Lisbon finally gets a substantial VC fund in the shape of Indico Capital Partners

Lisbon, characterized occasionally by some tech scene observers as ‘the warm Berlin’, has been threatening to generate more startups in the last few years, not least because it will now have the enormous Web Summit conference there for the next 10 years, and because it’s a cheap and great place to live. But the startups appearing have not quite been as numerous as many would like.

It’s therefore fantastic to see a new VC fund appearing in the city, set up by three experienced stalwarts of the scene.

Indico Capital Partners VC has now completed its first closing of €41M out of the €46M of commitments from investors from eight different countries. The fund will be aimed at Iberian early stage startups (that means Spain and Portugal), but of course those in particularly those based out of Portugal.

The fund says it will invest typically between €150,000 and €5M per portfolio company over their lifetime – pre-seed to series A, plus follow-on rounds. They say the first Indico investments have already been concluded and will be announced soon.

It’s far and away the first sizable, independent and private early-stage, tech-focused fund to be based in Lisbon and will focus on investments in B2B SaaS, Artificial Intelligence, Fintech and Cybersecurity to Marketplaces and B2C Platforms.

The fund comprises of three partners: Managing General Partner, Stephan Morais (former head of the leading corporate VC Caixa Capital), General Partner Ricardo Torgal (also former Caixa Capital senior investor) and Venture Partner Cristina Fonseca (co-founder and shareholder of Talkdesk).

Collectively the team has in the past invested in Farfetch, Unbabel, Codacy and many other success stories originating from Portugal over the past 6 years, in addition to Talkdesk itself.

The EIF (European Investment Fund), is the cornerstone investor of Indico, and has been joined by 20 other institutional and individual investors such as the IFD (Instituição Financeira de Desenvolvimento) through the Portugal Tech facility, Draper Esprit (a major global quoted VC fund based in the UK), pension funds, education and research institutions, wealth managers, high net worth individuals and many local and international tech entrepreneurs.

The fund is supported by InnovFin Equity, with the financial backing of the European Union under Horizon 2020 Financial Instruments and the European Funds for Strategic Investments (EFSI) set up under the Investment Plan for Europe.

Stephan Morais, Managing General Partner, said: “This is a milestone for the Portuguese ecosystem, we will keep on supporting the most promising Portuguese, and increasingly Iberian, early-stage tech startups, but now with an independent stable investment platform backed by a diversified global LP base.”

Ricardo Torgal, General Partner added that “VC is not hype, it’s about building a balanced portfolio and being there for the companies to help them grow to the next stage”.

Cristina Fonseca, Venture Partner, commented that “I have been backing many companies over the past few years as an angel investor and mentor, so it was an obvious decision to join the best investment team in the market with a solid track record. Early stage tech is where my heart is and this is a local nurturing activity before it becomes globally investable and scalable.”

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Talkdesk nabs $100M at more than $1B valuation for its smart call centers

Talkdesk, the provider of cloud-based contact center software, has raised $100 million in new funding from Viking Global Investors, a Connecticut-based hedge fund, and existing investor DFJ.

The round values the company at north of $1 billion, Talkdesk co-founder and chief executive officer Tiago Paiva confirmed to TechCrunch, but he declined to disclose the exact figure.

The company, which uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to improve customer service, targets mid-market and enterprise businesses, counting IBM, Dropbox, Stitch Fix and Farfetch as customers.

“Imagine a company has a million customers and they want to reach out for support, what Talkdesk does is allow the customer to connect with a company in the best way possible,” Paiva told TechCrunch. “If you call into Farfetch, they will be using Talkdesk so they can see what products you’ve bought, what your tastes are, what you’ve complained about before. It gives them the history of everything so they can take care of your problem faster.”

Founded in Portugal in 2011, Talkdesk has offices in San Francisco and Lisbon. With the latest investment, it plans to expand to the U.K., as well as double down on its investment in AI. The company has previously raised about $24 million in equity funding, including a $15 million round in mid-2015. It also was a Startup Battlefield contestant at TechCrunch Disrupt NY in 2012.

“Today’s digital-first customers expect immediate and personalized answers, yet the majority of companies have not yet adopted a flexible, cloud-native platform to enable this level of agility and service,” DFJ partner Josh Stein said in a statement. “We believe that 2019 will be the year that cloud-based contact centers become the rule, not the exception.”

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Observe.AI raises $8M to use artificial intelligence to improve call centers

Being stuck on the phone with call centers is painful. We all know this. Observe.AI is one company that wants to make the experience more bearable, and it’s raised $8 million to develop an artificial intelligence system that it believes will do just that.

The funding round was led by Nexus Venture Partners, with participation from MGV, Liquid 2 Ventures and Hack VC. Existing investors Emergent Ventures and Y Combinator also took part — Observe.AI was part of the YC’s winter 2018 batch.

The India-U.S. startup was founded last year with the goal of solving a very personal problem for founders Swapnil Jain (CEO), Akash Singh (CTO) and Sharath Keshava (CRO): making call centers better. But, unlike most AI products that offer the potential to fully replace human workforces, Observe.AI is setting out to help the humble customer service agent.

The company’s first product is an AI that assists call center workers by automating a range of tasks, from auto-completing forms for customers to guiding them on next steps in-call and helping find information quickly. Jain told TechCrunch in an interview that the product was developed following months of consultation with call center companies and their staff, both senior and junior. That included a stint in Manila, one of the world’s capitals for offshoring customer services and a city well known to Keshava, who helped healthcare startup Practo launch its business in the Philippines’ capital.

That effort to know call center operates directly has also shaped how Observe.AI is pitching its services. Rather than going to companies, it is tapping the root of the tree by offering its services to the call centers who manage customer support for well-known businesses behind the curtain. Uber, for example, is one of many to use Philippines-based support centers, but the Observe.AI thesis is that going directly to the source is easier than navigating large companies for business.

One such partner is Concentrix, one of the world’s largest customer support providers with over 100,000 staff and offices dotted around the globe, while the startup said it has tapped Philippines telco PLDT for infrastructure.

In addition to helping understand the problems and generating business, working directly with these companies also gives Observe.AI access to and use of data, which is essential for developing any AI and natural language processing-based systems.

Beyond improving its customer service assistant — which Jain likens to an ‘Alexa for call centers’ — Observe.AI is working to develop a virtual assistant of its own that can handle the more basic and repetitive calls from customers to help free up agents for callers who need a human on the other end of the line.

“We aim to eventually automate a large part of the call center experience,” Jain explained in an interview. “A good set [of customer calls] are complex but a large set can be fairly automated as they are simple in nature.”

The startup is aiming to introduce ‘voicebots’ before March 2020, with a beta launch targeted at the end of 2019.

“The kind of company that will disrupt call centers will come from the east — we truly understand the call center life,” Jain told TechCrunch.

He explained that, while Silicon Valley is a hotbed for tech development, understanding the problems that need to be solved requires spending time in markets like India and the Philippines.

“That knowledge is super, super valuable… someone in the U.S. can’t even think about it,” he added.

That said, Observe.AI is headquartered in the U.S., in Santa Clara. That’s where Keshava, the company CRO, is based with a growing team that is dedicated pre- and post-sales and to building relationships with major software platforms used by call center companies. The idea with the latter is that they can provide an avenue into new business by working with Observe.AI to add AI smarts to their product.

In one such example, Talkdesk, a U.S. startup that offers cloud-based contact center services, has added Observe.AI’s services to what it offers to its customers. Talkdesk CEO Tiago Paiva called the addition “a huge opportunity for call center efficiency and improving the caller experience.”

The startup’s India-based team is Bangalore and it handles technology, which includes the machine learning component. Total headcount is 16 people right now but the founding team expects that will at least double before the end of this year.

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