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WorkBoard raises $75M as the OKR-focused startup bets on a growing economy, changes to business culture

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This morning WorkBoard, a software startup that sells software designed to help other companies plan, announced that it has raised a $75 million Series D. Softbank Group led the investment, which saw participation from prior investors including Microsoft’s M12 venture capital arm, a16z, GGV and Workday Ventures. Per the company, three new investors also took part: SVB Capital, Capital OneVentures and Intel Capital.

More precisely, a host of strategic and venture investors joined up with SoftBank to greatly expand WorkBoard’s capital base in a single investment. Prior to its new round, WorkBoard had raised $65 million, according to its co-founder and CEO Deidre Paknad. Its new round, then, is larger than all of its prior funding combined.

The new funding values WorkBoard at $800 million on a post-money basis, a huge step up from its Series C post-money valuation of $230 million, per PitchBook data.

WorkBoard, like a number of startups that have raised recently, didn’t need more capital to keep operating. Paknad told TechCrunch in an interview that her OKR-focused business still had $35 million in the bank from its preceding rounds. So, what will WorkBoard do with its now $100 million or $105 million bank account? Invest like heck, it appears.

In a sense that should not surprise — TechCrunch included WorkBoard in a roundup of OKR-centered software startups last week, a piece that included the fact that it had grown by 90% from Q1 2020 to Q1 2021, and that Paknad expected her company to “more than double” this year.

Chatting with Paknad, TechCrunch wanted to know why her firm had picked up more capital — so very much new capital — at a time when it didn’t really need the funds. Per the CEO, the company sees the economy and its market at inflection points that make it the right time to deploy capital aggressively.

The company is already at it, adding 82 people in the first 100 days of the year, and expecting to scale from its current employee base of 250 to 400 this year.

What is this moment on which the company is intent to double-down? The economic inflection point is a rapidly scaling economy, with Paknad noting that the Federal Reserve expects the U.S. economy to grow by 6.5% this year, the fastest pace in decades. That figure could imply a ripe moment for software companies to grow at an outsized pace; warm economic waters are great for already hot companies and sectors.

And the second turning point is that after 2020, a year in which many if not most companies had to plan, re-plan and re-re-plan, the CEO said, many firms want to accelerate their planning cadence. And as OKRs are built around a roughly four-times-yearly pace, they are inherently more rapid-fire than the traditional yearly planning to which many companies still hew. So they could be a great fit.

Lots of growth, then, and lots of demand could make for an attractive growth moment for WorkBoard and its OKR-derived startup brethren.

WorkBoard also wants to grow its international footprint; Paknad noted customers in Asia and Europe and a desire to invest more in those markets. And the company wants to keep putting capital to work into its community efforts, something that we’re hearing from a number of aggressively growing startups in recent quarters.

WorkBoard could have raised more capital than it did, with Paknad telling TechCrunch that investors used a number of techniques to reach her in the last year, including some that pushed the boundaries of the word tenuous. In short, growthy SaaS companies of the sort that WorkBoard is proving to be are staring down a buffet of funding sources in today’s market. We forgot to ask her if SPACs were also reaching out, but we’d be surprised if the answer was no.

TechCrunch was also curious about the services side of the WorkBoard business. The company offers coaching, certification and other human-powered services in addition to software. Paknad said that while that part of her company’s services revenue is only around 10% of its aggregate, it’s key to landing customers who want or need the help. So, if we presume that the company is selling human time at around a breakeven rate, we can infer that whatever hit the company takes to its blended gross margins is worth it in terms of implied, if somewhat opaque from a raw-numbers-perspective, revenue growth.

And the CEO said that the services team has a direct line to her product group. That means that whatever its human interactions derive in terms of hints and notes about what might need changing, or building, can be iterated on rapidly.

WorkBoard has delivered rapid growth for years, as TechCrunch reported earlier this year when we put together a compiled list of historical growth rates of companies in its space. Paknad’s company grew its top line by 350% in 2018, 300% in 2019, around 100% in 2020, and the expectation of another double in 2021. That’s smackingly close to the (in)famous triple-triple-double-double-double model of startup growth that gets companies to $100 million in recurring revenue at a venture-ready pace. At which point an IPO is a foregone conclusion that hinges merely on market timing and the maturity of internal controls.

We’ll hit up all the OKR startups in a few months for their Q2 2021 numbers, so expect to hear more about WorkBoard and Ally.io and Perdoo, and Gtmhub and Koan and WeekDone shortly.

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If you don’t want robotic dogs patrolling the streets, consider CCOPS legislation

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Boston Dynamics’ robot “dogs,” or similar versions thereof, are already being employed by police departments in Hawaii, Massachusetts and New York. Partly through the veil of experimentation, few answers are being given by these police forces about the benefits and costs of using these powerful surveillance devices.

The American Civil Liberties Union, in a position paper on CCOPS (community control over police surveillance), proposes an act to promote transparency and protect civil rights and liberties with respect to surveillance technology. To date, 19 U.S. cities in have passed CCOPS laws, which means, in practical terms, that virtually all other communities don’t have a requirement that police are transparent about their use of surveillance technologies.

For many, this ability to use new, unproven technologies in a broad range of ways presents a real danger. Stuart Watt, a world-renowned expert in artificial intelligence and the CTO of Turalt, is not amused.

Even seemingly fun and harmless “toys” have all the necessary functions and features to be weaponized.

“I am appalled both by the principle and the dogbots and of them in practice. It’s a big waste of money and a distraction from actual police work,” he said. “Definitely communities need to be engaged with. I am honestly not even sure what the police forces think the whole point is. Is it to discourage through a physical surveillance system, or is it to actually prepare people for some kind of enforcement down the line?

“Chunks of law enforcement have forgotten the whole ‘protect and serve’ thing, and do neither,” Watts added. “If they could use artificial intelligence to actually protect and actually serve vulnerable people, the homeless, folks addicted to drugs, sex workers, those in poverty and maligned minorities, it’d be tons better. If they have to spend the money on AI, spend it to help people.”

The ACLU is advocating exactly what Watt suggests. In proposed language to city councils across the nation, the ACLU makes it clear that:

The City Council shall only approve a request to fund, acquire, or use a surveillance technology if it determines the benefits of the surveillance technology outweigh its costs, that the proposal will safeguard civil liberties and civil rights, and that the uses and deployment of the surveillance technology will not be based upon discriminatory or viewpoint-based factors or have a disparate impact on any community or group.

From a legal perspective, Anthony Gualano, a lawyer and special counsel at Team Law, believes that CCOPS legislation makes sense on many levels.

“As police increase their use of surveillance technologies in communities around the nation, and the technologies they use become more powerful and effective to protect people, legislation requiring transparency becomes necessary to check what technologies are being used and how they are being used.”

For those not only worried about this Boston Dynamics dog, but all future incarnations of this supertech canine, the current legal climate is problematic because it essentially allows our communities to be testing grounds for Big Tech and Big Government to find new ways to engage.

Just last month, public pressure forced the New York Police Department to suspend use of a robotic dog, quite unassumingly named Digidog. After the tech hound was placed on temporary leave due to public pushback, the NYPD used it at a public housing building in March. This went over about as well as you could expect, leading to discussions as to the immediate fate of this technology in New York.

The New York Times phrased it perfectly, observing that “the NYPD will return the device earlier than planned after critics seized on it as a dystopian example of overly aggressive policing.”

While these bionic dogs are powerful enough to take a bite out of crime, the police forces seeking to use them have a lot of public relations work to do first. A great place to begin would be for the police to actively and positively participate in CCOPS discussions, explaining what the technology involves, and how it (and these robots) will be used tomorrow, next month and potentially years from now.

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Bird Rides to go public via SPAC, at an implied value of $2.3B

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Bird Rides, the shared electric scooter startup that operates in more than 100 cities across 3 continents, said Wednesday it is going public by merging with special purpose acquisition company Switchback II with an implied valuation of $2.3 billion. The announcement confirms earlier reports, including one this week from dot.la, that Bird intended to go public via a SPAC.

Bird said it was able to raise $106 million in private investment in public equity, or PIPE, by institutional investor Fidelity Management & Research Company LLC, and others. Apollo Investment Corp. and MidCap Financial Trust provided an additional $40 million asset financing.

The transaction will enable the combined entity to retain net proceeds of up to $428 million of cash, according to Switchback, which brings $316 million cash-in-trust to the table. The announcement also provided new information about a previously undisclosed $208 million, which Bird raised privately as part of an April 2021 Senior Preferred Convertible equity offering led by Bracket Capital, Sequoia Capital and Valor Equity Partners.

When and how Bird would go public has been an item of speculation after Bloomberg reported last November that the company received “inbound interest” from SPACs.

Bird’s ride has been bumpy at times. In 2020, revenue dropped to $95 million, or 37% from the previous year. That year the company also laid off around 30% of its workforce – 406 people – for cost-saving reasons. The company may use this new access to cash to expand its European operations and pay off debt.

Most importantly, the new injection of cash may help the company finally achieve profitability. It’s a rarity amongst scooter startups, who face notoriously high overhead.

Special purpose acquisition companies, or SPACs, have become a popular route for going public amongst transportation startups. Already this year, scooter company Helbiz, which is based in Europe and the U.S., went public via SPAC in a merger with GreenVision Acquisition Corp. SPAC shell corporations allow companies to list on the NASDAQ without doing a traditional initial public offering.

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Only three days left to buy $99 passes to TC Disrupt 2021

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The countdown clock keeps on ticking, and you have just three days to secure your $99 pass to TechCrunch Disrupt 2021. You read that right — $99 is all that you’ll pay, $99 is all (everybody sing)!

Silly Minions aside, you’ll snag serious savings if you buy your Disrupt 2021 pass before the deadline expires on May 14 at 11:59 pm (PT).

TechCrunch Disrupt is a massive gathering of the tech startup world’s top leaders, innovators, makers, investors, founders and ground breakers. The all-virtual platform means more global participation and exposure. It’s all designed to help early-stage founders — and the people who invest in them — build a thriving business.

The Disrupt stage features in-depth interviews and panel discussions with a who’s-who of tech talent. The Extra Crunch stage is where you’ll find a deep bench of subject-matter experts sharing practical how-to content. You’ll take away actionable insights you can put into practice now — when you need it most. Check out our roster of speakers — we’re adding more every week.

Granted, we might be a tad biased about Disrupt — of course we think it’s awesome. But your contemporaries recognize its value, too. Here’s what a few of them told us about their experience at Disrupt 2020.

There was always something interesting going on in one of the breakout rooms, and I was impressed by the quality of the people participating. Partners in well-known VC firms spoke, they were accessible, and they shared smart, insightful nuggets. You will not find this level of people accessible and in one place anywhere else. — Michael McCarthy, CEO, Repositax.

I loved the variety of topics and learning about recent technology trends as they’re happening. Disrupt gave me a whole new perspective on the ways innovation happens in big companies. — Anirudh Murali, co-founder and CEO, Economize.

Watching the Startup Battlefield was fantastic. You could see the ingenuity and innovation happening in different technology spaces. Just looking at the sheer number of other pitch decks and hearing the judges tear them down and give feedback was very helpful. — Jessica McLean, Director of Marketing and Communications, Infinite-Compute.

If watching Startup Battlefield is thrilling (and it is), imagine what it would feel like to compete — or to win. We’re still accepting applications but not for long. Want to take a shot at winning $100,000? Apply to compete in Startup Battlefield before May 13 at 11:59 pm (PT).

There’s so much more opportunity waiting for you at Disrupt 2021. Explore Startup Alley, our expo area. Better yet, exhibit there yourself and, in addition to a bunch of other perks, you might be one of only 50 exhibiting startups chosen to participate in the Startup Alley+ VIP experience. Read more about Startup Alley+ here. TechCrunch will notify selected startups at the end of June.

Time is running out, and $99 is all that you’ll pay — if you buy your Disrupt 2021 pass before Friday, May 14 at 11:59 pm (PT).

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at Disrupt 2021? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.


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