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Krisp nearly triples fundraise with $9M expansion after blockbuster 2020

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Krisp, a startup that uses machine learning to remove background noise from audio in real time, has raised $9M as an extension of its $5M A round announced last summer. The extra money followed big traction in 2020 for the Armenian company, which grew its customers and revenue by more than an order of magnitude.

TechCrunch first covered Krisp when it was just emerging from UC Berkeley’s Skydeck accelerator, and co-founder Davit Baghdasaryan was relatively freshly out of his previous role at Twilio. The company’s pitch when I chatted with them in the shared office back then was simple and remains the core of what they offer: isolation of the human voice from any background noise (including other voices) so that audio contains only the former.

It probably comes as no surprise, then, that the company appears to have benefited immensely from the shift to virtual meetings and other trends accelerated by the pandemic. To be specific, Baghdasaryan told me that 2020 brought the company a 20x increase in active users, a 23x increase in enterprise accounts and 13x improvement of annual recurring revenue.

The rise in virtual meetings — often in noisy places like, you know, homes — has led to significant uptake across multiple industries. Krisp now has more than 1,200 enterprise customers, Baghdasaryan said: banks, HR platforms, law firms, call centers — anyone who benefits from having a clear voice on the line (“I guess any company qualifies,” he added). Enterprise-oriented controls like provisioning and central administration have been added to make it easier to integrate.

Illustration of six people using a video chat app.

Image Credits: Krisp

B2B revenue recently eclipsed B2C; the latter was likely popularized by Krisp’s inclusion as an option in popular gaming (and increasingly beyond) chat app Discord, though of course users of a free app being given a bonus product for free aren’t always big converters to “pro” tiers of a product.

But the company hasn’t been standing still, either. While it began with a simple feature set (turning background noise on and off, basically) Krisp has made many upgrades to both its product and infrastructure.

Noise cancellation for high-fidelity voice channels makes the software useful for podcasters and streamers, and acoustic correction (removing room echos) simplifies those setups quite a bit as well. Considering the amount of people doing this and the fact that they’re often willing to pay, this could be a significant source of income.

The company plans to add cross-service call recording and analysis; since it sits between the system’s sound drivers and the application, Krisp can easily save the audio and other useful metadata (How often did person A talk versus person B? What office locations are noisiest?). And the addition of voice cancellation — other people’s voices, that is — could be a huge benefit for people who work, or anticipate returning to work, in crowded offices and call centers.

Part of Krisp’s allure is the ability to run locally and securely on many platforms with very low overhead. But companies with machine learning-based products can stagnate quickly if they don’t improve their infrastructure or build more efficient training flows — Lengoo, for instance, is taking on giants in the translation industry with better training as more or less its main advantage.

Krisp has been optimizing and reoptimizing its algorithms to run efficiently on both Intel and ARM architectures, and decided to roll out its own servers for training its models instead of renting from the usual suspects.

“AWS, Azure and Google Cloud turned out to be too expensive,” Baghdasaryan said. “We have invested in building a data center with Nvidia’s latest A100s in them. This will make our experimentation faster, which is crucial for ML companies.”

Baghdasaryan was also emphatic in his satisfaction with the team in Armenia, where he and his co-founder Arto Minasyan are from, and where the company has focused its hiring, including the 25-strong research team. “By the end of 2021 it will be a 45-member team, all in Armenia,” he said. “We are super happy with the math, physics and engineering talent pool there.”

The funding amounts to $14 million if you combine the two disparate parts of the A round, the latter of which was agreed to just three months after the first. That’s a lot of money, of course, but may seem relatively modest for a company with a thousand enterprise customers and revenue growing by more than 2,000% year over year.

Baghdasaryan said they just weren’t ready to take on a whole B round, with all that involves. They do plan a new fundraise later this year when they’ve reached $15 million ARR, a goal that seems perfectly reasonable given their current charts.

Of course startups with this kind of growth tend to get snapped up by larger concerns, but despite a few offers Baghdasaryan says he’s in it for the long haul — and a multibillion dollar market.

The rush to embrace the new virtual work economy may have spurred Krisp’s growth spurt, but it’s clear that neither the company nor the environment that let it thrive are going anywhere.

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Hard-coded key vulnerability in Logix PLCs has severity score of 10 out of 10

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Hard-coded key vulnerability in Logix PLCs has severity score of 10 out of 10

Enlarge (credit: Rockwell Automation)

Hardware that is widely used to control equipment in factories and other industrial settings can be remotely commandeered by exploiting a newly disclosed vulnerability that has a severity score of 10 out of 10.

The vulnerability is found in programmable logic controllers from Rockwell Automation that are marketed under the Logix brand. These devices, which range from the size of a small toaster to a large bread box or even bigger, help control equipment and processes on assembly lines and in other manufacturing environments. Engineers program the PLCs using Rockwell software called Studio 5000 Logix Designer.

On Thursday, the US Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Administration warned of a critical vulnerability that could allow hackers to remotely connect to Logix controllers and from there alter their configuration or application code. The vulnerability requires a low skill level to be exploited, CISA said.

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EC roundup: BNPL startups, growth marketing tips, solid state battery market map, more

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When I needed a new sofa several months ago, I was pleased to find a buy now, pay later (BNPL) option during the checkout process. I had prepared myself to make a major financial outlay, but the service fees were well worth the convenience of deferring the entire payment.

Coincidentally, I was siting on said sofa this morning and considering that transaction when Alex Wilhelm submitted a column that compared recent earnings for three BNPL providers: Afterpay, Affirm and Klarna.

I asked him why he decided to dig into the sector with such gusto.


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“What struck me about the concept was that we had just seen earnings from Affirm,” he said. “So we had three BNPL players with known earnings, and I had just covered a startup funding round in the space.”

“Toss in some obvious audience interest, and it was an easy choice to write the piece. Now the question is whether I did a good job and people find value in it.”

Thanks very much for reading Extra Crunch this week! Have a great weekend.

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch
@yourprotagonist

As BNPL startups raise, a look at Klarna, Affirm and Afterpay earnings

Pilot CEO Waseem Daher tears down his company’s $60M Series C pitch deck

Smashing brick work with hammer

Image Credits: Colin Hawkins (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

I avoid running Extra Crunch stories that focus on best practices; you can find those anywhere. Instead, we look for “here’s what worked for me” articles that give readers actionable insights.

That’s a much better use of your time and ours.

With that ethos in mind, Lucas Matney interviewed Pilot CEO Waseem Daher to deconstruct the pitch deck that helped his company land a $60M Series C round.

“If the Series A was about, ‘Do you have the right ingredients to make this work?’ then the Series B is about, ‘Is this actually working?’” Daher tells TechCrunch.

“And then the Series C is more, ‘Well, show me that the core business is really working and that you have unlocked real drivers to allow the business to continue growing.’”

Can solid state batteries power up for the next generation of EVs?

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Image Credits: Bryce Durbin

A global survey of automobile owners found three hurdles to overcome before consumers will widely embrace electric vehicles:

  • 30-minute charging time
  • 300-mile range
  • $36,000 maximum cost

“Theoretically, solid state batteries (SSB) could deliver all three,” but for now, lithium-ion batteries are the go-to for most EVs (along with laptops and phones).

In our latest market map, we’ve plotted the new and established players in the SSB sector and listed many of the investors who are backing them.

Although SSBs are years away from mass production, “we are on the cusp of some pretty incredible discoveries using major improvements in computational science and machine learning algorithms to accelerate that process,” says SSB startup founder Amy Prieto.

 

Dear Sophie: Which immigration options are the fastest?

lone figure at entrance to maze hedge that has an American flag at the center

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Dear Sophie:

Help! Our startup needs to hire 50 engineers in artificial intelligence and related fields ASAP. Which visa and green card options are the quickest to get for top immigrant engineers?

And will Biden’s new immigration bill help us?

— Mesmerized in Menlo Park

 

Why F5 spent $2.2B on 3 companies to focus on cloud native applications

Dark servers data center room with computers and storage systems

Image Credits: Jasmin Merdan / Getty Images

Founded in 1996, F5 has repositioned itself in the networking market several times in its history. In the last two years, however, it spent $2.2 billion to acquire Shape Security, Volterra and NGINX.

“As large organizations age, they often need to pivot to stay relevant, and I wanted to explore one of these transformational shifts,” said enterprise reporter Ron Miller.

“I spoke to the CEO of F5 to find out the strategy behind his company’s pivot and how he leveraged three acquisitions to push his organization in a new direction.”

 

DigitalOcean’s IPO filing shows a two-class cloud market

Cloud online storage technology concept. Big data data information exchange available. Magnifying glass with analytics data

Image Credits: Who_I_am (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Cloud hosting company DigitalOcean filed to go public this week, so Ron Miller and Alex Wilhelm unpacked its financials.

“AWS and Microsoft Azure will not be losing too much sleep worrying about DigitalOcean, but it is not trying to compete head-on with them across the full spectrum of cloud infrastructure services,” said John Dinsdale, chief analyst and research director at Synergy Research.

 

Oscar Health’s initial IPO price is so high, it makes me want to swear

I asked Alex Wilhelm to dial back the profanity he used to describe Oscar Health’s proposed valuation, but perhaps I was too conservative.

In March 2018, the insurtech unicorn was valued at around $3.2 billion. Today, with the company aiming to debut at $32 to $34 per share, its fully diluted valuation is closer to $7.7 billion.

“The clear takeaway from the first Oscar Health IPO pricing interval is that public investors have lost their minds,” says Alex.

His advice for companies considering an IPO? “Go public now.”

 

If Coinbase is worth $100 billion, what’s a fair valuation for Stripe?

Last week, Alex wrote about how cryptocurrency trading platform Coinbase was being valued at $77 billion in the private markets.

As of Monday, “it’s now $100 billion, per Axios’ reporting.”

He reviewed Coinbase’s performance from 2019 through the end of Q3 2020 “to decide whether Coinbase at $100 billion makes no sense, a little sense or perfect sense.”

 

Winning enterprise sales teams know how to persuade the Chief Objection Officer

woman hand stop sign on brick wall background

Image Credits: Alla Aramyan (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

A skilled software sales team devotes a lot of resources to pinpointing potential customers.

Poring through LinkedIn and reviewing past speaker lists at industry conferences are good places to find decision-makers, for example.

Despite this detective work, GGV Capital investor Oren Yunger says sales teams still need to identify the deal-blockers who can spike a deal with a single email.

“I call this person the Chief Objection Officer.

 

3 strategies for elevating brand authority in 2021

Young woman standing on top of tall green bar graph against white background

Image Credits: Klaus Vedfelt / Getty Images

Every startup wants to raise its profile, but for many early-stage companies, marketing budgets are too small to make a meaningful difference.

Providing real value through content is an excellent way to build authority in the short and long term,” says Amanda Milligan, marketing director at growth agency Fractl.

 

RIBS: The messaging framework for every company and product

Grilled pork ribs with barbecue sauce on wooden background

Image Credits: luchezar (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

The most effective marketing uses good storytelling, not persuasion.

According to Caryn Marooney, general partner at Coatue Management, every compelling story is relevant, inevitable, believable and simple.

“Behind most successful companies is a story that checks every one of those boxes,” says Marooney, but “this is a central challenge for every startup.”

 

Ironclad’s Jason Boehmig: The objective of pricing is to become less wrong over time

On a recent episode of Extra Crunch Live, Ironclad founder and CEO Jason Boehmig and Accel partner Steve Loughlin discussed the pitch that brought them together almost four years ago.

Since that $8 million Series A, Loughlin joined Ironclad’s board. “Both agree that the work they put in up front had paid off” when it comes to how well they work together, says Jordan Crook.

“We’ve always been up front about the fact that we consider the board a part of the company,” said Boehmig.


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At TC Early Stage, we’ll cover topics like recruiting, sales, legal, PR, marketing and brand building. Each session includes ample time for audience questions and discussion.

Use discount code ECNEWSLETTER to take 20% off the cost of your TC Early Stage ticket!

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With $62.5M in debt financing, Road Runner Media puts digital ads behind commercial vehicles

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If Southern California-based Road Runner Media succeeds, you’ll start seeing a lot more ads while you’re driving.

That’s because the startup is placing digital screens on the back of technicians’ vans, delivery vehicles, buses and other commercial vehicles. Those screens can show both ads and serve as a brake light — according to founder and chairman Randall Lanham, the brake light functionality is required if you’re putting a sign on the back of a vehicle.

“The way we look at it, we are a digital brake light,” Lanham said. Yes, the brake light is showing ads, but “the driver touching the brakes interrupts the ad.” (The sign can also indicate turns, reversing and emergency flashers. You can see a mock-up ad in the image above, and real footage in the video below.)

To pursue this idea, Lanham (who described himself as a “recovering attorney”) enlisted Chris Riley as CEO — Riley’s experience includes several years as CEO of PepsiCo Australia and New Zealand. And the company announced this week that it has secured $62.5 million in debt financing from Baseline Growth Capital.

The idea of putting ads on moving vehicles isn’t new. There are, of course, ads on the tops of taxis, and startups like Firefly are also putting digital signage on top of Ubers and Lyfts. But Riley said Road Runner’s ruggedized, high-resolution LCD screens are very different, due to their size, quality and placement.

“[Taxi-top ads] don’t have the color, the brilliance, the clarity,” he said. “We can run a true video ad on the screen.”

Riley also said the ads can be targeted based on GPS and time of day, and that the company eventually plans to add sensors to collect data on who’s actually seeing the ads.

As for concerns that these big, bright screens might distract drivers, Lanham argued they’re actually attracting driver’s eyes to exactly where they should be, and creating a brake light that’s much harder to ignore.

“Your eyes are affixed on the horizon, which is what the [Department of Transportation] wants — as opposed to on the floor or the radio or directly off to the left or right,” he said. “That’s where your safest driving occurs, when your eyes are up above the dashboard.”

In fact, Lanham said he’s “very passionate” about the company’s mission, which in his view will make roads safer, and is creating a platform that could also be used to spread public service messages.

“We have the ability to retrofit any vehicle and make it safer on the highways,” he added. “I really, truly believe that we will save lives, if we already haven’t.”

The company says it already has 150 screens live in Atlanta, Boulder, Chicago, Dallas and Los Angeles, with plans to launch screens in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. in March.

 

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