Uncork Capital cracks open two new funds – gpgmail


Uncork Capital, the now 15-year-old, early-stage venture firm formerly known as SoftTech VC, has closed up two new pools of committed capital totaling $200 million: $100 million for its sixth early-stage fund, and $100 million for an “opportunity” fund so it can stuff a little more capital into those of its portfolio companies that start to break away from the pack.

The firm had closed its first opportunity fund with $50 million in mid 2016. It closed its fifth early-stage fund at the same time with $100 million.

We talked on Friday with Uncork founder Jeff Clavier about the firm, which is currently writing first checks that range from $750,000 to $2 million. He told us that as with Uncork’s most recent set of funds, the idea is to invest in roughly 35 companies across three years, taking 10 percent ownership on average, and up to 12 percent of a portfolio company when it is the lead investor.

Clavier also said that while fully half of the fund will go into startups that sell cloud software to businesses, Uncork plans to invest roughly 10 percent of the fund in consumer marketplaces; roughly 10 percent in hardware; roughly 20 percent in so-called frontier tech — whether it be augmented reality or virtual reality or space of robotics or blockchain-related deals; and roughly 10 percent in bioinformatics and synthetic biology.

That last area of interest is brand new to Uncork, so we asked if the firm — which counts Stephanie Palmeri and Andy McLoughlin as partners — was perhaps planning to hire a biotech investor. Clavier said that isn’t, that instead it will rely on external resources to help with due diligence and to learn along the way. “In the same way that I looked at 30 investments in space tech and invested in Loft Orbital [a company that’s assembling a constellation to carry payloads for customers who don’t want to operate their own satellites], my expectation is that I’ll look at a bunch of [synthetic bio] deals and we’ll end up with one or two,” he said.

Uncork has enjoyed a steady stream of exits in recent years, including, mostly newly, the sale of ad tech company Vungle for a reported $750 million last month to the private equity firm Blackstone. [Clavier declined to confirm or correct its sale price.]

Uncork is also an early investor in the food delivery company Postmates, which is reportedly on track to go public this year. And Uncork was an early backer in the email service startup SendGrid, which sold to the publicly traded communications platform Twilio earlier this last year for $3 billion in stock.

Some of the firm’s other high-profile bets include Fitbit, which went public in 2015; Brightroll, which was acquired by Yahoo in 2015; and Eventbrite, which went public last fall (though its shares almost immediately fell below their IPO price and have remained below it).

As for its first opportunity fund, the startup that has received the biggest check from Uncork — $5 million — is the fashion resale marketplace Poshmark, which is also reportedly eyeing an IPO in 2019.


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Twilio launches SendGrid Ads and new cross-channel messaging API – gpgmail


At its annual Signal developer conference, Twilio today announced a couple of new features for developers on its core messaging platform and users of its recently acquired SendGrid email service. The new Twilio tools now allow developers to create multi-channel messaging tools and to get real-time streams of conversations in order to run them through transcription services, a translation tool or other machine learning models.

The company’s $3 billion acquisition of SendGrid closed less than half a year ago, so it doesn’t come as a surprise that Twilio would use its biggest event of the year to showcase the service to its developer community.

It’s a bit of an odd one, though. See, SendGrid already announced the beta of SendGrid Ads back in November 2018. As best as I can tell, Twilio SendGrid Ads, which is now launching in beta, is the same product, but a Twilio representative tells me that the ads product is now more deeply integrated into SendGrid Marketing Campaigns, and also got a bit of a redesign. A form of this integration already existed in the previous version, though.

The general idea here is to allow SendGrid users to run multichannel display ad campaigns on Facebook, Instagram and Google from their SendGrid accounts. The advantage of this, the company argues, is that marketers will be able to use data from their email campaigns and website data to then retarget users on other channels. Similarly, they can use lead ads on Facebook to get potential customers to sign up for their SendGrid mailing list.

SendGrid Ads will cost $50 per month, plus the cost of the ads. SendGrid will also take its own cut of 5% of any media cost over $500.

The new developer tools are pretty straightforward. Twilio Conversations, now in public beta, is a new API that allows developers to create solutions that integrate various messaging channels like SMS, WhatsApp and other chat tools.

“Over the last two decades, we’ve watched businesses evolve their communications with customers from the phone call, to website chat, to native mobile apps,” said Chee Chew, chief product officer at Twilio. “Leading companies have figured out that the next evolution of great customer experience is through messaging. Twilio Conversations empowers businesses to build personal, long-lived connections with their customers on the channels they prefer.”

Twilio Media Streams does exactly what it promises to do. Previously, you could get a recording to a call. Now, you can tap into the real-time call to analyze that stream in real time. That’s useful for all kinds of AI tools that aim to help call center agents, for example. This service is now also in public beta and will cost $0.004 per minute, in addition to the rest of the fees associated with the call.


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DigitalOcean gets a new CEO and CFO – gpgmail


DigitalOcean, the cloud infrastructure service that made a name for itself by focusing on low-cost hosting options in its early days, today announced that it has appointed former SendGrid COO and CFO Yancey Spruill as its new CEO and former EnerNOC CFO Bill Sorenson as its new CFO. Spruill will replace Mark Templeton, who only joined the company a little more than a year ago and who had announced his decision to step down for personal reasons in May of this year.

“DigitalOcean is a brand I’ve followed and admired for a while — the leadership team has done a tremendous job building out the products, services and, most importantly, a community, that puts developer needs first,” said Spruill in today’s announcement. “We have a multi-billion dollar revenue opportunity in front of us and I’m looking forward to working closely with our strong leadership team to build upon the current strategy to drive DigitalOcean to the company’s full potential.”

Spruill das have a lot of experience, given that he was in CxO positions at SendGrid through both its IPO in 2017 and its sales to Twilio in 2019. He also previously held the CFO role at DigitalGlobe, which he also guided to an IPO.

In his announcement, Spruill notes that he expects DigitalOcean to focus on its core business, which currently has about 500,000 users (though it’s unclear how many of those are active, paying users). “My aspiration is for us to continue to provide everything you love about DO now, but to also enhance our offerings in a way that is meaningful, strategic and most helpful for you over time,” he writes.

Spruill’s history as CFO includes its fair share of IPOs and sales, but so does Sorenson’s. As CFO at EnerNOC, he guided that company to a sale to investor Enel Group. Before that, he led business intelligence firm Qlikto an IPO.

It’s not unusual for incoming CEOs and CFO’s to have this kind of experience, but it does make you wonder what DigitalOcean’s future holds in store. The company isn’t as hyped as it once was and while it still offers one of the best user experiences for developers, it remains a relatively small player in the overall cloud game. That’s a growing market, but the large companies — the ones that bring in the majority of revenue — are looking to Amazon, Microsoft and Google for their cloud infrastructure. Even a small piece of the overall cloud pie can be quite lucrative, but I think DigitalOcean’s ambitions go beyond that.


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