LaunchDarkly CEO Edith Harbaugh explains why her company raised another $54M

This week, LaunchDarkly announced that it has raised another $54 million. Led by Bessemer Venture Partners and backed by the company’s existing investors, it brings the company’s total funding up to $130 million.

For the unfamiliar, LaunchDarkly builds a platform that allows companies to easily roll out new features to only certain customers, providing a dashboard for things like “canary launches” (pushing new stuff to a small group of users to make sure nothing breaks) or launching a feature only in select countries or territories. By productizing an increasingly popular development concept (“feature flagging”) and making it easier to toggle new stuff across different platforms and languages, the company is quickly finding customers in companies that would rather not spend time rolling their own solutions.

I spoke with CEO and co-founder Edith Harbaugh, who filled me in on where the idea for LaunchDarkly came from, how their product is being embraced by product managers and marketing teams and the company’s plans to expand with offices around the world. Here’s our chat, edited lightly for brevity and clarity.

Sisense nabs $100m at a $1B+ valuation for accessible big data business analytics

Sisense, an enterprise startup that that has built a business analytics business out of the premise of making big data as accessible as possible to users — whether it be through graphics on mobile or desktop apps, or spoken through Alexa — is announcing a big round of funding today and a large jump in valuation to underscore its traction. The company has picked up $100 million in a growth round of funding that catapults Sisense’s valuation to over $1 billion, funding that it plans to use to continue building out its tech, as well as for sales, marketing and development efforts.

For context, this is a huge jump: the company was valued at only around $325 million in 2016 when it raised a Series E, according to PitchBook. (It did not disclose valuation in 2018, when it raised a venture round of $80 million.) It now has some 2,000 customers, including Tinder, Philips, Nasdaq, and the Salvation Army.

This latest round is being led by the high-profile enterprise investor Insight Venture Partners, with Access Industries, Bessemer Venture Partners, Battery Ventures, DFJ Growth, and others also participating. The Access investment was made via Claltech in Israel and it seems that this led to some details of this getting leaked out as rumors in recent days. Insight is in the news today for another big deal: wearing its private equity hat, the firm acquired Veeam for $5 billion. (And that speaks to a particular kind of trajectory for enterprise companies that the firm backs: Veeam had already been a part of Insight’s venture portfolio.)

Mature enterprise startups proven their business cases are going to be an ongoing theme this year fundraising stories, and Sisense is part of that theme, with annual recurring revenues of over $100 million speaking to its stability and current strength. The company has also made some key acquisitions to boost its business, such as the acquisition of Periscope Data last year (coincidentally also for $100 million, I understand).

Its rise also speaks to a different kind of trend in the market: in the wider world of business intelligence, there is an increasing demand for more digestible data in order to better tap advances in data analytics to use it across organizations. This was also one of the big reasons why Salesforce gobbled up Tableau last year for a slightly higher price: $15.7 billion.

Sisense, bringing in both sleek end user products but also a strong theme of harnessing the latest developments in areas like machine learning and AI to crunch the data and order it in the first place, represents a smaller and more fleet of foot alternative for its customers. “We found a way to make accessing data extremely simple, mashing it together in a logical way and embedding it in every logical place,” explained CEO Amir Orad to us in 2018.

“We have enjoyed watching the Sisense momentum in the past 12 months, the traction from its customers as well as from industry leading analysts for the company’s cloud native platform and new AI capabilities. That coupled with seeing more traction and success with leading companies in our portfolio and outside, led us to want to continue and grow our relationship with the company and lead this funding round,” said Jeff Horing, Managing Director at Insight Venture Partners, in a statement.

To note, Access Industries is an interesting backer who might also potentially shape up to be strategic, given its ownership of Warner Music Group, Alibaba, Facebook, Square, Spotify, Deezer, Snap and Zalando.

“Given our investments in market leading companies across diverse industries, we realize the value in analytics and machine learning and we could not be more excited about Sisense’s trajectory and traction in the market,” added Claltech’s Daniel Shinar in a statement.

Los Angeles-based Luxury Presence raised $5.4 million for its real estate marketing services

Real estate is a big business in the sprawling city of Los Angeles and new technology tools to target the industry continue to attract investor attention.

The latest of these is Luxury Presence, which pitches digital marketing services to real estate agents and has raked in $5.4 million in financing to support the buildout of its services and sales teams to manage clients.

Previous investors Switch Ventures led the round, which included participation from new investors Bessemer Venture Partners and Toba Capital alongside previous investors Gerald Risk, Peter Kelly, Jonathan Erlich, and Blaine Vess.

“Our 2020 goal is to build a full digital marketing solution for real estate agents looking to build successful, lead-generating digital brands,” said Malte Kramer, the company’s chief executive, in a statement. “2019 was all about building the best real estate website platform in the sector and I’m so proud of what our team was able to accomplish. Our focus was on how to make beautiful, functional and lead-generating sites that were easily customizable to fit the agent’s needs and demands, and we did just that.”

According to estimates from Built in LA, there are roughly 127 companies, which have raised over $2.4 billion active in the real estate industry in Los Angeles. These companies range from co-working startups like Knotel or WeWork to companies focused on servicing the real estate industry (like Luxury Presence).

In all, the sector is growing quickly as venture investors look to find markets that were reluctant to embrace technology. The traditionally opaque world of high end real estate certainly applies.

 

A look at the top trends exciting NYC’s consumer VCs

To learn more about the next wave of consumer startup investment outside Silicon Valley, I’m speaking to leading B2C-focused investors in various hubs about the trends they’re excited about right now. 

Recently, I shared the responses from several London-based investors; today, we spoke to eight of New York’s top consumer VCs:

  • Rebecca Kaden, Partner at Union Square Ventures
  • David Tisch, Founding Partner at BoxGroup
  • Anu Duggal, Founding Partner at Female Founders Fund
  • Craig Shapiro, Partner at Collaborative Fund
  • Jeremy Levine, Partner at Bessemer
  • Beth Ferreira, Partner at Firstmark Capital
  • Graham Brown, Partner at Lerer Hippeau Ventures
  • Eric Reiner, Partner at Sinai Ventures
  • Chris Paik, Partner at Pace Capital

Consumer health and banking startups were recurring areas of interest, and there’s a sense that apps and product brands which provide a deeper sense of community are an untapped opportunity.

Rebecca Kaden, Partner at Union Square Ventures

At USV, we are focused on opportunities that broaden access by leveraging technology to increase value and decrease cost in big buckets of consumer spend. In doing so, we are looking for ways to make products and services previously available to a select segment available to many more. In particular, we have been investing in areas of consumer health where the delivery mechanism not only makes the care more convenient but also more affordable and higher quality; products and platforms in financial services that change the traditional underlying model to drive financial health for a mass customer; and opportunities that create new access to education both for kids and lifelong learners. 

Within each of these segments, I’ve been very interested in how new communities are forming inside products–users that come for a specific offering are forming allegiance and increasing engagement by interacting with other users. I think that is a trend we will only see accelerate.

David Tisch, Founding Partner at BoxGroup

People are bored on their phones, not of their phones. I am most excited to meet founders working on consumer apps that bring happiness and fun to a mass consumer audience, as I continue to believe we are in the early days of mobile and the app store is not dead.

These apps may look like a game, they may be a game, or they may be a new feed, but TikTok, Twitch, HQ, Yolo and other Snap app kit apps, Tinder and others have shown consumers want new apps, the barrier for adoption and retention is  just very high. All apps and games have a half-life, creating something with a very long one is really hard, but the demand is sitting on the phone scrolling thorough feeds, waiting for some new fun. We are excited about apps that allow people to interact with others in different ways, in new worlds, using new hardware, or new interfaces.

Anu Duggal, Founding Partner at Female Founders Fund

With the rise of the sober curious movement, we invested in Kin Euphorics, offering consumers a sexy option to an alcoholic drink, creating a social experience around a non-alcoholic beverage that doesn’t exist in the market today. With beer sales decreasing five years in a row, brands like Heineken are offering alcohol-free alternatives catering to this growing audience.

With the decline of religion, we have seen the rise of what we call the “rise of the alternate community.” Consumers are looking for ways to connect online and offline based on specific interests. Examples of this in our portfolio include The Wonder, a membership model for familyhood, Peanut, a social network for modern motherhood, and Co-Star, an astrology app.

Where top VCs are investing in fintech

Over the past several years, ‘fintech’ has quietly become the unsung darling of venture.

A rapidly swelling pool of new startups is taking aim at the large incumbent institutions, complex processes and outdated unfriendly interfaces that mar billion dollar financial services verticals, such as insurtech, consumer lending, personal finance, or otherwise.  

In just the past summer, the startup community saw a multitude of hundred-million dollar fintech fundraises. In 2018, fintech companies were the source of close to 1,300 venture deals worth over $15 billion in North America and Europe alone according to data from Pitchbook. Over the same period, KPMG estimates that over $52 billion in investment pour into fintech initiatives globally. 

With the non-stop stream of venture capital flowing into the never-ending list of spaces that fall under the ‘fintech’ umbrella, we asked 12 leading fintech VCs who work at firms that span early to growth stages to share where they see the most opportunity and how they see the market evolving over the long-term.

The participants touched on a number of key trends in the space, including rapid innovation in fintech infrastructure, fintech companies embedding themselves in specific verticals and platforms, rebundling and unbundling of financial services offerings, the rise of challenger banks and the state of fintech valuations into 2020.

Charles Birnbaum, Partner, Bessemer Venture Partners

The great ‘rebundling’ of fintech innovation is in full swing. The emerging consumer leaders in fintech — Chime, SoFi, Robinhood, Credit Karma, and Bessemer portfolio company Betterment — are moving quickly to increase their share of wallet with their valuable customers and become a one-stop-shop for people’s financial lives.

In 2020, we anticipate continued entrepreneurial activity and investor enthusiasm around the infrastructure and middleware layers within the fintech ecosystem that are enabling further rebundling and a rapid convergence of product themes and business models across the consumer fintech landscape.

Many players now look like potential challenger bank models more akin to what we have seen unfold in Europe the past few years. Within consumer fintech, we at Bessemer are more focused on demographically-specific product offerings that tap into underserved themes, whether that be the financial problems facing the aging population in the US or new models to serve the underbanked or underserved population of consumers and small businesses.

Ian Sigalow, Co-founder & Partner, Greycroft

What trends are you most excited in fintech from an investing perspective? 

I suspect that many enterprise software companies become fintech companies over time — collecting payments on behalf of customers and growing revenues as your customers grow. We have seen this trend in many industries over the past few years. Business owners generally prefer a model that moves IT expenditures from Operating Expenses into Cost of Goods Sold, because they can increase prices and pass their entire budget onto the customer.

On the consumer side, we have already made investments in branchless banking, insurance (auto, home, health, workers comp), cross-border payments, alternative investments, loyalty cards/services, and roboadvisor services. The companies we funded are already a few years old, and I think we will have some interesting follow-on activity there over the next few years. We have been picking spots where we think we have an unfair competitive advantage.

Our fintech portfolio is also more global than other sectors we invest in. This is because there are opportunities to achieve billion dollar outcomes in fintech, even in countries that are much smaller than the United States. That is not true in many other sectors.

We have also seen trends emerge in the US and move abroad. As an example we seeded Flutterwave, which is similar to Stripe, and they have expanded across Africa. We were also the lead investor in Yeahka, which is similar to Square in China. These products are heavily localized —tin for instance Yeahka is the largest processor of QR code payments in the world, but QR code payments are not popular in the US yet.

How much time are you spending on fintech right now? Is the market under-heated, over-heated, or just right?

Fintech is about a quarter of my time right now. We continue to see interesting new ideas and the valuations have been more or less consistent over time. The broader market doesn’t impact us very much because we tend to have a 10 year holding period.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t?

Choco raises $33.5M to bring restaurants and suppliers a modern ingredient ordering platform

Sourcing ingredients in the restaurant industry is a dirty process that still relies heavily on voicemails and fax orders. More tech-forward solutions have been pushed, but getting restaurants and suppliers to uniformly sign on to a platform has been a relatively daunting challenge.

Choco is a young startup with plenty of momentum that’s aiming to attract restaurants and suppliers to their mobile ordering platform, which gives restaurants their very own food delivery app for getting ingredients from suppliers, moving them away from daily voicemail orders.

“[Leaving voicemails] a very tedious process and one that’s very prone to error but [restaurants] are going to repeat it every day,” Choco CEO Daniel Khachab tells TechCrunch. “This ‘system’ is highly inefficient and wasteful, but it’s our main competitor.”

Choco’s mobile app has an interface reminiscent of popular consumer apps, with a Messenger-like chat interface for communication between suppliers and restaurants and a Postmates-like ordering list that makes ordering as easy as tapping away on one’s commonly purchased ingredients.

5d7f741ebda9c63886cffe2d 3c p 1080

There’s a big opportunity here, and Khachab has been growing the Choco team at breakneck speeds to ensure that it is the solution to beat. The 18-month-old team has 100 employees already and is announcing that they’ve closed a $33.5 million Series A led by Bessemer Venture Partners . By the end of next year the company hopes to grow its business by 15x.

Choco is in 15 cities across Europe and the U.S. and says their early customers include everyone from Michelin-starred restaurants to burger chains. The company has now raised $41 million to date. Other investors include Atlantic Labs, Target Global, Visionaries Club and Greyhound.

As the company seeks to build up a user base among suppliers and restaurants keen to build out their networks, Choco currently isn’t monetizing its users. Khachab tells me the team is developing premium subscription features that will likely focus on monetizing suppliers’ abilities to reach restaurants and communicate with them about new offerings.

Khachab sees Choco’s solutions as one that makes restaurant/suppliers relationships better but also takes a step toward solving the broader problem of food waste in the restaurant industry. Better communication and analytics that aren’t on the back of a napkin mean more precise ordering that can prevent both sides from overstocking, increasing efficiency but also preserving resources. Khachab notes that estimates say that 30-40% of food produced each year is wasted and that nearly three-quarters of that waste happens in the supply chain before consumers are involved.

Meet Utah’s next unicorn

Weave, a developer of patient communications software focused on the dental and optometry market, was the first Utah-headquartered company to graduate from Y Combinator in 2014. Now, it’s poised to enter a small but growing class startups in the ‘Silicon Slopes’ to garner ‘unicorn’ status.

The business announced a $70 million Series D last week at a valuation of $970 million. Tiger Global Management led the round, with participation from existing backers Catalyst Investors, Bessemer Venture Partners, Crosslink Capital, Pelion Venture Partners and LeadEdge Capital.

The company was founded in 2011 and fully bootstrapped until enrolling in the Silicon Valley accelerator program five years ago. Since then, it’s raised a total of $156 million in private funding, tripling its valuation with the latest infusion of capital.

Weave

“Our aim with this funding round is to exceed our customers’ expectations at every touchpoint, investing heavily in the products we create, the markets we serve and the overall customer experience we provide,” Weave co-founder and chief executive officer Brandon Rodman said in a statement. “We will continue to invest in our customers, our products and our people to build a solid, sustainable, and scalable business.”

Weave charges its customers, small and medium-sized businesses, upwards of $500 per month for access to its Voice Over IP-based unified communications service. Rodman previously launched a scheduling service for dentists and realized the opportunity to integrate texting, phone service, fax and reviews to facilitate the patient-provider relationship.

While his second effort, Weave, has long been targeting the dentistry and optometry market, Rodman told Venture Beat last year the opportunities for the company are endless: “Ultimately, if a business needs to communicate with their customer, we see that as a possible future customer of Weave.”

Based in Lehi, Weave added 250 employees this year with total headcount now reaching 550. The company claims to have doubled its revenue in 2018, too. While we don’t have any real insight into its financials, given the interest it’s garnered amongst Bay Area investors, we’re guessings it’s posting some pretty attractive numbers.

“Weave has some of the best retention numbers we’ve ever seen for an SMB SaaS company,” Catalyst partner Tyler Newton said in a statement. “We’re continually impressed by their accelerated growth and results.”

Here’s where top gaming VCs are looking for startup opportunities

With cross-platform experiences like Fortnite and PUBG, in-game socializing environments, and subscription-based cloud gaming services from Playstation, Google, Amazon, and others, the gaming industry is entering a new era beyond mobile.

These days, the industry is at the center of social media and entertainment trends; gaming is expected to earn $152 billion in global revenue this year, up 9.6% year over year. 

Given my recent writing on Unity, the most-used game engine, and ongoing research into interactive media trends, I wanted to find out how top gaming-focused VCs are assessing the market right now. I asked ten of them to share which trends they are most excited about when it comes to finding investment opportunities:

  • David Gardner, Partner at London Venture Partners
  • Henric Suuronen, Partner at Play Ventures
  • Samuli Syvähuoko, Partner at Sisu Game Ventures
  • Jay Chi, Partner at Makers Fund
  • Peter Levin, Managing Director at Griffin Gaming Partners
  • Gigi Levy-Weiss, Partner at NFX
  • Ethan Kurzweil, Partner at Bessemer Venture Partners
  • Jonathan Lai, Partner at Andreessen Horowitz
  • Blake Robbins, Partner at Ludlow Ventures
  • Jon Goldman, General Partner at GC Tracker & Board Partner at Greycroft Partners

Amid the mix of predictions, there were several common threads, such as optimism about the rise of games as broader social platforms, opportunities to invest directly in new studios, and skepticism about near-term investments in augmented or virtual reality and blockchain.

Here are their responses.

David Gardner, Partner at London Venture Partners

“PC Games are back. Great place to start new IP to then migrate a success to multiple platforms. There is more innovation in business models and more open distribution on PC to facilitate audience growth without the punishment of mobile CPIs.

VR & AR remain out. We stood away from VR in the beginning and extend that to AR while the user experience for games remains a disappointment. Let’s hope those new Apple glasses do the trick!

Crypto remain a theological war zone, but honestly everything on offer has been available in the cloud world, but the real consumer benefit isn’t showing up.

We love games that are expanding audience demographics and are sensitive to less hardcore audiences.  For example, women players are estimated to account for 1 billion gamers.”

Henric Suuronen, Partner at Play Ventures

“At Play Ventures, we believe we have just entered the golden era of mobile gaming. Who would have believed 10 years ago that Nintendo and games like Fortnite and Call of Duty would all be on mobile. Mobile is not just a games platform anymore, it is THE games platform of choice for casual and core players alike. Consequently, in the next 2-3 years we will invest in 30-40 mobile games studios across the globe.”

Samuli Syvähuoko, Partner at Sisu Game Ventures

“We at Sisu Game Ventures have been investing in many sectors since 2015 including free-to-play mobile games (especially big here in Finland), VR, AR, PC, console, instant messenger, hypercasual, audio and most recently cloud-native games as well. In addition to game studios, around a third of our investments are into games related tech/infrastructure. 

We’ve so far not dipped our toes into blockchain or eSports and our appetite for doing more investments in VR and AR is nil. To me, the most interesting mega trends lie with the promise of cloud gaming when utilized to its full potential. Another term that encapsulates my excitement is games-as-a-social-hobby. Put this and the extreme accessibility of the cloud together and you’ll have a game with revolutionary potential.”

Jay Chi, Partner at Makers Fund

“We are looking closely at ‘Gaming as Media’ related content and platforms — the emergence of new interactive experience centered on ‘viewers as participants.’ Gaming as social media falls under this thesis. We are also looking for MMO and Metaverse enablers given increased demand for specialized, scalable and affordable technologies that empower lean startup teams to create and operate large-scale worlds and novel gameplays. 

We also see potential for new start-ups to emerge in hypercasual games with midcore/social meta — no one has truly cracked this genre yet.”

Startups Weekly: The unicorn from down under, an Uber TV show and All Raise’s expansion

Hello and welcome back to Startups Weekly, a weekend newsletter that dives into the week’s noteworthy news pertaining to startups and venture capital. Before I jump into today’s topic, let’s catch up a bit. Last week, I wrote about Revel, a recent graduate of Y Combinator that’s raised a small seed round.

Remember, you can send me tips, suggestions and feedback to [email protected] or on Twitter @KateClarkTweets. If you don’t subscribe to Startups Weekly yet, you can do that here.


What happened this week?

Uber the TV show

Is anyone surprised Mike Isaac’s “Super Pumped” is set to become a TV show? Travis Kalanick’s notorious journey to CEO of Uber and subsequent ouster was made for television. This week, news broke that Showtime’s Brian Koppelman and David Levien, the creators and showrunners of “Billions,” would develop the project, with Isaac himself on board to executive produce. I will be watching.

All Raise expansion

All Raise, an 18-month-old nonprofit organization that seeks to amplify the voices of and support women in tech, announced new chapters in Los Angeles and Boston this week. I spoke with leaders of the organization about expansion plans, new hires, product launches and more. “Women are hungry for the support and guidance we provide. I think the movement is just gathering momentum,” All Raise CEO Pam Kostka told me.

VCThe unicorn from down under

You’ve probably heard of Canva by now. The Australian tech company, which has developed a simplified graphic design tool, is worth a whopping $3.2 billion as of this week. Investors in the company include Bond, General Catalyst, Bessemer Venture Partners, Blackbird and Sequoia China. Alongside a fresh $85 million funding, Canva is also making its foray into enterprise with the launch of Canva for Enterprise. Read about that here.


What else?

  1. The Station, TechCrunch’s Kirsten Korosec’s new weekly newsletter, has officially launched. She is going deep each week on all things mobility and transportation. You can read her first one here and subscribe here.
  2. ‘Cloud kitchens’ is an oxymoron, says TechCrunch editor Danny Crichton. He penned an interesting piece this week, arguing cloud kitchens are just adding more competition to one of the most competitive industries in the world, and that isn’t a path to leverage.
  3. NASA made history this week when astronauts Christina H. Koch and Jessica Meir took part in the first-ever spacewalk in the agency’s history featuring only women. No, this isn’t startup-related but it’s pretty damn cool. Watch the video here.

EHJxl5XW4AAu3PN 1

NASA astronauts Christina H. Koch and Jessica Meir


VC deals


Startup spotlight: Petalfox. I discovered the business earlier this week. Basically, it’s a super easy way to order flowers, coffee and others goods via SMS. I’m trying it out. That’s all.


Equity

This week was honestly a treat. We had myself in the studio along with Alex Wilhelm and a special guest, Sarah Guo from Greylock Partners, a venture firm (obviously). Guo has the distinction of having the best-ever fun fact on the show. We kicked off with Grammarly, a company that recently put $90 million into its accounts. Then chatted about Lattice, Tempest, WeWork, SaaS, the future of valuations in Silicon Valley and more if you can believe it. Listen here.

Equity drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on iTunesOvercast and all the casts.

Where top VCs are investing in edtech

Education is a $4 trillion market globally in urgent need of overall — so where within education are top venture capitalists optimistic about startups building large businesses by providing new solutions?

According to EdSurge, $1.45 billion of venture capital (a mere 1.1% of the $130 billion in US venture funding) was invested in education startups in the US in 2018; there were only 112 education-focused deals. In line with the trend in venture capital overall, this represented an increase in overall capital but a concentration in fewer deals (mainly large late-stage rounds).

Education is regarded as a tough market for achieving VC scale returns. Selling into school districts and universities is difficult and slow, and freemium models that go direct-to-teachers have struggled to monetize.

New software, content, and financing solutions for learning outside the traditional school system are more compelling business opportunities. This is particularly the case in vocational training where the return on investment of an educational program or tool can be quantitatively measured in job offers and salary increases

I asked four leading edtech VCs and six of the top generalist VCs (who have a track record of education investments) to share where they see opportunity in this sector:

  • Jennifer Carolan, Reach Capital
  • Amit Mukherjee, NEA
  • Michael Staton, Learn Capital
  • Annie Kadavy, Redpoint Ventures
  • Aydin Senkut, Felicis Ventures
  • Matt Greenfield, Rethink Education
  • Hemant Taneja, General Catalyst Partners
  • Marlon Nichols, MaC Venture Capital
  • Jan Lynn-Matern, Emerge Education
  • Charles Birnbaum, Bessemer Venture Partner

Here are their answers…

GettyImages 925988314

Image via Getty Images / doyata

Jennifer Carolan, General Partner at Reach Capital (an education-focused VC firm in Palo Alto with investments including Abl, BetterLesson, Epic!, Handshake, Holberton School, Newsela, Outschool, and Tinkergarten):

“Human-centered learning has been traditionally limited to one’s physical geography but technology is unlocking learning opportunities that never before existed.  We’re particularly interested in the marketplaces that are better matching supply and demand across experiential learning, educator coaching, tutoring, and online small groups.