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SaaS growth appears to slow as churn concerns rise

2020, April 2 - 10:54pm

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

Yesterday we explored what the SaaS world thinks about churn. A cohort of SaaS executives surveyed by Gainsight are expecting medium-bad churn (our take on their reported forecasts); select software companies will see booming demand; and the impact of churn won’t be felt evenly around the world, leaving some markets stronger than others, offering SaaS startups and their public brethren a chance to grow.

What mattered (read the piece if you have time) is that there is a general expectation that churn will rise as the world’s economy slips in the face of a historic pandemic and its constituent city- and country-wide shutterings. In time, we should see the impact of rising churn in public earnings reports, lower startup valuations, slower growth curves, and changing go-to-market motions.

But, something that we can see today is a falling growth rate among SaaS companies focused on both other businesses and consumers. This is thanks to new data from ProfitWell, a Boston-based software company that helps other firms track their subscription businesses and work to reduce churn. A set of charts provided to TechCrunch detail how the growth rate of SaaS companies, in both B2B and B2C, are falling. Add in a rising churn expectation for the modern software industry, and the market could be in for SaaS’s first patch of hard times in recent memory.

Growth

According to ProfitWell CEO and co-founder Patrick Campbell, the following data is predicated on “just under 20,000 subscription [and] SaaS companies” that range “from small startups to Fortune 50 companies.”

Given that we tend to focus a bit more on the B2B world, we’ll start there. The following chart tracks growth amongst business-focused SaaS startups that ProfitWell has data on. Try to spot where the trendlines change, and then check the data associated with the turn:

Categories: Business News

How 6 top VCs are adapting to the new uncertainty

2020, April 2 - 10:16pm

As the global economy grinds to a halt, every business sector has been impacted, including the linked worlds of startups and venture capital.

But how much has really changed? If you read VC Twitter, you might think that nothing has changed at all. It’s not hard to find investors who say they are still cutting checks and doing deals. But as Q1 venture data trickles in, it appears that a slowdown in VC activity is gradually forming, something that founders have anecdotally shared with TechCrunch.

To get a better handle on how venture capitalists are approaching today’s market, TechCrunch corresponded with a number of active investors to learn how their investment selection process might be changing in light of COVID-19 and its related disruptions. We wanted to know how their investing cadence in Q1 2020 compared to the final quarter of 2019 and the prior-year period. We also asked if their focus had changed, how valuations have shifted and what their take on the LP market is today.

We heard back from Duncan Turner of SOSV, Alex Doll of TenEleven Ventures, Alex Niehenke of Scale Venture Partners, Paul Murphy of Northzone, Sean Park of Anthemis and John Vrionis of Unusual Ventures.

We’ll start with the key themes from their answers and then share each set of responses in detail.

Three key themes for raising in 2020

The VCs who responded haven’t slowed their investing pace — yet.

There’s likely some selection bias at work, but the venture capitalists who were willing to answer our questions were quick to note that they wrote a similar number of checks in Q1 2020 as in both Q4 2019 (the sequentially preceding quarter) and Q1 2019 (the year-ago quarter). Some were even willing to share numbers.

Categories: Business News

CIOs are dead tired of dumb tech. Pulse has $6.5M to help them help each other

2020, April 2 - 10:00pm

The technology that runs our companies these days is staggering in its complexity. We have moved from a monolith to a microservices world, from boxes to SaaS, and while that has added agility to the enterprise, it has come at the cost of a metric f-ton of services and software platforms required by every team in the building.

CIOs need a place to commiserate and get better recommendations on what tech works well and what should be placed in the proverbial recycle bin. Meanwhile, salespeople and investors want to hear these decision-makers’ views on emerging products to identify rich veins to invest in.

At the core of Pulse is a community of vetted CIOs and other tech procurers, currently numbering more than 15,000. On top of this core group of users, Pulse has built a series of products to help exploit their collective wisdom, including several new products the company is announcing today.

In addition to new product launches, the company is announcing a $6.5 million Series A round from AV8 Ventures, which is exclusively backed by mega-insurer Allianz Group and launched last year with a debut $170 million fund. This round closed in December according to the company and brings the startup’s total funding to $10.5 million.

AV8 Ventures launches with $170M to invest in digital health, mobility and enterprise tech

Pulse’s existing product offerings assist product marketers and investment researchers who want to get a “pulse” on the marketplace for tech products by polling CIOs and testing out language around new features and initiatives.

“As an example, Microsoft will come to us and say, ‘Hey, we want to test our messaging and positioning before we sort of blow it up as a campaign. We’d like to do that very quickly through your community.’ And then we facilitate that through a series of questions through surveys and get back the insights to them very quickly,” co-founder and CEO Mayank Mehta explained.

“We think about this as truly becoming a Bloomberg terminal for marketers and investors,” he said. Researchers “can use this as a great way to get a real-time pulse on their buyers and understand how the market is moving, so they can make appropriate investments and ship strategies in real time.”

He said that the company worked with 50 customers last year and delivered some 150 reports. As for the CIOs themselves, “The community is open so long as you are a director level or above,” Mehta said.

In addition to this product for investors and market researchers, the company is also announcing the launch of Product IQ today, which takes the needs of a particular CIO user into account to offer them “personalized” product recommendations for their companies. Those recommendations are surfaced from the continuous data that CIOs are adding into the system through polls and opinion surveys.

“We’re trying to imagine and rethink how decision-making is done for technology executives, especially in a world like this where teams are changing so dramatically,” Mehta said.

Crowdsourced research platforms in the tech industry have become a popular area for VC investment in recent years. StackShare, which raised $5.2 million from e.Ventures, has focused on helping engineers learn from other engineers about the tech they have chosen for their infrastructure. Meanwhile, startups like Wonder and NewtonX, which raised $12 million from Two Sigma Ventures, have focused less on technical solutions and instead answer business questions such as market sizing or competitive landscape.

Pulse was founded in 2017 and is based in San Francisco, and previously raised a seed from True Ventures, according to Crunchbase.

Categories: Business News

Collibra nabs another $112.5M at a $2.3B valuation for its big data management platform

2020, April 2 - 9:00pm

GDPR and other data protection and privacy regulations — as well as a significant (and growing) number of data breaches and exposées of companies’ privacy policies — have put a spotlight on not just the vast troves of data that businesses and other organizations hold on us, but also how they handle it. Today, one of the companies helping them cope with that data in a better and legal way is announcing a huge round of funding to continue that work. Collibra, which provides tools to manage, warehouse, store and analyse data troves, is today announcing that it has raised $112.5 million in funding, at a post-money valuation of $2.3 billion.

The funding — a Series F, from the looks of it — represents a big bump for the startup, which last year raised $100 million at a valuation of just over $1 billion. This latest round was co-led by ICONIQ Capital, Index Ventures, and Durable Capital Partners LIP, with previous investors CapitalG (Google’s growth fund), Battery Ventures, and Dawn Capital also participating.

Collibra was originally a spin-out from Vrije Universiteit in Brussels, Belgium, and today it works with some 450 enterprises and other large organizations. Customers include Adobe, Verizon (which owns TechCrunch), insurers AXA, and a number of healthcare providers. Its products cover a range of services focused around company data, including tools to help customers comply with local data protection policies and store it securely, and tools (and plug-ins) to run analytics and more.

These are all features and products that have long had a place in enterprise big data IT, but they have become increasingly more used and in-demand both as data policies have expanded, as security has become more of an issue, and as the prospects of what can be discovered through big data analytics have become more advanced.

With that growth, many companies have realised that they are not in a position to use and store their data in the best possible way, and that is where companies like Collibra step in.

“Most large organizations are in data chaos,” Felix Van de Maele, co-founder and CEO, previously told us. “We help them understand what data they have, where they store it and [understand] whether they are allowed to use it.”

As you would expect with a big IT trend, Collibra is not the only company chasing this opportunity. Competitors include Informatica, IBM, Talend, and Egnyte, among a number of others, but the market position of Collibra, and its advanced technology, is what has continued to impress investors.

“Durable Capital Partners invests in innovative companies that have significant potential to shape growing industries and build larger companies,” said Henry Ellenbogen, founder and chief investment officer for Durable Capital Partners LP, in a statement (Ellenbogen is formerly an investment manager a T. Rowe Price, and this is his first investment in Collibra under Durable). “We believe Collibra is a leader in the Data Intelligence category, a space that could have a tremendous impact on global business operations and a space that we expect will continue to grow as data becomes an increasingly critical asset.”

“We have a high degree of conviction in Collibra and the importance of the company’s mission to help organizations benefit from their data,” added Matt Jacobson, general partner at ICONIQ Capital and Collibra board member, in his own statement. “There is an increasing urgency for enterprises to harness their data for strategic business decisions. Collibra empowers organizations to use their data to make critical business decisions, especially in uncertain business environments.”

Categories: Business News

Scoutbee launches free tool to help organisations search for COVID-19 support-related supplies

2020, April 2 - 8:22pm

Scoutbee, the supplier discovery platform, has rolled out a new free tool for organisations helping to fight the coronavirus pandemic and who are in need of critical supplies.

Targeting NGOs, public bodies, local and national governments and healthcare providers, the platform does real-time analysis of terabytes of global supply chain data to significantly speed up the “request for proposal” (RFP) process.

The idea is to help organizations find suppliers 75% faster for critically needed medical equipment and supplies, such as surgical masks, hazmat suits, swabs and tubes, hand sanitizers etc.

Scoutbee is able to do this because it has essentially mapped out the world’s global manufacturing supply chain, and claims that its AI-powered procurement solution understands capacity as it expands and contracts across different geographical locations and for different kinds of products.

“When coronavirus began to cause pharma and medical supply shortages, we knew we should help,” says Gregor Stűhler, co-founder and managing director of Scoutbee, revealing that the team were able to build a simple tool in only 48 hours.

“The problem many NGOs face right now is that the peak demand is concentrated on a handful of suppliers that can be found on Google. We work to spread the demand broadly to help ease the situation. AI can really help in such a crisis. Traditional procurement methods are not transparent and awfully slow. The search and validation for a supplier would often take two or three weeks. The COVID-19 crisis makes it clear how vulnerable the old system is when time is pressing”.

Since rolling out the tool, Stűhler says Scoutbee has already seen the impact it is having by enabling users to target the right suppliers at speed.

“For example, in a number of latest sourcing cases we can see that Chinese suppliers are now having capacity again and can readily deliver. On the same cases, we observe that more Indian suppliers are becoming unavailable. During the crisis, we have been able to facilitate the demand for several thousand breathing masks, protective suits and gloves, which were requested from us, within 48 hours”.

Categories: Business News

Ikea acquires AI imaging startup Geomagical Labs to supercharge room visualisations

2020, April 2 - 7:43pm

Ikea, the Swedish home furnishings and decor giant, has been one of the leaders among retailers when it comes to adapting to tech innovations that impact its business, being one of the first to launch augmented reality applications, partnering with others to develop smart home devices and launching a business unit to build that out further, investing in relevant startups, and even picking up of logistics startups to expand its reach. Today, it’s taking another step in that trajectory with a tech acquisition: the company has acquired Geomagical Labs, an AI imaging startup based out of Mountain View.

Geomagical Labs has not had a lot of fanfare, but quietly it’s been developing a number of computer vision-based technologies. Its first product — which allows a user to quickly scan a room using any smartphone, render that into a panoramic 3D picture in a few minutes, remove all the furniture in it, and then, in the words of Geomagical’s founder and CEO Brian Totty, “play dress up” by adding in new items to scale — will be implemented by Ikea into its website and apps to let people start to create more accurate visualisations of their spaces, and how they would look with Ikea pieces in them.

To be clear, Ikea already had developed an AR-based visualisation tool, as one of the first to use Apple’s AR developer kit a few years ago, but this represents a far more accurate and useful development on that, besides also giving Ikea the tools to build more features and tools in the future in house.

(That is the kind of technology that is always useful, but perhaps especially right now, when physical stores are being shut down in many countries around the world to stave off spread of the coronavirus.)

“We’re excited because the user can really play around with this and see how something would fit immediately,” said Barbara Martin Coppola, Chief Digital Officer, Ikea Retail, in an interview. She added that Ikea decided to acquire the startup rather than just partner with it for “a lot of different reasons, with the first being that the tech is exceptional and groundbreaking.” The app and online experience that Ikea is developing will be free to use, and for now, there are no plans to offer the tech as a service to other retailers, a la an AWS model, she added.

Terms of the deal — which technically is being made between Geomagical and the Ingka Group, the company that owns Ikea — are not being disclosed, the companies said. But Totty — a serial entrepreneur who was an early Groupon exec (by way of acquisition of a previous startup) as well as one of the founding employees of Inktomi (remember them?) — said that the startup and investors were “very happy” with the terms.

Those investors and how much it had previously raised is also not fully disclosed but they included Totty himself, Andrew Mason (Groupon’s cofounder and former CEO) and a number of other individuals.

From what we understand, the startup had been talking to a number of other interested parties, including other retailers and a couple of large tech companies. (For some more context, computer vision has been a very hot area for acquisition, both to pick up products and talent, and Apple and Google are among those that have been aggressively acquiring in this area in recent times to expand their own platforms.)

The reason why Geomagical Labs went with Ikea versus a tech exit, Totty said, was because the company was keen to make sure that its technology saw the light of day — rather than potentially get subsumed into a bigger tech machine that might or might not use it, or instead choose to redeploy the team (which includes six PhDs, including Totty himself) on something completely different, experience Totty would know given his track record.

“There has been so much progress in cell phones and AI, finally giving us this dream of waving your camera in front of you and to do cool things,” he said. He described going to Ikea as “a great bird in the hand” play.

“You plan all your options and you could decide to wait, but you don’t always have the ability to get partnerships of this kind. The question for us was, do we raise another round of funding, or do a 50 or larger percent acquisition? I don’t really want to talk about scenario planning but I believe what we’ve built is broadly valuable to all of the industry right now. And the challenge of a general purpose tech with a special product is that your domain of applicability is lower. We didn’t want to be talented people with a little technology but a game changer.”

Before Ikea, Coppola spent her entire career working for big tech companies, including many years at Google, as well as Samsung and others, and she sees this acquisition as an essential move in focusing the retailer even more squarely on its technology opportunity, by not just adopting new innovations but by owning the IP and building the technology itself.

“Ikea has spent more than $200 million investing in or acquiring 23 companies to date,” she said. “both to make a positive contribution to the sector and fulfil Ikea’s vision. This will continue to be the case. Acquisitions and investments will not stop and will increase,” she added.

Categories: Business News

Encore’s musical messages let you commission a video performance to send to loved ones

2020, April 2 - 5:00pm

Encore, the U.K. marketplace that lets you find and book a musician or band online for your event, is launching a new online product to help musicians find an additional revenue stream during the coronavirus pandemic, and bring a little joy to all of us.

Dubbed musical messages, the new offering lets you pay one of Encore’s musicians to create and send a personalised musical message to loved ones, or anyone you cannot be with in-person, whilst also supporting the U.K.’s national health service (NHS). That’s because, for every message commissioned, Encore is making a donation of £2.50 to the NHS.

At launch, videos cost from £15 and customers have the opportunity to support musicians further by adding a tip once they receive the video. Encore co-founder James McAulay tells me during the MVP tests carried out over the last week, some customers have tipped up to £50 per video, in a spirit of wanting to keep musicians in work.

“Coronavirus has caused thousands of events to be cancelled or postponed around the U.K., [and] musicians all over the U.K. are now stuck at home unable to earn money from performing,” McAulay explains. “In March alone, the Encore team had to process almost 500 gig cancellations, so we began brainstorming ways to help these musicians make money from home”.

He said the most obvious route to income for a musician right now is asking for donations on livestreams, “but we heard from our musicians that they’ve seen mixed results from this approach”. That’s likely because the internet is now awash with live streaming, and supply is perhaps outpacing demand.

“We wanted to go beyond this and develop a compelling product that didn’t rely on asking for donations,” says McAulay. “We also wanted to find a way to spread messages of love and hope throughout one of the darkest periods any of us have lived through, which led us to the idea of personalised music messages”.

In testing, Encore has already had almost 100 videos requested and filmed since last week, generating nearly £1,000 for a handful of musicians and donating hundreds of pounds to the NHS. But (hopefully) it’s just the start.

“The reactions from both the senders and recipients have been extremely heartwarming and musicians are having fun with it!” adds the Encore co-founder. “This is also reflected in the success of the tipping mechanism, with people sometimes tipping more than the original video amount”.

Meanwhile, examples of musical messages sent so far include birthday messages when people can’t celebrate in person, wedding anniversaries, messages to people in hospital or isolation, or something as simple as “We love you and miss you” requests.

“We’ve worked with 10 musicians over the last week to build the beta, and we’re about to release to all 20,000 musicians this week,” says McAulay.

Categories: Business News

Money transfer service Azimo partners with Siam Commercial Bank for faster payments to Thailand

2020, April 2 - 4:58pm

Azimo, the London-headquartered international money transfer service, has partnered with Thailand’s Siam Commercial Bank (SCB) to deliver instant payments for its customers from Europe to SCB bank accounts in Thailand.

According to the World Bank, Thailand is one of the top remittance destinations globally, with $6.7 billion received from abroad each year, and Azimo says it remains one of the most expensive countries to send and receive money. That’s something the U.K. fintech wants to help change as it continues to expand to Asia as a key corridor.

Specifically, the SCB tie-in takes advantage of “PromptPay,” which comprises a real-time clearing and settlement infrastructure to enable instant transfers to Thai bank accounts. For reference, it is similar to the U.K.’s Faster Payments.

“More and more countries are going to instant payment,” Azimo co-founder and executive chairman Michael Kent tells me over WhatsApp. “Thailand recently launched theirs, and this partnership with the largest bank in the country allows us to get the time to settle payments down from around 24 hours to an average of 22 seconds. [It’s] faster to send money to Thailand than to someone else in U.K.”.

In addition, the new service uses RippleNet, the global payment network that harnesses blockchain to let users track funds, delivery time, and status.

“[RippleNet] provides a standardised protocol for the messaging that is much more accurate and hi-fidelity than what people have tended to use, which is SWIFT. It means we could do the integration faster and have more confidence that it’s enterprise grade from the time we go live,” says Kent.

Adds Arthit Sriumporn, Senior Vice President of Wholesale Banking Platform Department at SCB: “We are very pleased to partner with Azimo and expand our reach across Europe. With the service available 24×7 and instant payment to any Thai bank account within minutes, Azimo customers are able to send money to their loved ones back in Thailand fast, cheaply and with certainty. We are very excited about this launch and being part of helping to make people’s lives better”.

Meanwhile, the SCB partnership follows news in February that Azimo had secured €20 million in debt from the European Investment Bank (EIB), the lending arm of the European Union.

The financing is supported by the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI), the financial pillar of the EU’s “Investment Plan for Europe.” At the time of the announcement, Azimo said the capital provided by EIB will be used to accelerate the company’s R&D and to “scale up” its proprietary payments platform. I gather the company continues to hire.

Azimo has raised $50 million of equity funding to date — investors include Rakuten, eVentures, Greycroft and Frog Capital — and in August the company said it was profitable. It offers low-cost international payments to 200+ countries and territories around the world and claims over 2 million registered customers.

Categories: Business News

Flux and Pleo partner to bring itemised digital receipts to Pleo’s ‘smart’ expense cards

2020, April 2 - 4:00pm

When three former employees of Revolut founded Flux in 2016, the mission was clear: build a platform to bridge the gap between the itemised receipt data captured by a merchant’s point-of-sale (POS) system and what little information typically shows up in your bank statement or mobile banking app.

Off the back of this, the young fintech saw an opportunity to power loyalty schemes and card-linked offers, and provide merchants with deeper analytics. However, that was always intended to be just the start.

Once Flux had made fully itemised digital receipts a reality — which requires bank and merchant partnerships — it foresaw that there are a multitude of other use cases where automated digital receipts could be useful, including expense reports.

Today, that particular use case comes into focus with the announcement that Flux has partnered with Danish fintech Pleo, the “business spending platform” that lets companies easily issue employees with cards and help them manage expenditure.

The tie-in will provide what the two fintechs are describing as the U.K.’s first “paperless” and fully automated expensing solution for businesses and employees. This will see digital receipts automatically generated and, crucially, reconciled within Pleo’s expensing software.

Once activated — and presuming you are a user of both services — Flux will send real-time, itemised digital receipts direct to Pleo when cardholders shop online or in-store at Flux-supported retailers using a Pleo card. The process is described as automatic and invisible to the end-user.

Unlike other solutions, Flux does not require photos, QR codes or any use of OCR (optical character recognition) technology to generate and deliver its digital receipts. “Pleo users will not need to photograph a paper receipt or upload an email,” say the two companies.

In other words, Flux is a fully digital solution — even if it is only as useful as the merchants it is supported by. They currently include Just Eat, schuh, KFC, itsu, Pure, Giraffe, Ed’s Easy Diner, Japan Centre and Sakagura, with several more retailers due to be announced this year. On the banking side, alongside Pleo, Flux has integrations with Barclays Launchpad, Monzo and Starling Bank.

Cue statement from Roisin Levine, Head of Banks at Flux: “Here at Flux we’re passionate about improving the experience for our customers. Expensing is a natural partnership for us as a digital receipts company – we’ve all experienced the pain of trying to manage expenses and reconcile accounts! We’re incredibly excited to be working with Pleo to bring the U.K. its first fully-automated, invisible expensing solution, and we look forward to rolling this out by Q4 2020 to the 7,000 companies using Pleo in the U.K.”

Categories: Business News

Notion hits $2 billion valuation in new raise

2020, April 2 - 5:33am

Notion, a startup that operates a workplace productivity platform, has raised $50 million from Index Ventures and other investors at a $2 billion valuation, the company told The New York Times.

A Notion spokesperson confirmed the raise and valuation to TechCrunch.

As startups across the board begin looking at layoffs or raising at less than favorable terms, Notion had been in the unusual position of turning away interested investors for years. With this raise, the firm has amassed $67 million in total funding, the company says. Their last raise of $10M valued them at $800 million.

The company’s highly customizable note-taking app allows enterprise customers to create linked networks of databases and documents.

In November, COO Akshay Kothari told TechCrunch that the company was hoping not to raise outside funding again, “So far one of the things we’ve found is that we haven’t really been constrained by money. We’ve had opportunities to raise a lot more, but we’ve never felt like if we had more money we could grow faster.”

Why Notion is staying small as its valuation gets bigger

What’s changed? Just the global economy. The firm told the Times that this new raise should put them in a more stable position and leave them with enough funding for “at least” 10 years. That said, the startup’s team has expanded rapidly in recent months, growing 40% since November. Their user numbers appear to also be growing rapidly, with Kothari telling the Times that total users have “nearly quadrupled” from one million, a figure the company released in early 2019.

Notion offers free and paid accounts, ranging from $5 to $25 billed monthly.

Categories: Business News

Olive, a startup developing an automation tool for healthcare administration, raises $51 million

2020, April 2 - 4:34am

Time is money, as the old adage goes, and this is doubly true in healthcare systems operating with thin margins now made even thinner thanks to the loss of revenue caused by a freeze on elective procedures.

Stepping in with a technology that automates much of the time-consuming back-end processes hospitals and healthcare providers need to keep up with is Olive, a startup out of Columbus, Ohio.

The company, which counts among its customers more than 500 hospitals representing some of the largest healthcare providers in the U.S., has raised a new round of $51 million as it sees significant growth for its business.

The round, raised from investors including Drive Capital, Oak HC/FT and Ascension Ventures, was led by General Catalyst, which recently closed on $2.3 billion in new capital to invest in early-stage companies.

As a result of the investment, Ron Paulus, the former president and chief executive of Mission Health, will join the board of directors, the company said in a statement.

Olive’s software toolkit automates administrative tasks like revenue cycle, supply chain management, clinical administration and human resources, the company said in a statement. And demand for the company’s technology is surging. 

According to data provided by the company, roughly half of hospital administrators intend to invest in robotic process automation by 2021.

“There’s a growing, multi-billion dollar problem: healthcare doesn’t have the internet. Instead, healthcare uses humans as routers, forcing workers to toggle between disparate systems — they copy, they paste, they manipulate data – they become robots. They click and type and extract and import, all day long — and it’s one of the leading reasons that one out of every three dollars spent in the industry today is spent on administrative costs,” said Olive chief executive Sean Lane in a September statement.

Olive doesn’t just automate processes, but makes those processes better for hospitals by identifying problem areas that could lead to lost revenues for hospitals. The software has access to pre-existing health claim status data, which allows it to identify where mistakes in previous claims were made. By using accurate coding, hospitals can add additional revenue.

“As a recent health system CEO, I appreciate the duress our hospitals are under as they focus on delivering the best patient care possible under challenging circumstances all while needing to keep the lights on,” said Dr. Ronald A. Paulus. “Olive’s reliable automation of essential back-office processes saves time, reduces errors and allows staff to focus on higher-order work. I am excited to be working closely with Olive’s management team to maximize the outsized positive impact we can have in healthcare on both the administrative and clinical fronts.”

Categories: Business News

A former chaos engineer offers 5 tips for handling online disasters remotely

2020, April 2 - 3:19am
Kolton Andrus Contributor Share on Twitter Kolton is co-founder and CEO of Gremlin, the chaos engineering company helping the world build a more reliable internet.

I recently had a scheduled video conference call with a Fortune 100 company.

Everything on my end was ready to go; my presentation was prepared and well-practiced. I was set to talk to 30 business leaders who were ready to learn more about how they could become more resilient to major outages.

Unfortunately, their side hadn’t set up the proper permissions in Zoom to add new people to a trusted domain, so I wasn’t able to share my slides. We scrambled to find a workaround at the last minute while the assembled VPs and CTOs sat around waiting. I ended up emailing my presentation to their coordinator, calling in from my mobile and verbally indicating to the coordinator when the next slide needed to be brought up. Needless to say, it wasted a lot of time and wasn’t the most effective way to present.

At the end of the meeting, I said pointedly that if there was one thing they should walk away with, it’s that they had a vital need to run an online fire drill with their engineering team as soon as possible. Because if a team is used to working together in an office — with access to tools and proper permissions in place — it can be quite a shock to find out in the middle of a major outage that they can’t respond quickly and adequately. Issues like these can turn a brief outage into one that lasts for hours.

Quick context about me: I carried a pager for a decade at Amazon and Netflix, and what I can tell you is that when either of these services went down, a lot of people were unhappy. There were many nights where I had to spring out of bed at 2 a.m., rub the sleep from my eyes and work with my team to quickly identify the problem. I can also tell you that working remotely makes the entire process more complicated if teams are not accustomed to it.

There are many articles about best practices aimed at a general audience, but engineering teams have specific challenges as the ones responsible for keeping online services up and running. And while leading tech companies already have sophisticated IT teams and operations in place, what about financial institutions and hospitals and other industries where IT is a tool, but not a primary focus? It’s often the small things that can make all the difference when working remotely; things that seem obvious in the moment, but may have been overlooked.

So here are some tips for managing incidents remotely:

There were many nights where I had to spring out of bed at 2 a.m., rub the sleep from my eyes and work with my team to quickly identify the problem… working remotely makes the entire process more complicated if teams are not accustomed to it.

Categories: Business News

Venture debt’s new reality: ‘The last thing we want is management walking away from a company’

2020, April 2 - 2:06am

Maurice Werdegar is the longtime CEO of venture debt shop Western Technology Investment, one of the most active venture debt lenders in the U.S.

It’s also one of the older firms, having loaned out money for roughly 40 years to startups that needed to achieve certain milestones, reach profitability or wanted additional runway and didn’t necessarily want to raise a new round (especially if that next round might be at a lower valuation).

It’s a needed service and a boon for startups in good times. But when the market turns, debt can prove much trickier.

Indeed, though Werdergar understands founders well — he was once the CEO of a venture-backed restaurant chain that did really well until it didn’t — he also has to make certain that when the market shifts, things don’t go south for WTI, as well. That can mean long, hard conversations with founders who need to renegotiate their debt payments.

Because COVID-19 is wreaking widespread economic havoc, we talked with Werdegar last week to learn what’s happening in his world and what WTI can do for clients who are now in a bind. Our chat has been edited for length.

TechCrunch: There are other venture debt players out there. How do you differ from your competitors?

Maurice Werdegar: One is we’re not publicly traded; we’re a private BDC [business development company], so we get our money from institutional investors, university endowments, nonprofits, sovereign wealth funds and groups like that. We’re a team that’s comprised primarily of former entrepreneurs; all of us have started and run our own businesses and work closely in the entrepreneurial environments. And we don’t use financial covenants, nor do we use subjective defaults.

Categories: Business News

Philter Labs nets additional funding in quest to build a better portable smoking filter

2020, April 2 - 1:00am

Philter Labs aims to reduce the stigma associated with vaping tobacco and cannabis. The company’s product is simple enough: It’s a portable filter that, to my surprise, eliminates nearly all secondhand smoke and vapor.

The company today is announcing an additional $1 million in funding from a private equity firm that invests in the cannabis industry. This round brings the San Diego-based company’s total funding to $3 million; it previously raised from Bravos Capital and Explorer Equity Group.

“PHILTER’s mission is to empower responsible adults with the choice to keep the air clean for those around them by filtering their emissions while still protecting a person’s right to vape,” said Philter Labs CEO Christos Nicolaidis. “This new funding allows us to continue to leverage science and our patented technology to eliminate secondhand smoke, reduce waste, and live out our mission to help lead a cultural shift for cleaner air and a better environment.”

The product works as advertised. Take a drag on a vape or joint or cigarette and exhale through the filter. The little filter then grabs all the particulate and, I guess, stores the bad stuff, leaving very little exiting the other side of the filter. Even the most considerable clouds of vapor disappear.

I tried both of the company’s current products, the Phlip ($30) and Pocket ($15). Both use the same filter. The difference is use. The Phlip is designed to put a filter alongside a vape pen. A silicon band ties the filter to most small vapes — it works fine with my Pax Era. This way, with the Phlip, the idea is a person inhales from one end and exhales through the other.

Does it eliminate all the smell and vapor? No, not totally, but the device makes a dramatic reduction.

There are similar products on the market. Smoke Buddy is a longtime favorite of mine, and these work in a similar fashion but have a more pocketable design. I’m more likely to carry this filter because it fits in a pocket without an issue.

There are no buttons to press or batteries to charge. The device is passive, and Philter Labs says each filter will last about 200 exhales. The company has filed half a dozen patents, with three recently being approved for upcoming products.

“Our mission is to inspire a change in the habits that are already out there,” John Grimm, co-inventor and CTO said. “We want to reduce emissions, not only to society but to the environment, and change smoking and vaping.”

Grimm explained that it’s more than reducing the harm. To him, it’s also about reducing the stigma that’s associated with smoking and vaping.

The system uses a propriety filtering process that breaks down the emissions at a molecular level through a five-step filtration process. The company says its technology captures and dissolves the particulates, pollutants and VOCs, which results in clean air exiting the filter.

I asked Grimm if the company has published a white paper on their findings. They have not; though he pointed out that Philter Labs founded a scientific advisory board (SSAB) that includes toxicologists formally from big tobacco, along with former executives from Dosist, Curaleaf and Juul.

Categories: Business News

How bad will SaaS churn get in the downturn?

2020, April 2 - 12:24am

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

This morning we’re talking about churn — the bane of software-as-a-service (SaaS) companies big and small — in the new world we find ourselves in. SaaS companies, from startups to huge public firms, have built their businesses under strong economic conditions. So what happens to the industry now that the global economy has hit pause, layoffs are piling up across national economies and venture capital is slowing?

It’s easy to say that churn will go up; some customers will close, cancelling contracts (boosting gross churn) while other customers will slow software budget growth (limiting net retention). But how bad will things really get? To get a handle on what’s next for churn, I spoke to the CEO of CrowdStrike, a public SaaS company; the CEO Gainsight, a quickly-growing private SaaS company who recently ran a survey on the topic; and Denis Barrier. a partner at venture capital firm Cathay Innovation. We also have fresh data to explore from Cledara, a startup that helps other companies control their software spend.

Let’s go!

Churn
Categories: Business News

Take your shot: Apply to TC Top Picks at Disrupt SF 2020

2020, April 2 - 12:00am

TechCrunch Disrupt San Francisco is known around the world as the place where the early-stage startup community gathers to learn and launch, connect and collaborate. We know COVID-19 has created challenges, but Disrupt SF is still on schedule (keep tabs on our updates here). Like startup founders everywhere, we quickly learn where, when and how to pivot. Case in point, check out our new Disrupt Digital Pass option.

In the current climate, it’s even more important to get the focus of investors and customers on your startup. And your chance to do just that goes down on September 14-16, 2020. But did you know there’s a way that founders can extract even more opportunity from their Disrupt experience — for free?

Apply to be a TC Top Pick. It doesn’t cost anything to apply or participate, and you’re welcome to apply if your early-stage startup falls into one of these categories:

Artificial Intelligence + Machine Learning, Biotech + Healthtech, Enterprise + SaaS, Fintech, Mobility, Retail + E-commerce, Robotics, Hardware + IOT, Security + Privacy, Social Impact + Education, and Space.

TechCrunch editors will review every application and select up to three startups they feel represent the very best in each category. Check out who we chose as TC Top Picks at Disrupt SF 2019.

Making the cut won’t be easy, but you have nothing to lose and a whole lot to gain. For starters, every TC Top Pick startup receives a free Startup Alley Exhibitor Package and a VIP experience. You’ll exhibit for one full day in a prime, dedicated space in Startup Alley, our expo floor. Plus, you receive three complimentary Founder passes — you and your team can experience more of Disrupt’s extensive programming and networking opportunities.

Keep in mind that everyone at Disrupt wants to know who made the coveted Top Picks list. You’ll stand in a bright, metaphorical spotlight and draw attention from ardent investors, media looking for great stories, potential customers, could-be collaborators and, well, you just don’t know where a connection can lead you.

Don’t just take our word for it. Take it from one of your own.

“Earning a TC Top Pick is an awesome experience for an early-stage startup. As we grow bigger, we look forward to saying that our roots go back to TechCrunch Disrupt. Companies like Trello and Dropbox share the Disrupt pedigree. It’s a big deal, and I feel privileged to be part of that group.” — Joel Neidig, founder of SIMBA Chain.

We haven’t mentioned your live interview yet. Say what? Yup. A TechCrunch editor interviews every Top Pick — live on the Showcase Stage. We’ll record each interview, edit the video and promote it across our social media platforms. It’ll be yours to use as an impressive conversation starter with investors and customers. Again, take it from Joel Neidig.

“Our live interview with the TechCrunch editor was one of the best Top Pick perks. It’s an awesome long-term marketing tool.”

If you want to showcase your early-stage startup to the industry’s most influential movers, shakers, thinkers and makers, apply to be a TC Top Pick at TechCrunch Disrupt San Francisco 2020. You have nothing to lose — take your shot and buckle up for the ride of your startup life.

TechCrunch is mindful of the COVID-19 issue and its impact on live events. You can follow our updates here.

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at Disrupt San Francisco 2020? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

Categories: Business News

Researchers to study if startup’s wrist-worn wearable can detect early COVID-19 respiratory issues

2020, April 1 - 11:34pm

It’s highly unlikely that the current coronavirus crisis will be neatly and fully “solved” by any one endeavor or solution, which makes new studies like one involving startup WHOOP’s wrist-worn fitness and health tracking wearable all the more important. The study, conducted by the Central Queensland University Australia (CQUniversity), in partnership with the Cleveland Clinic, will employ data collected by WHOOP’s hardware from hundreds of volunteers who have self-identified as having contracted COVID-19 to study changes in their respiratory behavior over time.

The data to be used for this study has been collected from WHOOP’s 3.0 hardware, which has also recently been validated by a University of Arizona external study conducted specifically to determine the accuracy of its measurement of respiratory rates during sleep, which the device uses to provide quality of sleep scores to its users. That study showed it to be among the most accurate measurement tools for respiratory rate short of invasive procedures, which is what has led researchers behind this new study to hypothesize that it could be valuable as a sort of early-warning system for detecting signs of abnormal respiratory behavior in COVID-19 patients before those symptoms are detectable by other means.

The WHOOP team says that the respiratory rate its hardware reports very rarely deviates from an established individual baseline, and that when it does so, it’s usually due to either one of two causes: environmental factors, like unusually high temperatures or significant differences in oxygen concentration, or something happening within the body, like a lower-respiratory tract infection.

COVID-19 is specifically a lower-respiratory tract infection, unlike the flu or a cold, which are upper-respiratory issues. That means there’s a strong correlation between rate changes due to lower-respiratory tract issues not accounted by environmental problems (which are relatively easy to cancel out) and instances of COVID-19. And because the WHOOP wearable is designed to look for deviations as a sign of distress, among the other sings it monitors, it could notice changes to respiratory rates relative to baselines before an individual becomes aware of any significant shortness of breath themselves.

This is a study, so at this point that’s just a hypothesis, and will need to be backed up by data. The team behind it says it should take around six weeks, and there are an “initial several hundred self-reported COVID-19 cases” already present in the app from which it will begin, with a target of enrolling at least 500 individuals with positive COVID-19 test results. There are also other investigations underway to see if wearables that monitor a user’s health and fitness can provide early warning systems for potential COVID-19 cases, including a study being conducted by UCSF using the Oura Ring.

Unlike with previous pandemics, the current coronavirus crisis comes at a time when we’re increasingly used to taking data-driven approaches to solving challenges, and when we also have a lot of self-quantifying health devices in circulation. Those could help us get a better grip on assessing the spread, as well as trends related to how it circulates and ebbs/grows within a population.

Categories: Business News

What happens to edtech when kids go back to school?

2020, April 1 - 11:26pm

In just a few weeks, homeschooling has gone from a rarity to a baseline in homes across the country.

Jonah Liss, a 16-year-old student at International Academy of Bloomfield Hills in Michigan, was sent home out of precaution due to the coronavirus outbreak.

While the transition has been okay for Liss, who has used some of the extra time to create a service to help those impacted by COVID-19, he recognized that other students are experiencing some pain points; not everyone has access to the same technology outside of school, so they can’t complete assignments. The school, he says, isn’t giving tests because they have no way to prove students aren’t cheating. And learning doesn’t feel personalized.

“It can be difficult to learn in an environment where there is less structure, direct instruction and ability to ask as many questions as possible,” Liss said. His school is placing emphasis on Google Classroom, Hangouts, Zoom and Khan Academy — all currently free for schools that have been shut down.

Edtech companies are seeing a usage surge because they’re offering services for free or at discounted rates to schools that are scrambling to switch to remote learning. But when students return to campus, many of the hurdles to adopting education technology will persist.

And as edtech startups find their time in the spotlight, these emerging challenges must be addressed before companies can truly convert those free customers into paying ones.

Categories: Business News

Hio wants to put networking events back on your remote-only calendars

2020, April 1 - 11:00pm

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines and the COVID-19 pandemic has surged event cancellations across the country. Tech workforces have found ways to stay productive: back-to-back Zoom calls, work-from-home happy hours and more Twitter threads than anyone asked for.

But Jason Craparo, the founder of events platform Hio, wants to put organic, face-to-face networking back on your calendar — in a socially distant, yet compliant, way.

Today, Hio launched a virtual lounge and a Network Now feature to replicate by-proximity networking. Using your iPhone, you can use Hio to see professionals nearby that are currently ready to, wait for it, hit it off. Then you can slide to their profile, ask if they want to do a 1:1 video chat and share information.

“Work from home doesn’t mean your results stop,” Craparo said. “People are being held accountable. We wanted to get this out so that the salespeople, entrepreneurs, small business owners and the like can basically get out to events virtually connected with people and meet their sales quotas and still do business.”

Network Now is a premium feature for which Hio usually charges $10 a month, but in light of all the canceled conferences, Craparo says it is free for the next three months.

How Hio wants you to network with other professionals nearby

The company also rolled out a virtual lounge. It’s similar to Network Now, except it is specific to events that have gone remote. Think a focused lounge produced by event organizers to help event participants meet each other.

From diners and drive-ins to startupland

For Craparo, the intricacies of sales and small business ownership were a focus long before Hio.
The founder moved to San Diego to attend college, but he instead worked his way up to owner at Sonic Drive-Ins, a fast food chain. He then went to Juma Ventures, a company that employs inner city kids at concession stands at stadiums and did volunteer work across San Diego. He then earned his MBA from Babson, where he received a $275,000 check at a startup competition for his Hio prototype.

Hio initially launched as an app that allowed users to share their chosen social media handles with others. Today, it connects people to events and professionals nearby.

Users sign up and create a profile with their bio, interests and an elevator pitch in the form of a short video. The idea is that people can then attend a virtual event, and meet others through the app putting their profile foot forward. Beyond video chatting, users can send follow-up emails or direct messages. People also can set reminders to contact said individual once a week, month, quarter or never.

Craparo claims that Eventbrite isn’t a competitor, but instead a partner: Hio integrates with the ticket-selling and event registration company to provide independent organizers with a mobile app to go along with their events as an added networking tool.

Craparo also integrates with Meetup, which was acquired on Monday from WeWork by a group of investors, including AlleyCorp.

The novel coronavirus outbreak and health concerns have led to a rapid adoption of online-only groups. In fact, at the time of publication, Eventbrite’s front page touts online events.

Hio has the potential to serve Eventbrite and Meetup customers that are now in an online-only world and want an extra layer of communication between event participants. Of course, for now shelter in place and lockdowns are mandated by governments around the world. But, if Hio and other remote meetup services are seamless and friendly enough, virtual networking could stay part of our culture long after the pandemic is controlled.

Hio’s more direct competitors are services like Bumble for business, which is an offshoot of the popular dating app into a professional connection network. BumbleBizz lets you swipe through professionals near you. Hio wants to touch upon that same organic discovery process, but have control of more parts of the networking experience: from pre and post-communication to live networking opportunities and messaging.

Craparo says that dating isn’t a focus for Hio right now, but he noted that the lines between work and personal life feel blurry (especially these days). He won’t be surprised if some personal relationships develop.

Bumble’s business networking feature launches today

Prior to this announcement, Hio already landed a few big clients, like New York Tech Meetup, a 200-person meetup that happens monthly.

“Ticket services only know how many tickets they sold,” Craparo said. “We can tell them how many people physically showed up or virtually showed up, how many connections were made, how many pieces of contact information were shared, what the most commonly shared item was, or on average how many people each person met.”

Hio originally took seven months to hit 1,000 events. In the past three weeks alone, Hio has helped with 1,200 events. The rapid change illustrates that Hio is filling a gap for professionals that want to be connected during a time of isolation.

Categories: Business News

Addionics, a startup creating ‘next-gen’ batteries for electric cars and more, raises $6M

2020, April 1 - 10:27pm

Addionics, an Israeli/U.K. startup that is developed next-generation rechargeable batteries for electric vehicles and other applications, has raised $6 million in funding. The round is led by Next Gear Ventures, and includes a $2.5 million grant as part of the European Union’s Horizon2020 innovation competition.

Founded by former Imperial College London academics, Addionics has created what it claims are improved rechargeable batteries through a redesign of chargeable battery architecture. It has developed a “patent-protected” and scalable 3D metal fabrication method that are said to enhance car battery performance, increase mileage and safety, and reduce cost and charging time.

Specifically, this new so-called “smart 3D structure” minimises internal resistance and improves the “mechanical longevity, thermal stability and other fundamental limitations and degradation factors” in standard batteries, says Addionics.

It also says its approach is different to other companies that are trying to improve batteries, which tend to focus on chemistry rather than on physics. Addionics’ chemistry agnostic approach means that it can still benefit from advances in chemistry, while bringing something additional to the table.

Addionics CTO Dr. Vladimir Yufit explains in a statement: “We are agnostic to the battery chemistry. Therefore, we can take existing or future batteries and enhance their performance by our smart 3D components. No matter what chemistry technology will win the electrification race, we will improve it even more.”

Or to put it more colourfully, Yufit says Addionics is “betting on the race, and not on the horse.”

To that end, the company is initially targeting the automotive market but also sees its technology finding a home in other products such as consumer electronics, medical devices, grid energy storage, drones, and more.

In terms of commercial traction, it’s still early days. However, Addionics says it is currently working with an unnamed tier-1 American automotive company on a proof-of-concept design and testing Addionics cells in vehicles.

Dr. Moshiel Biton, Addionics CEO, says that the goal is to have 3-4 major collaborations with “world-leading OEMs” over the next year.

Categories: Business News

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