Edo raises $12M to measure TV ad effectiveness

Edo, an ad analytics startup founded by Daniel Nadler and actor Edward Norton, announced today that it has raised $12 million in Series A funding.

Nadler and Norton have both had startup success before — Nadler co-founded and led Kensho, which S&P Global acquired for $550 million. Norton invested in Kensho and co-founded CrowdRise, which was acquired by GoFundMe.

Even so, ad analytics might seem like an arcane industry for an actor/filmmaker to want to tackle. However, Norton said he was actually the one to convince Nadler that it was worth starting the company, and he argued that this is an important topic to both of them as creators. (Nadler’s a poet.)

“Movie studios and publishers, they take risks on talent, on creative people like us,” Norton said. “We want them to do well … The better they do with the dollars they spend, the less risk averse they become.”

Nadler and Norton recruited Kevin Krim, the former head of digital at CNBC, to serve as Edo’s CEO.

Krim explained that while linear TV advertising still accounts for the majority of ad budgets, the effectiveness of those ads is still measured using old-fashioned “survey-based methodologies.” There are other measurement companies looking online; Norton said they’re focused on social media sentiment and other “weak proxies” for consumer behavior.

In contrast, Edo pulls data from sources like search engines and content sites where people are doing research before making a purchase. By applying data science, Krim said, “We basically can measure the change in consumer engagement, the behaviors that are indicative of intent. We can measure the change in consumer behavior for every ad.”

In fact, Edo says that since its founding in 2015, it has created a database of 47 million ad airings, so advertisers can see not just their own ad performance, but also that of their competitors. This allows advertisers to adjust their campaigns based on consumer engagement — Krim said that in some cases, advertisers will receive the overnight data and then adjust their ad rotation for that very night.

As for the Series A, it was led by Breyer Capital. (Jim Breyer has backed everything from Facebook to Etsy to Marvel.) Vista Equity co-founders Robert Smith and Brian Sheth participated in the round, as did WGI Group.

“For more than a decade I’ve watched the data science talent arbitrage transform industries from finance to defense, from transportation to commerce,” Breyer said in the funding announcement. “We needed someone to bring these capabilities to bear on the systemic inefficiencies and methodological shortcomings of measurement and analytics in media and advertising.”

On the customer side, Edo is already working with ESPN, Turner, NBCUniversal and Warner Bros. I wondered whether some of the TV networks might have been worried about what Edo would reveal about their ads, but Norton said the opposite was true.

“I don’t sense that they in any way have trepidation that we’re going to pull their pants down — quite the opposite,” he said. “They are absolutely thrilled with our ability to help burnish and validate their assertions about the strength of what they’re offering.”

Rockset launches out of stealth with $21.5 M investment

Rockset, a startup that came out of stealth today, announced $21.5M in previous funding and the launch of its new data platform that is designed to simplify much of the processing to get to querying and application building faster.

As for the funding, it includes $3 million in seed money they got when they started the company, and a more recent $18.5 million Series A, which was led by Sequoia with participation from Greylock.

Jerry Chen, who is a partner at Greylock sees a team that understands the needs of modern developers and data scientists, one that was born in the cloud and can handle a lot of the activities that data scientists have traditionally had to handle manually. “Rockset can ingest any data from anywhere and let developers and data scientists query it using standard SQL. No pipelines. No glue. Just real time operational apps,” he said.

Company co-founder and CEO Venkat Venkataramani is a former Facebook engineer where he learned a bit about processing data at scale. He wanted to start a company that would help data scientists get to insights more quickly.

Data typically requires a lot of massaging before data scientists and developers can make use of it and Rockset has been designed to bypass much of that hard work that can take days, weeks or even months to complete.

“We’re building out our service with innovative architecture and unique capabilities that allows full-featured fast SQL directly on raw data. And we’re offering this as a service. So developers and data scientists can go from useful data in any shape, any form to useful applications in a matter of minutes. And it would take months today,” Venkataramani explained.

To do this you simply connect your data set wherever it lives to your AWS account and Rockset deals with the data ingestion, building the schema, cleaning the data, everything. It also makes sure you have the right amount of infrastructure to manage the level of data you are working with. In other words, it can potentially simplify highly complex data processing tasks to start working with the raw data almost immediately using SQL queries.

To achieve the speed, Venkataramani says they use a number of indexing techniques. “Our indexing technology essentially tries to bring the best of search engines and columnar databases into one. When we index the data, we build more than one type of index behind the scenes so that a wide spectrum of pre-processing can be automatically fast out of the box,” he said. That takes the burden of processing and building data pipelines off of the user.

The company was founded in 2016. Chen and Sequoia partners Mike Vernal joined the Rockset board under the terms of the Series A funding, which closed last August.

Chat app Line’s games business raises $110M for growth opportunities

Messaging app firm Line has given up majority control of its Line Games business after it raised outside financing to expand its collection of titles and go after global opportunities.

The Line Games business was formed earlier this year when Line merged its existing gaming division from NextFloor, the Korea-based game publisher that it acquired in 2017. Now the business has taken on capital from Anchor Equity Partners, which has provided 125 billion KRW ($110 million) in financing via its Lungo Entertainment entity, according to a disclosure from Line.

A Line spokesperson clarified that the deal will see Anchor acquire 144,743 newly-created shares to take a 27.55 percent stake in Line Games. That increase means Line Corp’s own shareholding is diluted from 57.6 percent to a minority 41.73 percent stake.

Korea-based Anchor is best known for a number of deals in its homeland including investments in e-commerce giant Ticket Monster, Korean chat giant Kakao’s Podotree content business and fashion retail group E-Land.

Line operates its eponymous chat app which is the most popular messaging platform in Japan, Thailand and Taiwan, and also significantly used in Indonesia, but gaming is a major source of income. This year to date, Line has made 28.5 billion JPY ($250 million) from its content division, which is primarily virtual goods and in-app purchases from its social games. That division accounts for 19 percent of Line’s total revenue, and it is a figure that is only better by its advertising unit, which has grossed 79.3 billion JPY, or $700 million, in 2018 to date.

The games business is currently focused on Japan, Korea, Thailand and Taiwan, but it said that the new capital will go towards finding new IP for future titles and identifying games with global potential. It is also open to more strategic deals to broaden its focus.

While Line has always been big on games, Line Games isn’t just building for its own service. The company said earlier this year that it plans to focus on non-mobile platforms, which will include the Nintendo Switch among others consoles.

That comes from the addition of NextFloor, which is best known for titles like Dragon Flight and Destiny Child. Dragon Flight has racked up 14 million users since its 2012 launch, at its peak it saw $1 million in daily revenue. Destiny Child, a newer release in 2016, topped the charts in Korea and has been popular in Japan, North America and beyond.

Line went public in 2016 via a dual U.S.-Japan IPO that raised over $1 billion.

Note: the original version of this article was updated to clarify that Lungo Entertainment is buying newly-issued shares.

Concord raises $25 million for its contract management platform

Concord is raising a new $25 million funding round led by Tenaya Capital, with existing investors CRV and Alven also participating. The company is building a platform that makes it easier to manage your contracts all the way from writing them to signing them.

Even if you used a service like DocuSign to sign a contract in the past, chances are you or the sender used Microsoft Word to write the contract. It’s fine if you’re the only one working on this contract. But it can quickly become a mess as your legal team gets larger.

“It’s ultimately bringing a B2C experience to a really complex B2B experience,” VP of Marketing Travis Bickham told me.

And one of the company’s main challenge has been to make it convenient for all teams in your organization. If you work in human resources, you’re dealing with HR contracts. If you’re an office manager, you may need to sign a contract to order a new fridge. If you’re on the sales team, you want to make sure your client signs a contract. The procurement team also wants some sort of legal proof from its partners. And the list goes on.

Concord lets you create templates and workflows. For instance, the most basic contracts don’t require the same attention to details. A non-disclosure agreement is pretty standard. You just have to replace some fields and make the person sign it.

You can create an approval process for more complicated contracts. For instance, you can say that the legal team has to approve any sales contract above $100,000.

Concord has also built integrations with third-party tools. For instance, you can generate a contract in Salesforce using Concord’s integration.

There are currently 80 people working for Concord in San Francisco and Paris. With today’s funding round, the company plans to hire more people, get more clients, target bigger companies, etc. Concord currently works with 200,000 companies.

Southeast Asia’s Grab pulls in $200M from travel giant Booking

Fresh from a strategic investment from Microsoft, Southeast Asia’s ride-hailing leader Grab is back in the money again after it closed $200 million in fresh capital from Booking Holdings, the travel firm formerly known as Priceline.

The investment is part of an ongoing round of funding that Grab said is on course to reach $3 billion before the end of the year. Grab raised $2 billion for the round — including a $1 billion check from Totoya — but it continues to add strategic partners, like Microsoft and Booking. Grab — which bought Uber’s regional business in March and is present in eight countries — is valued at $11 billion and we understand that hasn’t changed with this round.

The deal — which mimics Booking’s recent $500 million investment in China’s Didi — will lead to the two companies team up to offer reciprocal services. That’ll see Grab’s transportation services integrated into Booking’s apps and services with support for Grab Pay. On the other side, Grab said that Booking’s travel accommodation services will come to its app sometime in 2019, although Grab customers in “multiple markets” will get rewards and offers in the app before the end of this year.

Besides Booking.com and Agoda, Booking also operates Kayak, Priceline.com, Rentacars.com and OpenTable. The firm rebranded from Priceline in February 2018.

The tie-in makes sense on both sides. Ride-hailing services are a prime channel for travel companies — Didi and Grab both dominate their respective markets, Grab claims over 110 million downloads — while the idea of pre-ordering a Grab to meet you after a flight has landed, or having one take you to your hotel will be logical for many.

Grab started out offering taxis, but it has since expanded to private car vehicles, motorbikes and a range of non-transportation services that include payments and food delivery. In addition, the company opened its platform to third-parties this summer in an effort to develop a ‘super app’ for Southeast Asia’s rapidly growing internet population, which is already larger than the entire U.S. population.

It hasn’t all been plain-sailing for Grab in its post-Uber world. Both Uber and Grab were fined a collective $9.5 million by Singapore’s watchdog for the merger — they got a lighter rap on the knuckles in the Philippines — while some users have complained about a bloated app, inferior service quality and higher fees in recent months. Grab disputes the latter claim that it has increased prices, but it has pledged to do better by its customers.

Grab’s chief rival is Indonesia Go-Jek, which is said to be raising $2 billion more to support a regional expansion plan. Go-Jek has already moved into Vietnam and Thailand, while this week it opened sign-ups for drivers in Singapore.

Southeast Asia’s Grab partners with MasterCard to offer prepaid cards

Microsoft closes its $7.5B purchase of code-sharing platform GitHub

After getting EU approval a week ago, today Microsoft’s acquisition of GitHub, the Git-based code sharing and collaboration service with 31 million developers, has officially closed. The Redmond, WA-based software behemoth first said it would acquire GitHub for $7.5 billion in stock in June of this year, and after the acquisition closed it would continue to run it as an independent platform and business.

The acquisition is yet another sign of how Microsoft has been doubling down on courting developers and presenting itself as a neutral partner to help them with their projects.

That is because, despite its own very profitable proprietary software business, Microsoft also has a number of other businesses — for example, Azure, which competes with AWS and Google Cloud — that rely heavily on it being unbiased towards one platform or another. And GitHub, Microsoft hopes, will be another signal to the community of that position.

In that regard, it will be an interesting credibility test for the companies.

As previously announced, Nat Friedman, who had been the CEO of Xamarin (another developer-focused startup acquired by Microsoft, in 2016), will be CEO of the company, while GitHub founder and former CEO Chris Wanstrath will become a Microsoft technical fellow to work on strategic software initiatives. (Wanstrath had come back to his CEO role after his co-founder Tom Preston-Werner resigned following a harassment investigation in 2014.)

Friedman, in a short note, said that he will be taking over on Monday, and he also repeated what Microsoft said at the time of the deal: GitHub will be run as an independent platform and business.

This is a key point because there has been a lot of developer backlash over the deal, with many asking if GitHub would become partial or focused more around Microsoft-based projects  or products.

“We will always support developers in their choice of any language, license, tool, platform, or cloud,” he writes, noting that there will be more tools to come. “We will continue to build tasteful, snappy, polished tools that developers love,” he added.

One of those, he noted, will be further development and investment in Paper Cuts, a project it launched in August that it hopes will help address some of the gripes that its developer-users might have with how GitHub works that the company itself hadn’t been planning to address in bigger product upgrades. The idea here is that GitHub can either help find workarounds, or this will become a feedback forum of its own to help figure out what it should be upgrading next on the site.

Of course, the need to remain neutral is not just to keep hold of its 31 million developers (up by 3 million since the deal was first announced), but to keep them from jumping to GitHub competitors, which include GitLab and Bitbucket.

Adzuna acquires job board Work In Startups

Armed with new capital (following a recent £8 million Series C round) and now doing £1 million per month in revenue, job meta-search engine Adzuna has acquired the U.K. tech startup job board Work In Startups.

Terms of deal aren’t being disclosed. However, it will see Adzuna take over operation of the Work In Startups website but continue to run it as an independent brand and community. Notably, the site will remain free to post jobs.

Launched in 2011 by Diana Ilinca and Alex Borbely, Work In Startups set out to create a way for startups to more easily find tech and creative talent, without having to go through recruiters or use more generic job sites. It is said to have become an important tool in U.K. startup hiring over the past few years, and, I understand, has been used by Adzuna itself.

“As we continue to grow and learn more and more about the market, we’ve realised that ‘generalist’ search is not always the best solution for all jobseekers/employers, and sometimes a focussed, niche site can offer a more tailored experience and build a stronger community,” Adzuna co-founder Andrew Hunter tells me.

“Tech startup jobs and companies are cutting-edge, early adopters and have very particular needs… and this is truly a really strong but underdeveloped market-leading community asset with a freemium model like Adzuna. So it’s a great way for us to learn better how we can take what we’re good at — tech, traffic acquisition, data etc. — and apply it to create more value for a site like this and its users.”

Related to this, Adzuna’s data shows there are currently 1.1 million open job roles in the U.K. and that 90,000 (more than 8 percent) are in tech.

“On a personal note, I want to make hiring great people easier and less expensive for U.K. startups,” continues Hunter. “I’ve been through ‘the struggle’ and it’s f***ing hard to attract the best talent when your company is just getting going (let alone having to compete with big banks and established tech companies for talent!). We’d like to change that by taking on this community and growing it to new heights”.

With that said, he cautions me not to expect other imminent acquisitions. “Would we do other similar acquisitions in the future? For now, it’s a one-off but maybe for right asset,” says the Adzuna co-founder.

Hong Kong’s Neat raises $3M to offer easy banking for startups and SMEs

Neat, a Hong Kong-based startup that gives startups and SMEs access to credit cards and banking services has pulled in $3 million in fresh funding.

The new round is led by China-based VC Linear Capital with participation from Hong Kong’s Sagamore investments and existing backers Dymon Asia Ventures and Portag3 Ventures . Neat previously landed a $2 million seed round earlier this year.

In a nutshell, the company offers quick access to prepaid Mastercard-based cards and basic banking services. Cards are charged at around $7.50 per month, with varying prices on incoming, outgoing and international payments. There is also a consumer option, which is much like European startups Monzo, Starling and Revolut, but Neat is more focused on business users.

We profiled the company in August and since then U.S-based Brex — a two-year-old startup that offers similar services — has gone on to reach a billion-dollar valuation. That shows that there’s plenty of validity in the model… at least in the eyes of the investors who write those all-important checks.

Neat is in a much earlier stage of development and it is serving a more fragmented market in Asia via Hong Kong. When we talked to CEO David Rosa earlier this year, he said that “a large portion” of its customers were either based in Hong Kong or associated with the market, but Neat does offer services globally with a focus on Asia. In particular, the company has introduced international payments — which allow users to pay out overseas without incurring exorbitant fees — while Rosa said it is working on other multi-currency solutions and integrations with third-party services such as accountancy and more.

Neat already claims to have customers in 100 countries, but with Linear Capital’s backing, it is aiming to zone in on Chinese businesses that are looking for banking options in Hong Kong. Given the considerable control on moving capital out of Mainland China, Neat may be an easy option for Chinese startups that are looking to go global but don’t want the hassle of dealing with traditional banks to set up their Hong Kong entity. But of course, there is plenty of incumbent competition.

Even the world’s largest crypto exchange needs help from traditional VCs

Crypto-anarchists may not like it, but money doesn’t buy everything. Sometimes, you just need the help of a traditional venture capitalist.

Binance is the fastest growing company in crypto — having risen to become the world’s largest crypto exchange based on trading volumes in under one year — but even it needs help from the old guard. Earlier today the exchange firm, which is officially headquartered in Malta, announced that it has landed an undisclosed investment from Vertex Ventures, a VC firm belonging to Singapore sovereign fund Temasek.

The deal is aimed at launching Binance’s fiat-to-crypto exchange in Singapore which is in beta right now but expected to launch fully, with regulatory compliance, before the end of this year.

VCs have long invested in crypto and crypto exchanges — $8 billion-valued Coinbase is the best example with phenomenal gains for backers — but Binance is not traditional. It is barely one year old, it operates in legal grey areas worldwide and it is seemingly not in need of money (even in this bear market) having made a $350 million profit in the last six months alone.

But this deal is about seeking legitimacy and the right partners.

Binance made its name offering fast crypto-to-crypto trades that make use of its BNB token to save on fees, but a big focus for this year is moving into fiat-based exchanges, as CEO Changpeng Zhao explained to TechCrunch in an interview last month. The company is aiming to open three crypto exchanges this year, with plans to raise the number to 10 next year. Aside from Singapore, it has announced a joint venture in Lichtenstein and gone public with plans to offer fiat in Malta, where it has been courted by the island nation’s pro-crypto administration.

The move in Singapore is particularly telling since it shows that, despite early rhetoric that crypto (and ICOs) would ‘rid’ the tech industry of venture capitals. Traditional money and networks are very much required if ambitious companies are to fulfill their promise, as I explained recently when I argued that professional investors now dominate ICOs. The writing has been on the wall with crypto companies using money to make startup investments and grow their own ecosystems — Binance is the most aggressive with a fund that’s said to be $1 billion and an ambitious accelerator program — and so these businesses themselves also need the connections that professional VCs can bring.

(The deal is also a blow to Vertex rival Sequoia, which ended up taking Binance to court over the breakdown of a proposed investment deal last year.)

(Left to right) Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao pictured announcing Binance’s acquisition of Trust Wallet with its founder Viktor Radchenko

Wei Zhou — the Binance executive leading the firm’s Singapore business — told TechCrunch that the deal is very much about opening doors.

“This partnership is not about capital but about finding a partner for Binance’s fiat exchange expansions. This partnership signifies the long-term commitment Binance has to build out the ecosystem in the [Southeast Asia] region,” Zhou said.

Vertex certainly brings a network and know-how. The firm was founded in 1988, it has five funds worldwide and offices in Southeast Asia, Silicon Valley, China, India, Israel, and Taiwan.

The firm’s current $210 million fund is the largest in Southeast Asia, and this deal is a joint one between Vertex China and its Southeast Asia/India sibling.

More importantly, as a fund under the Temasek banner — Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund — the deal gives Binance a very good seat at the table for working with authorities. The company has already shown its keenness in Singapore by taking slow steps and working with authorities to roll out its fiat exchange in Singapore slowly — small and slow rollouts are a departure from Binance’s usual ‘move fast and break things’ approach to business — so pairing up with Vertex mirrors that.

Zhao, the Binance CEO, has artfully dodged many questions about his company’s past — such as why it left Hong Kong, the reasons it declined to become regulated in Japan, why it runs to governments like Malta and Bermuda, and whether it has violated U.S. securities laws — but the newest, and perhaps best, response is to work with the establishment in recognized markets where it can be fully legally compliant.

Note: The author owns a small amount of cryptocurrency. Enough to gain an understanding, not enough to change a life

Oracle acquires DataFox, a developer of ‘predictive intelligence as a service’ across millions of company records

Oracle today announced that it has made another acquisition, this time to enhance both the kind of data that it can provide to its business customers, and its artificial intelligence capabilities: it is buying DataFox, a startup that has amassed a huge company database — currently covering 2.8 million public and private businesses, adding 1.2 million each year — and uses AI to analyse that to make larger business predictions. The business intelligence resulting from that service can in turn be used for a range of CRM-related services: prioritising sales accounts, finding leads, and so on.

“The combination of Oracle and DataFox will enhance Oracle Cloud Applications with an extensive set of AI-derived company-level data and signals, enabling customers to reach even better decisions and business outcomes,” noted Steve Miranda, EVP of applications development at Oracle, in a note to DataFox customers announcing the deal. He said that DataFox will sit among Oracle’s existing portfolio of business planning services like ERP, CX, HCM and SCM. “Together, Oracle and DataFox will enrich cloud applications with AI-driven company-level data, powering recommendations to elevate business performance across the enterprise.”

Terms of the deal do not appear to have been disclosed but we are trying to find out. DataFox — which launched in 2014 as a contender in the TC Battlefield at Disrupt — had raised just under $19 million and was last valued at $33 million back in January 2017, according to PitchBook. Investors in the company included Slack, GV, Howard Linzon, and strategic investor Goldman Sachs among others.

Oracle said that it is not committing to a specific product roadmap for DataFox longer term, but for now it will be keeping the product going as is for those who are already customers. The startup counted Goldman Sachs, Bain & Company and Twilio among those using its services. 

The deal is interesting for a couple of reasons. First, it shows that larger platform providers are on the hunt for more AI-driven tools to provide an increasingly sophisticated level of service to customers. Second, in this case, it’s a sign of how content remains a compelling proposition, when it is presented and able to be manipulated for specific ends. Many customer databases can get old and out of date, so the idea of constantly trawling information sources in order to create the most accurate record of businesses possible is a very compelling idea to anyone who has faced the alternative, and that goes even more so in sales environments when people are trying to look their sharpest.

It also shows that, although both companies have evolved quite a lot, and there are many other alternatives on the market, Oracle remains in hot competition with Salesforce for customers and are hoping to woo and keep more of them with the better, integrated innovations. That also points to Oracle potentially cross and up-selling people who come to them by way of DataFox, which is an SaaS that pitches itself very much as something anyone can subscribe to online.