NAB’s McEwan raids Westpac ranks for digital talent – Finance – Strategy – Cloud – Hardware – Software- Tempemail – Blog – 10 minute

Tempemail Australia Bank chief executive Ross McEwan has wasted little time raiding his rivals for talent to bolster the institution’s senior tech ranks, luring the digital lead of Westpac’s business bank, Quentin Boyes as a raft of IT leadership positions open up across the financial sector.
While an official announcement of Boyes’ hiring is yet to be made, it is understood McEwan has been scouting for new talent to re-energise the NAB’s technology transformation and boost its online reliability as rivals muscle in its substantial business banking patch.
NAB on Friday was beset by another outage, this time hitting its business banking facility NAB Connect, stranding some businesses attempting to push through end of month transactions.
The incidence of outages has become a matter of keen interest for the Reserve Bank of Australia which has said it will soon publicly list  not just the level and severity of outages, but attribute them to institutions.
The central bank and payments system watchdog has become increasingly concerned about the general state of resilience of banking IT systems that underpin payments because of the increasing dominance of digital and electronic channels.
Westpac and NAB have for years been fierce rivals in business banking services which stretch across payments processing and transactional accounts for merchants and government agencies.
However over the last two years the Commonwealth Bank has adopted a decidedly more assertive posture in business services by seeking to use its real-time core to snap-up business keen on faster settlements and cash flow.
Like McEwan – who was the head of CBA’s retail bank before departing to helm the Royal Bank of Scotland after Ian Narev was appointed CBA’s CEO – Boyes is also a CBA veteran putting in 12 years there until he headed to Westpac in 2016.
Boyes’ current role is as general manager for service and digital transformation at Westpac’s business bank.
McEwan’s poaching of Boyes has fuelled speculation that NAB will soon recalibrate its overall tech strategy to more closely reflect the priorities of the recently appointed CEO.
In September last year NAB lost its outspoken chief cloud evangelist and executive general manager for business enabling technology, Yuri Misnik.
Since then the institution has declared it intends to be “100 percent in the cloud”.
Boyes’ move comes amidst a raft of other senior technologist job changes that will have executive head hunters licking their lips.
Last week the CBA lost its chief digital officer, and veteran journeyman Pete Steel. Also on the move is highly regarded former RBA CIO Sarv Girn who last week left life insurer MLC Life.
Meanwhile Westpac currently has a role open for a “Head of Group Technology Enablement” it says is needed to help standardise the bank’s approach to IT product and services including setting up a “a one-stop-shop for Group Technology end users”.

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NAB’s merchant customers suffer eftpos issues – Finance – Networking- Tempemail – Blog – 10 minute

NAB’s eftpos and HICAPS terminals suffered from connectivity issues on Monday, with retailers among affected merchants reporting lost sales as a result.
“We’re aware of a current issue impacting some customers ability to connect their NAB eftpos and HICAPS terminals to the network,” the bank said in an outage notification.
“We apologise for the inconvenience caused by this issue.
“Customers are advised to restart their device to successfully connect to the network.”
The problems appeared to begin at around 12.30pm AEDT and the bank noted in its last update on the issue at 5pm that the problems were persisting, though it appeared many users were able to reconnect later in the evening.
NAB said that customers unable to restart their terminals could revert to manual processing, using a phone number to put the transactions through.
However, some customers were unimpressed with the workaround.
“Our first day back after the xmas break and we had to turn away many a customer.. the alternative payment option via phone is absolutely ludicrous considering the high volume of customers in a hospitality/retail environment,” one said.
NAB customers weren’t the only bank customers to experience problems, with Westpac also suffering a mid-morning Monday outage of its internet banking system.

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Drivetime nabs $11M from Makers Fund, Amazon and Google to build voice-based games for drivers – gpgmail


Fully autonomous cars may (or may not) be just around the corner, but in the meantime, a startup that’s building in-car apps to help human drivers pass the time when behind the wheel has raised a round of funding.

Drivetime — which makes voice-based trivia quizzes, games and interactive stories that people can play while driving — has raised $11 million in funding led by Makers Fund (a prolific investor in gaming startups), with participation also from Amazon (via the Alexa Fund) and Google (via its Assistant investment program).

The startup today has eight “channels” on its platform consisting of games and stories that you can access either within a limited free-to-play tier or via a paid subscription ($9.99 a month or $99.99 a year). The plan is to use the funding to continue expanding that catalog, as well as investing in deeper integrations with its new big-name strategic investors, who themselves have longstanding and deep interests in bringing more voice services and content to the in-car experience.

Co-founder and CEO Niko Vuori told gpgmail that his ultimate ambition is for Drivetime to become “the Sirius XM of interactive content” for cars, with hundreds of different channels of content.

In keeping with those plans, along with the funding, Drivetime is today announcing a key content deal.

It has teamed up with the long-running, popular gameshow Jeopardy to build a trivia channel for the platform, which lets drivers test their own skills and also play against other drivers and people they know. The Jeopardy channel will source content from the TV show’s trove of IP and come with another familiar detail: it will be narrated by Alex Trebek, with a new quiz getting published every weekday for premium users.

That social element of the Jeopardy game is not a coincidence. The San Francisco-based startup is founded by Zynga alums, with Vuori and his co-founders Justin Cooper and Cory Johnson also working together at another startup called Rocket Games since leaving the social games giant and exiting that as well, to gaming giant Penn National, for up to $170 million. That track record goes some way to explaining the strong list of investors in the new startup.

“Social and interactive formats are the next frontier in audio entertainment,” said Makers Fund Founding Partner Jay Chi, in a statement. “Niko, Justin Cooper and Cory Johnson, with a decade-long history of working together and a proven track record in building new platforms, is the best team to bring this idea to life.”

“Gaming and entertainment are among customers’ favorite use cases for Alexa, and we think those categories will only grow in popularity as Alexa is integrated into more vehicles,” said Paul Bernard, director of the Alexa Fund at Amazon, in a separate statement. “Drivetime stands out for its focus on voice-first games in the car, and we’re excited to work with them to broaden the Alexa Auto experience and help customers make the most of their time behind the wheel.”

In addition to the three investors in this latest round, prior to this Drivetime had raised about $4 million from backers that include Felicis Ventures, Fuel Capital, Webb Investment Network (Maynard Webb’s fund) and Access Ventures.

Vuori declined to say how many installs or active users the app has today — although from the looks of it on AppAnnie, it’s seeing decent if not blockbuster success on iOS and Android so far.

Instead, the company prefers to focus on another stat, its addressable market, which it says is 110 million drivers in North America alone.

Meanwhile, adding a Jeopardy channel is building on what has worked best so far. The most popular category at the moment is trivia, with Tunetime (a “name that tune” game) coming in second with storytelling a third.

Drivetime’s premise is an interesting one. Drivers are a captive audience, but one that has up to now had a relatively limited amount of entertainment created for it, focusing mainly on music and spoken word.

However, the rise of voice-based interfaces and interactivity using natural language — spurred by the rise of personal assistant apps and in-home hubs like Amazon’s Echo — have opened a new opportunity, developing interactive, voice-based content for drivers to engage with more proactively.

You might think that this sounds like a recipe for a car accident. Won’t a driver get too distracted trying to remember the fourth President of the United States, or who was known as the Father of the Constitution? (Hint: it’s the same guy.)

Vuori claims it’s actually the reverse: having an interactive game that requires the driver to speak out loud can focus him or her and keep the driver more alert.

“We are double-dipping in safety,” he said. “On the one hand, we embody the safety aspects of Alertness Maintaining Tasks (AMTs). But we also act as a preventative, meaning that while players engage with Drivetime, they are not engaging with anything else.”

While the content today may serve as a way of keeping drivers from doing things they shouldn’t be doing while in a car, there is another obvious opportunity that might come as drivers become less necessary and themselves will need other things to occupy themselves.

Longer term, the Jeopardy deal could usher in other channels based on popular gameshows. Sony Pictures Television Games, which owns the rights to it, also owns Wheel of Fortune, and Who Wants To Be a Millionaire.

“We are thrilled to work with Sony Pictures Television Games to bring Jeopardy, the greatest game show on the planet, to an underserved audience that desperately needs interactive entertainment the most – the 110 million commuters in North America driving to and from work by themselves every day,” said Vuori said in a statement.

Interestingly, despite the growth of “skills” for Alexa or apps for Google Home and other home hubs, and the overall popularity of these as a way of interacting with apps and sourcing information, Vuori says that he hasn’t seen any competition emerge yet from other app developers to build voice-based entertainment for drivers in the way that Drivetime has.

That gives the company ample opportunity to continue picking up new users — and more details with publishers and content companies looking for more mileage (sorry) for their legacy IP and new business.

“Drivetime is one of the early pioneers in creating safe, stimulating entertainment for drivers in the car,” Ilya Gelfenbeyn, founding lead of the Google Assistant Investments Program, noted in a statement. “More and more people are using their voice to stay productive on the road, asking the Google Assistant on Android and iOS phones to help send text messages, make calls and access entertainment hands free. We share Drivetime’s vision, and look forward to working with their team to make the daily commute more enjoyable.”


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AppZen nabs $50M to build AI tools for expenses and other finance team work – gpgmail


AI now touches every aspect of how a company operates — from forming the core of the service itself, through to customer interactions, building new things, and helping with mundane paperwork and other back-office tasks. Today, one of the faster-growing startups in the latter category is announcing a round of funding as it continues on its own path: AppZen, which builds AI-powered tools to automate functions within the finance department, has raised another $50 million in funding led by Coatue Management with previous investors Redpoint Ventures and Lightspeed Venture Partners also participating.

We understand from sources that this funding has been raised at a $500 million valuation, which is a huge hike. For some context, the company in October of last year raised a $35 million round led by Lightspeed that put it at a post-money valuation of $175 million.

The Series C — which brings the total raised by the company to just over $100 million — will be used to continue expanding the platform and its capabilities, CEO Anant Kale said in an interview (Kale co-founded the company with Kunal Verma, who is its CTO).

To date, AppZen’s biggest product has been a service that automatically audits expenses — comparing, for example, an employee’s charges with travel that person has undertaken (along with many other data points) to see if the charges match up; as well as making sure the expenses are compliant with company policies and raising flags when they are not.

This is the product that has won the company a ton of business from huge businesses, which now number 1,500 (another point of comparison: this is more than double the 650 customers it had last October). AppZen users include Amazon, Nvidia, Salesforce, and three of the top ten banks in the US, four of the top ten media companies, three of the top ten pharmaceutical manufacturers, two of the top five aerospace companies, a number of other software providers and (disclaimer) Verizon, which happens to own us.

Going forward, while the company continues to see a lot of traction with its existing products in auditing how a company pays out money, the plan will be to build that out to other functions of the finance department, covering, for example, other areas where the finance department makes evaluations to determine spend and money collection (billing) across the business.

“There have been so many decades where nothing new was developed for finance departments,” Kale said of the opportunity.

That’s an opportunity that is so big — enterprise IT overall is forecast to be a $1 trillion market by Gartner this year — that AppZen will be facing a large range of competitors, not just those applying automation and AI to auditing expenses but those coming from other angles like robotic process automation (RPA) that are looking to expand from their computer-vision-based tasks into a deeper set of tools addressing other back-office needs. And that’s before you consider the number of other giant businesses (such as SAP) that provide expense management software, the very tools that AppZen helping to be used in a better way by their clients.

For now, though, AppZen is growing fast, and has secured a formidable place as a reliable partner for its customers.

“AppZen allows enterprises to do something they’ve never been able to do – audit 100 percent of their spend at scale and with the team they have, all before payments go out the door. AI lets these enterprises dramatically reduce spend, comply with policy and streamline process,” said Thomas Laffont, Senior Managing Director for Coatue Management, in a statement. “When we met Anant, Kunal and the team, we were struck by their AI expertise and finance transformation vision, not to mention the company’s clear and rapid execution in the market. ”

At the end of the day, however, even with all the strides that artificial intelligence has help us make, there is always a catch. In this case, automating more repetitive tasks and calculations that had been the domain of humans doubtless must reduce operational costs in an organization, and generally speed up the process, but AI is not always perfect, and sometimes replacing people with those systems makes it very hard to query results if there is a hiccup.

“Our goal is to make sure employees don’t get too frustrated,” Kale said of the learning process, words that apply not just to the companies building these services, but those organizations buying them, too.

 


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RippleMatch nabs $6M for a diversity-focused graduate recruitment platform powered by AI – gpgmail


LinkedIn, with 645 million users in 200 countries, is the undisputed leader when it comes to being the world’s biggest network of professionals, a position that it uses to leverage products in areas like recruitment and e-learning. But in achieving that size, it hasn’t really developed products for a more targeted approach for specific verticals or audiences. And that has opened the field of a wide variety of startups to fill in the gaps and compete with it. Today, one these hopefuls — a startup called RippleMatch that has built a recruitment platform to help organizations specifically to connect with recent graduates from more diverse backgrounds that match their needs — is announcing a Series A of $6 million to do just that.

The funding — which will be used to expand the platform as well as for business development — is being led by G20 Ventures, with Work-Bench, and previous investors Accomplice, Bullpen Capital, and AlleyCorp. also participating.

The company is not disclosing its valuation but from what I understand is that it’s a “material step up”, as it has been on a steady growth curve and counts companies like Pfizer, TripAdvisor, and Qualtrics among its customer base. This is also the first significant outside money that it has raised. RippleMatch’s very first funding, in fact, was the signing bonus that co-founder Eric Ho had received when he once got a job at Facebook. “It was the need to pay that back that led us to raising this Series A,” joked Andrew Myers, the other co-founder who is also the CEO.

Myers and Ho met and started the company when they were still students at Yale University. Ho was about to graduate, but Myers was still in the thick of his undergrad degree, which he still has yet to complete (and, as is the way of tech founders, may never finish).

The idea for the company came when Myers — who studied history and political science — was thinking about the predicament that a lot of his friends from back home in Colorado were facing in the working world.

Like Myers, they were also undergraduates. But unlike him, they were not at Yale nor any other top-shelf school that has the benefit not only of prestigious name recognition, but typically strong recruiting pipelines to some of the most competitive companies hiring graduates for lucrative entry-level positions.

“I was very cognisant of the divide coming from different socio-economic backgrounds,” Myers said in an interview. “I could see that a lot of my friends from home would be better hires for places than some of the people I knew at Yale. They just didn’t have the same opportunities. We didn’t think of this as a business venture in the early days: it was a problem that our friends had that I wanted to solve.”

Using AI to cut out the recruiter

RippleMatch’s approach is relatively straightforward: the company has built a platform that takes a potential candidate through a relatively quick set of questions about his/her career and geographical ambitions, interests and so on, along with a copy of the candidate’s resume.

It then combines these with basic information about a candidate’s GPA and test scores. Taking all that and combining it with more information sources outside of the candidate’s own input, it comes up with some 300 data points that it crunches that together to match candidates with job and internship opportunities. On the employer side, it not only sources job vacancies of the moment, but also works on matching up an employer’s wider hiring strategy with this trove of people — the idea being that it’s bringing up possibilities that the employer might have otherwise passed over, or even seen to begin with.

Myers says that the matching algorithms, which include the ability to ascertain what people might directly and indirectly be best suited to do, that RippleMatch has built essentially cut out the “middle man” in the process — that is, the recruiter, but also potentially of the relationships and pipelines that may already exist, and as a result level the playing field for everyone, making it just as likely that an employer will discover their next star hire from a small college in the midwest as from Stanford.

As Mike Troiano, the partner at G20 who led the firm’s investment in RippleMatch, describes it, a school’s name recognition and networking prowess aren’t the only things standing in the way of qualified candidates getting a look in the door. His daughter was having a hard time getting a response from a company she contacted for an internship and when they put together her LinkedIn profile, they realised that she simply lacked the professional network to figure out if there was someone to contact and help.

“College hiring is kind of a black box through traditional channels. The surveys RippleMatch uses to collect info from students and employers about who they are and what they want create this proprietary data set,” said Troiano. “LinkedIn is about relationships more than attributes. The college market is a niche they’re ill suited to, and one I think they’ll leave alone for now.”

Indeed, while LinkedIn has proven to be a strong starting point for many professionals in their career progression, its shortcomings are most obvious in more specific examples like these. (It was one reason that LinkedIn made a big push some years ago to start trying to bring younger users on to the platform, to work on ways of getting them to start building up their profiles and networks.)

RippleMatch is part of a growing number of startups that have been identifying and (for their purposes) exploiting these kinds of holes in LinkedIn’s wider platform. Another startup that has been building a platform also aimed at graduates and specifically at trying to help source more diverse pools of candidates is Handshake (which itself raised $40 million less than a year ago).

Handshake takes a different approach in that it offers job boards and proactively works with universities and recruitment organizations and offers users a social network / community of sorts from which to source advice and exchange information. All this has helped boost that company’s database to 14 million people as of last year, likely more now that it’s opened up access to all university students in the US.

Others that have been pecking away at the LinkedIn hegemony include the likes of Triplebyte, another well-capitalised recruitment startup that targets specifically software engineers. The startup has built its own assessment platform (used by RippleMatch to recruit, incidentally) which its CEO and co-founder Harj Taggar also believes can help level the playing field between those who are coming from big-name companies and schools and those who are not, focusing solely on a person’s ability to code. LinkedIn might have millions of profiles of engineers to Triplebyte’s thousands, but the key with the smaller company is that it has profiles of people “who are actively job searching,” which he notes stands in contrast to the unsolicited contacts that many people get on LinkedIn, just by virtue of being there. “We’re getting two times the rate of responses that recruiting teams see on LinkedIn,” Taggar claimed. It’s now ramping up with a premium tier aimed at those recruiting at scale.

RippleMatch is still at a relatively small and early stage of its life in comparison to these two. While it has partnerships with some 1,200 diversity focused organizations on campuses to bring in more candidates, and today some 60% of its candidate pool are from underrepresented backgrounds, the company today only has about 100,000 candidates in total on the platform and agreements with 60 companies who tap RippleMatch to find them. But, at a time when the economic, societal and geographic rifts seem insurmountable in countries like the US, it’s more important than ever to work on ways to help close those gaps, paving the way for a big opportunity for tech-based solutions like RippleMatch’s.


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Atoms nabs $8.1M for shoes you can buy in quarter sizes and separate left/right measurements – gpgmail


The direct-to-consumer trend in fashion has been one of the most interesting evolutions in e-commerce in the last several years, and today one of the trailblazers in the world of footwear is picking up some money from a list of illustrious backers to bring its concept to the masses.

Atoms, makers of sleek sneakers that are minimalist in style — “We will make only one shoe design a year, but we want to make that really well,” said CEO Sidra Qasim — but not in substance — carefully crafted with comfort and durability in mind, sizes come in quarter increments and you can buy different measurements for each foot if your feet are among the millions that are not exactly the same size — has raised $8.1 million.

The company plans to use the funding to invest in further development of its shoes, and to expand its retail and marketing presence. To date, the company has been selling directly to consumers in the US via its website — which at one point had a waiting list of nearly 40,000 people — and the idea will be to fold in other experiences including selling in physical spaces in the future.

This Series A speaks to a number of interesting investors flocking to the company.

It is being led by Initialized Capital, the investment firm started by Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian and Garry Tan (both had first encountered Atoms and its co-founders, Qasim and Waqas Ali — as mentors when the Pakistani husband and wife team were going through Y-Combinator with their previous high-end shoe startup, Markhor); with other backers including Kleiner Perkins, Dollar Shave Club CEO Michael Dubin, Acumen founder and CEO Jacqueline Novograts, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, TED curator Chris Anderson, the rapper Chamillionaire and previous backers Aatif Awan and Shrug Capital.

Investors have come to the company by way of being customers. “The thing that I love about Atoms is that it isn’t just a different look, it’s a different feel,” said Ohanian in a statement. “When I put on a pair for the first time, it was a totally unique experience. Atoms are more comfortable by an order of magnitude than any other shoe I’ve tried, and they quickly became the go-to shoe in my rotation whenever I was stepping out. That wouldn’t mean anything if the shoes didn’t look great. Luckily, that’s not a problem, I wear my Atoms all the time and even my fashion designer wife is a fan.”

Even before today’s achievement of closing a Series A, the startup has come a long way on a relative shoestring: with just around $560,000 in seed funding and some of the founders’ own savings, Atoms built a supply chain of companies that would make the materials and shoes that it wanted, and developed a gradual but strong marketing pipeline with influential people in tech, fashion and design. (That success no doubt played a big role in securing the Series A to double down and continue to build the company.)

Within the bigger trend of direct-to-consumer retail — where smaller brands are leveraging advances in e-commerce, social media and wider internet usage to build vertically-integrated businesses that bypass traditional retailers and bigger e-commerce storefronts to source their customers and sales more directly — there has been a secondary trend disrupting the very products that are being sold by using technology and advances in manufacturing. Third Love is another example in this category: the company has built a huge business selling bras and other undergarments to women by completely rethinking how they are sized, and specifically by focusing on creating as wide a range of sizes as possible.

So while companies like Allbirds — which itself is very well capitalised — may look like direct competitors to Atoms, the company currently stands apart from the pack because of its own very distinctive approach to building a mass-market business, but one that aims to make its product as individualised as possible.

You might think that approaching shoe manufacturers with the idea of creating smaller size increments and manufacturing shoes as single items rather than pairs would have been a formidable task, but as it turned out, Atoms seemed to come along at the right place and the right time.

“We thought it would be challenging, and it wasn’t unchallenging, but the good thing was that many manufacturers were already starting to think about this,” Ali said. “Think about it, there has been almost no innovation in shoe making in the last thirty or forty years.” He said they were happy to talk to Atoms because “we were the first and only company looking at shoes this way.” That helped encourage him and Qasim, he added. “We knew we would be able to figure it all out.”

Nevertheless, the pair admit that the upfront costs have been very high (they would not say how high), but given the principle of economies of scale, the more shoes that Atoms sells, the better the economics.

Currently the shoes sell for $179 a pair, which is not cheap and puts them at the high end of the market, so it will be interesting to see how and if price points evolve as it matures as a business, and competitors big and small begin to catch onto the idea of selling their own footwear at a wider range of sizes.

My colleague Josh, who first wrote about Atoms when they launched, is our own in-house tester, and as someone who could have easily moved on to another pair of kicks after he hit publish, he remains a fan:

“My Atoms have held up incredibly well from daily wear for 14 months,” he said. “They’re still my comfiest shoes and make Nikes feel uncomfortable when I try them again. They’ve sustained a tiny bit of wear on the front of the foam sole (the toe just below the fabric) while the bottoms have worn down a little like any shoes.

“The mesh fabric can pick up dirt or dust if you take them in the wilderness, and the sole isn’t hard enough that you won’t feel point rocks. But throwing them in the wash or a rub with a brush and they practically look new. The elastic laces are incredibly convenient.

“I’ve probably tied them 4 times since first lacing them up. And for a cleaner, more professional look you can tuck the bow of your laces behind the tongue. Their biggest problem is they’re porous and can let water through if you wear them in the rain or puddles.

“Overall, I’ve found them to be my best travel shoes because they’re so versatile. I can walk all day in them, but then go to a fancy dinner or nightclub. I can hike or even hit the gym with them if necessary, and they pack quite flat. With the quarter-sizing and different use cases, they make Allbirds look like restrictive outdoor slippers. For adults who still want to wear sneakers, the monochromatic color schemes and brandless, simple styles make Atoms feel as mature and reliable as you can get.”

Ali said that among those who buy one pair, some 85% have returned and purchased more, and that’s before it has even gone outside the US. Qasim said there has been a lot of interest in other regions, but for now it’s still following its original formula of keeping the organisation and business small and tight, with no plans to expand to further countries for the moment.


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Reputation.com nabs $30M more to help enterprises manage their profiles online – gpgmail


In these days where endorsements from influential personalities online can make or break a product, a startup that’s built a business to help companies harness all the long-tail firepower they can muster to get their name out there in a good way has raised some funding to expand deeper into feedback and other experience territory. Reputation.com, which works with big enterprises in areas like automotive and healthcare to help improve their visibility online and provide more accurate reports to the businesses about how their brands are perceived by customers and others, has raised $30 million in equity financing, money that CEO Joe Fuca said the company will use to continue to expand its tech platform to source more feedback and to future-proof it for further global expansion.

The funding — led by Ascension Ventures, with participation also from new backers Akkadian Ventures, Industry Ventures and River City Ventures and returning investors Kleiner Perkins, August Capital, Bessemer Venture Partners, Heritage Group and Icon Ventures — is the second round Reputation.com has raised since its pivot away from services aimed at individuals. Fuca said the company’s valuation is tripling with this round, and while he wouldn’t go into the details from what I understand from sources (which is supported by data in PitchBook), it had been around $120-130 million in its last round, making it now valued at between $360-390 million now.

Part of the reason that the company’s valuation has tripled is because of its growth. The company doesn’t disclose many customer names (for possibly obvious reasons) but said that three of the top five automotive OEMs and as well as over 10,000 auto dealerships in the U.S. use it, with those numbers now also growing in Europe. Among healthcare providers, it now has 250 customers — including three of the top five — and in the world of property management, more than 100 companies are using Reputation.com. Other verticals that use the company include financial services, hospitality and retail services.

The company competes with other firms that provide services like SEO and other online profile profile management and sees the big challenge as trying to convince businesses that there is more to having a strong profile than just an NPS score (providers of which are also competitors). So, in addition to the metrics that are usually used to compile this figure (based on customer feedback surveys typically), Reputation.com uses unstructured data as well (for example sentiment analysis from social media) and applies algorithms to this to calculate a Reputation Score.

Reputation.com has been around actually since 2006, with its original concept being managing individuals’ online reputations — not exactly in the Klout or PR-management sense, but with a (now very prescient-sounding) intention of providing a way for people to better control their personal information online. Its original name was ReputationDefender and founded by Michael Fertik, it was a pioneer in what came to be called personal information management.

The company proposed an idea of a “vault” for your information, which could still be used and appropriated by so-called data brokers (which help feed the wider ad-tech and marketing tech machines that underpin a large part of the internet economy), but would be done with user consent and compensation.

The idea was hard to scale, however. “I think it was an addressable market issue,” said Fuca, who took over as CEO last year the company was reorienting itself to enterprise services (it sold off the consumer/individual business at the same time to a PE firm), with Fertik taking the role of executive chairman, among other projects. “Individuals seeking reputation defending is only certain market size.”

Not so in the world of enterprise, the area the startup (and I think you can call Reputation.com a startup, given its pivot and restructure and venture backing) has been focusing on exclusively for the better part of a year.

The company today integrates closely with Google — which is not only a major platform for disseminating information in the form of SEO management, but a data source as a repository of user reviews — but despite the fact that Google holds so many cards in the stack, Fuca (who had previously been an exec at DocuSign before coming to Reputation.com) said he doesn’t see it as a potential threat or competitor.

A recent survey from the company about reputation management for the automotive sector underscores just how big of a role Google does play:

“We don’t worry about google as competitor,” Fuca said. “It is super attracted to working with partners like us because we drive domain activity, and they love it when people like us explain to customers how to optimise on Google. For Google, it’s almsot like we are an optimization partner and so it helps their entire ecosystem, and so I don’t see them being a competitor or wanting to be.”

Nevertheless, the fact that the bulk of Reputation.com’s data sources are essentially secondary — that is publically available information that is already online and collected by others — will be driving some of the company’s next stage of development. The plan is to start to add in more of its own primary-source data gathering in the form of customer surveys and feedback forms. That will open the door too to more questions of how the company will handle privacy and personal data longer term.

“Ascension Ventures is excited to deepen its partnership with Reputation.com as it enters its next critical stage of growth,” said John Kuelper, Managing Director at Ascension Ventures, in a statement. “We’ve watched Reputation.com’s industry leading reputation management offering grow into an even more expansive CX platform. We’re seeing some of the world’s largest brands and service providers achieve terrific results by partnering with Reputation.com to analyze and take action on customer feedback — wherever it originates — at scale and in real-time. We’re excited to make this additional investment in Reputation.com as it continues to grow and expand its market leadership.”


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Fantasy football startup Sleeper nabs VC funding to take on ESPN – gpgmail


Sleeper is looking to take on fantasy league apps from major players like ESPN and has amassed venture funding from Silicon Valley investors to take them down.

The Bay Area startup is aiming to treat a fantasy football league more like a social platform than a loose jumble of league mechanics, distinguishing itself as a simple and free, ad-free option.

Sleeper has done limited press as it has been ramping up its app over the past two seasons, but the team has been courting the interest of investors to scale the product, raising more than $7 million from VCs to date. The company closed a $5.3 million Series A late last year led by General Catalyst. In early 2017, the startup also closed a $2 million seed led by Birchmere Ventures with participation from Uber co-founder Garrett Camp’s startup studio, Expa.

There isn’t much in terms of monetization options at the moment. CEO Nan Wang tells gpgmail that the focus right now is “amassing a large base of users and making it the stickiest and highest engagement product in the category.”

Wang says the app’s users spend 50 minutes per day on average during the season, numbers he calls “Instagram-like.” The main contributor to that number seems to be that chat is always a swipe away and that all of the actions that are happening during the season show up inside chats to encourage engagement.

This unifies the experience for users, many of whom have had to piecemeal their experience by using a WhatsApp or GroupMe group in addition to the other fantasy league apps that they’ve been using. Sleeper’s more differentiated UI seems to be largely popular among early vocal users as well as the up-to-the-minute notifications that deliver league updates.

Poaching users from other platforms is definitely a priority, but Wang says the team has really been looking at how to nab users who have stayed away from the convoluted confusion of fantasy leagues as well. Taking on the leading apps from ESPN, Yahoo and NFL can be daunting; another stress for the younger startup is just how tight the user acquisition window is, though things compound quickly if you can create one loyal user that brings their entire league to the platform.

“The user acquisition window for fantasy football leagues is strongest from the second week of August until the first week of September. Historically, we’ve seen that about 70% of users create their leagues in that three-week window,” Wang tells me.

The funding has been used to build out its team, which is still just 10 full-time employees, as well as expand their ambitions beyond fantasy football alone into other sports, including basketball and soccer.


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Techstars nabs $42M to expand its global presence – gpgmail


Techstars, a startup accelerator founded in 2006, has plans to double down on international growth with a new investment.

SVB Financial Group, the holding company of Silicon Valley Bank, led the $42 million round in Techstars, with participation from Foundry Group.

With $500 million AUM, Techstars is both a fund deploying capital to early-stage upstarts and an operating business nearing $100 million in annual revenue. Its latest equity investment, announced this morning, will fuel the latter, helping Techstars accelerate its global expansion efforts.

“Expect to see Techstars continue to expand more rapidly, not just in North America and Europe, but also throughout Asia, Latin America, Australia and more,” Techstars founder and co-chief executive officer David Cohen tells gpgmail.

Cohen adds the company will also use the fresh funds to grow Techstars Studio, where it builds and launches its own companies; Techstars Ecosystem Development, which helps communities grow and sustain startup economies; Techstars Talent, where it lists available startup roles and more.

Techstars currently runs 49 accelerator programs in 35 cities in 16 countries. Known for backing a number of companies, including Plated, ClassPass, SendGrid and PillPack, Techstars invests roughly $80 million into 490 new startups per year.

“We have a model that is working consistently,” Cohen adds. “We’re helping entrepreneurs succeed all over the world. In turn, this is creating a better future for everyone. We owe it to entrepreneurs everywhere to bring the power of the Techstars network to their doorstep. We believe that talent is equally distributed around the world, but the opportunity is not. It’s on us to continue to grow our network for the benefit of current and future generations of entrepreneurs around the world.”

 


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