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Glia raises $78M for its integrated, hands-on, AI-based customer service platform

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The ongoing push for social distancing to slow the spread of Covid-19 has meant that more people than ever before are using internet-based services to get things done. And that is having a direct impact on digital customer service, which is seeing unprecedented traffic and demands when things are not running smoothly. Today, one of the startups that’s built an interesting, very “hands-on” approach to addressing that problem is announcing a round of funding to expand its business.

Glia, which has built a platform that not only integrates and helps manage different customer support channels, but also provides tools to help agents proactively get into a customer’s app or web page to help them find things or fix issues, is today announcing that it has picked up $78 million, a Series C. Dan Michaeli, the co-founder and CEO who is based out of New York (the company has a substantial operation in Estonia too), said will be used to continue developing its technology and expanding to address inbound interest for its services after seeing its revenues grow by 150% in 2020.

The company’s original focus was around financial services and it counts a large base of customers in that area, but it is also seeing a lot of activity in adjacent industries like insurance, as well as education, retail and other categories Michaeli said.

“We’ve had overwhelming demand and it’s incredible to see how businesses want to adopt us right now,” he said in an interview. “The plan is to significantly scale up and continue to define and meet that demand for digital customer service.” The company is likely also to use some of the funding for acquisitions in what appears to be a rapidly consolidating market.

The round is being led by Insight Partners, with Don Brown (an entrepreneur in the world of customer service, with his company Interactive Intelligence acquired by Genesys for $1.4 billion) also participating.

Glia isn’t disclosing other investors, but past backers include Tola Capital, Temerity Capital, Grassy Creek and Wildcat Capital, as well as Insight. Prior to this, the company, which has been around since 2012 and was previously known as Salemove, had raised just $28 million and its valuation was a modest $69 million according to PitchBook data (and it’s not disclosing valuation today).

While there are a lot of customer service startups in the market today, and a number of them are seeing huge boosts in their business, and even some consolidation as others snap up tech to make sure they have their own customer service strategies going in the right direction. (Witness Facebook of all companies acquiring omnichannel customer support and CRM leader Kustomer for $1 billion in November.)

Glia is not unlike many of the new guard of these companies, in that its focus is very squarely on providing a platform to be able to manage and interact across whatever digital channel a customer happens to be using. Glia, I should point out, means “glue” in Greek.

What makes Glia quite interesting and different from these are some of the twists it uses to engage with users. One of these involves being able to give agents the ability to actually get on the screen of the user in question, in order to both guide the user around the screen, and to see what the user is doing on that screen.

To be clear, the connection and ability to track what the user is doing is just on the screen in question, and it’s done with the user’s awareness of what is going on. In the demo of the service that I went through, it’s a very smooth service, which reminded me just a little of things like Clippy on Microsoft Word.

Alongside this, Glia provides tools to agents to let coach them on questions to ask, phrasing to use, and links for answers, and Glia also develops virtual customer service assistants, to help with more basic questions. These also have the ability to interact with people’s screens when they make contact with a company. This in effect sees the company combining a number of technologies in one place, from natural language to suggest (and in some cases run) customer service responses, through to computer vision to help detect what is going on on the remote screen, through to more fundamental CRM technology to run those services across multiple platforms.

While screen sharing has been a well-used tool in other areas — for example in workforce collaboration environments, or for presenting online — Glia is seen as one of the pioneers in leveraging that for customer service. For investors, the interest in Glia has been to tap into that.

“We are proud to expand our investment in Glia as the company continues to lead the evolution of Digital Customer Service for businesses across the globe,” said Lonne Jaffe, managing director at Insight Partners, in a statement. “Glia’s platform provides the modern technology necessary for businesses to meet customers in their digital journeys and communicate through the customer’s channel of choice. With this capital, the company will continue to scale and keep up with skyrocketing demand.”

We are in a key moment of digital transformation in customer services. Surprisingly, there are still many who opt for calling in to ask questions, but as Michaeli noted, these days, even when they are still using phones, customers will do so with “their screens in front of them.”

Brown believes that this is the other opportunity to seize. “Many companies are still focused on moving antiquated, on-premises telephony systems to cloud contact centers that essentially offer the same functionality,” he said in a statement. “Instead, businesses can leapfrog this process and move directly to a digital-first cloud approach by partnering with Glia. If I were to build Interactive Intelligence for today’s contact center, I would take Glia’s approach.”

Lyron Foster is a Hawaii based African American Musician, Author, Actor, Blogger, Filmmaker, Philanthropist and Multinational Serial Tech Entrepreneur.

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Will this time be any different for Twitter?

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As Twitter seems to buy its way into competing with Clubhouse and Substack, one wonders whether the beleaguered social media company is finally ready to move past its truly awful track record of seizing opportunities.

Twitter’s pace of product ambition has certainly seemed to speed in the past several months, conveniently following shareholder action to oust CEO Jack Dorsey last year. They’ve finally rolled out their Stories product Fleets, they’ve embraced audio both in the traditional feed and with their beta Spaces feature, and they’ve taken some much-publicized steps to reign in disinformation and content moderation woes (though there’s still plenty to be done there).

In the past few weeks, Twitter has also made some particularly interesting acquisitions. Today, it was announced that they were buying Revue, a newsletter management startup. Earlier this month, they bought Breaker, a podcasting service. Last month, they bought Squad, a social screen-sharing app.

It’s an aggressive turn that follows Twitter’s announcement that it will be shutting down Periscope, a live video app that was purchased and long-neglected by Twitter despite the fact that the company’s current product chief was its founder.

TikTok’s wild 2020 success in fully realizing the broader vision for Vine, which Twitter shut down in 2017, seems to be a particularly embarrassing stain on the company’s history; it’s also the most crystallized example of Twitter shooting itself in the foot as a result of not embracing risk. And while Twitter was ahead of that curve and simply didn’t make it happen, Substack and Clubhouse are two prime examples of competitors which Twitter could have prevented from reaching their current stature if it had just been more aggressive in recognizing adjacent social market opportunities and sprung into action.

It’s particularly hard to reckon in the shadow of Facebook’s ever-swelling isolation. Once the eager enemy of any social upstart, Facebook finds itself desperately complicated by global politics and antitrust woes in a way that may never strike it down, but have seemed to slow its maneuverability. A startup like Clubhouse may once seemed like a prime acquisition target, but it’s too complicated of a purchase for Facebook to even attempt in 2021, leaving Twitter a potential competitor that could scale to full size on its own.

Twitter is a much smaller company than Facebook is, though it’s still plenty big. As the company aims to move beyond the 2020 US election that ate up so much of its attention and expand its ambitions, one of its most pertinent challenges will be reinvigorating a product culture to recognize opportunities and take on rising competitors — though another challenge might be getting its competition to take it seriously in the first place.

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Sila Nanotechnologies raises $590M to fund battery materials factory

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Sila Nanotechnologies, a Silicon Valley battery materials company, has spent years developing technology designed to pack more energy into a cell at a lower cost — an end game that has helped it lock in partnerships with Amperex Technology Limited as well as automakers BMW and Daimler.

Now, Sila Nano, flush with a fresh injection of capital that has pushed its valuation to $3.3 billion, is ready to bring its technology to the masses.

The company, which was founded nearly a decade ago, said Tuesday it has raised $590 million in a Series F funding round led by Coatue with significant participation by funds and accounts advised by T. Rowe Price Associates, Inc. Existing investors 8VC, Bessemer Venture Partners, Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, and Sutter Hill Ventures also participated in the round.

Sila Nano plans to use the funds to hire another 100 people this year and begin to buildout a factory in North America capable of producing 100 gigawatt-hours of silicon-based anode material, which is used in batteries for the smartphone and automotive industries. While the company hasn’t revealed the location of the factory, it does have a timeline. Sila Nano said it plans to start production at the factory in 2024. Materials produced at the plant will be in electric vehicles by 2025, the company said.

“It took eight years and 35,000 iterations to create a new battery chemistry, but that was just step one,” Sila Nano CEO and co-founder Gene Berdichevsky said in a statement. “For any new technology to make an impact in the real-world, it has to scale, which will cost billions of dollars. We know from our experience building our production lines in Alameda that investing in our next plant today will keep us on track to be powering cars and hundreds of millions of consumer devices by 2025.”

The tech

A lithium-ion battery contains two electrodes. There’s an anode (negative) on one side and a cathode (positive) on the other. Typically, an electrolyte sits in the middle and acts as the courier, moving ions between the electrodes when charging and discharging. Graphite is commonly used as the anode in commercial lithium-ion batteries.

Sila Nano has developed a silicon-based anode that replaces graphite in lithium-ion batteries. The critical detail is that the material was designed to take the place of graphite in without needing to change the battery manufacturing process or equipment.

Sila Nano has been focused on silicon anode because the material can store a lot more lithium ions. Using a material that lets you pack in more lithium ions would theoretically allow you to increase the energy density — or the amount of energy that can be stored in a battery per its volume — of the cell. The upshot would be a cheaper battery that contains more energy in the same space.

The opportunity

It’s a compelling product for automakers attempting to bring more electric vehicles to market. Nearly every global automaker has announced plans or is already producing a new batch of all-electric and plug-in electric vehicles, including Ford, GM, Daimler, BMW, Hyundai and Kia. Tesla continues to ramp up production of its Model 3 and Model Y vehicles as a string of newcomers like Rivian prepare to bring their own EVs to market.

In short: the demand of batteries is climbing; and automakers are looking for the next-generation tech that will give them a competitive edge.

Battery production sat at about 20 GWh per year in 2010. Sila Nano expects it to jump to 2,000 GWh per year by 2030 and 30,000 GWh per year by 2050.

Sila Nano started building the first production lines for its battery materials in 2018. That first line is capable of producing the material to supply the equivalent of 50 megawatts of lithium-ion batteries.

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Daily Crunch: Calendly valued at $3B

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A popular scheduling startup raises a big funding round, Twitter makes a newsletter acquisition and Beyond Meat teams up with PepsiCo. This is your Daily Crunch for January 26, 2021.

The big story: Calendly valued at $3B

Calendly, which helps users schedule and confirm meeting times, has raised $350 million from OpenView Venture Partners and Iconiq.

Until now, the Atlanta-based startup had only raised $550K, but the company says it has 10 million monthly users, with $70 million in subscription revenue last year.

“Calendly has a vision increasingly to be a central part of the meeting life cycle,” said OpenView’s Blake Bartlett.

The tech giants

Twitter acquires newsletter platform Revue — Twitter is getting into the newsletter business.

TikTok is being used by vape sellers marketing to teens — Sellers are offering flavored disposable vapes, parent-proof “discreet” packaging and no ID checks.

PepsiCo and Beyond Meat launch poorly named joint venture for new plant-based food and drinks — The name? The PLANeT Partnership.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Fast raises $102M as the online checkout wars continue to attract huge investment — The new funding was led by Stripe.

SetSail nabs $26M Series A to rethink sales compensation — SetSail says salespeople should be paid them throughout the sales cycle.

Mealco raises $7M to launch new delivery-centric restaurants — By launching a restaurant with Mealco, chefs don’t sign a lease or pay any other upfront costs.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

Ten VCs say interactivity, regulation and independent creators will reshape digital media in 2021 — We asked about the likelihood of further industry consolidation, whether we’ll see more digital media companies take the SPAC route and, of course, what they’re looking for in their next investment.

The five biggest mistakes I made as a first-time startup founder — Finmark CEO Rami Essaid has some regrets.

Does a $27B or $29B valuation make sense for Databricks? — A look at Databricks’ growth history, economics and scale.

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

President Joe Biden commits to replacing entire federal fleet with electric vehicles — His commitment is tied to a broader campaign promise to create 1 million new jobs in the American auto industry and supply chains.

Meet the early-stage founder community at TC Early Stage 2021 — Early Stage part one focuses on operations and fundraising and takes place on April 1-2, while Early Stage part two focusing on marketing, PR and fundraising and runs July 8-9.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

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