Ushur, which aims to automate aspects of the customer experience, raises $50M

Automation tech continues to attract funding in an increasingly challenging macroeconomic environment. That’s because of its cash-saving potential, no doubt. In a recent survey by Zapier — not the most unbiased source, granted, given that the company sells automation software — about 44% of employees say that automation saves them time while almost a third (33%) say it enables them to accomplish more with fewer resources.

One of the vendors benefiting from the interest is Ushur, which focuses specifically on automating aspects of companies’ customer experiences. The startup provides dashboards from where users can build AI-powered workflows for tasks like claims processing, customer support and appointment scheduling, letting organizations automate both business processes and front-office, customer-facing tasks (if the sales pitch is to be believed).

Ushur today announced that it raised $50 million in a Series C round led by Third Point Ventures with participation from investors Iron Pillar, 8VC, Aflac Ventures and Pentland Ventures. Bringing the startup’s total raised to $92 million, the funds will be put toward expanding Ushur’s product portfolio, developing new AI innovations and moving into new regions and industry verticals, according to CEO Simha Sadasiva.

Ushur, which Sadasiva co-founded in 2014 with ex-Lucent Technologies staffer Henry Peter, targets enterprises in heavily regulated industries such as insurance, healthcare, financial services and banking with tools designed to simplify the adoption of tech like conversational AI and intelligent document processing. For example, Ushur offers a chatbot-like plugin that provides automated customer support through web, mobile, email and live chat channels, proactively reaching out to customers with information specific to their needs and handling transactions across the different channels automatically.

“We optimize our [AI] models for industry-specific taxonomy and document types,” Sadasiva told TechCrunch in an email interview. “For example, in the insurance industry, ACORD forms are a standard. Ushur’s document models have been trained on all types of these forms … Another example is the training model we developed to triage millions of emails.”

Hearing all this, you might be wondering: What sets Ushur apart from the other enterprise automation firms out there? Fair question. After all, uses machine learning, AI and a design studio to help companies handle tasks that are usually performed manually — similar to what Ushur claims to offer. Meanwhile, SaaS Labs provides AI tools to automate certain sales and support processes. Then there’s incumbents like Automation Anywhere and UiPath, which occupy the enormous robotic process automation market.


Image Credits: Ushur

Ushur, Sadasiva says, is differentiated by its dedication to plug-and-play, self-served customer experiences. Using the platform, IT teams can hook up existing systems to Ushur-provided APIs and data connectors before handing off the work to business teams, who can build automated experiences on top of Ushur’s templated workflows.

“Ushur’s flexible, AI-powered and true zero-code workflow environment doesn’t need support engineers designing or constantly tweaking it like some automation solutions do,” Sadasiva said. “Most companies can quickly deploy Ushur’s no-code platform with in-house citizen developers and IT teams.”

Sadasiva’s words are best taken with a grain of salt. No tech is foolproof — not even Ushur’s, assuming it’s indeed as good as claimed.

But differences of tech and opinion aside, Ushur has managed to build an objectively strong customer base, with brands like Aflac, Aetna, CVS Health and United Healthcare on the contractual hook for its services. Sadasiva says that more than 50% of Ushur’s clients are Fortune 500 companies and that the startup now serves three of the world’s top six healthcare companies.

The software sells itself, Sadasiva says. One recent survey found that businesses using customer experience automation software expected to double their revenue in 2022 compared to those using manual email marketing, marketing automation and customer relationship management tools. According to the same survey, customer experience automation led to more relevant communications and, in turn, better retention and customer acquisition.

“The pandemic dramatically accelerated Ushur’s business. During that time, Ushur more than doubled its customer base, tripled its headcount and expanded its footprint across three continents,” Sadasiva said. “As the world went remote, customer interactions shifted online … At the same time, businesses were hobbled by COVID-related staff shortages and were looking for ways to automate. Ushur gave businesses a way to provide self-served digital interactions over any channel on the customer’s schedule.”

While Ushur doesn’t have any government contracts at the moment, it sees this as a growth opportunity, according to Sadasiva. In fact, Ushur plans to expand into the public sector within the next 12 months, which will potentially include pursuing military contracts.

“Ushur is in an enviable position to not only weather but thrive in a prolonged economic downturn … Even if the economy tips into recession, the trends still favor our growth for the same reasons they did during the pandemic,” Sadasiva said. “In addition, our focus on solving real-world business problems and our disciplined yet practical approach to growth kept Ushur out of tight spots as we maintained a steep growth trajectory.”

There’s some truth to that. While Sadasiva wouldn’t disclose Ushur’s exact revenue (for competitive reasons, ostensibly), he said that the last four quarters were the biggest in the company’s history and that annual recurring revenue in 2022 eclipsed the total for the previous four years put together.

Ushur, which has 203 employees, plans to hire this year.

Ushur, which aims to automate aspects of the customer experience, raises $50M by Kyle Wiggers originally published on TechCrunch

DataGrail announces automated risk assessment tool and $45M investment

DataGrail has always focused on helping companies comply with the growing world of privacy regulation, building plug-ins to common data-heavy applications to help automate data discovery and compliance.

Today, it’s building on that with a new automated risk monitoring solution that helps companies build third-party application risk assessments quickly. While they were at it, the startup also announced a $45 million Series C investment.

Company CEO and co-founder Daniel Barber says that overall the product has evolved into a data privacy control center where customers can have a better understanding of their customer’s data privacy requirements.

“We’ve seen the market move towards needing to control [privacy] because largely businesses have been out of control with how they’re managing privacy, while consumers are expecting control. And so we’ve really formed this thesis around the need for a privacy control center,” Barber explained.

To help, the company has over 1400 plug-ins, up from 900 when we spoke last year, which help monitor what kinds of data are being collected and how the data moves across applications inside a company.

He said they built the new Risk Monitor tool as a way to take advantage of the company’s understanding of these data flows and the risks involved. “We’re announcing this product called Risk Monitor, and what we’re really talking about here is as part of regulatory requirements, many of them require businesses to do assessments of risk,” he said.

The tool is designed to help build these assessments, known as Data Protection Impact Assessments (DPIAs), in an automated way, reducing the amount labor involved to build a DPIA on the data used in a particular tool. This reduces the workload for privacy managers, while showing others inside a company what good privacy practice looks like.

“What we’ve done is using our 1400 plus integrations and the existing information we know about risk and the third-party risk associated with those applications, we can pre-fill and create intelligent workflows that automate the entire [DPIA process] here to reduce the number of people involved and needed in the privacy program, while effectively centralizing that risk,” he said.

In spite of the economic uncertainty that exists today, Barber says the company has grown revenue 3x since we spoke in March 2021 at the time of his company’s $30 million Series B announcement.

It has also grown from 40 employees since last year to over 100 today with plans to perhaps double that in the next year powered by the new capital from the Series C investment. He says that as he builds the workforce, he is focused on building a diverse and inclusive company.

“It’s something that’s kind of built into the DNA of the business from the beginning. So at the board level, we have equal women and men on the board, which is quite unusual for boards to have equal representation by gender, and we have equal representation at the executive level level as well,” he said. And they also have gender parity at the management level. While he understands that there are many dimensions to diversity, he has achieved gender diversity across all levels of the company.

As for the $45 million Series C, that was led by Third Point Ventures with participation from Thomson Reuters Ventures and Sixty Degree Capital along with previous investors Felicis Ventures, Operator Collective, Next47, Cloud Apps Capital and other unnamed investors. The startup has now raised over $84 million.

DataGrail announces automated risk assessment tool and $45M investment by Ron Miller originally published on TechCrunch

Blameless raises $30M to guide companies through their software lifecycle

Site reliability engineering platform Blameless announced Tuesday it raised $30 million in a Series B funding round, led by Third Point Ventures with participation from Accel, Decibel and Lightspeed Venture Partners, to bring total funding to over $50 million.

Site reliability engineering (SRE) is an extension of DevOps designed for more complex environments.

Blameless, based in San Mateo, California, emerged from stealth in 2019 after raising both a seed and Series A round, totaling $20 million. Since then, it has turned its business into a blossoming consultancy.

Blameless’ platform provides the context, guardrails and automated workflows so engineering teams are unified in the way they communicate and interact, especially to resolve issues quicker as they build their software systems.

It originally worked with tech-forward teams at large companies, like Home Depot, that were “dipping [their toes] into the space and now [want] to double down,” co-founder and CEO Lyon Wong told TechCrunch.

The company still works with those tech-forward teams, but in the past two years, more companies sought out resident SRE architect Kurt Anderson to advise them, causing Blameless to change up its business approach, Wong said.

Other companies are also seeing a trend of customers asking for support — for example, in March, Google Cloud unveiled its Mission Critical Services support option for SRE to serve in a similar role as a consultant as companies move toward readiness with their systems. And in February, Nobl9 raised a $21 million Series B to provide enterprises with the tools they need to build service-level-objective-centric operations, which is part of a company’s SRE efforts.

Blameless now has interest from more mainstream companies in the areas of enterprise, logistics and healthcare. These companies aren’t necessarily focused on technology, but see a need for SRE.

“Companies recognize the shortfall in reliability, and then the question they come to us with is how do they get from where they are to where they want to be,” Anderson said. “Often companies that don’t have a process respond with ‘all hands on deck’ all the time, but instead need to shift to the right people responding.”

Lyon plans to use the new funding to fill key leadership roles, the company’s go-to-market strategy and product development to enable the company to go after larger enterprises.

Blameless doubled its revenue in the last year and will expand to service all customer segments, adding small and emerging businesses to its roster of midmarket and large companies. The company also expects to double headcount in the next three quarters.

As part of the funding announcement, Third Point Ventures partner Dan Moskowitz will join Blameless’ board of directors with Wong, Accel partner Vas Natarajan and Lightspeed partner Ravi Mhatre.

“Freeing up engineering to focus on shipping code is exactly what Blameless achieves,” said Moskowitz in a written statement. “The Blameless market opportunity is big as we see teams struggle and resort to creating homegrown playbooks and point solutions that are incomplete and costly.”


Activist hedge fund manager Daniel Loeb takes on Intel, plans launch of new VC fund

Third Point, the activist hedge fund run by Daniel Loeb, is busy in the waning days of 2020. It’s had great returns despite huge turbulence early in the pandemic — Reuters says that it is up 12.3% for the year as of earlier this month — and the firm clearly sees more and more potential for growth in the tech sector.

First, we learned via Asa Fitch at the Wall Street Journal yesterday that the hedge fund sent a vituperative shareholder letter to Intel chair Omar Ishrak, demanding wide-scale changes in its management after the American chipmaker fell dramatically behind rivals in recent years. As I noted in TechCrunch’s 2020 wrapup of the semiconductor industry, Intel has a make-or-break moment coming next year, and now with even further activist pressure from hedge funds, the push to fix Intel’s underlying problems is intensifying.

Third Point, according to the Journal, has acquired a $1 billion stake in the company. Intel’s stock jumped 5% immediately following the news as investors hope the added pressure improves the company’s prospects going forward.

But apparently, you won’t have to be a public company to get activist hedge funds on your cap table.

According to Miles Kruppa in the Financial Times this morning, the hedge fund is looking to raise up to $300 million for a new venture fund, with a presumed close by February. The hedge fund has made numerous venture investments in the past through its Third Point Ventures wing, although that line of its business has never garnered quite the business press headlines like its huge activist bets.

In the past, the firm’s venture investments targeted the tech, healthcare, and fintech spaces, with checks written to such companies as SentinelOne and Yellowbrick Data according to Crunchbase. No word on whether the stage or industry will remain the same for the new fund, assuming it closes.

Kentik raises $23.5M for its network intelligence platform

Kentik, the company once known as CloudHelix, today announced that it has raised a $23.5 million growth funding round led by Vistara Capital Partners, with existing investors August Capital, Third Point Ventures, DCVC, and Tahoma Ventures also participating. With this round, Kentik has now raised a total of $61.7 million.

The company’s platform allows enterprises to monitor their networks, no matter whether that’s over the Internet, inside their own data centers or in public clouds.

“The world has become even more internet-centric, and we are seeing growth in traffic levels, product engagement, and revenue across both our enterprise and service provider customers,” said Avi Freedman, the co-founder and CEO of Kentik when I asked him why he was raising a round now. “We’ve seen an increased pace of adoption of the kind of hybrid and internet-centric architectures that Kentik is built for and thought it was a great time to increase investment, especially in product, as well as go-to-market and partner expansion to support market demand.”

Freedman says the company has been growing 100% compounded year-over-year since it launched in 2015 and now has customers in 25 countries. These include leading enterprises, SaaS companies, content providers, gaming companies, content providers, and cloud and communication service providers, he tells me. Current customers include the likes of IBM, Zoom, Dropbox, eBay, Cisco and GoDaddy.

The company says it will use the new funding to invest in its product and for go-to-market investments.

One notable fact about this new round is that it is a combination of equity and growth debt. Why growth debt? “Growth debt is an attractive option for startups with the right scale and strong unit economics, especially with the changes to capital markets in response to current economic conditions,” said Freedman. “Another element that makes long-term debt attractive is that unlike equity financing, long-term debt limits dilution for everyone, but especially benefits our employees who hold common stock.” That, it’s worth noting, is also something that lead investor Vistara Capital has made one of the core tenants of its investment philosophy. “Since Kentik is now at a scale where we have enough data on the business fundamentals to be able to make growth investments using debt while still being able to repay it over time, it made sense to us and our investors,” noted Freedman.

SentinelOne raises $200M at a $1.1B valuation to expand its AI-based endpoint security platform

As cybercrime continues to evolve and expand, a startup that is building a business focused on endpoint security has raised a big round of funding. SentinelOne — which provides a machine learning-based solution for monitoring and securing laptops, phones, containerised applications and the many other devices and services connected to a network — has picked up $200 million, a Series E round of funding that it says catapults its valuation to $1.1 billion.

The funding is notable not just for its size but for its velocity: it comes just eight months after SentinelOne announced a Series D of $120 million, which at the time valued the company around $500 million. In other words, the company has more than doubled its valuation in less than a year — a sign of the cybersecurity times.

This latest round is being led by Insight Partners, with Tiger Global Management, Qualcomm Ventures LLC, Vista Public Strategies of Vista Equity Partners, Third Point Ventures, and other undisclosed previous investors all participating.

Tomer Weingarten, CEO and co-founder of the company, said in an interview that while this round gives SentinelOne the flexibility to remain in “startup” mode (privately funded) for some time — especially since it came so quickly on the heels of the previous large round — an IPO “would be the next logical step” for the company. “But we’re not in any rush,” he added. “We have one to two years of growth left as a private company.”

While cybercrime is proving to be a very expensive business (or very lucrative, I guess, depending on which side of the equation you sit on), it has also meant that the market for cybersecurity has significantly expanded.

Endpoint security, the area where SentinelOne concentrates its efforts, last year was estimated to be around an $8 billion market, and analysts project that it could be worth as much as $18.4 billion by 2024.

Driving it is the single biggest trend that has changed the world of work in the last decade. Everyone — whether a road warrior or a desk-based administrator or strategist, a contractor or full-time employee, a front-line sales assistant or back-end engineer or executive — is now connected to the company network, often with more than one device. And that’s before you consider the various other “endpoints” that might be connected to a network, including machines, containers and more. The result is a spaghetti of a problem. One survey from LogMeIn, disconcertingly, even found that some 30% of IT managers couldn’t identify just how many endpoints they managed.

“The proliferation of devices and the expanding network are the biggest issues today,” said Weingarten. “The landscape is expanding and it is getting very hard to monitor not just what your network looks like but what your attackers are looking for.”

This is where an AI-based solution like SentinelOne’s comes into play. The company has roots in the Israeli cyberintelligence community but is based out of Mountain View, and its platform is built around the idea of working automatically not just to detect endpoints and their vulnerabilities, but to apply behavioral models, and various modes of protection, detection and response in one go — in a product that it calls its Singularity Platform that works across the entire edge of the network.

“We are seeing more automated and real-time attacks that themselves are using more machine learning,” Weingarten said. “That translates to the fact that you need defence that moves in real time as with as much automation as possible.”

SentinelOne is by no means the only company working in the space of endpoint protection. Others in the space include Microsoft, CrowdStrike, Kaspersky, McAfee, Symantec and many others.

But nonetheless, its product has seen strong uptake to date. It currently has some 3,500 customers, including three of the biggest companies in the world, and “hundreds” from the global 2,000 enterprises, with what it says has been 113% year-on-year new bookings growth, revenue growth of 104% year-on-year, and 150% growth year-on-year in transactions over $2 million. It has 500 employees today and plans to hire up to 700 by the end of this year.

One of the key differentiators is the focus on using AI, and using it at scale to help mitigate an increasingly complex threat landscape, to take endpoint security to the next level.

“Competition in the endpoint market has cleared with a select few exhibiting the necessary vision and technology to flourish in an increasingly volatile threat landscape,” said Teddie Wardi, MD of Insight Partners, in a statement. “As evidenced by our ongoing financial commitment to SentinelOne along with the resources of Insight Onsite, our business strategy and ScaleUp division, we are confident that SentinelOne has an enormous opportunity to be a market leader in the cybersecurity space.”

Weingarten said that SentinelOne “gets approached every year” to be acquired, although he didn’t name any names. Nevertheless, that also points to the bigger consolidation trend that will be interesting to watch as the company grows. SentinelOne has never made an acquisition to date, but it’s hard to ignore that, as the company to expand its products and features, that it might tap into the wider market to bring in other kinds of technology into its stack.

“There are definitely a lot of security companies out there,” Weingarten noted. “Those that serve a very specific market are the targets for consolidation.”