LA-based Boulevard raises $27 million for its spa management software

Boulevard, a spa management and payment platform, has raised $27 million in a new round of funding despite a business slowdown caused by the COVID0-19 pandemic.

Founded four years ago by Matt Danna and Sean Stavropoulos, Boulevard was inspired by Stavropoulos’ inability to book a haircut and Danna’s hunch that the inability of salons and spas to cater to customers like the busy programmer could be indicative of a bigger problem.

The two spent months pounding the pavement in Los Angeles pretending to be college students doing research on the industry. They spoke with salon owners in Beverly Hills, Hollywood, and other trendy neighborhoods trying to get a sense of where software and services were falling short.

Through those months of interviews the two developed the booking management and payment platform that would become Boulevard. The inspiration was one part Shopify and one part ServiceTitan, Danna said.

The idea was that the Boulevard could build a pretty large business catering to the needs of a niche industry that hadn’t traditionally been exposed to a purpose-built toolkit for its vertical.

Investors including Index Ventures, Toba Capital, VMG Partners, Bonfire Ventures, Ludlow Ventures and BoxGroup agreed.

That could be because of the size of the industry. There’s over $250 billion spent per year across roughly 3 million businesses in the salon and spa category, according to data provided by the company. By comparison, fitness attracts roughly $34 billion in annual spending from 150,000 businesses.

“With limited access to the professionals that help us look and feel our best, I think the world has realized something that our team has always recognized: salons and spas are more than a luxury, they are essential to our well-being,” said Danna, in a statement. “We are humbled that so many businesses are placing their trust in us during such a turbulent time. This new capital will help accelerate our mission and deliver value to salons and spas that they never imagined was possible from technology.”

According to data provided by the company, Boulevard is definitely giving businesses a boost. On average, businesses increase bookings by 16%, retail revenue jumps by 18%, and gratuity paid out to stylists jumps by 24% for businesses that use Boulevard, the company said. It also reduces no-shows and cancellations, and halves time spent on the phone.  

“Boulevard is revitalizing the salon and spa industry, as evidenced by the company’s sustained 300-400% revenue growth over the last three years,” said Damir Becirovic of Index Ventures, whose firm led the company’s Series A round and has doubled down with the new capital infusion. 

Customers using the company’s software include: Chris McMillan the Salon, Heyday, MèCHE Salon, Paintbox, Sassoon Salon, SEV Laser, Spoke & Weal, and TONI&GUY.

Boulevard now has 90 employees and will look to increase that number as it continues to expand across the country.

Investors have taken a run at the spa market in the past, with company’s like MindBody valued at over $1 billion for its software services. Indeed, that company was taken private two years ago in a $1.9 billion transaction by Vista Equity Partners.

As Boulevard expands, the company may look to get deeper into financial services for the salons and spas that it’s already working with. Given the company’s window into these businesses’ financing, it’s not impossible to image a new line of business providing small business loans to these companies.

It’s something that the founders would likely not rule out. And it’s a way to provide more tools to entrepreneurs that often fall outside of the traditional sweet spot for banks and other lenders, Danna said.

 

Microsoft brings new shopping tools to its Edge browser

Microsoft announced a few updates to its Edge browser today that are all about shopping. In addition to expanding the price comparison feature the team announced last month, Edge can now also automatically find coupons for you. In addition, the company is launching a new shopping hub in its Bing search engine. The timing here is undoubtedly driven by the holiday shopping season — though this year, it feels like Black Friday-style deals already started weeks ago.

Image Credits: Microsoft

The potential usefulness of the price comparison tools is pretty obvious. I’ve found this always worked reasonably well in Edge Collections — though at times it could also be a frustrating experience because it just wouldn’t pull any data for items you saved from some sites. Now, with this price comparison running in the background all the time, you’ll see a new badge pop up in the URL bar that lets you open up the price comparison. And when you already found the best price, it’ll tell you that right away, too.

At least in the Edge Canary where this has been available for a little bit already, this was also hit and miss. It seems to work just fine when you shop on Amazon, for example, as long as there’s only one SKU of an item. If there are different colors, sizes or other options available, it doesn’t really seem to kick in, which is a bit frustrating.

Image Credits: Microsoft

The coupons feature, too, is a bit of a disappointment. It works more consistently and seems to pull data from most of the standard coupon sites (think RetailMeNot and Slickdeals), but all it does is show sitewide coupons. Since most coupons only apply to a limited set of items, clicking on the coupon badge quickly feels like a waste of time. To be fair, the team implemented a nifty feature where at checkout, Bing will try to apply all of the coupons it found. That could be a potential time- and money-saver. Given the close cooperation with the Bing team in other areas, this feels like an area of improvement, though. I turned it off.

Microsoft is also using today’s announcement to launch a new URL shortener in Edge. “Now, when you paste a link that you copied from the address bar, it will automatically convert from a long, nonsensical URL address to a short hyperlink with the website title. If you prefer the full URL, you can convert to plain text using the context menu,” Microsoft explains. I guess that makes sense in some scenarios. Most of the time, though, I just want the link (and no third-party in-between), so I hope this can easily be turned off, too.

Venture firm M13 names former Techstars LA managing director, Anna Barber, as its newest partner

The Los Angeles and New York-based venture firm M13 has managed to nab former Techstars LA managing director, Anna Barber, as its newest partner and the head of its internal venture studio, Launchpad.

Designed to be a collaborative startup company incubator alongside corporate partners, Launchpad focuses on developing new consumer tech businesses focused on M13’s main investment areas: health, food, transportation, and housing.

For Barber, the new position is the latest step in a professional career spent working both inside and outside of the tech industry.

Barber got her first taste of the startup world when she was poached from McKinsey to join one of the several online pet supply stores that cropped up in 1999. From her position as the vice president of product at Petstore.com, Barber got her taste of the startup world… and left it to become a talent manager and the co-founder of the National Air Guitar championships (no word if she managed air guitar talent).

Prior to launching the Techstars LA incubator program, Barber founded ScribblePress, a retail and digital publishing app, which was sold to Fingerprint Digital.

Anna Barber, partner, M13. Image Credit: Raif Strathmann

At M13, Barber will be working to recruit entrepreneurs to work collaboratively on developing startup consumer businesses that align with the strategic interests of M13’s corporate partners, like Procter & Gamble.

We will be bringing in founders in residence who will come in without an idea,” Barber said of the program. “We’re starting with a blank sheet of paper and building teams in partnership with entrepreneurs and in partnership with corporate partners who will bring their perspective and their IP. “

The EIRs will receive a small stipend and equity in the business, Barber said.

The starting gun for M13’s Launchpad  program was in 2019 and the program currently has managed to spin up three startups. There’s Rae, an developer of affordable women’s wellness products; and the beauty tech company OPTE; Kindra menopause products; and Bodewell for sensitive skin care, which were all developed alongside Procter & Gamble Ventures.

M13, for its part, is developing a strong team of women partners who are investing at the firm. Barber will join Lizzie Francis and Christine Choi on the investment team, something that Barber said was especially exciting.

“There is no better place for M13’s Launchpad than Los Angeles and no better person to lead it than Anna. M13 is home to a creative, diverse community of entrepreneurs and operators who want to make the world better by applying innovation in everything from media to biotech, prop tech to food,” said M13 co-founder Carter Reum. “We are excited for Anna to continue to lead LA’s center of entrepreneurs, mentors and investors with a rigorous Launchpad program and more exceptional partners and cohorts.”

Venture firm M13 names former Techstars LA managing director, Anna Barber, as its newest partner

The Los Angeles and New York-based venture firm M13 has managed to nab former Techstars LA managing director, Anna Barber, as its newest partner and the head of its internal venture studio, Launchpad.

Designed to be a collaborative startup company incubator alongside corporate partners, Launchpad focuses on developing new consumer tech businesses focused on M13’s main investment areas: health, food, transportation, and housing.

For Barber, the new position is the latest step in a professional career spent working both inside and outside of the tech industry.

Barber got her first taste of the startup world when she was poached from McKinsey to join one of the several online pet supply stores that cropped up in 1999. From her position as the vice president of product at Petstore.com, Barber got her taste of the startup world… and left it to become a talent manager and the co-founder of the National Air Guitar championships (no word if she managed air guitar talent).

Prior to launching the Techstars LA incubator program, Barber founded ScribblePress, a retail and digital publishing app, which was sold to Fingerprint Digital.

Anna Barber, partner, M13. Image Credit: Raif Strathmann

At M13, Barber will be working to recruit entrepreneurs to work collaboratively on developing startup consumer businesses that align with the strategic interests of M13’s corporate partners, like Procter & Gamble.

We will be bringing in founders in residence who will come in without an idea,” Barber said of the program. “We’re starting with a blank sheet of paper and building teams in partnership with entrepreneurs and in partnership with corporate partners who will bring their perspective and their IP. “

The EIRs will receive a small stipend and equity in the business, Barber said.

The starting gun for M13’s Launchpad  program was in 2019 and the program currently has managed to spin up three startups. There’s Rae, an developer of affordable women’s wellness products; and the beauty tech company OPTE; Kindra menopause products; and Bodewell for sensitive skin care, which were all developed alongside Procter & Gamble Ventures.

M13, for its part, is developing a strong team of women partners who are investing at the firm. Barber will join Lizzie Francis and Christine Choi on the investment team, something that Barber said was especially exciting.

“There is no better place for M13’s Launchpad than Los Angeles and no better person to lead it than Anna. M13 is home to a creative, diverse community of entrepreneurs and operators who want to make the world better by applying innovation in everything from media to biotech, prop tech to food,” said M13 co-founder Carter Reum. “We are excited for Anna to continue to lead LA’s center of entrepreneurs, mentors and investors with a rigorous Launchpad program and more exceptional partners and cohorts.”

Funded by Connect Ventures, Purple Dot plans to take on Klarna-style purchase debt

In recent times startups have appeared offering credit at an e-commerce basket checkout so that a customer can buy a product without needing to pay right away. Klarna or Clearpay are the two most notable in this field. But what if you flipped the model around so that consumers could buy the item at a lower price later on, and the retailer could reduce waste? This is the model of Purple Dot, which bills itself as a ‘worth-the-wait’ payment option for fashion brands.

It’s now raised a seed round of £1.35 million, led by Connect Ventures, with support from AI Seed, Moxxie Ventures, Andy Chung and Philipp Moehring from AngelList, Alex Roetter former SVP of Engineering at Twitter and the family office of Paul Forster, co-founder of Indeed.com.

Founded in August 2019 by senior Skyscanner employees Madeline Parra (CEO) and John Talbott (CTO), Purple Dot allows consumers to request a ‘worth-the-wait’ lower price. The advantage for retailers is that they can then decide whether or not to release a fashion product mid-season at a slightly reduced rate in order to secure the sale.

“Unlike Klarna, we don’t encourage consumers to buy stuff they can’t afford.”

The customers still pays upfront and then waits to have the item confirmed, receiving a full refund if not. The Purple Dot payment method sits alongside ‘buy now, pay later’ finance options.

This ‘worth-the-wait’ price does not usually fall below a 10-20% reduction from the recommended retail price, thus reducing losses from end-of-season discounting, where discounts are much deeper. The advantage for the consumer is that they don’t then rack up debt on their purchases.

The startup says it’s already in talks with a number of major UK and US high street brands but has already secured menswear retailer Spoke, which will also use the tech for ‘pre-ordering’. This means they can test out new styles, designs and fabrics in a limited manner, thus reducing waste (and therefore carbon emissions) when they commit to a new line of clothing.

Madeline Parra, CEO of Purple Dot, commented: “When shopping online today, customers can either pay the retail price or walk away. When they do walk away, the item goes through the discounting process, becomes unprofitable for the merchant and is resigned to landfill. This binary system isn’t working for anyone – the customer loses out on the item, because it may go out of stock in their size before they attempt to purchase it again, and the merchant loses the sale. Purple Dot tackles this problem head-on by providing a new way to shop, taking on unsustainable, unrelenting consumerism, poor pricing tactics and profit-crunching sales at the same time.”

Speaking to TechCrunch she also added that “Unlike Klarna, we don’t encourage consumers to buy stuff they can’t afford.”

Pietro Bezza, General Partner at Connect Ventures, commented:  “Purple Dot’s innovative proposition benefits retailers by creating a solution to their inventory problems. End of season ‘panic sales’ have long caused financial uncertainty for retailers and a negative impact on the environment in equal measure.”

Coupa Software snags Llamasoft for $1.5B to bring together spending and supply chain data

Coupa Software, a publicly traded company that helps large corporations manage spending, announced that it was buying Llamasoft, an 18-year-old Michigan company that helps large companies manage their supply chain. The deal was pegged at $1.5 billion.

This year Llamasoft released its latest tool, an AI-driven platform for managing supply chains intelligently. This capability in particular seemed to attract Coupa’s attention, as it was looking for a supply chain application to complement its spend management capabilities.

Coupa CEO and chairman Rob Bernshteyn says when you combine that supply chain data with Coupa’s spending data, it can produce a powerful combination.

“Llamasoft’s deep supply chain expertise and sophisticated data science and modeling capabilities, combined with the roughly $2 trillion of cumulative transactional spend data we have in Coupa, will empower businesses with the intelligence needed to pivot on a dime,” Bernshteyn said in a statement.

The purchase comes at a time when companies are focusing more and more on digitizing processes across enterprise, and when supply chains can be uncertain, depending on the location of COVID hotspots at any particular time.

“With demand uncertainty on one hand, and supply volatility on the other, companies are in need of supply chain technology that can help them assess alternatives and balance trade-offs to achieve desired business results. LLamasoft provides these capabilities with an AI-powered cloud platform that empowers companies to make smarter supply chain decisions, faster,” the company wrote in a statement.

Llamasoft was founded in 2002 in Ann Arbor, Michigan and has raised more than $56 million, according to Crunchbase data. Its largest raise was a $50 million Series B in 2015 led by Goldman Sachs .

The company generated more than $100 million in revenue and has 650 big customers, including Boeing, DHL, Kimberly-Clark and GM, according to company data.

Coupa has been extremely acquisitive over the years, buying 17 companies, according to Crunchbase data. This deal represents the fourth acquisition this year for the company. So far the stock market is not enamored with the acquisition; the company’s stock price is down 5.20% at publication.

Freshworks (re-)launches its CRM service

Freshworks, the customer and employee engagement company that offers a range of products, from call center and customer support software to HR tools and marketing automation services, today announced the launch of its newest product: Freshworks CRM. The new service, which the company built on top of its new Freshworks Neo platform, is meant to give sales and marketing teams all of the tools they need to get a better view of their customers — with a bit of machine learning thrown in for better predictions.

Freshworks CRM is essentially a rebrand of the company’s Freshsales service, combined with the company’s capabilities of its Freshmarketer marketing automation tool.

“Freshworks CRM unites Freshsales and Freshmarketer capabilities into one solution, which leverages an embedded customer data platform for an unprecedented and 360-degree view of the customer throughout their entire journey,” a company spokesperson told me.

The promise here is that this improved CRM solution is able to provide teams with a more complete view of their (potential) customers thanks to the unified view — and aggregated data — that the company’s Neo platform provides.

The company argues that the majority of CRM users quickly become disillusioned with their CRM service of choice — and the reason for that is because the data is poor. That’s where Freshworks thinks it can make a difference.

Freshworks CRM delivers upon the original promise of CRM: a single solution that combines AI-driven data, insights and intelligence and puts the customer front and center of business goals,” said Prakash Ramamurthy, the company’s chief product officer. “We built Freshworks CRM to harness the power of data and create immediate value, challenging legacy CRM solutions that have failed sales teams with clunky interfaces and incomplete data.”

The idea here is to provide teams with all of their marketing and sales data in a single dashboard and provide AI-assisted insights to them to help drive their decision making, which in turn should lead to a better customer experience — and more sales. The service offers predictive lead scoring and qualification, based on a host of signals users can customize to their needs, as well as Slack and Teams integrations, built-in telephony with call recording to reach out to prospects and more. A lot of these features were already available in Freshsales, too.

“The challenge for online education is the ‘completion rate’. To increase this, we need to understand the ‘Why’ aspect for a student to attend a course and design ‘What’ & ‘How’ to meet the personalized needs of our students so they can achieve their individual goals,” said Mamnoon Hadi Khan, the chief analytics officer at Shaw Academy. “With Freshworks CRM, Shaw Academy can track the entire student customer journey to better engage with them through our dedicated Student Success Managers and leverage AI to personalize their learning experience — meeting their objectives.”

Pricing for Freshworks CRM starts at $29 per user/month and goes up to $125 per user/month for the full enterprise plan with more advanced features.

Extra Crunch Partner Perk: Get 6 months free of Zendesk Support and Sales CRM

We’re excited to announce an update to the Extra Crunch Partner Perk from Zendesk. Starting today, annual and two-year Extra Crunch members that are new to Zendesk, and meet their startup qualifications, can now receive six months of free access to Zendesk’s Sales CRM, in addition to Zendesk Support Suite, Zendesk Explore and Zendesk Sunshine.

Here is an overview of the program.

Zendesk is a service-first CRM company with support, sales and customer engagement products designed to improve customer relationships. This offer is only available for startups that are new to Zendesk, have fewer than 100 employees and are funded but have not raised beyond a Series B.

The Zendesk Partner Perk from Extra Crunch is inclusive of subscription fees, free for six months, after which you will be responsible for payment. Any downgrades to your Zendesk subscription will result in the forfeiture of the promotion, so please check with Zendesk first regarding any changes ([email protected]). Some add-ons such as Zendesk Talk and Zendesk Sell minutes are not included. Complete details of what’s included can be found here.

Google Analytics update uses machine learning to surface more critical customer data

If you ever doubted the hunger brands have for more and better information about consumers, you only need to look at Twilio buying customer data startup Segment this week for $3.2 billion. Google sees this the same as everyone else, and today it introduced updates to Google Analytics to help companies understand their customers better (especially in conjunction with related Google tools).

Vidhya Srinivasan, vice president of measurement, analytics and buying platforms at Google, wrote in a company blog post introducing the new features that the company sees this changing customer-brand dynamic due to COVID, and it wants to assist by adding new features that help marketers achieve their goals, whatever those may be.

One way to achieve this is by infusing Analytics with machine learning to help highlight data automatically that’s important to marketers using the platform. “[Google Analytics] has machine learning at its core to automatically surface helpful insights and gives you a complete understanding of your customers across devices and platforms,” Srinivasan wrote in the blog post.

The idea behind the update is to give marketers access to more information they care about most by using that machine learning to surface data like which groups of customers are most likely to buy and which are most likely to churn, the very types of information marketing (and sales) teams need to try make proactive moves to keep customers from leaving or conversely turning those ready to buy into sales.

Google_Analytics_predictive_metric predict churn and most likely to convert to sales.

Image Credits: Google

If it works as described, it can give marketers a way to measure their performance with each customer or group of customers across their entire lifecycle, which is especially important during COVID when customer needs are constantly changing.

Of course, this being a Google product it’s designed to play nicely with Google Ads, YouTube and other tools like Gmail and Google Search, along with non-Google channels. As Srinivasan wrote:

The new approach also makes it possible to address longtime advertiser requests. Because the new Analytics can measure app and web interactions together, it can include conversions from YouTube engaged views that occur in-app and on the web in reports. Seeing conversions from YouTube video views alongside conversions from Google and non-Google paid channels, and organic channels like Google Search, social, and email, helps you understand the combined impact of all your marketing efforts.

The company is also trying to futureproof analytics with an eye toward stricter privacy laws like GDPR in Europe or CCPA in California by using modeling to fill in gaps in information when you can’t use cookies or other tracking software.

All of this is designed to help marketers, caught in trying times with a shifting regulatory landscape, to better understand customer needs and deliver them what they want when they want it — when they’re just trying to keep the customers satisfied.

Millennial Media’s Paul Palmieri launches Tradeswell, a startup promising to fix e-commerce margins

A new startup called Tradeswell said it’s using artificial intelligence to help direct-to-consumer and e-commerce brands build healthier businesses.

The company is led by Paul Palmieri, who previously took mobile advertising company Millennial Media public and then sold it to TechCrunch’s corporate parent AOL (now Verizon Media). Afterwards, Palmieri founded Grit Capital Partners, but he told me he decided to join Tradeswell as a co-founder and CEO because he was so excited about the vision.

Palmieri said that just as Millennial helped independent app developers get smarter about advertising, Tradeswell gives upstart e-commerce companies the data they need to compete with “the big platform behemoths.”

It’s no secret that a number of direct-to-consumer companies have struggled to make a profit due to challenging unit economics. Palmieri suggested that one reason for this is the fragmentation of their tools and data.

“If you’re selling something like Campbell’s Soup, you want to figure out, how is your tomato soup business and your chicken soup business?” Palmieri said. “Today, brands are saying, ‘How’s my Amazon business? How’s my Shopify business? How’s my Shopify business on Instagram?’ ”

So rather than relying on those platforms for data, Palmieri suggested brands want an independent platform that they trust to bring everything together, “where it’s a combination of a Bloomberg terminal plus a trading platform.”

Tradeswell’s AI focuses in six key areas of an e-commerce business: marketing, retail, inventory, logistics, forecasting, lifetime value and financials. Palmieri suggested that in some cases (like ad-buying), Tradeswell will replace existing software, while in other cases it will integrate.

“Think of us as a neural AI layer, where [a brand] might have different platform relationships, which are the fingers, and we’re the AI brain,” he said. “We’re giving brands insights and forecasts: If you make this change, we anticipate XYZ will happen.”

In some cases, like the aforementioned advertising, Tradeswell can also support full automation, so that merchants don’t have to worry about “setting up and tearing down hundreds of campaigns.”

The key, Palmieri said, is that the platform has access to the business’ full financials, so it can optimize for net margins, rather than simply driving the most impressions or clicks or sales.

While Tradeswell is only coming out of stealth mode today, it’s already been working with more than 100 brands. For example, Steve Tracy of Red Monkey Foods and San Francisco Salt Company said in a statement that the startup’s “unique, comprehensive, algorithmic approach has helped us grow sales, identify commercialization opportunities and forecast far more accurately.”