Google showed the way when it came to the world understanding and valuing the importance of a good search engine to unlock all the information you could find on the internet. The next iteration of that has been vertical search: providing tools to delve into very specific information silos for particular uses.
And in the wave of companies building solutions for that, a New York-based company called AlphaSense, which focuses on providing search tools to query market analysis and business intelligence, has now raised $225 million. Its valuation with this Series D round -- $1.7 billion post-money -- is double what it was in 2021 (when it raised $180 million in a Series C round). This not only speaks to AlphaSense's growth, but to the opportunity to address more gaps in vertical, enterprise search.
The funding is being co-led by two investors, the Growth Equity business within Goldman Sachs Asset Management (Goldman Sachs) and Viking Global Investors. Goldman Sachs is both a financial and strategic investor here, Finnish co-founder and CEO Jaakko (Jack) Kokko told me: the firm's analysts use the platform for research and to post their own reports. The $225 million figure also includes a "substantial" debt commitment from BlackRock, although AlphaSense does not specify the exact amount.
When we last covered the company in 2019 -- a $50 million Series B round -- AlphaSense had 1,000 customers. That number has now grown to 3,500, with the last year seeing customer numbers growing by 110% in 2021, with the range of typical uses including companies in the S&P 100 (75% are customers); the Dow 50 (97%); and large asset management firms and banks (70% of all of these in the U.S., the company claims, are users); along with those working within energy, industrials, consumer goods and technology sectors.
ARR currently stands at over $100 million, although Kokko tells me AlphaSense is not yet profitable (nor choosing to be).
COVID-19, if anything, actually served as a boost to the startup's growth. The platform's typical users -- business analysts, strategists, financial planners, investors and others that regularly buy and use market reports and competitive intelligence -- not only were still needing to do their work, but they were less likely to be in face-to-face meetings to discuss research with colleagues and clients to source and deliver information.
On top of that, given the lack of visibility into what was around the corner in terms of the pandemic and its impact, research, insights and simply more information were all in more demand than ever. In both of those scenarios, useful search engines to both access and disseminate research became tantamount to being on the ground.
The gap that AlphaSense identified is one that is actually not uncommon in every information silo, but how successfully it is tackled remains the tricky part. In the case of business information, Kokko said that the issue is that it comes from a huge number of sources, and in many different formats, most often is delivered in narratives.
"We focus on the search for unstructured information, and we provide structure to it," he said. Web search intelligence is a problem that is constantly being fed through machine learning algorithms. The more people search on Google, the better Google gets. "But our system has to understand language and land on the right information without the benefit and insights of billions of web searches. None of that exists for private information."
In other words, our world -- or at least, information pertaining to it -- is our oyster on the internet, and search engines have been the instrument to shucking it. But the same does not apply to unstructured information when it's basically private, not uploaded to the internet.
Beyond basic search, given the nature of why people are searching on AlphaSense in the first place, the company's second product layer comes in the form of how it presents information.
Its algorithms are AI-based and focused around natural language understanding both to extract the meaning and aim of search queries, but also to parse the research itself.
So while AlphaSense does negotiate deals with companies for providing links to their research and making it searchable, Kokko explained that it also takes some of that information into its own hands to present it in ways that digest numerous sources into more concise search results.
This is particularly important when you consider that when, for example, you have a couple of forecasts about the market size for cloud-based security services, you can weigh up the different forecasts and what they do or don't include, since you will often see different numbers and different KPIs from different analysts.
"We are adding more structure to unstructured data, but we're also organizing it, providing, for example, heat maps to show who is more or less optimistic about a particular data point," he said. "If a user asks about an addressable market size, we can provide an answer that looks and takes in all that data."
Another area where AlphaSense wants to do more, Kokko said, is in internal company search, to help businesses organise and access their own data better. So while its current products might potentially get compared to Wolfram Alpha or LexisNexis, the internal search product would potentially bring it closer to the likes of Elastic or Algolia.
All in all, the opportunities speak to the rationale behind this investment, Goldman Sachs Growth MD Holger Staude told TechCrunch, especially at a time when so many other companies are finding it challenging to raise money.
"AlphaSense is a scaled business growing at an accelerating pace, which we attribute to the strength of the product and the team, as well as the size of the market opportunity. Irrespective of the reset in the broader tech market, we are excited to support high-quality companies with strong fundamental unit economics, such as AlphaSense," he said. "AlphaSense is building a search and intelligence platform for a broad range of users, not just financial services firms. We believe that having access to curated business information will remain a focus for enterprises through the cycle. AlphaSense is well positioned to capture this opportunity."