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Pivotal CEO talks IPO and balancing life in Dell family of companies

Pivotal has kind of a strange role for a company. On one hand its part of the EMC federation companies that Dell acquired in 2016 for a cool $67 billion, but it’s also an independently operated entity within that broader Dell family of companies — and that has to be a fine line to walk. Whatever the challenges, the company went public yesterday and joined VMware as a separately traded company within Dell. CEO Rob Mee says the company took the step of IPOing because it wanted additional capital. “I think we can definitely use the capital to invest in marketing and R&D. The wider technology ecosystem is moving quickly. It does take additional investment to keep up,” Mee told TechCrunch just a few hours after his company rang the bell at the New York Stock Exchange. As for that relationship of being a Dell company, he said that Michael Dell let him know early on after the EMC acquisition that he understood the company’s position. “From the time Dell acquired EMC, Michael was clear with me: You run the company. I’m just here to help. Dell is our largest shareholder, but we run independently. There have been opportunities to test that [since the acquisition] and it has held true,” Mee said. Mee says that independence is essential because Pivotal has to remain technology-agnostic and it can’t favor Dell products and services over that mission. “It’s necessary because our core product is a cloud-agnostic platform. Our core value proposition is independence from any provider — and Dell and VMware are infrastructure providers,” he said. That said, Mee also can play both sides because he can build products and services that do align with Dell and VMware offerings. “Certainly the companies inside the Dell family are customers of ours. Michael Dell has encouraged the IT group to adopt our methods and they are doing so,” he said. They have also started working more closely with VMware, announcing a container partnership last year. Photo: Ron Miller Overall though he sees his company’s mission in much broader terms, doing nothing less than helping the world’s largest companies transform their organizations. “Our mission is to transform how the world builds software. We are focused on the largest organizations in the world. What is a tailwind for us is that the reality is these large companies are at a tipping point of adopting how they digitize and develop software for strategic advantage,” Mee said. The stock closed up 5 percent last night, but Mee says this isn’t about a single day. “We do very much focus on the long term. We have been executing to a quarterly cadence and have behaved like a public company inside Pivotal [even before the IPO]. We know how to do that while keeping an eye on the long term,” he said.

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Pivotal Software closed up 5% following IPO, raised $555 million

Stock market investors showed lukewarm enthusiasm for Pivotal Software’s debut on Friday. After pricing the IPO at $15, the company closed the day at $15.73. Although it didn’t “pop” for new investors, pricing at the midpoint of its proposed range allowed Pivotal to raise $555 million. Its public company market cap exceeded $3 billion. The enterprise cloud computing company has been majority-owned by Dell, which came about after its merger with EMC in 2016. It was spun off from Dell, EMC and VMware in April 2013. After that, it raised $1.7 billion in funding from Microsoft, Ford and General Electric. Here’s how it describes its business in the filing: Pivotal looks to “provide a leading cloud-native platform that makes software development and IT operations a strategic advantage for our customers. Our cloud-native platform, Pivotal Cloud Foundry (‘PCF’), accelerates and streamlines software development by reducing the complexity of building, deploying and operating new cloud-native applications and modernizing legacy applications.” According to the filing, Pivotal brought in $509.4 million in revenue for its fiscal year ending in February. This is up from $416.3 million in revenue for 2017 and $280.9 million in revenue the year before. The company is still losing a lot of money, however. Losses for fiscal 2018 stood at $163.5 million, improved from the than the negative $232.5 million seen in 2017 and $282.5 million in 2016. “We have incurred substantial losses and may not be able to generate sufficient revenue to achieve and sustain profitability,” the company warned in the requisite “risk factors” section of its IPO filing. Pivotal also acknowledged that it faces competition from “legacy application infrastructure and middleware form vendors” like IBM and Oracle. The company says it additionally competes with “open-source based offerings supported by vendors” like RedHat. Pivotal also faces challenges from SAP Cloud Platform, Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure. The company says it believes it will stand out from the pack because of its strong security and easy-to-use platform. Pivotal also claims to have strong brand awareness and a good reputation. It has 118 U.S. patents and 73 pending and is betting that it will remain innovative. Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs served as lead underwriters. Davis Polk and Fenwick & West worked as counsel. The company listed on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker “PVTL.”

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RealSelf, a community for cosmetic treatments, raises $40 million

RealSelf, an online community where people can ask questions, share their experiences and connect with doctors providing cosmetic treatments, has raised $40 million in new funding – its first round of financing since the $2 million raised in 2008, two years after its founding. The round was led by Elephant, a VC firm co-founded by Warby Parker co-founder Andy Hunt. Hunt will also join RealSelf’s board of directors with the close of this round. RealSelf offers one of the largest online communities for those who want to learn more about cosmetic procedures, including plastic surgery and other non-surgical treatments, like Botox injections. It’s the sort of thing people don’t necessarily want to talk about openly on social networks, but RealSelf has found a way to get people to socialize around the topic. Its users – anonymously – post reviews, have discussions, ask questions, and even detail their progress in post-op photos series. Reading through someone’s experiences not only gives people better insight into what a procedure is like, it also provides an emotional support system for those who are recovering. The idea for the company came from Expedia alum Tom Seery, following a discussion he had with his wife about how hard it was to get the true story about which cosmetic treatments are actually worth the cost and show results. RealSelf’s goal is to bring more transparency to a market where customers before had been sold on promises and hype, often by doctors who would gloss over the downsides – like months spent in painful recovery – or the potential bad outcomes from riskier procedures. Since its launch, RealSelf has grown to include over 2 million anonymous patient reviews, ratings and photos regarding hundreds of different aesthetic procedures. And demand for this sort of information continues to grow, along with the overall market. Last year, for example, there were over 17.5 million surgical and non-surgical cosmetic treatments performed in the U.S., up from 13.1 million procedures in 2010, the company notes. Much of that growth comes from minimally invasive, non-surgical treatments, which outpaced surgeries nearly eight to one. With more people looking for information about these procedures online, RealSelf has seen its visitor counts climb. Last year, nearly 94 million people visited the site from over 100 countries – a metric that’s up more than 270 percent since 2013. 40 percent of those visitors were from outside the U.S. In addition to helping users network and review their own treatments, RealSelf also allows doctors to answer users’ questions, create profiles, share their own before-and-after’s, and offer consultations to those who contact them. The company makes money by offering these doctors a way to target their potential customers, and has been profitable for years as a result. Every month, RealSelf facilitates around 500,000 connections between consumers and doctors, the company says. The funding will allow RealSelf to add fuel to its fire, says its founder. “Our investors bring incredible experience and insight in building household name brands and businesses for the long-term. I am thrilled to have Elephant and our other new investors join our roster and welcome Andy to our board,” said Seery, in an announcement about the round. “We’ve bootstrapped RealSelf into a market leading position that helps millions learn about cosmetic treatments and connect with doctors. Now is our time to step on the gas. We are doubling down to grow awareness, drive innovation and extend our global reach to help anyone considering cosmetic treatments make more confident decisions,” he added. The company, which already has over 200 employees, plans to hire “significantly” this year, and double its office space in Seattle’s Pioneer Square neighborhood in June. It has also just brought on its first CMO, Tanja Omeze, previously the head of marketing for the Amazon Video Store, and who had led marketing at Weight Watchers, Verizon Wireless and Scholastic. “Tom and the team at RealSelf have done an amazing job building a trusted marketplace where consumers and medical experts come together to share information and connect,” said RealSelf’s new board member, Hunt. “Historically, we have invested in companies that provide consumers with transparency in complex markets. RealSelf has built the leading platform allowing consumers to find detailed information, share stories and make better, safer decisions about extremely personal aesthetics choices,” he said.

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Square acquires corporate catering startup Zesty

Square has acquired elements of corporate catering startup Zesty . Square, which already owns on-demand food delivery service Caviar, plans to use Zesty’s assets to strengthen Caviar’s corporate ordering business, Caviar for Teams. Neither company disclosed financial terms of the deal, but the plan is for Caviar and Zesty to operate independently in the short term. “Restaurants turn to Caviar to reach more diners and grow their businesses,” Square Caviar Lead Gokul Rajaram said in a press release. “Expanding our corporate catering product with Zesty enables us to offer our restaurant partners another way to boost sales through higher-margin, large-format catering orders,” said Gokul Rajaram, Caviar Lead at Square. “Caviar is thriving, and we’re excited to supercharge its success with Zesty and double down on an area with great opportunity to drive more growth for our business.” Since its acquisition of Caviar in 2014, Square has acquired OrderAhead’s pickup business to launch Caviar Pickup and Entrees On-Trays to expand its footprint in the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas area. Zesty currently partners with about 150 restaurants in San Francisco, which is the only operate in which it operates. Some of Zesty’s customers include Snap, Splunk and TechCrunch. Zesty, which first launched in 2013 under a different name, had previously raised $20.7 million in venture funding. “Adding Zesty’s offerings, like sophisticated menu-planning tools and algorithms, white-glove catering services, and nutrition and allergen customization, will help us expand our catering offering and even better serve companies of all sizes,” the Caviar team wrote on Medium. “Plus, it provides our restaurant partners with more opportunities to reach new corporate customers.”

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Eventbrite acquires Spanish ticketing platform Ticketea

Eventbrite has been shopping again in Europe — announcing that it’s picked up Spanish ticketing firm, Ticketea. Terms of the deal have not been disclosed. The Madrid-based events discovery and ticketing platform lets people find and book tickets for a variety of live experiences — including festivals, concerts and performing arts shows. It focuses on Spanish speaking countries and small and mid-sized event organizers. Eventbrite said the acquisition will help expand its global footprint in music events, including via the Arenal Sound, Viña Rock, Low Festival, and Dreambeach festivals. It also flagged Ticketea’s “robust ecosystem of third-party integrations” — selling tickets for prominent entertainment events and brands, such as The Billy Elliot Musical, Cirque du Soleil, and Museo Nacional del Prado — as another attraction. In a statement on the acquisition Julia Hartz, CEO and co-founder of Eventbrite, lauded Ticketea’s approach to solving the event industry’s challenges — saying its “robust discovery platform” was of interest, along with the company’s “strong leadership position” in the southern European market (not just Spain). “There is incredible synergy between our two companies from a business, platform, and brand perspective,” added Hartz. “We’re thrilled to welcome their talented team, who shares our core mission of bringing people together through live experiences, to the Eventbrite family.” Javier Andres, co-founder and CEO of Ticketea, is joining Eventbrite as country director for Spain and Portugal. “We have been building a significant market presence in Spain for nearly a decade. It’s exciting to be recognized by the global leader in event technology as they invest more heavily in our growing market,” he said in a supporting statement. “We look forward to extending the impact of both our team and technology far beyond country borders, to the more than 180 countries and territories where their powerful platform gives rise to millions of events today.” According to Crunchbase Ticketea has raised just $5.7M since being founded, all the way back in 2009, so its investors — which include Madrid-based VC firm Seaya Ventures — are likely to be patting themselves on the back about a nice little return on their investment. Ticketea is not the only European ticket firm that Eventbrite has bagged in recent years. Last year the billion-dollar event-management platform also acquired Ticketscript, a ticketing startup based out of Amsterdam. In 2017 it also splurged on US-based Nivite, and Ticketfly — picking the latter up from Pandora, and shelling out $200M.

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Genetics testing startup Prenetics buys UK’s DNAFit to move into consumer services

Prenetics, a Hong Kong-based startup that offers genetic testing services for patients, is expanding outside of Asia and into the consumer space after it acquired London-based company DNAFit. The deal — which a source told TechCrunch is worth $10 million — not only sees Prenetics enter new geographies, but also expand the scope of its services. Prenetics, which includes Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba among its backers, works directly with insurance firms and physicians who use its testing services for their customers and patients, but DNAFit goes straight to consumers themselves. Five-year-old DNAFit sells a test that profiles an individual’s DNA to help them to figure out the fitness and nutrition setup that is best suited to them. DNAFit’s kits — which cost up to £249 ($350) and take 10 days for results — are sold online and via employee packages. The company said it has sold its product to “several hundred thousand” people. High-profile backers include Olympic gold medal-winning British athlete Greg Rutherford, who said the results helped him make “clear, informed decisions” on his training regime. Prenetics has been considering global expansion options for some time, and this acquisition gets its foot in the door in new markets while also tackling the consumer health market, too. “We definitely plan on investing and growing our reach in Europe for the DNAFit business. In addition, Prenetics International will be focused on a B2B with insurers and for corporates,” Prenetics CEO Danny Yeung told TechCrunch via email. “At the same time, DNAFit is a partner for [fitness company] Helix in the U.S., thus we plan on investing further on customer acquisition and growing our reach in the U.S.,” Yeung added. “We are extremely excited at the potential to bring DNA testing to a global market, making an impact on the lives of many.” Also in the U.S., an offer for 23andMe customers allows them to use their results and pay $79 for DNAFit. The deal sees DNAFit CEO Avi Lasarow becomes CEO of Prenetics International, a newly formed business unit, with Yeung CEO of parent company Prenetics Group. DNAFit itself will continue to run under its existing brand, both companies confirmed. This marks the first piece of acquisition for Prenetics, which last year closed a $40 million Series B funding round led by Beyond Ventures and Alibaba Hong Kong Entrepreneurs Fund. Yeung told us at the time that a portion of that capital would be reserved for meaningful acquisitions as the startup aims to go beyond its early focus on China, Hong Kong and Southeast Asia. At the time of that funding, which happened in October, Yeung said Prenetics had processed 200,000 DNA samples Prenetics started out as ‘Multigene’ in 2009 when it span out from Hong Kong’s City University. Yeung joined the firm as CEO in 2014, after leaving Groupon following its acquisition of his Hong Kong startup uBuyiBuy, and it has been in startup mode since then. Prenetics has raised over $52 million from investors which, aside from Alibaba, include 500 Startups, Venturra Capital and Chinese insurance giant Ping An.

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Another day, another $50 million ICO exit scam

Savedroid, a German company that purportedly raised $50 million in ICO and direct funding, has exited with a bang. The site is currently displaying the above image and the founder, one – Dr. Yassin Hankir – has posted a tweeted thanking investors and saying “Over and out.” Thanks guys! Over and out … #savedroidICO pic.twitter.com/PMRtjlbEdD — Yassin Hankir #savedroidico (@YassinHankir) April 18, 2018 A reverse image search found Hankir’s photo on this page for Founder Institute and he has pitched his product at multiple events including this one in German: Savedroid was originally supposed to use AI to manage user investments and promised a crypto-backed credit card, a claim that CCN notes is popular with scam ICOs. It ran for a number of months and was clearly well managed as the group was able to open an office and appear at multiple events. One Reddit user visit SaveDroid’s offices and recorded this desolate scene: Still another wrote: “The CEO on their twitter feed posted this several times ‘contribute now to participate in our #Airdrop and become a #Crypto Millionaire.’ Not about technology, its all about GIVE US MONEY AND WE WILL MAKE YOU A MILLIONAIRE. Anyone who fell for this despite all the warning signs can blame no one but themselves.” The beer Hankir is holding in that image is Egyptian and one can assume that the backdrop is easily recognizable and designed to throw pursuers off the trail… for good reason. It would be smart for investors to crowdfund to hire #hitman — crypto_prophet (@cryoto_prophet) April 18, 2018

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Squarefoot raises $7M to give offices an easier way to find space

While smaller companies are seeing a lot of new options for distributed office space, or can pick up a couple offices in a WeWork, eventually they get big enough and have to find a bigger office — but that can end up as one of the weirdest and most annoying challenges for an early-stage CEO. Finding that space is a whole other story, outside of just searching on Google and crossing your fingers. It’s why Jonathan Wasserstrum started Squarefoot, which looks to not only create a hub for these vacant offices, but also have the systems in place — including brokers — to help companies eventually land that office space. Eventually companies as they grow have to graduate into increasingly larger and larger spots, but there’s a missing sweet spot for mid-stage companies that are looking for space but don’t necessarily have the relationships with those big office brokers just yet, and instead are just looking through a friend of a friend. The company said today that it has raised $7 million in a new financing round led by Rosecliff Ventures, with RRE Ventures, Triangle Peak Partners, Armory Square Ventures, and others participating. “If you talk to any CEO and you ask what they think about commercial real estate brokers, they’ll say, ‘oh, the guys that send an email every week,'” co-founder Jonathan Wasserstrum said. “The industry has been slow to adopt because the average person who owns the building is fine. They don’t wake up every morning and say this process sucks. But the people who wake up and say the process sucks are looking for space. That was kind of one fo the early things that we kind of figured out and focused a lot of attention on aggregating that tenant demand. Squarefoot starts off on the buyer side as an aggregation platform that localizes open office space into one spot. While companies used to have to Google search something along the lines of “Chelsea office space” in New York — especially for early-stage companies that are just starting to outgrow their early offices — the goal is to always have Squarefoot come up as a result for that. It already happens thanks to a lot of efforts on the marketing front, but eventually with enough inventory and demand the hope is that building owners will be coming to Squarefoot in the first place. (That you see an ad for Squarefoot as a result for a lot of these searches already is, for example, no accident.) Squarefoot is also another company that is adopting a sort of hybrid model that includes both a set of tools and algorithms to aggregate together all that space into one spot, but keep consultants and brokers in the mix in order to actually close those deals. It’s a stance that the venture community seems to be increasingly softening on as more and more companies launch with the idea that the biggest deals need to have an actual human on the other end in order to manage that relationship. “We’re not trying to remove brokers, we have them on staff, we think there’s a much better way to go through the process,” Wasserstrum said. “When I am buying a ticket to Chicago, I’m fine going to Kayak and I don’t need a travel agent. But when I’m the CEO of a company and about to sign a three-year lease that’s a $1.5 million liability, and I’ve never done this before, shouldn’t I want someone to help me out? I do not see in the near future this e-commerce experience for commercial real estate. You don’t put it in your shopping cart.” And, to be sure, there are a lot of platforms that already focus on the consumer side, like Redfin for home search. But this is a big market, and there already is some activity — it just hasn’t picked up a ton of traction just yet because it is a slog to get everything all in one place. One of the original examples is 42Floors, but even then that company early on faced a lot of troubles trying to get the model working and in 2015 cut its brokerage team. That’s not a group of people Wasserstrum is looking to leave behind, simply because the end goal is to actually get these companies signing leases and not just serving as a search engine.

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Voicera scoops up AI note-taking app Wrappup

Voicera wants to be the company that eliminates the need for human note taking once and for all. Their vision is an AI-driven voice recognition system that not only takes notes, but identifies speakers and summarizes key points and action items. Today, the company announced it had acquired a similar startup, Wrappup, an AI-fueled note taking app that fits in nicely with that vision. The Wrappup team is joining Voicera immediately. Terms were not disclosed. Voicera CEO Omar Tawakol certainly saw the fit. “Both companies approached the problem with meetings in synergistic ways. Wrappup’s mobile-first, in-person meeting product complements and extends Voicera’s initial focus on conference calls,” he said in a statement. Wrappup’s special strength it turns out it is identifying the salient points in a meeting in a mobile context. To that end, the company also announced the launch of a new mobile app. Chances are this combining of these two companies has been in the works for some time, and is just being made official today. Photo: Voicera Wrappup CEO Rami Salman says joining forces with Voicera creates a more compelling and powerful solution for customers. “Our combined tech stack and AI algorithms more accurately identify and summarize important moments from all your meetings, regardless of where they are held,” he said in a statement. Voicera’s voice recognition tool is a cloud service called Eva. It is designed to remove the task of note taking from the meeting experience. The company got a $13.5 million Series A last month from some big-time investors including e.ventures, Battery Ventures, GGV Capital and Greycroft. They also got some attention from enterprise corporate venture investors including GV (the investment firm affiliated with Google), Microsoft Ventures, Salesforce Ventures and Workday Ventures. The level of these investors shows the company is attacking a real pain point for meeting attendees. Wrappup is based in Dubai and was founded in 2015. Its raised $800,000 to date. It works with existing meeting tools including GoToMeeting from Citrix, WebEx from Cisco, UberConference and Zoom.

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Personably, software that helps on-board new hires at fast-growing companies, gets backing from GFC

As fast-growing companies — or, dare I say, ‘scale-ups’ — add new headcount, the pace at which they are able to on-board new hires doesn’t always keep up. In fact, I’m told it is not unheard of for new employees to turn up on day one apparently unexpected, and to be passed from pillar to post as they attempt to get set up and be shown all of the things you need to be shown to actually start a new role. Enter Personably, the London startup founded in late 2016 by Katerina Pascoulis and Lewis Blackwood, after the former Crowdcube and GoCardless employees spotted an opportunity to use software to streamline and in some instances automate aspects of the on-boarding process. Bootstrapped until now, the company is disclosing that it recently raised £500,000 in seed funding. The round was led by GFC, the venture arm of e-commerce behemoth and company builder Rocket Internet’s GFC — which knows more than a thing or two about the teething problems scaling companies have — along with a number of angel investors. The latter includes Matt Robinson, co-founder of GoCardless and Nested (which I’m told are both early customers of Personably), and Caroline Sage, founder at Kea Consultants. “Right now, on boarding people into fast growing companies is incredibly time-consuming,” Pascoulis tells me. “If you don’t onboard that person properly you’re losing out on the first 6 months of their time at the company. They’ll take longer to get up to speed which is expensive for the company and a poor experience for the individual, especially if they then leave sooner because of it”. In researching the viability of a solution like Personably, Pascoulis says everyone her and Blackwood spoke to had their own story about something that had gone wrong in their first week that had stuck with them. “What Personably does to solve this is automating away a lot of those manual tasks that need to happen when someone starts,” she says. “Things as simple as sending welcome emails right up to automatically scheduling everything that new starter needs to attend.” When a company is relatively small, these types of on-boarding tasks and the organisation around it tend to fall to one or two people and happens at a hiring pace that makes it manageable. However, if a company hits hyper-growth mode or simply becomes a much larger organisation with many more moving parts, the on-boarding process itself also needs to scale. “When you’re hiring one person every couple of months it’s something you can handle. But when you’re hiring one or more people a week, you’re spending a lot of time doing these tasks that should just be handled automatically. We give teams that time back,” says Pascoulis. As an example, imagine scheduling weeks of training across a company, involving lots of different team members. This might typically be handled through a combination of spreadsheets, email and task manager, but with Personably can be done with a single click and tracked all in one interface. Meanwhile, the business model is typical SaaS. Companies pay a monthly subscription fee to use the product, and the pricing varies based on the volume of hires a company is making. Pascoulis cites competitors as newer HR systems like CharlieHR and HiBob that have on-boarding features, but, she argues, don’t scale as well. There’s also traditional enterprise products like Workday that handle on-boarding on an enterprise level.

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