Incredible Health passes unicorn valuation as it bags $80M Series B

Incredible Health, a US-based job-matching platform which made nurses its first focus, has closed an $80 million Series B funding round and announced hitting a $1.65BN unicorn valuation, billing itself as the highest valued “tech-enabled” career marketplace in the healthcare sector — a couple of (pandemic-struck) years after closing a $15M Series A.

The latest raise is led by Base10 Partners, with existing investors Andreessen Horowitz and Obvious Ventures also returning to back the startup. Other investors in the Series B include Incredible Health customer, Kaiser Permanente; plus a roster of angels and funds including Workday CEO Chano Fernando; NBA Champion Andre Iguodala; Rethink Impact; Stardust Equity; and the D’Amelio family, including TikTok personalities Charli and Dixie D’Amelio, who joined the round via their 444 Capital Fund.

Incredible Health said the new funding will go on supporting initiatives to help health systems and their employees manage surging patient care demand — including through optimizing hiring workflow with the use of machine learning technology (which it says will include “screening and matching”) to increase process automation and personalization for both healthcare workers and employers; career support for nurses and healthcare workers, including around skills growth, education, mobility and relocation; and new features for its community hub for nurses, such as personalized advice and content ranking. 

The startup is shooting to expand and scale its platform to 90% of the U.S. nurse workforce, and also eyeing moving into catering to healthcare worker roles beyond nursing that have critical shortages. (For nurses, it says the critical shortage means the US is on track to be 1 million nurses short by the end of 2023.)

“Nurses are the backbone of the US healthcare system, and they deserve the well-staffed teams and tools to not only succeed but also feel fulfilled in their careers,” said Iman Abuzeid M.D., CEO and co-founder, in a statement. “Our model has met the moment and changed the paradigm for both nurses and healthcare providers in the most challenging time in U.S. healthcare. We’re excited to accelerate our growth to affect even more change.”

Incredible Health is dubbing 2021 a “milestone” year in performance, with the startup clocking up a more than 500% increase in revenue. It also says more than 10,000 nurses join its marketplace every week, and claims it’s been able to reduce the average time to hire to 14 days from the industry standard of 82 days. On the employer side, it says ot has signed up more than 60% of the “top-ranked” hospitals in the US — with around 600 hospitals using its platform for permanent staffing.

Commenting on its Series B in a statement, Jamison Hill, partner at Base10 Partners, added: “Incredible Health is an exciting addition to the Advancement Initiative portfolio. The company’s mission and support for nurses closely align with our values but what truly makes Incredible Health special is how the company has transformed the way health systems recruit talent and nurses find work. The company is solving an urgent need in healthcare and we’re excited to be a part of its next stage of growth.”

For more on Incredible Health’s growth spurt, check out our recent Found podcast interview with Abuzeid:

DriveNets connects with $262M as demand booms for its cloud-based alternative to network routers

Internet usage continues to skyrocket, with 29.3 billion networked devices projected to be in use by 2023 and the growth rate currently at around 10%. Today, an enterprise startup called DriveNets that’s built a more cost-effective way for service providers and other outsized connectivity users to scale to meet that demand by leveraging software and cloud innovations — not relying solely on hardware — is announcing a big round of funding, a mark of the rising demand it’s seeing for its tech.

The Israeli startup, valued at over $1 billion, provides software-based internet routing solutions to service providers to run them as virtualized services over “white box” generic architecture, and today it is announcing $262 million in equity funding to continue expanding its technology, its geographical footprint, and its business development. The company today works with close to 100 customers — large networking service providers like AT&T that in turn collectively provide services to millions of others — and in the last year has seen network traffic over its cloud-based architecture grow 1,000%.

This Series C is being led by D2 Investments, a new investment fund with LPs from the U.S. and United Emirates; and existing backers Bessemer Venture Partners, Pitango, D1 Capital, Atreides Management, and Harel Insurance Investments & Financial Services are also participating. D1 (Daniel Sundheim’s fund, no connection to the current lead investor despite the similarity of names) led DriveNets’ previous round, a Series B of $208 million last year, which catapulted the startup to its $1 billion+ valuation. Ido Susan, the CEO who co-founded the company with Hillel Kobrinsky, tells me that the company is not disclosing an exact valuation figure this time around except to say that it “has substantially increased over the previous round.”

If these sums sound very large, it’s because outsized funding is the order of the day for large enterprise startups taking on networking infrastructure leviathans like Cisco, Juniper and Huawei. (It also explains a little of the logic behind the large funding rounds for upstarts in the adjacent area of processors.) Including the company’s debut round of $110 million led by Pitango when it first came out of stealth mode in 2019, DriveNets has now raised just over $580 million.

The funding, we should point out, is a also a measure of the faith investors have in repeat, successful founders. Cisco acquired a previous “self-optimizing network” startup called Intucell founded by Susan for $475 million; and AT&T acquired a (prescient!) web conferencing startup Kobrinsky founded for $121 million. “DriveNets has demonstrated its ability to move the networking industry forward and has gained the trust of tier-1 operators,” said Adam Fisher, a partner at Bessemer Venture Partners, in a statement. “While other solution providers are facing challenging headwinds, DriveNets continues to innovate and execute on its vision to change the future of the networking market.”

Although there are potential opportunities for DriveNets to work with the biggest enterprises that are building their own networking systems, today service providers account for the majority of DriveNets’ user base. While it first made its name in the U.S., it’s in the last year expanded deeper into Asia and Europe, too.

“Most of our customers are tier 1 and 2 service providers and we found that Asian operators are early adopter and open to new technologies that can accelerate growth and lower their cost,” said Susan this week. A lot of initial engagement is around cost-cutting.

The pitch DriveNets makes is that as demands to provide more network capacity increase, service providers typically have to buy a lot of equipment (and go through the costly and time-consuming process of issuing those tenders and negotiating deals).

Networking as it exists pre-DriveNets is largely focused around costly hardware. The startup’s pitch is that it can replace that with its proprietary sophisticated operating system, which relies on a cloud-based architecture, that can work in conjunction with a cheaper and simpler system of generic network equipment that sits in a provider’s own data center. The switch (pun intended) works out to a cost savings on average of 40%, Susan told me in the past.

The operating system has a lot of different functionality, covering core, aggregation, peering, cable, data center interconnection, edge computing and cloud services, and this means, Susan said, that while customers come for the discounts, they stay for the services, “since our model is software-based we enable faster innovation and service rollout.”

Network operations saw an especially huge boost of demand in the last 18 months, he continued, given the major swing that digital services saw across both consumers and enterprises, although that wasn’t exactly something that played into DriveNets’ hand as much as you might think.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic they grew their existing networks based by simply buying more of the same to minimize the operational burden,” said Susan. That’s now changing, though, in the currently economic climate.

“Now, post pandemic they are starting to refresh these networks and with the growing interest of Cloud Hyperscalers in networking service, operators are looking at more innovative ways to stay competitive and accelerate innovation, by building networks in more like cloud. These are the big customers that we are seeing now – transformative large operators who are expanding the capacity of their networks and are looking to rollout newer services at a wide scale,” he said. 

The rise of companies like DriveNets speaks to wider trends in the industry to replicate, replace and surpass the capabilities of older hardware-based systems with software and specifically cloud-based services. That’s meant that when DriveNets first emerged, it may have been novel, but it is no longer on its own in the field.

“We have seen in the past couple of years some of the incumbent networking vendors starting to adopt our model,” said Susan. He credits the company’s “huge success” at AT&T as a proof that “the model works. You can build networks like cloud at a very high scale and reliability and both lower network cost and accelerate service rollout.” Newer innovations like 5G are thought of as more efficient, but they do not necessarily offset the larger rise in demand and usage.

“Now it is not a matter of ‘if’ but of ‘when’ since incumbent vendors have more to lose over that transition,” he added. He believes that DriveNets will emerge a leader in the networking vendor space nonetheless, not least due to being able to invest in further development on the back of funding rounds like this one.

“We are investing in our current solution to ensure that we keep ahead of the market but also continue to add expected capabilities,” said Susan. He notes that the company was the first to support Broadcom’s latest chipset and more than triple the network capacity but also lead the transition to 400Gig. “In parallel, we are already investing in additional solution offerings that will provide additional value to our customers and expand our TAM,” he said.

The biggest challenge is not technological, per se, but one of talent, “recruiting quality people to support our engineering efforts and our global expansion. At the end of the day, it is all about the people,” he said. The company has been snapping up talent from the likes of Juniper and Salesforce, among others to fuel its growth. 

“DriveNets has already made a big impact in the high-scale networking industry and its routing solutions are adopted by tier-1 operators for their quality and the innovation they enable,” said Aaron Mankovski, managing partner at Pitango, in a statement. “This investment will allow DriveNets to expand its footprint in the market and develop additional offerings.”

YC grad QuotaBook raises $11M to scale its equity management platform

QuotaBook, a Seoul-based equity management platform, has raised $11 million in funding led by Elefund, with participation from Access Ventures, Hana Securities and South Korean fintech company Viva Republica. Some of its previous backers, including Draper Associates and Capstone Partners, joined the round.

The Korean startup, which graduated from Y Combinator (YC)’s Winter 21 batch, was founded by former venture capitalists Andy Choi, Dan Hong and Pilseon Jun, in 2019. Choi, the company’s CEO, said in an interview with TechCrunch that in their capacity as investors, the three noticed that in Korea and many other Asian countries, startups were still relying on Excel when managing their cap tables, stock options, stakeholder and other related information.

That meant the startups’ backers were forced to make sense of these spreadsheets, too. “VCs were stuck with Excel sheets or very old enterprise resource planning (ERP) tools, so old that they are not web-based and can be installed only on Windows machines,” Choi said. “It created a very annoying and error-prone process where startups and investors were regularly exchanging crucial equity data and corporate info via document attachments or text messages.”

Everyone was typing in the data manually because investors and startups had different formats and had to run double checks from each side again, Choi told TechCrunch.

“I had a case where the startup didn’t provide their most up-to-date cap table Excel sheet for more than two months, which made it hard for us to update our investment valuations and returns that were needed to be reported to our LPs,” Choi said.

QuotaBook will use the latest funding — which brings its total raised to approximately $20 million — to digitize the equity/fund management process, providing a common standard for security-related data, and making it possible to safely host shareholder and board meetings online. Additionally, the startup plans to scale out its product team, enter Southeast Asia and launch its service for investors in the Middle East, Choi noted. “The [Asian] market is still very young, so we also want to set up local offices or teams in the regions like Vietnam, Indonesia, Singapore and Taiwan.”

Currently, the outfit employs 45 people, Choi added.


Image Credits: QuotaBook

QuotaBook claims that it has more than 3,500 startups and investor users on its platform, largely based in South Korea, where the company started. About 40% of startups in Korea use QuotaBook’s service that provides cap table management, according to Choi. In June, it launched a restricted stock units (RSU) management service.

Its SaaS-based platform offers two services: an equity management service for startups, which includes cap table management, stock option management, investor reporting, investor consents, shareholder and board meetings, and a fund management platform for investors, which provides fund info, investment and returns management, portfolio management, LP commitment and returns management, LP reporting and fund activity analytics.

Its startup users start with a freemium plan. If they upgrade to a plan with more features, they get charged by the number of stakeholders, like holders of securities and stock options, Choi said. Investors also get charged based on the AUM of their funds and the number of portfolios.

QuotaBook also recently launched a communication platform called QuotaSpace that focuses on the communication and networking between investors and their portfolio companies. Choi said more features are coming, too.

“Once our core business settles down, we plan to expand into new business opportunities with the network and data we cover. Helping out with secondary sales and providing data services are a few examples,” he said.

QuotaBook did not provide its valuation when asked. The startup raised its previous funding in June 2021 from Draper Associates, Carta Ventures, Elefund, Goodwater Capital and Scale Asia Ventures.

From ‘literally zero’ experience to $100M, this VC is raising his second climate tech seed fund

If you ask me, climate tech investor Contrarian Ventures isn’t so contrarian anymore.

The five-year-old firm is targeting $100 million for its second seed-stage fund, and it’s doing so smack in the middle of a climate-tech dealmaking boom. So, if anything, it’s trendy.

But when the seed-stage VC — a backer of e-bike maker Zoomo and solar data firm PVcase — debuted with a $13.6 million fund in 2017, its focus was “obviously contrarian,” founding partner Rokas Peciulaitis told TechCrunch, as the “industries in vogue at the time were AI and Fintech.”

The launch also marked an unexpected pivot for Peciulaitis, who says he dove into the scene with “literally zero climate tech sector experience.” He’d recently left an inflation-trading job at Bank of America, where the work was “not fulfilling in the slightest,” Peciulaitis said in a nod to the bank’s reputation as a major funder of fossil fuels.

In 2017, PitchBook recorded 578 climate tech deals globally, altogether worth $12.5 billion. The sector has since tripled in size, as climate change–driven extreme weather events occupy evermore space in our collective consciousness. To that point: PitchBook tracked 1,130 climate tech deals globally in 2021, topping $44.8 billion in value. Climate tech is cool now, but Peciulaitis’s Lithuania-based venture firm is sticking with its name anyways.

Like any venture capital firm, Contrarian says that it stands out through its emphasis on “developing excellent relationships with founders.” Materially, the firm invests in tech that could help decarbonize transportation, industrial processes, energy and buildings.

Contrarian has completed 21 deals to date, and this year it expanded beyond Lithuania with new partners in Berlin and London. The firm backs emerging startups in Europe as well as Israel, but nowhere else in the Middle East. Currently, the firm does not invest in agriculture-related tech, though the category has a significant carbon footprint of its own.

In an email, Contrarian said it counts London-based tech VC Molten Ventures among its limited partners. The firm declined to share a full list of its LPs, but stated that none of them were fossil fuel companies.

How a16z’s investment into Adam Neumann further solidifies the ‘concrete ceiling’

It was the fundraise heard around Twitter.

Adam Neumann, the infamous entrepreneur behind WeWork, raised a stunning $350 million from Andreessen Horowitz for a yet-to-launch real estate company called Flow. The investment gave Neumann’s latest venture a more than $1 billion valuation, as reported by The New York Times, and came amid what is supposed to be an investor pullback in a bear market.

It is the largest individual check a16z has ever written and the second time the firm backed a Neumann-founded company this year.

There is no need to rehash every single thing that Neumann did wrong; AppleTV+ did that already in the miniseries “WeCrashed.” His calamitous tenure at WorkWork garnered him a reputation for worker mismanagement and he led his company to a disastrous IPO. He nevertheless walked away with a roughly $1 billion exit package. He failed up, and the announcement of his a16z round was a reminder that he is still failing up.

“The news [of Neumann’s raise] was not shocking to me,” Nicole Tinson, the founder of the inclusion platform HBCU 20×20, told TechCrunch. “I actually anticipated this because discrimination in funding is no different than discrimination in any avenue.”

One cannot out-educate, out-network and out-assimilate the systemic barriers designed to discriminate against them.

The news put reality in a harsh light, a breaking point for many. Women are tired of shattering glass ceilings; their hands are slashed from the dropping shards. Some founders are also exhausted from taking swings at the concrete ceiling, where gender, racial and often socioeconomic conditions combine to create a discriminatory barrier so strong it cannot shatter like glass; it’s sturdy like concrete and must arduously be drilled through.

Pomelo exits stealth mode with $20M seed to rethink international money transfer

Eric Velasquez Frenkiel had a seemingly simple thought when visiting his family in the Philippines, impressed by the cashless economy that had formed. Instead of sending money to his family once a year — a costly, fee-heavy affair — why can’t he just leave his credit card there?

As with many things in fintech, it wasn’t that simple. But the seed of the idea made the former enterprise chief executive turn his career into a bet on one of fintech’s most elusive problems.

Pomelo, Frenkiel’s new startup launching out of stealth today, wants to make it easier to send remittance payments and conduct international money transfers, with a credit twist.

To execute on that vision, Pomelo has raised a $20 million seed round led by Keith Rabois at Founders Fund and Kevin Hartz at A* Capital, with participation from Afore Capital, Xfund, Josh Buckley and The Chainsmokers. The round also included a $50 million warehouse facility, which will allow Pomelo to give upfront cash to people who want to make transfers.

Venture investors are not the only cohort showing interest; more than 120,000 people have joined Pomelo’s waitlist over six months, according to Frenkiel. (It’s important not to confuse this Pomelo with another Pomelo, a fintech-as-a-service platform for Latin America that has raised $9 million in funding.) Oh, fintech.

Here’s how the startup works: If someone wants to send money overseas, they make a Pomelo account, which comes with up to four credit cards. The creator of the account — let’s just assume that they’re the one that is sending the money — can set limits, pause cards and view spending habits.

Pomelo’s key tweak is around credit. Senders can give cash, in the form of credit, to family members — which the startup thinks will help with instant access to funds, fraud and chargeback protection and, for potential immigrants that may use this to send money back home, a way to boost one’s credit score with more transaction history.

Challenges still await any fintech, whether traditional or scrappy upstart, that is betting its business on backing potentially risky individuals. For example, Pomelo doesn’t want to rely on credit scores when deciding whether or not to trust a sender, because the metric historically leaves out those who don’t have a bounty of access to financial literacy or spending.

Image Credits: Pomelo

“If you do have a credit score and you have enough credit history, you would get up to $1,000 a month,” Frenkiel said. “But if you don’t have credit or wish to improve your credit, we give you a credit builder.” Customers are invited to supply a secure deposit, so that there’s a way to prove creditworthiness down the road, and Pomelo is able to “actually balance the need to extend credit but also ensure we stay in business long term.”

International money transfer continues to be an expensive affair for senders. Unsurprisingly, that pain point has led to a plethora of startups. Startups offer a sliding scale proposition, meaning it costs more to send more money, or a flat-fee value proposition, with a $5 fee for all transfers regardless of size. Per the World Bank, around 6% of a total check is removed via fees and exchange rate markups.

Rethinking remittance thus feels like a common pitch. Frenkiel says that Pomelo’s closest competitors are Xoom and Remitly, although he thinks they differentiate in two keys ways: the focus on credit, and a “fundamentally new revenue model.”

Pomelo doesn’t make money from senders via transfer fees, instead leaning its business on interchange fees paid by merchants. “You shouldn’t have to pay money to send money,” Frenkiel adds.

While interchange fees have their own slew of issues as a business model, let’s end with some insurance: both Visa and Mastercard were interested in partnering with the startup, but the latter won the deal.

“Mastercard allows us to work in more than 100 countries,” Frenkiel said. “Obviously, we’re starting off with a few, but the idea is that there’s far more endpoints to take Mastercard or Visa than having banking as a prerequisite to send money… we hope we can eventually deliver a product to wherever MasterCard is accepted around the world. ”

The startup is servicing the Philippines, but soon plans to expand to Mexico and India as well as other geographies.

Pliops lands $100M for chips that accelerate analytics in data centers

Analyzing data generated within the enterprise — for example, sales and purchasing data — can lead to insights that improve operations. But some organizations are struggling to process, store and use their vast amounts of data efficiently. According to an IDC survey commissioned by Seagate, organizations collect only 56% of the data available throughout their lines of business, and out of that 56%, they only use 57%.

Part of the problem is that data-intensive workloads require substantial resources, and that adding the necessary compute and storage infrastructure is often expensive. For companies moving to the cloud specifically, IDG reports that they plan to devote $78 million toward infrastructure this year. Thirty-six percent cited controlling costs as their top challenge.

That’s why Uri Beitler launched Pliops, a startup developing what he calls “data processors” for enterprise and cloud data centers. Pliop’s processors are engineered to boost the performance of databases and other apps that run on flash memory, saving money in the long run, he claims.

“It became clear that today’s data needs are incompatible with yesterday’s data center architecture. Massive data growth has collided with legacy compute and storage shortcomings, creating slowdowns in computing, storage bottlenecks and diminishing networking efficiency,” Beitler told TechCrunch in an email interview. “While CPU performance is increasing, it’s not keeping up, especially where accelerated performance is critical. Adding more infrastructure often proves to be cost prohibitive and hard to manage. As a result, organizations are looking for solutions that free CPUs from computationally intensive storage tasks.”

Pliops isn’t the first to market with a processor for data analytics. Nvidia sells the BlueField-3 data processing unit (DPU). Marvell has its Octeon technology. Oracle’s SPARC M7 chip has a data analytics accelerator coprocessor with a specialized set of instructions for data transformation. And in the realm of startups, Blueshift Memory and Speedata are creating hardware that they say can perform analytics tasks significantly faster than standard processors.


Image Credits: Pliops

But Pliops claims to be further along than most, with deployments and pilots with customers (albeit unnamed) including fintechs, “medium-sized” communication service providers, data center operators and government labs. The startup’s early traction won over investors, it would seem, which poured $100 million into its Series D round that closed today.

Koch Disruptive Technologies led the tranche, with participation from SK Hynix and Walden International’s Lip-Bu Tan, bringing Pliops’ total capital raised to date to more than $200 million. Beitler says that it’ll be put toward building out the company’s hardware and software roadmap, bolstering Pliops’ footprint with partners and expanding its international headcount.

“Many of our customers saw tremendous growth during the COVID-19 pandemic, thanks in part to their ability to react quickly to the new work environment and conditions of uncertainty. Pliops certainly did. While some customers were affected by supply chain issues, we were not,” Beitler said. “We do not see any slowdown in data growth — or the need to leverage it. Pliops was strong before this latest funding round and even stronger now.”

Accelerating data processing

Beitler, the former director of advanced memory solutions at Samsung’s Israel Research Center, co-founded Pliops in 2017 alongside Moshe Twitto and Aryeh Mergi. Twitto was a research scientist at Samsung developing signal processing technologies for flash memory, while Mergi co-launched a number of startups — including two that were acquired by EMC and SanDisk — prior to joining Pliops.

Pliop’s processor delivers drive fail protection for solid-state drives (SSD) as well as in-line compression, a technology that shrinks the size of data by finding identical data sequences and then saving only the first sequence. Beitler claims the company’s technology can reduce drive space while expanding capacity, mapping “variable-sized” compressed objects within storage to reduce wasted space.

A core component of Pliops’ processor is its hardware-accelerated key-value storage engine. In key-value databases — databases where data is stored in a “key-value” format and optimized for reading and writing — key-value engines manage all the persistent data directly. Beitler makes the case that CPUs are typically over-utilized when running these engines, resulting in apps not taking full advantage of SSD’s capabilities.

“Organizations are looking for solutions that free CPUs from computationally-intensive storage tasks. Our hardware helps create a modern data center architecture by leveraging a new generation of hardware-accelerated data processing and storage management technology — one that delivers orders of magnitude improvement in performance, reliability and scalability,” Beitler said. “In short, Pliops enables getting more out of existing infrastructure investments.”

Pliops’ processor became commercially available last July. The development team’s current focus is accelerating the ingest of data for machine learning use cases, Beitler says — use cases that have grown among Pliops’ current and potential customers.

The road ahead

Certainly, Pliops has its work cut out for it. Nvidia is a formidable competitor in the data processing accelerator space, having spent years developing its BlueField lineup. And AMD acquired DPU vendor Pensando for $1.9 billion, signaling its wider ambitions.

A move that could pay dividends for Pliops is joining the Open Programmable Infrastructure Project (OPI), a relatively new venture under the Linux Foundation that aims to create standards around data accelerator hardware. While Pliops isn’t a member yet — current members include Intel, Nvidia, Marvell, F5, Red Hat, Dell and Keysight Technologies — it stands to reason that becoming one could expose its technology to a larger customer base.

Beitler demurred when asked about OPI, but pointed out that the market for data acceleration is still nascent and growing.

“We continue to see both infrastructure and application teams being overwhelmed with underperforming storage and overwhelmed applications that aren’t meeting company’s data demands,” Beitler said. “The overall feedback is that our processor is a game-changing product and without it companies are required to make years of investments in software and hardware engineering to solve the same problem.”

Vividly wants to put some sparkle in your next CPG trade promotion campaign

Supply chain shortages and high gasoline prices have forced consumer packaged goods companies to manage trade more effectively over the past year to compete with other brands. Add in a worker shortage, and some brands are finding third parties they relied on are “dropping the ball when it comes to promotion execution,” Alexander Whatley, CEO of Vividly, told TechCrunch.

“We are seeing brands negotiate 20% off a promotion, but it might not run, yet they are still getting charged,” Whatley added.

Given that CPG companies spend over 20% of their revenue on trade promotion management, this is where Vividly comes in. Formerly known as Cresicor, the company provides trade promotion management tools for the $20 million global consumer packaged goods industry, which is forecasted to be valued at $25 million in 2028. The tools manage trade spend from the creation of campaigns to promotion planning, forecasting and deductions management.

Whatley estimates that customers have seen a 90% reduction in time required to complete business processes and a greater than 20% improvement in planning accuracy.

We profiled the company last year, back when it was still Cresicor, and when it raised $5.6 million in seed funding. At the time, it had grown revenue by 2.5x and employee headcount by 4x, to 20.

Cresicor was a company name Whatley had come up with back in 2017 when he founded the company with his brother Daniel, Stuart Kennedy and Nikki McNeil. At the time, he admitted it “was cool,” but as they got more into the trade promotion business, realized it didn’t fit.

Vividly trade promotion trade planning

Vividly’s trade planning feature. Image Credits: Vividly

“It kind of sounded like a drug name, too, so we always knew we wanted to rebrand,” Whatley said. “We help brands process messy data from retailers, feeds and spreadsheets into a clear format and data-driven downstream analyses. Essentially helping brands that often operate opaque processes and shine a light ‘vividly’ on those problems.”

Today, Vividly has since grown revenue by over 4x and grew its customer base by 3x, which includes CPG brands like Liquid Death, Bulletproof and Quinn’s. In addition, employees grew to 60.

In addition, it announced $18 million in Series A dollars, co-led by 645 Ventures and Vertex Ventures US, with participation from existing investors Costanoa Partners and Torch Capital as well as Green Spoon Sales. The new investment, which closed in May, gives the company $23 million in total funding since it was founded.

As part of the investment, 645 Ventures Managing Partner Nnamdi Okike will join Vividly’s board.

Meanwhile, the company will use the new funding to accelerate product development to cater to larger CPG customers and scale its go-to-market team.

Up next, Vividly is eyeing a Series B round as it works on building out optimization and modules within its platform.

Explo garners $12M Series A as BI dashboard service gains traction

The last time we spoke to Explo, the early stage startup was announcing its $2.3 million seed round. That was back in November, 2020, a very different time, and a lot has happened since then for the Y Combinator Winter 20 alum.

In spite of launching a company at the height of the pandemic, Explo finished building the product and found its first customers. That product is a tool for building customized business intelligence dashboards with a look and feel of your own company, which you can embed in your website or email to customers.

As Explo co-founder and CEO Gary Lin told us at the time of the seed funding:

“In terms of the UI and the output, we had to build out the ability for our end users to create dashboards, for them to embed the dashboards and for them to customize the styles on these dashboards, so that it looks and feels as though it was part of their own product,” Lin told TechCrunch in November 2020.

Lin says one of the things they’ve learned along the way is that Explo is a sticky product and that helped secure the latest $12 million Series A when the company went looking for funding at the beginning of this year. “Since we last chatted, we were heads down building the product, selling the product and around January of this year, we realized that we were actually getting some quite good traction and we thought it might be time to raise a Series A,” he said.

Lin says the venture market was starting to cool when they went looking for funding, but they got a good offer and feel very fortunate about that. “We didn’t actually see the same kind of impacts that founders today see. But it definitely wasn’t as hot of an environment as it was in December of the previous year. So I would say that we got very lucky in terms of timing, and we feel very fortunate about that,” he said. They secured the round in March of this year.

Today, the company is also announcing the official launch of their self-service product with a two-week trial period. The startup currently has 45 paying customers on the books with many others in the process of trying the product, he said. “For the free trials, what happens is that the companies will connect their databases or data warehouses to have the information that they want to be able to analyze. And so Explo will connect directly to these databases, whether it’s Postgres or data warehouses like Snowflake, and then give all of our customers a myriad of ways to kind of share data.”

Explo dashboard

Image Credits: Explo

And in terms of the impact of the current economic situation, so far at least Explo hasn’t seen a slowdown. “The type of product and type of role that Explo fulfills for customers, is what we’re defining as a necessity, but not a core competency. And so as people are actually trying to make sure that their workforce…is focusing on what’s core to their business, they’re actually even more willing to outsource dashboarding and analytics to a tool like Explo. And so we’ve actually seen sales, not really go down but stay strong as we’ve seen before,” he said.

With 15 employees today, Lin says the plan is to double in the next year, but he will let performance be the guide for that, rather than some hard goal. He says the company is working with a recruiter to keep building a diverse team, and he says the key is finding candidates early in the process.

“We’re really proud of the team that we’ve built. And the team has remained extremely diverse, which we’re excited about. One of the biggest things that we’ve learned over time is that what actually helps the most when it comes to hiring for diverse candidates is the top of the funnel,” he said. That means using a variety of external sources from the beginning of the process to surface a slate of diverse candidates for each open rec.

Today’s $12 million Series A was led by Craft Ventures with participation from Felicis Ventures, Amplo VC and various industry angels.

Sync Computing rakes in $15.5M to automatically optimize cloud resources

After a pandemic-driven cloud adoption boom in the enterprise, costs are finally coming under a microscope. More than a third of businesses report having cloud budget overruns of up to 40%, according to a recent poll by observability software vendor Pepperdata. A separate survey from Flexera found that optimizing the existing use of cloud services is a top initiative at 59% of companies — cost being the main motivation. 

An entire cottage industry of startups has sprung up around optimizing cloud compute. But one in the race, Sync Computing, claims to uniquely tie business objectives like cost and runtime reduction directly to low-level infrastructure configurations. Founded as a spinout from MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory, Sync today landed $12 million in a venture funding round (plus $3.5 million in debt) led by Costanoa Ventures, with participation from The Engine, Moore Strategic Ventures and National Grid Partners.

Sync co-founders Jeff Chou and Suraj Bramhavar both worked as members of the technical staff at the MIT Lincoln Laboratory prior to launching the startup. Bramhavar came to MIT by way of a photonics research position at Intel, while Chou co-founded another startup — Anoka Microsystems — designing a low-cost optical switch.

Sync was born out of innovations developed at the Lincoln Lab, including a method to accelerate a mathematical optimization problem commonly found in logistics applications. While many cloud cost solutions either provide recommendations for high-level optimization or support workflows that tune workloads, Sync goes deeper, Chou and Bramhavar say, with app-specific details and suggestions based on algorithms designed to “order” the appropriate resources.

“[We realized that our methods] can dramatically improve resource utilization of all large-scale computing systems,” Chou told TechCrunch in an email interview. “As Moore’s Law slows down, this will become a key technological choke point.”

Chou claims that Sync doesn’t require much in the way of historical data to begin optimizing data pipelines and provisioning low-level cloud resources. For example, he says, with just the data from a single previous run, some customers have accelerated their Apache Spark jobs by up to 80% — Apache Spark being the popular analytics source engine for data processing.

Sync recently released an API and “autotuner” for Spark on AWS EMR, Amazon’s cloud big data platform, and Databricks on AWS. Self-service support for Databricks on Azure is in the works.

“The launch of our public API will allow users to programmatically apply the Sync autotuner to a large number of jobs and enable continuous monitoring of [cloud environments] with custom integration,” Chou said. “The C-suite cares about managing cloud computing costs, and our Sync autotuner does this while also accelerating the output of data science and data analytics teams … The product also allows data engineers to quickly change infrastructure settings to achieve business goals. For example, one day, teams may need to minimize costs and de-prioritize runtime, but the next day, they may have a hard deadline, therefore needing to accelerate runtime. With Sync, this can be done with a single click.”

Sync first applied its technology inside MIT’s Supercomputing Center before working with larger government high-performance compute centers, including the Department of Defense — with which it has a $1 million contract. Now, Sync says it has roughly 300 registered users on its self-service app and “several dozen” design partners testing and providing feedback, including Duolingo and engineers at Disney’s Streaming Services group. 

“The pandemic and recent economic climate have been a boon for Sync, as controlling cloud costs through improved efficiency is now top of mind for many cloud software-as-a-service-native companies. Many companies are on hiring freezes and need an ‘easy button’ to drop cloud costs without adding burden or overhead to teams already at over capacity,” Chou said. “With the recent economic downturn, the demand for Sync’s unique approach has accelerated dramatically, already getting adopted by major enterprise customers. Our main challenge is for developers and CTOs to see how what we’ve built is different and also realize both can dramatically benefit by using it.”

Chou says the funding from the latest round, which bring’s Boston-based Sync’s total capital raised to $21.6 million, will be put toward customer acquisition, marketing and sales, product development, and R&D, including adding integrations with existing engineering workflows. Sync currently has 14 employees, a number that Chou expects will grow to 25 by the end of the year.