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

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

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

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

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

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

The company counts Walmart, DuPont and Jet as customers.

Apple’s new ecosystem world order and the privacy economy

Apple’s splashy new product announcements at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference in San Jose also ushered in new rules of the road for its ecosystem partners that force hard turns for app makers around data ownership and control. These changes could fundamentally shift how consumers perceive and value control over the data they generate in using their devices, and that shift could change the landscape for how services are bought, consumed and sold.

A lot of privacy advocates have posited a future wherein we ascribe value to the data of individuals and potentially compensate people directly for its use. But others have also rightly pointed out than in isolation, a single individual’s data is precisely value-less, since it’s only in aggregate that this data is worth anything to the companies that currently harvest it to inform their marketing and drive their product decisions.

There are many reasons why it seems unlikely that any of the companies for which user data is a primary source of revenue or a crucial aspect of their business model would shift to a direct compensation model – not the least of which is that it’s probably much cheaper, and definitely much more scalable, to build products that provide them use value in exchange instead. But that doesn’t mean privacy won’t become a crucial lever in the information economy of the next wave of innovation and tech product development.

Perils of per datum pricing

As mentioned, the mechanics of directly selling your data to a company are problematic at best, and unworkable at worst.

One big issue with this is that there’s definitely bound to be a scale limit on any subscription paid product. In a world where that’s increasingly a preferred method for media companies, food and packaged goods delivery, and even car ownership alternatives, there’s clearly a cap on how much of their income consumers are willing to commit to these kinds of recurring costs.

Distru, a maker of supply chain software for the cannabis industry, has raised $3 million led by Felicis

Distru, a nearly three-year-old, Oakland-based startup whose platform aims to help track cannabis through its seed-to-sale process, has raised $3 million in seed funding led by Felicis Ventures, with participation from Village Global, Global Founders Capital, and numerous notable angel investors, including Elad Gil, Katie Stanton, and Avichal Garg.

The deal is an interesting one for numerous reasons, including that it marks Felicis’s first investment in the cannabis space after many months spent looking at a wide array of related startups, says Niki Pezeshki, a principal with the firm. Indeed, though interest in cannabis-related products and services is growing among traditional venture firms as a growing number of states move to legalize and regulate marijuana, there’s lingering concern about what will happen and when at the federal level.

Distru is also entering into a space that tech investors can grok: it’s a software as a service company, one that just happens to give cannabis operators insight into their inventory and order management, their customer relationship management, and their logistics. Most important, Distru’s software helps them automate compliance with complicated and growing state regulations by integrating with Metrc, which is itself inventory tracing software that’s being used by a growing number of states to record the inventory and movement of cannabis and cannabis products through the commercial supply chain. (We wrote about six-year-old Metrc last year when it raised $50 million in funding, including from Casa Verde Capital and Tiger Global Management.)

Not last, Distru’s team, headed by founder and CEO Blaine Hatab, comes from the tech world, even while most are in the formative stages of their careers. Hatab has spent much of his post-collegiate career as a software developer, as has his cofounder, Blake Gentry, who joined forced with Hatab after leaving a developer role with the startup Opendoor to create his own company, Actualyze, which merged with Distru last fall. A third cofounder, Johnny Li, who further serves as Distru’s chief technical officer, was most recently a JavaScript instructor. Altogether, says Hatab, the team is made up of just nine employees who work remotely, though with its new funding, Distru plans to fill five more roles imminently.

In the meantime, it seems to pick picking up momentum despite its scale. Among its customers are major cannabis producers and distributors Humboldt Farms and CannaCraft. More, though it has competitors, including nine-year-old, Denver-based, venture-backed MJ Freeway, Hatab says it’s growing steadily based solely on word of mouth. Perhaps most compelling to Felicis and its other backers, the company has been operating in the black for some time. Says Hatab, “I think [our investors] were surprised by profitable we were.”

And it has a lot of room to grow, no pun intended. Distru operates in California alone today, but Hatab says it plans to follow Metrc into the other markets where it operates today, including Colorado, Oregon, Alaska, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio, Massachusetts, Montana, Nevada and Louisiana.

How we scaled our startup by being remote first

Startups are often associated with the benefits and toys provided in their offices. Foosball tables! Free food! Dog friendly! But what if the future of startups was less about physical office space and more about remote-first work environments? What if, in fact, the most compelling aspect of a startup work environment is that the employees don’t have to go to one?

A remote-first company model has been Seeq’s strategy since our founding in 2013. We have raised $35 million and grown to more than 100 employees around the globe. Remote-first is clearly working for us and may be the best model for other software companies as well.

So, who is Seeq and what’s been the key to making the remote-first model work for us?  And why did we do it in the first place?

Seeq is a remote-first startup – i.e. it was founded with the intention of not having a physical headquarters or offices, and still operates that way – that is developing an advanced analytics application that enables process engineers and subject matter experts in oil & gas, pharmaceuticals, utilities, and other process manufacturing industries to investigate and publish insights from the massive amounts of sensor data they generate and store.

To succeed, we needed to build a team quickly with two skill sets: 1) software development expertise, including machine learning, AI, data visualization, open source, agile development processes, cloud, etc. and 2) deep domain expertise in the industries we target.

Which means there is no one location where we can hire all the employees we need: Silicon Valley for software, Houston for oil & gas, New Jersey for fine chemicals, Seattle for cloud expertise, water utilities across the country, and so forth. But being remote-first has made recruiting and hiring these high-demand roles easier much easier than if we were collocated.

Image via Seeq Corporation

Job postings on remote-specific web sites like FlexJobs, Remote.co and Remote OK typically draw hundreds of applicants in a matter of days. This enables Seeq to hire great employees who might not call Seattle, Houston or Silicon Valley home – and is particularly attractive to employees with location-dependent spouses or employees who simply want to work where they want to live.

But a remote-first strategy and hiring quality employees for the skills you need is not enough: succeeding as a remote-first company requires a plan and execution around the “3 C’s of remote-first”.

The three requirements to remote-first success are the three C’s: communication, commitment and culture.

Takeaways from KubeCon; the latest on Kubernetes and cloud native development

Extra Crunch offers members the opportunity to tune into conference calls led and moderated by the TechCrunch writers you read every day. This week, TechCrunch’s Frederic Lardinois and Ron Miller discuss major announcements that came out of the Linux Foundation’s European KubeCon/CloudNativeCon conference and discuss the future of Kubernetes and cloud-native technologies.

Nearly doubling in size year-over-year, this year’s KubeCon conference brought big news and big players, with major announcements coming from some of the world’s largest software vendors including Google, AWS, Microsoft, Red Hat, and more. Frederic and Ron discuss how the Kubernetes project grew to such significant scale and which new initiatives in cloud-native development show the most promise from both a developer and enterprise perspective.

“This ecosystem starts sprawling, and we’ve got everything from security companies to service mesh companies to storage companies. Everybody is here. The whole hall is full of them. Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish between them because there are so many competing start-ups at this point.

I’m pretty sure we’re going to see a consolidation in the next six months or so where some of the bigger players, maybe Oracle, maybe VMware, will start buying some of these smaller companies. And I’m sure the show floor will look quite different about a year from now. All the big guys are here because they’re all trying to figure out what’s next.”

Frederic and Ron also dive deeper into the startup ecosystem rapidly developing around Kubernetes and other cloud-native technologies and offer their take on what areas of opportunity may prove to be most promising for new startups and founders down the road.

For access to the full transcription and the call audio, and for the opportunity to participate in future conference calls, become a member of Extra Crunch. Learn more and try it for free. 

Robin picks up $20 million Series B to optimize the office

Robin Powered, a startup looking to help offices run better, has today announced the close of a $20 million Series B funding. The round was led by Tola Capital, with existing investors Accomplice and FirstMark participating in the round, along with a new strategic Allegion Ventures.

Robin started as part of an agency called One Mighty Roar, where Robin Powered cofounder Sam Dunn and his two cofounders built out RFID and beacon tech for clients’ live events. In 2014, they spun out the tech as Robin and tweaked the focus on the modern office.

The office stands to be one of the least efficient pieces of any business. As a company grows, or even if it doesn’t, it’s particularly difficult to understand the ‘inventory’ of the office and how it is used by workers throughout the day.

“Before, if I asked you what you needed out of your next office, you might go around and survey employees or hire an architecture firm,” said Dunn. “I heard a story where a manager sent around an intern every Thursday at 3pm to talk to employees about the office, and that was one of two pieces of information handed over to the architecture firm. At the end of the day, it’s hard to know if there’s a shortage of meeting rooms, or teleconference-enabled rooms, or collaborative workspaces.”

That’s where Robin comes in. Robin hooks into Google Calendar and Outlook to help employees get a sense of what meeting rooms and activity spaces are available in the office, complete with tablet signage out front. Meetings are the starting point for Robin, but the company can also offer tools for seating charts and office maps, as well as insights. The company wants to offer insights about how the space in this or that office is being used — what they lack and what they have too much of.

Robin charges its clients per room ($300) and per desk ($24 – $60). The hope is to build out the same technological backbone for clients’ offices as WeWork provides alongside its physical space, giving every business the opportunity to optimize one of their biggest investments: the office itself.

Robin has raised a total of $30 million.

Saas Management startup Intello scores $2.5 million extended seed

Intello, the New York City-based Saas management platform, announced a $2.5 million extended seed round today, along with some product enhancements.

The round was led by Resolute Ventures . Harrison Metal and Magnetico Ventures also participated along with various individual angel investors including Zane Lackey from Signal Sciences, Chris Smoak from Atrium and Zach Sherman from Timber. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $4 million, according the company.

Mike Hirshland, a partner at lead investor Resolute Ventures, saw Intello helping customers deal with a serious and growing issue inside companies. “They are solving the pain of SaaS sprawl that every organization is facing by empowering modern IT, finance and security teams with better visibility,” he said in a statement.

When everyone can sign up for these services for free or with a credit card outside the purview of IT, this can lead to potential issues around security and compliance. Since last year’s $1.3 million seed round, the startup has expanded beyond simply understanding what SaaS products a company has to include a compliance component, says Barak Kaufman, co-founder and CEO at Intello.

“We are really focused on what we view as end-to-end SaaS management, which includes spend optimization and mapping out unused products and licenses. We are still still doing that, but as we are selling primarily to IT, and sometimes InfoSec directors, the product has evolved passed that to working on compliance,” Kaufman explained.

To help with that, Intello has updated the product to map redundant applications along with the ability to change, add or remove licenses for third-party applications. This gives IT more control over unsanctioned applications including removing them from the system or limiting access to them if that is the goal.

The product is also now integrated with popular single sign on tools, Okta and Onelogin, to help companies map the usage of all the SaaS tools being used, whether free or paid, through their SSO tools.

The company offers more than two dozen integrations out of the box so far including popular SaaS tools like Salesforce, Box, Zendesk, Google, Slack and Office 365. It plans to use some of today’s funds to build dozens more with a goal of having 100 integrations by the end of this year.

Intello currently has 12 employees and 900 companies using the free and paid versions of the solution. Customers include InVision, Sprinklr and Instacart.

Zwift CEO Eric Min on fitness-gaming and bringing esports into the Olympics

The rumored IPO plans of $4 billion spinning brand Peloton marks the rise of a wave of interactive fitness startups like Mirror, Tonal, Hydrow and At Home 360 that combine a monthly subscription to recorded and/or live video classes with workout hardware.

There’s opportunity beyond this initial “Peloton for X” model, however, when you look at where the gamification of at-home workout experiences can overlap with actual games. We’re in the midst of rapid growth in the gaming industry, the rise of esports and the mainstream-ing of socializing within games due to Fortnite

The virtual cycling business Zwift is a five-year-old startup that has raised more than $170 million as a pioneer of fitness-gaming ― physical sport carried out in a virtual world. Athletes join together for group rides and races within a cycling game that hooks up to their own bike trainers at home in order to reflect their movements and physical exertion. Because users are represented as players within a social game, there is the benefit of network effects, opportunity for in-game commerce and an audience viewing the competition.

I recently sat with Eric Min, Zwift’s CEO and co-founder, at the company’s London office. We discussed why he founded Zwift and how the product has evolved, the potential revenue streams available to an interactive fitness brand and Zwift’s rise as an esport with ambitions to enter the Olympics. Here’s the transcript:

Eric Peckham (TechCrunch): Do you view Zwift as a fitness company or as a gaming company where the bike trainer is just a controller?

Eric Min (Zwift): We’re the fitness company born out of gaming. While we’re a fitness brand, we’re also a game and social network, two things that are converging rapidly right now. What we’re trying to do, though, is build this social network around real-time experiences, physical experiences, and I think that’s far more interesting. Crucial to that is being hardware-agnostic though. We work with a lot of equipment out there so our users can come to the game easily.

Render gets $2.25M seed round to give developers alternative to biggest names in tech

A couple of weeks ago, when Pinterest filed its S-1, its AWS bills raised eyebrows and questions about cheaper alternatives for startups. Render is a small startup with a big idea to provide infrastructure services for developers, who might be looking for a cheaper and easier alternative to bigger more familiar names. The company launched today with broad ambition and $2.25 million in seed funding from General Catalyst and the South Park Common Fund.

As developers work with increasingly complex sets of technologies, it often requires teams of people to launch an application and keep it running.”What we’re doing at Render is making it incredibly easy and quick for application developers to deploy their applications online without knowledge of servers, and without having a DevOps person with them,” Anurag Goel, founder and CEO told TechCrunch.

Steve Herrod, managing director at General Catalyst and former CTO at VMware, knows a thing or two about infrastructure and he sees a company that could provide a viable alternative to the established players in this space. “Render is building the logical next step to cloud infrastructure — making it disappear. Application developers clearly want to focus on the functionality and usability of their work, and not on server setup, deployment and scaling. Render is enabling exactly this focus and that’s why early developer users love it so much,” he said in a statement.

The company is going after companies like Salesforce Heroku on the platform side and AWS, Azure, GCP and even DigitalOcean on the infrastructure side. It is not an easy market to ease your way into, but Goel believes he has come up with a solution that is cost-effective and easy to use, and that could help separate him from these established brands.

The complexity of today’s application environment requires teams of highly trained engineers to implement. While a company like Harness is trying to reduce that complexity by providing Continuous Delivery as a Service, Render is going at it from a different angle by providing a platform and infrastructure to launch and manage applications more easily.

“We’re focused, first and foremost, on developer experience and ease of use. And we’ve seen over and over again, that when you look at AWS and Azure and GCP, they force you to build out these large DevOps teams that take care of all the infrastructure needs,” he said. He believes part of the problem with the larger company approaches is that they put this expensive engineering layer between the developer and the application they created, and Render brings the developer closer to the process.

The company got the funding last year, but is announcing now because it wasn’t really ready to launch at that point, and didn’t want to announce the funding before it had a viable product.

Goel got his start as an early employee at Stripe, a company that made it simple for developers to add payment infrastructure to an application. He is hoping to bring that same level of simplicity to application hosting.

SalesLoft nabs $70M at $500M valuation for its sales engagement platform

Artificial intelligence and other tech for automating some of the more repetitive aspects of human jobs continues to be a growing category of software, and today a company that builds tools to address this need for salespeople has raised a tidy sum to grow its business.

SalesLoft, an Atlanta-based startup that has built a platform for salespeople to help them engage with their clients — providing communications tools, supporting data, and finally analytics to ‘coach’ salespeople to improve their processes — has raised $70 million in a Series D round of funding led by Insight Venture Partners with participation from HarbourVest.

Kyle Porter, SalesLoft’s co-founder and CEO, would not disclose the amount of funding in an interview but he did confirm that it is double its valuation from the previous round, a $50 million Series C that included LinkedIn among the investors (more on that below). That round was just over a year ago and would have valued the firm at $250 million. That would put SalesLoft’s current valuation at about $500 million.

While there are a number of CRM and sales tools out in the market today, Porter believes that many of the big ones might better be described as “dumb databases or repositories” of information rather than natively aimed at helping source and utilise data more effectively.

“They are not focused on improving how to connect buyers to sales teams in sincere ways,” he said. “And anytime a company like Salesforce has moved into tangential areas like these, they haven’t built from the ground up, but through acquisitions. It’s just hard to move giant aircraft carriers.”

SalesLoft is not the only one that has spotted this opportunity, of course. There are dozens of others that are either competing on single or all aspects of the same services that SalesLoft provides, including the likes of Clari, Chorus.ai, Gong, Conversica, Afiniti and not least Outreach — which is seen as a direct competitor on sales engagement and itself raised $114 million on a $1.1 billion valuation earlier this month.

One of the notable distinctions for SalesLoft is that one of its strategic investors is LinkedIn, which participated in its Series C. Before Microsoft acquired it, LinkedIn was seen as a potential competitor to SalesForce, and many thought that Microsoft’s acquisition was made squarely to help it compete against the CRM giant.

These days, Porter said that his company and LinkedIn have a tight integration by way of LinkedIn’s Sales Navigator product, which SalesLoft users can access and utilise directly within SalesLoft, and they have a hotline to be apprised of and help shape LinkedIn’s API developments. SalesLoft is also increasingly building links into Microsoft Dynamics, the company’s CRM business.

“We are seeing the highest usage in our LinkedIn integration among all the other integrations we provide,” Porter told me. “Our customers find that it’s the third most important behind email and phone calls.” Email, for all its cons, remains the first.

The fact that this is a crowded area of the market does speak to the opportunity and need for something effective, however, and the fact that SalesLoft has grown revenues 100 percent in each of the last two years, according to Porter, makes it a particularly attractive horse to bet on.

“So many software companies build a product to meet a market need and then focus purely on selling. SalesLoft is different. This team is continually innovating, pushing the boundaries, and changing the face of sales,” said Jeff Horing, co-founder and MD of Insight Venture Partners, in a statement. “This is one reason the company’s customers are so devoted to them. We are privileged to partner with this innovative company on their mission to improve selling experiences all over the world.”

Going forward, Porter said that in addition to expanding its footprint globally — recent openings include a new office in London — the company is going to go big on more AI and “intelligence” tools. The company already offers something it calls its “coaching network” which is not human but AI-based and analyses calls as they happen to provide pointers and feedback after the fact (similar to others like Gong and Chorus, I should note).

“We want to give people a better way to deliver an authentic but ultimately human way to sell,” he said.