16 startups challenging Salesforce's core business that analysts think will soar this year

n the call center at Wright Express in South Portland, Holly Morse talks with a customer on Wednes

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When it comes to customer relationship management (CRM) software, Salesforce is usually top of mind. Two decades ago, the cloud giant pioneered new way to deliver software over the cloud via subscriptions, changing CRM software forever. 

It still has an iron grip on the market, holding an 18.4% share as of 2019, according to a report from IDC. By contrast, other large players like SAP, Oracle, Microsoft, and Adobe have single digit percentages (although Microsoft is aggressively investing in its own cloud-based CRM application, called Dynamics 365). 

CRM software generally includes customer-facing tools for divisions like sales, customer service, and marketing and has traditionally served as an electronic Rolodex-of-sorts for a company’s customers. But the software is quickly evolving, said a senior research director at Gartner, Brian Manusama. 

Nowadays, companies don’t want their CRM systems to simply help their own employees, but also to make their overall customer experiences smoother and simpler, too, Manusama told Insider. For example, they want tools to automate online problem-solving processes for customers. And as automation capabilities become standard for modern CRM systems, that often means integrations with outside applications or social media.

Salesforce is built primarily for large enterprise customers, so CRM startups have popped up to cater to small and medium-sized businesses, Bessemer Venture Partner’s Alex Ferrara told Insider. Also, because CRMs encompass a wide range of tools and software, many companies start in one category — sales, services, or marketing — and then expand outward from there.

“I think most modern organizations today want all of their employees to have access to customer data,” partner at venture firm CRV, Murat Bicer, told Insider. “It’s not just sales anymore.”

As the pandemic pushed businesses to digitally transform faster than ever, modern CRM software is critical to helping them stay connected with customers. 

Insider asked venture capitalists and analysts to name smaller CRM companies competing with behemoths like Salesforce and Microsoft. They named both innovative startups and smaller companies that are growing in popularity. 

Some of these smaller companies could also be acquisition targets for big cloud firms looking to improve their own capabilities. For example, Facebook said in November 2020 that plans to acquire customer service startup Kustomer — reportedly for $1 billion

Here are 16 customer relationship management companies that experts say to watch in 2021:

(All private company funding amounts and valuations taken from Pitchbook.)


Pipedrive is a sales management tool to help coordinate the sometimes complicated or lengthy sales process. It’s tailored to help salespeople do their jobs as opposed to sales managers, which more traditional CRM systems are focused on, said Bessemer’s Ferrara, who led Pipedrive’s Series A round in 2015.

Pipedrive has customizable fields, Google Apps integrations for email, and data importing and exporting, so salespeople can plan their strategy, track deals, and record conversation history on one platform. 

Ferrara says it’s a company to watch because it’s very profitable and has a really great team of product and engineering folks on board.

Total funding raised: $95.4 million

Valuation: $1.50 billion 


Iterable is an email marketing platform that helps automate the customer reach-out process.

The company was founded in 2013 and started with marketing automation before quickly realizing how much more it could do with the customer data stored on its platform.

It essentially allows companies to customize the way they interact with customers based on their preferences, said CRV’s Bicer, who sits on Iterable’s board. CRV led Iterable’s Series A round in 2016. 

“It’s giving you a more of that full picture of your entire customer base and how they’re behaving,” Bicer said. “I think that’s the kind of scale that even Salesforce today wouldn’t really be able to do.”

Total funding raised: $141.84 million

Valuation: $535 million


Gorgias makes help-desk software — primarily for small online businesses — to help manage customer service. It uses machine learning and integrations with other software to create templates and suggestions on how to resolve customer service requests so businesses can respond quickly. 

The company was founded in 2015 and just raised a $25 million Series B led by Sapphire Ventures in early December. CRV’s Bicer recommended the firm. 

Total funding raised: $44.77 million

Valuation: $325 million


Freshworks is best known for its customer service product, Freshdesk. It was founded in 2010 after CEO Girish Mathrubootham saw an opportunity to change the way companies handle customer support.

In the 10 years since, Mathrubootham has expanded the firm’s customer support focus to build a platform that provides software to help manage every interaction a customer has with a company, from marketing to customer support. The company is headquartered in San Mateo, California, although the majority of its employees are based in India.

Freshworks has made a number of acquisitions over the last few years to build out its platform, Gartner’s Manusama said. 

Total funding raised: $401.1 million

Valuation: $3.5 billion


SugarCRM, founded in 2004, offers a range of customer experience tools including for sales, service, and marketing divisions. A recent Gartner report called SugarCRM’s products “easily configured and customized.”

In addition to sales automation, customer service, and marketing tools, SugarCRM has also added products for data visualization, analytics, and integration.

“They’ve got a pretty comprehensive offering compared to most smaller market CRMs,” said Nucleus Research analyst Dan Elman, who expects the firm to keep growing.

Notably Salesforce has a similar line-up of products in its CRM platform. 

SugarCRM was acquired by private equity firm Accel-KKR in 2018. 

Total funding raised: $119.64 million up to 2013, unknown after that

Valuation: Unknown


TechSee is a customer service platform that integrates technologies like artificial intelligence and internet connected devices with more traditional CRM tools. It’s geared towards field service agents in particular, helping them respond to customer support requests at specific locations and allowing them to connect with customers via a live virtual chat.

The company is based in Israel and raised a $30 million Series C round in August led by Salesforce Ventures, TELUS Ventures, and OurCrowd. Gartner’s Manusama recommended it as a field service-focused CRM company to watch. 

Total funding raised: $53.50 million

Valuation: Unknown


Hubspot started as a marketing automation company, making it easy for small businesses to launch marketing and go-to-market strategies. Once Hubspot started seeing how its platform could use the customer data it was collecting, however, it began adding more features to make it a full CRM platform, including sales and service software.

The company went public in 2014 and has 95,000 customers. It is headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts and run by its cofounders Brian Halligan (CEO) and Dharmesh Shah (CTO). 

CRV’s Bicer and Bessemer partner Ferrara both noted that Hubspot was a smaller CRM company to watch. 

Market cap: $17.71 billion


Zendesk is known for its customer service software, but it also offers sales software and a marketplace of customer engagement apps. Its software makes it easier to help customers across self-service options, connecting all the communication methods — like phone, chat, messaging, and email — in one platform. 

Nucleus Research’s Elman said he already sees Zendesk in competition with Salesforce for deals and he expects that competition to only get more intense as Zendesk grows. More often now, CRMs are expanding to include that “customer experience distinction,” he said.

Zendesk was founded in 2007 and went public in 2014. 

Market cap: $17.71 billion


Zoho is an Indian software company that provides tools for finance, productivity, collaboration, and more, with its sales, services, and marketing tools integrating with its entire product portfolio. 

Zoho’s CRM offering is more developed than most companies of its size, said Nucleus Research’s Elman, so it could likely compete with Salesforce more effectively than others.

Earlier this year Zoho released tools to help businesses reopen safely, similar to Salesforce’s Work.com tools. 

The company was founded in 1996 in Pleasanton, CA but its global headquarters are in Chennai, India. It has remained private and claims that it never took outside funding. 

Total funding raised: N/A

Valuation: Unknown


Glia is a customer service platform that allows businesses to connect with customers using messaging, video, and other online avenues. The software is intended to make it simple for customers to learn about a product, purchase it, and access customer service, too. Sellers can interact with interested parties in real-time to try to convert them into paying customers. 

Glia’s customers include several big banking organizations, said Gartner’s Manusama, making it a firm to watch. It raised $78 million in Series C funding in early January.

Total funding raised: $107 million

Valuation: Unknown


Conversica is an AI-driven platform to help salespeople connect with potential customers and sign them on. It uses chat bots to automatically start conversations with potential buyers over email, text, or social media to schedule sales meetings or gauge interest. It can also collect overdue payments from existing customers, too. 

Its customers include Oracle, Beck & Masten, and Talend, and it also has partnerships with Salesforce, Hupspot, and Marketo. Gartner’s Manusama recommended it. 

Total funding raised: $106.8 million

Valuation: Unknown


GetAccept is a sales enablement platform that aims to digitize the sales process from the first conversation to a signed contract. The software includes features like video, live chat, sales content, proposal design, document tracking, and e-signatures to simplify the sales process. It also allows sales reps to track their pipeline.

Bessemer’s Ferrara likens it to digitizing the deal room where sales contracts get discussed and signed. His firm led GetAccept’s $20 million Series B round in early December.  

Total funding raised: $30.6 million

Valuation: $36.88 million before its Series B, current unknown


Insightly is a project management tool for keeping track of customer interactions. The platform helps companies manage their customer contacts, tasks, and projects on desktop and mobile, and also offers a marketing automation tool. Its tools integrate with Google Apps and GSuite, Microsoft 365, and Quickbooks.

Insightly was founded in 2009 and is backed by Emergence Capital Partners, Cloud Apps Capital Partners, Scott Bommer, and Sozo Ventures. Bessemer’s Ferrara named Insightly as a CRM startup to watch, though his firm has not invested.

Total funding raised: $40 million

Valuation: $220.67 million

Copper CRM

Copper is a CRM system designed to be used with GSuite and Google Apps. It helps salespeople identify, track, and optimize sales. The integration with GSuite allows users to update opportunities, add contacts, get account histories, and manage the pipeline directly from their Gmail inbox. It also automatically scrapes data from Gmail to automate recurring tasks. 

The company was founded in 2011 and has CRM products tailored for the tech industry, real estate firms, consulting companies, and small businesses.

Ferrara recommended Copper, though Bessemer has not invested in it.

Total funding raised: $108.12 million

Valuation: $77.68 million as of its Series B in 2016, current unknown


Affinity is a CRM startup that’s focused on managing relationships as opposed to simply serving as a database of contacts. Its scans the email and calendars of its workers in customer-facing roles to map out how people are connected and suggest ways to leverage existing relationships in order to secure new deals.

Bessemer’s Ferrara said his firm is a customer of Affinity and has seen first-hand the value it can bring to organizations. It has products tailored towards the real estate industry, venture capital firms, and financial institutions. 

Total funding raised: $40.5 million

Valuation: $96.5 million


Nimble is another CRM platform that integrates with productivity suites from Microsoft and Google. It allows users to access their CRM while working in their email inbox or websites like LinkedIn.

Its differentiator is a “focus on mining social media,” said Nucleus Research’s Elman. “It can link your records with social media, so it gives you more up-to-date info on when your contacts are active and what they’re thinking about.” 

Nimble is part of the Microsoft Accelerator. 

Total funding raised: $15.5 million

Valuation: $34 million

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Top VCs say they want to fund startups that solve retailers' biggest problem — e-commerce logistics

Summary List PlacementThe COVID-19 pandemic has forced all kinds of retailers to double down on e-commerce like never before. 
Even as restrictions on in-person retail have lifted across the US, many consumers are choosing to do more of their shopping online as they keep health and safety top of mind. 
eMarketer analysts have estimated that US online sales would reach $794.5 billion in 2020, a year-over-year increase of 32.4%.
But, businesses were met with some challenges while dealing with the huge influx of online shopping.
Some online retailers struggled to keep inventory in stock, particularly early on in the pandemic. Others began exploring new ways of getting goods into consumers’ hands as delivery networks filled up with packages. 
For venture capitalists looking to fund the next big thing in e-commerce, these bumps in the road spell opportunity.
Insider recently reached out to the top firms investing in e-commerce to get their take on where the sector is headed. Many said they were interested in funding startups that can solve problems for e-commerce businesses looking to scale.  
Read more: The 25 VC firms most active in funding e-commerce startups told us what they’re looking for in an investment — and shared the big bets they’re making for the future
“We believe that the best time to start a company is during times of uncertainty because both the cracks and innovation become more evident in a given sector,” Hans Tung, managing partner of GGV Capital, said. “If e-commerce is growing, then it’s only logical that new demand for infrastructure and analytics will be there.”
He said that the firm is interested in startups that provide “backend logistics, analytics, and operational services such as Flieber,” which helps online retailers manage their supply chain operations. 
He’s also keeping an eye on fintech startups, such as Affirm, that are changing how we pay for goods and services, to be trends in 2021.
Gautam Gupta, a partner at M13, said the firm is “looking for critical, not just nice to have, infrastructure that drives growth for independent sellers.”
He pointed to M13’s investment in Passport as an example, describing the startup as a “software-enabled international shipping carrier for DTC brands.”
“As US-based merchants look to expand their customer base overseas, Passport provides a full-service solution including logistics, duties and tax calculation, insurance and customer service,” he said. “As customers scale their international sales, Passport scales alongside the business.”
Adina Davis, an investor at BoxGroup, added that 2020 saw an “explosion of the Shopify ecosystem,” leading to investment opportunities. 
“We have been eager to make investments into companies that can serve as the infrastructure that supports e-commerce businesses in their growth,” she said. “This can span everything from innovative software solutions, to 3PL and warehousing solutions, to financing solutions, to innovations in the checkout experience, and more.”SEE ALSO: The top VCs funding e-commerce startups share what trends they’re excited to see more of in 2021
Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: Why thoroughbred horse semen is the world’s most expensive liquid

Delivery startup Bringg used this pitch deck to raise $30 million from the likes of Salesforce and Siemens' Next47

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Delivery software startup Bringg raised more than $30 million in a fundraising round backed by Salesforce and Siemens’ investment wing Next47. 
Bank of America analysts have hyped the online delivery sector as being “on fire” due to COVID-19, with retail and logistics giant Amazon seeing sales jump 26% in the first quarter of 2020. 
Bringg’s customers are among the biggest companies in the world, including McDonald’s and Walmart. 
CEO Guy Bloch said some of Bringg’s clients had reported an 800% surge in online deliveries.  
We got an exclusive look at the pitch deck he used to bring investors on board. 
Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Bringg, the Israeli delivery software startup, raked in more than $30 million in a fundraising round backed by the likes of Salesforce and Next47, the investment arm of Siemens. 
Founded in 2013, Bringg counts major retail and restaurant players among its biggest customers around the world, including Walmart and McDonald’s, which use its software to coordinate deliveries. 
Bringg specializes in helping traditional bricks and mortar outlets compete with retail giants like Amazon, by providing ready-to-use software, which allows them to easily track drivers and communicate with customers.  
As COVID-19 puts paid to high-street shopping, CEO Guy Bloch told Business Insider he had seen a surge in demand for online deliveries – with some clients reporting an 800% jump month-on-month. 
Amazon recently revealed its first-quarter sales had jumped 26% to $75.5 billion, with Bank of America analysts describing the wider sector as “on fire”.  
Failure to pivot to online deliveries has proven lethal to some firms, with the UK discount clothing store Primark’s monthly sales nosediving from £650 million to £0. 
“As we slowly became more aware of the ways coronavirus was going to impact us, it really only gave our investors more reason to get involved,” said Bloch. 
“The total switch to online has been coming for a while, but we are seeing that accelerated right now.” 
We got an exclusive look at the pitch deck Bringg used to bring Salesforce and Next47 on board: 

See the pitch deck that landed startup Lacework $525 million in the largest investment round for a cybersecurity company in the last year

Summary List PlacementHow do you convince investors to give a startup $525 million? 
“You have to have a lot of proof points,” Lacework CEO Dan Hubbard told Insider, after his Silicon Valley startup raked in a half-billion-dollar round after previously raising a total of $74.4 million. 
The six-year-old Silicon Valley company addresses the booming area of providing cybersecurity to companies growing and moving their operations to public cloud providers like Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure.
Perhaps the most important proof point is the total addressable market (TAM) that Lacework is tackling – a figure that gauges revenue opportunity – is climbing 20% year over year and reaching $13 billion in 2024. Analysts back that up.
Analyst Daniel Ives, managing director of equity research at Wall Street analyst firm Wedbush Securities, told Insider on Friday that “there’s $200 billion up for grabs in the next five years in cloud security.”
“We have the right product in the right market at the right time,” Hubbard told Insider last week. “The problem has come to us.” 
The company says it has seen revenue triple each of the past two years as more businesses build and run applications on the major cloud platforms. The company did not disclose revenue or specific valuation, but says the latter is above $1 billion. 
PitchBook shows the funding round was the largest in the cybersecurity industry for the past year, and the 22nd largest in all US industries over that span. 
It could have been even larger, Hubbard said. “There was an incredible amount of interest. There are going to be some people who feel left out.” 
Mike Speiser, managing director at Sutter Hill Ventures, compared the startup to his firm’s runaway success investment Snowflake, which has rocketed to a market cap of some $76 billion after its September IPO. 
Here’s the pitch deck Lacework used to land the mammoth funding round. Some slides with customer and competitive data have been removed by the company to protect proprietary information.


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