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Laiye, China’s answer to UiPath, closes $50 million Series C+

Robotic process automation has become buzzy in the last few months. New York-based UiPath is on course to launch an initial public offering after gaining an astounding valuation of $35 billion in February. Over in China, homegrown RPA startup Laiye is making waves as well.

Laiye, which develops software to mimic mundane workplace tasks like keyboard strokes and mouse clicks, announced it has raised $50 million in a Series C+ round. The proceeds came about a year after the Beijing-based company pulled in the first tranche of its Series C round.

Laiye, six years old and led by Baidu veterans, has raised over $130 million to date according to public information.

Leading investors in the Series C+ round were Ping An Global Voyager Fund, an early-stage strategic investment vehicle of Chinese financial conglomerate Ping An, and Shanghai Artificial Intelligence Industry Equity Investment Fund, a government-backed fund. Other participants included Lightspeed China Partners, Lightspeed Venture Partners, Sequoia China and Wu Capital.

RPA tools are attracting companies looking for ways to automate workflows during COVID-19, which has disrupted office collaboration. But the enterprise tech was already gaining traction prior to the pandemic. As my colleague, Ron Miller wrote this month on the heels of UiPath’s S1 filing:

“The category was gaining in popularity by that point because it addressed automation in a legacy context. That meant companies with deep legacy technology — practically everyone not born in the cloud — could automate across older platforms without ripping and replacing, an expensive and risky undertaking that most CEOs would rather not take.”

In one case, Laiye’s RPA software helped the social security workers in the city of Lanzhou speed up their account reconciliation process by 75%; in the past, they would have to type in pensioners’ information and check manually whether the details were correct.

In another instance, Laiye’s chatbot helped automate the national population census in several southern Chinese cities, freeing census takers from visiting households door-to-door.

Laiye said its RPA enterprise business achieved positive cash flow and its chatbot business turned profitability in the fourth quarter of 2020. Its free-to-use edition has amassed over 400,000 developers, and the company also runs a bot marketplace connecting freelance developers to small-time businesses with automation needs.

Laiye is expanding its services globally and boasts that its footprint now spams Asia, the United States and Europe.

“Laiye aims to foster the world’s largest developer community for software robots and built the world’s largest bot marketplace in the next three years, and we plan to certify at least one million software robot developers by 2025,” said Wang Guanchun, chair and CEO of Laiye.

“We believe that digital workforce and intelligent automation will reach all walks of life as long as more human workers can be up-skilled with knowledge in RPA and AI”.

Laiye, China’s answer to UiPath, closes $50 million Series C+

Robotic process automation has become buzzy in the last few months. New York-based UiPath is on course to launch an initial public offering after gaining an astounding valuation of $35 billion in February. Over in China, homegrown RPA startup Laiye is making waves as well.

Laiye, which develops software to mimic mundane workplace tasks like keyboard strokes and mouse clicks, announced it has raised $50 million in a Series C+ round. The proceeds came about a year after the Beijing-based company pulled in the first tranche of its Series C round.

Laiye, six years old and led by Baidu veterans, has raised over $130 million to date according to public information.

Leading investors in the Series C+ round were Ping An Global Voyager Fund, an early-stage strategic investment vehicle of Chinese financial conglomerate Ping An, and Shanghai Artificial Intelligence Industry Equity Investment Fund, a government-backed fund. Other participants included Lightspeed China Partners, Lightspeed Venture Partners, Sequoia China and Wu Capital.

RPA tools are attracting companies looking for ways to automate workflows during COVID-19, which has disrupted office collaboration. But the enterprise tech was already gaining traction prior to the pandemic. As my colleague, Ron Miller wrote this month on the heels of UiPath’s S1 filing:

“The category was gaining in popularity by that point because it addressed automation in a legacy context. That meant companies with deep legacy technology — practically everyone not born in the cloud — could automate across older platforms without ripping and replacing, an expensive and risky undertaking that most CEOs would rather not take.”

In one case, Laiye’s RPA software helped the social security workers in the city of Lanzhou speed up their account reconciliation process by 75%; in the past, they would have to type in pensioners’ information and check manually whether the details were correct.

In another instance, Laiye’s chatbot helped automate the national population census in several southern Chinese cities, freeing census takers from visiting households door-to-door.

Laiye said its RPA enterprise business achieved positive cash flow and its chatbot business turned profitability in the fourth quarter of 2020. Its free-to-use edition has amassed over 400,000 developers, and the company also runs a bot marketplace connecting freelance developers to small-time businesses with automation needs.

Laiye is expanding its services globally and boasts that its footprint now spams Asia, the United States and Europe.

“Laiye aims to foster the world’s largest developer community for software robots and built the world’s largest bot marketplace in the next three years, and we plan to certify at least one million software robot developers by 2025,” said Wang Guanchun, chair and CEO of Laiye.

“We believe that digital workforce and intelligent automation will reach all walks of life as long as more human workers can be up-skilled with knowledge in RPA and AI”.

Who’s funding privacy tech?

Privacy isn’t dead, as many would have you believe. New regulations, stricter cross-border data transfer rules and increasing calls for data sovereignty have helped the privacy startup space grow thanks to an uptick in investor support.

This is how we got here, and where investors are spending.

The rise of privacy tech

With strict privacy laws such as GDPR and CCPA already listing big-ticket penalties — and a growing number of countries following suit — businesses have little option but to comply. It’s not just bigger, established businesses offering privacy and compliance tech; brand-new startups are filling in the gaps in this emerging and growing space.

“For the last decade, privacy tech was trumpeted as one of the next ‘big things’ for investors, but never delivered. Startup business models were too academic, complex and did not appeal to VCs, or crucially, consumers were used to getting free web services,” Gilbert Hill, chief executive at Tapmydata, told Extra Crunch.

Some privacy companies — including privacy hardware companies — are chasing profits and less focused on hustling for outside investment.

Today, privacy is big business. Crunchbase lists 207 privacy startups (as of April 2021) that have together raised more than $3.5 billion over hundreds of individual rounds of funding. The number of privacy companies rockets if you take into account enterprise privacy players. Crunchbase currently has 809 listed under the wider “privacy” category.

The latest Privacy Tech Vendor Report 2021 names 356 companies exclusively dealing in enterprise privacy technology solutions, up from 304 companies a year earlier.

“Since 2017, the privacy landscape underwent a metamorphosis,” the report said. “The emergence of the California Consumer Privacy Act, Brazilian General Data Protection Law and other privacy laws around the world have forced organizations to adhere to a new array of compliance requirements, and in response, the demand for privacy tech grew exponentially.”

That also presents an opportunity for investors.

Increasing investments

Privacy tech was catching the attention of investors even before the recent wave of new privacy laws came into effect. The sector amassed nearly $10 billion in investment in 2019, according to Crunchbase, compared to just $1.7 billion in 2010. Investments remained active in 2020, despite the pandemic.

Case in point: In December, enterprise privacy and compliance firm OneTrust announced a $300 million Series C funding. The deal valued the 4-year-old privacy tech firm at $5.1 billion, making it one of the first modern privacy unicorns. Three months later, it extended its Series C funding, with SoftBank Vision Fund 2 and Franklin Templeton pumping in another $210 million.