Contentful, a Berlin- and San Francisco-based startup that provides content management infrastructure for companies like Spotify, Nike, Lyft and others, today announced that it has raised a $33.5 million Series D funding round led by Sapphire Ventures, with participation from OMERS Ventures and Salesforce Ventures, as well as existing investors General Catalyst, Benchmark, Balderton Capital and Hercules. In total, the company has now raised $78.3 million.
It’s only been less than a year since the company raised its Series C round and as Contentful co-founder and CEO Sascha Konietzke told me, the company didn’t really need to raise right now. “We had just raised our last round about a year ago. We still had plenty of cash in our bank account and we didn’t need to raise as of now,” said Konietzke. “But we saw a lot of economic uncertainty, so we thought it might be a good moment in time to recharge. And at the same time, we already had some interesting conversations ongoing with Sapphire [formeraly SAP Ventures] and Salesforce. So we saw the opportunity to add more funding and also start getting into a tight relationship with both of these players.”
The original plan for Contentful was to focus almost explicitly on mobile. As it turns out, though, the company’s customers also wanted to use the service to handle its web-based applications and these days, Contentful happily supports both. “What we’re seeing is that everything is becoming an application,” he told me. “We started with native mobile application, but even the websites nowadays are often an application.”
In its early days, Contentful also focuses only on developers. Now, however, that’s changing and having these connections to large enterprise players like SAP and Salesforce surely isn’t going to hurt the company as it looks to bring on larger enterprise accounts.
Currently, the company’s focus is very much on Europe and North America, which account for about 80% of its customers. For now, Contentful plans to continue to focus on these regions, though it obviously supports customers anywhere in the world.
Contentful only exists as a hosted platform. As of now, the company doesn’t have any plans for offering a self-hosted version, though Konietzke noted that he does occasionally get requests for this.
What the company is planning to do in the near future, though, is to enable more integrations with existing enterprise tools. “Customers are asking for deeper integrations into their enterprise stack,” Konietzke said. “And that’s what we’re beginning to focus on and where we’re building a lot of capabilities around that.” In addition, support for GraphQL and an expanded rich text editing experience is coming up. The company also recently launched a new editing experience.
At Facebook, where he was the first-ever director of platform, they called him Bling. At YouTube the following year, they still called him Bling. At Google in 2010, they continued to call him Bling. Even at Khosla Ventures, where Ben Ling has been a general partner for the past five years, the nickname stuck.
It was only natural that Bling Capital would be the name of his debut venture capital fund, a $60 million seed-stage vehicle backed by Marissa Mayer, Nellie and Max Levchin, Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman and Quora CEO Adam D’Angelo.
We first spotted Bling Capital’s $60 million filing two months back; this week, TechCrunch sat down with Ling, who will officially depart from Khosla next month, to learn more about his investment strategy and why he’s venturing off on his own.
Bling Capital founder Ben Ling
Ling joined Khosla in 2013 to invest in consumer technology, internet, mobile, marketplace, SaaS and consumer health. In his tenure as a general partner and angel investor, he deployed capital to nine “unicorns,” including Lyft, Palantir, Square, Instacart and Zenefits. But he wanted the freedom to invest at a more rapid clip.
“Going out on my own allows me to be more agile; a sole GP can act a lot more quickly and speed matters a lot in seed,” Ling said. “And I love early-stage and product because I think there is a void in the marketplace — there’s a lot of money in seed but there’s not a lot of product builders in seed.”
Ling will invest between $750,000 and $1 million in one to two U.S. companies per month in exchange for 10 percent equity.
The firm is in the process of closing two funds: a $60 million flagship vehicle that will invest in consumer tech, internet and mobile, marketplace, data, fintech, SaaS and automation startups, and a $30 million opportunities fund, per an SEC filing, reserved for follow-on investments.
“It’s pretty much the things that a Google, a Facebook or an Amazon would be interested in,” Ling said, referring to where the fund will invest. “What’s it’s not is crypto, or rockets or enterprise, but it’s pretty much everything else when we think about the world of the internet.”
Given Ling’s experience, the fund will have a particular focus on product. Ling is the sole general partner of Bling, but he’s recruited a team of roughly 60 experts to work with his portfolio company executives as part of what Ling has dubbed his Product Council. That includes the heads of product at Square, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Google, Nextdoor and Uber, who also are all investors in the fund.
Members of the Product Council will be available to consult with founders and may become advisors, investors or board members, if it’s a good match.
Beth Steinberg is the chief people officer at Zenefits.
With the mid-term elections looming, the pressure across all parties and organizations to get people to the polls is more prevalent than ever before — from nationwide campaigns, like Michelle Obama’s “When We All Vote” to public pleas from social media influencers encouraging their followers to get out and participate in the pivotal election.
Yet, as the number of eligible voters increases, we continue to see some of the lowest voter turnout in our nation’s history, with only half of eligible voters showing up to the polls in the 2014 election. Equally as troubling, the youngest voters, aged 18-29, have the lowest voter turnout with only 20% participating in 2014 according to the 2014 Pew Research Center study.
So what is keeping our voters from the polls?
Voter turnout is directly correlated to annual household income. The 2014 Pew Research Center study found that 51% of households making $100,000 or more a year voted, while only 38% of those making $50,000 or less showed up to the polls, with the turnout numbers growing even smaller as income decreases. While many states like California mandate giving employees time off to vote, it is not a simple as just taking time off for busy families and non-exempt employees.
(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Additionally, lack of access to childcare services is another hurdle many American parents face. But what if voting didn’t have to mean lost wages and parting with PTO time?
To help combat this issue, companies are starting to think about how to introduce new progressive benefits that will empower employees to take the time they need to be more civically engaged and active members of their communities. For example, companies of all sizes, from Walmart, Lyft and Patagonia to our own company, Zenefits, all recently created initiatives to increase voter turnout — from offering free rides to the polls to shutting down corporate offices for the entire midterm election day.
These benefits are sometimes labeled as “CTO” or “Civic Time Off,” and ensure that employees are not penalized but are instead encouraged to take time to participate in our democratic system, regardless of political affiliation, in whatever way is authentic to their core values and political beliefs. While voting is hot on the national dialogue with midterm elections right around the corner, CTO policies are not solely focused on getting people to the polls. CTO can be used for any civic endeavors including voting, volunteering for a candidate, attending a school board meeting, canvassing, or any other time devoted to civic participation.
But companies have not always viewed civic engagement as a benefit in this way. A recent influx of millennials into the workforce has shifted benefits conversations and influenced the way employers think about their responsibility around workforce wellness, creating a new wave of progressive benefit offerings.
These new innovative benefits add to employee perks and are often thought of as a supplement to an employee’s salary. Though it may sound simple, these offerings can absolutely make or break an employee’s experience at a company and often is what attracts them to the role in the first place. These benefits, when thought of in a meaningful way, can be anything from covering commuter costs to furthering educational interests to blanketed physical/wellness stipends.
In this case, employers have begun to realize the necessity of civic-minded benefits. More and more, companies are beginning to see how today’s political environment is affecting their employees and their work. By offering CTO policies, employees are able to participate in the political moments in time that matter most to them, coming back to the office fulfilled and ready to take on the next workplace challenge.
As a company, it is important to build your team’s skill sets, not only as it pertains to their career development but also as it pertains to personal development beyond the walls of the workplace. This will not only lead to a happier, more well-rounded workforce but will also greatly benefit our nation at large as more companies make civic engagement a priority.
Whether your company is focused on incentivizing employee voting or encouraging daily in-office wellness programs for a healthier work-life balance, the important thing is that we recognize as people leaders the positive affect opportunities outside of the workplace have on our employees. A truly healthy workforce is comprised of employees who are fulfilled both inside and outside of the workplace.
Lyft, the transportation on demand company that is heading to a $15 billion IPO in 2019, is racing ahead with its autonomous vehicle plans. TechCrunch has learned that it is acquiring the London-based augmented reality startup Blue Vision Labs and unveiling its first test vehicle with Ford to advance its vision for self-driving cars.
While the integration of Lyft’s autonomous technologies and Ford’s hardware is impressive, perhaps more meaningful is the company’s acquisition of Blue Vision Labs, a startup out of London that has developed a way of ingesting street-level imagery and is using it to build collaborative, interactive augmented reality layers — all by way of basic smartphone cameras.
Blue Vision will sit within Lyft’s Level 5 autonomous car division headed up by Luc Vincent (who joined the company last year as VP of engineering after creating and running Google Street View).
The startup and its staff of 39 (everyone is joining Lyft) will also become the anchor for a new R&D operation in London or the San Francisco-based company, focused on that autonomous driving effort. Level 5 is stepping up a gear in another way today, too: Lyft is unveiling a new vehicle that it will be using for testing.
Blue Vision has developed technology that provides both street level mapping and interactive augmented reality that lets two people see the same virtual objects. The company has already built highly detailed maps that developers can now use to develop collaborative AR experiences — it’s like the maps of these spaces become canvasses for virtual objects to be painted on. Over time, we may see various uses of it throughout the Lyft platform, but for now the main focus is Level 5.
“We are looking forward to focusing Blue Vision’s technology on building the best maps at scale to support our autonomous vehicles, and then localization to support our stacks,” Vincent said in an interview. “This is fundamental to our business. We need good maps and to understand where every passenger and vehicle is. To make our services more efficient and remove friction, we want their tech to drive improvements.”
People familiar with the acquisition tell us Blue Vision was acquired for around $72 million with $30 million on top of that based on hitting certain milestones. Lyft has declined to comment on the valuation. Blue Vision had raised $17 million and had only come out of stealth last March, after working quietly on the product for two years. Investors included GV, Accel, Horizons Ventures, SV Angel and more.
This deal is notable in part because this is the first acquisition that Lyft has made to expand its autonomous car operation, which now has 300 people working on it. At a time when many larger companies are snapping up startups that have developed interesting applications or technologies around areas like AR, mapping, and autonomous driving, there may be more to come. “We are always evaluating build versus buy,” Vincent said when asked about more acquisitions. But he also acknowledged that it is a very crowded field today, even when considering just the most promising companies.
“I don’t have a crystal ball but arguably there are quite a few players today, including big tech, startups, OEMs and car makers. There are well over 100 [strong] companies in the space and there is bound to be some consolidation.” Lyft earlier this year also inked an investment and partnership with Magna to integrate its self-driving car system into components it supplies to car makers.
But it also might face other pressures. The company counts Didi and GM among its investors, and both of these companies are making their own big strides in self-driving technology and each has inked deals to have more partners using that tech, in part to justify some of their own hefty investment.
Lyft, of course, will hope that acquisitions like Blue Vision will give it more leverage, and make it one of the consolidators, rather than the consolidated.
Blue Vision’s use of smartphones to ingest data to create its street-level imagery and mapping is crucial to Lyft’s quest for scale. In effect, every Lyft vehicle in operation today, with a smartphone on the dashboard, could be commandeered to become a “camera” watching, surveying and mapping the roads that those cars drive on, and how humans behave on them, using that to help Lyft’s autonomous vehicle (AV) platform learn more about driving overall.
In the race for data to “teach” these AI systems, having that wide network of cameras deployed and picking up data so quickly is “game changing,” said Peter Ondruska, the co-founder and CEO of Blue Vision.
“The amount of data you have affects how much you can rely on your system,” Ondruska said in an interview. “What our tech allows us to do is to utilise Lyft’s fleet to train the cars. That is really game changing. I was working on this for eight years and you have to have a lot of data to get to the right level of safety. That is hard and we can get there faster using our technology.”
Lyft up to now has really concentrated its business presence in North America, and so this marks at least one kind of way that it is expanding on the other side of the pond. It opened its first European office in Munich earlier this year, a sign that it’s looking to this part of the world at least for R&D, if not to expand its business footprint to consumers, just yet. Vincent declined to comment on whether Lyft would get involved in autonomous trials in London, nor whether it would expand its transportation service there.
Another key area that is worth noting is that Blue Vision’s “collaborative” VR, which lets people look at the same spot in space and both see and create interactive, virtual figures in it, could be used by Lyft either to help drivers and would-be passengers better communicate, or even help passengers discover more services during a journey or at their destination.
Peter Ondruska, the startup’s co-founder and CEO, [said] that Blue Vision’s tech can pinpoint people and other moving objects in a space to within centimeters of their actual location — far more accurate than typical GPS — meaning that it could give better results in apps that require two parties to find each other, such as in a ride-hailing app. (Hands up if you and your Uber driver have ever lost each other before you’ve even stepped foot in the vehicle.)
Blue Vision isn’t the only company working to develop these virtual maps for the world. Startups like 6d.ai, Blippar and the incredibly well capitalized and wildly successful AR technology developer Niantic Labs are also building out these virtual maps on which developers can create applications. Indeed, Niantic’s Pokemon Go game is the most successful augmented reality application to date.
Large media companies have also been investing building content for these platforms, and investors have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into startups like 6d, Niantic, Blue Vision, and others that are building both software and hardware to usher in this new age of how we will, apparently, all soon be seeing the world.
The development of these new platforms will go a long way toward ensuring that more useful applications are just around the corner, waiting for users to pick them up.
“One of the reasons why AR hasn’t really reached mass market adoption is because of the tech that is on the market,” Ondruska told us earlier this year. “Single-user experiences are limiting. We are allowing the next step, letting people see the right place, for example. None of that was possible before in AR because the backend didn’t exist. But by filling in this piece, we are creating new AR use cases, ones that are important and will be used on a daily basis.”
Starting today, U.S.-based riders can sign up for the plan. It will be available to everyone in the U.S. by the end of the week. Lyft’s All-Access plan costs $299 per month for 30 rides (up to $15 each). Let’s say your ride goes over $15, you would just pay the difference. All other rides past the initial 30 you take that month are discounted five percent. It’s worth noting that rides do not rollover.
Before Lyft landed on this plan, it tested a much cheaper one that cost just $199 upfront to get 30 free rides worth up to $15 per ride. Another plan Lyft was testing cost $399 a month for 60 rides. Then, in May, Lyft opened up a wait list for a plan that cost $200 upfront for 30 rides (up to $15 each).
Lyft’s subscription product is all part of the company’s plan to get people to ditch their own cars (except the people who use their own cars to drive around Lyft customers). Earlier this year, Lyft CEO Logan Green said the company was moving in a direction to achieve for transportation what Netflix achieved for entertainment.
Specifically, Green said, “We are going to move the entire industry from one based on ownership, to one based on subscription.”