GetYourGuide widens its horizons, will expand its Originals short tours into day trips and more

GetYourGuide has made a name for itself as the startup that helped the stale idea of guided tours for travellers on its head. Tapping into the generation of consumers who think of travel not just as going somewhere, but having an “experience” (and, ideally, recording it for Insta-posterity), it has built a marketplace to connect them with people who will help guarantee that this is what they will get. It’s a concept that has helped it sell more than 25 million tickets, hit a $1 billion valuation, and raise hundreds of millions of dollars in VC funding.

And the startup has grown quite a lot since passing the 25 million mark in May. “We’ve had 40 million travelers over the last 12 months. We’re the market leader in every European geography. We’re #2 in the U.S. and about to become #1,” co-founder and CEO Johannes Reck said at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin.

Now GetYourGuide is taking the next step in its strategy to expand its touchpoints with users, and grow and diversify its business in the process. The company is expanding its “Originals” business — its own in-house tour operation — into one-day tours and other longer journeys, with the aim of hitting 1 million sales of Originals this year. It will kick off the effort with a small number — between five and 10 — one-day tours in different exotic locations. Examples will include “dune-bashing in Dubai,” glacier excursions from Reykjavik, and trips to Bali’s “most instagrammable hidden spots.”

GetYourGuide Originals have been working well. “We’ve had tremendous success, we have an average score of 4.8 [out of 5] compared to 4.4 for the other marketplace activities,” Reck said. Originals have a 40% higher repeat rate than other activities.

“And we’re now extending it to day trips. For those who are not familiar with the travel experience, day trip is the single biggest vertical inside of experiences,” Reck said.

Originals was launched a year and a half ago as a way for GetYourGuide to build its own tours — which it kicked off first with shorter walking tours — as a complement to the marketplace where it offers travellers a way of discovering and purchasing places on tours organised by third parties. Today it offers 23 different Originals in 17 cities like Paris, London, Berlin and Rome.

Up to now, GYG has sold some 200,000 places on its Originals tours — which is actually a tiny proportion of business, when you consider that the number of tours booked through the platform has passed 25 million.

The startup likes to describe its own Orignals as “like Netflix Originals, but in the real world!” And that analogy is true in a couple of ways. Not only does it give GYG more curatorial control on what is actually part of the tour, where it’s run, who guides it and more; but it gives the company potentially a bigger margin when it comes to making money off the effort, and means it does not have to negotiate with third parties on revenue share and other business details.

That’s, of course, not considering the challenges of scaling in this way.

Adding in more Originals and extending to transportation to get to the destination (and potentially staying overnight at some point) will mean taking on costs and organizational efforts, and risks, around more operational segments: making sure vehicles are safe and working, that hotels have clean sheets (and rooms), and more. More things can go wrong, and customers will have many more reasons to complain (or praise). It will be one of those moments when the startup will have to rethink what it’s core competency is, and whether it can deliver on that.

On the other side, if it works, GYG will diversify its the business while finding new revenue streams. But the strategy to grow Originals is a logical next step for other reasons, too.

The most important of these is probably competition: GYG may have been the pioneer of hipster travel experiences, but today it is by no means the only company focusing on this segment. Companies like Airbnb and TripAdvisor have tacked on tours and “Experiences” as a complement to their own offerings, as ways of extending their own consumer touchpoints beyond, respectively, booking a place to say or finding a cool place that popular with locals, or figure out what attractions to see.

Get Your Guide needs to find ways of keeping existing and new users returning to its own platform, rather than simply tacking on its tour packages while organising other aspects of their vacation.

The other is that, as Get Your Guide continues to break ground on changing the conversation around travel, building its own content rather than relying on others to fulfil its vision will become ever more essential, and paves the way for how the company will approach adding ever more components into the chain between your home and your destination.

Iterable, founded by an ex-Twitter engineer, nabs $60M for cross-channel growth marketing tools

A startup that’s built cross-channel growth marketing platform — used by businesses to capture customers across whatever digital media they happen to be using — is today announcing funding to do some growing of its own. Iterable — which uses email, push and in-app notifications, SMS and other sources to interact with users and deliver them targeted, personalised marketing messages — has closed another $60 million in funding, a Series D that it’s going to use to continue scaling its business into more markets (it’s recently expanded in Europe with a London office), and with more hiring.

“Another” is the key word for this round: Iterable had announced $50 million in funding just earlier this year, in March.

“This is about being prepared because of the uncertainty in the wider market,” said co-founder and CEO Justin Zhu said in an interview. “We are not sure what might happen next year.” The bigger trend in marketing tech is around consolidation and the building of “marketing clouds” by large players like Adobe and Salesforce, so it’s notable that Zhu said that while Iterable is continuing to grow — it has the startup’s focus will be on remaining independent and turning profitable. 

“It’s about getting to breakeven and then beyond that,” he said.

This latest round, a Series D, is being led by Viking Global Investors — the huge investment firm and hedge fund that has backed the likes of Facebook and security firm Druva, but also a range of biotech and pharma companies — with participation from previous investors CRV, Index Ventures, Blue Cloud Ventures, Harmony Partners, and Stereo Capital.

The company has now raised $140 million in total. Zhu described the valuation as a “very healthy increase,” and while he is not talking specific numbers, Iterable’s Series C came in at $275 million post-money, according to PitchBook, which makes this latest round definitely higher than $325 million. (We’ll keep trying to get a more specific number.)

A lot of marketing startups have their beginnings in the world of — no surprises here — marketing, which is to say that of the people who have had direct experience in dealing with the pain points of how legacy marketing products work, some of the more enterprising go on to found companies to try to solve those problems.

Iterable has a bit of a different origin story in that its founders come from technical backgrounds. Zhu co-founded Iterable with Andrew Boni six years ago, but before then, both of them cut their teeth as engineers, at Twitter and Google respectively (and they are both young: they started the company while in their twenties, and this is only Zhu’s second job out of university).

It was at Twitter that Zhu identified a gap between the amount of data that a company has on users, and how it’s not used as well as it could be to grow that company’s business, especially when that business is not already a tech company — and sometimes, even when it is: Twitter has yet to sign on as an Iterable customer, but Square, the other business led by Jack Dorsey, is.

“There are a lot of great ideas and things that became experiments at Twitter,” he said, “but I noticed that only a very few companies — the biggest, most qualified technology companies — could execute a variety of different growth marketing efforts. Many most likely don’t have the right people or experience.” As Zhu describes it, there are not that enough people building significant innovations in how marketing works, because they lack the technical chops to do so (they instead come from development and marketing backgrounds).

That challenge further has become a little more complicated in more recent times, for another reason, which is that we’re in a moment where it feels like marketing is the bad guy. The rise of stronger data protection and privacy rules, for example with GDPR in Europe, plus consumers’ wider awareness and subsequent have led to a collective rejection of too much tracking of their online activity.

The idea with Iterable — as its name implies — is that you’re given a platform to iterate, to try out lots of different approaches across a range of different platforms, leveraging data that you already have and can use, or that you are able to get from users as part of the campaign, to build out your relationships and engagement, to see what works and what definitely does not.

This can either be to bring in more eyeballs and visitors (in the case of a company that, say, offers ‘free’ services and makes money on advertising), or more straight sales by way of offering discounts, insights on offers for things you might want or other incentives to buy things.

The company’s customer list includes companies like Zillow, Priceline Care.com and Fender, which speaks to how it targets companies that span not those who are digitally native businesses (but not necessarily the newest of the pack), but also those that are legacy companies that need to figure out how to leverage digital channels better to continue connecting with more, newer, and younger audiences.

There are upwards of 7,000 companies in the wider space of marketing technology today, Zhu estimates, which speaks to just how much more activity we’re likely to see in this area: the big fish will eat the tastiest smaller fish, while other fish will not manage to grow and will disappear.

But equally, we’re also seeing an interesting evolution, where paths are emerging for the most promising of the lot to carve out independent places for their particular services, independent of the biggies (en route to becoming biggies themselves, perhaps). For example, the data warehousing startup Snowflake — covering one of the big components that martech efforts need to work — is now valued at around $4 billion and is showing no signs of slowing down.

That’s a path that Iterable wants to follow, too, with this round to help it get there.

We live in the world of ‘best of breed’ coming together, which for us is about partnering with the best analytics and data warehousing companies,” Zhu said. “There are many options today that don’t entail getting acquired by a bigger player.”

On the heels of its next fundraise, cross-border payments upstart Payoneer acquires optile

As the world of digital payments continues to wait and see what kind of impact cryptocurrencies will have on the wider market (if any), consolidation continues apace among those that have built tools for today’s payment needs. Payoneer — a provider of cross-border payment services to millions of businesses in some 200 markets that’s valued at over $1 billion — is today announcing that it has acquired optile, a German startup whose platform lets businesses integrate different products offered by itself and third parties into a single payment experience.

Terms of the deal are not being disclosed, but Scott Galit, Payoneer’s CEO (seated, left, with Keren Levy, Payoneer COO and Daniel Smeds, founder and CEO of optile), noted in an interview that Payoneer itself is profitable and the deal was done without any outside, additional funding.

Payoneer reportedly engaged advisors this past summer to help it raise its next round of funding, something that Galit did not deny.

“I think it’s not impossible to raise more,” he said. “Acquisitions may be one way to accelerate our growth, so we might do this as we identify more opportunities.”

Optile is Payoneer’s second acquisition: the company acquired escrow-as-a-service provider Armor Payments in 2016, just ahead of raising its last round of $180 million from Technology Crossover Ventures and Susquehanna Growth Equity. (Incidentally, that precedent — first, an acquisition; then, funding — could be another indicator that another fundraising event is on the way.)

Payoneer today competes with the likes of PayPal, Adyen, Stripe, PayU, traditional banks and many others in providing an array of services to enable payments between businesses.

Payoneer may not a company that you hear a lot of buzz about, but its customers speak to the traction that it has quietly amassed across a wide swathe of markets: they include the likes of Facebook Amazon, Airbnb, Fiverr, Rakuten, and Google, and Payoneer is used to make it easier to pay money out to businesses, for businesses to pay in money for goods and services, and (in the case of marketplaces) provide cash advances to businesses in order to make purchases.

Optile will bring another layer of service to that existing stack: specifically, in the form of payments integration. Companies — say, like Airbnb — that sell not just their own products, but those of third party providers (airline tickets, or tours, for example) can use optile’s platform to integrate all of these into a single payments experience.

Similarly, the platform can also be used to integrate different payment methods into a single experience as well. Both of these are important for the customer experience in commerce, since one of the biggest challenges in online purchasing is shopping card abandonment, when people simply walk away from buying things because the process of doing so is too tedious.

Optile is not just bringing a new level of technology to Payoneer: it’s bringing talent. The company was founded and run by Daniel Smeds, who had already built up a strong track record in payments, first as the first director of technology at payments giant Wirecard, and then founding and selling another payments business, Pay.On, to ACI for $200 million. Smeds and his team of 75 will be joining the larger startup, where they will continue to operate as an independent group based out of their current HQ in Munich.

It’s not clear how much optile had raised in funding prior to this, but the deal underscores how consolidation is a game that both medium-sized and large companies will play to increase their real estate and customer touch points, but also that smaller companies will become involved in as an alternative to trying to scale their businesses on their own.

“In joining forces with Payoneer, we’re thrilled to have the opportunity to leverage their global infrastructure and team to continue building the world’s leading open payment orchestration platform,” said Smeds in a statement. “Payoneer shares our obsession with customer experience, meeting their needs today while preparing them for tomorrow, and are equally committed to bringing simplicity, flexibility and scale to today’s digital business.”

The next steps for the combined business are likely to see that scope expanding further.

“Cross-border payments is $50 trillion dollar market,” said Galit. “That’s a gigantic and broad space in practice.” He declined to say whether that could include expansions into areas like cryptocurrency, but noted when I asked about Calibra that Facebook is a valued client.

Black Friday sees record $7.4B in online sales, $2.9B spent using smartphones

Following swiftly on the heels of a Thanksgiving that broke records with $4.2 billion in online sales, Black Friday also hit a new high, although it just fell short of predictions. According to analytics from Adobe, consumers spent $7.4 billion online yesterday buying goods online via computers, tablets and smartphones. The figures were up by $1.2 billion on Black Friday 2018, but they actually fell short of Adobe’s prediction for the day, which was $7.5 billion.

Salesforce, meanwhile, said that its checks revealed $7.2 billion in sales (even further off the forecast).

Popular products included toys on the themes of Frozen 2, L.O.L Surprise, and Paw Patrol. Best selling video games included FIFA 20, Madden 20, and Nintendo Switch. And top electronics, meanwhile, included Apple Laptops, Airpods, and Samsung TVs.

A full $2.9 billion of Black Friday sales happened on smartphones. These conversions are growing faster than online shopping overall, so we are now approaching a tipping point where soon smartphones might outweigh web-based purchases through computers.

“With Christmas now rapidly approaching, consumers increasingly jumped on their phones rather than standing in line,” said Taylor Schreiner, Principal Analyst & Head of Adobe Digital Insights, in a statement. “Even when shoppers went to stores, they were now buying nearly 41% more online before going to the store to pick up. As such, mobile represents a growing opportunity for smaller businesses to extend the support they see from consumers buying locally in-store on Small Business Saturday to the rest of the holiday season. Small Business Saturday will accelerate sales for those retailers who can offer unique products or services that the retail giants can’t provide.”

Adobe Analytics tracks sales in real-time for 80 of the top 100 US retailers, covering 55 million SKUs and some 1 trillion transactions during the holiday sales period. Salesforce uses Commerce Cloud data and insights covering more than half a billion global shoppers across more than 30 countries.

One of the reasons we may be seeing slightly less fervent sales than the analysts had predicted is because the holiday sales season is starting earlier and earlier. Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving when many people have days off, has for a long time been seen by retailers as the start of holiday shopping season. That has changed as retailers hope to catch more sales over a longer period of time.

As more people shop, they are also shopping for more expensive items. Adobe noted that Average Order Value was $168, a new record level yesterday for Black Friday, up 5.9% on a year ago.

Smartphone sales were up 21% over last year and those who were not buying were, as a start, browsing, with whopping 61% of all online traffic to retailers coming from smartphones, up 15.8% since last year.

As with yesterday, e-commerce “giants” with over $1 billion in sales annually were doing better than smaller sites: they had more smartphone sales, and 66% conversions on browsers on smartphones, Adobe said. They have overall also seen a 62% boost in sales this season, versus 27% for smaller retailers.

As with the Thanksgiving sales patterns — when bigger retailers also appeared to do better than their smaller counterparts — there are a couple of reasons for this. One is that the bigger sites have a wider selection of goods and can afford to take hits with deep discounts on some items, in order to lure users in to add other items to their shopping cars that are not as deeply discounted. Or, bigger online retailers can simply afford to give bigger markdowns.

The other is that the bigger stores often have more flexible delivery options. Adobe noted that those using click-and-collect orders, or buy online, pick up in store / curbside grew by 43 percent.

The story is not all rosy for big retailers, however. Edison Trends notes that some big platforms are actually seeing very mixed results this time around.

It will be interesting to see how and if patterns change for smaller retailers on Sunday, which is being dubbed “small business Sunday” to focus on buying from smaller and independent shops. Shoppers have already spent $470 million, and Adobe believes it will pass the $3 billion mark. Cyber Monday, the biggest of them all, is expected to make $9.4 billion in sales.

2019 Thanksgiving e-commerce sales show 14% rise on 2018, $470M spent so far

With popular social networks seeing some downtime, shops closed, and many people off work today for Thanksgiving, bargain hunters are flocking online to start their holiday shopping.

Adobe says that so far some $470 million has been spent online, a rise of 14.5% compared to sales figures from the same time last year, with sales patterns largely on track to hit its prediction of $4.4 billion in sales today. And as of 11.30 Pacific time, Shopify notes that there are around 4,500 transactions per minute, working out to just under $400,000 spent each minute.

Adobe Analytics tracks sales in real-time for 80 of the top 100 US retailers, covering 55 million SKUs and some 1 trillion transactions during the holiday sales period. Shopify, meanwhile, uses data from across the range of online retailers that use Shopify APIs to run their sales.

Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) used to be seen as the traditional start to holiday sales, but consumers spending time at home on Thanksgiving itself are increasingly coming online — on a day when most brick-and-mortar stores are closed — to get the ball rolling.

This year, Thanksgiving is coming a week later this year than in 2018 (when it fell on the 22nd of the month), which will make for a more compressed, and potentially more frenzied, selling period.

As Sarah pointed out yesterday, many retailers this year made an early jump on their Black Friday deals, and so far some $53 billion has been spent in the month of November up to today. This year’s holiday sales overall are predicted to hit nearly $144 billion.

We’ll be updating this post with more figures as they come in.

As a point of comparison, in 2018, online sales hit $3.7 billion, according to Adobe’s analysis.

Adobe notes that in the $53 billion spent so far this month, all 27 days in November have surpassed $1 billion in sales. Eight days passed $2 billion, and yesterday saw $2.9 billion in sales. That was up 22% on a year ago, which either points to increased sales overall, or simply that the strategy of extending “holiday” shopping to start earlier and earlier is paying off for retailers.

Another interesting insight is that some $18.2B in purchases have been made by smartphones this month, which is up 49.5% compared to last year.

“The strong online sales performance to-date suggests that holiday shopping starts much earlier than ever before. Steep discounts on popular items like computers on the day before Thanksgiving indicate that many of the season’s best deals are already up for grabs. This has led to significant growth in online sales (16.1% YoY increase) so far. What will be important for retailers to track is whether the early discounts will drive continued retail growth overall, or if they have induced consumers to spend their holiday budgets earlier,” noted Jason Woosley, vice president of commerce product & platform at Adobe.

Vinted, the second-hand clothes marketplace, raises $141M at a $1B+ valuation

The market for second-hand clothes — the “circular economy” as it’s sometimes called — has been on the rise in the last several years, fuelled by economic crunches, a desire to make more responsible and less wasteful fashion choices, and a wave of digital platforms that are bringing the selling and buying of used clothes outside the charity shop. Today, one of the bigger companies in Europe working in the third of these areas is announcing a huge round of funding to double down on the trend.

Vinted, a site where consumers can sell and buy second-hand fashion, has raised €128 million (around $140.9 million) in a round that is being led by Lightspeed Venture Partners, with previous backers Sprints Capital, Insight Venture Partners, Accel and Burda Principal Investments also participating.

With this investment, the startup — founded and headquartered out of Vilnius, Lithuania — has passed a valuation of $1 billion (it is not specifying an exact amount), making it one of the biggest startups to come out of the country (but not the Baltics’ first unicorn… Estonian Uber competitor Bolt, formerly known as Taxify, is also valued at over $1 billion.)

The company is going to use the money to continue expanding in Europe, and building out more features on its platform to improve the buying and selling process, while sticking to its goal of providing a platform for consumers to list and buy used fashion.

“We want to make sure we don’t have new products,” CEO Thomas Plantenga said in an interview earlier. “All our sellers are regular people.” Some 75% of Vinted’s customers have never bought or sold second hand clothes in their lives before coming to the platform, he added. “The stigma is no longer there.”

Vinted’s growth comes on the heels of a remarkable turnaround for the startup. Founded in 2008 by Milda Mitkute and Justas Janauskas as a way to help Mitkute clear out here wardrobe before a house move, the company expanded fast, but at a price: by 2016, it was close to running out of money and business had slowed down to a crawl. Investors brought in Plantenga to turn it around.

“We changed the business model in 2016 to make the costs as low as possible for users to list clothes,” Pantenga said today. “That produced a dramatic change in our growth trajectory.”

The company, more specifically, went through some drastic changes. First, it clawed back a lot of its pricey international expansion strategy (and along with that a lot of the costs associated with it); and second, it removed all listing fees to encourage more people to list. Now, Vinted charges a 5% commission only if you conduct transactions on Vinted itself, bundling in buyer protection and shipping to sweeten the deal. (You can still post, sell and buy for free if you pay offline but you don’t get those perks.)

The turnaround worked, and the company bounced back, and two years later, in 2018, it went on to raise €50 million. Today, Vinted has some 180 million products live on its platform, 25 million registered users in 12 markets in Europe (but not the US) and 300 employees. It expects to sell €1.3 billion in clothes in 2019, has seen sales grow 4x in the last 17 months.

From fast fashion to fashion that lasts

Vinted’s rise has matched a wider trend in the region.

Europe is the home to some of the world’s biggest “fast fashion” businesses: companies like H&M, Zara and Primark have built huge brands around making quick copies of the hottest styles off the fashion presses, and selling them for prices that will not break the bank (or at least, no more than you might have previously paid to buy a pair of average jeans on the discount rack of a Gap).

But it turns out that it’s also home to a very thriving market in second-hand clothes. One estimate has it that two out of every three Europeans has bought a second-hand good, and 6 out of 10 have sold their belongings using platforms dedicated to second-hand trade.

Even as the company continues to hold back on expanding into the US — perhaps burned a little too much by its previous efforts there; or simply aware of the wide competition from the likes of Ebay, OfferUp, Letgo, Poshmark, and many more — Vinted’s growth in Europe has caught the eye of investors in the that market.

“At Lightspeed, we look for outlier management teams building generational companies. We’ve been impressed by the team’s ability to build an incredible product and value proposition for their community, and adapt and expand their business along the way,” said Brad Twohig, a partner at Lightspeed. “Vinted is defining its market and has built a global brand in C2C commerce and communities. We’re proud to partner with Vinted and leverage our global platform and resources to help them continue to build on their success and achieve their goals.”

While charity shops have traditionally dominated this market, sites like eBay, followed by a secondary wave of platforms like Vinted and another competitor in this space, Depop, have made selling and buying items into an established, low-barrier business.

All the same, given that extending the life of one’s goods feeds into a do-good ethos, it’s noticeable to me that Vinted hasn’t quite replaced the Salvation Army: there is virtually no way to sell on Vinted and give the proceeds to charity, if you so choose.

It appears that this might be something Vinted will try to address in the future.

“We are looking at making fashion circular for our users so that clothing that they bought doesn’t go to waste,” Plantenga said. “[Giving proceeds to charity] is super interesting and we should explore it as part of our growth story. To be honest, those things have been in the background and not developed because we’ve just been trying to keep up with everything, but the idea fits into our culture.”

E-commerce — in particular startups nipping at the heels of bigger players like Amazon and eBay by focusing on specific areas of the market that aren’t as well served by them — has had a bumper day in Europe, after brick-and-mortar marketplace Trouva earlier today also raised a sizeable round.

Tray.io brings in $50M more at a $600M+ valuation for its workflow automation tools

Organizations are always looking for new ways to work more efficiently, but too often the problem is that, in a digital-first environment, they have to get in line to ask their in-house IT experts (or even more expensively, external consultants) to build those solutions for them. To underscore the demand for a better approach, today a startup that has constructed a way around that, specifically in the world of app integrations, is announcing a sizeable round of funding.

Tray.io, which has built a “general” workflow automation platform that uses a graphical interface to let anyone integrate APIs between two or more apps to create new ways of working with data across them, has raised $50 million in funding, at a valuation that a source close to the company tells me is over $600 million post-money.

The funding, a Series C, is being led by Meritech Capital, with previous investors Spark Capital, GGV Capital, and True Ventures also participating. It brings the total raised by Tray.io to just under $110 million and is notable for coming just five months after its previous round, a Series B of $37 million.

“Since we started the company we’ve been very fortunate with what’s happened in the tech world,” CEO and co-founder Rich Waldron said in an interview last week while visiting London when asked about the funding.

He said that in addition to acquisition approaches (from a number of household names) there were offers of more money coming in almost immediately after the last round closed, and the startup decided that making hay while the sun shines — that is, taking the money when it’s offered, since you don’t know what will happen tomorrow — was the right approach.

“It took us five years to build the company, and we seeded it slowly, but in the last 18 months things have exploded.” As for the sparks for that explosion, he credits the trajectories of companies like Twilio and Stripe, two other tech companies that have built large businesses on, and raised public awareness of, APIs creating new worlds of functionality; and signing on IBM as a partner: the company created a number of new integrations on the platform, some of which became standards that now other companies are using daily.

It’s been a big journey for the startup. Tray.io started out years ago with just a handful of integrations, mostly “email-centric” features, as Waldron describes them, allowing people, for example, to import data from Mailchimp into Slack to track email marketing campaigns. Now, the company provides integrations for some 400 apps, with customers ranging from small startups through to the likes of IBM, and it’s continuing to grow.

The company — which has no “free” tier, with integration packages starting at $595 per month — says that ARR is up by more than 500% this year (it does not disclose actual revenue numbers) — and its customer base is up by 37% with VMWare, Pearson, Bain & Company, Zendesk, and Udemy, SAP, Arrow Electronics, Lexmark, and New Relic among those using its services.

Typical integrations might involve apps like SAP S/4HANA, Qualtrics, Ellucian, Magento, Microsoft PowerBI and Azure, Okta, OneLogin, DropBox, Drift, Segment, Zendesk, Salesloft, Copper, Qualtrics, Intercom, and Marketo
 and alongside that Tray.io provides automation features, error handling, version management and more.

The company is now also providing a white-label version of its platform, Tray Embedded, which third parties can offer to their customers to manage integrations in their own environments.

Altogether the company today processes about 10 billion tasks each month.

Tray.io’s rise comes on the heels of a wider trend. When it comes to some of the prime ways that enterprises are leveraging the advances of technology to improve how they work, integration and automation are the name of the game: bringing data out of silos, and doing so in an instant way, speeds up operations, reduces human error and can also help with costs.

It’s not the only company working in this area, or to take the approach that technology should be accessible and used by more than just engineers another tech employees.

Others working in the automation and integration space include Snaplogic (which raised $72 million in October), Dell’s Boomi, and Workato (which itself raised $70 million earlier this month and now has a valuation of $500 million, according to PitchBook data).

Rich Waldron, Tray.io’s CEO and co-founder, said that the company likes to think of itself as something in between Mulesoft (now a part of Salesforce) and Zapier, which somewhat also puts those two companies also into the wider category of competitors.

Other non-consumer startups that are also tackling the idea of providing tech tools to non-technical employees include Airtable, Parabola, DashDash, the AI-based data parser for unstructured contracts and other legal documents Eigen, and many more.

But around all of these, Tray.io’s investors believe they have backed one of the winning horses.

“General automation is showing nonstop momentum in a software-heavy marketplace that’s hungry for integration support and efficiency lift,” explained Alex Kurland of Meritech Capital, in a statement. “The increasingly urgent need to provide a personalized and cohesive customer experience across the entire buying journey demands ongoing digital transformation. To have any hope of scaling with the exponential increase in new software and new customer data in play, companies need to take full ownership of every piece of that data with general automation. Not just in IT, but for line-of-business roles in marketing, sales, support, HR, finance, and many others across the entire organization. There’s no limit to the upside for general automation in today’s marketplace, and Tray.io is the undisputed leader in the category.”

The origin story of the startup is a notable one for those wondering how and if ecosystems can evolve.

I first met Tray.io when it was still a small startup working at a few desks donated to it by UsTwo in Shoreditch, London. The company had just raised a seed round and was on its way to relocating to San Francisco to take its growth up a gear.

That in itself was a significant stage of progress for the company: Waldron said that when he and co-founders Alistair Russell and Dominic Lewis had trouble raising its earliest funding prior to that, they financed the startup for several months by selling Wellington boots (Hunters mostly, purchased wholesale) on sites like eBay to people “during the festival season.”

Tray.io was — in the literal and figurative sense — a bootstrapped startup.

Eventually the company went through a couple of accelerators, Angelpad and Techstars, and started to catch the eye of angel investors — Passion Capital, Ballpark Ventures, Firestartr, Andy McLoughlin, Tom Hulme, Ustwo founders Mills and Sinx, FIG and Richard Fearn — who collectively put $600,000 into the startup. The seed round that I wrote about, interestingly, had come with a rider: move to San Francisco if you want the money.

“The terms that we were getting in the UK for the seed round were not good,” Waldron said. “It would have hindered our growth. But it’s not the same now. There is an amazing set of companies in the UK, building deep tech and more. This feels like the new model: you can really think big and make it.”

The startup has kept its R&D here in the UK and will continue to build out its office too, even as its HQ remains in SF.

Taiwan’s Appier raises $80M for AI-based marketing technology

Artificial intelligence continues to be the theme of the moment in enterprise software, and today a company out of Asia that has built a suite of AI-powered marketing and ad tools is announcing a round of funding. Appier, a Taipei-based startup that provides an artificial intelligence engine to brands and retailers to help improve customer engagement, predict purchasing and improve conversions on their sites, has picked up $80 million.

This Series D includes TGVest Capital, HOPU-Arm Innovation Fund (SoftBank owns Arm), Temasek’s Pavilion Capital, Insignia Venture Partners, JAFCO Investment and UMC Capital. The company has raised $162 million to date, with previous investors including Alibaba, Sequoia, SoftBank, and Line. (The company is not disclosing its valuation but says it’s been growing since its Series C and it’s an upround. Appier now has around 1,000 customers.

Marketing technology — the bigger area of software that marketing and advertising people use to help launch, optimize and measure marketing campaigns — sometimes sits under the shadow of adtech, but in reality it’s estimated to be a $121 billion business, and growing as marketers for brands, retailers and others turn to data science to improve how they execute their work and to supplement what has traditionally been a business that operates on human precedents, psychology and hunches.

While the US and UK account for around half of all that spend, that leaves an interesting opening in markets like Asia Pacific: the customer base is still nascent but growing, and the number of startups that are focusing on the region are fewer, meaning less competition for business.

Those open waters became some of the impetus for founding Appier in Asia. Appier’s CEO, Chih-Han Yu, studied computer science and AI in graduate school at Sanford and then Harvard for his PhD, looking at how to use human gait data and machine learning to design better orthotics systems.

(If it seems like a big leap — no pun intended — to move from orthotics to sales conversions, it’s not an unusual path when you consider that for AI scientists, both are essentially mathematical problems, jumps that other AI startup founders have also made.) Ultimately, Yu decided to move back home to found his company with Winnie Lee (COO) and Joe Su (CTO).

In Asia things have been growing so fast that it seemed like an easy entry point to us,” Yu said. The company is already pan-Asian, headquartered in Taiwan, with offices in Japan and Singapore, and with a list of investors that span all those geographies and more.

Yu noted (in answer to my question about it) that while some of the investors in this round have ties to Hong Kong, there have been no tensions in respect of the current political situation unfolding between the Mainland and its special administrative region.

Appier’s initial and core product is a cross-platform advertising engine, CrossX, which covers retargeting and app installations, but also provides deep learning to help publishers and brands discover new audiences for their products.

This is still the company’s most popular product, but around it, Appier has built a series of other services around the basic concept of better customer information, specifically sourcing and utilising customer data in more intelligent (and, Yu says, anonimised) ways.  This has included making acquisitions — of QGraph and Emotion Intelligence (Emin) to bring in more analytics and functionality into the platform.

Yu said that the funding will be used to expand further in the region, where it is currently live in 12 countries and works with a number of large local brands, and the Asian arm of global brands (those customers include the supermarket chain Carrefour, Audi and Estee Lauder), to improve their marketing work.

“Appier is riding a strong long-term trend for enterprises leveraging data to make smarter decisions,” said DC Cheng, Chairman of TGVest Capital, in a statement. “Thanks to its unique use of AI technology in the digital marketing space, Appier has been a category leader since its inception and has the opportunity to expand into new corporate functions where data-based decisions are made. We share Appier’s ambition and we are excited to be a partner to the company. We are confident that Appier will continue to grow as a sustainable technology company at the forefront of technology innovation.”

VTEX, an e-commerce platform used by Walmart, raises $140M led by SoftBank’s LatAm fund

E-commerce now accounts for 14% of all retail sales, and its growth has led to a rise in the fortunes of startups that build tools to enable businesses to sell online. In the latest development, a company called VTEX — which originally got its start in Latin America helping companies like Walmart expand their business to new markets with an end-to-end e-commerce service covering things like order and inventory management; front-end customer experience and customer service — has raised $140 million in funding, money that it will be using to continue taking its business deeper into more international markets.

The investment is being led by SoftBank, specifically via its Latin American fund, with participation also from Gávea Investimentos and Constellation Asset Management. Previous investors include Riverwood and Naspers, and Riverwood continues to be a backer, too, the company said.

Mariano Gomide, the CEO who co-founded VTEX with Geraldo Thomaz, said the valuation is not being disclosed, but he confirmed that the founders and founding team continue to hold more than 50% of the company. In addition to Walmart, VTEX customers include Levi’s, Sony, L’Oréal and Motorola . Annually, it processes some $2.4 billion in gross merchandise value across some 2,500 stores, growing 43% per year in the last five years.

VTEX is in that category of tech businesses that has been around for some time — it was founded in 1999 — but has largely been able to operate and grow off its own balance sheet. Before now, it had raised less than $13 million, according to PitchBook data.

This is one of the big rounds to come out of the relatively new SoftBank Innovation Fund, an effort dedicated to investing in tech companies focused on Latin America. The fund was announced earlier this year at $2 billion and has since expanded to $5 billion. Other Latin American companies that SoftBank has backed include online delivery business Rappi, lending platform Creditas, and proptech startup QuintoAndar.

The common theme among many SoftBank investments is a focus on e-commerce in its many forms (whether that’s transactions for loans or to get a pizza delivered) and VTEX is positioned as a platform player that enables a lot of that to happen in the wider marketplace, providing not just the tools to build a front end, but to manage the inventory, ordering and customer relations at the back end.

“VTEX has three attributes that we believe will fuel the company’s success: a strong team culture, a best-in-class product and entrepreneurs with profitability mindset,” said Paulo Passoni, managing investment partner at SoftBank’s Latin America fund, in a statement. “Brands and retailers want reliability and the ability to test their own innovations. VTEX offers both, filling a gap in the market. With VTEX, companies get access to a proven, cloud-native platform with the flexibility to test add-ons in the same data layer.”

Although VTEX has been expanding into markets like the US (where it acquired UniteU earlier this year), the company still makes some 80% of its revenues annually in Latin America, Gomide said in an interview.

There, it has been a key partner to retailers and brands interested in expanding into the region, providing integrations to localise storefronts, a platform to help brands manage customer and marketplace relations, and analytics, competing against the likes of SAP, Oracle, Adobe, and Salesforce (but not, he said in answer to my question, Commercetools, which builds Shopify -style API tools for mid- and large-sized enterprises and itself raised $145 million last month).

E-commerce, as we’ve pointed out before, is a business of economies of scale. Case in point, while VTEX processes some $2.5 billion in transactions annually, it makes a relative small return on that: $69 million, to be exact. This, plus the benefit of analytics on a wider set of big data (another economy of scale play), are two of the big reasons why VTEX is now doubling down on growth in newer markets like Europe and North America. The company now has 122 integrations with localised payment methods.

“At the end of the day, e-commerce software is a combination of knowledge. If you don’t have access to thousands of global cases you can’t imbue the software with knowledge,” Gomide said. “Companies that have been focused on one specific region and now realising that trade is a global thing. China has proven that, so a lot of companies are now coming to us because their existing providers of e-commerce tools can’t ‘do international.'” There are very few companies that can serve that global approach and that is why we are betting on being a global commerce platform, not just one focused on Latin America.”

Vouch raises $45M led by YC Continuity for business insurance that targets startups

“Move fast and break things” is a term we usually associate with Facebook (at least, until 2014) and the general startup ethos of being disruptive. Now in true entrepreneurial fashion, the phrase is finding itself as the center of — what else — a startup idea, which today is announcing a sizeable Series B as it gains traction.

Vouch, which offers business insurance specifically targeting startups, is today announcing a Series B of $45 million, led by Y Combinator’s Continuity Fund. The company was part of YC cohort that presented this past August, and between then and now it appears to have also raised a Series A of $24 million, with this Series B actually also closing back in September (I’m guessing the delay in timing was to coincide the news with the expansion of its service to California). PitchBook data indicates that Vouch’s valuation has also ramped up rapidly: it’s currently at $210 million. (Previous investors in the company include Ribbit Capital, SVB Financial Group, Y Combinator, Index Ventures, and 500 Startups, with the total raised to date now at $70 million.)

The company — not to be confused with the tutoring network Vouch, nor the ‘social network for loans’ Vouch — will be using the money that it will use to continue expanding its product and to bring the service to more geographies.

In addition to now launching in its newest region of California, today, it’s also live in Oregon, Utah, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin and Michigan. Today’s move is a key one, considering Silicon Valley is at the heart of the tech world, and therefore startups, and therefore fertile ground for acquiring new customers.

(It seems that although Vouch itself is based in San Francisco, it delayed a California launch in part to test out the product in smaller markets before hitting the big time: California, it notes, accounts for 50% of the whole business insurance market in the US, and California startups alone spend $44 billion annually on it.)

When Vouch launched at YC, founder Sam Hodges (who had been one of the original co-founders of Funding Circle, the business lending platform that went public in London) described the platform’s mission as a way of mitigating risks because sometimes “bad things happen to good startups.”

The company’s insurance covers all the tricky things that can befall young businesses in what is a very volatile market. (Common wisdom says that most fail, some have put the figure as high as 90%.)

That includes general liability (which includes damage to rented premises, personal or advertising injury, and related areas), business liability, management liability, fiduciary liability, cyber and crime coverage, rented and non-owned auto insurance and more. (Health or workers’ compensation are not included.) The products start at $200/year, which Vouch says undercuts most of what is already on the market. Munich Re backs the policies.

“Vouch helps founders manage the risks associated with starting up a new company, so they can focus on creating and growing businesses that change the world. We believe that’s a purpose worth pursuing,” said Hodges in a statement. “As an entrepreneur, I’ve spent most of my career building companies at the intersection of technology and financial services. I know first-hand that along the journey of building and growing a business, teams will face numerous high-stakes challenges. Vouch is here to support entrepreneurs and mitigate those challenges from the beginning, leaving more room for growth.”

Y Combinator has always had a soft spot for startups that built services for startups, and this is no exception. It makes perfect sense as a follow-on investment for Continuity, which has also backed Brex, Gusto, Instacart, LendUp, and Stripe. In this sense, it becomes a strategic investor, not unlike Silicon Valley Bank (which tells startups that do business with it that Vouch is its preferred insurance provider).

“Y Combinator and Vouch share a common goal – giving founders the support they need to build successful, innovative companies,” said Anu Hariharan, Partner at Y Combinator Continuity, in a statement. “Vouch is built specifically for startups, so founders have the peace of mind that their business is covered. This platform is fundamental to the startup community, as it enables founders to focus on growing their companies — which is why we were bullish on leading the Series B.”