VCs are failing diverse founders; Elizabeth Warren wants to step in

Elizabeth Warren, who earlier this year confirmed her intent to run for president in 2020, has an ambitious plan to advance entrepreneurs of color.

In a series of tweets published this morning, the Massachusetts senator proposed a $7 billion Small Business Equity Fund to provide grants to Black, Latinx, Native American and other minority entrepreneurs, if she’s elected president. The initiative will be covered by her “Ultra-Millionaire Tax,” a two-cent tax on every dollar of wealth above $50 million the presidential hopeful first outlined in January.

The fund would be managed by the Department of Economic Development, a new government entity to be constructed under the Warren administration. With a goal of creating and defending American jobs, the Department of Economic Development would replace the Commerce Department and “subsume other agencies like the Small Business Administration and the Patent and Trademark Office, and include research and development programs, worker training programs, and export and trade authorities like the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative,” Warren explained.

The Small Business Equity Fund will exclusively issue grant funding to entrepreneurs eligible to apply for the Small Business Administration’s existing 8(a) program and who have less than $100,000 in household wealth, aiming to provide capital to 100,000 new minority-owned businesses, creating 1.1 million new jobs.

Founders of color receive a disproportionate amount of venture capital funding. There’s insufficient data on the topic, but research from digitalundivided published last year suggests the median amount of funding raised by black women, for example, is $0. According to the same study, black women have raised just .0006% of all tech venture funding since 2009.

Startups founded by all-female teams, despite efforts to level the playing field for female entrepreneurs, raised just 2.2% of venture capital investment in 2018.

VCs are a majority white and male. Plus, they have a proven tendency to invest their capital into entrepreneurs who look like them or who resemble founders that were previously successful. In other words, VCs are continuously on the hunt for the next Mark Zuckerberg .

“Even if we fully close the startup capital gap, deep systemic issues will continue to tilt the playing field,” Warren wrote. “86% of venture capitalists are white, and studies show that investors are more likely to partner with entrepreneurs who look like them. This tilts the field against entrepreneurs of color. So I plan to address this disparity head on too. I will require states and cities administering my new Fund to work with diverse investment managers—putting $7 billion in the hands of minority-and women-owned managers.”

Warren this morning also announced plans to “direct” federal pension and retirement funds to recruit diverse investment managers and to require states and cities administering the Small Business Equity Fund to work with diverse investment managers. Finally, Warren, again, if elected, will triple the budget of the Minority Business Development Agency, which helps entrepreneurs of color access funding networks and business advice .

Warren, throughout her campaign for the presidency, has made a number of critiques of the tech industry.

In March, the senator announced her plan to break up big tech.

“Twenty-five years ago, Facebook, Google, and Amazon didn’t exist,” Warren wrote. “Now they are among the most valuable and well-known companies in the world. It’s a great story — but also one that highlights why the government must break up monopolies and promote competitive markets.”

How to negotiate term sheets with strategic investors

Three years ago, I met with a founder who had raised a massive seed round at a valuation that was at least five times the market rate. I asked what firm made the investment.

She said it was not a traditional venture firm, but rather a strategic investor that not only had no ties to her space but also had no prior investment experience. The strategic investor, she said, was looking to “get their hands dirty” and “get in on the ground floor.”

Over the next 2 years, I kept a close eye on the founder. Although she had enough capital to pivot her business focus multiple times, she seemed to be at odds, serving the needs of her strategic investor and her customer base.

Ultimately, when the business needed more capital to survive, the strategic investor didn’t agree with the founder’s focus, opted not to prop it up, and the business had to shut down.

Sadly, this is not an uncommon story as examples abound of strategic investors influencing startup direction and management decisions to the point of harm for the startup. Corporate strategics, not to be confused with dedicated funds focused on financial returns like a traditional venture investor like Google Ventures, often care less about return on investment, and more about a startup’s focus, and sector specificity. If corporate imperatives change, the strategic may cease to be the right partner or could push the startup in a challenging direction.

And yet, fortunately, as the disruptive power of technology is being unleashed on nearly every major industry, strategic investors are now getting smarter, both in terms of how they invest and how they partner with entrepreneurs.

From making strong acquisitive plays (i.e. GM’s purchase of Cruise Automation or Toyota’s early-stage investment in Uber) to building dedicated funds, to executing commercial agreements in tandem with capital investment, strategics are getting savvier, and by extension, becoming better partners.  In some instances, they may be the best partner.

Negotiating a term sheet with a strategic investor necessitates a different set of considerations. Namely: the preference for a strategic to facilitate commercial milestones for the startup, a cautious approach to avoid the “over-valuation” trap, an acute focus on information rights, and the limitation of non-compete provisions.

Why is Andreessen Horowitz (and everyone else) investing in Latin America now?

Investments by U.S. venture capital firms into Latin America are skyrocketing and one of the firms leading the charge into deals is none other than Silicon Valley’s Andreessen Horowitz .

The firm that shook up Silicon Valley with potentially over-generous term sheets and valuations and an overarching thesis that “software is eating the world” has been reluctant to test its core belief… well… pretty much anywhere outside of the United States.

That was true until a few years ago when Andreessen began making investments in Latin America. It’s the only geography outside of the U.S. where the firm has committed significant capital and the pace of its investments is increasing.

Andreessen isn’t the only firm that’s making big bets in companies south of the American border. SoftBank has its $2 billion dollar investment fund, which launched earlier this year, to invest in Latin American deals as well. (Although the most recent SoftBank Innovation Fund investment in GymPass is likely an indicator that the fund, much like SoftBank’s “Vision” fund, has a pretty generous interpretation of what is and is not a Latin American deal.)

“We previously didn’t invest internationally, [because] we weren’t as well set up to help these companies,” says Angela Strange, a general partner at Andreessen Horowitz. “Part of the reason for why LatAm is proximity.”

Neurobehavioral health company Blackthorn pulls in $76 million from GV to treat mental disorders

There are numerous challenges to finding effective treatments for mental disorders. However, Blackthorn Therapeutics, a neurobehavioral health company using machine learning to create personalized medicine for mental health, is betting its technological approach to finding drugs that work will put it ahead of the competition. Lucky for them, GV and other biotech investors have shown they agree by adding another $76 million in Series B financing to the coffers.

Today, Blackthorn announced the close of its $76 million series B round from GV, Scripps Research, Johnson & Johnson Innovation and a bevy of other biotech investment firms, including Polaris Partners, Premier Partners, Vertex Ventures HC, Alexandria Venture Investments, Altitude Life Science Ventures, ARCH Venture Partners, and Biomatics Capita.

Blackthorn has been heads down the last couple of years on a clinical trial for a drug that could potentially treat mood disorders. In April, the company announced positive results from its phase I trial for the drug.

The company plans to use the funding to advance its clinical-stage programs for mood disorders as well as for potential treatment of autism spectrum disorder, advancing towards clinical investigation in 2020.

Brian Chee, a managing partner at Polaris Partners, Lori Hu, a managing director at Vertex Ventures HC, and Julie Sunderland, a managing director at Biomatics Capital have joined Blackthorn’s board as directors in conjunction with the funding.

Blackthorn also recently added two people to its executive team. Jane Tiller has joined as chief medical officer and Laura Hansen as vice president, corporate affairs.

“BlackThorn was founded to bring new therapies to patients by applying advances in computational sciences to address patient heterogeneity, one of the biggest historical challenges in the field of neuropsychiatric drug development,” said Blackthorn’s president and COO Bill Martin, Ph.D. “Three years later, insights from our data-driven approaches are yielding patient enrichment strategies that could increase probability of clinical trial success and improve patient outcomes. We are grateful for our investors’ support to continue advancing our platform and therapeutic pipeline as we build out a world-class team at the intersection of technology and clinical neuroscience.”

Calendar influencers? Event social network IRL raises $8M

Why is there no app where you can follow party animals, concert snobs, or conference butterflies for their curated suggestions of events? That’s the next phase of social calendar app IRL that’s launching today on iOS to help you make and discuss plans with friends or discover nearby happenings to fill out your schedule.

The calendar, a historically dorky utility, seems like a strange way to start the next big social network. Many people, especially teens, either don’t use apps like Google Calendar, keep them professional, or merely input plans made elsewhere. But by baking in an Explore tab of event recommendations and the option to follow curators, headliners, and venues, IRL could make calendars communal like Instagram did to cameras.

“There’s Twitter for ‘follow my updates’, there’s Soundcloud for ‘follow my music’, but there’s no ‘follow my events'” IRL CEO Abe Shafi tells me of his plan to turbocharge his calendar app. “They’re arguably the best product that’s been built for organizing what you’re doing but no one has Superhuman’d or Slack’d the calendar. Let’s build a super f*cking dope calendar!” he says with unbridled excitement. He’ll need that passion to persevere as IRL tries to steal a major use case from SMS, messaging apps, and Facebook .

Finding a new opportunity for a social network has attracted a new $8 million Series A funding round for IRL led by Goodwater Capital and joined by Founders Fund and Kleiner Perkins. That builds on its $3 million seed from Founders Fund and Floodgate, whose partner Mike Maples is joining IRL’s board. The startup has also pulled in some entertainment and event CEOs as strategic investors including Warner Bros president Greg Silverman, Lionsgate films president Joe Drake, and Classpass CEO Fritz Lanman to help it recruit calendar influencers users can follow.

Filling Your Social Calendar

In Shafi, investors found a consumate extrovert who can empathize with event-goers. He dropped out of Berkeley to build out his recruitment software startup getTalent before selling it to HR platform Dice where he became VP of product. He started to become disillusioned by tech’s impact on society and almost left the industry before some time at Burning Man rekinkled his fever for events.

IRL CEO Abe Shafi

Shafi teamed up with PayPal’s first board member Scott Banister and early social network founder Greg Tseng. Shafi’s first attempted Gather pissed off a ton of people with spammy invites in 2017. By 2018, he’d restarted as IRL with a focus on building a minimalist calendar where it was easy to create events and invite friends. Evite and Facebook Events were too heavy for making less formal get-togethers with close friends. He wisely chose to geofence his app and launch state by state to maximize density so people would have more pals to plan with.

IRL is now in 14 states with a modest 1.3 million monthly active users and 175,000 dailies, plus 3 million people on the waitlist. “50% of all teens in Texas have downloaded IRL. I wanted to focus on the central states, not Silicon Valley” Shafi explains. Users log in with a phone number or Google, two-way sync their Google Calendar if they have one, and can then manage their existing schedule and create mini-events. The stickiest feature is the ability to group chat with everyone invited so you can hammer out plans. Even users without the app can chime in via text or email. And unlike Facebook where your mom or boss are liable to see your RSVPs, your calendar and what you’re doing on IRL is always private unless you explicitly share it.

The problem is that most of this could be handled with SMS and a more popular calendar. That’s why IRL is doubling-down on event discovery through influencers, which you can’t do anywhere else at scale. With the new version of the app launching today, you’ll be recommended performers, locations, and curators to follow. You’ll see their suggestions in the Explore tab that also includes sub-tabs of Nearby and Trending happenings. There’s also a college-specific feed for users that auth in with their school email address. Curators and event companies like TechCrunch can get their own IRL.com/… URL people can follow more easily than some janky list of events of gallery of flyers on their website. Since pretty much every promoter wants more attendees, IRL’s had little resistance to it indexing all the events from Meetup.com and whatever it can find.

IRL is concentrating on growth for now, but Shafi believes all the intent data about what people want to do could be valuable for directing people to certain restaurants, bars, theaters, or festivals, though he vows that “we’re never going to sell your data to advertisers.” For now IRL is earning money from affiliate fees when people buy tickets or make reservations. Event affiliate margins are infamously slim, but Shafi says IRL can bargain for higher fees as it gains sway over more people’s calendars.

Unfortunately without reams of personal data and leading artificial intelligence that Facebook owns, IRL’s in-house suggestions via the Explore tab can feel pretty haphazard. I saw lots of mediocre happy hours, crafting nights, and community talks that weren’t quite the hip nightlife recommendations I was hoping for, and for now there’s no sorting by category. That’s where Shafi hopes influencers will fill in. And he’s confident that Facebook’s business model discourages it moving deeper into events. “Facebook’s revenue driver is time spent on the app. While meaningful to society, events as a feature is not a primary revenue driver so they don’t get the resources that other features on Facebook get.”

Yet the biggest challenge will be rearranging how people organize their lives. A lot of us are too scatterbrained, lazy, or instinctive to make all our plans days or weeks ahead of time and put them on a calendar. The beauty of mobile is that we can communicate on the fly to meet up. “Solving for spontaneity isn’t our focus so far” Shafi admits. But that’s how so much of our social lives come together.

My biggest problem isn’t finding events to fill my calendar, but knowing which friends are free now to hang out and attend one with me. There are plenty of calendar, event discovery, and offline hangout apps. IRL will have to prove they deserve to be united. At least Shafi says it’s problem worth trying to solve. “I know for a fact that the product of a calendar will outlive me.” He just wants to make it more social first.

Facebook backs social commerce startup Meesho in first India investment

As Facebook explores ways to generate revenue from WhatsApp, the company is now turning to a startup that already has a lead. The social juggernaut said today it has invested in social-commerce startup Meesho in what is the first time the firm takes equity in an Indian startup.

Neither Facebook nor Meesho, which prior to this announcement had raised about $65 million from a number of investors including DST Partners, RPS Ventures and Shunwei Capital, shared financial terms of the deal. A source familiar with the matter told TechCrunch the size of the capital was “very significant.”

Meesho, a Y Combinator alumnus, is an online marketplace that connects sellers with customers on social media platforms such as WhatsApp. The four-year-old startup claims to have a network of more than 2 million resellers who largely deal with apparels and electronics items.

These resellers are mostly homemakers, most of whom have purchased a smartphone for the first time in recent years. 80% of Meesho’s user base is female, startup’s co-founder and CEO Vidit Aatrey told TechCrunch.

Meesho also has most of its customers in smaller cities and towns, popularly dubbed as India 2, where most users are still not online. These are two things that attracted Facebook to Meesho, Ajit Mohan, VP and Managing Director of Facebook India, told TechCrunch in an interview.

“A platform that is aimed at India 2 and has such a large user base of women — when most people online in India are predominantly men — is a remarkable achievement,” he said. According to several estimates, males account for more than 80% of India’s internet user base.

Meesho claims that it is helping thousands of resellers earn more than Rs 25,000 ($360) each month. In an interview with TechCrunch last year, Aatrey said the startup, which operates in India currently, planned to enter international markets.

Even as WhatsApp is a crucial play for Meesho, the startup will continue to work with other social media platforms, Facebook’s Mohan said. Last year, Facebook launched its Marketplace, which operates in the same space as Meesho. Mohan said the company does not see Meesho as a vehicle to expand its own family of services.

On the contrary, Facebook is now open to exploring investment in other startups that are building unique solutions for the Indian market. “Wherever we believe there is opportunity beyond the work we do today, we are open to exploring further investment deals,” he said. There is no particular category that Facebook is necessarily looking at, he added.

Even as Facebook has not made any push to make WhatsApp expand beyond a communications service, users in India, the service’s largest market, are increasingly finding ways to incorporate Facebook’s app into their businesses.

Google, Amazon, and Twitter too have made investments in Indian startups. While Twitter has backed social platform ShareChat, Google has invested in hyperlocal concierge app Dunzo.

China opens Nasdaq-style board to lure tech firms back home

China’s much-anticipated Science and Technology Innovation board officially launched in Shanghai today, marking Beijing’s major step in drawing high-potential tech companies to list at home.

The new Star Market, first announced by President Xi Jinping in November, is expected to be a key fundraising avenue for tech companies from an array of stages, given its criteria (link in Chinese) are less stringent than other domestic boards. Beijing has over the past year encouraged local firms to become more self-reliant in producing chips and other core technologies as an escalating trade war threatens to cut China off the U.S. supply chain.

The new startup board began taking applications in late March and have so far received applications from 122 companies, according to information from the Shanghai Stock Exchange .

The tech bourse opened as the Hong Kong Stock Exchange next door got a big boost. China’s ecommerce titan Alibaba has filed confidentially for a second listing in Hong Kong, according to reports from Bloomberg and Reuters on Thursday citing sources. A spokesperson for Alibaba declined to comment.

Rumors of Alibaba’s potential IPO have swirled for months, but the Hangzhou-based firm has recently accelerated its application process as the U.S.-China trade war intensifies, a person familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.

Other Chinese firms that want to be closer to home now have another option to raise equity. Through the new tech board, China will allow loss-making companies to list on an exchange for the first time. This will likely draw promising, pre-profit tech firms that would have otherwise chosen to list in New York for more lax regulations.

For example, unprofitable companies with an income of at least 300 million yuan ($43.43 million) from the previous year are allowed to list in Shanghai if they have a minimum market capitalization of 2 billion yuan and generated a cash flow of no less than 100 million yuan over the past three years.

The board will be the first to have adopted a “registration-based” IPO system designed to streamline applications and limit the securities authority’s influence over pricing and timing of a flotation.

Companies with a dual-class shareholding structure, which has proven popular with a range of tech giants including Facebook, Alphabet, Alibaba and JD.com, will be eligible to apply. Alibaba famously snubbed the Hong Kong Stock Exchange after the bourse rejected its application over its corporate structure. HKEX recently dropped its dual-class ban and admitted that Alibaba’s decision to list in New York had compelled it to rethink the restriction. 

Applicants that adopt the variable interest entities (VIE) structure, a controversial framework that many Chinese internet firms use to operate as domestic companies controlled by foreign entities, are also welcome to apply.

Zava bags $32M to expand its AI-free telehealth service in Europe

More money is being injected into the telehealth space in Europe. Zava, a long-time player that bills its online service as offering a “discreet and convenient” alternative to an in-person doctor visit, has just announced a $32 million Series A round, led by growth equity firm HPE Growth.

Zava relies on patients filling in an online medical questionnaire which is reviewed by a person from its team of in-house doctors/clinicians as part of the remote consultation process. Test kits and/or medicine can follow in the post or be sent to a pharmacy for the patient to collect.

“Zava provides reliable and convenient access to a qualified clinical team, via written communication, which drives an effective patient:doctor relationship,” says co-founder and CEO David Meinertz. “The questions we ask in our written questionnaire are exactly the same questions a GP would ask — but the patient can do this in their own time, meaning their answers are often more thorough.”

“Our patients feel more comfortable not having to discuss medical conditions that they might find embarrassing face to face, so we often find our patient answers are very direct,” he adds. “We’re not replacing doctors with AI and we are not just putting doctors on video. Zava is providing healthcare that enables doctors to treat patients more efficiently and more safely.”

Commenting on the Series A in a statement, Harry Dolman, partner at HPE Growth, added: “Zava offers a unique and highly scalable model to deliver a more convenient healthcare experience to patients while radically improving the efficiency of healthcare professionals, enabling healthcare systems to reduce the overall costs associated with primary care.”

The startup was founded nearly a decade ago, in 2010, and had only previously raised an angel round of $1.4M back in 2012 from an entrepreneur in Hamburg — but was profitable until the end of 2018. “We are now in investment mode,” Meinertz tells TechCrunch.

The growth opportunity its investors are spotting is both to expand to more markets, initially across Europe, but also to supplement over-stretched state healthcare services — with Zava gearing up to make a sales pitch to state healthcare services in the UK, France and Germany.

Its early profits have come from offering paid services either direct to patients, or via working with insurance companies or partnering with pharmacies. The next stage will be to open up a dual track in key markets such as the UK — supplementing direct paid consultations with winning business from the state funded National Health Service so the service is offered to their patients free-at-the-point-of-use.

Although at this stage Zava has not provided any details of state healthcare contracts it has won.

“We’re delighted that our latest investment will help fund the research required to enter this space in the UK, Germany and France,” says Meinertz of the Series A. “We feel passionately about the transformation of primary care and the Zava healthcare platform is primed to support it.”

“As Zava grows and scales in the UK, we are looking to work closely with the NHS to help it become more efficient. This will mean that we will be working with two distinct models in the UK, one where patients pay Zava for the services they receive from us, or, two, access Zava through the NHS and receive healthcare free of charge at the point of care,” he adds.

“Due to the different requirements of the healthcare systems in France and Germany, we are already exploring different routes to enter the statutory healthcare markets in these countries.

“In Germany, we will work with statutory and private insurance companies to provide healthcare to patients free at the point of care.”

Meinertz says the new funding will also go on expanding Zava’s medical and technology capabilities — to offer “many new services for patients across Europe”, with women’s health a near term focus.

“We will be launching dozens of new services in the UK and other markets during Q3 and Q4 of 2019. In particular, we are focussing on women’s health in the coming months, as well as new test-kits and mental health services,” he says, adding: “With our latest investment we are investigating routes to replicate Zava’s success in the current markets to new markets to accelerate growth. Our intention is to launch in two additional European markets by 2021.”

Since 2011, Zava has provided three million paid consultations across the six markets it operates in in Europe — with 1M those taking place in 2018 alone.

Every month it says almost 100,000 patients access its service from the UK, Germany, France, Austria, Switzerland and Ireland to seek advice, tests or treatment for a growing range of conditions.

On the surface, Zava’s approach looks considerably ‘lower tech’ than some of the other digital health startups also targeting a younger, tech-savvy generation of patients — such as London-based Babylon Health, which uses an AI chatbot as part of its telehealth mix.

But what it may lose in triaging scale and immediacy, by requiring patients spend time filling in a detailed questionnaire in order to access remote healthcare — vs offering a more dynamic chatbot-style Q&A with a patient — could represent a longer term, sustainable advantage if Zava can show this method reduces the risks of errors and misdiagnosis, especially as usage scales, and does indeed help to foster a stronger link between patient and app, as it claims.

“Patients fill in an online questionnaire giving details on their symptoms, past medical history and personal circumstances. This medical information is reviewed by one of our doctors who then decide the best course of action, whether this is prescribing medication, offering a diagnostic test, giving advice or requesting further information from the patient,” says Meinertz explaining Zava’s approach.

“The medical questionnaires have been developed by the clinical team and passed rigorous testing to ensure safe treatment to our patients.”

Patient dissatisfaction rates do appear to be an early challenge for ‘digital first’ healthcare services.

For example, an Ipsos Mori evaluation of Babylon Health’s rival GP at Hand service, published earlier this year, found high levels of patient churn — with one in four patients found to have left the practice since July 2017 vs an average across London during the same period of one in six.

How well Zava’s questionnaire review process scales will be key. (Trustpilot reviews of its current UK service skew overwhelmingly positive — but a full 3% of reviewers have left the lowest possible rating, with complaints including canceled orders, lost/delayed packages, privacy-related complaints and even the wrong strength medicine being sent.)

Currently the startup has an in-house clinical team comprised of more than 20 doctors, pharmacists and healthcare professionals. Though the plan with the new funding is to grow headcount.

“The majority of this team sits in our London head office but we offer flexibility for our staff, meaning that consultations can be offered by remote doctors. With this in mind, we have doctors based in France, Switzerland and Germany too who treat Zava patients,” adds Meinertz.

The typical Zava patient is a man or a woman aged between 20 and 40 who is resident in a major city.

“They are patients who are dissatisfied with their current healthcare options and they’re willing to try something new,” he says. “They want to avoid a face to face interaction or an inconvenient appointment, accessibility and reliability are the most important factors to them.”

While this tech-savvy target demographic may be willing to try an app over a traditional trip to the GP, they’re unlikely to stick around long if the underlying service doesn’t live up to their expectations. So there are major challenges for telehealth players like Zava — to make sure patients remain satisfied with the quality and reliability of the service as usage scales, and to find ways to foster a genuine sense of connection with remote doctors sitting in the equivalent of a call center. A shiny app wrapper on its own won’t go far.

Newly public CrowdStrike wants to become the Salesforce of cybersecurity

Like many good ideas, CrowdStrike, a seller of subscription-based software that protects companies from breaches, began as a few notes scribbled on a napkin in a hotel lobby.

The idea was to leverage new technology to create an endpoint protection platform powered by artificial intelligence that would blow incumbent solutions out of the water. McAfee, Palo Alto Networks and Symantec, long-time leaders in the space, had been too slow to embrace new technologies and companies were suffering, the CrowdStrike founding team surmised.

Co-founders George Kurtz and Dmitri Alperovitch, a pair of former McAfee executives, weren’t strangers to legacy cybersecurity tools. McAfee had for years been a dominant player in endpoint protection and antivirus. At least, until the emergence of cloud computing.

Since 2012, CrowdStrike’s Falcon Endpoint Protection platform has been pushing those incumbents into a new era of endpoint protection. By helping enterprises across the globe battle increasingly complex attack scenarios more efficiently, CrowdStrike, as well as other fast-growing cybersecurity upstarts, has redefined company security standards much like Salesforce redefined how companies communicate with customers.

“I think we had the foresight that [CrowdStrike] was going to be a foundational element for security,” CrowdStrike chief executive officer George Kurtz told TechCrunch this morning. The full conversation can be read further below.

CrowdStrike co-founder and CEO George Kurtz.

Simpo raises $4.5M Seed to help install software faster and more efficiently

Simpo is a startup with a simple idea. It wants to help project managers at large companies get software into the hands of its employee users faster. Today, the company announced a $4.5 million seed investment.

The round was led by Redpoint Ventures with participation from Janvest, UpWest, Seedcamp, Elad Gil and other unnamed investors.

The idea behind Simpo is to offer a no-code platform for distributing software and educating end users on how to use it. Any friction in this process can reduce adoption and Simpo created a platform for project managers without a lot of technical know-how to set up software distribution workflows with the goal of driving greater adoption.

There is an element of Robotics Process Automation (RPA) here too, by letting project manager build logical workflows, and then as users interact with the software, it can learn and offer next steps to help further drive usage. This approach really attracted Satish Dharmaraj, managing partner at lead investor Redpoint Ventures.

“Simpo is really exciting [to me] because it has solved so much of the software adoption problem in a sophisticated, yet incredibly simple way. Robotic process automation is a transformative force, and now product managers are able to harness its power for the first time. As software continues to dominate the enterprise, Simpo is a critical piece in driving adoption and informing how and what products will be built,” Dharmaraj said in a statement.

The company counts Walmart, DuPont and Jet as customers.