Tech layoffs are creating a new era of scrappy (and humbled) founders

The onramps into Silicon Valley often include access: to a smart mentor, a well-connected venture capitalist, or even a rocket ship of a startup.

But an emerging class of founders is reminding the ecosystem how collapse can be an activator, as well. Laid-off talent is flocking to build startups within all sectors, from climate to crypto to the creator economy. And they’re hoping to course-correct where their alma maters — both Big Tech companies and small upstarts alike — went wrong.

New data from Day One Ventures, a venture firm backing seed-stage founders, shows how the seedlings are starting to bloom. Founder and GP Masha Bucher, who left her former life in Russia as a politician and TV reporter to become a venture capitalist, spun up a program to help potential founders in the wake of Stripe and Twitter’s recent layoffs.

She said she’s confident that at least 0.1% to 1% of the thousands of tech employees who were laid off this year could become incredible founders.

Tech layoffs are creating a new era of scrappy (and humbled) founders by Natasha Mascarenhas originally published on TechCrunch

A flat year for crowdfunding isn’t a bad sign at all for early-stage startups

The 2022 equity crowdfunding market was unable to top 2021’s record-setting year. But despite seeing lower investment volume, it fared quite a lot better than venture capital did in the same time frame. Founders looking to raise extension or bridge financing should take note.

Back in July, it looked like equity crowdfunding — a funding route that allows startups to raise from unaccredited investors through Reg CF and Reg A filings, among others — was on track for its best year yet. According to the Arora Project, more than $215 million was raised through the first half of 2022, surpassing 2021’s H1 total of $200 million.

At the time, Krishan Arora, the CEO and founder of the Arora Project, which curates and tracks these deals, and Nick Tommarello, the founder of crowdfunding site WeFunder, both said that they noticed growing momentum for the strategy in 2022.

A flat year for crowdfunding isn’t a bad sign at all for early-stage startups by Rebecca Szkutak originally published on TechCrunch

Meet Seoul-based accelerator SparkLabs’ 19th batch of startups 

SparkLabs Korea, a Seoul-based seed to early-stage accelerator, held a demo Day on Thursday for its 19th cohort of companies. The latest demo day marks its tenth year after SparkLabs launched its accelerator program in December 2012. The accelerator has backed more than 270 startups since its inception in 2012, co-founder and partner of SparkLabs Eugene Kim told TechCrunch. 

The program has two cohorts a year — one starting in January and the other in June — Kim said, adding that the program is 16 weeks long.   

SparkLabs admits 10 to 15 companies per cohort and invests up to $100,000 into each startup in exchange for 6% equity. Kim noted that the investment is made either with a SAFE (simple agreement for future equity) or stock purchase agreement — a decision that is up to the startup to make. 

During its program, SparkLabs provides funding, mentorship and access to administrative and legal advisory support for startups. In addition, participating startups get co-working space, will attend weekly classes and have access to four to six mentors who have expertise in various industries, not just in South Korea but global regions. 

SparkLabs, a member of the global accelerator network (GAN), has been using international best practices for accelerators from the beginning, Kim said. He added that its partners and mentors are all former entrepreneurs and have global business experience in both the U.S. and Asia. 

The accelerator also operates other government-supported programs like TIPS, a tech incubator program for startups in South Korea, and manages later-stage investment funds, Kim noted. 

SparkLabs began in Korea to find and help local Korean startups in their seed stage and help them go global. Though the majority are based in Korea, the accelerator gets applicants from other countries looking or planning to enter Korea or Asia, according to Kim. 

When asked if SparkLabs Korea is a subsidiary of SparkLabs Group, Kim said it’s not a group structure. Each accelerator entity, such as SparkLabs Korea, SparkLabs Taiwan and SparkLabs Cultiv8, is a separate entity with its own accelerator fund. 

Kim said in an interview with TechCrunch that as the program focuses on early-stage seed startups, some teams pivot or change their business focus as they try to find product market fit (PMF). 

“Not all teams end up pitching at demo day. If the teams feel they want to focus on building their traction or PMF, they can choose to pitch at a later demo day,” Kim said.

Here’s the list of nine companies in the most recent cohort at SparkLabs. The 19th cohort ends with a demo day on November 3. 

  • Vetflux: A telehealth veterinary platform that provides an artificial intelligence-based chatbot for vet clinics and pet owners. It offers two apps connecting vets with their pet patients. The Vetflux app is for pet owners to get the latest information about pet care, while the other, called Vetflux +, is for vets to organize workflows.
  • Amondycare: Amondycare’s app lets mental health therapists manage their workflows and administrative work from patient appointments to sales.
  • YKring: A social app, Kevin’s Club, helps college students make the most of their college life outside the library or dorms. YKring says it enables users to find out what’s going on in the community to find clubs or a group of people with similar interests to do activities together. YKring, which launched its service in January, claims that it has more than 2,500 users with $35,000 in sales as of October 2022. Its monthly subscription fee is ~$20.
  • DataBean: This startup develops a cooling system for data centers. Its service SmartBox allows for thermal management.
  • Fasket: Fasket is a quick commerce startup that operates an instant grocery delivery business in South Korea. 
  • Gyverse: Gyverse develops a fridge for dry-aged meat using IoT and AI. Users can dry age beef at home by interconnecting Gyverse’s smart devices to its app to monitor the temperature and humidity.
  • Moverse: A 3D motion marketplace that allows users to access and buy 3D motion data sources for the use of metaverse, games, movies, animation and augmented reality.
  • R-Materials: R-Material’s platform, called the Hybrid-generator system, enables solar and wind to convert power sources.
  • MyShop Cloud: An online to offline (O2O) platform that wants to digitize the value chain of dried fish, from wholesale to the retail market. Its service Dasiwoorida, which analyzes the dried fish price and transactions, recommends products for customers.

SparkLabs is currently open to applications for its 20th batch program until November 11. The accelerator will finalize its selections in December and looks to start the 20th batch in January.  

South Korea, which attracts the third largest amount of venture capital funding in Asia — about $6.45 billion annually — following China and India, currently has 16 unicorns to date.

Meet Seoul-based accelerator SparkLabs’ 19th batch of startups  by Kate Park originally published on TechCrunch

Singapore’s Arbor Ventures notches $193M towards next early-stage fintech fund

Arbor Ventures, funder of fintech and shopping startups like installment loan company Tabby and Amazon brand factory Heyday, has locked down $193 million towards its largest fund to date, TechCrunch has learned.

The Singapore-based VC focuses on early-stage financial tech startups, but it operates with a pretty expansive view of what constitutes fintech; its portfolio includes startups working on AI, healthcare, crypto and (of course) several buy now, pay later schemes. Arbor aims to raise nearly $107 million more for its third core fund, which could reach a total of $300 million, per a regulatory filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Though headquartered in Southeast Asia, Arbor backs startups all over, with investors based in hubs such as New York, San Francisco and Tokyo. The firm has made at least 70 investments to date and has more than a dozen exits under its belt, per Pitchbook.

Arbor did not respond to requests for comment on its plans for the money, but its deals over the past year seem as varied as ever; they span wholesale shopping site Ralali, AI insurance data firm Planck and HR startup HiBob.

Other fintech investors to make headlines lately include New York’s Kli Capital, which is raising a $50 million third fund, and Jakarta, Indonesia-based AC Ventures, which is targeting $250 million for its fifth fund.

Singapore’s Arbor Ventures notches $193M towards next early-stage fintech fund by Harri Weber originally published on TechCrunch

CoinFund’s Seth Ginns on why the crypto downturn has spared early-stage startups

Crypto token prices have been trending downward for the past year, with BTC and ETH both down over 50% since last September. Yet despite the downturn in cryptocurrency prices, early-stage web3 startups have shown remarkable resilience in their valuations, Seth Ginns, managing partner and head of liquid tokens at digital asset investment firm CoinFund told us on this Tuesday’s episode of Chain Reaction.

Startups haven’t been completely immune to the downturn — late-stage companies have taken the biggest valuation haircuts during the down market, Ginns said. Ginns has a broad insight across different parts of the crypto market as an investor at CoinFund, which deploys capital across private investments such as startups as well as liquid investments such as crypto tokens.

You can listen to the full episode with Ginns here:

“When liquid markets represent the best opportunities, we can lean more into the liquid markets, and when venture markets represent the best opportunity we can lean more into that,” Ginns said of CoinFund’s strategy. While Ginns said he has seen late-stage crypto startups have suffered valuation haircuts in the past few months, the downturn seems to have spared seed-stage companies to some extent, he observed.

“I’d say earlier-stage, you’re just seeing a step down in where valuations are for [startups where] either the team has just come together and are launching that true pre-seed type round, or that next stage right after that, where you’re not sure if they have product-market fit yet, but have a great team and some great early momentum on the BD side, I’d say those initial out-of-the-gate valuations have come down a little bit,” Ginns said.

For early-stage startups, valuations have dropped around 15-30%, Ginns estimated, a drop much less severe than what we’ve seen in token prices and even public tech stocks.

Early-stage crypto startup valuations are “not where traditional tech at that stage was two or three years ago. They’re not where crypto was at that stage two or three years ago, either, and I’m not sure they’re going to get there,” Ginns said, explaining that he does not think valuations for these early-stage companies will drop as low as they have in prior market cycles.

So what’s driving that resilience?

“I think one of the really interesting dynamics in crypto is, in every cycle, we see network valuations for protocols step up by an order of magnitude, I don’t think it will keep being an order of magnitude each cycle, but they take big steps up. And each time you take that step up, you have a validation of this new valuation range, which means you end up having people who are thinking about how to value their early-stage startup referencing the latest mark that you were getting in the last bull market,” Ginns explained.

Chain Reaction comes out every Tuesday and Thursday at 12:00 p.m. PDT, so be sure to subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts, Overcast and Spotify to keep up with the action.

CoinFund’s Seth Ginns on why the crypto downturn has spared early-stage startups by Anita Ramaswamy originally published on TechCrunch

Indonesia-focused AC Ventures closes oversubscribed $205M third fund

More investor money is flowing into Indonesia’s startup ecosystem. Today, AC Ventures, which focuses early-stage startups in the country, announced it has raise $205 million in committed capital for its oversubscribed Fund II, more than double its original target of $80 million. Investors include World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) and Disrupt AD, the venture development platform of Abu Dhabi Developmental Holdings. This brings the firm’s total assets under management to about $380 million.

AC Venture’s Fund III has been actively investing since its first close in March 2020, and has now completed 30 out of its 35 targeted investments, and says it is on track to deploy over $100 million by the end of 2021. All of its investments were in pre-Series A stage startups. The firm says many portfolio companies gained traction during the COVID-19 pandemic, with some, like Shipper, Stockbit, Ula, Aruna, Bukuwarung and Colearn, reaching “centaur” status, or a valuation of at least $100 million. AC Ventures also says Fund III is delivering strong early returns, with a MOIC (multiple on invested capital) of 1.94X less than two years after its first close.

Back in October 2020, when TechCrunch covered Fund III’s first close, its target was $80 million. That number increased, until finally reaching more than $200 million. Fund III’s typical check size varies widely. Founder and managing partner Adrian Li told TechCrunch that having a larger fund size gives AC Ventures the flexibility to deploy the right amount of capital based on the stage of a startup, so it doesn’t have to worry about finding co-investors or other srouces of capital. This means that depending traction and sector, Fund III’s first check sizes can range from a few hundred thousand dollars to several million.

AC Ventures' founding team Adrian Li, Pandu Sjahrir and Michael Soerijadji

AC Ventures’ founding team Adrian Li, Pandu Sjahrir and Michael Soerijadji

“I think with the increased traction of the portfolio during COVID and a step up in global interest in Asian companies, startups have raised faster than,” said Li. “The larger fund allows us to make sure we can keep our pro ratas and maintain ownership percentages in the best companies.”

He adds that at the beginning of 2021, it “became clear that technology companies were being relied on more than ever to help people continue their daily lives, whether shopping, paying or even entertainment, and that was quickly reflected in the public markets.” He added, “I think the turning point was probably August or September last year. From then, institutional investors and LPs began to realize that COVID was not going away in the short term. They therefore started looking for companies that were “having huge moments of adoption, new users and new user frequency by existing users, and Indonesia was a stand out.”

AC Ventures two earlier funds returned 2.99X and 2.41X gross MOICs, and they include unicorns Xendit and Carsome. The firm’s portfolio companies have also raised a total of more than $500 million in follow-on funding from investors like Sequoia, Tiger Global and Prosus.

The firm started investing in 2014 as Convergence Ventures and in 2019, became AC Ventures through a merger with Agaeti Venture Capital. It now has a total of more than 100 portfolio companies, which AC Ventures says makes it one of the largest Indonesian-focused early-stage venture capital firms.

Many of AC Ventures’ partners, including Li, are former entrepreneurs who have worked in markets like the United States, China and Indonesia. As a result, he says they are uniquely positioned to work closely with startups from early stage to exits. For example, AC Ventures helps its portfolio companies hire key talent, introduces them to the right business partnerships to scale and helps with downstream financing. Having a larger fund gives AC Ventures more ability to invest in wha tthey call their value creation team, or a group of experts in areas like data operations and growth and scaling.

“Building a specific team whose sole objective is to increase the value of our portfolio companies through their advice and interactions is someting that’s really excites us. With a small fund, it’s hard to build an operational team to help portfolio companies, but now with the larger fund size, we’re able to invest into that,” said Li.

Since it works with very early-stage startups, AC Ventures has developed specific strategies for deciding on investments. For example, it makes decisions using a comparable market and business model analysis to understand new sectors.

Li says AC Ventures invests in companies with great teams and strong ideas, or companies that have bootstrapped their way to having customers and revenue. “There isn’t a hard and fast rule, but what we want to do is come into companies as early as possible, where we have built a conviction around the team and market so we can be a longstanding partner in them as they grow.”

At early stages, “there’s not much data you can underwrite on,” he added. “Fortunately, investing in Indonesia, we have the benefit of hindsight for models that have worked around the world and the ability to analyze where certain markets are in Indonesia, relative to the total country and the economic development of the national. We can do a lot of market and business model research and so on, all up front. We can see if this model looks right, if it’s got big potential, if it’s a business model that’s worked well in markets like China or India.”

AC Ventures has also done quantitative and qualitative analysis of its most successful portfolio companies, and honed in on a set of signals that identify the founding teams with the most potential. Li said this gives the firm a more objective way of ranking early-stage startups.

For example, it’s important for at least one of the founders, usually the CEO, to have the strong capability to convey their vision to relevant stakeholders, constituents or first users and business partnerships. When AC Ventures asks founders about their business, they also need to be able to go into detail, including all their numbers, what works and what doesn’t. “Running a business, there are all these devils in the details that are very necessary, so you know what experiments to run, how to ititerate your product. There’s a lot to take in at the early stage of a business, but we find it critical that the founding team is really on top of that.”

In statement about IFC’s investment in AC Ventures’ Fund III, Azam Khan, IFC country manager for Indonesia, Malaysia and Timor-Leste said, “IFC’s partnership with AC Ventures underscores our long-term commitment to Indonesia’s economic development and digital transformation.”

Owning the paycheck is the key to fintech success

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This week, Natasha and Danny, otherwise known as your two new favorite Book influencers (inside joke, you’ll get if you listen to the show), hopped on the mics to take everyone threw the news, with Grace and Chris in the background.

Here’s what we got into:

Well, as you can tell, it’s been a busy writing and speaking week for your humble hosts. We’re grateful for the opportunity, and will be back in your ears on Monday.

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST and Thursday afternoon as fast as we can get it out, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

P.S. We can’t wait to see you all at our live show next week. If you haven’t grabbed free tickets, GET THEM!

Walnut wants to crack open flexibility for healthcare bills

Healthcare insurance, if you’re lucky to have it, only covers a subset of conditions in the United States. As a result, patients can often get burdened with horror story charges, like huge deductibles, out-of-network costs and expensive co-pays. So for the uninsured and insured alike, innovative ways of managing big bills are in high demand — especially as uncertainty remains around how COVID-19 and long-haul symptoms will be handled by patients and payers.

Walnut, founded by Roshan Patel, is a point-of-sale lending company with a healthcare twist. Walnut uses a “buy now, pay later” model, popularized by Affirm and Klarna, to help patients pay for healthcare over a period of time, instead of in one $3,000 chunk. Walnut works with healthcare providers so that a patient’s bill can be paid back through $100-a-month increments for 30 months, instead of one aggressive credit card swipe.

A patient using Walnut to pay healthcare bills. Image Credits: Walnut

It’s a sweet deal, but Patel added one more detail that he thinks makes Walnut stand out: The startup doesn’t charge any interest or fees to consumers.

“Almost every ‘buy now, pay later’ company in e-commerce charges interest or fees, and every personal loan provider charges interest or fees, but we do not,” he said. “And that’s really important to me, not making healthcare any more expensive than it already is. It’s a very patient-friendly product.”

Companies that use the buy now, pay later model with zero interest or fees need to make revenue somehow, and in Walnut’s case it is by charging healthcare providers a percentage of each sale or transaction.

If a provider’s collection rate for an out-of-pocket is 50%, Walnut would go to them and say “give us a 40% discount, and we’ll guarantee the cash for you upfront.” The startup will take the risk, and then the provider is able to make 60% of the collection rate.

Now, ideally, a provider would want to get 100% of payments they are owed, but that is wishful thinking. Patel explained that a large number of bills go unpaid due to bankruptcies or a default on payments (the average collections rate for hospitals out of pocket is less than 20%). Because of this, a company like Walnut has room to offer at least some stable upfront cash to hospitals, even if it ends up being 60% of overall bills versus 100%.

The company uses “extensive underwriting models” to figure out if a patient should qualify for a loan. Patel says that the startup goes beyond using credit score, which he describes as an “outdated metric”, and instead looks at thousands of data points from different providers, from side hustle income to spending habits on things like groceries and bills.

Walnut’s biggest challenge, says Patel, is to underwrite the population and pay the healthcare provider upfront in cash. It then collects from the patient on the back end, which comes with its own amount of risk.

“To be able to take on that risk for patients that are less credit-worthy is a very challenging problem, and I don’t think it’s really solved yet in healthcare,” he said.

The startup is starting by working with small private practices of one to five physicians that focus on specialties like dentistry, dermatology and fertility.

A big part of Walnut’s success will be determined by if it can attract people that truly need flexible financing options. For example, the company doesn’t have any hospitals as a partner yet, which would tap a larger group of patients that likely need flexible financing options the most. Right now, “the people who get elective-care surgery are the ones that can afford it.”

But Patel doesn’t see this as a disconnect; instead, he sees it as an opportunity to widen access to elective medical care to more people.

“I talked to a person last week who has no teeth and wants dentures but it costs $6,000,” he said. “That person should be able to afford it, and we enabled them to pay $100 a month for it.”

Walnut’s two biggest customer groups are the uninsured (people who have lost their jobs from COVID-19), and consumers who have high deductible plans.

Walnut isn’t the first. PrimaHealth Credit, Walnut’s closest competitor, offers point-of-sale lending procedures for elective medical procedures. Think surgeries like cataract work or dental work. The company said the service is currently available in Arizona, California, Florida, Oklahoma and Texas, and will be expanded to all 50 states this year. Walnut, comparatively, is mostly focused on the East Coast and plans to expand nationwide by the end of this year.

PrimaHealth’s average loan size is $1,800, and Walnut’s average loan size is $5,000.

The company is currently piloting with a handful of healthcare providers in dermatology, dentistry and fertility. It has had more than 500 patient loan applications, totaling over $4.6 million in application volume year-to-date. Patel says that Walnut only accepted a fraction of these applications, but declined to share what percent of money it has lent so far. As Walnut refines its model, it might be able to cover other categories.

Up until this point, Walnut has been lending off of its own balance sheet. In order to truly scale, it will need to get a new source of capital — either a credit line, debt financing round or venture capital — to offer more loans. Patel says that the startup is in talks with banks, and turned down a debt offer due to size and rate.

Venture capital seems to be the solution for now: The startup announced that it has raised a $3.6 million seed round from investors including Gradient Ventures, Afore Capital, 2048 Ventures, Supernode Ventures, TA Ventures, Polymath Capital, Tack Ventures, Awesome People Ventures, Newark Ventures and NKM Capital. Angels include the CEOs of Giphy and PillPack, and the CTO of Rampm Financial as well as an NFL coach. The company is also a part of Plaid’s inaugural accelerator.

“I don’t want to be yet another startup trying to offer you an undifferentiated insurance plan,” Patel said.

Former Asana employees want to take on Discord with a positive platform for creator communities

In a creator-economy world, if you’re only as good as your last YouTube video, then your next YouTube video had better be bigger and louder than the last.

Vibely, a new startup co-founded by Asana alumni Teri Yu and Theresa Lee, wants to turn the constant, and often exhausting, beast of content creation on its head. The startup has created a premium, creator-controlled community platform that allows fans to gather and be monetized in new ways, beyond what is possible on YouTube or TikTok.

The core of Vibely, and what the co-founders hope will keep users coming back, is the ability to let any creator make a challenge for their fans to enjoy. For example, a creator whose brand evokes thoughtfulness could ask fans to sketch out their personal growth goals or take action around a new year’s resolution everyday. Or a fitness influencer could motivate fans to work out for a sprint of days.

“Most people in the creator economy are thinking about how to immediately monetize and get that instant gratification of like money here,” Yu said, which is why creators sell merchandise or hop on Cameo. “We’re focusing on long-term strategic communities.” Yu describes her startup’s shift as a mindset change, from a linear relationship between creators and fans to a multi-directional relationship between fans, superfans, new fans and creators.

Image Credits: Vibely

Vibely’s pitch is two-fold. For fans, the platform gives them a chance to chat with other fans from around the world. It also lets fans participate in community challenges and have a place to plan virtual hangouts over shared love for makeup or dance. The startup helps creators simultaneously, by giving them a one-stop shop to announce plans, do call to actions and create an ambassador program. It lets the “creator scale their time and have a multi-directional relationship with the community under or beneath them.”

Notably, Vibely is trying to be different from Patreon or OnlyFans, which is basically paywalled content for fans. Vibely doesn’t need creators to post more content, it just needs them to pop into a premium community and interact with fans in a meaningful way.

The startup is formalizing a sporadic daily occurrence: When a creator posts content, their comment sections in YouTube, Instagram and TikTok light up with fans discussing every detail you can imagine, from a suggestive hair flip to if that background poster has a hidden message. Creators often pop in to respond to a spicy thread or a random compliment, which incentivizes fans to keep swarming the content section.

The startup has spent little on customer acquisition cost and relied heavily on word of mouth. In December, Vibely launched a part-in-person, part-virtual creator house to pair top TikTok creators with their followers, generating some buzz. In 2020, Vibely had more than 600 communities with 392,000 messages sent and 37,000 challenges completed. Creators include Lavendaire, with 1.3 million YouTube subscribers and Rowena Tsai, who has 520,000 subscribers.

Yu says that there is one day where Kim Kardashian might have a community on the platform, but the main “bread and butter” of Vibely is searching for creators who represent a true interest, value or belief system. This can be a book influencer or a religious creator, for example.

“[Creators] are controlling their own destiny,” Yu said. “On Instagram or Facebook, you might create content but the algorithm decides at the end of the day whether or not your audience sees it. With Vibely, they have 100% control since this is their community.” The startup is planning to make money through membership dues and in-app mechanics like social currencies and rewards.

Vibely’s moonshot goal is to be a more positive, and supportive, Discord, a platform used by gamer communities across the world. So far, Yu says that less than .1% of Vibely users have been flagged by other users, although notably would not share total user numbers. There is also an ambassador program that appoints a user to oversee a community, as well as a global community manager on the team.

“The ceiling of where [Discord] can support is really only going to be gamers,” she said. “But creators want to protect their brand right now and make sure people have a positive experience,” so they are looking for another place to set up.

Image Credits: Vibely

While moderation is apparently going well so far, Vibely will most certainly encounter problems as more and more users join its platform. In the world of challenges, craze and hype led by fanatics could potentially become harmful if someone takes it too far. While Vibely aims to be a judgement-free zone for people to connect around the world, scale has a uniquely pessimistic way of forking that from time to time. Some consumer apps have responded to this truth by aggressively hiring on-staff moderators, but that too can become grueling work.

To hit the ground running, Vibely announced today that it has raised $2 million in seed financing from backers including Steve Chen, the co-founder of YouTube; Justin Rosenstein, the co-founder of Asana and co-creator of Netflix’s “Social Dilemma” documentary; Scott Heiferman, the co-founder of Meetup; Turner Novak, formerly an investor at Gelt, and more.


Early stage privacy startup DataGrail gets boost from Okta partnership

When Okta launched its $50 million Okta Ventures investment fund in April, one of its investments was in an early stage privacy startup called DataGrail. Today, the companies announced a partnership that they hope will help boost DataGrail, while providing Okta customers with a privacy tool option.

DataGrail CEO and co-founder Daniel Barber says that with the increase in privacy legislation from GDPR to the upcoming California Consumer Protection Act (and many other proposed bills in various states of progress), companies need tools to help them comply and protect user privacy. “We are a privacy platform focused on delivering continuous compliance for businesses,” Barber says.

They do this in a way that fits nicely with Okta’s approach to identity. Whereas Okta provides a place to access all of your cloud applications from a single place with one logon, DataGrail connects to your applications with connectors to provide a way to monitor privacy across the organization from a single view.

It currently has 180 connectors to common enterprise applications like Salesforce, HubSpot, Marketo and Oracle. It then collects this data and presents it to the company in a central interface to help ensure privacy. “Our key differentiator is that we’re able to deliver a live data map of the customer data that exists within an organization,” Barber explained.

The company just launched last year, but Barber sees similarities in their approaches. “We we see clear alignment on our go-to-market approach. The product that we built aligns very similarly to the way Okta is deployed, and we’re a true  partner with the industry leader in identity management,” he said.

Monty Gray, SVP and head of corporate development at Okta, says that the company is always looking for innovative companies that fit well with Okta. The company liked DataGrail enough to contribute to the startup’s $5.2 million Series A investment in July.

Gray says that while DataGrail isn’t the only privacy company it’s partnering with, he likes how DataGrail is helping with privacy compliance in large organizations. “We saw how DataGrail was thinking about [privacy] in a modern fashion. They enable these technology companies to become not only compliant, but do it in a way where they were not directly in the flow, that they would get out of the way,” Gray explained.

Barber says having the help of Okta could help drive sales, and for a company that’s just getting off the ground, having a public company in your corner as an investor, as well as a partner, could help push the company forward. That’s all that any early startup can hope for.