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Rows, formerly dashdash, raises $16M to build and populate web apps using only spreadsheet skills

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Spreadsheet software — led by products like Microsoft’s Excel, Google’s Sheets and Apple’s Numbers — continues to be one of the most-used categories of business apps, with Excel alone clocking up more than a billion users just on its Android version. Now, a startup called Rows that’s built on that ubiquity, with a low-code platform that lets people populate and analyze web apps using just spreadsheet interfaces, is announcing funding and launching a freemium open beta of its expanded service.

The Berlin-based startup — which rebranded from dashdash at the end of last year — closed a Series B round of $16 million, money that it is using to continue investing in its platform as well as in sales and marketing.

The round was led by Lakestar, with past investors Accel (which led its $8 million Series A in 2018) and Cherry Ventures also participating. Christian Reber has also invested in this round. Reber knows a thing or two about software disrupting legacy products — he is the co-founder and CEO of presentation software startup Pitch and the former CEO and founder of Microsoft-acquired Wunderlist — and notably he is joining Rows’ Advisory Board along with the investment.

A little detail about this Series B: CEO Humberto Ayres Pereira tells us that the round actually was quietly closed over a year ago, in January 2020 — just ahead of the world shutting down amid the Covid-19 pandemic. The startup chose to announce that round today to coincide with adding more features to its product and moving it into an open beta, he said.

That open beta is free in its most basic form — free is limited to 10 users or less and a minimal amount of integration usage. Paid tiers, which cover more team members and up to 100,000 integration tasks (which are measured by how many times a spreadsheet queries another service), start at $59 per month.

One strong sign of interest in this latest iteration of the software will be in the lasting popularity of spreadsheets. Another is Rows’ traction to date: in invite-only mode, it picked up 10,000 users, and hundreds of companies, as customers.

No-code and low-code software, which let people create and work with apps and other digital content without delving deep into the lines of code that underpin them, have continued to pick up traction in the market in the last several years.

The reason for this is straightforward: non-technical employees may not code, but they are getting increasingly adept at understanding how services function and what can be achieved within an app.

No-code and low-code platforms let them get more hands-on when it comes to customizing and creating the services that they need to use everyday to get their work done, without the time and effort it might take to get an engineer involved.

“People want to create their own tools,” said Ayres Pereira. “They want to understand and test and iterate.” He said that the majority of Rows’ users so far are based out of North America, and typical use cases include marketing and sales teams, as well as companies using Rows spreadsheets as a dynamic interface to manage logistics and other operations.

Stephen Nundy, the partner at Lakestar who led its investment, describes the army of users taking up no-code tools as “citizen developers.” 

Rows is precisely the kind of platform that plays into the low-code trend. For people who are already au fait with the kinds of tools that you find in spreadsheets — and something like Excel has hundreds of functions in it — it presents a way of leaning on those familiar functions to trigger integrations with other apps, and to subsequently use a spreadsheet created in Rows to both analyse data from other apps, as well as update them.

You might ask, why is it more useful, for example, to look at content from Twitter in Rows rather than Twitter itself? A Rows document might let a person search for a set of Tweets using a certain chain of keywords, and then organise those results based on parameters such as how many “likes” those Tweets received.

Or users responding to a call to action for a promotion on Instagram might then be cross referenced with a company’s existing database of customers, to analyze how those respondents overlap or present new leads.

There have been a number of other startups building tools that are providing similar no- and low-code approaches. Gyana is focusing more on data science, Tray.io provides a graphical interface to integrate how apps work together, Zapier and Notion also provide simple interfaces to integrate apps and APIs together, and Airtable has its own take on reinventing the spreadsheet interface. For now, Ayres Pereira sees these more as compatriots than competitors.

“Yes, we overlap with services like Zapier and Notion,” he said. “But I’d say we are friends. We’re all raising awareness about people being able to do more and not having to be stuck using old tools. It’s not a zero sum game for us.”

When we covered Rows’s Series A two years ago, the startup had built a platform to let people who are comfortable working with data in spreadsheets to use that interface to create and populate content in web apps. It had a lot of extensibility, but mainly geared at people still willing to do the work to create those links.

Two years on, while the spreadsheet has remained the anchor, the platform has grown. Ayres Pereira, who co-founded the company with Torben Schulz (both pictured above), said that there are some 50 new integrations now, including ways to analyse and update content on social media platforms like Instagram, YouTube, CrunchBase, Salesforce, Slack, LinkedIn and Twitter, as well as some 200 new features in the platform itself.

It also has a number of templates available for people to guide them through simple tasks, such as looking up LinkedIn profiles or emails for a list of people; tracking social media counts and so on.

One of the most common details of spreadsheets, however, has yet to be built. The interface is still banked around rows and columns, with no graphical tools to visualize data in different ways such as pie charts or graphs as you might have in a typical spreadsheet program.

It’s for this reason that Rows has yet to exit beta. The feature is one requested a lot, Pereira said, describing it as “the final frontier.” When Rows is ready to ship with that functionality, likely by Q3 of this year, it will tick over to general “1.0” release, he added.

“Humberto and Torben have really impressed us with their ambition to disrupt the market with a new spreadsheet paradigm that tackles the significant shortcomings of today’s solutions,” said Nundy at Lakestar. “Data integrations are native, the collaboration experience is first class and the ability to share and publish your work as an application is unique and will create more ‘Citizen developers’ to emerge. This is essential to the growing needs of today’s technology literate workforce. The level of interest they’ve received in their private beta is proof of the desirability of platforms like Rows, and we’re excited to be supporting them through their public beta launch and beyond with this investment.” Nundy is also joining Rows’ board with this round.

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Terminus raises $90M to grow its B2B marketing platform, now valued at around $400M

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Sales and marketing are often considered a single category on a business plan, but ironically, when it comes to building apps and services to help with them, they usually become separate entities, and so too do the teams that address sales and marketing in organizations. Today, however, a startup called Terminus — which is building a platform that views sales and marketing in a more integrated way, through account-based marketing — is announcing funding and growth, a sign of how its approach is gaining more traction.

The startup has closed a Series C of $90 million, at a valuation we understand from sources to be around $400 million. This is a huge jump on Terminus’s valuation in its last round, which was $96 million post-money in 2018, according to PitchBook data.

Part of the reason for the hike is likely because of the huge focus that digital marketing has had especially in the last year — a time when, because of the pandemic, a lot of more legacy and traditional channels have ceased to be as visible). Account-based marketing alone was estimated, in 2018, to be a $458 billion market opportunity.

Another reason for interest in Terminus specifically is because of its customer record within that. It has around 1,000 enterprise customers, including divisions of IBM, Salesforce, Thomson Reuters, and more.

“We’re building the new marketing automation,” said CEO Tim Kopp in an interview. “We think account-based marketing is the most important thing to have happened in sales software. Teams are switching from lead-based to account-based approaches, and we’ve now moved into addressing all points of engagement, a modern B2B marketing cloud.”

The equity round is being led by Great Hill Partners, with previous investors Atlanta Ventures and Edison Partners, and new backer Hallet Capital also participating. The funding brings the total raised by Terminus — co-headquartered in Atlanta, GA and Indianapolis, IN — to about $120 million.

The world of marketing has seen a huge shift in the two decades, with the rise in internet consumption, and the proliferation of digital services, driving a big business in what is now collectively called “martech”.

The area that Terminus specifically focuses on within that is account-based marketing. In short, this is a way for B2B sales and marketing teams to conceive of potential targets at a business not as individual entities but collective groups. This means a more joined up effort to work across whole organizations, providing a way to market something to more than one person, increasing the chances of connecting with someone to then make the sale.

Terminus’ platform and approach, CEO Kopp points out, essentially brings the functions of sales and marketing together, instead of needing to hand off work from one to the other (eliminating the admin and cost of working across different software within those groups as part of that).

“We see an overwhelming opportunity in bringing together marketing and sales,” he said in an interview. “Marketing is joining in on sales meetings and sales has become a part of the client success, where you are marketing to your own customers. It’s an area where customers stink because they typically come at it from the sales or marketing side.”

Terminus’ platform today consists of a “data studio” that brings together sales intelligence, account information, and other data sources to help compile a list of would-be targets. On top of this, it also has been building out a marketing engine that includes the ability to build advertising, email and web campaigns, and chatbot management. Some of this has been built in-house, and some has come to the company by way of acquisitions (for example the chat functionality comes by way of its acquisition of Ramble last April).

Terminus is by far not the only company working in this area. Others include Marketo (part of Adobe), 6sense, Sendoso and many others. Terminus’s approach is to bring different aspects of the marketing and sales process (analytics, orchestration, automation and execution) into one platform.

Fittingly, the startup’s name was based on an early nickname for Atlanta, and used as a reference to its aim of being the single for its customers’ various marketing and sales activities.

This is one reason why investors have been knocking.

“Terminus continues to redefine how teams go to market, innovating how companies generate revenue in a digital-first environment,” said Derek Schoettle, a growth partner at Great Hill. “We’ve been so impressed with this team, the company’s significant growth over the last year, its continued product innovation, and the huge market opportunity ahead.”

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Berlin’s MorphAIs hopes its AI algorithms will put its early-stage VC fund ahead of the pack

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MorphAIs is a new VC out of Berlin, aiming to leverage AI algorithms to boost its investment decisions in early-stage startups. But there’s a catch: it hasn’t raised a fund yet.

The firm was founded by Eva-Valérie Gfrerer who was previously head of Growth Marketing at FinTech startup OptioPay and her background is in Behavioural Science and Advanced Information Systems.

Gfrerer says she started MorphAIs to be a tech company, using AI to assess venture investments and then selling that as a service. But after a while, she realized the platform could be applied an in-house fund, hence the drive to now raise a fund.

MorphAIs has already received financing from some serial entrepreneurs, including: Max Laemmle, CEO & Founder Fraugster, previously Better Payment and SumUp; Marc-Alexander Christ, Co-Founder SumUp, previously Groupon (CityDeal) and JP Morgan Chase; Charles Fraenkl, CEO SmartFrog, previously CEO at Gigaset and AOL; Andreas Winiarski, Chairman & Founder awesome capital Group.

She says: “It’s been decades since there has been any meaningful innovation in the processes by which venture capital is allocated. We have built technology to re-invent those processes and push the industry towards more accurate allocation of capital and a less-biased and more inclusive start-up ecosystem.”

She points out that over 80% of early-stage VC funds don’t deliver the minimum expected return rate to their investors. This is true, but admittedly, the VC industry is almost built to throw a lot of money away, in the hope that it will pick the winner that makes up for all the losses.

She now plans to aim for a pre-seed/seed fund, backed by a team consisting of machine learning scientists, mathematicians, and behavioral scientists, and claims that MorphAIs is modeling consistent 16x return rates, after running real-time predictions based on market data.

Her co-founder is Jan Saputra Müller, CTO and Co-Founder, who co-founded and served as CTO for several machine learning companies, including askby.ai.

There’s one problem: Gfrerer’s approach is not unique. For instance, London-based Inreach Ventures has made a big play of using data to hunt down startups. And every other VC in Europe does something similar, more or less.

Will Gfrerer manage to pull off something spectacular? We shall have to wait and find out.

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Lob raises $50M for its direct mail platform

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Lob is a startup promising to help businesses deliver physical mail more quickly and affordably, and with more personalization.

The company estimates that its platform has been used to deliver mail to one in two U.S. households. And today, it’s announcing that it has raised $50 million in Series C funding.

CEO Leore Avidar told me he founded Lob with Harry Zhang nearly a decade ago to “allow people to send mail programmatically.” Over time, the company has become increasingly focused on enterprise clients — its 8,500-plus customers include Twitter, Expedia and Oscar Health — although Avidar said it will always offer a product for small businesses as well.

Avidar explained that in a digital age, there are two main categories of physical mail that Lob continues to support for its customers. First, there’s mail sent for “a regulatory purpose, a compliance purpose” — in other words, mail that businesses are legally required to send in printed form. Second, there’s direct mail sent as marketing, which Avidar said many companies are rediscovering.

“Marketing as a whole is always trying to find a unique channel in order to make their customer aware of whatever their call to action is,” he said. “Right now, social is really expensive, Google AdWords is super expensive, with email you can easily unsubscribe. No one’s been paying attention to direct mail, and the prices don’t scale with supply and demand.”

Lob says that it can reduce the execution time on a direct mail campaign by 95%, from 90 days to less than a day. For the actual printing and delivery, it has built out a network of partners across the country. And other companies like PostPilot and Postalaytics are building on top of the Lob platform.

The startup has now raised $80 million in total funding. The new round was led by Y Combinator Continuity Fund — Lob participated in the YC accelerator and the Continuity Fund also led the startup’s previous funding.

Avidar said the company is planning to triple the amount of physical mail delivered through the platform this year, which means the round will allow it to continue expanding the Print Delivery Network, as well as increasing headcount to more than 260 employees.

“Lob is leading the digital transformation of direct mail, a business process used by every company on Earth that has remained virtually untouched by software,” said YC Managing Partner and Lob board member Ali Rowghani in a statement. “Lob’s platform delivers exceptional value to some of the world’s largest senders of direct mail by lowering cost and improving deliverability, tracking, reporting, and ROI. Even for the most sophisticated senders of direct mail, Lob’s API-driven product is vastly superior to legacy approaches.”

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