Digital design platform Ceros raises $100M

Ceros is taking a big step up in fundraising today, with the announcement that it has raised a $100 million investment led by Sumeru Equity Partners.

Ceros provides a platform for clients like NBC, United Airlines, Snap, McKinsey, IBM, Condé Nast, JP Morgan, Red Bull and Pinterest to create what it calls “digital experiences” — basically, beautiful graphics and websites — without having to write any code. (You can see some of the best examples in the Ceros Inspire gallery.) It previously raised $33.5 million in total funding, according to Crunchbase.

SEP, meanwhile, is a technology-focused growth fund that has backed companies like GoGuardian, Social Chorus and Talend.

Ceros CEO Simon Berg recalled that the firm’s partners have actually been “courting” him for the past two years. Those conversations started to get more serious, until the COVID-19 pandemic put them on pause.

Berg said that as the country went into lockdown, he put a plan into place that ensured no one at Ceros lost their job — if cuts were needed, they would come in the form of across-the-board salary cuts. And he was impressed by the way the SEP team reacted.

“They were not screaming, ‘You should be cutting staff,’ none of the things I would expect,” he said. “They were cheering from the sidelines, which made me like them even more.”

And after the initial panic, Berg said he became “hyper-focused and energetic,” powered by his belief that “adversity and constraint is the birth of creative thought.” Apparently that optimism was borne out by increased activity on the Ceros platform, including the return of old customers.

“It’s been our opportunity and our mission to tell the world that digital experiences are as important as your physical experiences,” he said. So during a pandemic, “If your digital presence is your only presence, you’d better make sure [it’s] good.”

In addition to SEP, Ceros’ existing investors also participated in the new round. For his part, SEP’s Sanjeet Mitra said he was initially attracted to the company because it created “an enterprise-grade, easy-to-use, sophisticated tool that designers respect because it allows them to create fantastic content.”

Moving forward, Berg said we can expect the creation of more products like the recently launched design collaboration tool MarkUp, particularly as brands need to “craft experiences more rapidly, and you can’t do that if you’re sending PSD files across the internet via email.”

Mitra said the company also plans to use the new money to make acquisitions. (He emphasized that it won’t just be an indiscriminate roll-up strategy — an idea that prompted Berg to gag loudly — but rather will focus on products that Ceros customers actually want.) It will also fund continued international growth.

“Simon has the capabilities to be a global company leader and definitely a public company leader one day, if he wants to,” Mitra said.