Tag: LiveOak Venture Partners (Page 1 of 2)

RealWork Labs Lands $2.5 Million for its Software that Helps Home Service Providers Attract New Customers

While building a tiny home in Austin last March, Rusty Fincke turned to his neighbors and friends to find an electrician.

“I was using Nextdoor and asking friends for referrals,” he said.

That sparked the idea for RealWork Labs, which creates lead generation marketing software for the home services industry. Fincke joined with Pierce Birkhold, to launch the company in August of 2020. Its software helps home service providers improve their web presence by using video testimonials, customer recommendations, and social media to market. Its customers include plumbers, electricians, HVAC technicians, roofers, landscapers, and more. It also has a check-in feature that pinpoints on a map exactly where the workers have done jobs in a particular area.

In a short time, RealWork Labs has gained a lot of traction, Birkhold said. It has 500 customers in just about every state including Alaska and Hawaii, he said. They have also hired 30 employees and leased space at the WeWork University building.

On Thursday, RealWork Labs announced it had closed on $2.5 million in seed-stage funding, led by LiveOak Venture Partners. And Krishna Srinivasan, founding partner at LiveOak is joining RealWork Labs’ board along with John Berkowitz, co-founder of OJO Labs and Yodle.

RealWork plans to use the funds raised to accelerate product development and hire more employees to provide customer service and sales, Birkhold said.

Previously, Fincke and Birkhold worked at Yodle and Digital Pharmacist. Unlike other founders who come from a product development background, they both have experience in sales and customer service. They also only put in $3,000 each along with Warren Lentz, another Digital Pharmacist alum to startup operations. The company has been profitable and generating revenue since its earliest days, Fincke said.

“We’ve grown organically,” Fincke said. “We haven’t taken out a loan to hire a bunch of people.”

Now RealWork Labs is spending millions of dollars on continuous product development. Birkhold said.

“The business is profitable and cash-flow positive and we’re able to grow our support team and sales team and invest in tools and best practices for our teams to support those customers in the best way,” Birkhold said.

RealWork Labs origin story is like a lot of bootstrapped entrepreneurs in Austin who tend to be scrappy, resourceful, and run-on revenue before seeking funding.

“We definitely have the taco truck approach to getting to where we are now,” he said. “We’re not full P. Terry’s yet, or Torchy’s but we’re a little bit above hanging out in a truck.”

RealWork Labs has done a good job of keeping its finances in control and not spending above its means, so the company doesn’t go into debt, Fincke said.

“We’ve had a lot of laughter and a lot of arguments to get to where we are today and everything has continued to pan out in our favor,” he said.

It was important to the founders to build an employee first organization, Birkhold said. All employees have health insurance and are on staff, not contractors, he said.

“As we bring the best of breed from all the places that we’ve worked at we are hyper focused on our employees,” Birkhold said. They wanted to create a company that they enjoyed working at, he said.

“We have known the founders both by reputation and by working with them previously, as being simply exceptional in building and scaling software solutions that target SMBs. The incredible traction the company has had in such a short period of time is both a testament to the founders’ abilities in this area and the magnitude of the market opportunity”  Krishna Srinivasan, board member and Founding Partner at LiveOak Venture Partners, said in a news release.

The pandemic has slowed down the home services industry lately with material shortages and labor shortages, Birkhold said. Some home service providers are not taking on new business until next year, he said.

“Even devices like garage door companies and HVAC servicers are seeing shortages of materials that are impeding their ability to grow,” he said.

“The pandemic is both a headwind and tailwind at the same time,” Birkhold said.

But those businesses still need to develop and maintain relationships with customers. And the key is to generate trust. That comes from customers endorsing businesses, he said. With the RealWork Labs software, field technicians can use their cell phones to capture on-site video and tell better stories about their customer service, he said.

“We are doing that at the neighborhood level and generating media and furthering the ecosystem so neighbors nearby can see the video and content of what’s happening near them,” Birkhold said.

“It generates leads for the company,” he said.

“The first step is getting found. The second step is a new customer calling you. How do they choose one plumber versus another?” Birkhold said.  “You can engineer behavior between technicians, prospects, and current customers through the use of technology and cell phones and a platform that can really overhaul the way home services businesses operate.”

The best advocate they could ever have isn’t a marketing agency that edits their work it’s their customers, Birkhold said.

“And the best people for their customers to be speaking to are their neighbors and people near them,” he said.

What makes RealWork Labs special is that businesses can’t fake or force what it does, Birkhold said. Its video testimonials and social proof only work if the business does good work, he said.

From a Cold Email to an IPO: DISCO, a Story of Domain Strength, Grit, Collaboration, and Serendipity

DISCO became a publicly-traded company on the New York Stock Exchange on July 21, 2021

By Krishna Srinivasan, Chairman of the Board, DISCO and co-Founding Partner, LiveOak Venture Partners

In October 2013, we received a cold email – it had all the elements on first glance that begged to be ignored.  The email came from a person named “CeCe” who talked about a founder called “Kiwi” and a company called “DISCO” in the legal tech space, which was also a category that did not have a history of great companies or large outcomes. But, boy, am I glad that we did not ignore that email! 

LiveOak’s entrepreneur-first philosophy meant a commitment to look at all deals, even cold, inbound ones, and we quickly discovered that this showed a lot of promise. Kiwi was the youngest ever graduate from Harvard Law (graduated at 19), was the managing partner of his law firm, and, while practicing law, had hacked together a product that was generating early revenue. When we first met him, we were blown away by his domain knowledge and passion for transforming the future of law. Additional deeper diligence through some friendly litigators in our network indicated that this was an industry that was sorely in need of better products. During deeper discussions with Kiwi, we uncovered a fierce entrepreneurial spirt and a desire to learn and evolve into a world-class tech leader. Armed with the conviction around a domain-rich entrepreneur and large market opportunity, we decided to proceed forward as a founding investor. Ultimately, the company was formed (spun out of his law firm) at the same time as our initial investment.

            Wow, aren’t we delighted that we embarked on this journey. Since being founded in December 2013, the company has grown from minimal revenue to now a successful IPO (NYSE: LAW) with a first trade market capitalization above $2.5B As stupendous this trajectory has been, it neither has been a straight line nor influenced by a single factor. I would attribute the success to a combination of domain strength, grit, collaboration, and good ol’ serendipity.

Domain Strength

Yes, Kiwi’s rich domain expertise was what attracted us to DISCO (N.B. the LiveOak playbook entails backing domain-rich, often first-time entrepreneurs and helping them grow into world-class tech entrepreneurs by helping with all aspects of company building). Kiwi’s obsession with using technology to help lawyers practice law has permeated into a company-wide focus on infusing deep legal knowledge into every piece of code shipped out. Every product was conceived after thinking about the problem from the shoes of a lawyer. As a result, DISCO has fused seemingly orthogonal disciplines of deep understanding of law with world-class engineering to create powerful user experiences that lawyers and other legal professionals love. Lots of entrepreneurs have deep knowledge of their respective fields but Kiwi and team exemplified the desire and capability to create magical products – an incredible distinguishing feature of the company. In an industry not known for user delight, the product has an impressive NPS of 63. 

Like any other ambitious entrepreneur, Kiwi, even from the first pitch, articulated a multi-stage product roadmap for grabbing a market that was tens of billions of dollars. While that looked like a pipe dream then, today, the company is well on its way to grabbing that exact market he had outlined. 

DISCO is very much a story of Kiwi parlaying his rich knowledge of law and thinking many moves ahead for their customers and creating products, services, and experiences to meet current and future needs. That domain-rich inventor’s spirit is what positions this company to define and lead legal tech!


Kiwi and the company have gotten here in no small measure due to their grit. As with most startups innovating in markets not yet proven, there was some doubt from prospective investors, employees, and so on.  They questioned how difficult it may be to attract future investments in legal tech, to show strong traction in the market, whether the business model was right and the impact of competition, even with the strength of DISCO’s product. Now seeing how far DISCO has come, their uncertainties have not come to fruition. These folks simply underestimated Kiwi and the team’s grit to bludgeon their way through these issues. 

The financings of the company certainly involved significant effort. However, through them all, Kiwi never had a moment of self-doubt or reduced conviction on the scale of company that he could build here. So, for all the entrepreneurs out there, don’t be disheartened if there are challenges in getting the financing dollars and terms you want as there is not often a ton of term-sheet-love spewing out there.

There were challenges in hiring the optimal leaders for every function, given the preferences around possessing both legal domain knowledge and world-class enterprise software sensibilities. This unique combination is not often available due to the lack of standout winners in legal tech. In absence of optimal leaders, Kiwi has operated as a functional head for practically every department at some point of time. Waiting for the right leaders and gritting it out until the right one was available became the mantra. Today, more than half the executive team are lawyers and several others have deep backgrounds in the legal industry as well as experience at hyper-growth software companies.


            The DISCO success story has also been a textbook example of collaboration between a venture capitalist and an entrepreneur, one that began the day we signed the term sheet. We had finally agreed on all the terms, but that was only after a relatively intense set of discussions where I felt that Kiwi came across as a nitpicky litigator who was focused on corner case scenarios rather than a typical pragmatic tech entrepreneur. I told him, to go forward, we needed to be convinced that our relationship could be more collaborative rather than one that felt like a legal scrimmage. Kiwi countered that he would drive over to the office to “make his case”.  Now that was a rare icy November day and he was in Houston, 200 miles away!  But that would not deter him from driving to Austin! His action to make this future relationship successful was itself enough of a powerful signal that we signed the deal the moment he strode into our office – that cast the die for a trusting, collaborative style throughout our relationship.

            Indeed, we have had many spirited debates – should we stay as a pure-play software business or be full-stack with an AI-based review platform, what is the optimal organizational design to sustain our stunning land and expand model, should we stay mostly channel vs. make a big push on the direct business, how should we position ourselves (as a vertical software player or as a horizontal software for legal category), are we ready to go public – the list goes on and on and on. Every one of these questions had enormous underlying ambiguity and given the magnitude of the consequences, of course, had some fierce opinions on both our sides. Unequivocally, in all these situations, the process was intensely collaborative, intellectually honest, and with the sole emphasis on what was best for DISCO.

            It was hard to predict it that icy night in November, I simply could not have hoped for a more collaborative partner than Kiwi in this incredible journey.  


The origins of our first investment in the company was itself serendipitous. We at LiveOak were fortunate that we could spot this “diamond” in the volume of cold emails we received. 

Many of the unicorn-esque hires on the leadership team required deep legal and enterprise tech expertise and happened as a result of happenstance. We were so fortunate to find Michael Lafair (a lawyer-turned CFO). We were also lucky to find Andrew Shimek, a rare lawyer-turned Head of Sales who embodied both legal and enterprise sales traits, and Keith Zoellner, our Head of Engineering with expertise building world-class products and legal domain. Many other people and key board members such as Jim Offerdahl, Colette Pierce Burnette, and Scott Hill were connections that were made at the right place, right time. 

Finally, it was of course serendipitous that Kiwi and my favorite soul food cuisine was Sichuan food! Ma-Po Tofu from Mala’s Bistro in Houston or A+A Sichuan in Austin was added motivation to meet, eat and strategize often!

After all, good fortune favors the brave and those with grit!

In closing…

The future is even brighter, and the opportunity is seemingly unbounded, and we believe that the company is indeed poised to be one of the largest and innovative software leaders for decades to come. This is the first software IPO out of Austin in a while, and it’s extra special given it was birthed in Texas and seed invested at inception by a Texas VC firm. 

The success of DISCO and its IPO will be even more impactful for Austin and Texas at large as outsized successes are bound to beget many, many more in the future. Also, with Kiwi and a management team that is committed to building a long-term standalone company, DISCO is bound to have a powerful accelerating effect on the Texas ecosystem. DISCO Cares is a company initiative that is helping drive programs that support vulnerable populations across Texas. There are a number of DISCO-alum startups already sprouting, in Austin and Houston. 

Having started this journey as the only other board member besides Kiwi at the time of inception, I am honored to now serve as Chairman of the Board as a part of this milestone IPO event. I look forward to helping Kiwi drive and shape DISCO’s next phase of growth for years to come and to contributing to DISCO’s legacy-shaping initiatives, from their community impact to the spawning of more promising entrepreneurs in the decades to come. In particular, we look forward to partnering with many more entrepreneurs who might learn from and imbibe many of this successful young lawyer’s characteristics around domain strength, grit, and collaboration while building their respective successful ventures!

LiveOak Venture Partners’ journey with DISCO began with a cold e-mail from Kiwi Camara which led to its initial investment and today reaches a milestone IPO with a first trade market cap of $2.5B. LiveOak Venture Partners’ Founding Partner and DISCO Chairman, Krishna Srinivasan, shares an intimate look at this remarkable success story.

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on LinkedIn and has been reprinted here with permission.

LitLingo Raises $7.5 Million for its AI-Powered Business Communications Platform

LitLingo, which makes specialized software that allows businesses to monitor and correct real-time communications, announced that it has raised $7.5 million.

Breyer Capital led the Series A round of funding with participation from former IBM CEO Sam Palmisano and existing investors LiveOak Venture Partners, Clarke Nobiletti and James Marsico.

To date, LitLingo has raised $9.5 million. It raised $2 million last August. LitLingo’s Co-Founders Kevin Brinig and Todd Sifleet met at Uber in San Francisco. They both moved to Austin and launched LitLingo in January of 2019.

The Austin-based startup employs artificial intelligence and natural language processing databases to help organizations communicate more effectively. LitLingo integrates with Slack, Zendesk, Gmail and Office 365.

The aim of LitLingo’s software is to help organizations communicate effectively and reduce litigation, compliance, and other problems. The software can flag questionable language in a real-time message before it is sent. LitLingo can also block message transmission and alert compliance teams for review.

 “LitLingo is an incredibly valuable tool in our new hybrid workplaces and positioned to be one of the most important players in the digital communications analysis and management space,”  Jim Breyer, Founder and CEO of Breyer Capital said in a news release.

“LitLingo is reimagining how we build culture and mitigate risk,” Sam Palmisano, Chairman of the Center for Global Enterprise and former CEO and Chairman of IBM said in a news release. “We have all seen the impact a few badly written emails can have on an organization. Yet, traditional approaches to compliance and risk mitigation are outdated, reactive, expensive, and hard to scale across large enterprises. LitLingo is a unique platform providing critical value to employees and organizations of all sizes.”

“LitLingo leverages artificial intelligence to proactively help good people avoid bad mistakes in the workplace and to help leaders foster a better workplace overall,” said Brinig, LitLingo CEO.

LitLingo plans to use the venture capital to hire key employees and double its headcount over the next 12 months at its Austin headquarters and remotely. Also, the company plans to spend money on product enhancements.

Iris Plans Lands $5.1 Million to Take the Pain out of Managing Long-Term Illness

Andrew Chen, Dr. Stephen Bekanich and Steve Wardle, co-founders of Iris Plans

Publisher with Silicon Hills News

For Dr. Stephen Bekanich, treating long-term illnesses early on with advance care planning is a personal mission.

Dr. Bekanich’s grandmother had metastatic breast cancer and his grandfather had dementia.

“Even as a physician I felt ill prepared to be able to take them through this,” Dr. Bekanich said.

Their illnesses prompted Dr. Bekanich to switch his medical practice to become one of the nation’s experts on palliative care, an approach to improve the lives of patients and families suffering from long-term illnesses by creating a plan early on to deal with the treatment of physical problems like pain and emotional distress. He saw a huge shortage of palliative care doctors nationwide and some patients didn’t have access to a program because of geography.

At his children’s school, Dr. Bekanich met Andrew Chen, who at the time was senior director of product management at Spredfast, and previously principal product manager with BazaarVoice. Together, they founded a predecessor company to Iris Plans, with the idea of offering advanced care planning to people with serious medical conditions through video.

For the first 10 months, Dr. Bekanich and Chen bootstrapped the previous company and then Lee Walker, former president of Dell and a mentor of Dr. Bekanich, asked them to pitch to a group of investors. Steve Wardle, who previously worked as regional CEO for the Grameen Foundation, a microfinance nonprofit organization, in Africa, was in the audience that day. He also has a background in commercial and investment banking.

“At the end, Steve said the idea is great, but the business model needs some work. Let’s see if we can shore that up a little bit,” Dr. Bekanich said. The three decided to re-form the company and create Iris Plans, with Wardle joining as co-founder and Chief Executive Officer. The three founders have been together working on Iris Plans since 2015.

Iris Plans on Wednesday announced it has raised $5.1 million in venture capital led by New York City-based Activate Venture Partners, and Austin-based LiveOak Venture Partners. Other investors include Oakland-based impact investor Better Ventures.

Iris Plans has gotten a lot of customers since its launch. Initially, the company went directly to the consumer. Now it delivers its service through partnerships with large national healthcare providers and health insurance companies who cover 100 percent of the cost for their members. Its customers include Humana and Brookdale Senior Living Inc., the largest assisted living provider in the country.

Iris Plans offers Advanced Care Planning services to patients and their caregivers through interactive online tools and live video conference sessions with specialized care facilitators. It then documents detailed medical directives for patients to help them receive future care in-line with their preferences.

“We want to make this effortless for patients and families,” Dr. Bekanich said. “We’re dealing with a population that is very vulnerable. They are going through significant stressors. They don’t want razzle-dazzle and all kinds of bells and whistles. They want their connections to the healthcare system to be as simple and effortless as possible.”

Iris Plans currently has nine full-time employees and 15 part-time workers. It expects to add five full-time employees and 10 part-time employees by the end of the year. The company, based in 3,000 square feet at 2121 E. Sixth Street, has room to grow.

Iris Plans can also save up to 25 percent on healthcare costs, Wardle said.

“If you look at the U.S. compared to other countries, we spend two and a half times more than the average, per person, on healthcare and our outcomes are towards the bottom,” he said. “In short, we’re getting a bad value right now. And there are complex reasons for that.”

“In general, there is an opportunity for our healthcare system to deliver much better value to people,” he said.

Sixty percent of personal bankruptcies are driven by medical costs that are just out of control, Wardle said. There’s a lot of room to help in that, he said.

Iris Plans is aimed at improving quality of care, improving the experience and lowering the out of pocket costs for the patients, Wardle said.

The number one reason LiveOak Venture Partners invested in Iris Plans is the impressive team to go tackle this market opportunity, said Krishna Srinivasan, general partner at LiveOak Venture Partners.

It’s a huge market opportunity and Iris Plans has already gotten huge traction, Srinivasan said.

“We all have loved ones, we all see the importance of this category called advanced care planning, there is plenty of evidence right now about the importance of this both from a cost and as well as from patient wellbeing and families wellbeing perspective. There is just a real need for advanced care planning – this is something we are convinced about,” Srinivasan said.

This is LiveOak Venture Partners’ third healthcare investment and its 20th portfolio company. It has also invested in NarrativeDX and Digital Pharmacist, both based in Austin.

The need for advanced care planning is seen across all populations whether it’s Medicare, Medicaid or the commercial healthcare system, Dr. Bekanich said.

“These serious illnesses that we’re tackling they are on the rise concurrently with the aging population that we have,” he said. “So, we are looking at heart disease, COPD, emphysema, stroke, late-stage cancer, cirrhosis of the liver, end-stage kidney failure or kidney disease – we don’t have cures for those things. They are illnesses that people live with for a prolonged period – years, sometimes decades.”

There is $210 billion spent every year on unnecessary care, Wardle said.

“A lot of that is spent on the population that has a serious chronic illness,” he said. “Ultimately, that leads to a bad experience for them. It leads to high out of pocket costs for them. It leads to a lot of stress on the family. And not necessarily the right trade-offs people think they are getting. That population is set to double and triple in the coming years. We have a rapidly aging population. And as people are getting older in the U.S., they are experiencing these kinds of conditions.”

There are a lot of barriers preventing doctors from doing advanced care planning, Wardle said.

“And the physicians want it,” Dr. Bekanich said. “They feel like it’s important like it’s necessary. We even have feelings of guilt or shame when we don’t have the discussions. But it’s almost impossible for physicians to do this with any kind of consistency or scale because of conversations are filled with conflict and they are very unpredictable in terms or how long they are going to last. They are time intensive. They are very emotional. So if you are having a bunch of these it’s easy to feel burnt out or spent. And we don’t teach people how to have these conversations.”

“That’s not part of what we learn in medical school. We learn to be great technicians, and surgeons, and diagnosticians and so forth, when a lot of the problems in this serious illness population could be handled much better with a conservation than an order for a new test or procedure.”

“For Iris Plans, because it’s technology enabled, it allows people to do this off-hours, after work, on the weekend, whatever is convenient. We can serve them virtually” Chen said.

Austin-based Telestax Lands $4.7 Million in VC Funding

Telestax announced this week it has raised $4.7 million in funding.

Austin-based LiveOak Venture Partners led the funding round. The company plans to use the money on product development, customer support and marketing.

“We are thrilled to bring Telestax into our portfolio of promising companies. The exceptional team, high-value technology and resulting customer adoption of Telestax’s offerings made this a compelling investment for us,” Krishna Srinivasan, General Partner at LiveOak Venture Partners, said in a news release. “We look forward to helping Telestax with their market and product expansion.”

The Austin-based company makes a communications platform called RestcommOne, which blends telecommunications applications with enterprise applications to “deliver real-time communications business solutions that scale,” according to a news release.

Telestax, which launched its RestcommOne platform in 2011, has more than 170 commercial customers including Avaya, MetTel, Ping An Bank, T-Mobile, Unifonic and NTT-AT. The platform supports 900 million calls daily and 200 million messages.

“The last 12 months have been remarkable for Telestax,” Ivelin Ivanov, Telestax CEO and co-founder, said in a news release. “We launched RestcommONE, our CPaaS enablement platform, and our RestcommONE Marketplace; and today we have added another business partner with strong proven expertise in telecom and infrastructure software”.

Telestax, founded in 2011, has raised $5.9 million in two rounds to date, according to its Crunchbase profile.

Hive9 Receives $5.4 Million in Venture Capital

Darin Hicks, CEO of Hive9

Darin Hicks, CEO of Hive9

Hive9, which makes marketing software, announced Tuesday it has received $5.4 million in funding from LiveOak Venture Partners and Silverton Partners.

The Austin-based startup plans to use the money to hire five or more additional employees and for product development and marketing, said Darin Hicks, its CEO.

“Hive9 helps companies concentrate their marketing spending on activities that are going to have a positive financial impact on the business,” Hicks said.

Hive9, with 20 employees, spun out of Bulldog Solutions, a marketing agency, in April. Hicks has been working on the software marketing platform behind the product for two years.

When Hicks worked at Bulldog, he felt the pain experienced by large companies that didn’t have a centralized marketing plan. A lot of companies kept their marketing activities in disconnected PowerPoint presentations and spreadsheets and a lot of the material was not kept up to date, Hicks said.

“We felt some of that pain ourselves as service providers,” Hicks said.

So Hive9 created a solution. Its software allows companies to put all the marketing information in one place and it allows companies to track performance and focus on revenue generating activities, Hicks said.

Hive targets large companies with big marketing budgets. Its software makes it easy to manage those products and track return on investment in one place, Hicks said. Its clients include TD Ameritrade, Zebra Technologies, Fiserv, Thomson Reuters and Docusign.

Gartner also named Hive9 as a 2015 Cool Vendor.

Hive9’s provides data, analytics and a dashboard products for companies to gauge the impact and return on investment of marketing activities.

“We look to back companies led by strong, domain-rich teams that target large underserved markets. Hive9 has achieved impressive customer traction in a short period of time, which is a testament both to quality of the team and the proven value they deliver to large and complex marketing organizations,” Krishna Srinivasan, founding General Partner at LiveOak Venture Partners, said in a news statement.

San Antonio-based Infocyte Lands $500,000 in Funding

Reporter with Silicon Hills News

IMG_4254Infocyte Inc. just landed $500,000 in seed stage funding led by Austin-based LiveOak Venture Partners.

The San Antonio-based startup plans to use the funds to further develops Pulse, its cyber security assessment platform.

This is LiveOak’s first investment in San Antonio.

“The Infocyte team has a storied history and deep domain knowledge gained from their time in national defense,” Venu Shamapant, LiveOak’s general partner said in a news release. “We are excited to partner with them in their ambitions to bring advanced threat detection to a wider audience.”

Infocyte plans to release its product, which is currently in beta testing, to the public early next year, said Chris Gerritz, CEO and co-founder of Infocyte.

Gerritz and Ryan Morris, co-founder, both formerly worked as officers in the U.S. Air Force on Security Hill at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio in cyber security roles.

Infocyte created Pulse, a software and hardware device installed on a company’s computer network to monitors and scan for any irregularities such as malicious code or unauthorized activity. The product detects and identifies attackers and audits a network pro-actively before an attack takes place, Gerritz said.

“What we offer is a proactive security assessment that asks a question that no other security assessment does and that is are you comprised right now?” Gerritz said.

A lot of times, intruders can remain on a network, undetected, for months or years, Gerritz said. Infocyte’s software seeks to find them and deal with them before they cause major problems, he said.

“The majority of security assessments right now look for holes in a network that could be exploited by hackers,” Gerritz. “Our assessment answers has anyone actually used those holes to comprise your network. Are they in your network right now? Do you know about them?”

Generally, Infocyte’s customers are companies that don’t know that they are comprised yet, but they want to know if they are, Gerritz said.

The malware remains hidden on a network so the intruders can gather intelligence over time like credit card numbers, Morris said. The companies generally don’t know they’ve got a problem until the FBI tells them, he said.

Gerritz and Morris founded the company in May of 2013. They received $200,000 in initial funding from an unnamed angel investor. The company is based at Geekdom in downtown San Antonio and now has three employees, Gerritz said. Infocyte has hired some contractors and wants to hire two more people, he said.

Since August, Infocyte has been working by providing professional assessment services to detect vulnerabilities with local banks and credit unions. When it releases its software and hardware product in February, Infocyte plans to target Fortune 1000 companies, initially in the financial services and retail industries.

Gerritz and Morris just returned from Dublin, Ireland and the Web Summit, where they pitched Infocyte to an international audience.

StepOne Closes on $ 4 Million in Venture Capital

Alex Mitchell,  President and co-founder of StepOne, photo courtesy of StepOne

Alex Mitchell, President and co-founder of StepOne, photo courtesy of StepOne

StepOne, an Austin-based startup that makes customer support software, announced that it secured $4 million in venture capital.

LiveOak Venture Partners led the round with participation from Silverton Partners. The company plans to use the money to add employees and to expand sales and marketing efforts.

StepOne has already landed Telstra, Australia’s largest telecomm company, as a customers as well as a major U.S. cable company.

StepOne’s flagship product, Contextual Care, focuses on helping large companies with complex products deliver excellent customer support.

Although lots of products currently exist to help companies deliver self-service customer support, StepOne has a different approach. It “predicts a customer’s question by measuring hundreds of customer attributes like what services they’ve purchased, the state of their billing cycle and the technical performance of the product, and then matches the customer to the optimal content for their predicted question,” according to a news release. “The adaptive software continuously learns which specific pieces of support content best serve various customers, improving its accuracy over time.”

“From product onboarding to in-life support, self-service for customers is broken,” Alex Mitchell, CEO and co-founder of StepOne, said in a news release. “Even though most customers prefer to solve problems themselves, they give in and finally pick up the phone. There is too much content presented to solve the problem and too many irrelevant results in search queries. Our goal is to make self-service become a driver of customer loyalty and cost savings. When you can answer the customer’s question before they’ve even asked it, they’ll stick with you.”

Last year, LiveOak Ventures invested an undisclosed amount of seed stage funding into StepOne.

“Since our seed investment, the StepOne team has achieved significant customer traction, so we are delighted to continue to support the StepOne team as they scale their operations,” Krishna Srinivasan, co-founder and general partner at LiveOak Venture Partners, said in a news release.

Written.com Wants to Bring Content and Companies Together

Reporter with Silicon Hills News

The team behind Written.com

The team behind Written.com

As advertising becomes more pervasive (is that even possible?), it’s harder for companies to find ways to make their brands stand out.

One way is to associate the brand with authoritative and objective content that makes the reader more knowledgeable about what the company sells. But getting the content that attracts the right audience is an endeavor fraught with uncertainty.

“It’s really challenging to create something that’s successful, that drives a consistent audience, that ranks really well in Google,” said Josh Kerr, chief executive and one of four co-founders of Written.com, in laying out the problem.

The company proposes to provide a company with subject-appropriate content weighted with a built-in audience and seamlessly place it on the company’s website. The result is an interested audience with a predisposition to buy what the company is selling.

“We can go to a brand and say we can bring you proven engagement and that’s totally different from traditional products that are out there,” said Marc Smookler, the co-founder who heads marketing.



Written finds the content not by commissioning bloggers to write custom-made posts, but by scouring the Web for already-written blog posts that have large and loyal followings.

For bloggers, the arrangement enables them to get paid for work they’ve done – even if it’s old.

“The stuff you wrote a long time ago, it’s still valuable,” said Connor Hood, the founder who heads technology. “As long as it had an audience. That’s the key.”

John Price, CEO of Vast.com, is one of Written’s early customers and he likes what the company delivered.

“It was both in content and in targeting the exact type of content I needed and that Google has already ranked as super high quality,” he said. “You can’t beat it. It is such a powerful value prop they have.”

Price posts the content on the blog on Carstory.com, a Big Data-based mobile app that Vast developed for sales people at automobile dealerships. Sales people use it during face-to-face selling with customers.

“We’re getting all kinds of traffic as a result of the content,” Price said. “And it’s beyond that because it makes it seem that we’re actually an authority on the subject.”

The Written founders, Kerr, Hood, Smookler and Jeremy Bencken, who heads product development, are entrepreneurs who bring complementary expertise to the operation. They each have started, developed and successfully exited previous companies.

They knew each other from working around the Capital Factory and found they had common interests in blogging and marketing and the technology that could bring the two together.

Bencken said he and Kerr talked about how to move content from a blog to a website.

“Then we hit on this idea,” he said. “You could take a piece of existing content, move it over to a site that is interested in having that content, but also all the traffic.”

They tested the concept with their own blogs and it worked, he said. And it’s continued to work as they’ve expanded.

The four founders formally started the company in January 2013. They landed seed round of investment of $1.1 million in October from LiveOak Venture Partners of Austin, Floodgate Fund of Palo Alto, Calif., and Austin-area angel investors.

Telling their story in their Brazos Street office, the founders pick up on each other’s threads, filling in thoughts and deferring to each other for additional comments.

The Written process begins working with the client company to identify the audience the company wants to attract. Written starts with keywords and other factors such as identifying thought leaders the audience follows and whether the blog carries advertisements.

“We take all that intelligence and data and then we kick off a search to go identify articles that fit that criteria and are ranking really well,” Kerr said.

Beyond finding appropriate subject matter, Written makes sure the blog articles will bring an involved audience with them. It looks at a variety of factors such as page views, bounce rate, time spent on the site and more, Bencken said.

“The trick to bring an engaged audience is to start with content that is engaging,” he said. “So that’s what we’re looking for when we’re analyzing how much we can offer a blogger.”

With Written’s software, Google understands that the article, now on the company’s website, was written by the blogger so he maintains his Google Author Rank.

Once it identifies an appropriate blogger and article, Written runs it by the company. If the company likes it, Written takes care of the rest, moving the content to the company website and handling the pricing, the payments and the licensing.

“We deliver to the brand great content that will engage readers, that will drive new audiences to the brand and these people won’t just read that one article, they’ll read, two, three, four articles on your site,” Kerr said. “And that’s what we’re seeing.”

Price said the content Written delivered to Carstory.com brought with it a target audience that wants to take the action of downloading the Carstory app.

“And it’s working,” he said. “It’s generating leads while we’re asleep. It’s just unbelievable.”

Written’s concept seems custom made for the era of content marketing, but the founders and its investors say there is more to it.

“Audience development extends to every part of the marketing mix, and that’s our big picture,” Kerr said. “Connecting brands with an interested and engaged audience is our focus, so while the content marketing space may be the most direct way into those discussions, our value proposition really reaches much further than that.”

Krishna Srinivasan, a principal at LiveOak, shares that take.

“This is a platform that consolidates spending a brand would do over search, social media, Internet,” he said. “All of this is discoverable using this platform. So it is a much broader play.”

As for competition, Kerr said Written has seen no other company with a similar offering.

He said Written offers an alternative to the competition of the status quo – companies hiring journalists and bloggers to provide high quality content.

“Frankly, we’d rather let those great journalists and bloggers do what they do best and what their readers and audiences respect them for, and find a way to support them doing it,” he said. “That’s really the value of Written.com to bloggers out there.“

Written’s goal, he said, is to develop a marketplace where writers create successful content on one side and brands that need the writers’ audiences on the other side.

“That’s really how to maximize the value proposition between both so we can make those matches and in some way solve that problem,” he said.

To which writers might say: Write on.

LiveOak Venture Partners Sees Lots of Quality Startup Deals in Austin and Texas

Founder of Silicon Hills News

IMG_2433Right now is the best time to be in the venture capital business in Austin.

In 2000, during the Dot Com boom, an enormous amount of money flowed into companies even though they did not have viable ideas and were also not disciplined with spending money, said Krishna Srinivasan, partner at LiveOak Venture Partners.

“Companies were burning money on products that costs tens of millions of dollars to build and to get any real traction,” he said during a recent interview at the firm’s headquarters in west Austin.

Austin Dot Com darlings included Living.com, a furniture store, Garden.com, garden supplies, and DrKoop.com, a website for medical advice. All of them went belly up.

Fast forward to today’s crop of startups in Austin. They include recently public companies like HomeAway.com, BazaarVoice and RetailMeNot. And dozens of promising startups in the software and technology industry as well as life sciences, energy, e-commerce and consumer goods.

“Maybe it’s the recent lack of capital that has forced entrepreneurs to be extra creative to make progress, or maybe it’s the natural maturation of the local ecosystem, this is clearly the highest quality of entrepreneurial activity we’ve seen in this market since 2000,” Srinivasan said. “We feel the momentum and see the quality. This place absolutely deserves a bunch of capital firms.”

And that’s why Srinivasan, who has worked at Motorola, Sematech and Austin Ventures, teamed up with two former Austin Ventures colleagues, Ben Scott and Venu Shamapant, to form a VC firm targeted at early stage investing into companies in Texas.

LiveOak Venture Partners Raises $100 million fund

LiveOak Venture Partners closed on a $100 million fund this year. However, it wasn’t easy to raise that much money. The partners spent two years on the fundraising trail. Like any other entrepreneur, they watched their expenses as they made progress on raising the fund. As a result, they have much greater empathy for entrepreneurs looking to raise money to fund their companies, Shamapant said.

The secret to their perseverance was having three members in the partnership, someone always had a more positive perspective which kept the others energized and moving forward, he said.

“We looked around at the Texas market and said how can you not have multiple funds to capitalize on this market,” Shamapant said. “That conviction really kept us going. We really believed that with our history of success combined with this market opportunity, we surely would emerge successful.”

“Capital Starved Startup Market”

Austin and Texas, in general, needed more venture capital funds to finance all of the activity going on here, Srinivasan said.

“The Texas market is the most opportunity rich capital starved startup market in the country,” he said.

While Austin Ventures does early stage investing and so do some other firms, a large untapped market opportunity still existed, Shamapant said.

“For example, if you looked at Silicon Valley, the market opportunity there allows several successful firms to exist,” he said. “Similarly, there are going to be multiple successful franchises here and we thought we could clearly build one of those ourselves.”

And the best time to enter a business is when an entrepreneur sees a compelling unmet opportunity, Scott said.

“If you are ever going to get great returns, it’s not when there’s an over-saturation of funds, it’s when there’s a shortage,” Scott said. “And so we felt like we were clearly in that situation. We felt like we were the team to take advantage of it. But we also surely picked one of the worst times in the last two decades to raise a fund.”

Ultimately with strong perseverance, a good story and a great track record, LiveOak Venture Partners did it, he said.

“And I think when you can raise money in tough times that’s an advantage,” he said.

Competition to Invest in Startups

Since LiveOak Venture Partners hung out its shingle last year, it has seen incredible deal flow, Scott said.

IMG_2431Last year, they looked at a few hundred companies and invested in five deals including Veros Systems, Written.com, StepOne Inc., NSS Labs, all in Austin, and CS Disco in Houston. Over the course of this fund, they expect to invest in 15 to 17 companies in Austin, Texas and the greater Southwest.

But they also have strong competition for deals.

Last year, Silverton Partners, an early-stage venture capital firm focused on Austin-based companies, announced the formation of a $75 million early stage follow-on fund. Silverton also struck a partnership with Mike Maples Jr.’s Floodgate to finance startups at Capital Factory. Austin Ventures, the big daddy in VC money in Austin, also invests in early stage deals.

“We’re absolutely in competition for deals,” Shamapant said. “That’s good for the entrepreneur.”

But there are a lot of high quality companies in this market to keep multiple venture firms busy, he said.

The myth still prevails that most companies are built by 20-year-old kids who drop out of college to create the next Facebook. But in reality a large majority of the startups in the Austin and Texas market getting funded are founded by experienced executives and entrepreneurs who have worked in those industries before, Srinivasan said.

But don’t discount the energy and creativity that young entrepreneurs bring to the market, Scott said. They have a “lack of baggage” and can view problems in a new light, he said.

“At the end of the day, what is crucial for success is to satisfy your customers and also figure out a scalable go to market strategy for it,” he said.

And that’s where a firm like LiveOak Venture Partners sees its sweet spot in helping entrepreneurs.

“We are very active with respect to collaborating with our entrepreneurs to help make their companies successful,” Scott said.

LiveOak Partners provides a lot of support in building a startups’ teams, he said. They also help them with strategic decisions, introduce them to key customers, partnerships and other potential investors and in the end help them with exit strategies, he said.

“Our access to talent, our access to strong executives with experience and our own long experience in investing are big assets to companies,” he said.

LiveOak understands the plight of the entrepreneur, said Kiwi Camara, CEO of CS Disco, which closed on $2 million in Series A funds from the firm in January.

The Houston-based startup makes software for lawyers to use to research cases.

“They’ve been great to work with,” Camara said.

Josh Kerr, co-founder of Austin-based Written.com, met Srinivasan at a 3-Day Startup event and then eventually met with the other partners. He and his cofounders were close to doing a deal with another firm, but decided to go with LiveOak Partners instead.

“They went from being a firm we weren’t considering to our top choice,” he said. “They seemed to really have done their homework on us.”

Last November, Written.com received $1 million in seed stage funding from LiveOak, Floodgate in California and several angel investors. The startup connects bloggers with brands interested in licensing their content.

Kerr had never created a company with VC money and he and his partners wanted to develop a good relationship with a VC firm that would also work with them and help them grow from a startup to a big company, he said.

“They’ve been great to work with,” Kerr said. “They are bringing us a ton of value.”

LiveOak finds startups through introductions and online.

“We are eager to meet entrepreneurs,” Shamapant said. “We’re as eager as the entrepreneurs are to meet us.”

It looks to invest in entrepreneurs who have a real problem that they’ve actually experienced themselves and they are trying to solve.

“A lot of people think they’ve got to have a whole business plan. It’s really not that. The first meeting all we’re trying to understand is do you have a problem to solve? Do you have a unique way to solve it that allows you to build a business on it.”

LiveOak Venture Partners investments are not limited to Texas, but that is its focus, Srinivasan said. Last year, LiveOak wrote checks ranging from $250,000 to $4 million, he said.

“We are not likely to put $100,000 into 10 companies and just sit back and see what bubbles to the top,” he said. “If we invest in a company we will spend meaningful time with the team to help them rapidly converge on their next milestones and financing.”

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