Open source RPA vendor Robocorp today said it raised $21 million in a Series A funding round to target the fast-growing RPA market until now dominated by vendors with proprietary systems.
The 2019 startup, based in San Francisco with offices in Helsinki, grew out of Robot Framework, an open source software testing and automation project that originated at Finnish tech giant Nokia.
Robocorp CEO and founder Antti Karjalainen is a board member of the Robot Framework foundation and worked on extending the framework -- which started as a software testing platform -- to RPA (robotic process automation) bots.
Along with the funding news, Robocorp re-branded its RPA orchestration platform as Robocorp Control Room, which includes two deployment options: Robocorp Cloud and Self-Managed Control Room, offered on a private cloud or on-premises as a virtual machine. Robocorp Cloud, hosted on AWS, became available in 2020.
The big three
Karjalainen said he saw an opportunity to target mid-market organizations with $10 million to $1 billion in revenues and independent software vendors seeking an alternative to proprietary RPA platforms from the dominant trio of much larger RPA vendors: Automation Anywhere, with a market valuation of about $6.8 billion, Blue Prism, valued at an estimated $1.2 billion, and UiPath, with a market valuation of $36 billion after its $1.3 billion IPO on April 21.
“There’s been a lot of copying of the top three vendors, but what we’re bringing is a fundamentally different type of approach and we’re taking the RPA developer as the center of our focus,” Karjalainen said.
Another RPA vendor that relies on open source is OpenBots, Inc., which launched its first open source process automation tool in November 2020. The company raised $5 million in seed capital in March.
Python and consumption pricing
Like the bigger RPA vendors, Robocorp provides technology to automate time-consuming manual processes such as healthcare claims processing and revenue cycle management, legal contracts and auditing.
However, Robocorp differentiates itself with Python-based, customizable tools that enable RPA developers to develop bots that Robocorp customers own instead of lease.
Robocorp operates on a consumption-based pricing model, or robot-as-a-service, rather than licensing the bots as the bigger vendors mainly do.
“We are successful if our end users and partners are successful,” Karjalainen said. “It’s not about selling you a fancy tool or a license.”
For the security requirements of highly regulated industries, Robocorp provides an embedded vault that stores access credentials in the control room – the central cloud-based platform that hosts the RPA developer tools.
Robocorp’s open source RPA strategy could well be successful by harnessing the enthusiasm of the open source community and RPA developers’ pent-up demand for control of their own bots, said Jason English, an analyst at Intellyx, a digital transformation advisory firm.
“There’s just a ton of hype in the RPA space right now, but the hidden cost of a lot of this automation is you have a hidden army of people doing the maintenance support, building and rebuilding these bots,” English said.
Robocorp’s hosted platform approach enables developers who may not be full-fledged AI data scientists, but who still know Python, to build bots quickly without needing to know multiple bot development frameworks and languages, English said.
“They have a broad level of support for what they’re building,” English said. “There are a lot of fans who might have been waiting for this approach. There’s a certain amount of enthusiasm beyond just its functionality among a community of practitioners.”
One early private beta user of Robocorp’s technology, RPA bot startup Thoughtful Automation, has been using the original Robocorp orchestration platform since last year. The company uses Robocorp's tools to develop what it calls “digital workers” for applications including practice management at a behavioral health provider.
“Robocorp had everything we needed -- open source RPA, consumption-based pricing – to build our digital workers,” said Thoughtful Automation CEO Alex Zekoff.
Switching from one of the bigger RPA vendors to Robocorp fit his young company’s need for agility and flexibility, Zekoff said.
“In addition to cost savings and operational efficiencies from consumption-based pricing, we noticed the bots ran faster and for the end user," he said. "It’s a better user experience.”
The funding round was led by Canvas Ventures with participation from Benchmark, Uncorrelated Ventures, Slow Ventures, Firstminute Capital, Harpoon Ventures, Artisanal Ventures and Haystack Ventures.