CBPO

Tag: valuation

Airtable’s Howie Liu has no interest in exiting, even as the company’s valuation soars

September 14, 2020 No Comments

In the middle of a pandemic, Airtable, the low-code startup, has actually had an excellent year. Just the other day, the company announced it had raised $ 185 million on a whopping $ 2.585 billion valuation. It also announced some new features that take it from the realm of pure no-code, and deeper into low-code territory, which allows users to extend the product in new ways.

Airtable CEO and co-founder Howie Liu was a guest today at TechCrunch Disrupt, where he was interviewed by TechCrunch News Editor Frederic Lardinois.

Liu said that the original vision that has stayed pretty steady since the company launched in 2013 was to democratize software creation. “We believe that more people in the world should become software builders, not just software users, and pretty much the whole time that we’ve been working on this company we’ve been charting our course towards that end goal,” he said.

But something changed recently, where Liu saw people who needed to do a bit more with the tool than that original vision allowed.

“So, the biggest shift that’s happening today with our fundraise and our launch announcement is that we’re going from being a no-code product, a purely no-code solution where you don’t have to use code, but neither can you use code to extend the product to now being a low-code solution, and one that also has a lot more extensibility with other features like automation, allowing people to build logic into Airtable without any technical knowledge,” he said.

In addition, the company, with 200,00 customers, has created a marketplace where users can share applications they’ve built. As the pandemic has taken hold, Liu says that he’s seen a shift in the types of deals he’s been seeing. That’s partly due to small businesses, which were once his company’s bread and butter, suffering more economic pain as a result of COVID.

But he has seen larger enterprise customers fill the void, and it’s not too big a stretch to think that the new extensibility features could be a nod to these more lucrative customers, who may require a bit more power than a pure no-code solution would provide.

“On the enterprise side of our business we’ve seen, for instance this summer, a 5x increase in enterprise deal closing velocity from the prior summer period, and this incredible appetite from enterprise signings with dozens of six figure deals, some seven figure deals and thousands of new paid customers overall,” he said.

In spite of this great success, the upward trend of the business and the fat valuation, Liu was in no mood to talk about an IPO. In his view, there is plenty of time for that, and in spite of being a seven-year-old company with great momentum, he says he’s simply not thinking about it.

Nor did he express any interest in being acquired, and he says that his investors weren’t putting any pressure on him to exit.

“It’s always been about finding investors who are really committed and aligned to the long term goals and approach that we have to this business that matters more to us than the actual valuation numbers or any other kind of technical aspects of the round,” he said.


Startups – TechCrunch


Rippling nabs $145M at a $1.35B valuation to build out its all-in-one platform for employee data

August 4, 2020 No Comments

Big news today in the world of enterprise IT startups. Rippling, the startup founded by Parker Conrad to take on the ambitious challenge of building a platform to manage all aspects of employee data, from payroll and benefits through to device management, has closed $ 145 million in funding — a monster Series B that catapults the company to a valuation of $ 1.35 billion.

Parker Conrad, the CEO who co-founded the company with Prasanna Sankar (the CTO), said in an interview that the plan will be to use the money to continue its own in-house product development (that is, bringing more tools into the Rippling mix organically, not by way of acquisition) but also to have it just in case, given everything else going on at the moment.

“We will double down on R&D but to be honest we’re trying not to change the formula too much,” Conrad said. “We want to have that discipline. This fundraising was opportunistic amid the larger macroeconomic risk at the moment. I was working at startups in 2008-2009 and the funding markets are strong right now, all things considered, and so we wanted to make sure we had the stockpile we needed in case things went bad.”

This latest round included Greenoaks Capital, Coatue Management, and Bedrock Capital, as well as existing investors including Kleiner Perkins, Initialized Capital, and Y Combinator. Founders Fund partner Napoleon Ta will join Rippling’s board of directors. Founders Fund had also backed Zenefits when Parker was at the helm, and from what we understand this round was oversubscribed — also a big feat in the current market, working against a lot of factors including a wobbling economy.

It is a big leap for the company: it was just a little over a year ago that it raised a Series A of $ 45 million at a valuation of $ 270 million.

This latest round is notable for a few reasons.

First is the business itself. HR and employee management software are two major areas of IT that have faced a lot of fragmentation over the years, with many businesses opting for a cocktail of services covering disparate areas like employee onboarding, payroll, benefits, device management, app provisioning and permissions and more. That’s been even more the case among smaller organizations in the 2-1,000 employee range that Rippling targets.

Rippling is approaching that bigger challenge as one that can be tackled by a single platform — the theory being that managing HR employee data is essentially part and parcel of good management of IT data permissions and device provision. This funding is a signal of how both investors and customers are buying into Rippling and its approach, even if right now the majority of customers don’t onboard with the full suite of services. (Some 75% are usually signing up with HR products, Conrad noted.)

“We like to think of ourselves as a Salesforce for employee data,” Conrad said, “and by that, we think that employee data is more than just HR. We want to manage access to all of your third party business apps, your computer and other devices. It’s when you combine all that that you can manage employees well.”

The company is gradually adding in more tools. Most recently, it’s been launching new tools to help with job costing, helping companies track where employees are spending time when working on different projects, a tool critical for IT, accounting and other companies where employees work across a number of clients.

Second is the founder. You might recall that Conrad was ousted from his previous company, Zenefits (taking on a related, but smaller, challenge in payroll and benefits), over a controversy linked to compliance issues and also misleading investors. But if Zenefits was finished with Conrad, Conrad was not finished with Zenefits — or at least the problem it was tackling. This funding is a testament to how investors are putting a big bet on Conrad himself, who says that a lot of what he has been building at Rippling was what he would have done at Zenefits if he’d stayed there.

“Once you’re lucky, twice you’re good,” said Mamoon Hamid, a partner at Kleiner Perkins, in a separate statement. “Parker is a true product visionary, and he and his team are solving an enormous pain point for businesses everywhere. We’re thrilled to continue partnering with Rippling as demand for their platform dramatically increases in this era of remote work.”

“Rippling is not just a superior payroll company, but something much broader: they’ve built the system of record for all employee data, creating an entirely new software category. Rippling’s massive market opportunity is to streamline the employee lifecycle, from software to payroll to benefits, and fundamentally improve the way businesses hire and manage their employees,” said Ta in a statement.

Third is the context in which this round is coming. We’re in the midst of an economic downturn caused in part by a global health pandemic, and that’s leading to a lot of companies curtailing budgets, reducing headcount, and potentially shutting down altogether. Ironically, that force is also propelling companies like Rippling full steam ahead.

Its SaaS model — priced at a flat $ 8 per person per month — not only fits with how many businesses are being run at the moment (primarily remotely), but Rippling’s purpose is specifically geared to helping businesses both onboard and offboard customers more efficiently, the kind of software that companies need to have in place to fit how they are working right now.

Updated with commentary from an interview with Conrad.


Enterprise – TechCrunch


Fivetran snares $100M Series C on $1.2B valuation for data connectivity solution

June 30, 2020 No Comments

A big problem for companies these days is finding ways to connect to various data sources to their data repositories, and Fivetran is a startup with a solution to solve that very problem. No surprise then that even during a pandemic, the company announced today that it has raised $ 100 million Series C on a $ 1.2 billion valuation.

The company didn’t mess around with top flight firms Andreessen Horowitz and General Catalyst leading the investment with participation from existing investors CEAS Investments and Matrix Partners. Today’s money brings the total raised so far to $ 163 million, according to the company.

Martin Cassado from a16z described the company succinctly in a blog post he wrote after its $ 44 million Series B in September 2019, which his firm also participated in. “Fivetran is a SaaS service that connects to the critical data sources in an organization, pulls and processes all the data, and then dumps it into a warehouse (e.g., Snowflake, BigQuery or RedShift) for SQL access and further transformations, if needed. If data is the new oil, then Fivetran is the pipes that get it from the source to the refinery,” he wrote.

Writing in a blog post today announcing the new funding, CEO George Fraser added that in spite of current conditions, the company has continued to add customers. “Despite recent economic uncertainty, Fivetran has continued to grow rapidly as customers see the opportunity to reduce their total cost of ownership by adopting our product in place of highly customized, in-house ETL pipelines that require constant maintenance,” he wrote.

In fact, the company reports 75% customer growth over the prior 12 months. It now has over 1100 customers, which is a pretty good benchmark for a Series C company. Customers include Databricks, DocuSign, Forever 21, Square, Udacity and Urban Outfitters, crossing a variety of verticals.

Fivetran hopes to continue to build new data connectors as it expands the reach of its product and to push into new markets, even in the midst of today’s economic climate. With $ 100 million in the bank, it should have enough runway to ride this out, while expanding where it makes sense.


Enterprise – TechCrunch


Notion hits $2 billion valuation in new raise

April 2, 2020 No Comments

Notion, a startup that operates a workplace productivity platform, has raised $ 50 million from Index Ventures and other investors at a $ 2 billion valuation, the company told The New York Times.

A Notion spokesperson confirmed the raise and valuation to TechCrunch.

As startups across the board begin looking at layoffs or raising at less than favorable terms, Notion had been in the unusual position of turning away interested investors for years. With this raise, the firm has amassed $ 67 million in total funding, the company says. Their last raise of $ 10M valued them at $ 800 million.

The company’s highly customizable note-taking app allows enterprise customers to create linked networks of databases and documents.

In November, COO Akshay Kothari told TechCrunch that the company was hoping not to raise outside funding again, “So far one of the things we’ve found is that we haven’t really been constrained by money. We’ve had opportunities to raise a lot more, but we’ve never felt like if we had more money we could grow faster.”

What’s changed? Just the global economy. The firm told the Times that this new raise should put them in a more stable position and leave them with enough funding for “at least” 10 years. That said, the startup’s team has expanded rapidly in recent months, growing 40% since November. Their user numbers appear to also be growing rapidly, with Kothari telling the Times that total users have “nearly quadrupled” from one million, a figure the company released in early 2019.

Notion offers free and paid accounts, ranging from $ 5 to $ 25 billed monthly.


Startups – TechCrunch


Snyk snags $150M investment as its valuation surpasses $1B

January 21, 2020 No Comments

Snyk, the company that wants to help developers secure their code as part of the development process, announced a $ 150 million investment today. The company indicated the investment brings its valuation to over $ 1 billion (although it did not share the exact figure).

Today’s round was led by Stripes, a New York City investment firm with help from Coatue, Tiger Global, BoldStart,Trend Forward, Amity and Salesforce Ventures. The company reports it has now raised over $ 250 million.

The idea behind Snyk is to fit security firmly in the development process. Rather than offloading it to a separate team, something that can slow down a continuous development environment, Snyk builds in security as part of the code commit.

The company offers an open source tool that helps developers find open source vulnerabilities when they commit their code to GitHub, Bitbucket, GitLab or any CI/CD tool. It has built up a community of over 400,000 developers with this approach.

Snyk makes money with a container security product, and by making the underlying vulnerability database they use in the open source product available to companies as a commercial product.

CEO Peter McKay, who came on board last year as the company was making a move to expand into the enterprise, says the open source product drives the revenue-producing products and helped attract this kind of investment. “Getting to [today’s] funding round was the momentum in the open source model from the community to freemium to [land] and expand — and that’s where we are today,” he told TechCrunch.

He said that the company wasn’t looking for this money, but investors came knocking and gave them a good offer, based on Snyk’s growing market momentum. “Investors said we want to take advantage of the market, and we want to make sure you can invest the way you want to invest and take advantage of what we all believe is this very large opportunity,” McKay said.

In fact, the company has been raising money at a rapid clip since it came out of the gate in 2016 with a $ 3 million seed round. A $ 7 million Series A and $ 22 million Series B followed in 2018 with a $ 70 million Series C last fall.

The company reports over 4X revenue growth in 2019 (without giving exact revenue figures), and some major customer wins including the likes of Google, Intuit, Nordstrom and Salesforce. It’s worth noting that Salesforce thought enough of the company that it also invested in this round through its Salesforce Ventures investment arm.


Enterprise – TechCrunch


SmartNews raises $92M at a $1.2B valuation

November 19, 2019 No Comments

Looks like there’s still money to be made in news aggregation — at least according to the investors backing the news app SmartNews.

The company is announcing the close of a $ 92 million round of funding at a valuation of $ 1.2 billion. The funding was led by Japan Post Capital Co. and ACA Investments, with participation from Globis Capital Partners Co., Dentsu and D.A. Consortium.

This includes the $ 28 million that SmartNews announced in August, and it brings the startup’s total funding to $ 182 million.

News aggregation apps seemed to everywhere a few years ago, and while they haven’t exactly disappeared, they didn’t turn into unicorns, with many of them acquired or shut down.

However, Vice President of U.S. Marketing Fabien-Pierre Nicolas told me that SmartNews has a few unique advantages. For one thing, it uses machine learning rather than human curation to “thoughtfully generate a news discovery experience” that’s personalized to each user.

SmartNews team

Secondly, he said that many news aggregators treat the publishers creating the content that they rely on “like a commodity,” whereas SmartNews treats them as “true partners.” For example, it’s working with select publishers like Business Insider, Bloomberg, BuzzFeed and Reuters on a program called SmartView First, where articles are presented in a custom format that gives publishers more revenue opportunities and better analytics.

Lastly, he said SmartNews has focused on only two key markets — Japan (where the company started) and the United States. And it sounds like one of the main goals with the new funding is to continue growing in the United States.

Nicolas also suggested that there are some broader trends that SmartNews is taking advantage of, like the fact that the shift to mobile news consumption is still underway, particularly for older readers.

And then there’s “the loss of trust in some news sources — political news, especially,” which makes SmartNews’ curated approach seem more valuable. (It also recently launched a News From All Sides feature to show coverage from different political perspectives.)

As for monetization, he said SmartNews remains focused on advertising.

Yes, there’s a growing interest in subscriptions and paywalls, which is also reflected in subscription news aggregators like Apple’s News+, but Nicolas said, “Eighty-five to ninety percent of Americans are not subscribing to news media. We believe those 85 to 90 percent have a right to have quality information as well.”

Update: Also worth noting is that SensorTower says SmartNews has been downloaded 45 million times since the beginning of 2014, with 11 million of those downloads in 2019.

Mobile – TechCrunch


Pendo scores $100M Series E investment on $1 billion valuation

October 21, 2019 No Comments

Pendo, the late-stage startup that helps companies understand how customers are interacting with their apps, announced a $ 100 million Series E investment today on a valuation of $ 1 billion.

The round was led by Sapphire Ventures . Also participating were new investors General Atlantic and Tiger Global, and existing investors Battery Ventures, Meritech Capital, FirstMark, Geodesic Capital and Cross Creek. Pendo has now raised $ 206 million, according to the company.

Company CEO and co-founder Todd Olson says that one of the reasons they need so much money is they are defining a market, and the potential is quite large. “Honestly, we need to help realize the total market opportunity. I think what’s exciting about what we’ve seen in six years is that this problem of improving digital experiences is something that’s becoming top of mind for all businesses,” Olson said.

The company integrates with customer apps, capturing user behavior and feeding data back to product teams to help prioritize features and improve the user experience. In addition, the product provides ways to help those users either by walking them through different features, pointing out updates and new features or providing other notes. Developers can also ask for feedback to get direct input from users.

Olson says early on its customers were mostly other technology companies, but over time they have expanded into lots of other verticals, including insurance, financial services and retail, and these companies are seeing digital experience as increasingly important. “A lot of this money is going to help grow our go-to-market teams and our product teams to make sure we’re getting our message out there, and we’re helping companies deal with this transformation,” he says. Today, the company has more than 1,200 customers.

While he wouldn’t commit to going public, he did say it’s something the executive team certainly thinks about, and it has started to put the structure in place to prepare should that time ever come. “This is certainly an option that we are considering, and we’re looking at ways in which to put us in a position to be able to do so, if and when the markets are good and we decide that’s the course we want to take.”


Enterprise – TechCrunch


Pendo scores $100M Series E investment on $1 billion valuation

October 21, 2019 No Comments

Pendo, the late-stage startup that helps companies understand how customers are interacting with their apps, announced a $ 100 million Series E investment today on a valuation of $ 1 billion.

The round was led by Sapphire Ventures . Also participating were new investors General Atlantic and Tiger Global, and existing investors Battery Ventures, Meritech Capital, FirstMark, Geodesic Capital and Cross Creek. Pendo has now raised $ 206 million, according to the company.

Company CEO and co-founder Todd Olson says that one of the reasons they need so much money is they are defining a market, and the potential is quite large. “Honestly, we need to help realize the total market opportunity. I think what’s exciting about what we’ve seen in six years is that this problem of improving digital experiences is something that’s becoming top of mind for all businesses,” Olson said.

The company integrates with customer apps, capturing user behavior and feeding data back to product teams to help prioritize features and improve the user experience. In addition, the product provides ways to help those users either by walking them through different features, pointing out updates and new features or providing other notes. Developers can also ask for feedback to get direct input from users.

Olson says early on its customers were mostly other technology companies, but over time they have expanded into lots of other verticals, including insurance, financial services and retail, and these companies are seeing digital experience as increasingly important. “A lot of this money is going to help grow our go-to-market teams and our product teams to make sure we’re getting our message out there, and we’re helping companies deal with this transformation,” he says. Today, the company has more than 1,200 customers.

While he wouldn’t commit to going public, he did say it’s something the executive team certainly thinks about, and it has started to put the structure in place to prepare should that time ever come. “This is certainly an option that we are considering, and we’re looking at ways in which to put us in a position to be able to do so, if and when the markets are good and we decide that’s the course we want to take.”


Enterprise – TechCrunch


UiPath nabs $568M at a $7B valuation to bring robotic process automation to the front office

April 30, 2019 No Comments

Companies are on the hunt for ways to reduce the time and money it costs their employees to perform repetitive tasks, so today a startup that has built a business to capitalize on this is announcing a huge round of funding to double down on the opportunity.

UiPath — a robotic process automation startup originally founded in Romania that uses artificial intelligence and sophisticated scripts to build software to run these tasks — today confirmed that it has closed a Series D round of $ 568 million at a post-money valuation of $ 7 billion.

From what we understand, the startup is “close to profitability” and is going to keep growing as a private company. Then, an IPO within the next 12-24 months is the “medium term” plan.

“We are at the tipping point. Business leaders everywhere are augmenting their workforces with software robots, rapidly accelerating the digital transformation of their entire business and freeing employees to spend time on more impactful work,” said Daniel Dines, UiPath co-founder and CEO, in a statement. “UiPath is leading this workforce revolution, driven by our core determination to democratize RPA and deliver on our vision of a robot helping every person.”

This latest round of funding is being led by Coatue, with participation from Dragoneer, Wellington, Sands Capital, and funds and accounts advised by T. Rowe Price Associates, Accel, Alphabet’s CapitalG, Sequoia, IVP and Madrona Venture Group.

CFO Marie Myers said in an interview in London that the plan will be to use this funding to expand UiPath’s focus into more front-office and customer-facing areas, such as customer support and sales.

“We want to move into automation into new levels,” she said. “We’re advancing quickly into AI and the cloud, with plans to launch a new AI product in the second half of the year that we believe will demystify it for our users.” The product, she added, will be focused around “drag and drop” architecture and will work both for attended and unattended bots — that is, those that work as assistants to humans, and those that work completely on their own. “Robotics has moved out of the back office and into the front office, and the time is right to move into intelligent automation.”

Today’s news confirms Kate’s report from last month noting that the round was in progress: in the end, the amount UiPath raised was higher than the target amount we’d heard ($ 400 million), with the valuation on the more “conservative” side (we’d said the valuation would be higher than $ 7 billion).

“Conservative” is a relative term here. The company has been on a funding tear in the last year, raising $ 418 million ($ 153 million at Series A and $ 265 million at Series B) in the space of 12 months, and seeing its valuation go from a modest $ 110 million in April 2017 to $ 7 billion today, just two years later.

Up to now, UiPath has focused on internal and back-office tasks in areas like accounting, human resources paperwork, and claims processing — a booming business that has seen UiPath expand its annual run rate to more than $ 200 million (versus $ 150 million six months ago) and its customer base to more than 400,000 people.

Customers today include American Fidelity, BankUnited, CWT (formerly known as Carlson Wagonlit Travel), Duracell, Google, Japan Exchange Group (JPX), LogMeIn, McDonalds, NHS Shared Business Services, Nippon Life Insurance Company, NTT Communications, Orange, Ricoh Company, Ltd., Rogers Communications, Shinsei Bank, Quest Diagnostics, Uber, the US Navy, Voya Financial, Virgin Media, and World Fuel Services.

Moving into more front-office tasks is an ambitious but not surprising leap for UiPath. Looking at that customer list, it’s notable that many of these organizations have customer-facing operations, often with their own sets of repetitive processes that are ripe for improving by tapping into the many facets of AI — from computer vision to natural language processing and voice recognition, through to machine learning — alongside other technology.

It also begs the question of what UiPath might look to tackle next. Having customer-facing tools and services is one short leap from building consumer services, an area where the likes of Amazon, Google, Apple and Microsoft are all pushing hard with devices and personal assistant services. (That would indeed open up the competitive landscape quite a lot for UiPath, beyond the list of RPA companies like AutomationAnywhere, Kofax and Blue Prism who are its competitors today.)

Robotics has been given a somewhat bad rap in the world of work. Critics worry that they are “taking over all the jobs“, removing humans and their own need to be industrious from the equation; and in the worst-case scenarios, the work of a robot lacks the nuance and sophsitication you get from the human touch.

UiPath and the bigger area of RPA are interesting in this regard. The aim (the stated aim, at least) isn’t to replace people, but to take tasks out of their hands to make it easier for them to focus on the non-repetitive work that “robots” — and in the case of UiPath, software scripts and robots — cannot do.

Indeed, that “future of work” angle is precisely what has attracted investors.

“UiPath is enabling the critical capabilities necessary to advance how companies perform and how employees better spend their time,” said Greg Dunham, vice president at T. Rowe Price Associates, Inc., in a statement. “The industry has achieved rapid growth in such a short time, with UiPath at the head of it, largely due to the fact that RPA is becoming recognized as the paradigm shift needed to drive digital transformation through virtually every single industry in the world.”

As we’ve written before, the company has has been a big hit with investors because of the rapid traction it has seen with enterprise customers.

There is an interesting side story to the funding that speaks to that traction: Myers, the CFO, came to UiPath by way of one of those engagement. She had been a senior finance executive with HP tasked with figuring out how to make some of its accounting more efficient. She issued an RFP for the work, and the only company she thought really addressed the task with a truly tech-first solution, at a very competitive price, was an unlikely startup out of Romania, which turned out to be UiPath. She became one of the company’s first customers, and eventually Dines offered her a job to help build his company to the next level, which she leaped to take.

“UiPath is improving business performance, efficiency and operation in a way we’ve never seen before,” said Philippe Laffont, founder of Coatue Management, in a statement. “The Company’s rapid growth over the last two years is a testament to the fact that UiPath is transforming how companies manage their resources. RPA presents an enormous opportunity for companies around the world who are embracing artificial intelligence, driving a new era of productivity, efficiency and workplace satisfaction.” 


Enterprise – TechCrunch


Customer service ‘behavioral pairing’ startup Afiniti quietly raised $130M at a $1.6B valuation

October 23, 2018 No Comments

Artificial intelligence touches just about every aspect of the tech world these days, aiming to provide new ways of making old processes work better. Now, a startup that has built an AI platform that tackles the ever-present, but never-perfect, business of customer service has quietly raised a large round of funding as it gears up for its next act, an IPO. Afiniti, which uses machine learning and behavioral science to better match customers with customer service agents — “behavioral pairing” is how it describes the process — has closed a $ 130 million round of funding ($ 75 million cash, $ 60 million debt) — a Series D that Afiniti CEO Zia Chishti says values his company at $ 1.6 billion.

If you are not familiar with the name Afiniti, you might not be alone. The company has been relatively under the radar, in part because it has never made much of an effort to publicise itself, and in part because the funding that it has raised up to now has largely been from outside the hive of VCs that swarm around many other startup deals that push those startups into the limelight.

At the same time, its backers make for a pretty illustrious list. This latest round includes former Verizon CEO Ivan SeidenbergFred Ryan, the CEO and publisher of the Washington Post; and investors Global Asset ManagementThe Resource Group (which Chishti helped found), Zeke Capitalas well as unnamed Australian investors.

The previous Series C round of $ 26.5 million, also has an interesting list of backers and also was not widely reported. They included McKinsey & Company, Elisabeth Murdoch, former Thomson Reuters CEO Tom Glocer, and former BP CEO John Browne, alongside Global Asset Management, The Resource Group, Seidenberg and Ryan.

That Series C was at a $ 100 million valuation, meaning that Afiniti’s valuation has increased more than 10 times in the last year on the back of 100 percent revenue growth each year over the last five.

That momentum led the company also to file confidentially for an IPO — although ultimately Chishti told TechCrunch that the company decided to raise privately at the potential IPO valuation since the money was easy to come by. (It’s also been one of the reasons he said he’s also rebuffed acquisitions, although at least one of the companies that’s approached him, McKinsey, now an investor.)

Now, Chishti — who is a repeat entrepreneur, with his previous company, Align Technology (which makes teeth alignment alternatives to braces), now at a $ 24 billion market cap — said that Afiniti has started to tip into profitability, so it seems the prospect of an IPO might be back on the table. That is possibly one reason that the company has started to speak to the press more and to make itself more visible.

Chishti and Afiniti are based out of the US, but it has roots into a range of local businesses globally in part by way of its well-connected team of advisors and local leaders. Among them, Princess Beatrice (or Beatrice York), currently 8th in line to the throne to succeed Queen Elizabeth, is the company’s vice president of partnerships. Alonso Aznar, the son of the former prime minister of Spain, runs Afiniti’s operations in Madrid.

The company itself sits in the general area of CRM, and specifically among that wave of startups that are trying to build tools using AI and other new technology to improve on the old ways of getting things done (it’s not alone: just today we noted that People.ai raised $ 30 million for its own AI-based CRM tools).

Afiniti on one hand calls itself a traditional AI company, but on the other, its CEO laments how overused and hackneyed the term has become. “AI is just a bubble,” he said in an interview. “The intensity of interest in AI is unwarranted because nothing has changed. It’s the same algorithms and software, and we just have faster hardware now.”

In actual fact, what Afiniti does is supply an AI layer to a process that is otherwise “ninety-nine percent human”, in the words of Chishti. The company uses AI to analyse sales people’s performance with specific types of calls and situations, and also to analyse customers in terms of their previous interactions with a company. It then matches up customer service reps who it believes will be most compatible with specific customers.

Afiniti’s pricing model has been an important lever for getting its foot in the door with companies. The company does not price its service per-seat or even per-month, but on a calculation between how well the company does when its call routing and running through Afiniti, versus how much is sold when it does not.

“We run systems on for 15 minutes, off for 5 minutes, and we do that perpetually,” Chishti said. It integrates with a company’s CRM, sales and telephony systems at the back end, in order both to route calls but also to track when those calls result in a sale. “We count the revenues, calculate the delta, and we get a share of that delta.”

If that sounds like a tricky measure, it doesn’t to customers, it seems. The zero-cost-to-try-it model is how it has surmounted the hurdle of getting used by a number of large, often slow-moving carriers and other large incumbents. “It means we have to continuously prove our value,” Chishti added.

As one example of how this works out, he used the example of Verizon (which is the owner of TechCrunch, by way of Oath). “Say Verizon makes $ 120 billion in revenues in a year,” he said, “and $ 30 billion of that is in phone-based sales. Afiniti would make $ 600 million on that.” Times that by dozens of customers in 22 countries, and that may point to how the company has quietly reached the valuation that it has.

Beyond its core product, the company has dozens of patents and more in the application phase in the US and other jurisdictions.


Enterprise – TechCrunch