Category Archives: Tech News

ZenBusiness raises $15m to help founders launch and grow “worry-free”

Posted by on 25 September, 2019

This post was originally published on this site

There are two sides to starting a new business. On one side, entrepreneurs need creativity, imagination — a dream, essentially — to find, build, and market a new product to users and consumers. But on the other side, they have to deal with the regulatory state and all the minutia that comes with running any business in the 21st century.

That includes such delightful topics as choosing a particular model for incorporation, ensuring that a business has the right licenses to operate, and tracking all the legal changes happening in 50 state legislatures every year. It can be inordinately complicated (and expensive!) to ensure that your business is ready and legal.

That’s where ZenBusiness comes in. The Austin-based startup wants to empower entrepreneurs to build businesses large and small by dramatically simplifying the processes required to launch a business and then grow it.

When I last chatted with the company 18 months ago, they had just raised a $4.5 million seed round and had launched its platform. Today, it’s announcing that it has raised a new $15 million series A round led by return backer Greycroft, along with returning investors Lerer Hippeau and Revolution’s Rise of the Rest fund, alongside new investors Rosecliff Venture Partners, Interlock Partners and Recruit Strategic Partners.

The company launched with a product that was essentially an automated registered agent for new entrepreneurs. Under state incorporation laws, companies must designate a so-called “registered agent” to receive official notices from regulatory agencies, and so ZenBusiness chose this strategic point for entry into the market.

When I last chatted with CEO Russ Buhrdorf, he described rolling up this market as one of the key initial targets for the company:

ZenBusiness is the brainchild of Ross Buhrdorf, who joined vacation rental marketplace HomeAway five months after its inception as founding CTO, and stayed for a decade until its acquisition by Expedia in 2015 for $3.9 billion. Buhrdorf intended to take a year off, but “didn’t quite make it a year” he told me.

He explained to me that HomeAway in many ways followed a rollup playbook, “raising $400 million and acquired 26 companies.” Bringing that rollup lens while exploring new spaces, he ran into the corporate legal services market, which offers help to companies to keep them in compliance with the law. Buhrdorf liked what he saw. “It’s different in all 50 states, highly-regulated, which is great for technology, it is overpriced, and they underserve their customers.” He says the space is “completely ripe for disruption.”

Since that time, the company has expanded its product to help entrepreneurs get beyond merely incorporating to actually building out their business by recommending services like banking, lending, tax preparation, website building, and more. The hope is to provide a “worry-free” guarantee to entrepreneurs so that they can get those early critical logistics out of the way and back to actually operating and growing their business.

“Small businesses come through this funnel, they don’t necessarily know exactly what to do. So we curate that solution, and then we provide them with the basics for them to get up and running and to be successful,” Buhrdorf said.

He explained that the company has built out some tools itself such as a simple webpage creator, but in the long run, he hopes to partner with other providers who integrate into the ZenBusiness platform. For instance, ZenBusiness has partnered with Xero as the company’s main accounting provider, while also backstopping that offering with accountants working at ZenBusiness. The idea is that the automated tooling plus a little human touch can help most owners handle the day-to-day challenges of running a business.

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The ZenBusiness team in 2018. Photo via ZenBusiness.

Buhrdorf is particularly focused on keeping the product very self-service and automated to allow it to focus on these smaller customers. “Many of the companies that you cover that are in the enterprise space, who provide solutions for medium-sized businesses, they have to charge, they have to have sales forces, it’s very competitive there,” Buhrdorf said. “What we’re after is the segment that’s underserved, it’s the long tail of the small business segment.”

ZenBusiness has expanded its services, and it is hoping to use the fresh infusion of capital to invest in building out community features that will allow small business owners to swap tips with each other and help one another grow their businesses (presumably with some guidance from ZenBusiness community managers and experts).

The company is now 40 employees predominantly in Austin with a small office in Peru. Since we last checked in, the company has transitioned to become a public benefit corporation, which Buhrdorf said was an attempt to better align the company’s charter with its mission orientation to help small business entrepreneurs.

Update: The funding total was changed from $10m to $15m. Sorry about that.

Alibaba unveils Hanguang 800, an AI inference chip it says significantly increases the speed of machine learning tasks

Posted by on 25 September, 2019

This post was originally published on this site

Alibaba Group introduced its first AI inference chip today, a neural processing unit called Hanguang 800 that it says makes performing machine learning tasks dramatically faster and more energy-efficient. The chip, announced today during Alibaba Cloud’s annual Apsara Computing Conference in Hangzhou, is already being used to power features on Alibaba’s e-commerce sites, including product search and personalized recommendations. It will be made available to Alibaba Cloud customers later.

As an example of what the chip can do, Alibaba said it usually takes Taobao an hour to categorize the one billion product images that are uploaded to the e-commerce platform each day by merchants and prepare them for search and personalized recommendations. Using Hanguang 800, Taobao was able to complete the task in only five minutes.

Alibaba is already using Hanguang 800 in many of its business operations that need machine processing. In addition to product search and recommendations, this includes automatic translation on its e-commerce sites, advertising and intelligence customer services.

Though Alibaba hasn’t revealed when the chip will be available to its cloud customers, the chip may help Chinese companies reduce their dependence on U.S. technology as the trade war makes business partnerships between Chinese and American tech companies more difficult. It can also help Alibaba Cloud grow in markets outside of China. Within China, it is the market leader, but in the Asia-Pacific region, Alibaba Cloud still ranks behind Amazon, Microsoft and Google, according to the Synergy Research Group.

Hanguang 800 was created by T-Head, the unit that leads the development of chips for cloud and edge computing within Alibaba DAMO Academy, the global research and development initiative that Alibaba is investing more than $15 billion in. T-Head developed the chip’s hardware and algorithms designed for business apps, including Alibaba’s retail and logistics apps.

In a statement, Alibaba Group CTO and president of Alibaba Cloud Intelligence Jeff Zhang (pictured above) said “The launch of Hanguang 800 is an important step in our pursuit of next-generation technologies, boosting computing capabilities that will drive both our current and emerging businesses while improving energy-efficiency.”

He added “In the near future, we plan to empower our clients by providing access through our cloud business to the advanced computing that is made possible by the chip, anytime and anywhere.”

T-Head’s other launches included the XuanTie 910 earlier this year, an IoT processor based on RISC-V, the open-source hardware instruction set that began as a project at U.C. Berkeley. XuanTie 910 was created for heavy-duty IoT applications, including edge servers, networking, gateway and autonomous vehicles.

Alibaba DAMO Academy collaborates with universities around the world that have included U.C. Berkeley and Tel Aviv University. Researchers in the program focus on machine learning, network security, visual computing and natural language processing, with the goal of serving two billion customers and creating 100 million jobs by 2035.

Amazon launches Amazon Care, a virtual and in-person healthcare offering for employees

Posted by on 24 September, 2019

This post was originally published on this site

Amazon has gone live with Amazon Care, a new pilot healthcare service offering that is initially available to its employees in and around the Seattle area. The Amazon Care offering includes both virtual and in-person care, with telemedicine via app, chat and remote video, as well as follow-up visits and prescription drug delivery in person directly at an employee’s home or office.

First reported by CNBC, Amazon Care grew out of an initiative announced in 2018 with J.P. Morgan and Berkshire Hathaway to make a big change in how they all collectively handle their employee healthcare needs. The companies announced at the time that they were eager to put together a solution that was “free from profit-making incentives and constraints,” which are of course at the heart of private insurance companies that serve corporate clients currently.

Other large companies, like Apple, offer their own on-premise and remotely accessible healthcare services as part of their employee compensation and benefits packages, so Amazon is hardly unique in seeking to scratch this itch. The difference, however, is that Amazon Care is much more external-facing than those offered by its peers in Silicon Valley, with a brand identity and presentation that strongly suggests the company is thinking about more than its own workforce when it comes to a future potential addressable market for Care.

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The Amazon Care logo.

Care’s website also provides a look at the app that Amazon developed for the telemedicine component, which shows the flow for choosing between text chat and video, as well as a summary of care provided through the service, with invoices, diagnosis and treatment plans all available for patient review.

Amazon lists Care as an option for a “first stop,” with the ability to handle things like colds, infections, minor injuries, preventative consultations, lab work, vaccinations, contraceptives and STI testing and general questions. Basically, it sounds like they cover off a lot of what you’d handle at your general practitioner, before being recommended on for any more specialist or advanced medical treatment or expertise.

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Rendered screenshots of the Amazon Care app for Amazon employees.

Current eligibility is limited to Amazon’s employees, who are enrolled in the company’s health insurance plan, and who are located in the pilot service geographical area. The service is currently available between 8 AM and 9 PM local time from Monday through Friday, and between 8 AM and 6 PM Saturday through Sunday.

Amazon acquired PillPack last year, an online pharmacy startup, for around $753 million, and that appears to be part of their core value proposition with Amazon Care, too, which features couriered prescribed medications and remotely communicated treatment plans.

Amazon may be limiting this pilot to employees at launch, but the highly-publicized nature of their approach, and the amount of product development that clearly went into developing the initial app, user experience and brand all indicate that it has the broader U.S. market in mind as a potential expansion opportunity down the line. Recent reports also suggest that it’s going to make a play in consumer health with new wearable fitness tracking devices, which could very nicely complement insurance and health care services offered at the enterprise and individual level. Perhaps not coincidentally, Walgreens, CVS and McKesson stock were all trading down today.

Meme editor Kapwing grows 10X, raises $11M

Posted by on 24 September, 2019

This post was originally published on this site

Kapwing is a laymen’s Adobe Creative Suite built for what people actually do on the internet: make memes and remix media. Need to resize a video? Add text or subtitles to a video? Trim or crop or loop or frame or rotate or soundtrack or… Then you need Kapwing. The free web and mobile tool is built for everyone, not just designers. No software download or tutorials to slog through. Just efficient creativity.

Kapwing Video Editor

In a year since coming out of stealth with 100,000 users, Kapwing has grown 10X to over 1 million. Now it going pro, building out its $20/month collaboration tools for social media managers and scrappy teams. But it won’t forget its roots with teens, so it’s dropped its pay-$6-to-remove-watermarks tier while keeping its core features free.

Eager to capitalize on the meme and mobile content business, CRV has just led an $11 million Series A round for Kapwing. It’s joined by follow-on cash from Village Global, Sinai, and Shasta Ventures plus new investors Jane VC, Harry Stebbings, Vector, and the Xoogler Syndicate. CRV partners ‘the venture twins’ Justine and Olivia Moore actually met Kapwing co-founder and CEO Julia Enthoven while they all worked at The Stanford Daily newspaper together in 2012.

“As a team, we love memes. We talk about internet fads almost every day at lunch and pay close attention to digital media trends” says Enthoven, who started the company with fellow Googler Eric Lu. “One of our cultural tenets is to respect the importance of design, art, and culture in the world, and another one is to not take ourselves too seriously.” But it is taking on serious clients.

Kapwing Tools

 

As Kapwing’s toolset has grown, it’s seen paying customers coming from Amazon, Sony, Netflix, and Spotify. Now only 13% of what’s made with it are traditional text-plus-media memes. “Kapwing will always be designed for creators first: the students, artists, influencers, entrepreneurs, etc who define and spread culture” says Enthoven. “But we make money from the creative professionals, marketers, media teams, and office workers who need to create content for work.”

That’s why in addition to plenty of templates for employing the latest trending memes, Kapwing now helps Pro subscribers with permanent hosting, saving throughout the creation process, and re-editing after export. Eventually it plans to sell enterprise licenses to let whole companies use Kapwing.

Kapwing Tools 1

Copycats are trying to chip away at its business, but Kapwing will use its new funding to keep up a breakneck pace of development. Pronounced “Ka-Pwing” like a bullet riccochet, it’s trying to stay ahead of Imgflip, ILoveIMG, Imgur’s on-site tool, and more robust apps like Canva.

If you’ve ever been stuck with a landscape video that won’t fit in an Instagram Story, a bunch of clips you want to stitch together, or the need to subtitle something for accessibility, you’ll know the frustration of lacking a purpose-built tool. And if you’re on mobile, there are even few options. Unlike some software suite you have to install on a desktop, Kapwing works right from a browser.

Trending Memes Kapwing

“‘Memes’ is such a broad category of media nowadays. It could refer to a compilation like the political singalong videos, animations like Shooting Star memes, or a change in music like the AOC Dancing memes” Enthoven explains. “Although they used to be edgy, memes have become more mainstream . . . Memes popularized new types of multimedia formats and made raw, authentic footage more acceptable on social media.”

As communication continues to shift from text to visual media, design can’t only be the domain of designers. Kapwing empowers anyone to storytell and entertain, whether out of whimsy or professional necessity. If big-name creative software from Adobe or Apple don’t simplify and offer easy paths through common use cases, they’ll see themselves usurped by the tools of the people.

Windows 10 now runs on over 900M devices

Posted by on 24 September, 2019

This post was originally published on this site

So you thought there were 800 million Windows 10 Devices that will get Microsoft’s most recent out-of-band emergency patch? Think again. As the company announced on Twitter today, Windows 10 now runs on over 900M devices.

That’s a bit of bad timing, but current security issues aside, the momentum for Windows 10 clearly remains steady. Last September, Microsoft said Windows 10 was running on 700 million devices and by March of this year, that number had gone up to 800 million. That number includes standard Windows 10 desktops and laptops, as well as the Xbox and niche devices like the Surface Hub and Microsoft’s HoloLens.

As Yusuf Mehdi, Microsoft’s Corporate Vice President of its ‘Modern Life, Search and Devices’ group, also noted, the company added more Windows 10 devices in the last twelve months than ever before.

Come January 2020, Windows 7 is hitting the end of its (supported) life, which is likely pushing at least some users to move over to a more modern (and supported) operating system.

While those numbers for Windows 10 are clearly ticking up, Microsoft itself famously thought that Windows 10 would get to 1 billion devices by the middle of 2018. At this rate, Windows 10 will likely hit 1 billion sometime in 2020.

Vista Equity Partners buys Acquia for $1B

Posted by on 24 September, 2019

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Vista Equity Partners, which likes to purchase undervalued tech companies and turn them around for a hefty profit, has purchased web content management and digital experience company, Acquia in a deal valued at $1 billion.

Robert F. Smith, who is founder and chairman of Vista Equity Partners, says that increasingly brands understand that delivering a quality digital experience is essential to their success, and he sees Acquia  as well positioned in the market to help deliver that. “Acquia understands this and is leading the way in providing innovative solutions to its customers while, at the same time, giving back to the open source community,” Smith said in a statement.

Company co-founder Dries Buytaert, writing on his personal blog about the deal, reiterated that the company will continue to be a big open source contributor after the deal goes through. “This investment should be great news for the Drupal and Mautic communities as we’ll have the right resources to compete against other solutions, and our deep commitment to Drupal, Mautic and Open Source will be unchanged. In fact, we will continue to increase our current level of investment in Open Source as we grow our business,” he wrote.

Scott Liewehr, principal analyst at Digital Clarity Group, says Vista tends to buy companies and then centralize operations so the companies can concentrate purely on growth. “Vista, as a PE firm, tends to make money on companies by standardizing their operations to cut costs. It runs the portfolio companies more like divisions of a larger company than independent entities,” Liewehr wrote in a Tweet.

Tony Byrne, founder and principal analyst at Real Story Group, a firm that keeps a close eye on the digital experience market, points to Marketo as a prime example of how this works. Vista acquired Marketo in May, 2016 for $1.8 billion in cash. It applied the centralization formula and sold the company to Adobe last year for $4.75 billion, a tidy little profit for holding the company for two years, but he cautions there is no guarantee this is how it will play out.

“For customers it depends on whether Vista is looking for mid-term income or pump-up-and-exit a’ la Marketo. For the former it likely means some cost-cutting and potentially staff changes. For the latter, it means more acquisitions and heavy upselling of new services — likely as precursor to long-awaited IPO,” Byrne told TechCrunch. He added, “Tough to imagine any other software firm wanting to buy Acquia, though it’s always possible.”

It’s worth noting that Ping Identity, another firm Vista purchased in 2016, is set to go public soon, so that pathway to IPO is a direction that Vista has also taken.

Acquia, which is the commercial arm for the open source Drupal project, had raised $173.5 million, according to Crunchbase. The Drupal project was started by Buytaert in his dorm room at the University of Antwerp in 2000. Acquia launched as the project’s commercial arm in 2007.

Fivetran hauls in $44M Series B as data pipeline business booms

Posted by on 24 September, 2019

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Fivetran, a startup that helps companies move data from disparate repositories to data warehouses, announced $44 million Series B financing today, less than a year after collecting a $15 million Series A round.

Andreessen Horowitz (A16Z) led the round with participation from existing investors Matrix Partners and CEAS Investments. As part of the deal, Martin Casado from A16Z will join the Fivetran board. Today’s investment brings the total raised to over $59 million, according to Crunchbase.

Company co-founder and CEO George Fraser said they raised a little sooner than expected, but they needed a cash infusion to keep up with the steady growth they have been seeing. He said the company also wanted to get the funding done while the capital markets were still strong. “If we wait four months or six months, the terms are not going to be that much better — and, who knows, there could be a recession. You never know how long the sun shines, and we had interest from some really good firms that we liked, and that’s a big factor too obviously.” he said.

He added that it’s not purely an economic decision. “We’re really happy with where we landed with Martin [Casado] joining the board and Andreessen Horowitz on the cap table, but [the economic outlook] was definitely part of our calculus.”

And Casado is happy to have invested in Fivetran. Writing in a blog post today about the investment, he sees a company that’s solving a big problem in a modern context. “Fivetran is a SaaS service that connects to the critical data sources in an organization, pulls and processes all the data, and then dumps it into a warehouse (e.g., Snowflake, BigQuery or RedShift) for SQL access and further transformations, if needed. If data is the new oil, then Fivetran is the pipes that get it from the source to the refinery,” he wrote.

He said that the company already has over 750 customers and A16Z is included among them. It certainly doesn’t hurt when your lead investor uses your product.

The company was founded in 2012 and has been growing steadily. Last year it 80 employees at the time of its Series A and today it has 175. Fraser expects that to double again over the next year, and it’s all driven by business needs. He says that over the last 12 months revenue has grown 3x.

With 150 connectors today, the company wants to continue to expand its array of data connection tools and cover more data requirements. But he says the connectors are complicated and that will take an investment in more engineering talent. Today’s announcement should help in that regard.

Fundbox raises $176 million Series C to build ‘Visa’ for B2B payments

Posted by on 24 September, 2019

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Credit cards have become all but ubiquitous for consumer transactions, and it isn’t hard to see why. By intermediating payments, networks like Visa allow buyers and sellers to exchange money for goods and services without knowing the financial risk profile of the counter-party. Rather than applying for credit at every merchant you shop at, you apply once at your issuing institution, and then can transact with every merchant on the network. It’s the simple formula: reducing friction means more sales, and therefore more profits.

Yet for all the innovation in the consumer side of the economy, there has been an astonishingly limited amount of innovation in the B2B world. Payments between businesses are still conducted through invoices, with net payment terms that can exceed 90 days and with little knowledge of the financial risk of the counter-parties. There is no FICO score for business as there is with consumers, nor is there a system that can intermediate those transactions and reduce their friction.

That’s where Fundbox comes in. The SF-headquartered startup wants to ultimately transform B2B payments by creating a Visa-like payments network that allows businesses to transact with each other without having to know counter-party risk while also getting everyone paid faster.

It’s a vision that has pulled in the attention of even more venture capital. The company, which was founded in 2013, announced today that it has raised $176 million in a series C equity financing led by a consortium of funders, including Allianz X, Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan, HarbourVest and a litany of others. Existing backers Khosla, General Catalyst, and Spark Capital Growth also participated. With this new round of capital, the company’s total equity funding reaches upwards of $300 million.

In addition to the equity capital, the company also announced that it has raised a $150 million credit facility to underwrite its product.

Fundbox CEO Eyal Shinar said that a priority in this fundraise was to select backers who not only could invest in equity, but also had large balance sheets who could expand the company’s underwriting capability as it scales.

Today, Fundbox’s core product is a revolving line of credit for small businesses. Cash flow is a huge concern for many companies, since they often have to wait for a payment from an invoice to arrive before investing in their next projects or hiring more employees. A revolving line of credit allows companies to flexibly draw down and pay back a loan, while only paying fees on what a company uses.

To apply for the loan, companies connect Fundbox to their financial data store (for example, QuickBooks), and Fundbox slurps in the data and offers a credit decision in as fast as minutes. Companies can then tap their line of credit almost immediately and use it as working capital. As invoices are paid, companies can then pay off their line of credit and stop paying fees.

From that product base, Shinar ultimately sees Fundbox as a GDP-scale startup, given the value it could potentially unlock for companies and the economy at large. “There are more than $3 trillion locked in those invoices,” he explained to me, “$3.4 trillion flows through consumer credit cards, but $23 trillion are in invoices … and even if you focus on [just] small and medium business, it’s $9 trillion.”

As the company collects data from all the players in the market, it wants to build upon those data network effects to ultimately operate the payment rails for B2B transactions. So instead of offering a line of credit to the seller, it could facilitate both sides of the transaction and get rid of the root complexity in the first place.

It’s a bold vision, and certainly one that has attracted a variety of players. In the startup world, Kabbage (whose co-founder and president Kathryn Petralia I will be interviewing at TechCrunch Disrupt SF next week) has built a business around line of credit lending and has similarly raised large amounts of venture capital.

Larger companies like Square, PayPay, and Intuit (which owns the popular accounting software QuickBooks) have introduced various lending products to B2B customers. And in terms of payments, Stripe through its new credit card and Brex offer the means for companies to empower their employees to make purchases on behalf of the company.

Shinar said that a huge priority for Fundbox has been to make underwriting more efficient. He said that a large percentage of the current employee base at the company is data scientists, and the company has built upon the wave of digitalization that has taken place among small and medium businesses. “Every company has at least one set of APIs … and it is accessible, and it is granular,” Shinar said. By just tapping into those existing data feeds, Fundbox is able to avoid the human underwriting common with much of business lending today.

One initiative the company has undertaken is a tool dubbed “X-Ray” to better describe how the company’s machine learning models are really underwriting its loan products. Shinar noted that payments is a highly-regulated space, and that the company has to be able to explain its decisions and how they are unbiased to any regulator that might start asking questions.

The company today has 240 employees spread across SF, Tel Aviv, and a recently launched office in Dallas. Shinar says that he wants to use the new funds to “go on the offensive” and “double and triple down on what is working.”

Tipalti collects $76M from Twitter alums’ 01 Advisors and more for its AI-based accounts payable solution

Posted by on 24 September, 2019

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Accounting is one of the cornerstones to building a business, but for most companies, getting it right is more of a necessity than it is one of their core competencies. That has created a vacuum, and now, a company called Tipalti — which has developed a popular solution to automate accounting for businesses that are not accounting companies by nature — has raised a significant round of funding to underscore that demand.

Today, the Israeli-Californian startup is announcing that it has picked up $76 million, money it plans to use to continue expanding the functionality of its platform and growing its business.

The funding, a Series D that brings the total raised by Tipalti to $146 million, is interesting in part because of who is providing it. Led by Zeev Ventures, it also includes backing from previous investor Group 11, along with new backers 01 Advisors, Greenspring Associates, and TrueBridge Capital Partners.

In case the name doesn’t ring a bell, 01 Advisors is the new investment firm co-founded Twitter’s former CEO and COO, Dick Costolo and Adam Bain, which started raising money only last month and appears to have disclosed one other investment before this, in the e-sports startup PlayVS.

01 Advisors’ interest in backing Tipalti comes from the fact that Twitter is a longtime customer of Tipalti’s, dating back to when Costolo and Bain were running things. Chen Amit, CEO and Co-founder of Tipalti, told me in an interview that the social media company signed up around the time that it was going public, ramping up its revenue generating functions (mainly advertising), and needed a strong accounts payable solution to pay suppliers and others in its ecosystem that wouldn’t break the bank and would help it track all the taxes and other areas that would now be getting thoroughly audited.

That experience, along with Tipalti’s wider track record among other fast-growing tech businesses whose business models are built on working with large networks of partners — other customers include Uber, Roku, Zumba, GoDaddy, Zola, GoPro, Foursquare, and Vimeo — is what compelled Costolo and co. to invest.

“While at Twitter, we chose Tipalti and they played a pivotal role in enabling us to scale and grow,” he said in a statement. “Tipalti’s platform was crucial In helping us manage payments to thousands of our publishers and partners around the world with ease, while delivering a flawless experience. Investing in Tipalti allows us to help bring the same benefits we experienced as operators to the thousands of companies that need this support.

Tipalti’s emergence and growth comes out of an interesting climate shift in the world of startups. The accounting department is not the first thing people usually think about when they consider an exciting tech startup. Indeed, there’s a longstanding belief among some founders and their investors that certain ideas are too good to adulterate early on with thoughts of generating revenue, especially when the startup is in high-growth mode. However, when the scale does tip over into making money (way earlier for some than others), it becomes a crucial area to get right.

Tipalti sits among a number of other startups that have emerged in recent years to help handle less-sexy, but very essential back office functions, the kind that can cripple or even kill off a business of not handled well. Others in the group include the likes of AppZen, which has built AI-based expense auditing tools that it now wants to expand into other finance team functions; and Gusto, which helps manage payroll and benefits.

There are also a number of companies also looking to build better tools for accounts payable automation, including the likes of AccessPay (which also covers accounts receivable functions), OneSource Virtual, abd MineralTree. All of the big accounting software providers will provide a degree of automation in their products, too, although Tipalti’s Amit believes that these target much larger enterprises. RPA companies that are aiming to automate all back-office functions are also potential (if not existing) competitors, too.

Tipalti’s pitch is primarily to the midmarket, which is partly why it has been a big hit with startups that are growing fast but might not yet be at the point of considering solutions built for much larger companies. The tools are able to read, process, pay, and account for invoices using its automation technology, and the startup measures its effectiveness in terms of how much human work it can take on.

In fact, it describes a slightly frighteningly precise efficiency equivalent: citing research from the Levvel Research Accounts Payable Survey, the average midmarket organization has “an average of 9.8 full-time accounts payable employees.” Tipalti says that its platform can provide 80% of that workload function. (The idea being that the remaining 1.96 of humans (!) left over after Tiptali has done its magic can work on other tasks and longer need to dedicate all of their time to accounts payable procedures.)

It’s not just about reducing human overhead, though.

Amit said that some 30%-40% of its customers are gig economy businesses, with a fair number working across different international markets. That makes for a very messy accounting operation. “When you have payees all over the world, that affects you every month,” he said, adding that regulations are becoming ever more stringent on how businesses account for revenues and pay out to people, with the rise in money laundering and using assets in nefarious ways. “Regulators want more information communicated around payments, or the can be a new embargo on an entity, and so you need to change that, your banking process and who you can work with.”

The big pitch with automating companies may be that they are not aiming to take humans out of work, but to free them up to work on other things that AI cannot replace — not yet, anyway — and as an added benefit, they are helping companies reduce their operational expenses and helping them to run things better. How that will play out in the longer term could indeed be great, or it could see even more people with too much time on their hands. But in the meanwhile, Tiptali has grown by leaps and bounds. The company says it’s now processing more than $8 billion in annual transactions, with its customer and business bookings doubling in the first half of 2019.

Tipalti is not disclosing its valuation with this round, but Amit said on the back of that growth it has tripled since it last raised money.

Chef CEO does an about face, says company will not renew ICE contract

Posted by on 23 September, 2019

This post was originally published on this site

After stating clearly on Friday that he would honor a $95,000 contract with ICE, CEO Barry Crist must have had a change of heart over the weekend. In a blog post, this morning he wrote that the company would not be renewing the contract with ICE after all.

“After deep introspection and dialog within Chef, we will not renew our current contracts with ICE and CBP when they expire over the next year. Chef will fulfill our full obligations under the current contracts,” Crist wrote in the blog post.

He also backed off the seemingly firm position he took on Friday on the matter when he told TechCrunch, “It’s something that we spent a lot of time on, and I want to represent that there are portions of [our company] that do not agree with this, but I as a leader of the company, along with the executive team, made a decision that we would honor the contracts and those relationships that were formed and work with them over time,” he said.

Today, he acknowledged that intense feelings inside the company against the contract led to his decision. The contract began in 2015 under the Obama administration and was aimed at modernizing programming approaches at DHS, but over time as ICE family separation and deportation polices have come under fire, there were calls internally (and later externally) to end the contract. “Policies such as family separation and detention did not yet exist [when we started this contract]. While I and others privately opposed this and various other related policies, we did not take a position despite the recommendation of many of our employees. I apologize for this,” he wrote

Crist also indicated that the company would be donating the revenue from the contracts to organizations that work with people who have been affected by these policies. It’s a similar approach that Salesforce took when 618 of its employees protested a contract the company has with the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP). In response to the protests, Salesforce pledged $1 million to organizations helping affected families.

After a tweet last week exposed the contract, the protests began on social media, and culminated in programmer Seth Vargo removing pieces of open source code from the repository in protest of the contract in response. The company sounded firmly committed to fulfilling this contract in spite of the calls for action internally and externally, and the widespread backlash it was facing both inside and outside the company.

Vargo told TechCrunch in an interview that he saw this issue in moral terms, “Contrary to Chef’s CEO’s publicly posted response, I do think it is the responsibility of businesses to evaluate how and for what purposes their software is being used, and to follow their moral compass,” he said. Apparently Crist has come around to this point of view. Vargo chose not to comment on the latest development.

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