Pendo scores $100M Series E investment on $1 billion valuation

Pendo, the late stage startup that helps companies understand how customers are interacting with their apps, announced a $100 million Series E investment today on a valuation of $1 billion.

The round was led by Sapphire Ventures . Also participating were new investors General Atlantic and Tiger Global, and existing investors Battery Ventures, Meritech Capital, FirstMark, Geodesic Capital and Cross Creek. Pendo has now raised $206 million, according to the company.

Company CEO and co-founder Todd Olson says that one of the reasons they need so much money is they are defining a market, and the potential is quite large. “Honestly, we need to help realize the total market opportunity. I think what’s exciting about what we’ve seen in six years is that this problem of improving digital experiences is something that’s becoming top of mind for all businesses,” Olson said.

The company integrates with customer apps, capturing user behavior and feeding data back to product teams to help prioritize features and improve the user experience. In addition, the product provides ways to help those users either by walking them through different features, pointing out updates and new features or providing other notes. Developers can also ask for feedback to get direct input from users.

Olson says early on its customers were mostly other technology companies, but over time they have expanded into lots of other verticals including insurance, financial services and retail and these companies are seeing digital experience as increasingly important. “A lot of this money is going to help grow our go-to-market teams and our product teams to make sure we’re getting our message out there, and we’re helping companies deal with this transformation,” he says. Today, the company has over 1200 customers.

While he wouldn’t commit to going public, he did say it’s something the executive team certainly thinks about, and it and has started to put the structure in place to prepare should that time ever come. “This is certainly an option that we are considering, and we’re looking at ways in which to put us in a position to be able to do so, if and when the markets are good and we decide that’s the course we want to take.”

Thoma Bravo makes $3.9 billion offer to acquire security firm Sophos

Sophos announced this morning that private equity firm Thoma Bravo, has agreed to buy the British company for £3.1 billion ($3.9 billion USD). The price is based on $7.40 USD per share and the company indicated that the board of directors will recommend that shareholders accept the offer.

Sophos CEO Kris Hagerman, as you would expect, put the deal in the brightest possible light. “Sophos is actively driving the transition in next-generation cybersecurity solutions, leveraging advanced capabilities in cloud, machine learning, APIs, automation, managed threat response, and more. We continue to execute a highly-effective and differentiated strategy, and we see this offer as a compelling validation of Sophos, its position in the industry and its progress,” he said in a statement.

But private equity firms typically look for undervalued firms that they can purchase and either combine with other properties or find ways to build up their value. Thoma Bravo indicated in a public filing that it saw a firm, it called “a global leader in next-generation cybersecurity solutions spanning endpoint, next-generation firewall, cloud security, server security, managed threat response, and more,” it stated in the filing.

The company has 400,000 customers in 150 countries, 47,000 channel partners and more than 100 million users, according to the filing. The stock price was up this morning on the news, according to reports.

It’s worth noting that just last week, TechCrunch’s Zack Whittaker reported on “a vulnerability in [Sophos’] Cyberoam firewall appliances, which a security researcher says can allow an attacker to gain access to a company’s internal network without needing a password.” The company issued an advisory last week on the problem, indicating it had issued a patch on September 30th.

Why it might have been time for new leadership at SAP

SAP CEO Bill McDermott announced he was stepping down last night after a decade at the helm in an announcement that shocked many. It’s always tough to measure the performance of an enterprise leader when he or she leaves. Some people look at stock price over their tenure. Some at culture. Some at the acquisitions made. Whatever the measure, it will be up to the new co-CEOs Jennifer Morgan and Christian Klein to put their own mark on the company.

What form that will take remains to be seen. McDermott’s tenure ended without much warning, but it also happened against a wider backdrop that includes other top executives and board members leaving the company over the last year, an activist investor coming on board and some controversial licensing changes in recent years.

Why now?

The timing certainly felt sudden. McDermott, who was interviewed at TechCrunch Sessions: Enterprise last month sounded more like a man who was fully engaged in the job, not one ready to leave, but a month later he’s gone.

But as McDermott told our own Frederic Lardinois last night, after 10 years, it seemed like the right time to leave. “The consensus was 10 years is about the right amount of time for a CEO because you’ve accomplished a lot of things if you did the job well, but you certainly didn’t stay too long. And if you did really well, you had a fantastic success plan,” he said in the interview.

There is no reason to doubt that, but you should at least look at context and get a sense of what has been going in the company. As the new co-CEOs take over for McDermott, several other executives including SAP SuccessFactors COO Brigette McInnis-Day, Robert Enslin, president of its cloud business and a board member, CTO Björn Goerke and Bernd Leukert, a member of the executive board have all left this year.

Xage now supports hierarchical blockchains for complex implementations

Xage is working with utilities, energy companies and manufacturers to secure their massive systems, and today it announced some significant updates to deal with the scale and complexity of these customers’ requirements including a new hierarchical blockchain.

Xage enables customers to set security policy, then enforce that policy on the blockchain. Company CEO Duncan Greatwood says as customers deploy his company’s solutions more widely, it has created a set of problems around scaling that they had to address inside the product including the use of blockchain.

As you have multiple sites involved in a system, there needed to be a way for these individual entities to operate whether they are connected to the main system or not. The answer was to provide each site with its own local blockchain, then have a global blockchain that acts as the ultimate enforcer of the rules once the systems reconnected.

“What we’ve done is by creating independent blockchains for each location, you can continue to write even if you are separated or the latency is too high for a global write. But when the reconnect happens with the global system, we replay the writes into the global blockchain,” Greatwood explained.

While classical blockchain doesn’t allow these kinds of separations, Xage felt it was necessary to deal with its particular kind of use case. When there is a separation a resynchronization happens where the global blockchain checks the local chains for any kinds of changes, and if they are not consistent with the global rules, it will overwrite those entries.

Greatwood says these changes can be malicious if someone managed to take over a node or they could be non-malicious such as a password change that wasn’t communicated to the global chain until it reconnected. Whatever the reason, the global blockchain has this power to fix the record when it’s required.

Another issue that has come up for Xage customers is the idea that majority rules on a blockchain, but that’s not always a good idea when you have multiple entities working together. As Greatwood explains, if one entity has 600 nodes and the other has 400, the larger entity can always enforce its rules on the smaller one. To fix that, they have created what they are calling a super majority.

“The supermajority allows us to impose impose rules such as, after you have the majority of 600 nodes, you also have to have the majority of the 400 nodes. Obviously, that will give you an overall majority. But the important point is that the company with 400 nodes is protected now because the write to the ledger account can’t happen unless a majority of the 400 node customer also agrees and participates in the write,” Greatwood explained.

Finally, the company also announced scaling improvements, which reduce computing requirements to run Xage by 10x, according to the company.

Okta wants to make every user a security ally

End users tend to get a bad rap in the security business because they are often the weakest security link. They fall for phishing schemes, use weak passwords and often unknowingly are the conduit for malicious actors getting into your company’s systems. Okta wants to change that by giving end users information about suspicious activity involving their login, while letting them share information with the company’s security apparatus when it makes sense.

Okta actually developed a couple of new products under the umbrella SecurityInsights. The end user product is called UserInsights. The other new product, called HealthInsights, is designed for administrators and makes suggestions on how to improve the overall identity posture of a company.

UserInsights lets users know when there is suspicious activity associated with their accounts such as a login from an unrecognized device. If it appears to involve a stolen password, he or she would click the Report button to report the incident to the company’s security apparatus where it would trigger an automated workflow to start an investigation. The person should also obviously change that compromised password.

HealthInsights operates in a similar fashion except for administrators at the system level. It checks the configuration parameters and makes sure the administrator has set up Okta according to industry best practices. When there is a gap between the company’s settings and a best practice, the system alerts the administrator and allows them to fix the problem. This could involve implementing a stricter password policy, creating a block list for known rogue IP addresses or forcing users to use a second factor for certain sensitive operations.

HealthInsight Completed tasks

Health Insights Report. Image: Okta

Okta is first and foremost an identity company. Organizations, large and small, can tap into Okta to have a single-sign-on interface where you can access all of your cloud applications in one place. “If you’re a CIO and you have a bunch of SaaS applications, you have a [bunch of] identity systems to deal with. With Okta, you narrow it down to one system,” CEO Todd McKinnon told TechCrunch.

That means, if your system does get spoofed, you can detect anomalous behavior much more easily because you’re dealing with one logon instead of many. The company developed these new products to take advantage of that, and provide these groups of employees with the information they need to help protect the company’s systems.

The SecurityInsights tools are available starting today.

Alteryx acquires machine learning startup Feature Labs

Alteryx, a publicly traded analytics company, announced this morning that it has acquired Feature Labs, a machine learning startup that launched out of MIT in 2018. The company did not reveal the terms of the deal.

Co-founder and CEO Max Kanter told TechCrunch at the time of the launch the company had been based on research at MIT that looked at how to automate the creation of machine learning algorithms. “Feature Labs is unique because we automate feature engineering, which is the process of using domain knowledge to extract new variables from raw data that make machine learning algorithms work,” Kanter told TechCrunch in 2018.

It is precisely this capability that appealed to Alteryx . “Feature Labs’ vision to help both data scientists and business analysts easily gain insight and understand the factors driving their business matches the Alteryx DNA,” Alteryx co-founder and CEO Dean Stoecker said in a statement. It’s worth noting that the company acquired another machine learning startup, Yhat, in 2017 and launched a new feature, Alteryx Promote, based on that technology later that year.

As for Feature Labs, writing in a blog post announcing the deal, Kanter and chief data scientist Alan Jacobson saw a partner that could help it grow faster while fitting the long-term goals for the company. Kanter and Jacobson also sought to reassure its users that the mission will continue. “We plan to use this [acquisition] to expand our AI and ML efforts in both the Open Source data science community, as well as for line of business analysts that desire code-free tools that can guide them through the complex process to successfully implement AI and ML techniques with their domain knowledge,” they wrote in the post.

Feature Labs offers open-source libraries for data scientists that have been downloaded more than 350,000 times, according to the company. The company was founded in 2018 in Cambridge, Mass. and has raised $3 million, according to Crunchbase data. It will remain in Cambridge and form a new Alteryx engineering hub in the city.

Alteryx went public in 2017 after raising more than $160 million from VC firms like Iconiq Partners, Insight Venture Partners and Sapphire Ventures. This represents its fifth acquisition and second this year.

Chris Dixon from a16z announces free crypto startup school at TechCrunch Disrupt

Chris Dixon, a general partner at Andreessen Horowitz, announced a new crypto-related startup school at TechCrunch Disrupt today in San Francisco.

Dixon says that the firm is not looking for equity, but really wants to provide a way to teach some best practices in the emerging field of crypto currency. “We are going to run a startup school for crypto-specific startups and what we’ve learned over the last 7 years as best practices in this category,” Dixon told TechCrunch’s Josh Constine on stage today.

The company doesn’t intend to charge any money, nor will it take any equity in the companies that participate. In Dixon’s words, they are doing this to push the category forward and help crypto startups get going. He hopes that based on the good will of offering this education for free, that startups who participate may end up having a conversation with a16z about possibly getting an investment, but he made clear that this absolutely was not a requirement.

Last year, the firm made its commitment to crypto clear when it established a crypto fund run by Katie Haun. Dixon told TechCrunch at the time of that announcement that his firm had already invested in 20 crypto companies over the previous five years, including Ripple and Coinbase way back in 2013, prior to establishing a fund devoted to crypto.

The company will be setting up a page on the company website for companies interested in signing up for the crypto startup school.

Render announces object storage service at TechCrunch Disrupt

It was a big day for startup Render, which participated in the TechCrunch Disrupt Startup Battlefield today. It also announced some upgrades to its managed cloud platform.

First of all, it announced the ability to spin up object storage in the cloud, while greatly simplifying the tasks associated with adding storage. CEO and founder Anurag Goel says that the storage option is something customers have been requesting, and as with their other services, they handle a lot of the heavy lifting for them.

“One of the things that our users want us to do next is to build out object storage. Even though they can use things like Amazon S3 and other cloud storage options, they know that Render is going to be easier for them to use. So they really want object storage, and they want everything in one place,” Goel explained.

If you want to do that today without Render, you would have to spin up a virtual machine in the cloud, attach the storage, set up backup schedules and take care of all of these other associated tasks, and what Render is doing with Render Disk is stripping that all away and managing the process for them.

While the startup was at it, it also developed a concept called infrastructure as code. This allows developers to define their infrastructure requirements in a YAML file. When the developer sends the file to GitHub, Render can build the infrastructure for the customer on the fly based on the contents of this file.

Finally, they are offering a one-click launch to customers. This could come in handy for companies that are offering free trials or open-source tools to enable users to launch their applications with a single click from GitHub and it will load all of the required files.

Render challenges the cloud’s biggest vendors with cheaper, managed infrastructure

Render, a participant in the TechCrunch Disrupt SF Startup Battlefield, has a big idea. It wants to take on the world’s biggest cloud vendors by offering developers a cheaper alternative that also removes a lot of the complexity around managing cloud infrastructure.

Render’s goal is to help developers, especially those in smaller companies, who don’t have large DevOps teams, to still take advantage of modern development approaches in the cloud. “We are focused on being the easiest and most flexible provider for teams to run any application in the cloud,” CEO and founder Anurag Goel explained.

He says that one of the biggest pain points for developers and startups, even fairly large startups, is that they have to build up a lot of DevOps expertise when they run applications in the cloud. “That means they are going to hire extremely expensive DevOps engineers or consultants to build out the infrastructure on AWS,” he said. Even after they set up the cloud infrastructure, and move applications there, he points out that there is ongoing maintenance around patching, security and identity access management. “Render abstracts all of that away, and automates all of it,” Goel said.

It’s not easy competing with the big players on scale, but he says so far they have been doing pretty well, and plan to move much of their operations to bare metal servers, which he believes will help stabilize costs further.

render DSC02051

“Longer term, we have a lot of ideas [about how to reduce our costs], and the simplest thing we can do is to switch to bare metal to reduce our costs pretty much instantly.” He says the way they have built Render will make that easier to do. The plan now is to start moving their services to bare metal in the fourth quarter this year.

Even though the company only launched in April, it is already seeing great traction. “The response has been great. We’re now doing over 100 million HTTP requests every week. And we have thousands of developers and startups and everyone from people doing small hobby projects to even a major presidential campaign,” he said.

Although he couldn’t share the candidate’s name, he said they were using Render for everything including their infrastructure for hosting their web site and their back-end administration. “Basically all of their cloud infrastructure is on Render,” he said.

Render has raised a $2.2 million seed round and is continuing to add services to the product, including several new services it will announce this week around storage, infrastructure as code and one-click deployment.

Salesforce is building an office tower in Sydney, pledging 1,000 new jobs in the next five years

Salesforce announced this week that it’s building another shiny tower. This one will be in Sydney with views of the harbor and the iconic Sydney Opera House. The company has also committed to adding 1,000 new jobs in the next five years and to building the tower in a sustainable fashion.

In fact, Salesforce is pledging the new tower will be one of the greenest buildings in the country when they are finished. “The building has achieved Sydney’s first-ever WELL core and shell Platinum pre-certification, the highest obtainable pre-certification, and will achieve a 6 Star Green Star Design and As-Built rating, representing world excellence in sustainable design,” Salesforce’s Elizabeth Pinkham wrote in a blog post announcing the project.

As is Salesforce’s way, it’s going to be the tallest building in the city when it’s done, and will sit in the Circular Quay, part of the central business district in the city, and will house shops and restaurants on the main floor. As with all of its modern towers, it’s going to dedicate the top floor to allow for flexible use for employees, customers and partners. The building will also boast a variety of spaces including a Salesforce Innovation Center for customers along with social lounges, mindfulness areas and a variety of spaces for employees to collaborate.

Salesforce has had a presence in Sydney for more than 15 years, according to the company, and this tower is an attempt to consolidate that presence into a single, modern space with room to expand over the next five years and add hundreds of new employees.

The announcement comes on the heels of the one earlier this year that the company was building a similarly grand project in Dublin to centralize operations in that city where it has had a presence since 2001.