GitLab raises $195M in secondary funding on $6B valuation

GitLab has confirmed with TechCrunch that it raised a $195 million secondary round on a $6 billion valuation. CNBC broke the story earlier today.

The company’s impressive valuation comes after its most recent 2019 Series E in which it raised $268 million on a 2.75 billion valuation, an increase of $3.25 billion in under 18 months. Company co-founder and CEO Sid Sijbrandij believes the increase is due to his company’s progress adding functionality to the platform.

“We believe the increase in valuation over the past year reflects the progress of our complete DevOps platform towards realizing a greater share of the growing, multi-billion dollar software development market,” he told TechCrunch.

While the startup has raised over $434 million, this round involved buying employee stock options, a move that allows the company’s workers to cash in some of their equity prior to going public. CNBC reported that the firms buying the stock included Alta Park, HMI Capital, OMERS Growth Equity, TCV and Verition.

The next logical step would be appear to be IPO, something the company has never shied away from. In fact, it actually at one point included the proposed date of November 18, 2020 as a target IPO date on the company wiki. While they didn’t quite make that goal, Sijbrandij still sees the company going public at some point. He’s just not being so specific as in the past, suggesting that the company has plenty of runway left from the last funding round and can go public when the timing is right.

“We continue to believe that being a public company is an integral part of realizing our mission. As a public company, GitLab would benefit from enhanced brand awareness, access to capital, shareholder liquidity, autonomy and transparency,” he said.

He added, “That said, we want to maximize the outcome by selecting an opportune time. Our most recent capital raise was in 2019 and contributed to an already healthy balance sheet. A strong balance sheet and business model, enables us to select a period that works best for realizing our long term goals.”

GitLab has not only published IPO goals on its Wiki, but it’s entire company philosophy, goals and OKRs for everyone to see. Sijbrandij told TechCrunch’s Alex Wilhelm at a TechCrunch Disrupt panel in September, he believes that transparency helps attract and keep employees. It doesn’t hurt that the company was and remains a fully remote organization, even pre-COVID.

“We started [this level of] transparency to connect with the wider community around GitLab, but it turned out to be super beneficial for attracting great talent as well,” Sijbrandij told Wilhelm in September.

The company, which launched in 2014, offers a DevOps platform to help move applications through the programming lifecycle.

Twilio CEO Jeff Lawson says wisdom lies with your developers

Twilio CEO Jeff Lawson knows a thing or two about unleashing developers. His company has garnered a market cap of almost $60 billion by creating a set of tools to make it easy for programmers to insert a whole host of communications functionality into an application with a couple of lines of code. Given that background, perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Lawson has written a book called “Ask Your Developer,” which hit the stores this week.

Lawson’s basic philosophy is that if you can build it, you should.

Lawson’s basic philosophy in the book is that if you can build it, you should. In every company, there is build versus buy calculus that goes into every software decision. Lawson believes deeply that there is incredible power in building yourself instead of purchasing something off the shelf. By using components like the ones from his company, and many others delivering specialized types functionality via API, you can build what your customers need instead of just buying what the vendors are giving you.

While Lawson recognizes this isn’t always possible, he says that by asking your developers, you can begin to learn when it makes sense to build and when it doesn’t. These discussions should stem from customer problems and companies should seek digital solutions with the input of the developer group.

Building great customer experiences

Lawson posits that you can build a better customer experience because you understand your customers so much more  acutely than a generic vendor ever could. “Basically, what you see happening across nearly every industry is that the companies that are able to listen to their customers and hear what the customers need and then build really great digital products and experiences — well, they tend to win the hearts, minds and wallets of their customers,” Lawson told me in an interview about the book this week.

Billboard for book Ask your Developer by Jeff Lawson, CEO of Twilio

Image Credits: Twilio (image has been cropped)

He says that this has caused a shift in how companies perceive IT departments. They have gone from cost centers that provision laptops and buy HR software to something more valuable, helping produce digital products that have a direct impact on the business’s bottom line.

He uses banking as an example in the book. It used to be you judged a bank by a set of criteria like how nice the lobby was, if the tellers were friendly and if they gave your kid a free lollipop. Today, that’s all changed and it’s all about the quality of the mobile app.

“Nowadays your bank is a mobile app and you like your bank if the software is fast, if it is bug free and if they regularly update it with new features and functionality that makes your life better [ … ]. And that same transformation has been happening in nearly every industry and so when you think about it, you can’t buy differentiation if every bank just bought the same mobile app from some vendor and just off the shelf deployed it,” he said.

Harness snags $85M Series C on $1.7B valuation as revenue grows 3x

Harness, the startup that wants to create a suite of engineering tools to give every company the kind of technological reach that the biggest companies have, announced an $85 million Series C today on a $1.7 billion valuation.

Today’s round comes after 2019’s $60 million Series B, which had a $500 million valuation, showing a company rapidly increasing in value. For a company that launched just three years ago, this is a fairly remarkable trajectory.

Alkeon Capital led the round with help from new investors Battery Ventures, Citi Ventures, Norwest Venture Partners, Sorenson Capital and Thomvest Ventures. The startup also revealed a previously unannounced $30 million B-1 round raised after the $60 million round, bringing the total raised to date to $195 million.

Company founder and CEO Jyoti Bansal previously founded AppDynamics, which he sold to Cisco in 2017 for $3.7 billion. With his track record, investors came looking for him this round. It didn’t hurt that revenue grew almost 3x last year.

“The business is doing very well, so the investor community has been proactively reaching out and trying to invest in us. We were not actually planning to raise a round until later this year. We had enough capital to get through that, but there were a lot of people wanting to invest,” Bansal told me.

In fact, he said there is so much investor interest that he could have raised twice as much, but didn’t feel a need to take on that much capital at this time. “Overall, the investor community sees the value in developer tools and the DevOps market. There are so many big public companies now in that space that have gone out in the last three to five years and that has definitely created even more validation of this space,” he said.

Bansal says that he started the company with the goal of making every company as good as Google or Facebook when it comes to engineering efficiency. Since most companies lack the engineering resources of these large companies, that’s a tall task, but one he thinks he can solve through software.

The company started by building a continuous delivery module. A cloud cost efficiency module followed. Last year the company bought open source continuous integration company Drone.io and they are working on building that into the platform now with it currently in beta. There are additional modules on the product roadmap coming this year, according to Bansal.

As the company continued to grow revenue and build out the platform in 2020, it also added a slew of new employees, growing from 200 to 300 during the pandemic. Bansal says that he has plans to add another 200 by the end of this year. Harness has a reputation of being a good place to work, recently landing on Glassdoor’s best companies list.

As an experienced entrepreneur, Bansal takes building a diverse company with a welcoming culture very seriously. “Yes, you have to provide equal opportunity and make sure that you are open to hiring people from diverse backgrounds, but you have to be more proactive about it in the sense that you have to make sure that your company environment and company culture feels very welcoming to everyone,” he said.

It’s been a difficult time building a company during the pandemic, adding so many new employees, and finding a way to make everyone feel welcome and included. Bansal says he has actually seen productivity increase during the pandemic, but now has to guard against employee burnout.

He says that people didn’t know how to draw boundaries when working at home. One thing he did was introduce a program to give everyone one Friday a month off to recharge. The company also recently announced it would be a ‘work from anywhere’ company post-COVID, but Bansal still plans on having regional offices where people can meet when needed.

Pat Gelsinger stepping down as VMware CEO to replace Bob Swan at Intel

In a move that could have wide ramifications across the tech landscape, Intel announced that VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger would be replacing interim CEO Bob Swann at Intel on February 15th. The question is why would he leave his job to run a struggling chip giant.

The bottom line is he has a long history with Intel, working with some of the biggest names in chip industry lore before he joined VMware in 2009. It has to be a thrill for him to go back to his roots and try to jump start the company.

“I was 18 years old when I joined Intel, fresh out of the Lincoln Technical Institute. Over the next 30 years of my tenure at Intel, I had the honor to be mentored at the feet of Grove, Noyce and Moore,” Gelsinger wrote in a blog post announcing his new position.

Certainly Intel recognized that the history and that Gelsinger’s deep executive experience should help as the company attempts to compete in an increasingly aggressive chip industry landscape. “Pat is a proven technology leader with a distinguished track record of innovation, talent development, and a deep knowledge of Intel. He will continue a values-based cultural leadership approach with a hyper focus on operational execution,” Omar Ishrak, independent chairman of the Intel board said in a statement.

But Gelsinger is walking into a bit of a mess. As my colleague Danny Crichton wrote in his year-end review of the chip industry last month, Intel is far behind its competitors, and it’s going to be tough to play catch-up:

Intel has made numerous strategic blunders in the past two decades, most notably completely missing out on the smartphone revolution and also the custom silicon market that has come to prominence in recent years. It’s also just generally fallen behind in chip fabrication, an area it once dominated and is now behind Taiwan-based TSMC, Crichton wrote.

Patrick Moorhead, founder and principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy agrees with this assertion, saying that Swan was dealt a bad hand, walking in to clean up a mess that has years long timelines. While Gelsinger faces similar issues, Moorhead thinks he can refocus the company. “I am not foreseeing any major strategic changes with Gelsinger, but I do expect him to focus on the company’s engineering culture and get it back to an execution culture” Moorhead told me.

The announcement comes against the backdrop of massive chip industry consolidation last year with over $100 billion changing hands in four deals with NVidia nabbing ARM for $40 billion, the $35 billion AMD-Xilink deal, Analog snagging Maxim for $21 billion and Marvell grabbing Inphi for a mere $10 billion, not to mention Intel dumping its memory unit to SK Hynix for $9 billion.

As for VMware, it has to find a new CEO now. As Moorhead says, the obvious choice will be current COO Sanjay Poonen. Holger Mueller, an analyst at Constellation Research says it will be up to Michael Dell who to hand the reins to, but he believes Gelsinger was stuck at Dell and would not get a broader role, so he left.

“VMware has a deep bench, but it will be up to Michael Dell to get a CEO who can innovate on the software side and keep the unique DNA of VMware inside the Dell portfolio going strong, Dell needs the deeper profits of this business for its turnaround,” he said.

The stock market seems to like the move for Intel with the company stock up 7.26%, but not so much for VMware, whose stock was down close to the same amount at 7.72% as went to publication.

Openbase scores $3.6M seed to help developers find open source components

Openbase founder Lior Grossman started his company the way that many founders do — to solve a problem he was having. In this case, it was finding the right open source components to build his software. He decided to build something to solve the problem, and Openbase was born.

Today, the company announced a $3.65 million seed round led by Zeev Ventures with participation from Y Combinator and 20 individual tech industry investors. Openbase was a member of the YC 2020 cohort.

Grossman says that being part of YC helped him meet investors, especially on Demo Day when hundreds of investors listened in. “I would say that being part of YC definitely gave us a higher profile, and exposed us to some investors that I didn’t know before. It definitely opened doors for us,” he said.

As developers build modern software, they often use open source components to help build the application, and Openbase helps them find the best one for their purposes. “Openbase basically helps developers choose from among millions of open source packages,” Grossman told me.

The database includes 1.5 million JavaScript packages today with support for additional languages including Python and Go in beta. The way it works is that users search for a package based on their requirements and get a set of results. From there, they can compare components and judge them based on user reviews and other detailed insights.

Openbase data screen gives detailed insights on the chosen package including popularity and similar packages.

Image Credits: Openbase

Grossman found that his idea began resonating with developers shortly after he launched in 2019. In fact, he reports that he went from zero to half a million users in the first year without any marketing beyond word of mouth. That’s when he decided to apply to Y Combinator and got into the Summer 2020 class.

The database is free for developers and that has helped build the user base so quickly. Eventually he hopes to monetize by allowing certain companies to promote their packages on the system. He says that these will be clearly marked and that the plan is to have only one promoted package per category. What’s more, they will retain all their user reviews and other associated data, regardless of whether it’s being promoted or not.

Grossman started the company on his own, but has added 5 employees with plans to hire more people this year to keep growing the startup. As an immigrant founder, he is sensitive to diversity and sees building a diverse company as a key goal. “I built this company as an immigrant myself […] and I want to build an inclusive culture with people from different backgrounds because I think that will produce the best environment to foster innovation,” he explained.

So far the company has been fully remote, but the plan is to open an office post-pandemic. He says he sees a highly flexible approach to work though with people spending some days in the office and some at home. “I think for our culture this hybrid approach will work. Whenever we expand further I obviously imagine having more offices and not only our office in San Francisco.”

Human.ai nabs $3.2M seed to build personal intelligence platform

The last we heard from Luther.ai, the startup was participating in the TechCrunch Disrupt Battlefield in September. The company got a lot of attention from that appearance, which culminated in a $3.2 million seed round it announced today. While they were at it, the founders decided to change the company name to Human.ai, which they believe better reflects their mission.

Differential VC led the round joined by Village Global VC, Good Friends VC, Beni VC and Keshif Ventures. David Magerman from Differential will join the startup’s Board.

The investors were attracted to Human.ai’s personalized kind of artificial intelligence, and co-founder and CEO Suman Kanuganti says that the Battlefield appearance led directly to investor interest, which quickly resulted in a deal four weeks later.

“I think overall the messaging of what we delivered at TechCrunch Disrupt regarding an individual personal AI that is secured by blockchain to retain and recall [information] really set the stage for what the company is all about, both from a user standpoint as well as from an investor standpoint,” Kanuganti told me.

As for the name change, he reported that there was some confusion in the market that Luther was an AI assistant like Alexa or a chatbot, and the founders wanted the name to better reflect the personalized nature of the product.

“We are creating AI for the individual and there is so much emphasis on the authenticity and the voice and the thoughts of an individual, and how we also use blockchain to secure ownership of the data. So most of the principle lies in creating this AI for an individual human. So we thought, let’s call it Human.ai,” he explained.

As Kanuganti described it in September, the tool allows individuals to search for nuggets of information from past events using a variety of AI technologies:

“It’s made possible through a convergence of neuroscience, NLP and blockchain to deliver seamless in-the-moment recall. GPT-3 is built on the memories of the public internet, while Luther is built on the memories of your private self.”

The company is still in the process of refining the product and finding its audience, but reports that so far they have found interest from creative people such as writers, professionals such as therapists, high tech workers interested in AI, students looking to track school work and seniors looking for a way to track their memories for memoir purposes. All of these groups have the common theme of having to find nuggets of information from a ton of signals and that’s where Human.ai’s strength lies.

The company’s diverse founding team includes two women, CTO Sharon Zhang and designer Kristie Kaiser, along with Kanuganti, who is himself an immigrant. The founders want to continue building a diverse organization as they add employees. “I think in general we just want to attract a diverse kind of talent, especially because we are also Human.ai and we believe that everyone should have the same opportunity,” Zhang told me.

The company currently has 7 full time employees and a dozen consultants, but with the new funding is looking to hire engineers and AI talent and a head of marketing to push the notion of consumer AI. While the company is remote today and has employees around the world, it will look to build a headquarters at some point post-COVID where some percentage of the employees can work in the same space together.

Cockroach Labs scores $160M Series E on $2B valuation

Cockroach Labs, makers of CockroachDB, have been on a fundraising roll for the last couple of years. Today the company announced a $160 million Series E on a fat $2 billion valuation. The round comes just eight months after the startup raised an $86.6 million Series D.

The latest investment was led by Altimeter Capital with participation from new investors Greenoaks and Lone Pine along with existing investors Benchmark, Bond, FirstMark, GV, Index Ventures and Tiger Global. The round doubled the company’s previous valuation and increased the amount raised to $355 million.

Co-founder and CEO Spenser Kimball says that the company’s revenue more than doubled in 2020 in spite of COVID, and that caught the attention of investors. He attributed this paradoxical rise to the rapid shift to the cloud brought on by the pandemic that many people in the industry have seen.

“People became more aggressive with what was already underway, a real move to embrace the cloud to build the next generation of applications and services, and that’s really fundamentally where we are,” Kimball told me.

As that happened, the company began a shift in thinking. While it has embraced an open source version of CockroachDB along with a 30-day free trial on the company’s cloud service as ways to attract new customers to the top of the funnel, it wants to try a new approach.

In fact, it plans to replace the 30 day trial with a newer version later this year without any time limits. It believes this will attract more developers to the platform and enable them to see the full set of features without having to enter credit card information. What’s more, by taking this approach it should end up costing the company less money to support the free tier.

“What we expect is that you can do all kinds of things on that free tier. You can do a hackathon, any kind of hobby project […] or even a startup that has ambitions to be the next DoorDash or Airbnb,” he said. As he points out, there’s a point where early stage companies don’t have many users, and can remain in the free tier until they achieve product-market fit.

“That’s when they put a credit card down, and they can extend beyond the free tier threshold and pay for what they use,” he said. The newer free tier is still in the beta testing phase, but will be rolled out during this year.

Kimball says that company wasn’t necessarily looking to raise, although he knew that it would continue to need more cash on the balance sheet to run with giant competitors like Oracle, AWS and the other big cloud vendors, along with a slew of other database startups. As the company’s revenue grows, he certainly sees an IPO in its future, but he doesn’t see it happening this year.

The startup ended the year with 200 employees and Kimball expects to double that by the end of this year. He says growing a diverse group of employees takes good internal data and building a welcoming and inclusive culture.

“I think the starting point for anything you want to optimize in a business is to make sure that you have the metrics in front of you, and that you’re constantly looking at them […] in order to measure how you’re doing,” he explained.

He added, “The thing that we’re most focused on in terms of action is really building the culture of the company appropriately and that’s something we’ve been doing for all six years we’ve been around. To the extent that you have an inclusive environment where people actually really view the value of respect, that helps with diversity.”

Kimball says he sees a different approach to running the business when the pandemic ends with some small percentage going into the office regularly and others coming for quarterly visits, but he doesn’t see a full return to the office post-pandemic.

F5 snags Volterra multi-cloud management startup for $500M

Applications networking company F5 announced today that it is acquiring Volterra, a multi-cloud management startup, for $500 million. That breaks down to $440 million in cash and $60 million in deferred and unvested incentive compensation.

Volterra emerged in 2019 with a $50 million investment from multiple sources, including Khosla Ventures and Mayfield, along with strategic investors like M12 (Microsoft’s venture arm) and Samsung Ventures. As the company described it to me at the time of the funding:

Volterra has innovated a consistent, cloud-native environment that can be deployed across multiple public clouds and edge sites — a distributed cloud platform. Within this SaaS-based offering, Volterra integrates a broad range of services that have normally been siloed across many point products and network or cloud providers.

The solution is designed to provide a single way to view security, operations and management components.

F5 president and CEO François Locoh-Donou sees Volterra’s edge solution integrating across its product line. “With Volterra, we advance our Adaptive Applications vision with an Edge 2.0 platform that solves the complex multi-cloud reality enterprise customers confront. Our platform will create a SaaS solution that solves our customers’ biggest pain points,” he said in a statement.

Volterra founder and CEO Ankur Singla, writing in a company blog post announcing the deal, says the need for this solution only accelerated during 2020 when companies were shifting rapidly to the cloud due to the pandemic. “When we started Volterra, multi-cloud and edge were still buzzwords and venture funding was still searching for tangible use cases. Fast forward three years and COVID-19 has dramatically changed the landscape — it has accelerated digitization of physical experiences and moved more of our day-to-day activities online. This is causing massive spikes in global Internet traffic while creating new attack vectors that impact the security and availability of our increasing set of daily apps,” he wrote.

He sees Volterra’s capabilities fitting in well with the F5 family of products to help solve these issues. While F5 had a quiet 2020 on the M&A front, today’s purchase comes on top of a couple of major acquisitions in 2019, including Shape Security for $1 billion and NGINX for $670 million.

The deal has been approved by both companies’ boards, and is expected to close before the end of March, subject to regulatory approvals.

RedHat is acquiring container security company StackRox

RedHat today announced that it’s acquiring container security startup StackRox . The companies did not share the purchase price.

RedHat, which is perhaps best known for its enterprise Linux products has been making the shift to the cloud in recent years. IBM purchased the company in 2018 for a hefty $34 billion and has been leveraging that acquisition as part of a shift to a hybrid cloud strategy under CEO Arvind Krishna.

The acquisition fits nicely with RedHat OpenShift, its container platform, but the company says it will continue to support StackRox usage on other platforms including AWS, Azure and Google Cloud Platform. This approach is consistent with IBM’s strategy of supporting multi-cloud, hybrid environments.

In fact, Red Hat president and CEO Paul Cormier sees the two companies working together well. “Red Hat adds StackRox’s Kubernetes-native capabilities to OpenShift’s layered security approach, furthering our mission to bring product-ready open innovation to every organization across the open hybrid cloud across IT footprints,” he said in a statement.

CEO Kamal Shah, writing in a company blog post announcing the acquisition, explained that the company made a bet a couple of years ago on Kubernetes and it has paid off. “Over two and half years ago, we made a strategic decision to focus exclusively on Kubernetes and pivoted our entire product to be Kubernetes-native. While this seems obvious today; it wasn’t so then. Fast forward to 2020 and Kubernetes has emerged as the de facto operating system for cloud-native applications and hybrid cloud environments,” Shah wrote.

Shah sees the purchase as a way to expand the company and the road map more quickly using the resources of Red Hat (and IBM), a typical argument from CEOs of smaller acquired companies. But the trick is always finding a way to stay relevant inside such a large organization.

StackRox’s acquisition is part of some consolidation we have been seeing in the Kubernetes space in general and the security space more specifically. That includes Palo Alto Networks acquiring competitor TwistLock for $410 million in 2019. Another competitor, Aqua Security, which has raised $130 million, remains independent.

StackRox was founded in 2014 and raised over $65 million, according to Crunchbase data. Investors included Menlo Ventures, Redpoint and Sequoia Capital. The deal is expected to close this quarter subject to normal regulatory scrutiny.

How Segment redesigned its core systems to solve an existential scaling crisis

Segment, the startup Twilio bought last fall for $3.2 billion, was just beginning to take off in 2015 when it ran into a scaling problem: It was growing so quickly, the tools it had built to process marketing data on its platform were starting to outgrow the original system design.

Inaction would cause the company to hit a technology wall, managers feared. Every early-stage startup craves growth and Segment was no exception, but it also needed to begin thinking about how to make its data platform more resilient or reach a point where it could no longer handle the data it was moving through the system. It was — in a real sense — an existential crisis for the young business.

The project that came out of their efforts was called Centrifuge, and its purpose was to move data through Segment’s data pipes to wherever customers needed it quickly and efficiently at the lowest operating cost.

Segment’s engineering team began thinking hard about what a more robust and scalable system would look like. As it turned out, their vision would evolve in a number of ways between the end of 2015 and today, and with each iteration, they would take a leap in terms of how efficiently they allocated resources and processed data moving through its systems.

The project that came out of their efforts was called Centrifuge, and its purpose was to move data through Segment’s data pipes to wherever customers needed it quickly and efficiently at the lowest operating cost. This is the story of how that system came together.

Growing pains

The systemic issues became apparent the way they often do — when customers began complaining. When Tido Carriero, Segment’s chief product development officer, came on board at the end of 2015, he was charged with finding a solution. The issue involved the original system design, which like many early iterations from startups was designed to get the product to market with little thought given to future growth and the technical debt payment was coming due.

“We had [designed] our initial integrations architecture in a way that just wasn’t scalable in a number of different ways. We had been experiencing massive growth, and our CEO [Peter Reinhardt] came to me maybe three times within a month and reported various scaling challenges that either customers or partners of ours had alerted him to,” said Carriero.

The good news was that it was attracting customers and partners to the platform at a rapid clip, but it could all have come crashing down if the company didn’t improve the underlying system architecture to support the robust growth. As Carriero reports, that made it a stressful time, but having come from Dropbox, he was actually in a position to understand that it’s possible to completely rearchitect the business’s technology platform and live to tell about it.

“One of the things I learned from my past life [at Dropbox] is when you have a problem that’s just so core to your business, at a certain point you start to realize that you are the only company in the world kind of experiencing this problem at this kind of scale,” he said. For Dropbox that was related to storage, and for Segment it was processing large amounts of data concurrently.

In the build-versus-buy equation, Carriero knew that he had to build his way out of the problem. There was nothing out there that could solve Segment’s unique scaling issues. “Obviously that led us to believe that we really need to think about this a little bit differently, and that was when our Centrifuge V2 architecture was born,” he said.

Building the imperfect beast

The company began measuring system performance, at the time processing 8,442 events per second. When it began building V2 of its architecture, that number had grown to an average of 18,907 events per second.