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Yesterday — July 8th 2020Your RSS feeds

PQShield raises $7M for quantum-ready cryptographic security solutions

By Ingrid Lunden

A deep tech startup building cryptographic solutions to secure hardware, software, and communications systems for a future when quantum computers may render many current cybersecurity approaches useless is today emerging out of stealth mode with $7 million in funding and a mission to make cryptographic security something that cannot be hackable, even with the most sophisticated systems, by building systems today that will continue to be usable in a post-quantum future.

PQShield (PQ being short for “post-quantum”), a spin out from Oxford University, is being backed in a seed round led by Kindred Capital, with participation also Crane Venture Partners, Oxford Sciences Innovation and various angel investors, including Andre Crawford-Brunt, Deutsche Bank’s former global head of equities.

PQShield was founded in 2018, and its time in stealth has not been in vain.

The startup claims to have the UK’s highest concentration of cryptography PhDs outside academia and classified agencies, and it is one of the biggest contributors to the NIST cybersecurity framework (alongside academic institutions and huge tech companies), which is working on creating new cryptographic standards, which take into account the fact that quantum computing will likely make quick work of breaking down the standards that are currently in place.

“The scale is massive,” Dr Ali El Kaafarani, a research fellow at Oxford’s Mathematical Institute and former engineer at Hewlett-Packard Labs, who is the founder and CEO of PQShield said of that project. “For the first time we are changing the whole of public key infrastructure.”

And according to El Kaafarani, the startup has customers — companies that build hardware and software services, or run communications systems that deal with sensitive information and run the biggest risks from being hacked.

They include entities in the financial and government sectors that it’s not naming, as well as its first OEM customer, Bosch. El Kaafarani said in an interview that it is also in talks with at least one major communications and messaging provider exploring more security for end-to-end encryption on messaging networks. Other target applications could include keyless cars, connected IoT devices, and cloud services.

The gap in the market the PQShield is aiming to address is the fact that while there are already a number of companies exploring the cutting edge of cryptographic security in the market — they include large tech companies like Amazon and MicrosoftHub Security, Duality, another startup out of the UK focused on post-quantum cryptography called Post Quantum and a number of others — the concern is that quantum computing will be utilised to crack even the most sophisticated cryptography such as the RSA and Elliptic Curve cryptographic standards.

This has not been much of a threat so far since quantum computers are still not widely available and used, but there have been a number of signs of a breakthrough on the horizon.

El Kaafarani says that PQShield is the first startup to approach that predicament with a multi-pronged solution aimed at a variety of use cases, including solutions that encompass current cryptographic standards and provide a migration path the next generation of how they will look — meaning, they can be commercially deployed today, even without quantum computers being a commercial reality, but in preparation for that.

“Whatever we encrypt now can be harvested, and once we have a fully functioning quantum computer people can use that to get back to the data and the sensitive information,” he said.

For hardware applications, it’s designed a System on Chip (SoC) solution that will be licensed to hardware manufacturers (Bosch being the first OEM). For software applications, there is an SDK that secures messaging and is protected by “post-quantum algorithms” based on a secure, Signal-derived protocol.

Thinking about and building for the full spectrum of applications is central to PQShield’s approach, he added. “In security it’s important to understand the whole ecosystem since everything is about connected components.”

Some sectors in the tech world have been especially negatively impacted by the coronavirus and its consequences, a predicament that has been exacerbated by uncertainties over the future of the global economy.

I asked El Kaafarani if that translated to a particularly tricky time to raise money as a deep tech startup, given that deep tech companies so often work on long-term problems that may not have immediate commercial outcomes.

Interestingly, he said that wasn’t the case.

“We talked to VCs that were interested in deep tech to begin with, which made the discussion a lot easier,” he said. “And the fact is that we’re a security company, and that is one of the areas that is doing well. Everything has become digitised, and we have all become more heavily reliant on our digital connections. We ultimately help make the digital world more secure. There are people who understand that, and so it wasn’t too difficult to talk to them and understand the importance of this company.”

Indeed, Chrysanthos Chrysanthou, partner at Kindred Capital, echoed that sentiment:

“With some of the brightest minds in cryptography, mathematics and engineering, and boasting world-class software and hardware solutions, PQShield is uniquely positioned to lead the charge in protecting businesses from one of the most profound threats to their future,” he said. “We couldn’t be happier to support the team as it works to set a new standard for information security and defuse risks resulting from the rise of quantum.”

Slack snags corporate directory startup Rimeto to up its people search game

By Ron Miller

For the second time in less than 24 hours, an enterprise company bought an early stage startup. Yesterday afternoon DocuSign acquired Liveoak, and this morning Slack announced it was buying corporate directory startup Rimeto, which should help employees find people inside the organization who match a specific set of criteria from inside Slack.

The companies did not share the purchase price.

Rimeto helps companies build directories to find employees beyond using tools like Microsoft Active Directory, homegrown tools or your corporate email program. When we covered the company’s $10 million Series A last year, we described what it brings to directories this way:

Rimeto has developed a richer directory by sitting between various corporate systems like HR, CRM and other tools that contain additional details about the employee. It of course includes a name, title, email and phone like the basic corporate system, but it goes beyond that to find areas of expertise, projects the person is working on and other details that can help you find the right person when you’re searching the directory.

In the build versus buy equation that companies balance all the time, it looks like Slack weighed the pros and cons and decided to buy instead. You could see how a tool like this would be useful to Slack as people try to build teams of employees, especially in a world where so many are working from home.

While the current Slack people search tool lets you search by name, role or team, Rimeto should give users a much more robust way of searching for employees across the company. You can search for the right person to help you with a particular problem and get much more granular with your search requirements than the current tool allows.

Image Credit: Rimeto

At the time of its funding announcement, the company, which was founded in 2016 by three former Facebook employees, told TechCrunch it had bootstrapped for the first three years before taking the $10 million investment last year. It also reported it was cash-flow positive at the time, which is pretty unusual for an early stage enterprise SaaS company.

In a company blog post announcing the deal, as is typical in these deals, the founders saw being part of a larger organization as a way to grow more quickly than they could have alone. “Joining Slack is a special opportunity to accelerate Rimeto’s mission and impact with greater reach, expanded resources, and the support of Slack’s impressive global team,” the founders wrote in the post.

The acquisition is part of a continuing trend around enterprise companies buying early stage startups to fill in holes in their product roadmaps.

Google launches the Open Usage Commons, a new organization for managing open-source trademarks

By Frederic Lardinois

Google, in collaboration with a number of academic leaders and its consulting partner SADA Systems, today announced the launch of the Open Usage Commons, a new organization that aims to help open-source projects manage their trademarks.

To be fair, at first glance, open-source trademarks may not sound like it would be a major problem (or even a really interesting topic), but there’s more here than meets the eye. As Google’s director of open source Chris DiBona told me, trademarks have increasingly become an issue for open-source projects, not necessarily because there have been legal issues around them, but because commercial entities that want to use the logo or name of an open-source project on their websites, for example, don’t have the reassurance that they are free to use those trademarks.

“One of the things that’s been rearing its ugly head over the last couple years has been trademarks,” he told me. “There’s not a lot of trademarks in open-source software in general, but particularly at Google, and frankly the higher tier, the more popular open-source projects, you see them more and more over the last five years. If you look at open-source licensing, they don’t treat trademarks at all the way they do copyright and patents, even Apache, which is my favorite license, they basically say, nope, not touching it, not our problem, you go talk.”

Traditionally, open-source licenses didn’t cover trademarks because there simply weren’t a lot of trademarks in the ecosystem to worry about. One of the exceptions here was Linux, a trademark that is now managed by the Linux Mark Institute on behalf of Linus Torvalds.

With that, commercial companies aren’t sure how to handle this situation and developers also don’t know how to respond to these companies when they ask them questions about their trademarks.

“What we wanted to do is give guidance around how you can share trademarks in the same way that you would share patents and copyright in an open-source license […],” DiBona explained. “And the idea is to basically provide that guidance, you know, provide that trademarks file, if you will, that you include in your source code.”

Google itself is putting three of its own open-source trademarks into this new organization: the Angular web application framework for mobile, the Gerrit code review tool and the Istio service mesh. “All three of them are kind of perfect for this sort of experiment because they’re under active development at Google, they have a trademark associated with them, they have logos and, in some cases, a mascot.”

One of those mascots is Diffi, the Kung Fu Code Review Cuckoo, because, as DiBona noted, “we were trying to come up with literally the worst mascot we could possibly come up with.” It’s now up to the Open Usage Commons to manage that trademark.

DiBona also noted that all three projects have third parties shipping products based on these projects (think Gerrit as a service).

Another thing DiBona stressed is that this is an independent organization. Besides himself, Jen Phillips, a senior engineering manager for open source at Google is also on the board. But the team also brought in SADA’s CTO Miles Ward (who was previously at Google); Allison Randal, the architect of the Parrot virtual machine and member of the board of directors of the Perl Foundation and OpenStack Foundation, among others; Charles Isbel, the dean of the Georgia Institute of Technology College of Computing, and Cliff Lampe, a professor at the School of Information at the University of Michigan and a “rising star,” as DiBona pointed out.

“These are people who really have the best interests of computer science at heart, which is why we’re doing this,” DiBona noted. “Because the thing about open source — people talk about it all the time in the context of business and all the rest. The reason I got into it is because through open source we could work with other people in this sort of fertile middle space and sort of know what the deal was.”

SUSE acquires Kubernetes management platform Rancher Labs

By Frederic Lardinois

SUSE, which describes itself as ‘the world’s largest independent open source company,’ today announced that it has acquired Rancher Labs, a company that has long focused on making it easier for enterprises to make their container clusters.

The two companies did not disclose the price of the acquisition, but Rancher was well funded, with a total of $95 million in investments. It’s also worth mentioning that it’s only been a few months since the company announced its $40 million Series D round led by Telstra Ventures. Other investors include the likes of Mayfield and Nexus Venture Partners, GRC SinoGreen and F&G Ventures.

Like similar companies, Rancher’s original focus was first on Docker infrastructure before it pivoted to putting its emphasis on Kubernetes once that became the de facto standard for container orchestration. Unsurprisingly, this is also why SUSE is now acquiring this company. After a number of ups and downs — and various ownership changes — SUSE has now found its footing again and today’s acquisition shows that its aiming to capitalize on its current strengths.

Just last month, the company reported that the annual contract value of its booking increased by 30% year over year and that it saw a 63% increase in customer deals worth more than $1 million in the last quarter, with its cloud revenue growing 70%. While it is still in the Linux distribution business that the company was founded on, today’s SUSE is a very different company, offering various enterprise platforms (including its Cloud Foundry-based Cloud Application Platform), solutions and services. And while it already offered a Kubernetes-based container platform, Rancher’s expertise will only help it to build out this business.

“This is an incredible moment for our industry, as two open source leaders are joining forces. The merger of a leader in Enterprise Linux, Edge Computing and AI with a leader in Enterprise Kubernetes Management will disrupt the market to help customers accelerate their digital transformation journeys,” said SUSE CEO Melissa Di Donato in today’s announcement. “Only the combination of SUSE and Rancher will have the depth of a globally supported and 100% true open source portfolio, including cloud native technologies, to help our customers seamlessly innovate across their business from the edge to the core to the cloud.”

The company describes today’s acquisition as the first step in its ‘inorganic growth strategy’ and Di Donato notes that this acquisition will allow the company to “play an even more strategic role with cloud service providers, independent hardware vendors, systems integrators and value-added resellers who are eager to provide greater customer experiences.”

SetSail raises raises $7M to change how sales teams are compensated

By Ron Miller

Most sales teams earn a commission after a sale closes, but nothing prior to that. Yet there are a variety of signals along the way that indicate the sales process is progressing, and SetSail, a startup from some former Google engineers, is using machine learning to figure out what those signals are, and how to compensate salespeople as they move along the path to a sale, not just after they close the deal.

Today, the startup announced a $7 million investment led by Wing Venture Capital with help from Operator Collective and Team8. Under the terms of the deal, Leyla Seka from Operator will be joining the board. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $11 million, according to the company.

CEO and co-founder Haggai Levi says his company is based on the idea that commission alone is not a good way to measure sales success, and that it is in fact a lagging indicator. “We came up with a different approach. We use machine learning to create progress-based incentives,” Levi explained

To do that they rely on machine learning to discover the signals that are coming from the customer that indicate that the deal is moving forward, and using a points system, companies can begin compensating reps on hitting these milestones, even before the sale closes.

The seeds for the idea behind SetSail were planted years ago when the three founders were working at Google tinkering with ways to motivate sales reps beyond pure commission. From a behavioral perspective, Levi and his co-founders found that reps were taking fewer risks with a pure commission approach and they wanted to find a way to change that. The incremental compensation system achieves that.

“If I’m closing the deal, I’m getting my commission. If I’m not closing the deal, I’m getting nothing. That means from a behavioral point of view, I would take the shortest path to win a deal, and I would take the minimum risk possible. So if there’s a competitive situation I will try to avoid that,” he said.

They look at things like appointments, emails and call transcripts. The signals will vary by customer. One may find an appointment with CIO is a good signal a deal is on the right trajectory, but to avoid having reps gaming the system by filling the CRM with the kinds of positive signals the company is looking for, they only rely on objective data, rather than any kind of self-reporting information from reps themselves.

The team eventually built a system like this inside Google, and in 2018, left to build a solution for the rest of the world that does something similar.

As the company grows, Levi says he is building a diverse team, not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because it simply makes good business sense. “The reality is that we’re building a product for a diverse audience, and if we don’t have a diverse team we would never be able to build the right product,” he explained.

The company’s unique approach to sales compensation is resonating with customers like Dropbox, Lyft and Pendo, who are looking for new ways to motivate sales teams, especially during a pandemic when there may be a longer sales cycle. This kind of system provides a way to compensate sales teams more incrementally and reward positive approaches that have proven to result in sales.

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DocuSign acquires Liveoak Technologies for $38M for online notarization

By Ron Miller

Even in the best of times, finding a notary can be a challenge. In the middle of a pandemic, it’s even more difficult. DocuSign announced it has acquired Liveoak Technologies today for approximately $38 million, giving the company an online notarization option.

At the same time, DocuSign announced a new product called DocuSign Notary, which should ease the notary requirement by allowing it to happen online along with the eSignature. As we get deeper into the pandemic, companies like DocuSign that allow workflows to happen completely digitally are in more demand than ever. This new product will be available for early access later in the summer.

The deal made sense given that the two companies had a partnership already. Liveoak brings together live video, collaboration tooling and identity verification that enables parties to get notarized approval as though you were sitting at the desk in front of the notary.

Typically, you might get a document that requires your signature. Without electronic signature, you would need to print it, sign the document, scan it and return it. If it requires a notary, you would need to sign it in the notary’s presence, which requires an in-person visit. All of this can be streamlined with an online workflow, which DocuSign is providing with this acquisition.

It’s like the perfect pandemic acquisition, making a manual process digital and saving people from having to make face-to-face transactions at a time when it can be dangerous.

Liveoak Technologies was founded in 2014 and is part of the Austin, Texas startup scene. The company raised just under $28 million during its life as a private company. The firm most recently raised $8 million at a post-money valuation of $30.4 million, according to PitchBook data. Given the amount that DocuSign paid for the startup, it appears to have gotten a bargain.

This acquisition is part of a growing pandemic acquisition trend of sorts, where larger public enterprise companies are plucking early-stage startups, in some cases for relatively bargain prices. Among the recent acquisitions are Apple buying Fleetsmith and ServiceNow acquiring Sweagle last month.

Nvidia’s Ampere GPUs come to Google Cloud

By Frederic Lardinois

Nvidia today announced that its new Ampere-based data center GPUs, the A100 Tensor Core GPUs, are now available in alpha on Google Cloud. As the name implies, these GPUs were designed for AI workloads, as well as data analytics and high-performance computing solutions.

The A100 promises a significant performance improvement over previous generations. Nvidia says the A100 can boost training and inference performance by over 20x compared to its predecessors (though you’ll mostly see 6x or 7x improvements in most benchmarks) and tops out at about 19.5 TFLOPs in single-precision performance and 156 TFLOPs for Tensor Float 32 workloads.

“Google Cloud customers often look to us to provide the latest hardware and software services to help them drive innovation on AI and scientific computing workloads,” said Manish Sainani, Director of Product Management at Google Cloud, in today’s announcement. “With our new A2 VM family, we are proud to be the first major cloud provider to market NVIDIA A100 GPUs, just as we were with NVIDIA’s T4 GPUs. We are excited to see what our customers will do with these new capabilities.”

Google Cloud users can get access to instances with up to 16 of these A100 GPUs, for a total of 640GB of GPU memory and 1.3TB of system memory.

Zoom announces new Hardware as a Service offering to run on ServiceNow

By Ron Miller

Zoom announced a new Hardware as a Service offering today that will run on the ServiceNow platform. At the same time the company announced a deal with ServiceNow to standardize on Zoom and Zoom Phone for its 11,000 employees in another case of SaaS cooperation.

For starters, the new Hardware as a Service offering allows customers, who use the Zoom Phone and Zoom Rooms software to acquire related hardware from the company for a fixed monthly cost. The company announced that initial solutions providers will include DTEN, Neat, Poly and Yealink.

The new service allows companies to access low-cost hardware and pay for the software and hardware on a single invoice. This could result in lower up-front costs, while simplifying the bookkeeping associated with a customer’s online communications options.

Companies can start small if they wish, then add additional hardware over time as needs change, and they can also opt for a fully managed service, where a third party can deal with installation and management of the hardware if that’s what a customer requires.

Zoom will run the new service on ServiceNow’s Now platform, which provides a way to manage the service requests as they come in. And in a case of one SaaS hand washing the other, ServiceNow has standardized on the Zoom platform for its internal communications tool, which has become increasingly important as the pandemic has moved employees to work from home. The company also plans to replace its current phone system with Zoom Phones.

One of the defining characteristics of SaaS companies, and a major difference from previous generations of tech companies, has been the willingness of these organizations to work together to string together sets of services when it makes sense. These kinds of partnerships, not only benefit the companies involved, they tend to be a win for customers too.

Brent Leary, founder at CRM Essentials sees this as a deal between two rising SaaS stars, and one that benefits both companies. “Everyone and their mother is announcing partnerships with Zoom, focusing on integrating video communications into core focus areas. But this partnership looks to be much more substantial than most with ServiceNow not only partnering with Zoom for tighter video communication capabilities, but also displacing its current phone system with Zoom Phone,” Leary told TechCrunch.

Nayya, bringing transparency to choosing and managing healthcare plans, raises $2.7 million

By Jordan Crook

Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator -backed Nayya is on a mission to simplify choosing and managing employee benefits through machine learning and data transparency.

The company has raised $2.7 million in seed funding led by Social Leverage with participation from Guardian Strategic Ventures, Cameron Ventures, Soma Capital, as well as other strategic angels.

The process of choosing an employer-provided healthcare plan and understanding that plan can be tedious at best and incredibly confusing at worst. And that doesn’t even include all of the supplemental plans and benefits associated with these programs.

Cofounded by Sina Chehrazi and Akash Magoon, Nayya tries to solve this problem. When enrollment starts, employers send out an email that includes a link to Nayya’s Companion, the company’s flagship product.

Companion helps employees find the plan that is right for them. The software first asks a series of questions about lifestyle, location, etc. For example, Nayya cofounder and CEO Chehrazi explained that people who bike to work, as opposed to driving in a car, walking or taking public transportation, are 20 times more likely to get into an accident and need emergency services.

Companion asks questions in this vein, as well as questions around whether you take medication regularly or if you expect your healthcare costs to go up or down over the next year, without getting into the specifics of chronic ailments or diseases or particular issues.

Taking that data into account, Nayya then looks at the various plans provided by the employer to show you which one matches the user’s particular lifestyle and budget best.

Nayya doesn’t just pull information directly from the insurance company directory listings, as nearly 40 percent of those listings have at least one error or are out of date. It pulls from a broad variety of data sources, including the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to get the cleanest, most precise data around which doctors are in network and the usual costs associated with visiting those doctors.

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Alongside Companion, Nayya also provides a product called ‘Edison,’ which it has dubbed the Alexa for Helathcare. Users can ask Edison questions like “What is my deductible?” or “Is Dr. So-and-So in my network and what would it cost to go see her?”

The company helps individual users find the right provider for them with the ability to compare costs, location, and other factors involved. Nayya even puts a badge on listings for providers where another employee at the company has gone and had a great experience, giving another layer of validation to that choice.

As the healthtech industry looks to provide easier-to-use healthcare and insurance, the idea of ‘personalization’ has been left behind in many respects. Nayya focuses first and foremost on the end-user and aims to ensure that their own personal healthcare journey is as simple and straightforward as possible, believing that the other pieces of the puzzle will fall into place when the customer is taken care of.

Nayya plans on using the funding to expand the team across engineering, data science, product management and marketing, as well as doubling down on the amount of data the company is purchasing, ingesting and cleaning.

Alongside charging employers on a per seat, per month basis, Nayya is also looking to start going straight to insurance companies with its product.

“The greatest challenge is educating an entire ecosystem and convincing that ecosystem to believe that where the consumer wins, everyone wins,” said Chehrazi. “How to finance and understand your healthcare has never been more important than it is right now, and there is a huge need to provide that education in a data driven way to people. That’s where I want to spend the next I don’t know how many years of my life to drive that change.”

Nayya has five full-time employees currently and 80 percent of the team comes from racially diverse backgrounds.

OwnBackup lands $50M as backup for Salesforce ecosystem thrives

By Ron Miller

OwnBackup has made a name for itself primarily as a backup and disaster recovery system for the Salesforce ecosystem, and today the company announced a $50 million investment.

Insight Partners led the round with participation from Salesforce Ventures and Vertex Ventures. This chunk of money comes on top of a $23 million round from a year ago, and brings the total raised to over $100 million, according to the company.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Salesforce Ventures chipped in when the majority of the company’s backup and recovery business involves the Salesforce ecosystem, although the company will be looking to expand beyond that with the new money.

“We’ve seen such growth over the last two and a half years around the Salesforce ecosystem. and the other ISV partners like Veeva and nCino that we’ve remained focused within the Salesforce space. But with this funding, we will expand over the next 12 months into a few new ecosystems,” company CEO Sam Gutmann told TechCrunch.

In spite of the pandemic, the company continues to grow, adding 250 new customers last quarter, bringing it to over 2000 customers and 250 employees, according to Gutmann.

He says that raising the round, which closed at the beginning of May had some hairy moments as the pandemic began to take hold across the world and worsen in the U.S. For a time, he began talking to new investors in case his existing ones got cold feet. As it turned out, when the quarterly numbers came in strong, the existing ones came back and the round was oversubscribed, Gutmann said.

“Q2 frankly was a record quarter for us, adding over 250 new accounts, and we’re seeing companies start to really understand how critical this is,” he said.

The company plans to continue hiring through the pandemic, although he says it might not be quite as aggressively as they once thought. Like many companies, even though they plan to hire, they are continually assessing the market. At this point, he foresees growing the workforce by about another 50 people this year, but that’s about as far as he can look ahead right now.

Gutmann says he is working with his management team to make sure he has a diverse workforce right up to the executive level, but he says it’s challenging. “I think our lower ranks are actually quite diverse, but as you get up into the leadership team, you can see on the website unfortunately we’re not there yet,” he said.

They are instructing their recruiting teams to look for diverse candidates whether by gender or ethnicity, and employees have formed a diversity and inclusion task force with internal training, particularly for managers around interviewing techniques.

He says going remote has been difficult, and he misses seeing his employees in the office. He hopes to have at least some come back, before the end of the summer and slowly add more as we get into the fall, but that will depend on how things go.

Tech shares set fresh records despite uncertain economy

By Alex Wilhelm

Despite record-setting COVID-19 infections, American equities rose today. All major indices gained ground during regular trading, while tech stocks did even better.

The Nasdaq Composite set new 52-week and all-time highs, touching 10,462.0 points before closing at 10,433.65, up 2.21% on the day. Similarly, a basket of SaaS and cloud companies that has risen and fallen more sharply than even the tech-heavy Nasdaq closed this afternoon at 1,908.30 after touching 1,952.39 points. Both results were 52-week and all-time highs.

Such is the mood on Wall Street regarding the health of technology companies. It’s not hard to find bullish sentiment, jockeying to push tech shares higher. Some examples of today’s enthusiasm paint the picture:

  • The recent IPO for Lemonade is now worth $4.7 billion, according to Yahoo Finance. That price gives it a Q1-annualized revenue run rate multiple of around 45x. For a SaaS company, that would boggle the mind. As we’ve written, however, Lemonade has very un-SaaS-like gross margins, and has higher churn. The company’s stock rose around 17% today for no clear reason.
  • Tesla rose over 13% today to $1,371.58 per share, another huge day of gains for the company now worth in excess of $250 billion. Analysts expect the firm to report $4.83 billion in revenue in its most recent quarter, according to Yahoo Finance. That’s less than the company reported in its year-ago June quarter when it saw $6.35 billion in revenue. Since July 1, 2019, Tesla shares have appreciated in excess of 450%, despite the company prepping to report what the market anticipates will be revenue declines.
  • Amazon and Netflix also set new records today to toss a few more names into the mix.

You can’t swing your arms without running into a reason why it makes sense for SaaS stocks to be trading at record valuation multiples, or why one company or another is actually reasonably valued over a long-enough time horizon.

It’s worth noting that this putatively rational public investor thinking doesn’t fit at all with what the tech set used to pound into my head about the public markets, namely that they are infamously impatient and thus utter bilge for most long-term value creation. Going public was garbage, I was told; you have to report every three months and no one looks out a few years.

Now, I’m being told by roughly the same people that the market is doing the very thing that they said it didn’t do, namely price firms for future results instead of trailing outcomes. Fine by me either way, frankly, but I’d like to know which story is true.

Happily, we’re about to see if all this high-fiving and enthusiasm is real.

Earnings season beckons, and it should bring with it a dose or two of clarity. If the digital transformation has managed to accelerate sufficiently that most tech companies have managed to greatly boost their near-term value, hats off to the cohort and bully for the startups that must also be enjoying similar revenue upswells.

But that doesn’t have to happen. There are possible earnings result sets that can cause investors to dump tech shares, as Slack learned a month ago.

The background to all of this is that there are good reasons to have some doubts about the current health of the national economy. And, sure, most people are willing to allow that the stock market and the aggregate domestic economy are not perfectly linked — this is no less than partially true — but each day the stock market steps higher and COVID-19 surges again leading to re-closings around the nation makes you to wonder if this is all for real.

Earnings season is here soon. Let’s find out.

QuestDB nabs $2.3M seed to build open source time series database

By Ron Miller

QuestDB, a member of the Y Combinator summer 2020 cohort, is building an open source time series database with speed top of mind. Today the startup announced a $2.3 million seed round.

Episode1 Ventures led the round with assistance from Seedcamp, 7percent Ventures, YCombinator, Kima Ventures and several unnamed angel investors.

The database was originally conceived in 2013 when current CTO Vlad Ilyushchenko was building trading systems for a financial services company and he was frustrated by the performance limitations of the databases available at the time, so he began building a database that could handle large amounts of data and process it extremely fast.

For a number of years, QuestDB was a side project, a labor of love for Ilyushchenko until he met his other co-founders Nicolas Hourcard, who became CEO and Tancrede Collard, who became CPO, and the three decided to build a startup on top of the open source project last year.

“We’re building an open source database for time series data, and time series databases are a multi-billion dollar market because they’re central for financial services, IoT and other enterprise applications. And we basically make it easy to handle explosive amounts of data, and to reduce infrastructure costs massively,” Hourcard told TechCrunch.

He adds that it’s also about high performance. “We recently released a demo that you can access from our website that enables you to query a super large datasets — 1.6 billion rows with sub-second queries, mostly, and that just illustrates how performant the software is,” he said.

He sees open source as a way to build adoption from the bottom up inside organizations, winning the hearts and minds of developers first, then moving deeper in the company when they eventually build a managed cloud version of the product. For now, being open source also helps them as a small team to have a community of contributors help build the database and add to its feature set.

“We’ve got this open source product that is free to use, and it’s pretty important for us to have such a distribution model because we can basically empower developers to solve their problems, and we can ask for contributions from various communities. […] And this is really a way to spur adoption,” Hourcard said.

He says that working with YC has allowed them to talk to other companies in the ecosystem who have built similar open source-based startups and that’s been helpful, but it has also helped them learn to set and meet goals and have access to some of the biggest names in Silicon Valley, including Marc Andreessen, who delivered a talk to the cohort the same day we spoke.

Today the company has 7 employees including the three founders, spread out across the US, EU and South America. He sees this geographic diversity helping when it comes to building a diverse team in the future. “We definitely want to have more diverse backgrounds to make sure that we keep having a diverse team and we’re very strongly committed to that.”

For the short term, the company wants to continue building its community, working on continuing to improve the open source product, while working on the managed cloud product.

SEC filing indicates big data provider Palantir is raising $961M, $550M of it already secured

By Ingrid Lunden

Palantir, the secretive big data and analytics provider that works with governments and other public and private organizations to power national security, health and a variety of other services, has reportedly been eyeing up a public listing this autumn. But in the meantime it’s also continuing to push ahead in the private markets.

The company has filed a Form D indicating that it is in the process of raising nearly $1 billion — $961,099,010, to be exact — with $549,727,437 of that already sold, and a further $411,371,573 remaining to be raised.

The filing appears to confirm a report from back in September 2019 that the company was seeking to raise between $1 billion and $3 billion, its first fundraising in four years. That report noted Palantir was targeting a $26 billion valuation, up from $20 billion four years ago. A Reuters article from June put its valuation on secondary market trades at between $10 billion and $14 billion.

The bigger story of that Reuters report was that Palantir confirmed two fundraises from strategic investors that both work with the company: $500 million in funding from Japanese insurance company Sompo Holdings, and $50 million from Fujitsu. Together, it seems like these might account for $550 million already sold on the Form D.

It’s not clear if this fundraise would essentially mean a delay to a public listing, or if it would complement it.

To date Palantir has raised $3.3 billion in funding, according to PitchBook data, with no less than 108 investors on its cap table. But if you dig into the PitchBook data (some of which is behind a paywall) it also seems that Palantir has raised a number of other rounds of undisclosed amounts. Confusingly (but probably apt for a company famous for being secretive) some of that might also be part of this Form D amount.

We have reached out to Palantir to ask about the Form D and will update this post as we learn more.

While Palantir was last valued at $20 billion when it last raised money four years ago, there are some data points that point to a bigger valuation today.

In April, according to a Bloomberg report, the company briefed investors with documents showing that it expects to make $1 billion in revenues this year, up 38% on 2019, and breaking even in the first time since being founded 16 years ago by Peter Thiel, Nathan Gettings, Joe Lonsdale, Stephen Cohen, and current CEO, Alex Karp.

(The Bloomberg report didn’t explain why Palantir was briefing investors, whether for a potential public listing, or for the fundraise we’re reporting on here, or something else.)

On top of that, the company has been in the news a lot around the global novel coronavirus pandemic. Specifically, it’s been winning business, in the form of projects in major markets like the UK (where it’s part of a consortium of companies working with the NHS on a COVID-19 data trove) and the US (where it’s been working on a COVID-19 tracker for the federal government and a project with the CDC), and possibly others. Those projects will presumably need a lot of upfront capital to set up and run, possibly one reason raising money now.

Unpacking how Dell’s debt load and VMware stake could come together

By Ron Miller

Last week, we discussed the possibility that Dell could be exploring a sale of VMware as a way to deal with its hefty debt load, a weight that continues to linger since its $67 billion acquisition of EMC in 2016. VMware was the most valuable asset in the EMC family of companies, and it remains central to Dell’s hybrid cloud strategy today.

As CNBC pointed out last week, VMware is a far more valuable company than Dell itself, with a market cap of almost $62 billion. Dell, on the other hand, has a market cap of around $39 billion.

How is Dell, which owns 81% of VMware, worth less than the company it controls? We believe it’s related to that debt, and if we’re right, Dell could unlock lots of its own value by reducing its indebtedness. In that light, the sale, partial or otherwise, of VMware starts to look like a no-brainer from a financial perspective.

At the end of its most recent quarter, Dell had $8.4 billion in short-term debt and long-term debts totaling $48.4 billion. That’s a lot, but Dell has the ability to pay down a significant portion of that by leveraging the value locked inside its stake in VMware.

Yes, but …

Nothing is ever as simple as it seems. As Holger Mueller from Constellation Research pointed out in our article last week, VMware is the one piece of the Dell family that is really continuing to innovate. Meanwhile, Dell and EMC are stuck in hardware hell at a time when companies are moving faster than ever expected to the cloud due to the pandemic.

Dell is essentially being handicapped by a core business that involves selling computers, storage and the like to in-house data centers. While it’s also looking to modernize that approach by trying to be the hybrid link between on-premise and the cloud, the economy is also working against it. The pandemic has made the difficult prospect of large enterprise selling even more challenging without large conferences, golf outings and business lunches to grease the skids of commerce.

Fleetsmith customers unhappy with loss of third-party app support after Apple acquisition

By Ron Miller

When Apple confirmed it had acquired Fleetsmith, a mobile device management vendor, on Wednesday, it seemed like a straightforward purchase, but Fleetsmith customers quickly learned a key piece of functionality had stopped working  — and many weren’t happy about it.

Apple systems administrators began complaining on social media on the morning of the acquisition announcement that the company was no longer allowing them to connect to third-party applications.

“Primarily Fleetsmith maintained a third party app catalog, so you could deploy things like Chrome or Zoom to your Macs, and Fleetsmith would maintain security updates for those apps. This was the main reason we purchased Fleetsmith,” a Fleetsmith customer told TechCrunch.

The customer added that the company described this functionality as a major feature in a company blog post:

Fleetsmith handles this all for you automatically. Once the version is enforced, it is downloaded and queued for install immediately across the device fleet. Most apps will update silently and automatically once they’re restarted, but users can also choose to do the update manually. Our agent will remind users about the update periodically, and then once the enforcement date hits, it will give them an opportunity to save work and then run the update itself.

As it turned out, Apple had made it clear that it was discontinuing this feature in an email to Fleetsmith customers on the day of the transition. The email included links to several help articles that were supposed to assist admins with the transition. (The email is included in full at the end of the article).

The general consensus among admins that I spoke to was that these articles were not terribly helpful. While they described a way to fix the issues, they said that Apple has turned what was a highly automated experience into a highly manual one, effectively eliminating the speed and ease of use advantage of having then update feature in the first place.

Apple did confirm that it had responded to some help ticket requests after the changes this week, saying that it would soon restore some configurations for Catalog apps, and were working with impacted customers as needed. The company did not make clear, however, why they removed this functionality in the first place.

Fleetsmith offered a couple of key features that appealed to Mac system administrators. For starters, it let them set up new Macs automatically out of the box. This allows them to ship a new Mac or other Apple device, and as soon as the employee powers it up and connects to WiFi, it connects to Fleetsmith where systems administrators can track usage and updates. In addition, it allowed System Administrators to enforce Apple security and OS updates on company devices.

What’s more, it could also do the same thing with third-party applications like Google Chrome, Zoom or many others. When these companies pushed a new update, system administrators could make sure all users had the most recent version running on their machines. This is the key functionality that was removed this week.

It’s not clear why Apple chose to strip out these features outlined in the email to customers, but it seems likely that most of this functionality  isn’t coming back, other than restoring some configurations for Catalog apps.

Email that went out to Fleetsmith customers the day of the acquisition outlining the changes:

 

Attempts to reach Fleetsmith founders for comment were unsuccessful. Should that change we will update the article.

CIO Cynthia Stoddard explains Adobe’s journey from boxes to the cloud

By Ron Miller

Up until 2013, Adobe sold its software in cardboard boxes that were distributed mostly by third party vendors.

In time, the company realized there were a number of problems with that approach. For starters, it took months or years to update, and Adobe software was so costly, much of its user base didn’t upgrade. But perhaps even more important than the revenue/development gap was the fact that Adobe had no direct connection to the people who purchased its products.

By abdicating sales to others, Adobe’s customers were third-party resellers, but changing the distribution system also meant transforming the way the company developed and sold their most lucrative products.

The shift was a bold move that has paid off handsomely as the company surpassed an $11 billion annual run rate in December — but it still was an enormous risk at the time. We spoke to Adobe CIO Cynthia Stoddard to learn more about what it took to completely transform the way they did business.

Understanding the customer

Before Adobe could make the switch to selling software as a cloud service subscription, it needed a mechanism for doing that, and that involved completely repurposing their web site, Adobe.com, which at the time was a purely informational site.

“So when you think about transformation the first transformation was how do we connect and sell and how do we transition from this large network of third parties into selling direct to consumer with a commerce site that needed to be up 24×7,” Stoddard explained.

She didn’t stop there though because they weren’t just abandoning the entire distribution network that was in place. In the new cloud model, they still have a healthy network of partners and they had to set up the new system to accommodate them alongside individual and business customers.

She says one of the keys to managing a set of changes this immense was that they didn’t try to do everything at once. “One of the things we didn’t do was say, ‘We’re going to move to the cloud, let’s throw everything away.’ What we actually did is say we’re going to move to the cloud, so let’s iterate and figure out what’s working and not working. Then we could change how we interact with customers, and then we could change the reporting, back office systems and everything else in a very agile manner,” she said.

Salesforce announces a new mobile collaboration tool for sales called Anywhere

By Ron Miller

Even before the pandemic pushed most employees to work from home, sales people often worked outside of the office. Salesforce introduced a new tool today at the Trailheadx Conference called Salesforce Anywhere that’s designed to let teams collaborate and share data wherever they happen to be.

Salesforce VP of product, Michael Machado says that the company began thinking about the themes of working from anywhere pre-COVID. “We were really thinking across the board what a mobile experience would be for the end users that’s extremely opinionated, really focuses on the jobs to be done and is optimized for what workers need and how that user experience can be transformed,” Machado explained.

As the pandemic took hold and the company saw how important collaboration was becoming in a digital context, the idea of an app like this took on a new sense of urgency. “When COVID happened, it really added fuel to the fire as we looked around the market and saw that this is a huge need with our customers going through a major transformation, and we wanted to be there to support them in Salesforce with kind of a native experience,” he said.

The idea is to move beyond the database and help surface the information that matters most to individual sales people based on their pipelines. “So we’re going to provide real time alerts so users are able to subscribe to their own alerts that they want to be notified about, whether it’s based on a list they use or a report that they work off of [in Salesforce], but also at the granularity of a single field in Salesforce,” he said.

Employees can then share information across a team, and have chats related to that information. While there are other chat tools out there, Machado says that this tool is focused on sharing Salesforce data, rather than being general purpose like Slack or other business chat tool.

Image Credit: Salesforce

 

Salesforce sees this as another way to remove the complexity of working in CRM. It’s not a secret that sales people don’t love entering customer information into CRM tools, so the company is attempting to leverage that information to make it worth their while. If the tool isn’t creating a layer of work just for record keeping’s sake, but actually taking advantage of that information to give the sales person key information about his or her pipeline when it matters most, that makes the record keeping piece more attractive. Being able to share and communicate around that information is another advantage.

This also creates a new collaboration layer that is increasingly essential with workers spread out and working from home. Even when we return to some semblance of normal, sales people on the road can use Anywhere to collaborate, communicate and stay on top of their tasks.

The new tool will be available in Beta in July. The company expects to make it generally available some time in the fourth quarter this year.

Zoom founder and CEO Eric Yuan will speak at Disrupt 2020

By Jordan Crook

The coronavirus pandemic has bruised and battered many technology startups, but it has also boosted a small few. One such company is Zoom, which has shouldered the task of keeping us connected to one another in the midst of remote work and social distancing.

So, of course, we’re absolutely thrilled to have the chance to chat with Zoom founder and CEO Eric Yuan at Disrupt 2020 online.

Yuan moved to Silicon Valley in 1997 after being rejected for a work visa nine times. He got a job at WebEx and, upon the company’s acquisition by Cisco, became VP of Engineering at the company. He pitched an idea for a mobile-friendly video conferencing system that was rejected by his higher-ups.

And thus, Zoom was born.

Zoom launched in 2011 and quickly became one of the biggest teleconferencing platforms in the world, competing with the likes of Google and Cisco. The company has investors like Emergence, Horizon Ventures and Sequoia, and ultimately filed to go public in 2019.

With some of the most reliable video conferencing software on the market, a tiered pricing structure that’s friendly to average users and massive enterprises alike, and a lively ecosystem of apps and bots on the Zoom App Marketplace, Zoom was well poised to be a public company. In fact, Zoom popped 81% in its first day of trading on the Nasdaq, garnering a valuation of $16 billion at the time.

But few could have prepared the company for the explosive growth it would see in 2020.

The coronavirus pandemic necessitated access to reliable and user-friendly video conferencing software for everyone, not just companies moving to remote work. People used Zoom for family dinners, cocktail hours with friends, first dates and religious gatherings.

In fact, Zoom reported 300 million daily active participants in April.

But that growth led to increased scrutiny of the business and the product. The company was beset by security issues and had to pause product innovation to focus its energy on resolving those issues.

We’ll talk to Yuan about the growing pains the company went through, his plans for Zoom’s future, the acceleration in changing user behavior and more.

It’ll be a conversation you won’t want to miss.

Disrupt 2020 runs from September 14 to September 18, and the show will be completely virtual. That means it’s easier than ever to attend and engage with the show. There are just a few Digital Pro Passes left at the $245 price — once they are gone, prices will increase. Discounts are available for current students and nonprofit/government employees. Or if you are a founder, you can exhibit at your virtual booth for $445 and be able to generate leads even before the event kicks off. Get your tickets today.

Why AWS built a no-code tool

By Frederic Lardinois

AWS today launched Amazon Honeycode, a no-code environment built around a spreadsheet-like interface that is a bit of a detour for Amazon’s cloud service. Typically, after all, AWS is all about giving developers all of the tools to build their applications — but they then have to put all of the pieces together. Honeycode, on the other hand, is meant to appeal to non-coders who want to build basic line-of-business applications. If you know how to work a spreadsheet and want to turn that into an app, Honeycode is all you need.

To understand AWS’s motivation behind the service, I talked to AWS VP Larry Augustin and Meera Vaidyanathan, a general manager at AWS.

“For us, it was about extending the power of AWS to more and more users across our customers,” explained Augustin. “We consistently hear from customers that there are problems they want to solve, they would love to have their IT teams or other teams — even outsourced help — build applications to solve some of those problems. But there’s just more demand for some kind of custom application than there are available developers to solve it.”

Image Credits: Amazon

In that respect then, the motivation behind Honeycode isn’t all that different from what Microsoft is doing with its PowerApps low-code tool. That, too, after all, opens up the Azure platform to users who aren’t necessarily full-time developers. AWS is taking a slightly different approach here, though, but emphasizing the no-code part of Honeycode.

“Our goal with honey code was to enable the people in the line of business, the business analysts, project managers, program managers who are right there in the midst, to easily create a custom application that can solve some of the problems for them without the need to write any code,” said Augustin. “And that was a key piece. There’s no coding required. And we chose to do that by giving them a spreadsheet-like interface that we felt many people would be familiar with as a good starting point.”

A lot of low-code/no-code tools also allow developers to then “escape the code,” as Augstin called it, but that’s not the intent here and there’s no real mechanism for exporting code from Honeycode and take it elsewhere, for example. “One of the tenets we thought about as we were building Honeycode was, gee, if there are things that people want to do and we would want to answer that by letting them escape the code — we kept coming back and trying to answer the question, ‘Well, okay, how can we enable that without forcing them to escape the code?’ So we really tried to force ourselves into the mindset of wanting to give people a great deal of power without escaping to code,” he noted.

Image Credits: Amazon

There are, however, APIs that would allow experienced developers to pull in data from elsewhere. Augustin and Vaidyanathan expect that companies may do this for their users on tthe platform or that AWS partners may create these integrations, too.

Even with these limitations, though, the team argues that you can build some pretty complex applications.

“We’ve been talking to lots of people internally at Amazon who have been building different apps and even within our team and I can honestly say that we haven’t yet come across something that is impossible,” Vaidyanathan said. “I think the level of complexity really depends on how expert of a builder you are. You can get very complicated with the expressions [in the spreadsheet] that you write to display data in a specific way in the app. And I’ve seen people write — and I’m not making this up — 30-line expressions that are just nested and nested and nested. So I really think that it depends on the skills of the builder and I’ve also noticed that once people start building on Honeycode — myself included — I start with something simple and then I get ambitious and I want to add this layer to it — and I want to do this. That’s really how I’ve seen the journey of builders progress. You start with something that’s maybe just one table and a couple of screens, and very quickly, before you know, it’s a far more robust app that continues to evolve with your needs.”

Another feature that sets Honeycode apart is that a spreadsheet sits at the center of its user interface. In that respect, the service may seem a bit like Airtable, but I don’t think that comparison holds up, given that both then take these spreadsheets into very different directions. I’ve also seen it compared to Retool, which may be a better comparison, but Retool is going after a more advanced developer and doesn’t hide the code. There is a reason, though, why these services were built around them and that is simply that everybody is familiar with how to use them.

“People have been using spreadsheets for decades,” noted Augustin. “They’re very familiar. And you can write some very complicated, deep, very powerful expressions and build some very powerful spreadsheets. You can do the same with Honeycode. We felt people were familiar enough with that metaphor that we could give them that full power along with the ability to turn that into an app.”

The team itself used the service to manage the launch of Honeycode, Vaidyanathan stressed — and to vote on the name for the product (though Vaidyanathan and Augustin wouldn’t say which other names they considered.

“I think we have really, in some ways, a revolutionary product in terms of bringing the power of AWS and putting it in the hands of people who are not coders,” said Augustin.

AWS launches Amazon Honeycode, a no-code mobile and web app builder

By Frederic Lardinois

AWS today announced the beta launch of Amazon Honeycode, a new fully managed low-code/no-code development tool that aims to make it easy for anybody in a company to build their own applications. All of this, of course, is backed by a database in AWS and a web-based drag-and-drop interface builder.

Developers can build applications for up to 20 users for free. After that, the pay per user and for the storage their applications take up.

Image Credits: Amazon/AWS

Like similar tools, Honeycode provides users with a set of templates for commonly use cases like to-do list applications, customer trackers, surveys, schedules and inventory management. Traditionally, AWS argues, a lot of businesses have relied on shared spreadsheets to do these things.

“Customers try to solve for the static nature of spreadsheets by emailing them back and forth, but all of the emailing just compounds the inefficiency because email is slow, doesn’t scale, and introduces versioning and data syncing errors,” the company notes in today’s announcement. “As a result, people often prefer having custom applications built, but the demand for custom programming often outstrips developer capacity, creating a situation where teams either need to wait for developers to free up or have to hire expensive consultants to build applications.”

It’s no surprise then that Honeycode uses a spreadsheet view as its core data interface, which makes sense, given how familiar virtually every potential user is with this concept. To manipulate data, users can work with standard spreadsheet-style formulas, which seems to be about the closest the service gets to actual programming.

AWS says these databases can easily scale up to 100,000 rows per workbook. With this, AWS argues, users can then focus on building their applications without having to worry about the underlying infrastructure.

Honeycode currently only runs in the AWS US West region in Oregon but is coming to other regions soon.

Among its first customers are SmugMug and Slack.

Updating…

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