San Francisco is the global tech industry’s center of gravity. Its companies collect, protect and analyze much of the world’s data. They equip machines with the capability to do our work for us, both in cyberspace and in the physical world — and create whole new professions in the process. They build digital portals that take us into new worlds, all without leaving our living rooms.
And as tech has boomed over the last decade, the media has closely covered the rise of giants like Salesforce, Twitter, Airbnb, Stripe, Instacart, Lyft and Uber.
But you know all about them already.
So instead, we’re taking this opportunity to introduce you to 50 small and mid-sized San Francisco tech companies that you should know, but may not have encountered in your tech media travels. All are headquartered within SF’s city limits and have been around long enough — they’re between two and 10 years old — to be making an impact on their industries. As a group, they are well-funded, have notable leaders, and are developing some truly innovative technology.
In short: they’re all companies that San Francisco tech watchers should keep an eye on.
As the energy grid increasingly accounts for more renewable power sources, Advanced Microgrid Solutions wants to deploy big data technology to make it smarter. Its AI-powered approach anticipates the grid’s rapid shifts in pricing and supply and can deploy resources accordingly. Founder and CEO Susan Kennedy has extensive experience with California’s energy grid, having served on the state’s Public Utilities Commission. (She also worked as Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s chief of staff.) The company works with home and commercial battery systems like Tesla’s Powerwall and Powerpack, using artificial intelligence to detect when it’s better to recharge and when it’s time to contribute power back to the grid.
Airtable describes itself as part spreadsheet, part database, and offers a wide range of applications under that umbrella. The company reached unicorn status last November after bringing in a $100 million Series C at a $1.1 billion valuation. Founded in 2012, Airtable’s goal is to help non-coders import, organize and optimize their datasets. The idea is not to build a one-size-fits-all database, but rather a hyper-customizable tool users can sculpt to their individual likings.
Atomwise says its technology reduces the time it takes to discover and create new, experimental medications for afflictions like Multiple Sclerosis and Ebola. How? Through the same neural network AI technology that other companies use for facial recognition and autonomous navigation. According to the company, this technology can model tens of millions of molecules and locate those with the potential to perform a certain function, like blocking a specific protein. Researchers can then use Atomwise to find and order those molecules from a third-party source and apply the AI’s pattern-recognition capabilities to speed up drug discovery and development.
Designing and installing solar panels traditionally involves a lot of back-and-forth travel. What is the building’s roof layout? Where does shade travel over the course of the day? How much energy does the customer use? Aurora Solar wants to eliminate the legwork with desktop software that can produce detailed system designs and cost estimates for residential and commercial customers. Aurora Solar says its technology is currently capable of reaching more than 90 percent of the U.S. population, and has been used in some 2 million projects worldwide.
Benchling’s software for research and development in the life sciences centralizes and standardizes data, offering functionality that can track workflows, analyze outcomes and model everything from sequences to cell lines. The company was founded with the mission of bringing research software — often old and outdated — in line with the rapid-fire pace of discovery in labs the world over. The company has raised $61.2 million to date, receiving funding from the likes of Andreessen Horowitz, Benchmark, Menlo Ventures and Thrive Capital.
While many marketing software companies try to reach as many people as possible, BlueShift says its customizable marketing campaigns are designed for an audience of one. The company unifies siloed data — including customer behavior across multiple devices, CRM data and product catalogs — and uses that information to fuel an AI-powered dashboard through which marketers create extremely personalized ads. The result is a tailored message based on a user’s unique online behavior, rather than their demographics. The company has amassed more than $25 million in funding over three rounds, including a $15 million Series B led by Softbank’s early-stage venture arm.
By the time Henrique Dubugras and Pedro Franceschi turned 20, they had already built and sold their Sao Paolo-based payment startup, Pagar.me. The young entrepreneurs then moved to Silicon Valley to study computer science at Stanford — and promptly dropped out. Now, they’re courting investors and customers alike with a new startup called Brex. The company’s signature product is a corporate card for startups that offers tools to automate expense management, eliminate receipt tracking and integrate with existing accounting systems. Between securing $380 million in funding, reaching unicorn status six months post-launch and signing customers like SoFi and Airbnb, Brex has quickly become one of San Francisco’s most talked about startups.
Na’ama Moran is a serial Bay Area entrepreneur with a track record. Two of her previous startups — Sourcery Technologies and Zappedy — were acquired by Lavu and Groupon, respectively. Her latest project is Cheetah, which seeks to alleviate a major headache for the food service industry by giving chefs and restaurateurs the ability to order ingredients via smartphone. The technology tackles interesting logistical challenges — connecting users with preferred vendors, coordinating deliveries and ensuring freshness of the ingredients — that all help transform the restaurant industry’s back-end operations.
Businesses rely heavily on the sophistication of their products and the quality of their customer support, but sales savvy is equally important. That’s why Chorus is using machine learning to help sales teams analyze their calls and compare them against customizable benchmarks. Users can create onboarding programs and develop talk tracks to help the entire team adopt successful approaches pioneered by individual contributors. The technology can review an hour-long meeting inside five minutes and pull out key information like next steps, pricing and objection handling.
Classroom learning has sprawled onto multiple platforms across multiple devices. The result is a separate login for disparate software and, inevitably, forgotten passwords. Clever’s solution is, well, pretty clever — a single sign-on portal for all of the edtech software a classroom uses. It’s currently in use at more than half of all K-12 schools in the United States. The technology provides portals for teachers, students and staff, and allows educators to review and exchange notes on different edtech tools. What’s more: Clever makes its money from the companies whose software students access through its portal, meaning the technology doesn’t take a cent from school district budgets.
More than 60 percent of the United States has access to only one high-speed internet provider — or none at all. Common Networks aims to change that, providing 5G wireless broadband to five Bay Area cities (with more on the way). The company was founded in 2016 by four Square alumni with experience in product, business development and engineering, and is led by CEO Grace Chen. The company recently revealed that its millimeter wave service, a core 5G technology, is based on Terragraph, an open-source design created by Facebook as part of its Telecom Infrastructure Project.
Being an adult is hard. We’re paying off bills, student debt and housing costs; we’re splurging on takeout and drinks; we’re saving for retirement, investments and vacations. Digit hopes to help with an app that automatically files money away daily, based on a user’s spending activity. Users tell the app what they’re saving for, and in turn the technology learns a user’s individual spending habits. In doing so, Digit can decide when to transfer money to savings and when to leave a little extra cash in a spending account. In that way, users accrue funds without having to seriously adjust their lifestyles.
Directly taps its clients — including Microsoft, LinkedIn, Airbnb and Samsung — to transform what they dub “super users” into third-party customer support superstars. Directly pays those super users for detailed answers to support questions, which are then combined with machine learning to serve up automated responses to similar queries in the future. Each time their answer helps out a customer, the super user gets another check. The technology impressed Microsoft enough to turn them from a customer to an investor. The software giant’s VC arm, M12, contributed to Directly’s $20 million Series B in April of 2019.
As housing costs rise, startups across the country are testing novel avenues to help renters become homeowners. One out-of-the-box approach comes from Divvy Homes, whose rent-to-own solution purchases a customer’s desired property in return for a 2 percent fee up front. The customer then rents the home directly from Divvy, which in turn diverts around a quarter of every installment to help fund a down payment. The company says users can qualify for a mortgage in three years or less. While the service is only available for homebuyers in Atlanta, Cleveland and Memphis, co-founders Adena Hefets and Brian Ma have already raised $180 million in cumulative funding to invest in technology and expand to additional markets.
In the race to put software behind the wheel of the world’s semi-trailer trucks, Embark is an unlikely frontrunner. For starters, Canadian co-founders Alex Rodrigues and Brandon Moak are still on the green side of 25. Furthermore, the company’s technology relies on sensor data and onboard machine learning instead of high-resolution mapping. Last year, the team used their approach to send a truck on a largely autonomous, 2,400-mile cross-country trip from Los Angeles to Jacksonville, Florida. The startup recently raised $70 million in a Series C funding round led by Tiger Global Management, bringing its war chest to a whopping $117 million.
As business operations migrate from on-premise systems to cloud services and IoT devices, vulnerabilities to cyberattacks have grown. Exacerbating those digital cracks is the fact that some networks have gotten so large that administrators are unaware of all assets and endpoints. In response, Expanse indexes the internet to find, track and monitor everything that belongs to a customer’s organization and reduce exposure. The company works with a number of government agencies and large corporations, monitoring around 4.3 billion public IPs.
A scarcity of funding means that nonprofits — even the most well-known — are often stuck with antiquated software that’s ill-suited for processing donations, managing grant applications and other needs common within philanthropic organizations. To change that dynamic, Fluxx offers cloud-based grant management software platforms both for nonprofits and grant providers. Users can find funding opportunities, track deadlines and documents, automate certain tasks and even share the results of their efforts with peers. CEO Madeline Duva has led the company since 2017, after leading early smartphone software firm China Mobilsoft through an acquisition.
Front takes the endless stream of notifications, pop-ups and messages that distract white-collar workers and unifies them under a single, shared inbox. The application has tools for group email management and multi-channel inboxes, which help to avoid duplicate responses and missed messages. The company’s co-founders — CEO Mathilde Collin and CTO Laurent Perrin — stands by its efforts to reduce unnecessary screen time, offering health and wellness bonuses to employees who cut phone time down to fewer than 14 hours a week.
This year, Fyusion unveiled new three-dimensional imaging technology that gives marketers a way to show off products against backdrops both realistic and fantastical. The company launched in 2013 with tech that turned smartphone photos into augmented reality holograms, but it has since pivoted to help sales and marketing teams create immersive experiences around products like furniture and clothing. Businesses capture product images using smartphones, drones or DSLR cameras and embed additional information within a virtual experience. Users can then inspect the product from a number of different angles within an immersive and contextual environment.
It might not feel like it on the streets of SoMa, but software engineers are in short supply. And building tech teams can be hard for enterprise stalwarts and resource-short startups alike. That’s where Gigster comes in. The company talks to companies about their technical projects, guides their decisions around what to build and then assembles an on-demand team of engineers, designers and project managers to get to work. Founded in 2013, the company now works with investment banks, healthcare giants and startups across the world.
Just months after selling AppDynamics to Cisco in 2017 for $3.7 billion, Jyoti Bansal got to work on his next venture. The new startup, called Harness, bills itself as tech’s first “continuous delivery-as-a-service” platform. Through machine learning technology, it works to automate the entire continuous delivery cycle and protect infrastructure when deployments fail. Since its founding, the company has raised $80 million in funding and brought on big-name clients like McAfee, SoulCycle and Home Depot.
In late 2012, Alyssa Ravasio spent hours scouring the web for the perfect beach campsite and booked what she thought was a solid spot. But none of those resources mentioned a nearby surf break. So, having left her board at home, she was forced to sit on the sand and watch gorgeous waves roll in unridden. That experience led Ravasio to found Hipcamp, a platform where private landowners open their property for campers. The company provides a handy alternative to adventure seekers frustrated by the perennially booked-out public campground system. Hipcamp has attracted $50 million in funding from Andreessen Horowitz, Jay-Z’s Marcy Venture Partners and Will Smith’s Dreamers VC, among others.
Smartphones offer a number of embedded tools (accelerometers, GPS systems, SMS functionality, cameras) that developers lean on to build consumer apps. Instabase wants to build out a similar environment, but for businesses. The company offers a suite of tools for data extraction and classification, income and identity verification, document reading, computer vision, natural language processing and more. The idea is that developers can leverage these tools — similar to how Uber uses the iPhone’s GPS, or how Instagram uses its camera — to create business solutions. After a few modest funding rounds since its launch in 2015, the company raised a whopping $105 million Series B this past October.
As startups scale and enterprises adapt to changing business conditions, it can be hard for employees to keep track of individual and team goals. For Lattice co-founders Eric Koslow and Jack Altman — the younger brother of former Y Combinator President Sam Altman — the solution was to rethink performance management altogether. The software they’ve built streamlines management processes and offers tools to provide performance reviews, feedback and goals, along with functionality to set agendas and action items for one-on-one meetings. The company raised $25 million in Series C funding last month, which brought its valuation to a reported $200 million.
Whether it’s a barista at your coffee shop or a software rep cold calling your business line, the economy revolves around sales. To help sales teams improve their skills, MindTickle has built technical and educational tools for onboarding and continuous training. The company’s applications are designed to offer sales leaders a comprehensive assessment of how their teams are tracking on key metrics, with insights on how to improve over time. The company has raised more than $80 million since it was founded in 2011, including a $40 million Series C in July.
Gaming company N3TWORK didn’t follow up its first big hit, the RPG-meets-tile-matcher, “Legendary: Game of Heroes,” with a sequel — or even another game. Instead, the firm pivoted to a new business model, launching a so-called “Scale Platform” to help app developers (you guessed it) scale their businesses through a combination of user acquisition technology, industry expertise and cash infusions. N3TWORK’s authority in the field comes from its founding team, who first worked together to build and sell a gaming studio for around $400 million in 2010.
As a child, Nuna founder and CEO Jini Kim helped her parents — immigrants from Korea — fill out the necessary forms to enroll her younger brother, who has severe autism, in Medicaid. Ever since, Kim has focused her work on the intersection of healthcare and technology. She’s worked as a product manager on Google’s attempt to build a digital health records service and helped to fix the federal government’s application website for the Affordable Care Act. Since 2010, she’s served as CEO of Nuna — which means “big sister” in Korean — to build a centralized data warehouse for 74.5 million Medicaid patients. Nuna has partnered with governments, health plans and provider systems to leverage data to create better health outcomes for patients.
Niantic is a preeminent name in augmented reality gaming. The company’s founders first worked together on Keyhole, a map exploring tool acquired by Google back in 2004, before founding Niantic in 2010. The startup released the sci-fi favorite “Ingress” in 2013 and spun out as an independent company in 2015. Shortly thereafter, it gained fame for the smash hit “Pokemon Go.” Never a group to rest on its laurels, the company then released “Harry Potter: Wizards Unite” earlier this year. And while the 2016 hype may have passed, “Pokemon Go” is still set to generate almost as much revenue in 2019 as it did in its first year.
Staffed by machine learning experts from UC Berkeley, Stanford and MIT, Osaro builds artificial intelligence technology to power robots for industrial production lines. The company’s software features integrated perception and control functionality for mundane tasks within industrial e-commerce and fulfillment facilities. Osaro says it’s also testing out the software on robots designed to pick out irregularly shaped food items, an extension of the tech’s interpretative and decision-making capabilities. Founded in 2015, the company raised $16 million in Series B funding in October to finance its projects and begin international deployment.
Ouster is helping to usher in the autonomous revolution with its three-dimensional lidar sensors — an essential requisite to help machines perceive their surroundings. The company’s customers are engineers moving the needle on robotics, autonomous vehicles, mapping technology, security systems and more. Founded in 2015, Ouster has been linked to NVIDIA’s self-driving car efforts, which are due for commercial launch in 2022. The company has raised $90 million in funding to date, including backing from automotive giant Cox.
Pilot’s three co-founders — CEO Waseem Daher, CTO Jessica McKellar and COO Jeff Arnold — have been here before. The company is the third they’ve partnered on, after selling a Linux security startup to Oracle in 2011 and a workplace chat solution to Dropbox in 2014. The trio, who met at MIT during their undergraduate studies, are now working to soothe the bookkeeping woes that plague small business owners. Pilot uses a combination of software and human customer service to automate the production of reports that give business owners a clear view of their finances — without having to puzzle over the sums themselves.
Plaid started out in 2012 building APIs that helped users access their bank accounts within applications. Since then, the company has grown into a fixture of the San Francisco tech scene, extending their API offerings to a number of different arenas including transaction history, authentication, real-time balance information, identity verification and more. The technology has driven Plaid into unicorn status, with $350 million in reported funding. Investors like Visa and Mastercard hopped on the bandwagon for its $250 million Series C last year.
The first iteration of Postman was a side project for CEO Abhinav Asthana as he tinkered with simplifying the API testing process. Co-founders Abhijit Kane and Ankit Sobti joined soon after, and the trio officially founded the company in 2014 as a collaboration platform and development environment for API builders. Since then, Postman has built technology that touches all elements of the API workflow, from shared contexts for building APIs to simulating behavior before production. According to the company, some 8 million developers at 400,000 companies have worked on more than 250 million APIs using Postman’s platform.
It’s hard to keep communication styles consistent. Every department can (and does) do its own thing, from marketers writing ad copy and recruiters outlining job posts to sellers sending cold emails. Qordoba’s AI-driven platform analyzes all of that written content for quality standards like spelling and grammar, but also considers factors like brand voice, reading level, jargon and possible plagiarism. Qordoba’s co-founders — CEO May Habib and CTO Waseem Ashikh — moved halfway around the world to build the company here in San Francisco, and have raised more than $21 million to date.
If you’re building complex systems like autonomous vehicles or spacecraft, you need the ability to simulate how your designs will physically react to a variety of conditions. For that type of scenario, San Francisco-based Rescale creates high-performance computing infrastructure and matches clients’ software applications with the best-suited architecture — either in the cloud or on-premise — to run large data processing and simulation operations. One of Y Combinator’s more successful alums, the company has more than $50 million in reported funding.
Roostify seeks to connect the full mortgage ecosystem — loan officers, real estate agents, customers, title officers and even a customer’s family members — at relevant points and in a way that preserves the privacy of each party. Roostify’s automatically pre-filled applications, proprietary pricing tools and automated underwriting technology aim to turn leads into pre-approval letters without manual input from the loan officer. Founded in 2012, the company raised $33 million in funding before Santander Group invested an undisclosed portion of its fintech fund this past October.
For app developers at companies like Reddit, NBCUniversal and Adobe, Sensor Tower is the go-to analytics platform for measuring performance. The company achieved this status despite minimal funding, having accepted little more than $1 million in outside investment since it was founded in 2013. Users can measure traffic, downloads, ad performance and more, and then compare their creations with competitors and the ecosystem at large. Media outlets like the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, CNBC and TechCrunch all regularly cite Sensor Tower data.
Many developers work in uncharted territory, building tools and features that weren’t even possible a year earlier — and race to beat competitors in the process. That means that a business that produces error-free code all the time likely isn’t moving fast enough. To minimize the impact of those inevitable errors, Sentry offers a range of software development kits for a variety of tech stacks aimed at helping developers identify and fix production errors across all applications. The technology automatically captures unhandled exceptions, bundles individual errors with larger issues, offers added context about an application’s state and can connect an issue to the commit that’s likely behind it.
By connecting an e-commerce platform to Shippo, online businesses can automatically sync order information and create the labels and documents they need to fulfill orders. Shippo caters to both international and domestic shipping, offering functionality for tracking and order return. With the ability to personalize labels and send customer notifications, Shippo also tries to help customers keep branding consistent across all touchpoints. CEO Laura Behrens Wu and President Simon Kreuz started Shippo in 2014 as an API, but later began to build out their own applications. The company has raised $30 million in funding to date.
Skillz wants to take mobile gaming to the same levels of professional e-sports competitions. The company’s software development kit allows game developers to turn their mobile game into a competitive e-sport, meaning any user with a mobile phone can compete for prizes in head-to-head matches, bracketed tournaments or live events with tens of thousands of other players. Skillz says it currently hosts more than 30 million players and runs close to 4 million virtual tournaments daily.
For many first-time homebuyers, the excitement of receiving those keys is tempered by a mountain of paperwork and indecipherable legalese. Snapdocs digitizes the paper, allowing interested parties to collaborate and track obligations via its platform. The technology comes with specialized portals for title and escrow services, lenders, signing agents and buyers alike. Snapdocs says it currently touches more than $25 billion in mortgages every month, and the company just announced $25 million in Series B funding which it will use to develop its AI offerings and open a second office in Denver.
Like it or not, but cashier-less retail could well become a baseline for brick-and-mortar stores. While the main player in this space is Amazon — which is rolling out Amazon Go stores across the country — one San Francisco company wants to arm independent businesses with similar technology. Standard Cognition uses overhead cameras and deep learning to create stores where shoppers automatically pay for items they carry out with them. Citing privacy concerns, the company said it doesn’t see the need to add facial recognition capabilities to its technology. Last month, Standard Cognition announced its acquisition of DeepMagic, which adds autonomous retail kiosk technology to its cashier-less system.
Closing on a home is quite the undertaking. For its part, San Francisco-based States Title is leaning on machine learning to analyze millions of data points to predict whether lending companies can underwrite any given property. The company claims it can provide a “clear-to-close commitment” — industry speak for the point where a homebuyer has successfully satisfied a lender’s requirements — within minutes, instead of the days that process traditionally takes. Through the development of its technology and a couple of choice acquisitions, the company has made itself into one of the country’s go-to networks for coordinating settlement and underwriting services.
With a human driver at the wheel, navigation systems can afford to get a little confused by tunnels, parallel frontage roads and overlapping bridges every once in a while. But it’s a different story for self-driving cars. While the autonomous driving space is competitive, few companies have approached the GPS problem quite like Swift Navigation. The company started out in 2012 producing a device that pinpoints location down to fractions of an inch, combining satellite data with a series of base stations to identify not only the direction and velocity of travel but also which lane the vehicle is in at any given time.
As businesses turn to Kubernetes to automate application deployment at scale, cybersecurity companies have scrambled to protect these new, container-based systems. One of the emerging leaders in the field is Tigera, which builds tools that extend existing firewall technology to protect Kubernetes clusters. The company ensures customer compliance through a zero-trust model that encrypts traffic and enforces admin-set policies. Tigera covers Kubernetes container deployments for the likes of AWS, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud and IBM Cloud and has raised more than $50 million in funding across three rounds since it was founded in 2016.
Tray.io seeks to turn nontechnical team members into what it calls “citizen automators” through a no-code platform aimed at automating and standardizing various tasks and workflows. The platform is built in a serverless environment and is completely driven by APIs. This, the company says, allows for a more scalable infrastructure. The company raised $37 million in Series B funding earlier this year. At the time, Tray.io claimed it saw 450 percent revenue growth and had household names like IBM and Lyft as customers. Founded in 2012, the company has offices both in San Francisco and London.
Anjey Midha and Ankit Kumar founded Ubiquity6 — a platform upon which users can build augmented reality versions of their physical surroundings — because they wanted a way to better connect with friends and colleagues on the other side of the globe. Today, their goal is to unlock multiplayer AR experiences and allow users to create and edit them together. The company has raised more than $37 million since it was founded in 2017, with cash infusions from storied Silicon Valley firms like Benchmark, First Round Capital, Kleiner Perkins and Index Ventures.
Data is becoming one of the world’s most valuable commodities, and businesses of all stripes have turned to technology to transform it into cash. But it takes resources to store data in a way that ensures regulatory compliance and protects users. To solve that problem, the aptly named Very Good Security acts as a sort of digital data bank, storing datasets within its own servers. The company substitutes data for an aliased version in transit, which it says can be stored and used in the same way as the original data without compromising integrity, all while the original information stays locked away in a digital vault.
From its San Francisco headquarters, Volans-i designs and operates the technology powering delivery drones operating in industries like mining, construction, and military and humanitarian operations. The drones, which Volans-i (pronounced “val-EN-see”) builds at its production facility in Concord, are built to minimize the amount of infrastructure required to deliver tools, aid packages, parts and medicine to remote locations. In response to Hurricane Maria, the company sent technicians and drones to Puerto Rico to test new methods of delivering humanitarian aid to remote and cut-off communities. The company has raised more than $25 million from investors like Y Combinator and Lightspeed Venture Partners.
Webflow wants to take no-code web development and publishing a step further, offering a platform where users can non-coders and coders alike can visually develop responsive websites to help accelerate their marketing. CEO Vlad Magdalin left his engineering job at Intuit to start Webflow with his brother Sergie and a friend, Bryant Chou, in 2012. The company had raised just $2.9 million in its first seven years until it announced a whopping $72 million Series A this past August. Webflow’s websites are powered by AWS and come with built-in SEO tools. The company now lists Eventbrite, Adobe and NASA as customers.
About Built In’s 50 San Francisco Tech Companies You Should Know in 2020
Built In’s 50 San Francisco Tech Companies You Should Know is a curated list of companies that we believe have the vision, team, focus and funding to drive innovation within the tech community. We chose companies headquartered in San Francisco that are between two and ten years old, and that we believe have positioned themselves for continued growth in the year to come.