visibility, or lack of integrations.”

With Berglas, Google already offered an open-source command-line tool for managing secrets. Secret Manager and Berglas will play well together and users will be able to move their secrets from the open-source tool into Secret Manager and use Berglas to create and access secrets from the cloud-based tool as well.

With KMS, Google also offers a fully managed key management system (as do Google Cloud’s competitors). The two tools are very much complementary. As Google notes, KMS does not actually store the secrets — it encrypts the secrets you store elsewhere. Secret Manager provides a way to easily store (and manage) these secrets in Google Cloud.

Secret Manager includes the necessary tools for managing secret versions and audit logging, for example. Secrets in Secret Manager are also project-based global resources, the company stresses, while competing tools often manage secrets on a regional basis.

The new tool is now in beta and available to all Google Cloud customers.

Posted Under: Tech News
IBM snaps out of its revenue doldrums, breaking a five-quarter losing streak in Q4

Posted by on 22 January, 2020

This post was originally published on this site

International Business Machines is living a case study of a large, established company vying to transform. Over the last decade, the technology elder has struggled to move into areas like cloud and AI. IBM has leaned on a combination of its own R&D abilities and deep pockets to push into modern markets, but has struggled to turn them into revenue growth.

At one point, Big Blue posted 22 sequential quarters of falling revenue, a mind-boggling testament to how hard it can be to turn around a juggernaut. More recently, IBM shrank for another five consecutive quarters, a streak it broke with yesterday’s news that it had beat analyst expectations. 

The quarter brought modest, but welcome revenue growth. Perhaps more importantly, the company’s top line expansion was co-led by the old IBM mainframe business and its newest champion, Red Hat.

IBM can be happy for the positive financial news, for now at least, but it needs to repeat the result. The challenge it faces moving forward will include finding a way to continue revenue growth while modernizing its product line and ensuring that its huge Red Hat purchase continues to perform.

Posted Under: Tech News
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