Mezu: New venture, old friends

Who: Mezu

What: CEO Yuval Brisker raises $10 million to launch a new mobile payment app with an emphasis on anonymity

Why it matters: After selling TOA Technologies to Oracle in one of Ohio’s biggest VC-backed tech success stories, Brisker is looking to do it again — this time in fintech

Yuval Brisker is back.

After selling TOA Technologies in 2014 to Oracle in one of the biggest VC-backed deals for an Ohio tech company, Brisker has just raised $10 million to build Mezu, a mobile payment app that seeks to mimic the transactional ease of cash.

Working with some familiar faces from his TOA days, Brisker self-funded the project until this month, when Mezu announced it had received funding from Draper Triangle Ventures, JumpStart Inc., Draper Associates, Ohio Innovation Fund and North Coast Angel Fund.

Draper Triangle was a recurrent investor in TOA, contributing from the Series A round through the Series E round. Brisker turned to the Pittsburgh-based VC firm for his new venture largely because of trust and familiarity.

“I didn’t have to think twice,” Brisker says. “The first call I made was to them. I know them. They’re amazing investors. They’re huge supporters of entrepreneurs.”

In our Deal of the Week, we look at how Brisker leveraged his success and relationships at TOA to get Mezu up and running.

Building off success

Draper Triangle Managing Partner Mike Stubler has known Brisker since 2004. Stubler invested in TOA in 2005 and was on TOA’s board for nine years until its sale to Oracle. He says the decision to invest in Mezu is driven by the idea, the opportunity and his faith in Brisker.

“We really liked Yuval and his co-founder, Irad Carmi, in that we thought they had identified a big market opportunity, but also the fact that they were global in their thinking right out of the box,” Stubler says.  “For us, it makes the investment decision the second time around much easier because we know him so well and we know what he’s capable of and we know how passionate he is — that he’ll run through walls to get things done to make it work.”

TOA was, by all accounts, a big success. The field service management software that scheduled “time of arrival” for work in the field grew to nearly 600 employees with customers in 30 countries. It raised $100 million over 10 years before being acquired for an undisclosed amount.

Brisker acknowledges that coming into the market having a big success behind him helps.

“People are more inclined to say, ‘Well I guess he knows a little of what he’s doing,’” he says. “I think that when people look at somebody who has shown they have the wherewithal and energy and the initiative and the ability to cobble things together in such a way that it becomes a big success, then it’s easier to make a bet. It doesn’t guarantee anything, but it definitely makes it easier for investors to look at it and back you.”

Still, as with TOA, Brisker will need to raise a lot of money if Mezu is to succeed.

“Ultimately, software is an incredibly profitable business, but along the way, it loses a lot of money and it ultimately makes a lot of money for people,” he says.

Stubler sees the person-to-person digital payment space as relatively nascent, with lots of people still having yet to adopt payment technologies. He says Mezu’s focus on anonymity and its eventual capability to transfer payments between currency types gives it an edge among its competition.

“It’s a huge market opportunity that’s still pretty much in its infancy, we believe,” he says.

Staying in Cleveland

Mezu might be thinking about raising money, but it’s not worried about generating revenue, which Brisker expects will happen in part through partnerships with businesses and nonprofits, as well as from credit card fees. Instead, the focus is on drawing in users from across the globe with a strong product and great customer experience.

It’s also looking to grow in Cleveland. Brisker says Ohio City, where he lives and hopes to base Mezu, has the potential to become a tech hub.

“We are Clevelanders and we see as part of our mission not just to build a business for our own benefit, but to also build it for Cleveland’s benefit,” Brisker says. “It’s not that we’re purely altruistic, but it’s not that we’re purely opportunistic or capitalistic in that respect. You have to focus obviously on building a successful entity, but you have to do it within a community that you hope it will help enrich, and I don’t mean just financially, but multiple facets of enrichment.”

Joining him from TOA to ramp-up the venture are:

  • Pedro Silva, who was a solutions architect for TOA and also led its expansion into Latin America, is Mezu’s co-founder and serves as COO and president;
  • Brian Cook, CFO at TOA, now an executive officer for Mezu; and
  • Irad Carmi, TOA’s co-founder, now sits on Mezu’s board.

Of the current 27-person crew, he says other familiar names have carried over to the new venture.

Lessons learned

With the pieces falling into place, Brisker says he’s hoping to create a success story in Cleveland. And he’ll draw from the many lessons he learned at TOA to do so.

Put people first. “I think the first and most important thing is people,” Brisker says. “Everybody will tell you that people are the key ingredient, but they really are. You have to find great people you have a good relationship with, feel comfortable having good days and bad days with, that are fundamentally like-minded and want the same basic things as you and can have a deep and reflective and strategic and also very aggressive dialogue about winning. That’s foundational.”

Take risks. “Nothing comes your way if you’re not willing to do risky stuff,” Brisker says. “It doesn’t matter whether you’re doing something that seems to other people as crazy. You have to believe in it and you have to be willing to take those risks, because without taking those risks there’s really no reward. There’s no status quo and then great achievement — it just doesn’t go together.”

Never give up. “You can have the great people and be willing to take risks, but you also have to know that you’re going to have ups and downs,” he says, “There’s going to be days when you think you want to throw in the towel, and there are going to be other days when you’re elated, and neither of those represent the true reality, which is you need to focus and constantly be willing to do the other two things — take risks and bring on great people and listen to those people.”

How to reach: Mezu, www.mezu.com

Oracle-Google judge ends probe into paid bloggers

SAN FRANCISCO, Thu Sep 6, 2012 – The federal judge overseeing a major lawsuit over smartphone technology between Oracle Corp. and Google Inc. has quietly ended his examination of those companies’ relationships with paid bloggers and other commentators.

U.S. District Judge William Alsup in San Francisco had shocked the legal and blogging communities on Aug. 7 by demanding names of “print or Internet authors, journalists, commentators or bloggers” on the companies’ payrolls.

The judge at the time expressed concern that payments might have influenced writings about the case. Legal experts questioned the breadth of the order, including whether it could violate the writers’ First Amendment free speech rights.

But in an order issued on Tuesday, after Oracle and Google had submitted lists of names, Alsup said he would “take no further action regarding the subject of payments by the litigants to commentators and journalists.”

He also said no commentaries had influenced his rulings in the case, other than “any treatise or article” he cited expressly.

Alsup has not revealed what prompted his Aug. 7 order.

HP and Oracle set for court clash over Itanium

SAN FRANCISCO, Mon Jun 4, 2012 – Lawyers for Hewlett-Packard Co. and Oracle Corp. will face off in court on Monday for opening statements in a bitter lawsuit over Oracle’s decision to end support for HP’s Itanium-based servers.

The trial, in which HP seeks up to $4 billion in damages, comes just days after Oracle lost a separate high stakes case against Google over smartphone technology.

Top personalities from both Oracle and HP – such as Oracle Chief Executive Larry Ellison, President Mark Hurd and HP board member Ann Livermore – could take the stand.

Intel Corp. is not a party in the lawsuit, though its CEO Paul Otellini might also testify.

Oracle decided to stop developing software for use with Itanium last year, saying Intel made it clear that the chip was nearing the end of its life and that Intel was shifting its focus to its x86 microprocessor.

But HP argues that Oracle and HP had agreed that support for Itanium would continue, without which the HP equipment using the chip would become obsolete.

Google did not infringe Oracle patents: jury in smartphone trial

SAN FRANCISCO, Wed May 23, 2012 – Google Inc.’s Android mobile platform has not infringed Oracle’s patents, a California jury decided in a high stakes trial fought by the two Silicon Valley giants over smartphone technology.

The verdict was delivered on Wednesday in a San Francisco federal court, and confirmed by a Google spokesman. An Oracle attorney declined to comment on the decision.

Because the same jury could not unanimously agree on the copyright allegations earlier in the case, the latest verdict on patents effectively puts an indefinite hold on Oracle’s quest for damages. Oracle at one point was seeking roughly $1 billion in damages.

The jury found earlier that Oracle had proven copyright infringement for parts of Java. But the jury could not unanimously agree on whether Google could fairly use that material.

Oracle sued Google in August 2010, saying Android infringes on its intellectual property rights to the Java programming language. Google says it does not violate Oracle’s patents and that Oracle cannot copyright certain parts of Java, an “open-source” or publicly available software language.

Without a finding against Google on that fair use question, Oracle cannot recover damages on the bulk of its copyright claims.

Oracle kicks off busy trial season against Google

SAN FRANCISCO, Fri Apr 13, 2012 – Oracle Corp is set to go to trial next week against Google Inc in a high-stakes dispute over smartphone technology, the biggest case in what is shaping up to be an intense year in court for the enterprise software giant.

Jury selection is set for Monday in San Francisco federal court. Oracle claims Google’s Android operating system tramples on its intellectual property rights to the Java programming language. Google says it doesn’t violate Oracle’s patents, and that Oracle cannot copyright certain parts of Java.

The case is the first of four big tech trials involving Oracle scheduled for the next few months – three in Northern California, and one in Nevada.

The others include one set for the end of May against Hewlett-Packard over the Itanium microprocessor, a retrial against SAP AG in June over alleged copyright infringement, and another copyright case against smaller competitor Rimini Street expected later in the year.

Fighting so many court battles back-to-back could be distracting for Oracle Chief Executive Larry Ellison and other top executives, not to mention costly, as legal fees pile up.

Yet, observers say it’s not surprising that Oracle would be so aggressive in court, pointing to Ellison’s reputation as unyielding. He once sued the city of San Jose — and won — when it tried to impose a curfew on his private jet.

And while risky, Oracle’s strategy could pay off if it succeeds in winning damages at trial, particularly in the Google case given the growing market for Android-powered devices.

“The real question is, does Oracle get a piece of Android, or not?” said Tyler Ochoa, a copyright professor at Santa Clara Law in Silicon Valley. “The money is so large we can see why they are willing to spend a lot of money fighting over it.”

An Oracle spokeswoman declined to comment about how the multiple trials impact top management.

HP, Oracle seek pretrial wins in Itanium case

SAN FRANCISCO, Tue Mar 26, 2012 – U.S. tech giants Hewlett Packard and Oracle (ORCL.O) on Monday both sought pretrial wins in their bitter legal battle over whether Oracle can end support for Itanium, a heavy-duty microprocessor.

Oracle decided to discontinue support last year, saying Intel Corp. made it clear that the chip was nearing the end of its life and that Intel was shifting its focus to its x86 microprocessor.

But HP argues that the companies agreed support for Itanium would continue in an earlier settlement reached over Oracle’s hiring of former HP chief executive Mark Hurd, and has sued Oracle in a California state court, calling Oracle’s decision “anti-customer.”

Oracle has countersued, accusing HP of false advertising for failing to disclose the terms of its contract with Intel.

Relations between HP and Oracle deteriorated rapidly when Oracle quickly hired Hurd after he left HP in 2010 amid questions about his relationship with a female contractor, with Oracle CEO Larry Ellison publicly criticizing HP’s handling of the matter.

HP later filed a trade secrets lawsuit against Hurd related to the Oracle hire and although that was soon settled, the firms’ mutual acrimony only got worse when HP later hired Ellison’s arch-rival Leo Apotheker as CEO. Apotheker was replaced by Meg Whitman last September.

Seeking judgment before the trial which is scheduled to start May 31, HP argued on Monday at the time of the Hurd settlement, Oracle General Counsel Dorian Daley had said the deal meant that the companies “would continue to work together” as they had.

Oracle argued in its filing that Daley never intended the Hurd agreement to be anything more than a symbolic statement, as opposed to a legal commitment.

“We don’t believe, nor do we think HP really believes, that a settlement agreement relating to Mark Hurd’s employment could possibly obligate Oracle to write new software for a platform that is clearly (at the) end of life,” Oracle attorney Dan Wall said in a statement.

A hearing on both companies’ requests is scheduled for April 30.

Oracle software sales rise offsets weak hardware

BOSTON, Wed Mar 21, 2012 – Oracle Corp. beat Wall Street’s earnings estimates as new software sales came in at the high end of the company’s forecast, offsetting a sharp drop in hardware revenue.

The software maker’s stock rose 1.5 percent after the news, in sharp contrast to the sell-off three months ago when its second-quarter profit missed analysts’ forecasts for the first time in a decade.

“The software business bounced back,” Citigroup analyst Walter Pritchard said. “If you look at where the value is at Oracle, it would be the software business.”

Oracle estimated that new software sales this quarter will range from a 2 percent drop to growth of as much as 8 percent, translating into $3.6 billion to almost $4 billion. The midpoint of that forecast, of 3 percent growth, is a sharp drop from the 19 percent increase in the fourth quarter of last year.

Yet Oracle Chief Financial Officer Safra Catz suggested on a conference call that the outlook may not be so grim. She said she had been “somewhat conservative” in calculating that forecast.

Still, shares in the company run by billionaire Larry Ellison pared half of the gains made earlier in the extended trading session. They had rallied 3 percent shortly after it posted earnings that beat Wall Street’s lowered expectations.

Analysts worry that something’s amiss at Oracle software maker

BOSTON, Fri Mar 16, 2012 – Oracle Corp. may soon run out of excuses to feed Wall Street.

When the world’s third-largest software maker missed earnings estimates for the first time in a decade back in December, it blamed an unpredictable global economy. It seemed plausible at the time.

But growing evidence suggests the company is suffering due to challenges that have nothing to do with the macro economy: mounting competition from traditional foe SAP, the loss of a key IT partner in Hewlett Packard, and a hardware business that is becoming a thorn in its side.

Analysts have become increasingly worried that the hardware business Oracle acquired in 2010 with its $5.6 billion purchase of Sun Microsystems has turned into a liability, with sales falling short of expectations.

The company’s bread-and-butter database business – Oracle is the world’s biggest maker of database software – may face off against competition from a re-energized SAP before the end of this year. And Oracle’s highly touted new generation of business management software, released in 2011 after years of delays in development, has been slow to take off.

While this is happening in a still-shaky tech-spending environment, Oracle’s rivals do not seem to be feeling the same pinch. SAP, International Business Machines Corp., alesforce.com and VMware recently released relatively strong results and bullish outlooks, causing investors to question whether something is amiss at Oracle.

CEO Larry Ellison will deliver his latest report card on the state of the business on March 20, when Oracle releases quarterly results. An increasingly skeptical crew of Wall Street analysts will be parsing his words and pouring through the numbers for signs of fundamental business problems, regardless of whether the company meets expectations for the period.

“Oracle is a company with some issues right now,” said long-time Oracle watcher Rick Sherlund, a Nomura Securities analyst.

Those issues are reflected in its stock price, which has gained just 3 percent since the company reported quarterly results in December, compared with a 17 percent rise in the Nasdaq Composite Index.

Oracle officials declined to comment for this story.

Oracle results shock investors, shares take rare plunge

REDWOOD SHORES, Calif. ― Oracle Corp’s. earnings fell short of Wall Street’s forecasts for the first time in a decade as software and hardware sales sputtered, sending its shares down more than 10 percent and stoking fears a global recession will hurt tech spending.

The rare slip-up by the world’s No. 3 software maker raised questions about the health of the technology sector as many companies in the industry gear up to close deals before the end of 2011.

Oracle joins a growing list of companies, including some of technology’s biggest and oldest names, whose results and earnings forecasts have raised alarm bells about worsening business conditions.

They include Hewlett-Packard Co., Dell Inc., Red Hat, Intel Corp., Texas Instruments and NetApp. Shares of HP and Dell were down about 1 percent in after-hours trade, while two of Oracle’s fiercest rivals in the software world, Salesforce.com Inc and Germany’s SAP, were down 2 percent to 4 percent.

Oracle was among the first major technology companies to report results for the quarter spanning November, offering the latest snapshot of the state of worldwide IT spending.

The results were disappointing across the board. The company missed targets on profit as well as hardware and software sales, and offered weak current-quarter forecasts.

Oracle played down the long-term impact of the miss, blaming increased scrutiny of technology investments by cautious customers.

Some clients began requiring that purchases be approved by more senior executives than in recent years, prolonging the time it took to close sales, Oracle President and Chief Financial Officer Safra Catz said in a conference call.

That prevented the software maker from securing some deals during the crucial closing weeks of the quarter, she said, adding that Oracle has adjusted its forecasts to accommodate a lengthier approval process and expects results to be “significantly better” in the current period.

Yet analysts warned that the heightened scrutiny may be a symptom of a more serious issue: that businesses are cutting back on tech spending.

“Companies around the world are slowing their approval process for projects,” said Fred Hickey, editor of the High-Tech Strategist investment newsletter. “That’s what happens in downturns. Companies slow their spending. They slow their approvals.”

U.S. appeals court revives Oracle overtime class action lawsuit

SAN FRANCISCO ― A federal appeals court on Tuesday revived a class-action lawsuit against Oracle Corp, basing its ruling on a state court decision that employers in California must pay nonresident workers for overtime work performed in the state.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit reversed a federal district court ruling in favor of Oracle. Under the California’s wage and hour laws, the appellate court found, Oracle could be liable for unpaid wages if it did not compensate out-of-state computer trainers for overtime work performed in the state.

Oracle employees who were residents of Arizona and Colorado had sued the company for not paying them overtime for work performed in California. The trial judge granted summary judgment in Oracle’s favor.

On appeal, the 9th Circuit asked the California Supreme Court to provide guidance on whether the California labor code applies to nonresident employees when they perform work in the state. In June, the California high court ruled that it did, finding that not applying California law would encourage employers to substitute lower-paid temporary employees from other states for California employees.

“The 9th Circuit agreed with the Supreme Court’s common sense analysis: If you’re a business in California, you will have to comply with California’s overtime laws. You can’t treat people differently because they live in a different state,” said Charles Russell, a lawyer for the employees.

Employment lawyers and business groups argued the ruling would drive business away from California, reduce business travel and lead to a spike in wage-and-hour lawsuits against companies doing business in the state. Such fears have not materialized, Russell said.

Oracle lawyer Stephen Berry did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

While reviving the bulk of the employees’ claims, the 9th Circuit rejected their argument that California laws should apply to overtime work performed outside of California under the facts of the case.

The 9th Circuit sent the case back down to the district court for further proceedings.