Seva snares $2.4M seed investment to find info across cloud services

Seva, a New York City startup, that wants to help customers find content wherever it lives across SaaS products, announced a $2.4 million seed round today. Avalon Ventures led the round with participation from Studio VC and Datadog founder and CEO Olivier Pomel.

Company founder and CEO Sanjay Jain says that he started this company because he felt the frustration personally of having to hunt across different cloud services to find the information he was looking for. When he began researching the idea for the company, he found others who also complained about this fragmentation.

“Our fundamental vision is to change the way that knowledge workers acquire the information they need to do their jobs from one where they have to spend a ton of time actually seeking it out to one where the Seva platform can prescribe the right information at the right time when and where the knowledge worker actually needs it, regardless of where it lives.”

Seva, which is currently in Beta, certainly isn’t the first company to try and solve this issue. Jain believes that with a modern application of AI and machine learning and single sign-on, Seva can provide a much more user-centric approach than past solutions simply because the technology wasn’t there yet.

The way they do this is by looking across the different information types. Today they support a range of products including Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Drive,, Box, Dropbox, Slack and JIRA, Confluence. Jain says they will be adding additional services over time.

Screenshot: Seva

Customers can link Seva to these products by simply selecting one and entering the user credentials. Seva inherits all of the security and permissioning applied to each of the services, so when it begins pulling information from different sources, it doesn’t violate any internal permissioning in the process.

Jain says once connected to these services, Seva can then start making logical connections between information wherever it lives. A salesperson might have an appointment with a customer in his or her calendar, information about the customer in a CRM and a training video related to the customer visit. It can deliver all of this information as a package, which users can share with one another within the platform, giving it a collaborative element.

Seva currently has 6 employees, but with the new funding is looking to hire a couple of more engineers to add to the team. Jain hopes the money will be a bridge to a Series A round at the end of next year by which time the product will be generally available.

Truphone, an eSIM mobile carrier that works with Apple, raises another $71M, now valued at $507M

Truphone — a UK startup that provides global mobile voice and data services by way of an eSIM model for phones, tablets and IoT devices — said that it has raised another £18 million ($23.7 million) in funding; plus it said it has secured £36 million ($47 million) more “on a conditional basis” to expand its business after signing “a number of high-value deals.”

It doesn’t specify which deals these are, but Truphone was an early partner of Apple’s to provide eSIM-based connectivity to the iPad; and it will also be offering a service for new iPhone XS and XR models, taking advantage of the dual SIM capability. Truphone says that strategic partners of the company include Apple (“which chose Truphone as the only carrier to offer global data, voice and text plans on the iPad and iPhone digital eSIM”); Synopsys, which has integrated Truphone’s eSIM technology into its chipset designs; and Workz Group, a SIM manufacturer, which has a license from Truphone for its GSMA-accredited remote SIM provisioning platform and SIM operating system.

The company said that this funding, which was made by way of a rights issue, values Truphone at £386 million ($507 million at today’s rates) post-money. Truphone told TechCrunch that the funding came from Vollin Holdings and Minden Worldwide — two investment firms with ties to Roman Abramovich, the Russian oligarch who also owns the Chelsea football club, among other things — along with unspecified minority shareholders. Collectively, Abramovich-connected entities control more than 80 percent of the company.

We have asked the company for more detail on what the conditions are for the additional £36 million in funding to be released and all it is willing to say is that “it’s KPI-driven and related to the speed of growth in the business.” It’s unclear what the state of the business is at the moment because Truphone has not updated its accounts at Companies House (they are overdue). We have asked about that, too.

For some context, Truphone most recently raised money almost exactly a year ago, when it picked up £255 million also by way of a rights issue, and also from the same two big investors. The large amount that time was partly being raised to retire debt. That deal was done at a valuation of £370 million ($491 million at the time of the deal). Going just on sterling values, this is a slight down-round.

Truphone, however, says that business is strong right now:

“The appetite for our technology has been enormous and we are thrilled that our investors have given us the opportunity to accelerate and scale these groundbreaking products to market,” said Ralph Steffens, CEO, Truphone, in a statement. “We recognised early on that the more integrated the supply chain, the smoother the customer experience. That recognition paid off—not just for our customers, but for our business. Because we have this capability, we can move at a speed and proficiency that has never before seen in our industry. This investment is particularly important because it is testament not just to our investors’ confidence in our ambitions, but pride in our accomplishments and enthusiasm to see more of what we can do.”

Truphone is one of a handful of providers that is working with Apple to provide plans for the digital eSIM by way of the MyTruphone app. Essentially this will give users an option for international data plans while travelling — Truphone’s network covers 80 countries — without having to swap out the SIMs for their home networks.

The eSIM technology is bigger than the iPhone itself, of course: some believe it could be the future of how we connect on mobile networks. On phones and tablets, it does away with users ordering, and inserting or swapping small, fiddly chips into their devices (that ironically is also one reason that carriers have been resistant to eSIMs traditionally: it makes it much easier for their customers to churn away). And in IoT networks where you might have thousands of connected, unmanned devices, this becomes one way of scaling those networks.

“eSIM technology is the next big thing in telecommunications and the impact will be felt by everyone involved, from consumers to chipset manufacturers and all those in-between,” said Steve Alder, chief business development officer at Truphone. “We’re one of only a handful of network operators that work with the iPhone digital eSIM. Choosing Truphone means that your new iPhone works across the world—just as it was intended.” Of note, Alder was the person who brokered the first iPhone carrier deal in the UK, when he was with O2.

Truphone has not released numbers detailing how many devices are using its eSIM services at the moment — either among enterprises or consumers — but it has said that customers include more than 3,500 multinational enterprises in 196 countries. We have asked for more detail and will update this post as we learn more.

With $50M in fresh funding, Allbirds will open new stores in the US, UK and Asia

The quintessential venture capitalist’s uniform consists of a pair of designer jeans, a Patagonia fleece vest and $95 wool sneakers.

The company behind the shoes, Allbirds, entered the unicorn club this morning with the announcement of a $50 million Series C from late-stage players T. Rowe Price, which led the round, Tiger Global and Fidelity Investments. The 3-year-old startup founded by Joey Zwillinger and Tim Brown has raised $75 million to date, including a $17.5 million Series B last year. Its backed by Leonardo DiCaprio, Scooter Braun, Maveron, Lerer Hippeau and Elephant, the venture capital firm led by Warby Parker founder Andrew Hunt.

The Wall Street Journal is reporting the round values Allbirds at $1.4 billion. The company would not confirm that figure to TechCrunch.

Like Warby Parker, San Francisco-based Allbirds began as a direct-to-consumer online retailer but has since expanded to brick-and-mortar, opening stores in San Francisco and New York. It currently ships to locations across the U.S., New Zealand, Australia and Canada. Next week, the company plans to open its first storefront in the U.K. in London’s Covent Garden neighborhood. It will begin shipping throughout the U.K. In 2019.

Using its latest investment, Allbirds will double down on its brick-and-mortar business. In addition to the U.K., the company says it will open even more locations in the U.S., as well as open doors in Asia in the coming months. Tiger Global, which has backed Allbirds since its Series B, may be of help. The firm has offices in Hong Kong and Singapore, as well as partners across Asia.

Allbirds makes eco-friendly wool shoes for men, women and kids via its kid’s line, aptly named Smallbirds. The shoes are made out of sustainable materials, including merino wool, a fabric made from eucalyptus fiber that the company has dubbed “Tree” and “SweetFoam,” a shoe sole made from sugarcane-based, carbon-negative foam rubber.

“Climate change is the problem of our generation and the private sector has a responsibility to combat it,” Zwillinger, Allbirds’ chief executive officer, said in a statement. “This injection of capital will help us bring our sustainable products to more people around the globe, demonstrating that comfort, design and sustainability don’t have to live exclusive of each other.”

It’s been quite the year for venture investment in … shoes. Rothy’s, which makes sustainable ballet flats for women, has raised $7 million and launched a sneaker. Atoms, a maker of minimalist shoes, brought in $560,000 in seed funding from LinkedIn’s ex-head of growth Aatif Awan and Shrug Capital. And GOAT, the operator of an online sneaker marketplace, nabbed a $60 million Series C in February.

Snowflake scoops up another blizzard of cash with $450 million round

When Snowflake, the cloud data warehouse, landed a $263 million investment earlier this year, CEO Bob Muglia speculated that it would be the last money his company would need before an eventual IPO. But just 9 months after that statement, the company announced a second even larger round. This time it’s getting $450 million, as an unexpected level of growth led them to seek additional cash.

Sequoia Capital led the round, joined by new investor Meritech Capital and existing investors Altimeter Capital, Capital One Growth Ventures, Madrona Venture Group, Redpoint Ventures, Sutter Hill Ventures and Wing Ventures. Today’s round brings the total raised to over $928 million with $713 million coming just this year. That’s a lot of dough.

Oh and the valuation has skyrocketed too from $1.5 billion in January to $3.5 billion with today’s investment. “We are increasing the valuation from the prior round substantially, and it’s driven by the growth numbers of almost quadrupling the revenue, and tripling the customer base,” company CFO Thomas Tuchscherer told TechCrunch.

At the time of the $263 million round, Muglia was convinced the company had enough funds and that the next fundraise would be an IPO. “We have put ourselves on the path to IPO. That’s our mid- to long-term plan. This funding allows us to go directly to IPO and gives us sufficient capital, that if we choose, IPO would be our next funding step,” he said in January.

Tuchscherer said in fact that was the plan at the time of the first batch of funding. He joined the company, partly because of his experience bringing Talend public in 2016, but he said the growth has been so phenomenal, that they felt it was necessary to change course.

“When we raised $263 million earlier in the year, we raised based on a plan that was ambitious in terms of growth and investment. We are exceeding and beating that, and it prompted us to explore how do we accelerate investment to continue driving the company’s growth,” he said.

Running on both Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure, which they added as a supported platform earlier this year, certainly contributed to the increased sales, and forced them to rethink the amount of money it would take to fuel their growth spurt.

“I think it’s very important as a distinction that we view the funding as being customer driven in the sense that in order to meet the demand that we’re seeing in the market for Snowflake, we have to invest in our infrastructure, as well as in our R&D capacity. So  the funding that we’re raising now is meant to finance those two core investments,” he stressed

The number of employees is skyrocketing as the company adds customers. Just eight months ago the company had around 350 employees. Today it has close to 650. Tuchscherer expects that to grow to between 900 and 1000 by the end of January, not that far off.

As for that IPO, surely that is still a goal, but the growth simply got in the way. “We are building the company to be autonomous and to be a large independent company. It’s definitely on the horizon,” he said.

While Tuchscherer wouldn’t definitively say that the company is looking to support at least one more cloud platform in addition to Amazon and Microsoft, he strongly hinted that such a prospect could happen.

The company also plans to plunge a lot of money into the sales team, building out new sales offices in the US and doubling their presence around the world, while also enhancing the engineering and R&D teams to expand their product offerings.

Just this year alone the company has added Netflix, Office Depot, DoorDash, Netgear, Ebates and Yamaha as customers. Other customers include Capital One, Lions Gate and Hubspot.

SoftBank is considering taking a majority stake in WeWork

SoftBank may soon own up to 50 percent of WeWork, a well-funded provider of co-working spaces headquartered in New York, according to a new report from The Wall Street Journal.

SoftBank is reportedly weighing an investment between $15 billion and $20 billion, which would come from its $92 billion Vision Fund, a super-sized venture fund led by Japanese entrepreneur and investor Masayoshi Son.

WeWork declined to comment.

SoftBank already owns some 20 percent of WeWork. The firm invested $4.4 billion in the company in August 2017, $1.4 billion of which was set aside to help WeWork expand in China, Japan and Southeast Asia.

This August, WeWork raised another $1 billion from SoftBank in convertible debt. At the same time, WeWork disclosed financials to a handful of media outlets, sharing that its revenue had doubled to $763.8 million in the first half of 2018 as losses increased to $723 million.

SoftBank, for its part, seems to have a hankering for real estate tech. Not only has it become a key stakeholder in WeWork, but it has deployed significant amounts of capital to Opendoor, Compass, Katerra and others.

Last month, the Vision Fund backed Opendoor, a platform for buying and selling homes, with $400 million. The same day, it led a $400 million round for Compass, valuing the real estate brokerage startup at $4.4 billion. As for Katerra, SoftBank poured $865 million into the construction tech business in January.

WeWork, founded in 2010 by Adam Neumann and Miguel McKelvey, has raised nearly $5 billion in a combination of debt and equity funding to date. It was valued at $20 billion in 2017, though reports earlier this summer estimated its valuation would fall somewhere between $35 billion and $40 billion with additional capital from SoftBank. A $40 billion valuation would make it the second most valuable VC-backed company in the U.S. behind only Uber.

WeWork has more than 268,000 members across 287 locations in 23 countries.

Jennifer Garner’s baby food company Once Upon a Farm raises $20M Series B

CAVU Venture Partners has led the $20 million Series B for Once Upon a Farm, which sells organic, cold-pressed baby food in 8,500 grocery stores in the U.S.

The Berkeley-based startup was originally founded in 2015 by serial entrepreneurs Cassandra Curtis and Ari Raz. Today, it lists actress Jennifer Garner and former General Mills president John Foraker as co-founders, too.

Both Garner and Foraker — who was the chief executive officer of the popular organic mac & cheese brand Annie’s Homegrown for more than a decade — joined the company in September 2017. Foraker had been an angel investor in Once Upon a Farm and, after conversations with Garner, decided to accept the role of CEO. Garner, widely known for her roles in Alias, 13 Going on 30 and the upcoming HBO original series Camping, was already somewhat of a Once Upon a Farm evangelist when she signed on as chief brand officer a little over a year ago.

“I am proud of the innovative business that we have built,” Garner said in a statement. “It is incredibly exciting to see so many families embracing our products. This latest round of funding allows us to continue to help busy parents give their children the most nutritious foods possible and make life a little bit easier for families across the country.”

Foraker told TechCrunch that since he and Garner joined, the business has grown 10x. Last fall, the company’s products were for sale in 300 stores; today, as mentioned, they are available in more than 8,000.

“Because she has global celebrity, the power of that, she can really help us get the message out and help lots of moms and dads find [Once Upon a Farm],” Foraker said.

Once Upon a Farm sells smoothies and applesauce for kids up to age 12 directly to consumers through its online marketplace and in stores. Pouches of its signature baby food, smoothies and applesauce are $2.99 each.

As part of the deal, CAVU’s co-founder and managing partner Brett Thomas, along with CAVU investor Jared Jacobs, will join the company’s board. S2G Ventures and Beechwood Capital also participated in the round for the startup, which raised a $4 million Series A in June 2017.

The company plans to use the funds to expand its direct to consumer business, partner with more U.S. grocers and build out a wider assortment of baby products.

“You can buy fresh pet food now in almost 20,000 stores in the U.S.,” Foraker said. “We think fresh baby food has a long way to go.”

How the 22-year-old founders of Brex built a billion-dollar business in less than 2 years

When Brazilian-born Henrique Dubugras and Pedro Franceschi met at 16 years old, they bonded over a love of coding and mutual frustrations with their strict mothers, who didn’t understand their Mark Zuckerberg-esque ambitions. 

To be fair, their moms’ fear of their hacking habits only escalated after their pre-teen sons received legal notices of patent infringements in the mail. A legal threat from Apple, which Franceschi received after discovering the first jailbreak to the iPhone, is enough to warrant a grounding, at the very least.

Their parents implored them to quit the hacking and stop messing around online.

They didn’t listen.

Today, the now 22-year-olds are announcing a $125 million Series C for their second successful payments business, called Brex, at a $1.1 billion valuation. Greenoaks Capital, DST Global and IVP led the round, which brings their total raised to date to about $200 million.

San Francisco-based Brex provides startup founders access to corporate credit cards without a personal guarantee or deposit. It’s also supported by the likes of PayPal founders Peter Thiel and Max Levchin, the former chief executive officer of Visa Carl Pascarella and a handful of leading venture capital firms. 

Brex is off to one of the most exciting starts we’ve ever seen,” IVP’s Somesh Dash said in a statement.

The financing makes them some of the youngest unicorn founders in history and puts them in a rare class of startups that have galloped into unicorn territory at such a fast clip. Brex was founded in the winter of 2017. It only launched publicly in June 2018.

How’d they do it?

“I’ve had two failed attempts, one successful attempt and one on the way to being a successful attempt,” Brex CEO Dubugras told TechCrunch while reciting a lengthy resume.

At 14, when most of us were worrying about what the first year of high school would bring us, Dubugras was more concerned about what his next business attempt would be. He had already built a successful online game but was forced to shut it down after receiving those patent infringement notices.

Naturally, he used the cash he earned from the game to start a company — an education startup meant to help Brazilian students apply to American schools. He himself was hoping to get into Stanford and had learned quickly how little Brazilian students understood of the U.S. college application process.

In some respects, the company was a success. It garnered 800,000 users but failed to make any money. His small fortune wasn’t enough to scale the business.

“There aren’t a lot of VCs in Brazil that are willing to fund 15-year-olds,” Dubugras told TechCrunch.

Shortly after folding the edtech, he met Franceschi, a Brazilian teen from Rio — Dubugras is from São Paulo — who understood his appetite for innovation and was just as hungry for success. The pair got to talking and because of Franceschi’s interest in payments, they started Pagar.me, the “Stripe of Brazil.”

Pagar.me raised $30 million, amassed a staff of 100 and was processing up to $1.5 billion in transactions when it sold. Finally, they had a real success under their belt. Now it was time to relocate. 

“We wanted to come to Silicon Valley to build stuff because everything here seemed so big and so cool,” Dubugras said.

And come to Silicon Valley they did. In the fall of 2016, the pair enrolled at Stanford. Shortly after that, they entered Y Combinator with big dreams for a virtual reality startup called Beyond. 

“I think three weeks in we gave it up,” Dubugras said. “We realized we aren’t the right founders to start this business.”

He credits Y Combinator with helping him realize what they were good at — payments.

As founders themselves, Dubugras and Franceschi were hyper-aware of a huge problem entrepreneurs face: access to credit. Big banks see small businesses as a risk they aren’t willing to take, so founders are often left at a dead-end. Dubugras and Franceschi not only had a big network of startup entrepreneurs in their Rolodex, but they had the fintech acumen necessary to build a credit card business designed specifically for founders.

So, they scrapped Beyond and in April 2017, Brex was born. The startup picked up momentum quickly, so much so that the pair decided to drop out of Stanford and pursue the business full time.

Simplifying financial access

Brex doesn’t require any kind of personal guarantee or security deposit and it doesn’t use third-party legacy technology; its software platform is built from scratch.

It simplifies a lot of the frustrating parts of corporate expenses by providing companies with a consolidated look at their spending. At the end of each month, for example, a CEO can easily see how much the entire company spent on Uber or Amazon. 

Plus, Brex can give entrepreneurs a credit limit that’s as much as 10 times higher than what they’d receive elsewhere and they can issue cards, virtual cards at least, moments after the online application is complete.

“We have a very similar effect of what Stripe had in the beginning, but much faster because Silicon Valley companies are very good at spending money but making money is harder,” Dubugras explained.

As part of their funding announcement, Brex said it will launch a rewards program built with the needs and spending patterns of founders in mind. Beyond that, they plan to use the capital to hire engineers and figure out how to grow the business’s client base beyond only tech startups.

“We want to dominate corporate credit cards,” Dubugras said. “We want every single company in the world, whenever they do businesses expenses, to do it on a Brex card.”

Study says the US is quickly losing its entrepreneurial edge

Photographer: Daro Sulakauri/Bloomberg

According to a new study conducted by the Center for American Entrepreneurship and NYU’s Shack Institute of Real Estate, the US may be losing its competitive advantage as the dominant nucleus of the startup and venture capital universe. 

The analysis, led by senior Brookings Institution fellow Ian Hathaway and “Rise of the Creative Class” author Richard Florida, examines the flow of venture capital over 100,000 deals from 2005 to 2017 and details how the historically US-centric practice of venture capital has become a global phenomenon.

While the US still appears to produce the largest amount of venture activity in the world, America’s share of the global pie is falling dramatically and doing so quickly.

In the mid-90s, the US accounted for more than 95% of global venture capital investment.  By 2012, this number had fallen to 70%. At the end of 2017, the US share of total venture investment had fallen to just 50%.   

Over the last decade, non-US countries have propelled growth in the global startup and venture economy, which has swelled from $50 billion to over $170 billion in size.  In particular, China, India and the UK now account for a third of global venture deal count and dollars – 2-3x the share held ten years ago.  And with VC dollars increasingly circulating into modernizing Asia-Pac and European cities, the researchers found that the erosion in the US share of venture capital is trending in the wrong direction.

Growth of global startup cities and the myth of the American “rise of the rest”

We’ve spent the summer discussing the notion of Silicon Valley reaching its parabolic peak – Observing the “rise of the rest” across smaller American tech hubs.  In reality, the data reveals a “rise in the rest of the world”, with startup ecosystems outside the US growing at a faster pace than most US hubs.

The Bay Area remains the world’s preeminent beneficiary of VC investment, and New York, Los Angeles, and Boston all find themselves in the top ten cities contributing to global venture growth.  However, only six of the top 20 cities are located in the US, while 14 are in Asia or Europe.  At the individual level, only two American cities crack the top 20 fastest growing startup hubs.  

Still, the authors found the bulk of VC activity remains highly concentrated in a small number of incumbent startup cities. More than 50% of all global venture capital deployed can be attributed to only six cities and half of the growth in VC activity over the last five years can be attributed to just four cities.  Despite the growing number of ecosystems playing a role in venture decisions, the dominant incumbent startup hubs hold a firm grip on the majority of capital deployed.

China and the surge of mega deals

Unsurprisingly, the largest contributor to the globalization of venture capital and the slimming share of the US is the rapid escalation of China’s startup ecosystem.

In the last three years, China has captured nearly a fourth of total VC investment.  Since 2010, Beijing contributed more to VC deployment growth than any other city, while three other Chinese cities (Shanghai, Hangzhou, Shenzhen) fell in the top 15. 

A major part of China’s ascension can be tied to the idiosyncratic rise of late-stage “mega deals”, which the study defines as $500 million or more in size.  Once an extremely rare occurrence, mega deals now make up a significant portion of all venture dollars deployed.  From 2005-2007, only two mega deals took place.  From 2010-2012, eight of such deals took place.  From 2015-2017, there were 80 global mega deals, representing a fifth of the total venture capital activity.  Chinese cities accounted for half of all mega deal investment over the same period.

The good, the bad, and the uncertain

It’s not all bad for the US, with the study highlighting continued ecosystem growth in established US hubs and leading roles for non-valley markets in NY, LA, and Boston.

And the globalization of the startup and venture economy is by no means a “bad thing”.  In fact, access to capital, the spread of entrepreneurial spirit, and stronger global economic development and prosperity is almost unquestionably a “good thing.”

However, the US’ share of venture-backed startups is falling, and the US losing its competitive advantage in the startup and venture capital market could have major implications for its future as a global economic leader.  Five of the six largest US companies were previously venture-backed startups and now provide a combined value of around $4 trillion. 

The intense competition for talent marks another major challenge for the US who has historically been a huge beneficiary of foreign-born entrepreneurs.  With the rise of local ecosystems across the globe, entrepreneurs no longer have to flock to the US to build their companies or have access to venture capital.  The problem attracting entrepreneurs is compounded by notoriously unfriendly US visa policies – not to mention recent harsh rhetoric and tension over immigration that make the US a less attractive destination for skilled immigrants.  

At a recent speaking event, Florida stated he believed the US’ fading competitive advantage was a greater threat to American economic power than previous collapses seen in the steel and auto industries.  A sentiment echoed by Techstars co-founder Brad Feld, who in the report’s forward states, “government leaders should read this report with alarm.”

It remains to be seen whether the train has left the station or if the US can hold on to its position as the world’s venture leader.  What is clear is that Silicon Valley is no longer the center of the universe and the geography of the startup and venture capital world is changing.

The Rise of the Global Startup City: The New Map of Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital tries to illustrate these tectonic shifts and identifies tiers of global startup cities based on size, growth and balance of VC deals and investments.

Siilo injects $5.1M to try to transplant WhatsApp use in hospitals

Consumer messaging apps like WhatsApp are not only insanely popular for chatting with friends but have pushed deep into the workplace too, thanks to the speed and convenience they offer. They have even crept into hospitals, as time-strapped doctors reach for a quick and easy way to collaborate over patient cases on the ward.

Yet WhatsApp is not specifically designed with the safe sharing of highly sensitive medical information in mind. This is where Dutch startup Siilo has been carving a niche for itself for the past 2.5 years — via a free-at-the-point-of-use encrypted messaging app that’s intended for medical professions to securely collaborate on patient care, such as via in-app discussion groups and being able to securely store and share patient notes.

A business goal that could be buoyed by tighter EU regulations around handling personal data, say if hospital managers decide they need to address compliance risks around staff use of consumer messaging apps.

The app’s WhatsApp-style messaging interface will be instantly familiar to any smartphone user. But Siilo bakes in additional features for its target healthcare professional users, such as keeping photos, videos and files sent via the app siloed in an encrypted vault that’s entirely separate from any personal media also stored on the device.

Messages sent via Siilo are also automatically deleted after 30 days unless the user specifies a particular message should be retained. And the app does not make automated back-ups of users’ conversations.

Other doctor-friendly features include the ability to blur images (for patient privacy purposes); augment images with arrows for emphasis; and export threaded conversations to electronic health records.

There’s also mandatory security for accessing the app — with a requirement for either a PIN-code, fingerprint or facial recognition biometric to be used. While a remote wipe functionality to nix any locally stored data is baked into Siilo in the event of a device being lost or stolen.

Like WhatsApp, Siilo also uses end-to-end encryption — though in its case it says this is based on the opensource NaCl library

It also specifies that user messaging data is stored encrypted on European ISO-27001 certified servers — and deleted “as soon as we can”.

It also says it’s “possible” for its encryption code to be open to review on request.

Another addition is a user vetting layer to manually verify the medical professional users of its app are who they say they are.

Siilo says every user gets vetted. Though not prior to being able to use the messaging functions. But users that have passed verification unlock greater functionality — such as being able to search among other (verified) users to find peers or specialists to expand their professional network. Siilo says verification status is displayed on profiles.

“At Siilo, we coin this phenomenon ‘network medicine’, which is in contrast to the current old-­fashioned, siloed medicine,” says CEO and co-founder Joost Bruggeman in a statement. “The goal is to improve patient care overall, and patients have a network of doctors providing input into their treatment.”

While Bruggeman brings the all-important medical background to the startup, another co-founder, Onno Bakker, has been in the mobile messaging game for a long time — having been one of the entrepreneurs behind the veteran web and mobile messaging platform, eBuddy.

A third co-founder, CFO Arvind Rao, tells us Siilo transplanted eBuddy’s messaging dev team — couching this ported in-house expertise as an advantage over some of the smaller rivals also chasing the healthcare messaging opportunity.

It is also of course having to compete technically with the very well-resourced and smoothly operating WhatsApp behemoth.

“Our main competitor is always WhatsApp,” Rao tells TechCrunch. “Obviously there are also other players trying to move in this space. TigerText is the largest in the US. In the UK we come across local players like Hospify and Forward.

“A major difference we have very experienced in-house dev team… The experience of this team has helped to build a messenger that really can compete in usability with WhatsApp that is reflected in our rapid adoption and usage numbers.”

“Having worked in the trenches as a surgery resident, I’ve experienced the challenges that healthcare professionals face firsthand,” adds Bruggeman. “With Siilo, we’re connecting all healthcare professionals to make them more efficient, enable them to share patient information securely and continue learning and share their knowledge. The directory of vetted healthcare professionals helps ensure they’re successful team­players within a wider healthcare network that takes care of the same patient.”

Siilo launched its app in May 2016 and has since grown to ~100,000 users, with more than 7.5 million messages currently being processed monthly and 6,000+ clinical chat groups active monthly.

“We haven’t come across any other secure messenger for healthcare in Europe with these figures in the App Store/Google Play rankings and therefore believe we are the largest in Europe,” adds Rao. “We have multiple large institutions across Western-Europe where doctors are using Siilo.”

On the security front, as well flagging the ISO 27001 certification the company has gained, he notes that it obtained “the highest NHS IG Toolkit level 3” — aka the now replaced system for organizations to self-assess their compliance with the UK’s National Health Service’s information governance processes, claiming “we haven’t seen [that] with any other messaging company”.

Siilo’s toolkit assessment was finalized at the end of Febuary 2018, and is valid for a year — so will be up for re-assessment under the replacement system (which was introduced this April) in Q1 2019. (Rao confirms they will be doing this “new (re-)assessment” at the end of the year.)

As well as being in active use in European hospitals such as St. George’s Hospital, London, and Charité Berlin, Germany, Siilo says its app has had some organic adoption by medical pros further afield — including among smaller home healthcare teams in California, and “entire transplantation teams” from Astana, Kazakhstan.

It also cites British Medical Journal research that found that of the 98.9% of U.K. hospital clinicians who now have smartphones, around a third are using consumer messaging apps in the clinical workplace. Persuading those healthcare workers to ditch WhatsApp at work is Siilo’s mission and challenge.

The team has just announced a €4.5 million (~$5.1M) seed to help it get onto the radar of more doctors. The round is led by EQT Ventures, with participation from existing investors. It says it will be using the funding to scale­ up its user base across Europe, with a particular focus on the UK and Germany.

Commenting on the funding in a statement, EQT Ventures’ Ashley Lundström, a venture lead and investment advisor at the VC firm, said: “The team was impressed with Siilo’s vision of creating a secure global network of healthcare professionals and the organic traction it has already achieved thanks to the team’s focus on building a product that’s easy to use. The healthcare industry has long been stuck using jurassic technologies and Siilo’s real­time messaging app can significantly improve efficiency
and patient care without putting patients’ data at risk.”

While the messaging app itself is free for healthcare professions to use, Siilo also offers a subscription service to monetize the freemium product.

This service, called Siilo Connect offers organisations and professional associations what it bills as “extensive management, administration, networking and software integration tools”, or just data regulation compliance services if they want the basic flavor of the paid tier.

Rylo scores $20 million for its clever camera tech

You may recall Rylo from this time last year, when the imaging startup launched a creative take on the 360 camera. The company’s been fairly quiet in the six months since it launched some new software tricks, but a new round of funding should help the company take some key steps toward spreading the gospel.

This week, Rylo announced that it has secured a $20 million Series B, led by Icon Ventures. That brings its total up to $35 million, with help from Accel Partners and Sequoia Capital. Plans for the funding are pretty much what you’d expect.

“Securing Series B funding from this excellent group of investors will allow us to maximize our potential for growth and earn significantly more market share,” CEO Alex Karpenko said in a release tied to the news. “We have come a long way since our launch one year ago, and I’m excited to continue to drive Rylo’s growth through investments in marketing, sales and retail partnerships in the coming year.”

Rylo’s camera represents an interesting piece of tech that utilizes 360 videos to create some unorthodox camera tricks like stabilizing images, following subjects and creating a number of interesting effects. The product also has solid distribution with more than 500 retail locations in the U.S., including Best Buy.

Marketing, however, is going to be a be key for the success of the $499 camera, whose initial appeal is not as immediately apparent as the likes of GoPro.