UiPath’s new venture arm backs workflow automation startup AirSlate

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Proving that workflow automation is a robust sector, AirSlate, which provides no-code tools for automating business processes, today announced that it raised $51.5 million in a funding round that values the startup at over $1 billion. G Squared led the equity round with participation from UiPath, making AirSlate the first portfolio company for UiPath’s newly-launched, previously-unannounced UiPath Ventures arm.

As a part of the UiPath Ventures investment, AirSlate CEO Borya Shakhnovich said that AirSlate will form a “strategic technology partnership” with UiPath, which will provide resources including technical expertise.

“We see an opportunity to share our experience and passion for fostering the next generation of innovative technology solutions harnessing the power of automation, AI, and machine learning … We believe there is tremendous potential in deepening and broadening the automation layer of the IT stack to help more companies digitize and automate their operations,” Vijay Khanna, chief corporate development officer at UiPath, said in an emailed statement. “The missions of UiPath and airSlate to enable companies to grow faster and enhance creativity and productivity for millions of workers are closely aligned, which makes AirSlate a natural fit for our investment from UiPath Ventures.”

It’s the belief of some analysts that the market for process automation — and robotic process automation in particular, which leverages AI to automate certain software tasks — is headed toward consolidation. A recent Forrester Research report predicts that the segment will start to flatten as soon as 2023 as companies shift to broader automation solutions. There’s evidence to support this. UiPath, which is one of the largest RPA vendors, saw its market cap drop from $35 billion to $15 million within the span of a year. And a number of smaller players, including Signavio, Intellibot and Servicetrace, were snatched up by incumbent tech firms.

But Shakhnovich claims that AirSlate is bucking the trend. While he wouldn’t disclose financials, Shakhnovich said that over 900,000 customers and 10 million users worldwide use AirSlate’s workflow solutions for collecting electronic signatures, managing documents, and more.

“With AirSlate’s suite of products for digital transformation, a user can choose the level of sophistication in their workflow automation journey, from simply going analog to digital to adding some workflow features to the full scope automation,” Shakhnovich told TechCrunch via email. “Enterprise IT decision makers should care about AirSlate because it alleviates the IT talent gap and also solves the problem of the explosion in the number of apps being used, with corresponding challenges in data transport between these apps.”

AirSlate

Image Credits: AirSlate

AirSlate was founded in 2008 by Vadim Yasinovsky as PDFfiller, with a focus on building editing tools for PDF files. In 2012, Shakhnovich, previously a post-doc fellow at Harvard, joined PDFfiller as it rebranded to AirSlate.

Powered by RPA, AirSlate can help perform tasks like negotiating and facilitating payments by generating prefilled pages, sending reminders and notifications, and extracting data to update records, Shakhnovich says. The platform leverages rules-based bots that integrate with existing services to automate approvals, data analytics, alerts, permission assignment, and data transfer.

For companies in need of a fully managed offering, there’s AirSlate Business Cloud, which spans PDF editing, esignature workflows, and document process automation. Business Cloud subscribers can author new (or edit existing) PDF documents, create and manage workflows, assign roles, and send out documents for esigning. They also gain access to an online library of state-specific legal forms, including nondisclosure agreements, real estate forms, wills, and customer contracts.

“Before the pandemic, remote work was already increasing in popularity, but the onset of COVID-19 dramatically accelerated the trend,” Shakhnovich said. “The ‘bring your own device’ workplace policy and remote-first workforce shifts have accelerated the consumerization of enterprise software … The need for accessibility is pushing the trend of consumerization further, and AirSlate is making business-to-business technology more adaptable, intuitive, and easy to use.”

Like its many rivals in the process automation space, AirSlate faces hurdles to further growth, including implementation challenges with customers. According to a 2021 survey from Ensign, while the vast majority of companies see a return on investment from workflow automation, only 20% of use the technology as a way to innovate and create new services. The respondents blame a lack of expertise among their workforce and resistance to change, as well as unrealistic expectations from the C-suite.

In another challenge, the broader software-based automation industry — while still flush with cash — is headed toward consolidation. SAP acquired German process automation company Signavio in January 2021, just before ServiceNow got into the RPA segment with the buyout of India-based Intellibot.io. IBM acquired process mining software company MyInvenio in April. And Salesforce’s MuleSoft and Microsoft followed suit with the purchases of automation tech providers Servicetrace and Clear Software, respectively.

But despite this, and the fact that 80% of its workforce is based out of Kyiv — a warzone — Shakhnovich says that AirSlate has “remained resilient” and plans to nearly double its workforce of 1,000 employees and full-time contractors across Ukraine, Poland, the U.S. and other countries where it has bases of operations.

“Working practices across industries continue to evolve and shifting market conditions bring new challenges,””Spencer McLeod, partner and head of research at G Squared, said in a statement. “Businesses are continuing to seek out innovative, value-driving workplace automation solutions like airSlate. Offering a mix of compatible tools, AirSlate’s platform has broad reach and appeals to a large market, and its ambitious management team stays focused on rapidly delivering new solutions at competitive rates.”

To date, AirSlate has raised $185.3 million in financing, a portion of which is debt.

SOURCE: TECHCRUNCH

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