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Chief, the leadership network for women, raises $15 million in funding

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Chief, the social network dedicated exclusively to women in professional leadership positions, announced today that it has $15 million in funding from its existing investors, including General Catalyst, Inspired Capital, GGV Capital, Primary Venture Partners, Flybridge Capital and BoxGroup.

The startup is a highly-vetted network of women who are leaders in their business, either managing a budget, a large team or both. The women are often at the VP or executive level. The company has more than 2,000 members in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago from companies like Google, IBM, HBO, Chobani, Walmart, Visa, Teladoc, Doctors Without Borders and the New York Times.

Chief was founded by Carolyn Childers and Lindsay Kaplan, who saw an opportunity to bring community, mentorship and guidance to a very underserved client: the female business leader.

Childers was SVP of Operations at Handy and led the launch of Soap.com, serving as GM there through its acquisition by Amazon. Kaplan was on the founding team of Casper, serving as VP of Communications and Brand, before leaving to co-found Chief.

Chief members are placed into a Core Group, which is industry agnostic, to receive training from one of the company’s contracted and vetted executive coaches alongside their peers. In these peer groups, members talk about their challenges and receive support and guidance from one another, as well as an executive coach. Members also have access to a community chat feature, and Chief’s events, which include leadership workshops, conversations with industry leaders and community roundtables.

Obviously, the coronavirus pandemic has put a damper on in-person features of the platform, such as Core Groups and live events. But Chief has moved swiftly to put all these core services on the web for members to attend and participate virtually.

The company has also fast-tracked the launch of its hiring board, which gives members the ability to privately list great candidates and open positions to the broader network.

Chief vets its members to ensure that the women on the platform ‘get it,’ as Kaplan likes to say.

“We all know it gets lonely at the top, and it gets a lot lonelier a lot earlier for women,” said Childers. “Women are on panels or on the circuit and they’re exhausted. This is a community they don’t have to be the one in the spotlight and feel all the pressure, but can actually be supported in a network of women who feel the exact same way. These women are the only person or one of the few people in their organization who have hit that level of leadership, and really need support from people who get it.”

The company looks at the applicants experience, the size of their organization and immediate team, the reporting structure, budget size, awards and credentials, thought leadership and impact as well as current member nominations.

Interestingly, no more than 9 percent of the Chief membership work in a single industry, which leads to cognitive diversity within the community. The average age of a Chief member is 43, and members manage over $10 billion in collective budget at their organizations and more than 100,000 employees.

Executive-level members pay $7,900 annually, while VP-level members pay $5,800 each year. Chief says that 40 percent of its members are Executives, with the other 60 percent are VPs. The company says that 30 percent of its membership base are women of color.

Chief also operates a Membership Grant program, created to promote diversity of background and thought among members, that brings the cost of an annual membership down to $3,800 for folks coming from non-corporate or underfunded organizations. The company did not disclose what percentage of customers are on the grant program.

Some napkin math then tells us that Chief is likely generating more than $10 million in revenue in 2020, on the conservative end. Kaplan and Childers say that they have a waitlist of 8,000 to join.

The new funding will be used to accelerate growth to meet demand in new cities and support the build-out of technology infrastructure. This latest round brings Chief’s total funding to $40 million.

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The accelerating digital transformation, redux

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Earlier this week, TechCrunch covered a grip of earnings reports showing that some companies helping other businesses move to modern software solutions are seeing accelerated growth. Inside the Software as a Service (SaaS) world, this is known as the digital transformation. Based on how many software companies are talking about it, the pace of change is only picking up.

But since we published that first entry, a number of SaaS companies that have posted financial results seemed to disappoint investors. Seeing some companies in the high-flying sector struggle made us sit back and think. What was going on?

Today we’re going to explore how the digital transformation’s acceleration seems real enough, but how it’s not landing equally. We’ll start by going over a short run of earnings results, talk to Yext CEO Howard Lerman about what his B2B SaaS company is seeing, and wrap with notes on what could be coming next from software shops.

A quick word on digital transformation

We all hear about digital transformation, but it’s hard to define. Generally, it’s a broad area that includes digitization of manual processes, modern software development practices like continuous delivery and containerization and a general way of moving faster via technology — especially in the cloud.

Speaking last month on Extra Crunch Live, Box CEO Aaron Levie defined the term as he sees it. “The way that we think about digital transformation is that much of the world has a whole bunch of processes and ways of working — ways of communicating and ways of collaborating where if those business processes or that way we worked were able to be done in digital forms or in the cloud, you’d actually be more productive, more secure and you’d be able to serve your customers better. You’d be able to automate more business processes.” he said.

What we’re seeing now is that the pandemic has accelerated the rate of change much faster than many had anticipated. Efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19 and its related workplace disruptions have accelerated what would have been a normal timetable. But on its own, that doesn’t mean the market is seeing equal results across every company and industry that might be part of that trend.

Earnings results

Lots of SaaS companies reported earnings this week, but two sets of returns stuck out as we reviewed the results, those from Slack and Smartsheet.

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TaxProper raises $2M to automate getting your property taxes lowered

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If you own your home, how much do you pay for property taxes? Too much? Sounds about right.

If you disagree with how much you’re paying in property taxes, you can appeal the assessment. Most people don’t, though — perhaps because they are unaware they can, or because they just don’t have the time to deal with the lawyers and paperwork.

TaxProper, a company out of Y Combinator’s Summer 2019 batch, has raised $2 million to simplify the process. The round was led by Khosla Ventures, backed by Global Founders Capital, Clocktower Ventures and a handful of angel investors.

Once you’ve punched in your address, TaxProper’s algorithm looks at the assessments of similar homes in your surrounding area, looking at things like size, number of rooms, construction materials, etc.

If the algorithm determines that you’re paying more than your share, they generate the required paperwork and send it off to the county. The company estimates that their part of the process takes 3-5 minutes (after which you’re waiting on the county’s response, which they say takes 6-8 weeks).

They’re offering up two different pricing models, charging either a $149 up-front fee or 30% of total first-year tax savings. If their algorithm says your taxes can’t be lowered, you don’t pay — nor do you pay if the appeal gets denied. The company tells me they’re currently seeing an average per customer savings of around $700.

TaxProper’s two co-founders have a good bit of experience in the space of taxes and government. Geoff Segal was previously an actuarial statistician and research analyst for State Farm, while Thomas Dowling was a municipal finance advisor for Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot. 

One thing to note: TaxProper is only up and running in select areas right now, as the company tests different strategies and makes sure they’re doing everything right region-by-region. It’s currently available in Chicago and the surrounding Cook County area, with plans to roll out “in the coming months” in New York and Texas.

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Portobel turns food producers into direct-to-consumer businesses

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A startup called Portobel is working to help food producers shift their businesses so they can support direct-to-consumer deliveries.

Portobel is backed by Heroic Ventures and led by Ranjith Kumaran, founder or co-founder of file-sharing company Hightail (acquired by OpenText) and loyalty startup PunchTab (acquired by Walmart Labs).

Kumaran told me that he and his co-founders Ted Everson and Itai Maron started out with the goal of improving the delivery process by using low-cost, internet-connected devices to track each order. As they began testing this out — primarily with dairy companies and other producers of perishable goods — customers started to ask them, “Hey, you can monitor these things, can you actually deliver these things, too?”

So last year, the company started making deliveries of its own, which involved managing its own warehouses and hiring its own drivers. Kumaran said the resulting process is “a machine that turns wholesale pallets into direct-to-consumer deliveries.”

He also emphasized that the company is taking safety precautions during the pandemic, ensuring that all of its warehouse workers and drivers have masks and other protective equipment, and that the drivers use hand sanitizer between deliveries.

Portobel warehouse

Image Credits: Portobel

Portobel currently operates in the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles/Orange County. Kumaran said the COVID-19 pandemic has only accelerated the demand for the startup’s services, with the number of households it serves tripling since April.

That might sound a little surprising, since supermarkets were basically the one store that customers are still visiting regularly. Plus, there are a range of grocery delivery options.

However, Kumaran suggested that the D2C model is better for both producers and consumers. Producers get recurring orders for larger packages of food. And for consumers, “If you buy straight from the wholesale producer … everything’s in stock.”

As for delivery, he said that when you buy your groceries online, things are being packed and dispatched at your local store.”

“All those things about selection and availability, put those aside — the modern grocery store is not set up for efficient e-commerce delivery,” he added. “They need to block the aisles to pick up product, there’s no dedicated place to dispatch deliveries. That’s kind of why, if you’ve tried [grocery delivery], there are unpredictable delivery windows. It’s a challenge for these guys to scale online.”

Portobel’s customers include San Francisco-based grocery company Moo Cow Market. In a statement, Moo Cow founder Alexandra Mysoor said, “The pandemic has propelled retail as we knew it into a new wave, blending and merging all past and current forms of commerce. That’s where companies like Moo Cow Market enter and can scale and grow thanks to services like Portobel.”

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