Nginx lands $43 million Series C to fuel expansion

Nginx, the commercial company behind the open source web server, announced a $43 million Series C investment today led by Goldman Sachs Growth Equity.

NEA, which has been on board as an early investor is also participating. As part of the deal, David Campbell, managing director at Goldman Sachs’ Merchant Banking Division will join the Nginx board. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $103 million, according to the company.

The company was not willing to discuss valuation for this round.

Nginx’s open source approach is already well established running 400 million websites including some of the biggest in the world. Meanwhile, the commercial side of the business has 1,500 paying customers, giving those customers not just support, but additional functionality such as load balancing, an API gateway and analytics.

Nginx CEO Gus Robertson was pleased to get the backing of such prestigious investors. “NEA is one of the largest venture capitalists in Silicon Valley and Goldman Sachs is one of the largest investment banks in the world. And so to have both of those parceled together to lead this round is a great testament to the company and the technology and the team,” he said.

The company already has plans to expand its core commercial product, Nginx Plus in the coming weeks. “We need to continue to innovate and build products that help our customers alleviate the complexity of delivery of distributed or micro service based applications. So you’ll see us release a new product in the coming weeks called Controller. Controller is the control plane on top of Nginx Plus,” Robertson explained. (Controller was launched in Beta last fall.)

But with $43 million in the bank, they want to look to build out Nginx Plus even more in the next 12-18 months. They will also be opening new offices globally to add to its international presence, while expanding its partners ecosystem. All of this means an ambitious goal to increase the current staff of 220 to 300 by the end of the year.

The open source product was originally created by Igor Sysoev back in 2002. He introduced the commercial company on top of the open source project in 2011. Robertson came on board as CEO a year later. The company has been growing 100 percent year over year since 2013 and expects to continue that trajectory through 2019.

Beamery closes $28M Series B to stoke support for its ‘talent CRM’

Beamery, a London-based startup that offers self-styled “talent CRM”– aka ‘candidate relationship management’ — and recruitment marketing software targeted at fast-growing companies, has closed a $28M Series B funding round, led by EQT Ventures.

Also participating in the round are M12, Microsoft’s venture fund, and existing investors Index Ventures, Edenred Capital Partners and Angelpad Fund. Beamery last raised a $5M Series A, in April 2017, led by Index.

Its pitch centers on the notion of helping businesses win a ‘talent war’ by taking a more strategic and pro-active approach to future hires vs just maintaining a spreadsheet of potential candidates.

Its platform aims to help the target enterprises build and manage a talent pool of people they might want to hire in future to get out ahead of the competition in HR terms, including providing tools for customized marketing aimed at nurture relations with possible future hires.

Customer numbers for Beamery’s software have stepped up from around 50 in April 2017 to 100 using it now — including the likes of Facebook (which is using it globally), Continental, VMware, Zalando, Grab and Balfour Beatty.

It says the new funding will be going towards supporting customer growth, including by ramping up hiring in its offices in London (HQ), Austin and San Francisco.

It also wants to expand into more markets. “We’re focusing on some of the world’s biggest global businesses that need support in multiple timezones and geographies so really it’s a global approach,” said a spokesman on that.

“Companies adopting the system are large enterprises doing talent at scale, that are innovative in terms of being proactive about recruiting, candidate experience and employer brand,” he added.

A “significant” portion of the Series B funds will also go towards R&D and produce development focused on its HR tech niche.

“Across all sectors, there’s a shift towards proactive recruitment through technology, and Beamery is emerging as the category leader,” added Tom Mendoza, venture lead and investment advisor at EQT, in a supporting statement.

“Beamery has a fantastic product, world-class high-ambition founders, and an outstanding analytics-driven team. They’ve been relentless about building the best talent CRM and marketing platform and gaining a deep understanding of the industry-wide problems.”

Stensul raises $7M to make email creation easier for marketers

Email marketing startup Stensul is announcing that it has raised $7 million.

Stensul spun out of founder and CEO Noah Dinkin’s previous company FanBridge. Dinkin explained via email that the startup isn’t competing with the big email service providers — in fact, it integrates with ESPs including Salesforce Marketing Cloud, Oracle Marketing Cloud, Adobe Marketing Cloud and Marketo.

Dinkin said that while ESPs include email creation tools, most companies ignore them. Instead, the marketer has to work with specialists like designers, developers and agencies: “That process often takes weeks, everyone hates it, and it is SUPER expensive.”

Stensul, meanwhile, is focused exclusively on the email creation process. Marketers at large enterprises can build the email themselves, without having to rely on anyone else, in less than 20 minutes.

“They don’t need to know how to code, they don’t need to know how to use Photoshop or have memorized the 100 page pdf of brand guidelines,” Dinkin said. “The platform controls for brand governance and rules, and also guarantees that the output will be technically perfect.”

Stensul

Javelin Venture Partners led the Series A, with participation from Arthur Ventures, First Round Capital, Uncork Capital, Lowercase Capital and former ExactTarget President Scott McCorkle.

“Stensul has zeroed in on a massive problem space hiding in plain sight,” said Javelin’s Alex Gurevich in the funding announcement. “Email Marketing is used by every large company in the world, and the amount of time and money spent on email creation is far more than most people realize. The quality of top-tier customers that stensul has been able to bring on made it clear to us that they have a solution that really delivers value on day 1.”

Companies that have used Stensul include YouTube, Grubhub, BMW, Lyft and Box. Dinkin said he will continue to invest in product, but the big goal with the new funding is to grow sales and marketing.

Brex picks up $57M to build an easy credit card for startups

While Henrique Dubugras and Pedro Franceschi were giving up on their augmented reality startup inside Y Combinator and figuring out what to do next, they saw their batch mates struggling to get even the most basic corporate credit cards — and in a lot of cases, having to guarantee those cards themselves.

Brex, their new startup,  aims to try to fix that by offering startups a way to quickly get what’s effectively a credit card that they can use without having to personally guarantee that card or wade through complex processes to finally get a charge card. It’s geared initially towards smaller companies, but Dubugras expects those startups to grow up with it over time — and that Brex is already picking up larger clients. The company, coming out of stealth, said it has raised a total of $57 million from investors including the Y Combinator Continuity fund, Peter Thiel, Max Levchin, Yuri Milner, financial services VC Ribbit Capital and former Visa CEO Carl Pascarella. Y Combinator Continuity fund partner Anu Hariharan and Ribbit Capital managing partner Meyer Malka are joining the company’s board of directors.

“We want to be the best corporate credit card for startups,” Dubugras said. “We’re don’t require a personal guarantee or deposit, and we can give people a credit limit that’s as much as ten times higher. We can get you a virtual credit card in literally 5 minutes, versus traditional banks, in which you’d have to personally guarantee the card and get a low limit and it takes weeks to approve.”

Startup executives go to Brex’s website, sign up, and then put in their bank account info. They then use that banking information to underwrite the card, with the idea being that the service can see that the start has raised millions of dollars and doesn’t have the kind of wild liability that those banks think they might have given how young they are. Once the application is done, companies get a virtual credit card, and they can start divvying up virtual cards with custom limits for their employees. The company says it has attracted more than 1,000 customers and is now opening up globally.

The cards are designed to have better spending limits, and also offer company executives more granular ways to assign those limits to employees. The cards have to be paid off by the end of the month, and the rolling balance for those cards is dependent on the amount of capital each startup has available. The total limit available is, instead, a percentage of the company’s cash balance available. So rather than having to go through the process of getting approved for a card, the service can look at how much money is in a startup’s bank account and adjust the spending limit for all those cards accordingly.

Another aspect is automating the whole expense and auditing process. Rather than just going through typical applications like Concur and inputting specifics, card users can send a text message of a receipt through Brex associated with each transaction. Users will just get a text message about a charge — like a cup of coffee for a meeting with a potential business partner — and reply to that text with a message of the receipt to log the whole process. Everything is geared toward simplifying the whole process for startups that have an opportunity to be a bit more nimble and aren’t bogged down with complex layers of enterprise software. Each expense is looped in with a vendor, so executives can see the total amount of spending that’s happening at that scale.

The ability to have those dynamic spending limits is just one example of what Dubugras hopes will make Brex competitive. Rather than slotting into existing systems, Brex has an opportunity to recreate the back-end processes that power those cards, which larger institutions might not be able to do as they’ve hit a massive scale and get less and less agile. Dubugras and Franceschi previously worked on and sold Pagar.me, a Brazilian payments processor, where they saw firsthand the complex nature of working with global financial institutions — and some of the holes they could exploit.

“It’s not like we’re two geniuses that came up with a lot of things that no one came up with,” Dubugras said. “Implementing them with third-party processors is hard, but we didn’t have any of [those integrations], so we can rebuild them from scratch. It’s hard for banks to throw money at a problem and build those tools. We’ve rebuilt the way that these things work internally — they’d have to change fundamentally how the system works.”

While there are plenty of startups looking to quickly offer virtual cards, like Revolut’s disposable virtual card service, Brex aims to be what’s effectively a corporate card — just one that’s easier to get and works basically the same as a normal card. Users still have to pay off the balance at the end of the month, but the idea there is that Brex can de-risk itself by doing that while still offering startups a way to get a card with a high limit to start paying for the services or tools they need to get started.

Cisco buys July Systems to bring digital experience to the real world

Customer experience management is about getting to know your customer’s preferences in an online context, but pulling that information into the real world often proves a major challenge for organizations. This results in a huge disconnect when a customer walks into a physical store. This morning, Cisco announced it has bought July Systems, a company that purports to solve that problem.

The companies did not share the acquisition price.

July Systems connects to a building’s WiFi system to understand the customer who just walked in the door, how many times they have shopped at this retailer, their loyalty point score and so forth. This gives the vendor the same kind of understanding about that customer offline as they are used to getting online.

It’s an interesting acquisition for Cisco, taking advantage of some of its strengths as a networking company, given the WiFi component, but also moving in the direction of providing more specific customer experience services.

“Enterprises have an opportunity to take advantage of their in-building Wi-Fi for a broad range of indoor location services. In addition to providing seamless connectivity, Wi-Fi can help enterprises glean deep visitor behavior insights, associate these learnings with their enterprise systems, and drive better customer and employee experiences,” Cisco’s Rob Salvagno wrote in a blog post announcing the acquisition.

As is often the case with these kinds of purchases, the two companies are not strangers. In fact, July Systems lists Cisco as a partner prominently on the company website (along with AWS). Customers include an interesting variety from Intercontinental Hotels Group to the New York Yankees baseball team.

Ray Wang, founder and principal analyst at Constellation Research says the acquisition is also about taking advantage of 5G. “July Systems gives Cisco the ability to expand its localization and customer experience management (CXM) capabilities pre-5g and post-5g. The WiFi analytics improve CXM, but more importantly Cisco also gains a robust developer community,” Wang told TechCrunch.

According to reports, the company had over $67 billion in cash as of February. That leaves plenty of money to make investments like this one and the company hasn’t been shy about using their cash horde to buy companies as they try to transform from a pure hardware company to one built on services

In fact, they have made 211 acquisitions over the years, according to data on Crunchbase. In recent years they have made some eye-popping ones like plucking AppDynamics for $3.7 billion just before it was going to IPO in 2017 or grabbing Jasper for $1.4 billion in 2016, but the company has also made a host of smaller ones like today’s announcement.

July Systems was founded back in 2001 and raised almost $60 million from a variety of investors including Sequoia Capital, Intel Capital, CRV and Motorola Solutions. Salvagno indicated the July Systems group will become incorporated into Cisco’s enterprise networking group. The deal is expected to be finalized in the first quarter of fiscal 2019.

Google injects Hire with AI to speed up common tasks

Since Google Hire launched last year it has been trying to make it easier for hiring managers to manage the data and tasks associated with the hiring process, while maybe tweaking LinkedIn while they’re at it. Today the company announced some AI-infused enhancements that they say will help save time and energy spent on manual processes.

“By incorporating Google AI, Hire now reduces repetitive, time-consuming tasks, like scheduling interviews into one-click interactions. This means hiring teams can spend less time with logistics and more time connecting with people,” Google’s Berit Hoffmann, Hire product manager wrote in a blog post announcing the new features.

The first piece involves making it easier and faster to schedule interviews with candidates. This is a multi-step activity that involves scheduling appropriate interviewers, choosing a time and date that works for all parties involved in the interview and scheduling a room in which to conduct the interview. Organizing these kind of logistics tend to eat up a lot of time.

“To streamline this process, Hire now uses AI to automatically suggest interviewers and ideal time slots, reducing interview scheduling to a few clicks,” Hoffmann wrote.

Photo: Google

Another common hiring chore is finding keywords in a resume. Hire’s AI now finds these words for a recruiter automatically by analysing terms in a job description or search query and highlighting relevant words including synonyms and acronyms in a resume to save time spent manually searching for them.

Photo: Google

Finally, another standard part of the hiring process is making phone calls, lots of phone calls. To make this easier, the latest version of Google Hire has a new click-to-call function. Simply click the phone number and it dials automatically and registers the call in call a log for easy recall or auditing.

While Microsoft has LinkedIn and Office 365, Google has G Suite and Google Hire. The strategy behind Hire is to allow hiring personnel to work in the G Suite tools they are immersed in every day and incorporate Hire functionality within those tools.

It’s not unlike CRM tools that integrate with Outlook or GMail because that’s where sales people spend a good deal of their time anyway. The idea is to reduce the time spent switching between tools and make the process a more integrated experience.

While none of these features individually will necessarily wow you, they are making use of Google AI to simplify common tasks to reduce some of the tedium associated with every-day hiring tasks.

Riskified prevents fraud on your favorite e-commerce site

Meet Riskified, an Israel-based startup that has raised $64 million in total to fight online fraud. The company has built a service that helps you reject transactions from stolen credit cards and approve more transactions from legitimate clients.

If you live in the U.S., chances are you know someone who noticed a fraudulent charge for an expensive purchase with their credit card — it’s still unclear why most restaurants and bars in the U.S. take your card away instead of bringing the card reader to you.

Online purchases, also known as card-not-present transactions, represent the primary source of fraudulent transactions. That’s why e-commerce websites need to optimize their payment system to detect fraudulent transactions and approve all the others.

Riskified uses machine learning to recognize good orders and improve your bottom line. In fact, Riskified is so confident that it guarantees that you’ll never have to pay chargebacks. As long as a transaction is approved by the product, the startup offers chargeback protection. If Riskified made the wrong call, the company reimburses fraudulent chargebacks.

On the other side of the equation, many e-commerce websites leave money on the table by rejecting transactions and false declines. It’s hard to quantify this as some customers end up not ordering anything. Riskified should help you on this front too.

The startup targets big customers — Macy’s, Dyson, Prada, Vestiaire Collective and GOAT are all using it. You can integrate Riskified with popular e-commerce payment systems and solutions, such as Shopify, Magento and Stripe. Riskified also has an API for more sophisticated implementations.

Kustomer gets $26M to take on Zendesk with an omnichannel approach to customer support

The CRM industry is now estimated to be worth some $4 billion annually, and today a startup has announced a round of funding that it hopes will help it take on one aspect of that lucrative pie, customer support. Kustomer, a startup out of New York that integrates a number of sources to give support staff a complete picture of a customer when he or she contacts the company, has raised $26 million.

The funding, a series B, was led by Redpoint Ventures (notably, an early investor in Zendesk, which Kustomer cites as a key competitor), with existing investors Canaan Partners, Boldstart Ventures, and Social Leverage also participating.

Cisco Investments was also a part of this round as a strategic investor: Cisco (along with Avaya) is one of the world’s biggest PBX equipment vendors, and customer support is one of the biggest users of this equipment, but the segment is also under pressure as more companies move these services to the cloud (and consider alternative options). Potentially, you could see how Cisco might want to partner with Kustomer to provide more services on top of its existing equipment, and potentially as a standalone service — although for now the two have yet to announce any actual partnerships.

Given that Kustomer has been approached already for potential acquisitions, you could see how the Ciscos of the world might be one possible category of buyers.

Kustomer is not discussing valuation but it has raised a total of $38.5 million. Kustomer’s customers include brands in fashion, e-commerce and other sectors that provide customer support on products on a regular basis, such as Ring, Modsy, Glossier, Smug Mug and more.

When we last wrote about Kustomer, when it raised $12.5 million in 2016, the company’s mission was to effectively turn anyone at a company into a customer service rep — the idea being that some issues are better answered by specific people, and a CRM platform for all employees to engage could help them fill that need.

Today, Brad Birnbaum, the co-founder and CEO, says that this concept has evolved. He said that “half of its business model still involves the idea of everyone being on the platform.” For example, an internal sales rep can collaborate with someone in a company’s shipping department — “but the only person who can communicate with the customer is the full-fledged agent,” he said. “That is what the customers wanted so that they could better control the messaging.”

The collaboration, meanwhile, has taken an interesting turn: it’s not just related to employees communicating better to develop a more complete picture of a customer and his/her history with the company; but it’s about a company’s systems integrating better to give a more complete view to the reps. Integrations include data from e-commerce platforms like Shopify and Magento; voice and messaging platforms like Twilio, TalkDesk, Twitter and Facebook Messenger; feedback tools like Nicereply; analytics services like Looker, Snowflake, Jira and Redshift; and Slack.

Birnbaum previously founded and sold Assistly to Salesforce, which turned it into Desk.com — (his co-founder in Kustomer, Jeremy Suriel, was Assistly’s chief architect), and between that and Kustomer he also had a go at building out Airtime, Sean Parker’s social startup. Kustomer, he says, is not only competing against Salesforce but perhaps even more specifically Zendesk, in offering a new take on customer support.

Zendesk, he said, had really figured out how to make customer support ticketing work efficiently, “but they don’t understand the customer at all.”

“We are a much more modern solution in how we see the world,” he continued. “No one does omni-channel customer service properly, where you can see a single threaded conversation speaking to all of a customer’s points.”

(In actual fact, Zendesk has now started to respond: in May the company launched a new omnichannel product called The Suite, which bundles Zendesk Support, Guide, Chat, and Talk to give a unified view of a customer to the support agent. One more reason Kustomer needs to keep expanding what it does.)

Going forward, Kustomer will be using the funding to expand its platform with more capabilities, and some of its own automations and insights (rather than those provided by way of integrations). This will also see the company expand into other kinds of services adjacent to taking inbound customer requests, such as reaching out to the customers, potentially to seel to them. “We plan to go broadly with engagement as an example,” Birnbaum said. “We already know everything about you so if we see you on a website, we can proactively reach out to you and engage you.”

“It is time for disruption in customer support industry, and Kustomer is leading the way,” said Tomasz Tunguz, partner at Redpoint Ventures, in a statement. “Kustomer has had impressive traction to date, and we are confident the world’s best B2C and B2B companies will be able to utilize the platform in order to develop meaningful relationships, experiences, and lifetime value for their customers. This is an exciting and forward-thinking platform for companies as well as their customers.”

Blockchain startups woo enterprises with a private chain audit trail

By placing all the information about services or complex manufacturing and assembly processes on a private, permissioned blockchain, the idea is that a company can create an “immutable” audit trail of data. When you think about it, currently this involves a labor-intensive combination of paper and networks. But initial trials with private blockchains in the last couple of years have shown there is potential to reduce the identification process of a data trail from several days to minutes.

Indications that this is becoming a hot issue amongst startups arrives today in two pieces of news.

Firstly, London-based “Gospel”(yes, that really is their name…) has raised £1.4m in seed funding from investors led by European-focused LocalGlobe.

The blockchain startup says it has been working with an unnamed “aerospace and defence manufacturer” to develop a proof of concept to improve record keeping for its supply chain. What’s the betting it’s British Aerospace? They aren’t saying.

At any rate, Gospel says it has developed a way of securely distributing data across decentralised infrastructures, offering companies the potential to automate records for complex products that usually require significant manual management. The idea is that is shares only the information it needs to, securely, with other partners in its supply chain, potentially leading to improved efficiency and lower costs of information recall.

Founded in December 2016 by entrepreneur Ian Smith, Gospel uses a private blockchain that requires users to set up a network of “nodes” within their ecosystem. Each party controls their own node and all the nodes must agree before any transaction can be processed and put on the blockchain. The node network acts as a consensus and provides a mechanism of trust.

Smith says: “For manufacturers and other businesses dealing with critical data there is a problem of trust in data systems, particularly when there is a need to share that data outside the organization. With Gospel technology we can provide an immutable record store so that trust can be fully automated between systems of forward-thinking businesses.”

Prior to this seed round, Gospel was backed by a number of angel investors including Gumtree co-founder Michael Pennington and Vivek Kundra, the Chief Information Officer for the US Government during Barack Obama’s administration.

Secondly, Russia-based startup Waves, which has issued its own cryptocurrency, is getting into the space with the launch of Vostok, a universal blockchain solution for scalable digital infrastructure.

The idea is that public institutions and large enterprises can use the platform to enhance security, data storage, transparency and stability of their systems.

Vostok, which is named after the craft that carried Yuri Gagarin into space, claims to be significantly faster and cheaper than existing blockchain solutions, claiming 10,000 transactions per second (TPS) at only $0.000001 per a transaction. This is compared to Bitcoin which has transactional processing capacity of 3-6TPS and costs $0.951 per transaction. Vostok also uses a closed operational node set and Proof-of-Stake.

Sasha Ivanov, CEO and Founder of Vostok and Waves Platform, said: “Vostok is a multi- purpose solution, quite simple, but at the same time non-trivial. It will allow any large organisation to gain the benefits of blockchain without having to create new systems from scratch or retrain their staff.”

Adobe could be the next $10 billion software company

Adobe reported its Q2 FY’18 earnings yesterday and the news was quite good. The company announced $2.2 billion in revenue for the quarter up 24 percent year over year. That puts them on an impressive $8.8 billion run rate, within reach of becoming the next $10 billion software company (or at least on a run rate).

Revenue was up across all major business lines, but as has been the norm, the vast majority comes from the company’s bread and butter, Creative Cloud, which houses the likes of Photoshop, InDesign and Dreamweaver, among others. In fact digital media, which includes Creative Cloud and Document Cloud accounted for $1.55 billion of the $2.2 billion in total revenue. The vast majority of that, $1.30 billion was from the creative side of the house with Document Cloud pulling in $243 million.

Adobe has been mostly known as a creative tools company until recent years when it also moved into marketing, analytics and advertising. Recently it purchased Magento for $1.6 billion, giving it a commerce component to go with those other pieces. Clearly Adobe has set its sights on Salesforce, which also has a strong marketing component and is not coincidentally perhaps, the most recently crowned $10 billion software company.

Moving into commerce

Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen speaking to analysts on the post-reporting earnings call sees Magento as filling in a key piece across understanding the customer from shopping to purchase. “The acquisition of Magento will make Adobe the only company with leadership in content creation, marketing, advertising, analytics and now commerce, enabling real-time personalized experiences across the entire customer journey, whether on the web, mobile, social, in-product or in-store. We believe the addition of Magento expands our available market opportunity, builds out our product portfolio, and addresses a key underserved customer need,” Narayen told analysts.

If Adobe could find a way to expand that marketing and commerce revenue, it could easily surpass that $10 billion revenue run rate threshold, but so far while it has been growing, it remains less than half of the Creative revenue at $586 million. Yes, it grew at an 18 percent year over year clip, but it seems as though there is potential for so much more there and clearly Narayen hopes that the money spent on Magento will help drive that growth.

Battling with Salesforce

Even while it was announcing its revenue, rival Salesforce was meeting with Marketing Cloud customers in Chicago at the Salesforce Connections conference, a move that presented an interesting juxtaposition between the two competitors. Both have a similar approach to the marketing side, while Salesforce concentrates on the customer including CRM and service components. Adobe differentiates itself with content, which shows up on the balance sheet as the majority of its revenue .

Both companies have growth in common too. Salesforce has been on quite a run over the last five years reaching $3 billion in revenue for the first time last quarter. Adobe hit $2 billion for the first time in November. Consider that prior to moving to a subscription model in 2013, Adobe had revenue of $995 billion. Since it moved to that subscription model, it has reaped the benefits of recurring revenue and grown steadily ever since.

Each has used strategic acquisitions to help fuel that growth with Salesforce acquiring 27 companies since 2013 and Adobe 13, according to Crunchbase data. Each has bought a commerce company with Adobe buying Magento this year and Salesforce grabbing Demandware two years ago.

Adobe has the toolset to keep the marketing side of its business growing. It might never reach the revenue of the creative side, but it could help push the company further than it’s ever been. Ten billion dollars seems well within reach if things continue along the current trajectory.