Google refreshes its mobile search experience

Google today announced a subtle but welcome refresh of its mobile search experience. The idea here is to provide easier to read search results and a more modern look with a simpler, edge-to-edge design.

From what we’ve seen so far, this is not a radically different look, but the rounded and slightly shaded boxes around individual search results have been replaced with straight lines, for example, while in other places, Google has specifically added more roundness. You’ll find changes to the circles around the search bar and some tweaks to the Google logo. “We believe it feels more approachable, friendly and human,” a Google spokesperson told me. There’s a bit more whitespace in places, too, as well as new splashes of color that are meant to help separate and emphasize certain parts of the page.

Image Credits: Google

“Rethinking the visual design for something like Search is really complex,” Google designer Aileen Cheng said in today’s announcement. “That’s especially true given how much Google Search has evolved. We’re not just organizing the web’s information, but all the world’s information. We started with organizing web pages, but now there’s so much diversity in the types of content and information we have to help make sense of.”

Image Credits: Google

Google is also extending its use of the Google Sans font, which you are probably already quite familiar with thanks to its use in Gmail and Android. “Bringing consistency to when and how we use fonts in Search was important, too, which also helps people parse information more efficiently,” Cheng writes.

In many ways, today’s refresh is a continuation of the work Google did with its mobile search refresh in 2019. At that time, the emphasis, too, was on making it easier for users to scan down the page by adding site icons and other new visual elements to the page. The work of making search results pages more readable is clearly never done.

For the most part, though, comparing the new and old design, the changes are small. This isn’t some major redesign — we’re talking about minor tweaks that the designers surely obsessed over but that the users may not even really notice. Now if Google had made it significantly easier to distinguish ads from the content you are actually looking for, that would’ve been something.

Image Credits: Google

Porsche and Axel Springer increase investment into their APX accelerator to €55M

Berlin-based early-stage fund APX today announced that its two investors, European publisher Axel Springer and sports car maker Porsche, have increased their investment in the fund to a total of €55 million.

With this, APX, which launched in 2018, is now able to deploy up to €500,000 in pre-Series A seed funding per company. That’s up from up to €100,000 when the fund launched. So far, the group has invested in more than 70 companies and plans to increase this number to close to 200 by 2022.

When APX launched, the fund didn’t disclose the total investment from Porsche and Axel Springer. Today, the team said that the new investment “more than doubles APX’s total amount for investing in new and current companies.” APX also stressed that the total volume of the fund is now “at least” €55 million, in part because the investors can always allocate additional funding for outliers.

In addition to the new funding, APX also today announced that it is doing away with its 100-day accelerator program and instead opting for a long-term commitment to its companies, including participation in future rounds.

“We will try and invest into 50 or more companies this year — and we were at 35 last year. So this is quite some growth,” APX founding managing director (and folk music aficionado) Henric Hungerhoff told me. “We think that our deal flow systems and our entire operations are settled in well enough that we can have quality founders in our portfolio. That’s our goal — and that might even increase to 70 the year after. […] We see really nice synergies or network effects within our portfolio, with founders helping other founders and learning from each other.”

Image Credits: APX

Hungerhoff tells me that the team is quite confident in its ability now to identify quality deal flows. The team is using a data-driven approach. And while it leverages its own network and that of its founders, it has also set up a scout program at leading European universities to identify potential founders, for example.

As APX founding managing director, and the former CEO of Axel Springer’s Plug and Play accelerator, Jörg Rheinboldt noted, APX never asks its founders to pitch. Instead, the team has multiple conversations with them about the product they want to build, how they came up with the idea — and how it changed over time.

“And then, we do multiple things simultaneously,” Rheinboldt said. “One is, we look at team dynamics. How do the founders interact? We also stress them a little bit — in a friendly way — where someone asks very fast questions, or we focus a little bit on one person and see how the others rescue them. We want to know about the team dynamics and then we want to understand the strategy, how we can help them best?”

The idea here is to be able to invest quickly. In addition, though, with the new funding, the team isn’t just able to invest into more companies but also invest more into the individual companies.

Image Credits: APX

“We want to invest deeper per startup at a very early stage,” Hungerhoff said. “So far, […] our typical approach was a non-dilution, pro-rata follow-on strategy with most of our portfolio companies. And this is something we want to pledge in the future. Looking at the past, 100% of the times in equity rounds, we do the pro-rata follow-on or more, but now, we have developed a strategy that we will, for the fastest-moving of fastest-growing companies, we want to deploy significantly more cash in a very early phase, which means an amount of up to €500,000.”

What the team saw was that the companies in its portfolio would raise a small pre-seed round from APX and other investors, with APX typically taking a 5% stake in the startup. Most founders would then go on and raise extended pre-seed or seed rounds soon thereafter.

“We more felt like we missed out when we saw these companies raising really nice financing rounds and we did our investment,” Rheinbolt said. “We felt very good that we can do a pro-rata investment. but we looked at each other and said: we knew this, we knew that they would do this 12 weeks ago. We could have given them a check and maybe the round would have been done in eight weeks and maybe [our stake] wouldn’t be 5% but 7%.”

Given this new focus on supporting startups throughout their lifecycle, it’s no surprise that APX did away with the 100-day program as well. But the team still expects to be quite hands-on. With a growing network, though, the partners also expect that founders will be able to learn from each other, too. “We now see the value that is coming from this,” Hungerhoff said. For example, a team that we’ve invested in two months ago, they’re now thinking about the angel round. They can actually get the best advice on this — or just experienced sharing — from another team, rather than talking to Jörg who did this maybe 30 years ago — no offense.”

The team also spends a lot of time thinking about its community, which now includes founders from 20 countries. The COVID pandemic has obviously moved most of the interactions online. Before COVID, APX often hosted events in its offices, which helped create the kind of serendipity that often leads to new ideas and connections. Looking ahead, the team still believes that there is a lot of value in having face-to-face meetings, but at the same time, maybe not every company needs to move to Berlin and instead visit for a few days every now and then.

Bonus: Here is Hungerhoff’s latest album with St. Beaufort.

Home services platform Porch acquires four companies

Only a few weeks after its SPAC IPO, Porch today announced that it has made four acquisitions, worth a total of $122 million. The most important here is probably the acquisition of Homeowners of America for $100 million, which gets Porch deeper into the home insurance space. In addition, Porch is also acquiring mover marketing and data platform V12 for $22 million, as well as home inspection service Palm-Tech and iRoofing, a SaaS application for roofing contractors. Porch did not disclose the acquisition prices for the latter two companies.

You may still think of Porch as a marketplace for home improvement and repair services — and that’s what it started out as when it launched about seven years ago. Yet while it still offers those services, a couple of years after its 2013 launch, the company pivoted to building what it now calls a “vertical software platform for the home.” Through a number of acquisitions, the Porch Group now includes Porch.com, as well as services like HireAHelper, Inspection Support Network for home inspectors, Kandela for providing services around moving and an insurance broker in the form of the Elite Insurance Group. In some form or another, Porch’s tools are now used — either directly or indirectly — by two-thirds of U.S. homebuyers every month.

Porch founder and CEO Matt Ehrlichman. Image Credits: Porch

As Porch founder and CEO Matt Ehrlichman told me, he had originally planned to take his company public through a traditional IPO. He noted that going the increasingly popular SPAC route, though, allowed him to push his timeline up by a year, which in turn now enables the company to make the acquisitions it announced today.

“In total, we had a $323 million fundraise that allows us now to not only be a public company with public currency, but to be very well capitalized. And picking up that year allows us to be able to go and pursue acquisitions that we think make really good fits for Porch,” Ehrlichman told me. While Porch’s guidance for its 2021 revenue was previously $120 million, it’s now updating that guidance to $170 million based on these acquisitions. That would mean Porch would grow its revenue by about 134% year-over-year between 2020 and 2021.

As the company had previously laid out in its public documents, the plan for 2021 was always to get deeper into insurance. Indeed, as Ehrlichman noted, Porch these days tends to think of itself as a vertical software company that layers insurtech on top of its services in order to be able to create a recurring revenue stream. And because Porch offers such a wide range of services already, its customer acquisition costs are essentially zero for these services.

Image Credits: Homeowners of America

Porch was already a licensed insurance brokerage. With Homeowners of America, it is acquiring a company that is both an insurance carrier as well as a managing general agent..

“We’re able to capture all of the economic value from the consumer as we help them get insurance set up with their new home and we can really control that experience to delight them. As we wrap all the technology we’ve invested in around that experience we can make it super simple and instant to be able to get the right insurance at the right price for your new home. And because we have all of this data about the home that nobody else has — from the inspection we know if the roof is old, we know if the hot water system is gonna break soon and all the appliances — we know all of this data and so it just gives us a really big advantage in insurance.”

Data, indeed, is what a lot of these acquisitions are about. Because Porch knows so much about so many customers, it is able to provide the companies it acquires with access to relevant data, which in turn helps them offer additional services and make smarter decisions.

Homeowners of America is currently operating in six states (Texas, Arizona, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Georgia) and licensed in 31. It has a network of more than 800 agencies so far and Porch expects to expand the company’s network and geographic reach in the coming months. “Because we have [customer acquisition cost]-free demand all across the country, one of the opportunities for us is simply just to expand that across the nation,” Ehrlichman explained.

As for V12, Porch’s focus is on that company’s mover marketing and data platform. The acquisition should help it reach its medium-term goal of building a $200 million revenue stream in this area. V12 offers services across multiple verticals, though, including in the automotive space, and will continue to do so. The platform’s overall focus is to help brands identify the right time to reach out to a given consumer — maybe before they decide to buy a new car or move. With Porch’s existing data layered on top of V12’s existing capabilities, the company expects that it will be able to expand these features and it will also allow Porch to not offer mover marketing but what Ehrlichman called “pro-mover” services, as well.

“V12 anchors what we call our marketing software division. A key focus of that is mover marketing. That’s where it’s going to have, long term, tremendous differentiation. But there are a number of other things that they’re working on that are going to have really nice growth vectors, and they’ll continue to push those,” said Ehrlichman.

As for the two smaller acquisitions of iRoofing and Palm-Tech, these are more akin to some of the previous acquisitions the company made in the contractor and inspection verticals. Like with those previous acquisitions, the plan is to help them grow faster, in part through integrating them into the overall Porch group’s family of products.

“Our business is and continues to be highly recurring or reoccurring in nature,” said Porch CFO Marty Heimbigner. “Nearly all of our revenues, including that of these new acquisitions, is consistent and predictable. This repeat revenue is also high margin with less than 20% cost of revenue and is expected to grow more than 30% per year on our platform. So, we believe these deals are highly accretive for our shareholders.”

Swimm raises $5.7M to help teams document their code

Most developers don’t enjoy writing documentation for their code and that makes life quite a bit harder when a new team member tries to get started on working on a company’s codebase. And even when there are documentation or in-line comments in the source code, that’s often not updated, and, over time, that information becomes close to irrelevant. Swimm, which today announced that it has raised a $5.7 million seed round, aims to automate as much of this process as possible after the initial documentation has been written by automatically updating it as changes are made.

The funding round was led by Pitango First, with TAU Ventures, Axon Ventures and FundFire also investing in this round, together with a group of angel investors that include the founder of developer platform Snyk.

Image Credits: Swimm

Swimm’s marketing mostly focuses on helping teams speed up onboarding, but it’s probably a useful tool for any team. Using Swimm, you can create the standard — but auto-updated — documentation, but also walkthroughs and tutorials. Using its code browser, you also can easily find all of the documentation that relates to a given file.

The nifty part here is that while the tool can’t write the documentation for you, Swimm will automatically update any code examples in the documentation for you — or alert you when there is a major change that needs a manual update. Ideally, this will reduce the drift between the codebase and documentation.

Image Credits: Swimm

The founding team members — Oren Toledano (CEO), Omer Rosenbaum (CTO), Gilad Navot (chief product officer) and Tom Ahi Dror (chief business officer) — started working on this problem based on their experience while running Israel Tech Challenge, a coding bootcamp inspired by the training program used by the Israeli Defence Forces’ 8200 Intelligence Unit.

“We met with many companies in Israel and in the U.S. to understand the engineering onboarding process,” Toledano told me. “And we felt that it was kind of broken — and many times, we heard the sentence: ‘we throw them to the water, and they either sink or swim.’ ” (That’s also why the company is called Swimm). Companies, he argues, often don’t have a way to train new employees on their code base, simply because it’s impossible for them to do so effectively without good documentation.

“The larger the company is, the more scattered the knowledge on the code base is — and a lot of this knowledge leaves the company when developers leave,” he noted.

With Swimm, a company could ideally not just offer those new hires access to tutorials that are based on the current code base, but also an easier entryway to start working on the production codebase as well.

Image Credits: Swimm

One thing that’s worth noting here is that developers run Swimm locally on a developer’s machine. In part, that’s because this approach reduces the security risks since no code is ever sent to Swimm’s servers. Indeed, the Swimm team tells me that some of its early customers are security companies. It also makes it easier for new users to get started with Swimm.

Toledano tells me that while the team mostly focused on building the core of the product and working with its early design partners (and its first set of paying customers), the plan for the next few months is to bring on more users after launching the product’s beta.

“Software development is now at the core of every modern business. Swimm provides a structured, contextual and transparent way to improve developer productivity,” said Yair Cassuto, a partner at Pitango First who is joining Swimm‘s board. “Swimm’s solution allows for rapid and insightful onboarding on any codebase. This applies across the developer life cycle: from onboarding to project transitions, adopting new open source capabilities and even offboarding.”                                                                                   

Drata raises $3.2M for its compliance audit platform

Drata, a startup that helps businesses get their SOC 2 compliance, today announced that it has raised a $3.2 million seed round led by Cowboy Ventures and that it is coming out of stealth. Other investors include Leaders Fund, SV Angel and a group of angel investors.

Like similar services, Drata helps businesses automate a lot of the evidence collection as they prepare for a SOC 2 audit. The focus of the service is obviously on running tests against the SOC 2 framework to help businesses prepare for their audit (and to prepare the right materials for the auditor). To do so, it features integrations with a lot of standard online business tools and cloud services to regularly pull in data. One nifty feature is that it also lets you step through all of the various sections of the SOC 2 criteria to check your current readiness for an audit.

At the end of the day, tools like Drata are meant to get you through an audit, but at the same time, the idea here is also to give you a better idea of your own security posture. For that, Drata offers continuous control monitoring, as well as tools to track if your employees have turned on all the right controls on their work computers, for example. Since companies have to regularly renew their certification, too, Drata can help them to continuously collect all of the data for their renewal, something that previously often involved boring — and quickly forgotten — manual tasks like taking screenshots of various settings every month or so.

Image Credits: Drata

Drata co-founder and CEO Adam Markowitz worked on the space shuttle engines after graduating from college and then launched his own startup, Portfolium, after that program ended. Portfolium, which helped students showcase their work in the form of — you guessed it — a portfolio, eventually sold to Instructure in 2019, where Markowitz stayed on until he launched Drata last June, together with a group of former Portfolium founders and engineers. Besides Markowitz, the co-founders include CTO Daniel Marashlian and CRO Troy Markowitz. It was the team’s experience seeing companies go through the audit process, which has traditionally been a drawn-out and manual process, that led them to look at building their own solution.

The company already managed to sign up a number of customers ahead of its official launch. These include Spot by NetAppAccel RoboticsAbnormal SecurityChameleon and Vareto. As Markowitz told me, even though Drata already had customers who were using the service to prepare for their audits, the team wanted to remain in stealth mode until it had used its own tool to go through its own audit. With that out of the way, and Drata receiving its SOC 2 certification, it’s now ready to come out of stealth.

As the number of companies that need to go through these kinds of audits increases, it’s maybe no surprise that we’re also seeing a growing number of companies that aim to automate much of this process. With that, unsurprisingly, the number of VC investments in this space also continues to increase. In recent months, Secureframe and Strike Graph announced their own funding rounds, for example.

Image Credits: Drata

Vantage makes managing AWS easier

Vantage, a new service that makes managing AWS resources and their associated spend easier, is coming out of stealth today. The service offers its users an alternative to the complex AWS console with support for most of the standard AWS services, including EC2 instances, S3 buckets, VPCs, ECS and Fargate and Route 53 hosted zones.

The company’s founder, Ben Schaechter, previously worked at AWS and Digital Ocean (and before that, he worked on Crunchbase, too). Yet while DigitalOcean showed him how to build a developer experience for individuals and small businesses, he argues that the underlying services and hardware simply weren’t as robust as those of the hyperclouds. AWS, on the other hand, offers everything a developer could want (and likely more), but the user experience leaves a lot to be desired.

Image Credits: Vantage

“The idea was really born out of ‘what if we could take the user experience of DigitalOcean and apply it to the three public cloud providers, AWS, GCP and Azure,” Schaechter told me. “We decided to start just with AWS because the experience there is the roughest and it’s the largest player in the market. And I really think that we can provide a lot of value there before we do GCP and Azure.”

The focus for Vantage is on the developer experience and cost transparency. Schaechter noted that some of its users describe it as being akin to a “Mint for AWS.” To get started, you give Vantage a set of read permissions to your AWS services and the tool will automatically profile everything in your account. The service refreshes this list once per hour, but users can also refresh their lists manually.

Given that it’s often hard enough to know which AWS services you are actually using, that alone is a useful feature. “That’s the number one use case,” he said. “What are we paying for and what do we have?”

At the core of Vantage is what the team calls “views,” which allows you to see which resources you are using. What is interesting here is that this is quite a flexible system and allows you to build custom views to see which resources you are using for a given application across regions, for example. Those may include Lambda, storage buckets, your subnet, code pipeline and more.

On the cost-tracking side, Vantage currently only offers point-in-time costs, but Schaechter tells me that the team plans to add historical trends as well to give users a better view of their cloud spend.

Schaechter and his co-founder bootstrapped the company and he noted that before he wants to raise any money for the service, he wants to see people paying for it. Currently, Vantage offers a free plan, as well as paid “pro” and “business” plans with additional functionality.

Image Credits: Vantage 

Grafana Labs adds a free tier to its managed observability platform

Grafana Labs, the company behind the increasingly popular open-source monitoring and observability platform, today announced both an updated version of its cloud service and the launch of a free tier for it.

The free plan for Grafana Cloud has some limitations, but it includes access to virtually all of Grafana Labs’ tools for monitoring modern applications. In addition, Grafana’s paid Pro plan for its hosted service is also getting an update and will now include access to five times more metrics per month.

With the free plan, users get a 14-day retention period for metrics and logs, access for up to three team members, 50 GB of log storage and up to 10,000 series for Prometheus and Graphite metrics. For Pro plans, those numbers increase to 15,000 series, 13 months of retention for metrics (up from 3,000 previously) and 100 GB of logs with a one-month retention period.

Image Credits: Grafana

Offering a hosted service is par for the course for open-source companies. For most of them, after all, this is the most obvious way to monetize their tools.

“The origin story of Grafana Cloud is one of open source,” the company writes in today’s announcement. “Just like the development of our features, Grafana Cloud was first born from the pains and needs of our open source community. We were looking to give users a quick way to get Grafana up and running. It was a product created out of necessity, and it made sense at the time because it’s what our customers wanted back then.”

Given its open-source origins, the team decided that it made sense to also offer a free plan. In addition, though, adding a free plan will also make it easier for new users to get started  — and maybe become paying users over time.

Image Credits: Grafana

BMW previews its next-gen iDrive infotainment system

At CES 2021, BMW today provided us with a first glimpse of the future of its iDrive system, twenty years after it first launched in the 2001 7 Series. Today’s announcement mostly focuses on the past, with a look back at the history of BMW’s infotainment platform, but the company did provide a bit more context and images of the new system that will make its official debut on the sizable displays in its upcoming iX soon.

Obviously, we’re looking at a refreshed and more colorful design here. Based on what we can glance from the materials that BMW did make available, current BMW drivers shouldn’t have too high a learning curve as the overall layout still looks familiar.

Despite the addition of BMW’s own personal voice assistant and gestures in recent updates, the iDrive knob in the center console isn’t going away, though it looks like it will be getting some design tweaks, too. Clearly, though, BMW isn’t planning to do away with physical controls anytime soon.

Image Credits: BMW

The overall philosophy behind the update, BMW says, is to offer a system that is better able to utilize the potential of a connected car in order to “make the mobility experience even safer, even more comfortable and convenient, and even richer in variety.”

The argument here is that the car, thanks to its myriad of sensors and connectivity, now often has access to far more information than the driver. That, BMW says, has influenced the new iDrive’s design, but the company isn’t quite ready to delve into any details yet, it seems. Based on what we can glance from the materials that BMW did make available, though, current BMW drivers won’t have too high a learning curve as the overall layout still looks somewhat familiar.

Image Credits: BMW

“The next generation of BMW iDrive takes the burgeoning relationship between a BMW and its driver to a new level,” the company writes in today’s announcement. “The new system neatly bridges the gap between analogue and digital technology. And this, in turn, heralds another paradigm shift, as the number of available functions in a car and their complexity continue along a constant upward curve.”

Fluent Forever raises $4.9M for its language learning system

Fluent Forever, a startup that uses a novel learning system to help its users master a new language faster, has raised a $4.9 million funding round led by Denver-based Stout Street Capital. Other investors in this round include The Syndicate, LAUNCH, Mana Ventures, Noveus VC, Flight.VC, Insta VC, UpVentures, Firebrand Ventures, Cultivation Capital, Spero Ventures and Lofty Ventures.

In many ways, Fluent Forever is a direct competitor to Duolingo, Babbel and similar online language learning services. What sets it apart is a focus on a personalized learning system that emphasizes ear training, visual aids and something akin to spaced-repetition for helping you memorize new words and phrases. It’s a paid service (after a 14-day free trial) with subscriptions starting at $10 per month for a monthly subscription and the usual discounts for longer-term commitments.

To teach himself his first languages, the company’s founder and CEO Gabriel Wyner used the popular flashcard service Anki, wrote a book about his approach, and taught workshops on language learning using his system with Anki. But as he noted, Anki is a serious tool, and simply learning how to get the most out of it takes a lot of time and energy.

Image Credits: Fluent Forever

“I’ve watched everyone else fail at language learning,” he told me. “And the first thought is, okay, well, if you just learn how to do it right, then that’s a fixable thing. That’s exciting. And then once you have a solution for people and they’re all excited about it — but then you watch them fail because of IT reasons. That’s extra frustrating.”

In many ways then, Fluent Forever uses Wyner’s flashcard approach — because building those flashcards by hand is at the core of his learning system — and turns it into a far-easier-to-use application.

What people want, Wyner acknowledged, is a tool where you just press some buttons and learn something. But that doesn’t work. “I had to have a really strong reaction to this — a really strong answer — and say, ‘absolutely not. That is the one thing that teaches you is building it.’ ”

Wyner is not afraid to compare his approach to Duolingo’s and argues that its focus on translation exercises doesn’t translate to real language skills in the long run. At the same time, he freely acknowledges that the Duolingo user experience and gamification are far better than Fluent Forever. But he also believes that learners see far better results with his system.

Image Credits: Fluent Forever

“We ask [our users]: ‘Why are you with us? Why would you pay for us when you could just get Duolingo for free?” What they come back with is, ‘yeah, your product is rough around the edges. I wish you would fix this, this and that, but you had me thinking in Spanish in two weeks,” Wyner said.

Fluent Forever currently supports nine languages: Japanese, French, Russian, Mexican and Spanish Spanish, Italian, Korean, German and Brazilian Portuguese, with Dutch being the next language the team is tackling.

As Wyner told me, the company had trouble raising in 2019, in part because the service was seeing pretty flat growth at the time. “People are very skeptical about language learning — that is not a sexy field. People don’t like it. The idea of jumping and trying to be competitive with Duolingo was just not appealing to anyone,” he told me. Come 2020, though, growth picked up, even before the COVID pandemic. At the same time, Fluent Forever also participated in Jason Calacanis’ Launch Accelerator.

Looking ahead, Wyner tells me that Fluent Forever is looking at ways to bring live tutors into the loop. Live tutoring online has been done before, of course, and there are some companies like Preply that specialize in it already, but what Fluent Forever wants to do is combine the online language learning service with short live sessions and then use the online component to go back to that conversation over the course of a week or so. One advantage here is that these users — who will likely pay a premium for the live service — will also use their time with live tutors to create their own personalized sentences in the Fluent Forever system, which could then over time become content that’s available to all users, too.

VergeSense raises $12M Series B for its workplace analytics service

VergeSense, a startup that uses machine vision to help businesses better understand how their office spaces are being utilized, today announced that it has raised a $12 million Series B funding round led by Tola Capital.

Including the company’s $9 million Series A round, which it raised earlier this year, VergeSense has now raised a total of $22.6 million. Previous investors include JLL Spark, Allegion Ventures, MetaProp, Y Combinator, Pathbreaker Ventures and West Ventures.

Given the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s maybe no surprise that VergeSense would be seeing quite a bit of demand for its service and sensors. While the company was seeing strong growth since its launch in 2017, the pandemic is accelerating the move to smarter office spaces. As VergeSense CEO and co-founder Dan Ryan told me, over the course of the last few months, the company added new features to help businesses manage social distancing, for example, and to better understand where in a given office they should intensify their cleaning protocols.

VergeSense sensor

It’s also becoming increasingly clear that even after we get the pandemic under control, office spaces — and office work — will look radically different. “It’s going to be a sort of a hybrid model of working, which, pre-pandemic, was already something that was happening — companies were experimenting with this — but now it’s been turbocharged,” Ryan said. “We never anticipated any of this, but I think it’s a great example of the possibilities that you can help support when you have this intelligent infrastructure all around you that allows you to almost program the physical world.”

Another new feature the company launched this year allows its tools to register when a seat is likely occupied, even though nobody is in it right now, by looking for backpacks and other signs that would signal that a desk is in use.

VergeSense currently has customers in 29 countries. These include the likes of Shell, Quicken Loans, Roche, Cisco and Telus. In total, the company’s tools watch more than 40 million square feet of space now.

Image Credits: VergeSense

As Ryan told me, the company saw quite a bit of inbound interest from investors this year and the team wanted to capitalize on the current trends. “As we look forward to ’21, especially now that this transition to an agile hybrid seating model is going to be turbocharged, we were preparing for and planning for additional growth there as well. So this was sort of opportunistic opportunity to team up with Tola to help go to the next level,” Ryan explained.

The company plans to use the new funding to continue to work on its core computer vision capabilities and hardware, but as Ryan noted, one of the focus areas for VergeSense in 2021 will also include new partnerships and integrations with tools for booking desks and rooms, as well as building automation systems. To do so, it plans to double its headcount and hire across all departments.

VergeSense is obviously not the only company playing in this space. Swiss startup Locatee, for example, raised a Series A round for its service earlier this year, though it uses network data to measure occupancy and not the kind of dedicated sensors that VergeSense is developing. Other players include the likes of Density, Basking and SteerPath.