This week marked the in-person return of TechCrunch Disrupt, with our team taking the show back into the real world after two years fully virtual. It was one helluva show, with appearances from people like tennis legend (turned investor) Serena Williams, comedian (also turned investor!) Kevin Hart, Lyft co-founder John Zimmer, and Figma CEO Dylan Field. Congrats to Minerva Lithium for winning the Startup Battlefield competition!
Google’s Ping-Pong robot: “As if it weren’t enough to have AI tanning humanity’s hide (figuratively for now) at every board game in existence,” writes Devin, “Google AI has got one working to destroy us all at Ping-Pong as well.”
Elon expects huge Twitter layoffs: Musk reportedly wants to cut up to 75% of Twitter’s workforce — roughly 5,600 jobs — if/when his acquisition of the company goes through. That number seems pretty absurd. Even much smaller layoffs have compounding effects on things like team morale and productivity — just imagine the amount of knowledge/insight that disappears if the majority of a company is let go.
Kanye West is buying Parler: Well, that’s a headline I never, ever, ever would’ve predicted. “Kanye West, the rapper who also goes by the name Ye, has reached an agreement to buy ‘uncancelable free speech platform’ Parler,” writes Manish, “in a move [the involved parties say] will help individuals express their conservative opinions freely.”
Stability AI raises $101 million: The company behind the AI-powered image generator Stable Diffusion and music-generating system Dance Diffusion has raised $101 million at a reported valuation of $1 billion.
Netflix explores cloud gaming: Just as Google gives up on its cloud gaming efforts, Netflix is diving in. At Disrupt this week, Netflix’s VP of Gaming said the company is “seriously exploring a cloud gaming offering,” saying that Google’s shuttered effort was a “technical success” with “issues with the business model.”
Here’s what’s up in TC podcast land this week:
- Equity was live and in person! After years in pandemic mode, the Equity crew (Alex, Natasha, and Mary Ann) kicked off Disrupt by recording a show face-to-face for the first time.
- On Found, Darrell and Jordan caught up with Jerrica Kirkley and Matthew Wetschler and learned the story of Plume, their telehealth company that focuses on transgender care.
What were TC+ members reading most behind the paywall? Here’s a peek:
2023 VC predictions: After a wild few years of ups and downs, what will venture capital look like in 2023? Contrary Capital founder Eric Tarczynski weighs in.
Ron explores Celonis and its $13 billion valuation: Celonis might not be a name that everyone recognizes…but the 11-year-old data-processing company has managed to raise billions of dollars in the last few years alone. What are they doing so right? Ron Miller takes us on a deep dive.
Rackspace outage ransomware
Rackspace outage ransomware
Rackspace Technology, one of the largest cloud and email hosting providers in the US, said Tuesday that a ransomware attack is to blame for a massive outage that has locked some customers out of their email inboxes since Friday.
Why this matters: The crisis offers a window into the hidden world of email hosting, where customers hand over their deepest electronic secrets to third-party cloud providers for storage and security.
- Potentially accessed data on Rackspace’s servers may include stored email messages and contact lists.
The big picture: A ransomware attack has left Rackspace scrambling to bring some of its hosting services back online and has left customers without access to their email inboxes over the weekend.
- Kevin Beaumont, a security researcher and former Microsoft employee, estimated in a recent blog post that thousands of small- to medium-sized businesses are affected by the outage. A handful of clients — ranging from investment firms to waste management facilities — are sharing on LinkedIn that their emails are still turned off because of the incident.
- Rackspace spokeswoman Natalie Silva declined to say how many customers were affected.
- Rackspace said in an SEC filing Tuesday that the attack “could result in loss of revenue” for its $30 million hosted exchange business as well as other “incremental costs.”
The details: Rackspace said Tuesday that it had hired a “leading cyber defense firm” to investigate the attack, but the company was “unable to provide a timeline for reinstatement.”
- The company has not disclosed how the hackers gained access to its systems, who is behind the attack or how much data they were able to access before deploying the ransomware.
- Rackspace has isolated the affected servers and is recommending that affected customers migrate their email servers to a Microsoft 365 cloud-based account, which “can be challenging,” the company said.
- Rackspace said customers can also set up email forwarding for new, incoming email to an external email address while they set up a Microsoft 365 account.
Between the lines: While Rackspace has promised to help customers install and configure Microsoft 365 accounts, customers have been flooding social media since the outage with lack of communication from the company and unanswered support tickets.
Rackspace outage ransomware
Privilège Ventures launches $20M fund investing in women-led startups • TechCrunch
Lugano, Switzerland-based venture capital fund Privilège Ventures just launched its fourth fund. The CHF 20 million (just over $20 million) fund is earmarked for women-led early-stage startups across Europe.
“We don’t just want to support women,” Jacqueline Ruedin Rüsch, founding general partner at Privilège Ventures said in an interview with TechCrunch. “The data shows women in the driver’s seat produce better ROI.”
The firm says that its investment thesis is based on the statistical evidence that women perform better than men in leadership roles.
“The numbers are staggering. It’s not just about being ethical and doing good: global GDP would grow 6% if rates of entrepreneurship were equal between men and women,” said Lucian Wagner, Privilège Ventures founding general partner in a press statement.
The firm’s thesis is backed up by research from Boston Consulting Group on investment and revenue data over a five-year period. The study also showed that startups founded and co-founded by women received less than half the average investments made into companies led by men, even though the female led startups generated 10% more revenue over time.
“There are very few funds worldwide dedicated to backing female founders, and despite the rapid growth in the VC industry the percentage of female or gender-diverse-led teams is falling,” said Rüsch. “I started my professional life in the banking sector in Switzerland: this was, and partially still is, a very male-driven sector. I became used to being one of the few females in big conference rooms and I didn’t even pay any more attention to it. But when I got pregnant the first reaction from my senior colleagues was, ‘When will you stop working?’ This was quite shocking, I must admit.”
As Alex reported back in July, PitchBook data suggests that the percentage of venture capital deals that included at least one woman founder fell from 19.4% to 18.2%. In Europe, the numbers are even more dire. Privilège suggests that in Europe, female founders receive barely 1% of total VC investments.
Privilège Ventures’ LPs are mainly high net-worth individuals and family offices, the firm says, and the fund aims to write 15-20 early-stage checks, with initial investments in the $250,000 range.
“I really like to invest in founders at the very beginning of their journey. Often we meet them even before they have incorporated their company and we track them, coach them and see how they take their first steps in the entrepreneurial journey. Given our focus in seed stage, we feel it is key to be as close as possible with our companies and for this reason we have a preference for our local market, Switzerland, and the surrounding European countries,” Rüsch explains. “We are not specialized in a specific sector but we have some preferences, namely in medtech, deep tech and in general for the digital economy. We like to enter as soon as possible, even pre-seed, and are happy to continue investing in the best companies up to Series A.”
The firm says it would love to see more companies trying to solve “real” problems — solutions that can save lives, preserve the planet and products that are not just “nice to have” but are “must-have.”
“Our overall portfolio already counts over 30% of companies with a female co-founder. As we aim to invest only in top-performing teams, we need to guarantee a strong deal flow and for this reason, we will look not only to Switzerland but to Europe as well with a higher focus on certain countries such as Italy, France and Germany, being closer to us,” says Rüsch, explaining why investing specifically in women continues to make sense for the fund. “Some will point to the simple fact that having different viewpoints in the room leads to more thoughtful decision-making — some will point to women having battled through a lot of hassles to get where they are. We see firsthand that women are driven to tackle problems that have been overlooked in tech — but can have a profound impact on the world. We already have startups in our portfolio with female founders or leaders working on using neurotech to improve sleep, fungicides to improve food and biomarkers to continually measure proteins and hormones to prevent and monitor health conditions, just to name a few.”
Former Googlers raise more than $90M to scale alternative asset fintech startup • TechCrunch
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Hellooooo, guess what? It’s November! We guess it was actually November yesterday, too, but we failed to notice, because LOL what even is time, amirite. Anyway, put away your Halloween costumes and start the game of How Long Can You Avoid “Little Drummer Boy”? If you do want to play that game, you’d be well advised to not click this link, although that’s a particularly tolerable version of the song, to be fair.
The TechCrunch Top 3
- And for his next act…: Manish was on a roll again today, covering some cool stories. The first is on some former Googlers rallying around their peer Caesar Sengupta, who raised $90 million to scale Arta Finance, a company that will provide individuals similar access to alternative assets that are usually reserved for the ultrawealthy.
- Betting on web3: Manish’s second story is on Microsoft, which is backing South Korea–based web3 game developer Wemade.
- Come together, right now, in the cloud: Though many companies are asking employees to come back into the office, they and others are still figuring out how to keep distributed teams working as one. Former Yext CEO Howard Lerman thinks he has created the best option with Roam, a company that came out of stealth today with $30 million in new funding, Kyle reports.
Startups and VC
New data from more than 200 startups show that CTOs earn higher salaries than their CEO counterparts. Mostly, co-founders make the same, but where there is a difference, the balance typically tips in the favor of the technical co-founder, Haje reports.
Also, we’ve got an eclectic mix of additional news for ya:
Dear Sophie: How can students work or launch a startup while maintaining their immigration status?
I’m studying bioinformatics at a university in the U.S.
What options do I have to work before and after graduation on my student visa? Do any of these options allow me to launch my own startup?
— Wanting to Work
Three more from the TC+ team:
Big Tech Inc.
Elon Musk met with civil rights leaders, and Amanda has all the details on what went down. Many of the leaders were concerned with content moderation, particularly dealing with increases in hate speech and undue influence on the midterm elections. Meanwhile, Natasha M writes that another Twitter executive is reportedly flying the coop.
And we have five more for you:
Alation bags $123M at a $1.7B valuation for its data-cataloging software • TechCrunch
There’s been an explosion of enterprise data in recent years, accelerated by pandemic-spurred digital transformations. An IDC report commissioned by Seagate projected companies would collect 42.2% more data by year-end 2022 than in 2020, amounting to multiple petabytes of data in total. While more data is generally a good thing, particularly where it concerns analytics, large volumes can be overwhelming to organize and govern — even for the savviest of organizations.
That’s why Satyen Sangani, a former Oracle VP, co-founded Redwood City–based Alation, a startup that helps crawl a company’s databases in order to build data search catalogs. After growing its customer base to over 450 brands and annual recurring revenue (ARR) to over $100 million, Alation has raised $123 million in a Series E round led by Thoma Bravo, Sanabil Investments, and Costanoa Ventures with participation from Databricks Ventures, Dell Technologies Capital, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Icon Ventures, Queensland Investment Corporation, Riverwood Capital, Salesforce Ventures, Sapphire Ventures and Union Grove, the company announced today.
The all-equity tranche values Alation at over $1.7 billion — an impressive 15 times higher than the company’s previous valuation in a challenging economic climate. In an interview with TechCrunch, Sangani said the new capital — which brings Alation’s total raised to $340 million — will be put toward investments in product development (including through acquisitions) and expanding Alation’s sales, engineering and marketing teams, with a focus on the public sector and corporations based in Asia Pacific, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East.
“With the capital, we will continue to focus on engagement and adoption, collaboration, governance, lineage, and on APIs and SDKs to enable us to be open and extensible,” Sangani said via email. “We’re going to bring innovation to the market that will increase the number of data assets we cover and the people who will leverage and access Alation.”
With Alation, Sangani and his fellow co-founders — Aaron Kalb, Feng Niu and Venky Ganti — sought to build a service that enables data and analytics teams to capture and understand the full breadth of their data. The way Sangani sees it, most corporate leadership wants to build a “data-driven” culture but is stymied by tech hurdles and a lack of knowledge about what data they have, where it lives, whether it’s trustworthy and how to make the best use of it.
According to Forrester, somewhere between 60% and 73% of data produced by enterprises goes unused for analytics. And if a recent poll by Oracle is to be believed, 95% of people say they’re overwhelmed by the amount of data available to them in the workplace.
“With the astounding amount of data being produced today, it’s increasingly difficult for companies to collect, structure, and analyze the data they create,” Sangani said. “The modern enterprise relies on data intelligence and data integration solutions to provide access to valuable insights that feed critical business outcomes. Alation is foundational for driving digital transformation.”
Alation uses machine learning to automatically parse and organize data like technical metadata, user permissions and business descriptions from sources like Redshift, Hive, Presto, Spark and Teradata. Customers can visually track the usage of assets like business glossaries, data dictionaries and Wiki articles through the Alation platform’s reporting feature, or they can use Alation’s collaboration tools to create lists, annotations, comments and polls to organize data across different software and systems.
Alation also makes recommendations based on how information is being used and orchestrated. For example, the platform suggests ways customers can centrally manage their data and compliance policies through the use of integrations and data connectors.
“Alation’s machine learning contributes to data search, data stewardship, business glossary, and data lineage,” Sangani said. “More specifically, Alation’s behavioral analysis engine spots behavioral patterns and leverages AI and machine learning to make data more user-friendly. For example, search is simplified by highlighting the most popular assets; stewardship is eased by emphasizing the most active data sets; and governance becomes a part of workflow through flags and suggestions.”
According to IDC, the data integration and intelligence software market is valued at more than $7.9 billion and growing toward $11.6 billion over the next four years. But Alation isn’t the sole vendor. The startup’s competition includes incumbents like Informatica, IBM, SAP and Oracle, as well as newer rivals such as Collibra, Castor, Stemma, Data.World and Ataccama, all of whom offer tools for classifying and curating data at enterprise scale.
One of Alation’s advantages is sheer momentum, no doubt — its customer base includes heavyweights like Cisco, General Mills, Munich Re, Pfizer, Nasdaq and Salesforce, in addition to government agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency and Australia’s Department of Defense. Alation counts more than 25% of the Fortune 100 as clients, touching verticals such as finance, healthcare, pharma, manufacturing, retail, insurance and tech.
In terms of revenue coming in, Sangani claims that Alation — which has more than 700 employees and expects to be at just under 800 by 2023 — is in a healthy position, pegging the firm’s cumulative-cash-burn-to-ARR ratio at around 1.5x. Despite the downturn, he asserts that customer spend is remaining strong as the demand for data catalog software grows; for the past five quarters, Alation’s ARR has increased year over year.
In another win for Alation, the investment from Databricks Ventures is strategic, Sangani says. It’ll see the two companies jointly develop engineering, data science and analytics applications that leverage both Databricks’ and Alations’ platforms.
“The most successful data intelligence platforms will be adopted by everyone. Vendors that are jack-of-all-trades, but masters of none, promise everything and succeed at little. Similarly, point products achieve limited success, but only serve to create data silos that our customers are trying to avoid. The future of data intelligence is about connectedness and integration,” Sangani said. “We know that and will continue to put our money behind our beliefs.”
Blackbird’s latest $1B AUD fund signals maturation of Australian, New Zealand venture scene • TechCrunch
The Australian and New Zealand startup community will see a boost in funding this year. Blackbird, a VC fund based in the two south Pacific countries, on Wednesday closed a fund at over AUD $1 billion, which is about USD $640 million, which the firm says is Australia’s largest fund to date.
This is Blackbird’s fifth fund, and it’s double the size of the VC’s last fund which closed in August 2020. Several institutional investors participated, including superannuation funds like AustralianSuper, Hostplus, Australia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Future Fund, New Zealand’s sovereign wealth funds and New Zealand Growth Capital Partners Elevate fund, which is a government-backed fund.
A decade ago, most Australian and in particular New Zealand institutional investors didn’t want to put their money anywhere near tech startups. Their support today signals a maturation of the Australia/New Zealand venture capital space.
“[Superannuation fund] capital can go anywhere. It can go into the best Silicon Valley VCs,” Sam Wong, a partner at Blackbird, told TechCrunch. “And so the fact that they are choosing to invest their money at this scale with an Aussie and Kiwi fund marks a moment for the ecosystem and shows that we have earned our right on the global stage to manage that capital.”
According to Wong, it makes sense for superannuation funds to back the tech space because they have horizons in the decades and can afford to be patient.
“What they really care about is high returns so people can retire in dignity,” she said. “And when you have that long-term horizon, you can seek higher return assets that don’t have liquidity profiles that, say, public markets do. And that’s exactly what we found in the Australian superannuation system — they love tech because it’s high growth, high return. It’s very long dated, and they don’t mind that it’s locked up for 10 years.”
The fund is also supported by over 270 individual investors, many of whom are tech founders and operators that Blackbird backed through earlier funds, according to the firm. Those founders will support the fund both with their own capital, but also their expertise, knowledge and connections, said Wong.
The total AUD $1 billion consists of three separate vehicles: an AUD $284 million (USD $182 million) core fund for pre-seed and seed stage Aussie companies, an AUD $668 million (USD $472 million) follow-on fund to support Blackbird portfolio companies anywhere from “Series A to the last round at Canva,” and a NZD $75 million (USD $44 million) dedicated New Zealand fund, which is also largely for pre-seed and seed stage companies.
Blackbird prides itself on cutting the earliest checks, which could be anywhere from $25,000 for a small pre-seed to up to $5 million for a seed round, said Wong. The firm’s mandate is to invest in founders with an Aussie or Kiwi connection, which usually means they’re based in those countries, but often ends up extending to those who founded companies abroad. Around 40% of Blackbird’s portfolio companies are actually headquartered in the U.S., said Phoebe Harrop, a principal at Blackbird.
The fund has already made 18 investments into startups in a broad range of industries from AI to manufacturing to e-commerce. Last month, Blackbird invested in Sonder, an employee and student wellbeing company, and Spice AI, a data and AI-driven infrastructure platform.
Blackbird said it predicts tech companies will contribute 20% of Australia’s GDP by 2032, which would be up from 8.5% today, according to the Tech Council of Australia.
“We’re here to change the culture of Australia and New Zealand’s ecosystems, to make a difference at a country level,” said Niki Scevak, partner at Blackbird, in a statement.
Twitter ad sales head resigned amid turbulent Musk takeover • TechCrunch
Twitter’s Chief Consumer Officer Sarah Personette has left the company, she wrote in a Twitter thread Tuesday morning.
Personette, who was in charge of Twitter’s ad sales business, said that she resigned on Friday, and her work access was officially cut off by Tuesday. The day before her resignation, Musk fired four key executives immediately after his takeover: CEO Parag Agrawal, CFO Ned Segal, General Counsel Sean Edgett and Head of Legal Policy, Trust and Safety Vijaya Gadde.
With Personette out of the picture, the number of remaining pre-Musk executives at Twitter is dwindling, with more key personnel rumored to be leaving as well. Jay Sullivan, Twitter’s head of product, deleted the bio on his Twitter account, which previously denoted his role at the company. The previous head of product, Kayvon Beykpour, was let go by former CEO Agrawal in May.
A former Facebook marketing VP, Personette had worked at Twitter since October 2018, when she joined as a VP of Global Client Solutions, per LinkedIn. She was promoted to Chief Customer Officer in August 2021. That role is crucial to Twitter’s business, since the majority of its revenue comes from ad sales. With Musk expected to make changes to content moderation policies, ad sales could be impacted.
As newly installed “Chief Twit” Elon Musk took over on Thursday, he posted a screenshot of a letter he wrote to Twitter advertisers, vowing that the platform “obviously cannot become a free-for-all hellscape.” Personette quote-tweeted his message, saying that he had a great conversation with the Tesla and SpaceX CEO. She added, “Our continued commitment to brand safety for advertisers remains unchanged. Looking forward to the future!”
But by the following evening, she had resigned.
“It has been the greatest privilege to serve all of you as a leader and a partner,” Personette said. “Many have heard me say this but the most important role I believe I played in the company was championing the requirements of brand safety.”
Rapyd Ventures backs Indian fintech-as-a-service startup Decentro • TechCrunch
India’s Decentro, the Y Combinator-backed startup that helps companies enter the fintech market by deploying its APIs, has raised $4.7 million in a Series A round.
The Bengaluru-based startup offers banking and payments APIs that allow development of fintech products such as banking, payment cards, neobanking and collections and payout services in a short period of time. Decentro has partnered with scores of industry players including Axis Bank, ICICI Bank, Kotak Mahindra Bank, Yes Bank, Visa, RuPay, Quickwork, Equifax, Aadhaar and National Securities Depository Limited (NSDL) to offer solutions for prepaid payment instruments, no-code workflows, conversational banking via WhatsApp and enable document verification and KYC process.
“Whenever a fintech startup or a company wants to launch a new product in the market, it takes them a minimum of a few months to launch. And it purely has to do with the bank processes, the way the bank runs the process, as well as the tech of the bank. It’s not so great. That’s essentially the problem we are solving,” said Rohit Taneja, co-founder and CEO, Decentro, in an interview with TechCrunch.
Taneja, who has previously co-founded social payments platform Mypoolin, which was acquired by Cupertino-based financial services company Wibmo, and spent eight years in the fintech market, co-founded Decentro with Pratik Daukhane in 2020 — after personally facing all the problems he wants to address. He considers Cashfree and PineLabs-owned Setu among the key competitors for the startup but believes that it’s differentiating with “solution-driven enterprise customer base” and “superior” product experience.
The startup has already amassed over 250 customers in commerce and fintech sectors. Some of these include Freo, Mobile Premier League, FamPay, CreditWise, Uni Cards and BharatX.
Decentro, which has a headcount of over 40 people, offers products to let companies create virtual, business and escrow accounts, enable payments and provide lending. The available products comply with all the latest regulations in the country, the startup said.
The Series A round of Decentro is led by Rapyd Ventures, the venture arm of the UK fintech-as-a-service giant, along with participation from Leonis VC and Uncorrelated Ventures. Indian angel investors including CRED founder Kunal Shah, Groww co-founder and CEO Lalit Keshre, Gupshup co-founder and CEO Beerud Sheth and former CBO of BharatPe Pratekk Agarwaal also participated in the funding round.
Taneja told TechCrunch that the startup aims to utilize the fresh funding to go deeper into its partnership with banks and enter categories including large enterprises. It also plans to acquire licenses and launch in Singapore to expand beyond India eventually.
“Building their innovation layer in India first gives Decentro a great base to build scalable innovations that can be expanded as other emerging markets modernize their own infrastructure. We’re excited to support Decentro as they scale and expand,” said Joel Yarbrough, MD of Rapyd Ventures and Rapyd’s VP of Asia Pacific, in a prepared statement.
Before the latest funding round, Decentro had raised a total of $1.7 million in seed and angel rounds. The seed round, which closed in October 2020, included investments from Y Combinator and FundersClub.
Since then, the startup claims its valuation has increased by 3.3X and revenues have grown by more than 35X. Taneja, however, did not reveal any specifics about the valuation.
Dcentro’s API transactional volumes have also been growing by 50 to 70% every quarter since early 2021, with an average of 70 million annualized API transactions recorded over the last 12 months, it said. The startup is also profitable, the co-founder said.
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