Reputation.com nabs $30M more to help enterprises manage their profiles online

In these days where endorsements from influential personalities online can make or break a product, a startup that’s built a business to help companies harness all the long-tail firepower they can muster to get their name out there in a good way has raised some funding to expand deeper into feedback and other experience territory. Reputation.com, which works with big enterprises in areas like automotive and healthcare to help improve their visibility online and provide more accurate reports to the businesses about how their brands are perceived by customers and others, has raised $30 million in equity financing, money that CEO Joe Fuca said the company will use to continue to expand its tech platform to source more feedback and to future-proof it for further global expansion.

The funding — led by Ascension Ventures, with participation also from new backers Akkadian Ventures, Industry Ventures and River City Ventures and returning investors Kleiner Perkins, August Capital, Bessemer Venture Partners, Heritage Group and Icon Ventures — is the second round Reputation.com has raised since its pivot away from services aimed at individuals. Fuca said the company’s valuation is tripling with this round, and while he wouldn’t go into the details from what I understand from sources (which is supported by data in PitchBook), it had been around $120-130 million in its last round, making it now valued at between $360-390 million now.

Part of the reason that the company’s valuation has tripled is because of its growth. The company doesn’t disclose many customer names (for possibly obvious reasons) but said that three of the top five automotive OEMs and as well as over 10,000 auto dealerships in the U.S. use it, with those numbers now also growing in Europe. Among healthcare providers, it now has 250 customers — including three of the top five — and in the world of property management, more than 100 companies are using Reputation.com. Other verticals that use the company include financial services, hospitality and retail services.

The company competes with other firms that provide services like SEO and other online profile profile management and sees the big challenge as trying to convince businesses that there is more to having a strong profile than just an NPS score (providers of which are also competitors). So, in addition to the metrics that are usually used to compile this figure (based on customer feedback surveys typically), Reputation.com uses unstructured data as well (for example sentiment analysis from social media) and applies algorithms to this to calculate a Reputation Score.

Reputation.com has been around actually since 2006, with its original concept being managing individuals’ online reputations — not exactly in the Klout or PR-management sense, but with a (now very prescient-sounding) intention of providing a way for people to better control their personal information online. Its original name was ReputationDefender and founded by Michael Fertik, it was a pioneer in what came to be called personal information management.

The company proposed an idea of a “vault” for your information, which could still be used and appropriated by so-called data brokers (which help feed the wider ad-tech and marketing tech machines that underpin a large part of the internet economy), but would be done with user consent and compensation.

The idea was hard to scale, however. “I think it was an addressable market issue,” said Fuca, who took over as CEO last year the company was reorienting itself to enterprise services (it sold off the consumer/individual business at the same time to a PE firm), with Fertik taking the role of executive chairman, among other projects. “Individuals seeking reputation defending is only certain market size.”

Not so in the world of enterprise, the area the startup (and I think you can call Reputation.com a startup, given its pivot and restructure and venture backing) has been focusing on exclusively for the better part of a year.

The company today integrates closely with Google — which is not only a major platform for disseminating information in the form of SEO management, but a data source as a repository of user reviews — but despite the fact that Google holds so many cards in the stack, Fuca (who had previously been an exec at DocuSign before coming to Reputation.com) said he doesn’t see it as a potential threat or competitor.

A recent survey from the company about reputation management for the automotive sector underscores just how big of a role Google does play:

Screenshot 2019 08 20 at 11.48.57“We don’t worry about google as competitor,” Fuca said. “It is super attracted to working with partners like us because we drive domain activity, and they love it when people like us explain to customers how to optimise on Google. For Google, it’s almsot like we are an optimization partner and so it helps their entire ecosystem, and so I don’t see them being a competitor or wanting to be.”

Nevertheless, the fact that the bulk of Reputation.com’s data sources are essentially secondary — that is publically available information that is already online and collected by others — will be driving some of the company’s next stage of development. The plan is to start to add in more of its own primary-source data gathering in the form of customer surveys and feedback forms. That will open the door too to more questions of how the company will handle privacy and personal data longer term.

“Ascension Ventures is excited to deepen its partnership with Reputation.com as it enters its next critical stage of growth,” said John Kuelper, Managing Director at Ascension Ventures, in a statement. “We’ve watched Reputation.com’s industry leading reputation management offering grow into an even more expansive CX platform. We’re seeing some of the world’s largest brands and service providers achieve terrific results by partnering with Reputation.com to analyze and take action on customer feedback — wherever it originates — at scale and in real-time. We’re excited to make this additional investment in Reputation.com as it continues to grow and expand its market leadership.”

Lucidworks raises $100M to expand in AI-powered search-as-a-service for organizations

If the sheer amount of information that we can tap into using the internet has made the world our oyster, then the huge success of Google is a testament to how lucrative search can be in helping to light the way through that data maze.

Now, in a sign of the times, a startup called Lucidworks, which has built an AI-based engine to help individual organizations provide personalised search services for their own users, has raised $100 million in funding. Lucidworks believes its approach can produce better and more relevant results than other search services in the market, and it plans to use the funding for its next stage of growth to become, in the words of CEO Will Hayes, “the world’s next important platform.”

The funding is coming from PE firm Francisco Partners​ and ​TPG Sixth Street Partners​. Existing investors in the company include Top Tier Capital Partners, Shasta Ventures, Granite Ventures and Allegis Cyber.

Lucidworks has raised around $200 million in funding to date, and while it is not disclosing the valuation, the company says it been doubling revenues each year for the last three and counts companies like Reddit, Red Hat, REI, the US Census among some 400 others among its customers using its flagship product, Fusion. PitchBook notes that its last round in 2018 was at a modest $135 million, and my guess is that is up by quite some way.

The idea of building a business on search, of course, is not at all new, and Lucidworks works in a very crowded field. The likes of Amazon, Google and Microsoft have built entire empires on search — in Google’s and Microsoft’s case, by selling ads against those search results; in Amazon’s case, by generating sales of items in the search results — and they have subsequently productised that technology, selling it as a service to others.

Alongside that are companies that have been building search-as-a-service from the ground up — like Elastic, Sumo Logic and Splunk (whose founding team, coincidentally, went on to found Lucidworks…) — both for back-office processes as well as for services that are customer-facing.

In an interview, Hayes said that what sets Lucidworks apart is how it uses machine learning and other AI processes to personalise those results after “sorting through mountains of data”, to provide enterprise information to knowledge workers, shopping results on an e-commerce site to consumers, data to wealth managers, or whatever it is that is being sought.

Take the case of a shopping experience, he said by way of explanation. “If I’m on REI to buy hiking shoes, I don’t just want to see the highest-rated hiking shoes, or the most expensive,” he said.

The idea is that Lucidworks builds algorithms that bring in other data sources — your past shopping patterns, your location, what kind of walking you might be doing, what other people like you have purchased — to produce a more focused list of products that you are more likely to buy.

“Amazon has no taste,” he concluded, a little playfully.

Today, around half of Lucidworks’ business comes from digital commerce and digital content — searches of the kind described above for products, or monitoring customer search queries sites like RedHat or Reddit — and half comes from knowledge worker applications inside organizations.

The plan will be to continue that proportion, while also adding in other kinds of features — more natural language processing and more semantic search features — to expand the kinds of queries that can be made, and also cues that Fusion can use to produce results.

Interestingly, Hayes said that while it’s come up a number of times, Lucidworks doesn’t see itself ever going head-to-head with a company like Google or Amazon in providing a first-party search platform of its own. Indeed, that may be an area that has, for the time being at least, already been played out. Or it may be that we have turned to a time when walled gardens — or at least more targeted and curated experiences — are coming into their own.

“We still see a lot of runway in this market,” said Jonathan Murphy of Francisco Partners. “We were very attracted to the idea of next-generation search, on one hand serving internet users facing the pain of the broader internet, and on the other enterprises as an enterprise software product.” 

Lucidworks, it seems, has also entertained acquisition approaches, although Hayes declined to get specific about that. The longer-term goal, he said, “is to build something special that will stay here for a long time. The likelihood of needing that to be a public company is very high, but we will do what we think is best for the company and investors in the long run. But our focus and intention is to continue growing.”

FlixMobility extends Series F at $2B+ valuation as it gears up to add cars to its bus and train network

Back in July it emerged that FlixMobility — the company behind the network of ubiquitous green FlixBus coaches that crisscross Europe and parts of the US — had raised about €500 million in the largest-ever round of funding for a German tech company. That turned out not to be the full story. Today, the company is announcing that the round has now been extended substantially, according to founder and CEO Jochen Engert, with contributions from a new set of investors: Baillie Gifford, Luxor Capital Group, Odyssey 44 and additional investment provided through funds managed by BlackRock.

Engert said FlixMobility will be using the money to “move on from a business perspective” (I don’t think he meant it as a pun, but it’s a good one), and that means growth in a number of ways. They include expanding into new markets in South America and Asia and further into the US; bringing trains onto its network by way of FlixTrain; launching a new group-focused service, FlixBus Charter; and by next year, startup up a long-distance ride-sharing brand, FlixCar. It’s also been working on a smaller “pilot” project, Flix2Fly, to consider how to bring some air routes into the mix as well.

The aim, he said in an interview, is to build a wider “transportation marketplace for customers looking for affordable mobility.”

Engert would not specify the exact size of the round, but he confirmed that it was at the same valuation as the first close of the Series F (which was just over $2 billion), and that the extra funding was “not double” the earlier amount, “but substantial.” (The company has always kept quiet about the exact amount it has raised, and from whom, in part to focus on the business, but also in part to keep competition guessing. We’re still trying to find out the actual number.)

Considering the investors in the round, it means it’s likely it’s added hundreds of millions more to the mix alongside the €500 million from TCV, Permira and HV Holtzbrinck Ventures. Previous investors in the company have included Silver Lake and General Atlantic.

The company, similar to other on-demand transportation giants like Uber or RedBus in India, does not own a large fleet of vehicles, but works with individuals and companies that own these that want to tap into its logistics platform, which helps build efficient long-distance (intercity) routes — its shortest connection is 50km, most are beyond 100km, and the “sweet spot” Engert said is 200km — and source passengers who collectively want to travel on them.

Typically, Engert said these companies do not go all-in on the Flix platform, but they contribute a proportion of their fleets, which in turn get rebranded with Flix’s distinctive green logo. The idea — similar to a key building block for intracity car services — is to give the operators of those vehicles a steady, predicable stream of usage and business, which offsets the fact that those operators may make smaller margins on those routes because they are not operating them directly. It’s also acquired other companies operating on a similar business model to grow its network.

In 2018, some 45 million people using FlixBus and FlixTrain, along 350,000 daily connections to over 2,000 destinations, the company says. Its network currently spans 29 countries and 300 independent bus and train partners, and it attributes some 10,000 jobs in the industry to its business.

In doing so, FlixBus (and latterly FlixMobility) have tapped into an interesting segment of the world of transportation. While there has been a lot of focus on the next generation of transportation machines — whether that is scooters, or self-driving cars, or electric vehicles, or planes that do not burn as much fuel — Flix is instead working on ways of applying technology to bring some of the dinosaurs of the current (old) generation of vehicles into the 21st century. That has given it an interesting status of working in markets that have typically had less competition, or at least attention, leaving open water for companies like Flix.

That may not be the case longer term. Today companies like Uber are focusing on the urban mobility question, although as it grows to cover all modes of urban transport, there is a clear opportunity for it to extend to the next leg of the journey, too.

Babylon Health confirms $550M raise at $2B+ valuation to expand its AI-based health services

Babylon Health, the UK-based startup that has developed a number of AI-based health services, including a chatbot used by the UK’s National Health Service to help diagnose ailments, has confirmed a massive investment that it plans to use to expand its business to the US and Asia, and expand its R&D to diagnose more serious, chronic conditions. It has closed a $550 million round of funding, valuing Babylon Health at over $2 billion, it announced today.

This is the largest-ever fundraise in Europe or US for digital health delivery, Babylon said.

“Our mission at Babylon is to put accessible and affordable healthcare into the hands of everyone on earth,” said Dr Ali Parsa, founder and CEO of Babylon, in a statement. “This investment will allow us to maximise the number of lives we touch across the world. We have a long way to go and a lot still to deliver. We are grateful to our investors, our partners and 1,500 brilliant Babylonians for allowing us to forge ahead with our mission. Chronic conditions are an increasing burden to affordability of healthcare across the globe. Our technology provides a solid base for a comprehensive solution and our scientists, engineers, and clinicians are excited to work on it. We have seen significant demand from partners across the US and Asia. While the burden of healthcare is global, the solutions have to be localised to meet the specific needs and culture of each country.”

Before today’s announcement, the investment — a Series C — had been the subject of a lot of leaks, with reports over recent days suggesting the investment was anywhere between $100 million and $500 million.

The round brings together a number of strategic and financial investors including PIF (Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund); a large US-based health insurance company (which reports suggest to be Centene Corporation, although Babylon is not disclosing the name); Munich Re’s ERGO Fund; and returning investors Kinnevik and Vostok New Ventures.

This is a big leap for the company, which had raised more modest rounds in the past such as this $60 million round three years ago. Babylon said that $450 million has been secured already, with another $50 million agreed to be exercised at a later date, and the remainder getting closed “shortly.” (The PIF has been a prolific, if controversial, investor in a number of huge startups such as Uber and wider investment vehicles like SoftBank’s Vision Fund.)

We’re at a moment right now when it seems like a daily occurrence that a new company or service launches using AI to advance health.

But even within that bigger trend, Babylon has emerged as one of the key players. In addition to its work in the UK — which includes an NHS service that it offers to “take over” a user’s local GP relationship to diagnose minor ailments remotely, as well as a second-track Babylon Private paid tier that it’s built in partnership with private insurer Bupa — it says other partners include Prudential, Samsung and Telus.

The NHS deal is an interesting one: the state’s health service is thought of by many as a national treasure, but it’s been very hard hit by budget problems, the strain of an ageing and growing population, and what seems sometimes like a slow-release effort to remove some of its most important and reliable services and bring more privitisation into the mix.

Bringing in AI-based services that remove some of the overhead of people managing problems that machines can do just as well is one way of taking some of that pressure off the system — or so the logic goes, at least. The idea is that by handling some of the smaller issues, it helps prioritise the more urgent and difficult problems for people and face-to-face meetings.

That additionally gives Babylon (and others in digital health) a big opportunity to break down some of the more persistent problems in healthcare, such as providing services in developing economies and remote regions: one of its big efforts alongside rollouts in mature markets like the UK and Canada has been a service in Rwanda to bring health services to digital platforms for the first time.

Babylon has been growing and says it delivers 4,000 clinical consultations each day, or one patient interaction every 10 seconds. It says that it now covers 4.3 million people worldwide, with more than 1.2 million digital consultations completed to date, with more than 160,000 five-star ratings for our appointments.

That is the kind of size and potential that has interested investors.

TikTok adds Giphy integration to import Stickers and export TikTok memes to the rest of the world

TikTok is the breakout hit in social media apps at the moment — it’s currently ranked first in entertainment, and 12th overall in terms of download popularity on iOS, and 8th on Android in the US — and today it’s starting a partnership that should give it an even wider profile, with the added benefit of bring another key tool in for creators on the platform to use: the app is now working with Giphy, the GIF platform, to make it possible to import Giphy GIFs, specifically its animated Stickers, into TikTok posts, and at the same time, to be able to create new GIFs for Giphy based on what you are doing in TikTok.

file 2TikTok tells me that this is not a commercial deal: there’s no money exchanging hands, a spokesperson said in an email. “We’re excited to continue enhancing our creative tools with this integration,” she continued, “as well as share some of TikTok’s most iconic memes with GIPHY keyboards everywhere!”

The spokesperson said that this is the first partnership for TikTok — owned by China’s Bytedance — to integrate a third-party GIF/Sticker content into its platform. On the side of Giphy, though, this is the latest of a string of integrations that it’s used over the years to expand its reach. You can call up Giphy GIFs in Twitch, enterprise apps like Slack and Quip, and (after ironing out a little controversy with how well GIFs were being vetted) on Snapchat and Instagram, among others.

(Note: TikTok does have deals with other kinds of third parties, though, for example music labels and publishers, who are apparently in the process of rethinking those agreements, in light of just how huge TikTok has become, and its role as the primary place where music is being played, heard and appropriated.)

TikTok will be putting the Giphy integration front and center into the app, with creators able to add a sticker to a post by hitting a Giphy button to call up a directory. It sounds like an algorithm will surface a pared-down selection for users: TikTok said that it worked with Giphy Studios to create stickers that reflect some of the more popular memes and hashtags on TikTok (eg #oddlysatisfying or a dog sticker). You can also search on #getGiphy to find more.

At the same time, TikTok’s using the integration to give creators on its platform a little more amplification: the most popular stickers based on TikTok memes will also get surfaced now on Giphy itself, and wherever it is integrated. You find these by searching on #TikTok in the Giphy libarary search bar. At a time when there is a lot of heated competition to bring the most popular creators to do their best original work on a specific platform, this potentially could be one way to help woo them to TikTok over others.

But that’s not to say that anyone’s Giphy stickers will appear anywhere that Giphy is.

“Giphy users can create and upload their own Stickers to the platform. However, their content won’t be indexed in Giphy’s search and will not show up in third party apps like TikTok unless they are a verified channel on Giphy,” a spokesperson told us. “Giphy Studios has worked with a wide array of brands and partners, such as TikTok, to create custom content, which they do on a case by case basis. TikTok worked with the creators and the Giphy Studios team to turn popular TikTok memes into GIFs. To create this content, we invited a group of creative, funny, and diverse creators, @DreaKnowBest, @Gabe, @BenoftheWeek who are excited to immortalize TikTok memes in GIF form.”

Doubtless if this takes off, there will be more added to that mix.

TikTok doesn’t share how many users it currently has on its platform, but the app — and before that, its predecessor Musically — has proven to be a massively popular channel for sharing fun and occasionally sentimental short videos set to music. But even that loose remit, which has attracted so many users, has its limitations. If you browse enough TikTok, a lot of the posts start to meld together. Adding in a sticker option gives a little extra nudge of differentiation.

There is a longer-term option that this brings to the platform, too: While TikTok has yet to turn the advertising taps on to full volume, stickers can become an obvious way of bringing in more #brands and messaging in a way that keeps the fun ethos of the platform intact.

Amazon-backed food delivery startup Deliveroo acquires Edinburgh software studio Cultivate

As two of the largest players in online-food ordering and delivery in Europe work on a $10 billion merger to expand their footprint and economies of scale, one of its biggest rivals has made an acquisition to expand its own tech muscle.

Deliveroo, the London-based food delivery startup backed by Amazon that is itself valued in the billions, has acquired a small Scottish startup called Cultivate, a software development and user experience design house that has worked with a number of big names, including Deliveroo itself.

Deliveroo — which today has 80,000 restaurants and 60,000 riders on its books across 500 cities in 14 markets in Europe and beyond (Australia, Belgium, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Italy, Ireland, Netherlands, Singapore, Spain, Taiwan, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and the United Kingdom) — is subsequently creating a new fintech hub in Edinburgh, where Cultivate is headquartered. It will be run by Andy Robinson, currently chief commercial officer for Cultivate.

“We have a fantastic relationship with Deliveroo, supporting them through an amazing period of growth. We were attracted by the array of interesting problems being tackled by their team, and how they are addressing them using modern and emerging technology,” Robinson said in a statement. “We’re proud to have built such a great team here in Edinburgh, and today’s announcement is a testament to their hard work and expertise in building world-class software. We are excited to continue this work, create highly skilled jobs, and build a centre of tech excellence here in Edinburgh.”

The plan will be to expand the team to 50 in the next three years, hiring engineers, product managers, user researchers, and designers and data scientists. (It’s worth pointing out too that Amazon has been a major employer in Edinburgh, where it also has a key R&D operation working in various areas including AI and search.)

Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed but it’s likely to be a modest deal.

Cultivate itself was a small (likely around only 15 employees) but profitable business, from the looks of its filings with Companies House. It was also off the radar somewhat as a startup. Originally founded in 2007, Cultivate was initially acquired in 2009 ago by Texas firm EdgeCase, which was then itself acquired by Canadian web firm GroupBy in 2017 in a bid to take on Shopify and rebranded to become Neo. Subsequent to that, Cultivate was amicably spun out again. In that time it had raised an undisclosed amount of funding from unnamed investors.

Deliveroo, founded in 2013 by William Shu and Greg Orlowski, was most recently valued at over $2 billion, although that was before Amazon put $575 million into the company earlier this year. It has raised around $1.5 billion in funding to date.

Cultivate — which had worked for many of clients — will now be working for just one, its owner. The two had already built Deliveroo’s payments technology, but as Deliveroo continues to work on ways to differentiate itself from its competitors through tech, it will be investing more in this area.

In addition to building new (not yet launched) services, some of the other areas of focus for the new Edinburgh operation will be to create more efficient payment systems for riders (which today use a Cash Out feature to access earnings quickly) and restaurants; to expand Deliveroo’s analytics for restaurants to figure out how to better plan for surges and to figure out what is popular and what is not; and (for both restaurants and riders) to better manage finances.

Cultivate had been involved in a number of social enterprise community initiatives to promote technology education alongside its paid work and Deliveroo said these efforts will continue.

“Cultivate have always been at the centre of the tech scene in Edinburgh and have supported events and initiatives across the board,” said Stephen Coleman, CEO of CodeBase, the tech campus in Edinburgh where Cultivate was based. “We are really pleased for the Cultivate team and Deliveroo’s plans to grow here in Scotland and are looking forward to having one of Europe’s top tech companies based here at CodeBase.”

News of this acquisition comes in the same week that Takeaway.com and Just Eat announced that their respective boards had agreed on the basic terms of a merger to create an expanded footprint across Europe.

The deal, if it completes, will not only give the two more economies of scale, and thus a better return on their own tech investment, but the aim will be to help them compete better against the likes of Uber Eats (a major priority for now-public Uber) as well as Deliveroo, which is now continuing its growth now with the might and will of Amazon behind it.

In that context, the Cultivate acquisition is demonstration not just of Deliveroo’s own investments into its tech, but specifically into what is a sizeable and important tech hub in the region, where Amazon has also been very active.

“Deliveroo is proud to be investing in Edinburgh and creating more high skilled jobs in the UK,” said Dan Winn, Deliveroo VP of engineering, in a statement. “Edinburgh is one of the UK’s fastest growing tech hubs, with access to an excellent talent pool of highly skilled people and university graduates. Deliveroo is committed to offering riders flexible, well-paid work and helping restaurants to grow their businesses. Building on Cultivate’s expertise, we are excited to create new products and services that will help us achieve this.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Notes to Editors

 

 

Deliveroo is one of the UK’s leading tech unicorns and a British tech success story. Its investment in world-leading proprietary technology yields substantial benefits for customers, restaurants and riders. The Frank algorithm – which finds the optimal way to deliver food from restaurant to customer – has cut the average delivery time by nearly 20%, significantly reducing customer wait times. Frank’s machine-learning capabilities improves the allocation of orders and reduces restaurant waiting times for riders, helping them to earn higher fees without riding longer hours. And Deliveroo’s innovative products and tools give restaurants unique insights into their customer base, allows them to provide in-app offers to customers and improves their efficiency when preparing meals.

A photo of Andy Robinson (Chief Commercial Officer, Cultivate), Dan Winn (VP of Engineering, Deliveroo) and Paul Wilson (Managing Director, Cultivate) is available here.

Vizio rolls out its Apple AirPlay and HomeKit integrations to its SmartCast TV platform

Ahead of Apple launching its big video streaming initiative Apple TV+ this autumn, a integration is going live today that brings Apple closer to working with third-party TV makers and making its services available on a wider array of devices. Today Vizio said it would start to roll out support for AirPlay2 and HomeKit to its SmartCast TV sets, making it possible to stream video and other media from Apple devices to its TVs and control the sets using Apple’s Home app and through its Siri voice assistant.

The support is coming by way of an over-the-air update to SmartCast 3.0, the system that underpins Vizio’s smart TVs. Notably, using the Apple services will not necessarily mean buying new Vizio TVs: the service is backwards compatible to TVs dating back to 2016. New sets range in prices from $259.99 to $3,499.99.

“SmartCast 3.0 is full of added value for VIZIO customers. With both AirPlay 2 and HomeKit support, users can now share movies, TV shows, music and more from their favorite apps, including the Apple TV app, directly to SmartCast TVs, and enable TV controls through the Home app and Siri,” said Bill Baxter, Chief Technology Officer, VIZIO. “We are thrilled to offer an even more compelling value proposition to our users with a smart TV experience that supports all three major voice assistants. This broad range of compatibility enables VIZIO SmartCast to seamlessly integrate into any household with Siri, Google Assistant or Alexa – giving users more ways to sit back and enjoy the entertainment they love.” Vizio still appears to be the only smart TV maker that’s offering support on its sets for all of the major voice assistants.

Vizio’s integration for Apple’s media services was first announced in January at CES, when Vizio said it would be getting actually rolled out later in the year.

The news was notable at the time for a couple of reasons. First, it underscored how Vizio was stepping up its growth efforts after a tough couple of years involving lawsuits, regulatory investigations and a failed M&A attempt.

Second, it was part of a bigger theme of Apple branching out into a wider consumer electronics ecosystem for its push into the world of TV and video. The latter still stands in stark contrast to Apple’s approach around smartphones, computers and watches, where it has spent years building hardware, operating systems and walled gardens.

That’s a story that is still playing out. The timing of the Vizio news is notable given that it’s just one day after Apple’s quarterly earnings report, where the company revealed a solid quarter that beat analyst expectations but also continued to show slowing growth, largely on the back of an ongoing decline in unit sales for the iPhone (amid a similar, bigger market trend for smarphones overall). To offset that story, Apple has been working hard to build new product categories in newer hardware areas like wearables (the Apple Watch) and smart home hubs (HomePod), and Services, which includes Apple’s efforts in areas like video and music (

Services came in at $11.455 billion — missing analysts expections but still growing 13% on a year ago. The promise — or perhaps more accurately, the hope — is that adding TV and gaming into the mix later in the year will boost that even more. This is where integrations such as the one getting announced today with Vizio will fit in: they will help expand the number of people who might be using the services, and of course the number of screens where the content can be consumed.

Vizio does not specify how many sets it currently has in the market — last number it gave me earlier in the year was “millions” — but it generally is behind Samsung, which currently leads in the smart TV category.

It notes that the service will work by way of tapping an AirPlay icon within SmartCast to be able to stream 4K and Dolby VisionTM HDR movies and TV shows from Apple TV, along with other AirPlay-compatible video apps. Mirroring (which you can also do with non-smart TVs) will also be supported. AirPlay 2 also lets users play content across multiple rooms (provided you have the sets, HomePods or other AirPlay 2 speakers installed).

Real estate platform Compass raises another $370M on a $6.4B valuation en route to an IPO

The real estate market will forever go through ups and downs, but today comes big news for a startup in the space that has built a platform that it believes can help all players in it — buyers, sellers, and those who help with the buying and selling — no matter what stage of the cycle we happen to be in.

Compass — a startup that has built a three-sided marketplace for the industry, along with a wide set of algorithms to help make it work — has raised a $370 million round of funding, money that it plans to use to continue expanding to more geographies and expanding its R&D and product development. Sources tell me that it’s also now eyeing up an IPO, likely sometime in the next 24 months.

“From day one we knew, when we had just a small amount of people at the company, we had a very clear focus,” co-founder and chairman Ori Allon said in an interview. “We wanted to bring more tech and data and transparency to real estate, and i think it’s paid off.”

Based out of New York, Compass earlier this year established an engineering hub in Seattle run by the former CTO of AI for Microsoft, Joseph Sirosh. It’s continuing to hire there and elsewhere (alongside also making acqui-hires for talent).

The Series G funding — which brings the total raised by Compass to $1.5 billion — is coming in at a $6.4 billion valuation, a huge uptick for the company compared to its $4.4 billion valuation less than a year ago. Part of the reason for that has been the company’s massive growth: in the last quarter, its revenues were up 250% compared to Q2 2018.

The investor list for this latest round includes previous investors Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB), Dragoneer Investment Group, and SoftBank Vision Fund. Other investors since it was first founded in 2012 have included Founders Fund, the Qatar Investment Authority (a construction and real estate giant), Fidelity and others.

The company was co-founded by Ori Allon and Robert Reffkin — respectively the chairman and CEO — with Allon holding a string of notable successes in the field of search to his name (his two prior startups were sold to Google and Twitter, which used them as the basis of large areas of their search and discovery algorithms).

In this latest entrepreneurial foray, Allon’s vision of using machine learning algorithms to improve decisions that humans make has been tailored to the specific vertical of real estate.

The platform is not a mere marketplace to connect buyers to real estate agents to sellers, but an engine that helps figure out pricing, timing for sales, how to stage homes (and more recently how to improve them with actual building work by way of Compass Concierge) to get the best prices and best sales. It also helps real estate agents manage their time and their customers (by way of an acquisition it made of CRM platform Contactually earlier this year). Starting with high-end homes for private individuals, Compass has expanded to commercial real estate and a much wider set of price brackets.

There is a wide opportunity for vertical search businesses at the moment. People want more accurate and targeted information to make purchasing decisions; and companies that are in the business of providing information (and selling things) are keen for better platforms to bring in online visitors and increase their conversions.

I understand that this has led to Compass getting approached for acquisitions, but that is not in the blueprint for this real estate startup: the longer term plan will be to take the company public, likely in the next 24 months.

“It has been incredible to see the growth of our Product & Engineering team, including the addition of Joseph Sirosh as CTO,” said Compass Founder & Executive Chairman Ori Allon, in a statement. “We are excited to partner with new investors, and deepen our relationship with our existing partners to accelerate our growth and further our technology advancements.”

 

Monday.com raises $150M more, now at $1.9B valuation, for workplace collaboration tools

Workplace collaboration platforms have become a crucial cornerstone of the modern office: workers’ lives are guided by software and what we do on our computers, and collaboration tools provide a way for us to let each other know what we’re working on, and how we’re doing it, in a format that’s (at best) easy to use without too much distraction from the work itself.

Now, Monday.com, one of the faster growing of these platforms, is announcing a $150 million round of equity funding — a whopping raise that points both to its success so far, and the opportunity ahead for the wider collaboration space, specifically around better team communication and team management.

The Series D funding — led by Sapphire Ventures, with Hamilton Lane, HarbourVest Partners, ION Crossover Partners and Vintage Investment Partners also participating — is coming in at what reliable sources tell me is a valuation of $1.9 billion, or nearly four times Monday.com’s valuation when it last raised money a year ago.

The big bump is in part to the company’s rapid expansion: it now has 80,000 organizations as customers, up from a mere 35,000 a year ago, with the number of actual employees within those organizations numbering as high as 4,000 employees, or as little as two, spanning some 200 industry verticals, including a fair number of companies that are non-technical in their nature (but still rely on using software and computers to get their work done). The client list includes Carlsberg, Discovery Channel, Phillips, Hulu and WeWork and a number of Fortune 500 companies.

“We have built flexibility into the platform,” Roy Mann, the CEO who co-founded the company with Eran Zinman, which is one reason he believes why it’s found a lot of stickiness among the wider field of knowledge workers looking for products that work not unlike the apps that they use as average consumers.

All those figures are also helping to put Monday.com on track for an IPO in the near future, said Roy Mann, the CEO who co-founded the company with Eran Zinman.

“An IPO is something that we are considering for the future, he said in an interview. “We are just at 1% of our potential, and we’re in a position for huge growth.” In terms of when that might happen, he and Zinman would not specify a timeline, but Mann added that this potentially could be the last round before a public listing.

On the other hand, there are some big plans up ahead for the startup, including adding in a free usage tier (to date, the only free on Monday.com is a free trial, all usage tiers have been otherwise paid), expanding geographically and into more languages, and continuing to develop the integration and automation technology that underpins the product. The aim is to have 200 applications working with Monday.com by the end of this year.

While the company is already generating cash and it has just raised a significant round, in the current market, that has definitely not kept venture-backed startups from raising more. (Monday.com, which first started life as Dapulse in 2014, has raised $234.1 million to date.)

Monday.com’s rise and growth are coming at an interesting moment for productivity software. There have been software platforms on the market for years aimed at helping workers communicate with each other, as well as to better track how projects and other activity are progressing. Despite being a relatively late entrant, Slack, the now-public workplace chat platform, has arguably defined the space. (It has even entered the modern work lexicon, where people now Slack each other, as a verb.)

That speaks to the opportunity to build products even when it looks like the market is established, but also — potentially — competition. Mann and Zinman are clear to point out that they definitely do not see Slack as a rival, though. “We even use Slack ourselves in the office,” Zinman noted.

The closer rivals, they note, are the likes of Airtable (now valued at $1.1 billion) and Notion (which we’ve confirmed with the company was raising and has now officially closed a round of $10 million on an equally outsized valuation of $800 million), as well as the wider field of project management tools like Jira, Wrike and Asana — although as Mann playfully pointed out, all of those could also feasibly be integrated into Monday.com and they would work better…

The market is still so nascent for collaboration tools that even with this crowded field, Mann said he believes that there is room for everyone and the differentiations that each platform currently offers: Notion, he noted as an example, feels geared towards more personal workspace management, while Airtable is more about taking on spreadsheets.

Within that, Monday.com hopes to position itself as the ever-powerful and smart go-to place to get an overview of everything that’s happening, with low-chat noise and no need for technical knowledge to gain understanding.

“Monday.com is revolutionizing the workplace software market and we’re delighted to be partnering with Roy, Eran, and the rest of the team in their mission to transform the way people work,” said Rajeev Dham, managing partner at Sapphire Ventures, in a statement. “Monday.com delivers the quality and ease of use typically reserved for consumer products to the enterprise, which we think unlocks significant value for workers and organizations alike.”

Takeaway and Just Eat to merge in $10B deal to take on Deliveroo and Uber Eats in Europe

The food delivery wars in Europe remain hotter than a vindaloo, and that’s leading to some major consolidation: today Just Eat and Takeaway.com, two of the bigger take-out and delivery businesses in the region, announced that they are in the “advanced stages” of a merger. The deal would help them combine forces and take on more scale to compete better with Uber Eats and Amazon-backed Deliveroo.

Both companies are currently publicly listed, Just Eat in London and Takeaway.com in Amsterdam, each with a market cap of around $5 billion.

The combined entity would have an estimated market value of more than €10 billion, or $10 billion — although the share prices are moving quickly right now — and the companies say it would make world’s largest online food delivery platforms, which processed 360 million orders worth €7.3 billion ($8 bilion) in 2018.

Under merger rules in the UK, there is a time limit on how long the two can sit on this deal. They now have until August 24 to get final approval from investors to get the deal squared away.

The companies say the two boards have already agreed on the specific terms, which are as follows:

— Jitse Groen, currently CEO of Takeaway.com, would become CEO of the merged company. Paul Harrison, currently CFO of Just Eat, would become the CFO. Brent Wissink, currently CFO of Takeaway.com, and Jörg Gerbig, currently COO of Takeaway.com, would become co-COOs of the Combined Group.

— The company combined would be headquartered in Amsterdam, but “with a premium listing on the London Stock Exchange” and a “significant part” of its operations in the United Kingdom, which is Just Eat’s home market.

— Just Eat shareholders would get 0.09744 Takeaway.com shares in exchange for each Just Eat share.

— Just Eat shareholders would own approximately 52.2% of the business; Takeaway.com shareholders would own approximately 47.8% (based on the fully diluted ordinary issued share capital of Takeaway.com but excluding dilution from any conversion of Takeaway.com’s convertible bonds, and the fully diluted share capital of Just Eat, in each case, as at the date of this announcement).

— These terms imply a value for Just Eat of 731 pence per share based on Takeaway.com’s closing share price on 26 July 2019 of €83.55, a premium of 15% to Just Eat’s closing share price on Friday.

— Mike Evans, who is the Chairman of Just Eat, would become the Chairman of the Supervisory Board of the Combined Group. Adriaan Nühn, currently Chairman of the Takeaway.com Supervisory Board, will assume the role of Vice-Chairman of the Supervisory Board of the Combined Group.

Takeaway.com — which went public in 2016 — is no stranger to snapping up once-rivals in a bid to expand its business against increasing competition from Uber Eats and Deliveroo. Last year, it paid $1.1 billion to buy Delivery Hero’s German operations, as the latter (ironically based in Berlin) continued to turn its attention to operations in developing markets.

Economies of scale are a critical part of making the financials of delivery and other transportation and e-commerce services work better. You can develop more efficient routes and plot drivers more closely to pick-ups and drop-offs. In the case of food services, this is especially important considering the freshness of the passenger.

There are other areas where it also makes more sense, such as in terms of the investments that a delivery company will make in building better back-end systems to operate the services: having a wider network of restaurants and drivers tapping into those investments makes the payoff faster.

Indeed, the fact that the CEO of Just Eat would become the CFO underscores some of the clear financial reasons for the deal.