On a growth tear, DuckDuckGo reveals it picked up $100M in secondary investment last year

Privacy tech continues cooking on gas. To wit: Non-tracking search engine DuckDuckGo has just revealed that it beefed up its balance sheet at the back end of last year with $100 million+ in “mainly secondary investment” — from a mix of existing and new investors.

Its blog post name-checks Omers Ventures, Thrive, GP Bullhound, Impact America Fund, and also WhatsApp founder Brian Acton; inventor of the world wide web Tim Berners-Lee; VC and diversity activist Freada Kapor Klein; and entrepreneur Mitch Kapor as being among the participating investors. So quite the line up.

DuckDuckGo said the secondary investment allowed some of its early employees and investors to cash out a chunk of their equity while bolstering its financial position.

Although it also says its business — which has been profitable since 2014 — is “thriving”, reporting that revenues are now running at $100M+ a year. Hence it not needing to keep dipping into an external investor pot.

Its last VC raise was in 2018 when it took in $10M after being actively pursued by Omers Ventures — who convinced it to take the money to help support growth objectives (especially internationally).

DDG has a few other metrics to throw around now: Over the last 12 months it said its apps were downloaded over 50M times — more than in all prior years combined.

It’s also revealed that its monthly search traffic increased 55% and says marketshare trackers indicate that it grabbed the #2 spot for search engine on mobile in a number of countries, including the U.S., Canada, Australia, and the Netherlands. (StatCounter/Wikipedia).

“We don’t track our users so we can’t say for sure how many we have, but based on market share estimates, download numbers, and national surveys, we believe there are between 70-100 million DuckDuckGo users,” it added.

A looming shift to Google’s Android choice screen in Europe, where regulators have forced the company to present users of mobile devices that run its OS with rival options when they’re setting a default search engine, looks likely to further boost DuckDuckGo’s regional fortunes.

Google will be ditching the current paid auction model — so rivals which have a valuable alternative proposition for users (like privacy) combined with strong brand awareness (and, well, everyone likes ducks… ) have the best chance yet to take slices out of Google’s marketshare.

DuckDuckGo’s blog post confirms it’ll be dialling up its marketing in Europe and other regions.

“Our thriving business also gives us the resources to tell more people there is a simple solution for online privacy they can use right now. Over the last month, we’ve rolled out billboard, radio, and TV ads in 175 metro areas across the U.S., with additional efforts planned for Europe and other countries around the world,” it notes.

So it look like a good chunk of DDG’s secondary funding will be spent on growth marketing — as it seeks to capitalize on rising public attention to online privacy, tracking and creepy ads, itself fuelled by years of data scandals.

Awareness is also now being actively driven by Apple’s recent switch to inform iOS users of third party app tracking and give people a simple way to say no — which includes slick, Cupertino-funded ad campaigns (such as the one below) which are clearly intended to turn and engage mainstream heads…

It’s fair to say it’s probably never been easier to craft a simple and compelling marketing message around privacy — and that’s also a testament to how far privacy tech has come in terms of usability and accessibility.

So, yes, DuckDuckGo’s business sure looks like it’s sitting pretty at this juncture of the web’s evolution. And its blog post talks about “becoming a household name for simple privacy protection”. So the scale of its ambition is clear.

“Privacy skeptics have dominated the discussion about online privacy for too long. “Sure people care about privacy, but they’ll never do anything about it.” It’s time to lay this bad take to rest,” it adds.

More products are also on the slate from the 13-year veteran privacy player.

It already bolted on tracker-blocking back in 2018 but is looking to go further — saying that it will be rolling out additional privacy features to what it bills as its “all-in-one privacy bundle”, including an email protection tool that will be launched in beta “in a few weeks” and which it says will “give users more privacy without having to get a new inbox”.

“Later this summer, app tracker blocking will be available in beta for Android devices, allowing users to block app trackers and providing more transparency on what’s happening behind the scenes on their device. And Before the end of the year, we also plan to release a brand-new desktop version of our existing mobile app which people can use as a primary browser,” it goes on, adding: “By continuing to expand our simple and seamless privacy bundle, we continue to make our product vision, ‘Privacy, simplified.’ a reality.”

That’s another trend we’re seeing in privacy tech: Innovators who have carefully and credibly built up a solid reputation around one type of tech tool (such as search or email) find themselves — as usage grows — perfectly positioned to branch out into offering a whole bundle or suite of apps they can wrap in the same protective promise.

Another player, ProtonMail, for example, has morphed into Proton, a privacy-centric company which offers freemium tools for not just end-to-end encrypted email but also cloud storage, calendar and a VPN — all neatly positioned under its pro-privacy umbrella.

Expect more development momentum as privacy tech continues to accelerate into the mainstream.

 

Self-driving trucks startup Kodiak Robotics snags investment, partnership from Bridgestone

Tire-making giant Bridgestone has taken a minority stake in Kodiak Robotics, the Silicon Valley-based startup developing autonomous trucks, as part of a broader partnership to test and develop smart tire technology.

While the terms of the deal weren’t disclosed, Kodiak Robotics co-founder and CEO Don Burnette told TechCrunch that this is a direct financial investment. Bridgestone CTO Nizar Trigui has also joined the Kodiak board as an observer.

The deal involves more than capital. The two companies have also formed a strategic partnership focused on advancing Bridgestone’s tire tech and fleet management system. Kodiak will use Bridgestone’s sensor-laden tires and fleet management system on its self-driving trucks, which are used to carry freight between Dallas and Houston as part of its testing program. The company recently said it is expanding its freight carrying pilots to San Antonio. Kodiak also tests its self-driving trucks — always with a safety operator behind the wheel — in and around Mountain View, California.

Semi-trucks travel 100,000 to 150,000 miles a year, Burnette said, adding that tire integrity and tire monitoring are integral to the safety of trucking, whether they’re driven by a human or computer.

“Safety of an autonomy system ultimately comes down to our ability to manipulate the tires that touch the road when you are accelerating or braking or steering,” Burnette said. “You need to be able to rely on your tires to actually perform the way they are expected to perform otherwise your safety envelope is not necessarily guaranteed.”

Kodiak will use these smart tires to monitor pressure, temperature and even measure the loads on the wheels, which plays a role in vehicle dynamics and maneuverability. Kodiak will share the data it collects with Bridgestone, which the company can use to improve the chemistry of its tires.

Tire companies like Bridgestone already collect basic information from telematics providers that helps determine where trucks are driven, what types of roads they use as well as tire pressure and temperature. Predictive models are then developed based on that data.  Autonomous vehicle companies bring an added value to tire companies, Burnette noted. Kodiak’s self-driving trucks are loaded with sensors of their own, which allows the company to collect massive amounts of driving data that can help Bridgestone understand exactly how its tires are being used.

“Autonomy providers like Kodiak have all of the raw data specifically on how the trucks are being driven,” he said. “We know what the forces are, we know what the steering is, we know what the braking pressures that were being commanded in real time. And so we can gather a wealth of data that has never been previously possible to collect for companies like Bridgestone.”

This allows Bridgestone to build predictive models that will more accurately be able to predict the eventual lifetime and also possibly give warnings to when tires may fail out of field. “And that’s ultimately what Kodiak  is really interested in,” Burnette added.

The news follows Kodiak’s announcement in May that it was partnering with South Korean conglomerate SK to explore the possibility of deploying its autonomous vehicle technology in Asia. The ultimate aim of the SK partnership is to sell and distribute Kodiak’s self-driving technology in the region. Kodiak will examine how it can use SK’s products, components and technology for its autonomous system, including artificial intelligence microprocessors and advanced emergency braking systems. Both companies have also agreed to work together to provide fleet management services for customers in Asia.

Introhive raises $100M for AI-powered sales tools to help companies build “relationship graphs”

By its nature, sales one of the most social faces of a business, so it’s no surprise that there are tools being built for sales teams that are tapping into some of the most interesting dynamics of the world of social networking, and that the startups that are doing this most successfully are making a killing.

In the latest example, a startup out of Canada called Introhive — which has built an AI engine that ingests huge amounts of data from across disparate applications to help companies (and specifically anyone in their organization that is selling someone) to build better “relationship graphs” for target organizations — is announcing $100 million in funding.

Growth equity firm PSG is leading the round, with The Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC), Evergreen Capital and Mavan Capital Partners also participating.

The company is not disclosing valuation but CEO and co-founder Jody Glidden tells me the company is doing well. It has raised about $150 million to date and is doubling revenues every year for the last several with a platform used by large enterprises — PwC, Colliers International, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, Plante Moran and Clark Nexsen few of them. Typical deployments range between 10,000 and 100,000 seats — it’s not just people with “sales” in their job titles using Introhive — and customer retention is currently at 95%.

The idea for Introhive came as many do to enterprise startup founders: they identify something that doesn’t quite work as they want it to, and then start a new company to try to fix it. In the calse of Glidden, he and Stewart Walchli were at RIM (the old parent of BlackBerry), which had acquired a previous startup of theirs called Chalk Media.

Although they had just joined a much bigger company (it was 2008, and BlackBerry was still far from being completely killed off by Google and Apple) Glidden said he was surprised to see how hard it was to tap its vast troves of information to find prospective sales leads.

“We realized there were a whole lot of problems with sales people at RIM not able to hit their revenue numbers,” he recalled, and so they started asking themselves some questions. “Are they bringing in right lead data? Are they able to be as intelligent as they can be?” It took some years — four, exactly — and perhaps the rise of Facebook and its focus on the “social graph,” for them to land on how to articulate the problem. They needed to “unlock relationship graph in CRM,” Glidden said.

And Introhive was the company that they formed in 2012 to address that. The company not only provides a way to better leverage CRM-related data to find the best targets for particular products or services, but it also provides analytics to the team to measure how people are doing, and over time also helps predict “winnability”.

But that was not immediate: it took several years to build out its AI platform, Glidden said, with a lot of trial and error to ensure that the data that Introhive ingested was structured correctly to match up with other information to yield productive information.

“We ran into a big problems in the first years because there were so many potential systems to tap into, homegrown or otherwise, for certain info. We effectively spent a lot of time building our own version of Mulesoft to fix that,” he said with a laugh. “But since it’s also something we use for our customers we ended up employing hundreds of engineers to build this underpinning layer to understand it all.”

As a result, it took between four and five years for Introhive to make its own first sale, and in the process the whole company almost went under, he recalled. “It took a long time to get that engine running because if you are automating data that is wrong 35% of the time, you won’t keep your customers.”

The machine is more well-oiled today, of course, and is on a roll to bring in more functions to work off the data trove that it has built.

There is something about the service that reminds me a bit of LinkedIn or ZoomInfo — which you may use in your own work, or come across when Googling someone online for some reason (hey – I’m not asking why here) — for providing some kind of data base/org chart of people connected to a business. But to be very clear, the data that Introhive builds for a customer stays with that customer, and doesn’t go anywhere else.

Glidden says that there are no plans to build any kind of “freemium” version of the service, or one that anyone can tap as a SaaS, but rather to remain focused on helping larger enterprises make better sense of their data and how it can better inform the wider concept of sales.

That in itself raises an interesting point about Introhive and business in general. When you consider a company like PwC, there are likely many people who specifically might hold a job title with the word “sales” in it, but just as many whose jobs are predicated on closing deals, consultants and partners for example, who do not, but might just as easily benefit from having better visibility of a “relationship graph” of people connected to buying products at a business they are working with, or want to work with. Sales is more than just about salespeople for many organizations.

And for that reason, you can guess that one interesting aspect of Introhive is if it might evolve these tools over time to tackle other parts of an organization and how it works. Similar to the social graphs of social media, which map out how people can be connected to one another, relationship graphs in the workplace potentially resonate well beyond signing a deal, too. Business intelligence and marketing automation are already in the mix for the company.

“Introhive is on the forefront of helping grow sales and customers through its visionary, AI-powered revenue acceleration platform built for companies of all sizes and complexity. It seamlessly improves business operations across multiple departments by helping teams reduce time on manual inputs and giving them advanced insights on where they can generate more revenue, build more relationships and easily identify what great sales reps are doing that average reps aren’t,” said PSG Managing Director, Rick Essex. “The team’s acumen and highly capital-efficient model has set the company on a clear path for growth, and we’re proud to partner with them on this journey.”