Docs startup Almanac raises $34 million from Tiger as remote work shift hardens

As companies continue to delay their returns to the office and find temporary remote work policies becoming permanent, the startups building tooling for remote work-first cultures are finding a seemingly endless supply of customers.

“Companies are finding the shift to remote work is not a one-time aberration due to Covid,” Almanac CEO Adam Nathan tells TechCrunch. “Over the past several months we’ve seen pretty explosive revenue growth.”

Almanac, which builds a doc editor that takes feature cues like version control from developer platforms like Github, has been seizing on the shift to remote work, onboarding new customers through its open source office document library Core while pushing features that allow for easier onboarding like an online company handbook builder.

In the past couple years, timelines between funding rounds have been shrinking for fast-growing startups. Almanac announced its $9 million seed round earlier this year led by Floodgate, now they’re taking the wraps off of a $34 million Series A led by the pandemic’s most prolific startup investment powerhouse — Tiger Global. Floodgate again participated in the raise, alongside General Catalyst and a host of angels.

The company wants its collaborative doc editor to be the way more companies fully embrace online productivity software, leaving local-first document editors in the dust. While Alphabet’s G Suite is a rising presence in the office productivity suite world, Microsoft Office is still the market’s dominant force.

“We see ourselves as a generational challenger to Microsoft Office,” Nathan says. “It’s not only an old product, but it’s totally outmoded for what we do to today.”

While investors have backed plenty of startups based on pandemic era trends that have already seemed to fizzle out, the growing shift away from office culture or even hybrid culture towards full remote work has only grown more apparent as employees place a premium on jobs with flexible remote policies.

Major tech companies like Facebook have found themselves gradually adjusting policies towards full-remote work for staff that can do their jobs remotely. Meanwhile, Apple’s more aggressive return-to-office plan has prompted a rare outpouring of public and private criticism from employees at the company. Nathan only expects this divide to accelerate as more companies come tor grips with the shifting reality.

“I personally don’t believe that hybrid is a thing,” he says. “You have to pick a side, you’re either office culture or ‘cloud culture.’”

Inside GitLab’s IPO filing

While the technology and business world worked towards the weekend, developer operations (DevOps) firm GitLab filed to go public. Before we get into our time off, we need to pause, digest the company’s S-1 filing, and come to some early conclusions.

GitLab competes with GitHub, which Microsoft purchased for $7.5 billion back in 2018.

The company is notable for its long-held, remote-first stance, and for being more public with its metrics than most unicorns — for some time, GitLab had a November 18, 2020 IPO target in its public plans, to pick an example. We also knew when it crossed the $100 million recurring revenue threshold.

Considering GitLab’s more recent results, a narrowing operating loss in the last two quarters is good news for the company.

The company’s IPO has therefore been long expected. In its last primary transaction, GitLab raised $286 million at a post-money valuation of $2.75 billion, per Pitchbook data. The same information source also notes that GitLab executed a secondary transaction earlier this year worth $195 million, which gave the company a $6 billion valuation.

Let’s parse GitLab’s growth rate, its final pre-IPO scale, its SaaS metrics, and then ask if we think it can surpass its most recent private-market price. Sound good? Let’s rock.

The GitLab S-1

GitLab intends to list on the Nasdaq under the symbol “GTLB.” Its IPO filing lists a placeholder $100 million raise estimate, though that figure will change when the company sets an initial price range for its shares. Its fiscal year ends January 31, meaning that its quarters are offset from traditional calendar periods by a single month.

Let’s start with the big numbers.

In its fiscal year ended January 2020, GitLab posted revenues of $81.2 million, gross profit of $71.9 million, an operating loss of $128.4 million, and a modestly greater net loss of $130.7 million.

And in the year ended January 31, 2021, GitLab’s revenue rose roughly 87% to $152.2 million from a year earlier. The company’s gross profit rose around 86% to $133.7 million, and operating loss widened nearly 67% to $213.9 million. Its net loss totaled $192.2 million.

This paints a picture of a SaaS company growing quickly at scale, with essentially flat gross margins (88%). Growth has not been inexpensive either — GitLab spent more on sales and marketing than it generated in gross profit in the past two fiscal years.

Microsoft Office 2021 will be available on October 5th

Microsoft will release Office 2021, the next consumer version of its productivity suite, on October 5th. That’s the same day the company will launch Windows 11. Much like Office 2019 before it, Office 2021 is a one-time purchase that will be available on both Windows and macOS. It’s for people who don’t want to subscribe to the company’s Microsoft 365 subscription.

Microsoft promised to share more details on Office 2021 soon, but we know from reporting by The Verge’s Tom Warren that the release will feature many of the same improvements found in Office LTSC, a variant of the software the company released today for enterprise customers who can’t access the Cloud. Among other improvements, it adds accessibility features and dark mode support. We also know from a previous announcement Microsoft plans to support the software for at least five years, and that the software will work with both 32- and 64-bit systems out of the box.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on Engadget.

Confluent CEO Jay Kreps is coming to TC Sessions: SaaS for a fireside chat

As companies process ever-increasing amounts of data, moving it in real time is a huge challenge for organizations. Confluent is a streaming data platform built on top of the open source Apache Kafka project that’s been designed to process massive numbers of events. To discuss this, and more, Confluent CEO and co-founder Jay Kreps will be joining us at TC Sessions: SaaS on Oct 27th for a fireside chat.

Data is a big part of the story we are telling at the SaaS event, as it has such a critical role in every business. Kreps has said in the past the data streams are at the core of every business, from sales to orders to customer experiences. As he wrote in a company blog post announcing the company’s $250 million Series E in April 2020, Confluent is working to process all of this data in real time — and that was a big reason why investors were willing to pour so much money into the company.

“The reason is simple: though new data technologies come and go, event streaming is emerging as a major new category that is on a path to be as important and foundational in the architecture of a modern digital company as databases have been,” Kreps wrote at the time.

The company’s streaming data platform takes a multi-faceted approach to streaming and builds on the open source Kafka project. While anyone can download and use Kafka, as with many open source projects, companies may lack the resources or expertise to deal with the raw open source code. Many a startup have been built on open source to help simplify whatever the project does, and Confluent and Kafka are no different.

Kreps told us in 2017 that companies using Kafka as a core technology include Netflix, Uber, Cisco and Goldman Sachs. But those companies have the resources to manage complex software like this. Mere mortal companies can pay Confluent to access a managed cloud version or they can manage it themselves and install it in the cloud infrastructure provider of choice.

The project was actually born at LinkedIn in 2011 when their engineers were tasked with building a tool to process the enormous number of events flowing through the platform. The company eventually open sourced the technology it had created and Apache Kafka was born.

Confluent launched in 2014 and raised over $450 million along the way. In its last private round in April 2020, the company scored a $4.5 billion valuation on a $250 million investment. As of today, it has a market cap of over $17 billion.

In addition to our discussion with Kreps, the conference will also include Google’s Javier Soltero, Amplitude’s Olivia Rose, as well as investors Kobie Fuller and Casey Aylward, among others. We hope you’ll join us. It’s going to be a thought-provoking lineup.

Buy your pass now to save up to $100 when you book by October 1. We can’t wait to see you in October!

Glassdoor acquires Fishbowl, a semi-anonymous social network and job board, to square up to LinkedIn

While LinkedIn doubles down on creators to bring a more human, less manicured element to its networking platform for professionals, a company that has built a reputation for publishing primarily the more messy and human impressions of work life has made an acquisition that might help it compete better with LinkedIn.

Glassdoor, the platform that lets people post anonymous and candid feedback about the organizations they work for, has acquired Fishbowl — an app that gives users an anonymous option also to provide frank employee feedback, as well as join interest-based conversation groups to chat about work, and search for jobs. Glassdoor, which has 55 million users, is already integrating Fishbowl content into its main platform, although Fishbowl, with its 1 million users, will also continue for now to operate as a standalone app, too.

Christian Sutherland-Wong, the CEO of Glassdoor, said that he sees Fishbowl as the logical evolution of how Glassdoor is already being used. Similarly, since people are already seeking out feedback on prospective employers, it makes sense to bring recruitment and reviews closer together.

“We’ve always been about workplace transparency,” he said in an interview. “We expect in the future that jobseekers will use Glassdoor reviews, and also look to existing professionals in their fields to get answers from each other.” Fishbowl has seen a lot of traction during the Covid-19 pandemic, growing its user base threefold in the last year.

The acquisition is technically being made by Recruit Holdings, the Japanese employment listings and tech giant that acquired Glassdoor for $1.2 billion in 2018, and the companies are not disclosing any financial terms. San Francisco-based Fishbowl — founded in 2016 by Matt Sunbulli and Loren Appin — had raised less than $8 million, according to PitchBook data, from a pretty impressive set of investors, including Binary Capital, GGV, Lerer Hippeau Ventures, and Scott Belsky.

Microsoft-owned LinkedIn towers over the likes of Glassdoor in terms of size. It now has more than 774 million users, making it by far the biggest social media platform targeting professionals and their work-related content. But for many, even some of those who use it, the platform leaves something to be desired.

LinkedIn is a reliable go-to for putting out a profile of yourself, for the public, for those in your professional life, or for recruiters, to find. But what LinkedIn largely lacks are normal people talking about work in an honest way. To read about other’s often self-congratulatory professional developments, or to see motivational words on professional development from already hugely successful personalities, or to browse developments relative to your industry that probably have already seen elsewhere is not everyone’s cup of tea. It’s anodyne. Sometimes people just want tea to be spilled.

That’s where something like Glassdoor comes into the picture: the format of making comments anonymous on there turns it into something of the anti-LinkedIn. It is caustic, perhaps sometimes bitter, talk about the workplace, balanced out with positive words seem to get periodically suspected of being seeded by the companies themselves. Motivational, inspirational and aspirational are generally not part of the Glassdoor lexicon; honest, illuminating, and sobering perhaps are.

Fishbowl will be used to augment this and give Glassdoor another set of tools now to see how it might build out its platform beyond workplace reviews. The idea is to target people who come to Glassdoor to read about what people think of a company, or to put in their own comments: they can now also jump into conversations with others; and if they are coming to complain about their employer, now they can also look for a new one!

In the meantime, it feels like the swing to more authenticity is also a result of the shift we’ve seen in the world of work.

Covid-19 mandated office closures and social distancing have meant that many professionals have been working at home for the majority of the last year and a half (and many continue to do so). That has changed how we “come to work”, with many of our traditional divides between work and non-work personas and time management blurring. That has had an inevitable impact on how we see ourselves at work, and what we seek to get out of that engagement. And it also has led many people to feel isolated and in need of more ways to connect with colleagues.

Glassdoor’s acquisition, it said, was in part to meet this demand. A Harris Poll commissioned by Glassdoor found that 48% of employees felt isolated from coworkers during the COVID-19 pandemic; 42% of employees felt their career stall due to the lack of in-person connection; and 45% of employees expect to work hybrid or full-time remotely going forward — all areas that Glassdoor believes can be addressed with better tools (like Fishbowl) for people to communicate.

Of course, it will remain to be seen whether Glassdoor can convert its visitors to use the new Fishbowl-powered tools, but if there really is a population of users out there looking for a new kind of LinkedIn — there certainly are enough who love to complain about it — then maybe this cold be one version of that.

Xbox and Special Olympics hold first ‘Gaming for Inclusion’ esports event

Gaming in general is moving towards accessibility, but that’s not as much the case in esports, which like other sports are competitive and by nature somewhat exclusive. Xbox and the Special Olympics are working together on a new event that combines competition with inclusion, and it’s going on right now.

This week, Special Olympics athletes will be competing against each other in tournaments of Rocket League, Madden NFL 22, and Forza Motorsports 7. The prize, other than prestige and pride, is playing with one of the Special Olympics’ celebrity supporters: “NBA superstar Jayson Tatum, NFL legend Jamaal Charles, and WWE Superstars.”

“This tournament is a meaningful and important step in making esports more accessible and it empowers Special Olympics athletes with a new way to compete,” said Jenn Panattoni, Head of Xbox Social Impact. “Xbox has invested in numerous accessibility features and products, like the Xbox Adaptive Controller and features like copilot or speech to text. The purpose of all this continued work is to ensure that players feel welcome and that they belong on the Xbox platform.”

The tournaments are being recorded right now, and will be broadcast over the rest of the week, along with the “celebrity showcase” coming Saturday with recaps. You can check out a schedule at the bottom of this post, but generally just keep an eye on the Xbox Twitch channel and Special Olympics YouTube channel.

I like to highlight these events because accessibility has been on the back burner for so long in the gaming world, and now we’re seeing big moves by developers, publishers, and partners to make things better. Microsoft’s XAC is a great example, as is the panoply of visual, audio, and difficulty options in the latest Ratchet & Clank game. Esports is definitely one of the areas that needs more diversity, though, and the participating players were glad to take part. I asked Special Olympics Jose Moreno and Colton Rice for their thoughts on the matter.

Do you think competitive gaming is getting more accessible?

Rice: Competitive gaming is definitely getting more accessible. Not only are the games becoming more accessible, accessibility allows people with disabilities to become more competitive players. People with intellectual disabilities are always trying to compete at their best. We want to do what everyone else is doing, and sometimes just need a little help to make that happen.

Moreno: I do think that competitive gaming is getting more accessible because Microsoft has started bringing out video game controllers that are accessible for people with intellectual disabilities, physical disabilities – accessible to everybody. I’m a lifelong gamer, and accessibility in esports has been game-changing. Accessible gaming wasn’t available when I was growing up. Today, it’s so much more fun to play when you can play with friends of all abilities and everybody can participate.

Special Olympics athletes Colton Rice, left, and Jose Moreno.

How are you experiencing that change?

Moreno: In my opinion, the more the video games industry include people with intellectual disabilities, the better the video game community is going to get to know how we love playing video games just like everybody else. And through events like Gaming for Inclusion, I’m not just able to compete – I’m included as a part of a community of gamers where I am welcomed and included.

Rice: People with intellectual disabilities have skills and pay attention to details; when we set our minds to do something, we practice until we are the best we can be especially when we enjoy doing it – and that includes gaming. People with disabilities just need more time to learn, but when you’re dedicated to something that you’re passionate about, you won’t stop until you succeed.

What’s something you’d like to see more of, from developers, publishers etc?

Moreno: I would like to see more from developers or makers or publishers of video games in general or computer games to include more people with intellectual disabilities in the video game workforce. People with intellectual disabilities can play a variety of roles and provide unique perspectives on how to improve the gaming experience. Publishers and developers can get a different perspective from people with disabilities; whether that’s featuring people with intellectual disabilities represented in their storylines or seeing them in the games themselves. We’re eager to be a part of this process, and there are lots of passionate gamers with intellectual disabilities who would like to participate in focus groups or in actual jobs as creators within the industry.

Rice: The companies who make these games are trying to make high quality games that are enjoyable for everybody. There is still a lot that can be done to make games more accessible. For example, it can be frustrating when gamers with intellectual disabilities are learning a new game with instructions that are hard to read. It can take hours to learn how to play the new version of a game you’ve played for years. That doesn’t mean people with intellectual disabilities aren’t capable of playing or competing – it just means we need better accessibility tools to help us learn.

If gaming companies want to create accessible, inclusive games, they could benefit from including gamers with intellectual disabilities in the creative process to help make or test “easy read” or beginner’s instructions, or find ways to simplify navigation between different levels of a game. Gaming can build a community and reach people who feel left out. Accessibility allows everybody to have fun.


This competition and other events in online gaming have been essential to keeping the Special Olympics community connected and active over a difficult couple years.

“Special Olympics has a long-standing partnership with Microsoft that has been incredibly valuable for the athletes and families of the Special Olympics movement,” said the organization’s Chief Information and Technology Officer, Prianka Nandy. “With the COVID-19 pandemic, our main concern has been the safety and health of our athletes, who are amongst the most vulnerable population to have an adverse or catastrophic outcome from the virus. This led to the cancellation and postponement of thousands of annual in-person events and competitions – which meant our athletes have missed out on the connections and opportunities to experience the joy of being with their teammates, coaches, and friends. At this time, our goals remain to raise awareness of the Special Olympics movement and the accomplishments, hopes, and dreams of our incredible athletes, and to change attitudes towards people with intellectual disabilities within the gaming community, all while remembering that gaming can be fun and inclusive for all.”

Rezilion raises $30M help security operations teams with tools to automate their busywork

Security operations teams face a daunting task these days, fending off malicious hackers and their increasingly sophisticated approaches to cracking into networks. That also represents a gap in the market: building tools to help those security teams do their jobs. Today, an Israeli startup called Rezilion that is doing just that — building automation tools for DevSecOps, the area of IT that addresses the needs of security teams and the technical work that they need to do in their jobs — is announcing $30 million in funding.

Guggenheim Investments is leading the round with JPV and Kindred Capital also contributing. Rezilion said that unnamed executives from Google, Microsoft, CrowdStrike, IBM, Cisco, PayPal, JP Morgan Chase, Nasdaq, eBay, Symantec, RedHat, RSA and Tenable are also in the round. Previously, the company had raised $8 million.

Rezilion’s funding is coming on the back of strong initial growth for the startup in its first two years of operations.

Its customer base is made up of some of the world’s biggest companies, including two of the “Fortune 10” (the top 10 of the Fortune 500). CEO Liran Tancman, who co-founded Rezilion with CTO Shlomi Boutnaru, said that one of those two is one of the world’s biggest software companies, and the other is a major connected device vendor, but he declined to say which. (For the record, the top 10 includes Amazon, Apple, Alphabet/Google, Walmart and CVS.)

Tancman and Boutnaru had previously co-founded another security startup, CyActive, which was acquired by PayPal in 2015; the pair worked there together until leaving to start Rezilion.

There are a lot of tools out in the market now to help automate different aspects of developer and security operations. Rezilion focuses on a specific part of DevSecOps: large businesses have over the years put in place a lot of processes that they need to follow to try to triage and make the most thorough efforts possible to detect security threats. Today, that might involve inspecting every single suspicious piece of activity to determine what the implications might be.

The problem is that with the volume of information coming in, taking the time to inspect and understand each piece of suspicious activity can put enormous strain on an organization: it’s time-consuming, and as it turns out, not the best use of that time because of the signal to noise ratio involved. Typically, each vulnerability can take 6-9 hours to properly investigate, Tancman said. “But usually about 70-80% of them are not exploitable,” meaning they may be bad for some, but not for this particular organization and the code it’s using today. That represents a very inefficient use of the security team’s time and energy.

“Eight of out ten patches tend to be a waste of time,” Tancman said of the approach that is typically made today. He believes that as its AI continues to grow and its knowledge and solution becomes more sophisticated, “it might soon be 9 out of 10.”

Rezilion has built a taxonomy and an AI-based system that essentially does that inspection work as a human would do: it spots any new, or suspicious, code, figures out what it is trying to do, and runs it against a company’s existing code and systems to see how and if it might actually be a threat to it or create further problems down the line. If it’s all good it essentially whitelists the code. If not it flags it to the team.

The stickiness of the product has come out of how Tancman and Boutnaru understand large enterprises, especially those heavy with technology stacks, operate these days in what has become a very challenging environment for cybersecurity teams.

“They are using us to accelerate their delivery processes while staying safe,” Tancman said. “They have strict compliance departments and have to adhere to certain standards,” in terms of the protocols they take around security work, he added. “They want to leverage DevOps to release that.” He said Rezilion has generally won over customers in large part for simply understanding that culture and process and helping them work better within that. “Companies become users of our product because we showed them that, at a fraction of the effort, they can be more secure.” This has special resonance in the world of tech, although financial services and others that essentially leverage technology as a significant foundation for how they operate, are also among the startup’s user base.

Down the line, Rezilion plans to add in remediation and mitigation into the mix to further extend what it can do with its automation tools, which is part of where the funding will be going, too, Boutnaru said. But he doesn’t believe it will ever replace the human in the equation.

“It will just focus them on the places where you need more human thinking,” he said. “We’re just removing the need for tedious work.”

In that grand tradition of enterprise automation, then, it will be interesting to watch which other automation-centric platforms might make a move into security alongside the other automation they are building. For now, Rezilion is forging out an interesting enough area for itself to get investors interested.

“Rezilion’s product suite is a game changer for security teams,” said Rusty Parks, senior MD of Guggenheim Investments, in a statement. “It creates a win-win, allowing companies to speed innovative products and features to market while enhancing their security posture. We believe Rezilion has created a truly compelling value proposition for security teams, one that greatly increases return on time while thoroughly protecting one’s core infrastructure.”

Microsoft acquires TakeLessons, an online and in-person tutoring platform, to ramp up its edtech play

Microsoft said in January this year that Teams, its online collaboration platform, was being used by over 100 million students — boosted in no small part by the Covid-19 pandemic and many schools going partly or fully remote. Now, it’s made another acquisition to continue expanding its position in the education market.

The company has acquired TakeLessons, a platform for students to connect with individual tutors in areas like music lessons, language learning, academic subjects and professional training or hobbies, and for tutors to book and organize the lessons they give, both online and in person.

Terms of the deal have not been disclosed but we are trying to find out. San Diego-based TakeLessons had raised at least $20 million from a range of VCs and individuals that included LightBank, Uncork Capital, Crosslink Capital and others. TakeLessons posted a short note in the form of a Q&A confirming the deal on its site. The note said that it will continue operating business as usual for the time being, with the intention of taking its platform to a wider global audience.

It’s not clear how many active students and tutors TakeLessons had on its platform at the time of acquisition, but for some context, another big player in the area of online one-to-one tutoring, GoStudent out of Europe, raised $244 million in funding earlier this year that valued it at $1.7 billion. Others in online tutoring like Brainly are also seeing valuations in the hundreds of millions.

Given the relatively modest amount raised by TakeLessons, it’s likely this was a much lower valuation. Yet the acquisition is still one that gives Microsoft the infrastructure and beginnings of setting up a much more aggressive play in mass-market online education, potentially to go head-to-head with these and other big platforms.

TakeLessons today offers instruction in a wide variety of areas, including music lessons (which was where it had gotten its start) through to languages, academic subjects and test prep, computer skills, crafts and more. It has been around since 2006 and got its start first as a platform for people to connect with tutors local to them for in-person lessons, before progressing into online lessons to complement that business.

The pandemic has precipitated a shift to a much bigger wave of the latter, with online tutoring apparently the majority of what is offered on TakeLessons platform today. These lessons continue to be offered on a one-on-one basis, but additionally students can take part in group lessons online via the startup’s Live platform.

The shift to online education that we’ve seen take hold around the world is likely why Microsoft sees a big opportunity here.

On the heels of many schools around the world scrambling for better online learning platforms to manage remote learning during lockdowns and quarantines, educators, families and students have been using (and paying for) a variety of different tools. Within that, Microsoft has been pushing hard to make Teams a leader in that area.

That was built on years of traction already in the market (and a number of other investments and acquisitions that Microsoft has made over the years).

But it also comes amid a new insurgence of competition arising from the current state of affairs. That includes adoption of Google Classroom, as well as a wide variety of more targeted point solutions for specific purposes like video lessons (Zoom figures big here); apps for lesson planning and homework planning; online on-demand tutorials in specific areas like math or languages or science to bolster in-class learning experiences; and more.

The Microsoft way is to bring as many features into a platform as possible to make it more sticky and less likely that users will turn to other apps, providing more value for money around the Microsoft offer. In other words, I’d expect to see Microsoft do more deals and launch more features to cover all of the services that it doesn’t already provide through its educational tools.

(Case in point: my children’s school uses Teams for online lessons, in part because it already uses Outlook for its email system. Now, the school has announced that it will no longer be using a different third-party app for homework planning; instead, teachers will be assigning homework and managing it via Teams. For a cash-strapped state school like ours, it makes sense that it would opt out of paying for two apps when it can get the same features in just one of them. The kids are not happy about this! This is what Microsoft leverages with its platform play.)

NextLessons is somewhat adjacent to that school-focused education strategy. Yes, there will be a big audience of students and their families who might represent a good cross-selling opportunity for tutoring, but NextLessons represents also a more mass-market offering, open to anyone who might want to learn something, not just those already using Microsoft Education products.

So the interest here is likely not just students who want to supplement their online learning — there is a big audience for online tutoring — but any lifelong learner, as well as the many consumers or professionals out there who have gotten interested in learning something new, especially in the last 1.5 years of spending more time alone and/or at home.

And with that, there are other potential opportunities for NextLessons in the Microsoft universe.

Just yesterday, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Ryan Roslansky, the CEO of Microsoft-owned LinkedIn, held an online presentation about what work will look like in the future. Education — specifically professional development — figured strongly in that discussion, with the conversation coinciding with LinkedIn launching a new Learning Hub.

LinkedIn has not only been working for years on building out its education business, but it has also long been looking for a more sticky inroad into doing more with video on its platform.

Something like NextLessons could, interestingly, kill those two birds with one stone. While LinkedIn’s education content up to now has not been something specifically tied to “live” online lessons, you could imagine a bridge between Microsoft’s latest acquisition and what LinkedIn might consider next, too.

Investors are doubling down on Southeast Asia’s digital economy

Southeast Asian tech companies are drawing the attention of investors around the world. In 2020, startups in the region raised over $8.2 billion, about four times more than they did in 2015. This trend continued in 2021, with regional M&A hitting a record high of $124.8 billion in the first half of 2021, up 83% from a year earlier.

This begs the question: Who exactly is investing in Southeast Asia?

Let’s explore the three key types of investors pouring money into and driving the growth of Southeast Asia’s tech ecosystem.

Over 229 family offices have been registered in Singapore since 2020, with total assets under management of an estimated $20 billion.

Big tech

Southeast Asia has become an attractive market for U.S. and Chinese tech firms. Internet penetration here stands at 70%, higher than the global average, and digital adoption in the region remains nascent — it wasn’t until the pandemic that adoption of digital services such as e-wallets and online shopping took off.

China’s tech giants Tencent and Alibaba were among the first to support early e-commerce growth in Southeast Asia with investments in Sea Limited and Lazada, and have since expanded their footprint into other internet verticals. Alibaba has backed Akulaku, M-Pay (eMonkey), DANA, Wave Money and Mynt (GCash), while Tencent has invested in Voyager Innovations (PayMaya), SHAREit, iflix, Ookbee and Sanook.

U.S. tech firms have also recently entered the scene. In June 2020, Gojek closed a $3 billion Series F round from Google, Facebook, Tencent and Visa. Google, together with Singapore’s Temasek Holdings, invested some $350 million in Tokopedia in October. Meanwhile, Microsoft invested an undisclosed amount in Grab in 2018 and has invested $100 million in Indonesian e-commerce firm Bukalapak.

Venture capitalists

In Q1 2021, Southeast Asian startups raised $6 billion, according to DealStreetAsia, positioning 2021 as another record year for VC investment in the region.

The region is also rising in prominence as a destination for investment capital relative to the rest of Asia. Regional VC investment grew 5.2 times to $8.2 billion in 2020 from $1.6 billion in 2015, as we can see in the table below.

Venture capital investment by region 2015-2020

Image Credits: Jungle VC

Southeast Asia also has many opportunities for VC investment relative to its market size. From 2015 to 2020, China saw VC investment of nearly $300 per person; for Southeast Asia — despite a recent investment boom — this metric sits at just $47.50 per person, or just a sixth of that in China. This implies a substantial opportunity for investments to develop the region’s digital economy.

The region’s rising population and growth prospects are higher due to China’s population growth challenges, alongside the latter’s higher digital economy market saturation and maturity.

Microsoft confirms investment in India’s Oyo in a multi-year strategic deal to co-develop travel and hospitality products

Microsoft has entered a “multi-year strategic alliance” with Oyo to work with the Indian startup to co-develop “next-generation” travel and hospitality products and tech.

Thursday’s announcement confirms a late July TechCrunch report. TechCrunch had reported that Microsoft was in talks to invest in Oyo and was exploring ways to provide its technologies to the Indian startup, which is one of the most valuable in the South Asian market.

In a press statement, Microsoft confirmed that it has also made a strategic equity investment in Oyo, but didn’t disclose the amount. A regulatory filing showed last month that the Windows-maker had invested $5 million in the Indian startup. The investment valued Oyo at $9.6 billion.

Oyo will switch to Microsoft Azure for its cloud-based needs and co-develop solutions with the American giant to “benefit patrons who operate small and medium hotel and home storefronts,” the firms said. “As part of this alliance, OYO will develop Smart Room experiences for travelers on the OYO platform, such as premium and customized in-room experiences for its guests. Using Microsoft’s Azure IoT, the experience will include self-check-in supported by a digital register of arrivals and departures and self-Know Your Customer (KYC) along with IoT-managed smart locks and virtual assistance,” the firms said.

“Combining the power of Azure with the tech and product stack developed by OYO, we are looking forward to accelerating innovation in travel and hospitality,” said Anant Maheshwari, President of Microsoft India, in a statement. “It is inspiring to see how the Microsoft cloud is empowering digital natives like OYO to accelerate industry transformation and innovations, turning the challenges of a post-pandemic era into opportunities for the future.”

Oyo has emerged as one of the largest hotel chains in the world, with presence in India, Southeast Asia, Europe and the U.S. But some of its missteps in its pursuit of aggressive expansion — “toxic culture,” lapse in governance and relationship with many hotel owners — have scarred its growth.

Just as the startup was pledging to improve its relationship with hotel owners, the pandemic arrived. In response, Oyo slowed its growth and laid off thousands of employees globally earlier this year as nations across the world enforced lockdowns.

The pandemic hit the seven-year-old startup like a “cyclone,” CEO Ritesh Agarwal told Bloomberg TV in July. “We built something for so many years and it took just 30 days for it drop by over 60%,” he said, adding that the firm had not made any decision on exploring the public markets.

Airbnb-backed Oyo had between $780 million to $800 million in its bank, Agarwal said at a virtual conference recently, and had pared its “monthly burn” across all businesses to $4 million to $5 million. (The startup had about $1 billion in the bank in December 2020.)

In July — after Agarwal’s remarks at the aforementioned conference — Oyo said it had raised $660 million in debt. That debt was used to pay off the previous debt, according to a person familiar with the matter.

As for Microsoft, Oyo is the latest of several strategic investments it has made in the country. The firm has backed a handful of startups in the South Asian market, including news aggregator and short-video platform DailyHunt, e-commerce giant Flipkart, and logistics SaaS firm FarEye.