HomeLight, which operates a real estate technology platform, announced today that it has secured $100 million in a Series D round of funding and $263 million in debt financing.
Return backer Zeev Ventures led the equity round, which also included participation from Group 11, Stereo Capital, Menlo Ventures and Lydia Jett of the SoftBank Vision Fund. The financings bring the San Francisco-based company’s total raised since its 2012 inception to $530 million. The equity financing brings HomeLight’s valuation to $1.6 billion, which is about triple of what it was when it raised its $109 million in debt and equity in a Series C that was announced in November of 2019.
Zeev Ventures led that funding round, as well as its Series A in 2015.
The latest capital comes ahead of projected “3x” year-over-year growth, according to HomeLight founder and CEO Drew Uher, who projects that the company’s annual revenue will triple to over $300 million in 2021. Doing basic math, we can deduce that the company saw around $100 million in revenue in 2020.
Over the years, like many other real estate tech platforms, HomeLight has evolved its model. HomeLight’s initial product focused on using artificial intelligence to match consumers and real estate investors to agents. Since then, the company has expanded to also providing title and escrow services to agents and home sellers and matching sellers with iBuyers. In July 2019, HomeLight acquired Eave as an entry into the (increasingly crowded) mortgage lending space.
“Our goal is to remove as much friction as possible from the process of buying or selling a home,” Uher said.
In January 2020, HomeLight launched its flagship financial products, HomeLight Trade-In and HomeLight Cash Offer. Since then, it has grown those products by over 700%, Uher said, in part fueled by the pandemic.
HomeLight’s Trade-In product gives its clients greater control over the timeline of their move and ability to transact, and Cash Offer gives people a way to make all cash offers on homes, “even if they need a mortgage,” he said.
“The pandemic only highlighted many of the pain points in the real estate transaction process that we’ve been focused on solving since our founding,” Uher told TechCrunch. “Between the real estate industry’s historic information asymmetry, outdated processes and unreasonable costs — not to mention today’s record-low inventory and all-time high bidding wars — buying or selling a home can be an incredibly difficult process, even without the challenges put in place by a global pandemic.”
Image Credits: HomeLight
Then in August 2020, the company acquired Disclosures.io and launched HomeLight Listing Management, with the goal of making it easier for agents to share property information, monitor buyer interest and manage offers in one place.
In June of 2021, HomeLight appointed Lyft chairman and former Trulia CFO Sean Aggarwal to its board.
Uher founded HomeLight after he and his wife felt the pain of trying to buy a home in the competitive Bay Area market.
“The process of buying a home in San Francisco was so frustrating it made me want to bang my head against the wall,” Uher told me at the time of HomeLight’s Series C. “I realized there were so many things wrong with the real estate industry. I went through a few real estate agents before finding the right match. So when I did find one, it made me feel empowered to compete and win against the other buyers.”
He started HomeLight with a single product, its agent matching platform, which uses “proprietary machine-learning algorithms” to analyze millions of real estate transactions and agent profiles. It claims to connect a client to a real estate agent on average “every 90 seconds.”
Over the years, Uher said that hundreds of thousands of agents have applied to be a part of the HomeLight agent network and that it has worked with over 1 million homebuyers and sellers in the U.S. Today, the company works closely with the top 28,000 of those agents across the country. HomeLight maintains that it is not trying to replace real estate agents, but instead work more collaboratively with them.
Uher said the company plans to use its new capital in part toward expanding to new markets its Trade-In and Cash Offer operations. HomeLight Trade-In and Cash Offer are currently available in California, Texas and, more recently, in Colorado.
“We plan to expand as quickly as we can across the entire country,” Uher said. “We also plan to hire aggressively in 2021 and beyond.”
HomeLight presently has over 500 employees, up from about 350 at the end of last year. The company has offices in Scottsdale, Arizona, San Francisco, New York, Seattle and Tampa, and plans to open new sites throughout the U.S. in the coming months.
Oren Zeev, founding partner at Zeev Ventures, said he believes that HomeLIght is better positioned than any other proptech company “to reinvent the transaction experience” for agents and their clients.
“With the onset of iBuyers and other technology introduced in the past decade, many proptech companies are building products to cut agents out of the transaction process entirely,” Zeev wrote via email. “This is where HomeLight uniquely differs — and excels — from its competitors…They’re in the perfect position to revolutionize the industry.”
The average employee will prefer to work from home nearly half the time after the pandemic is over. Employees are also demanding flexible schedules and remote work, and as a result, executives are planning to reduce office space by 30%. The data surrounding the global shift to remote work is piling up and our post-pandemic professional landscape is starting to take shape.
Are you ready to lead a digital workforce?
The seismic shift in how we work requires a reassessment of how we manage, even for — or especially for — seasoned leaders. How do you wrangle a highly educated, decentralized workforce and rally them around a singular mission? How do you become a better people manager amid a workplace sea change?
As a seasoned CMO who has managed global workforces, I’ve finally hit my stride as a remote-only manager, all while navigating a global pandemic and riding my company’s unprecedented growth. What’s the secret sauce to managing today’s remote workforce? Strengthen your team by creating authentic workplace transparency, using numbers as a universal language and providing meaning behind your team’s work.
The biggest secret behind my management practices? It’s possible to produce more success with less stress. Consider these three ways I’ve strengthened my team and, in turn, become a more nimble manager.
A Harvard Business Review study found that knowledge workers are more fulfilled when they understand what organizations are trying to achieve and how their work lifts up their workplaces as a whole. In other words, meaning motivates your digital workforce.
On the surface, communicating your organization’s overarching mission, its reason for being, seems like a simple enough task. But I challenge you to ask each one of your team members to define your organization’s mission. If you have 10 employees, I bet you get nine or 10 different answers.
Instead of expecting employees to find your organization’s mission and vision on PowerPoint decks or on the website’s “about us” page, use the proven objectives and key results (OKRs) methodology.
The next piece of the puzzle helps you raise the visibility around why your employees are doing what they’re doing every day and creates a culture of motivation through meaning. Collaborate with your employees to create individual OKRs that identify goals and metrics for achievement. These OKRs should detail exactly how each employee contributes to the organization’s success and become the impetus behind everything an employee does.
I tell my workforce to review their OKRs every morning to help them focus on what’s important. It is like daily meditation for your business. So I didn’t worry when my director of marketing recently moved and had a baby. Because we had worked together to set thoughtful OKRs, my team member’s objectives and results were well defined. She knew where to focus her limited time. No distractions from the cacophony of requests. No anxiety over letting down her team. Just peace of mind that she was focusing on the right tasks.
On Tuesday, Peloton announced the upcoming release of its entry-level Tread device. The news came ahead of a disappointing earnings report and after recalls of both of its treadmill products. Today, the connected fitness company noted in a filing with the SEC that it has been subpoenaed by both the U.S. Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security.
Both subpoenas are part of investigations around the way the company reported injuries from its treadmills. It’s seemingly another sign that, in spite of the return of one of its two Tread products to market, the larger implications are far from over for the company.
Peloton writes in the filing:
Injuries sustained by Members or their friends and family members, or others who use or purchase our Connected Fitness Products, could subject us to regulatory proceedings and litigation by governance agencies and private litigants brought against us, that regardless of their merits, could harm our reputation, divert management’s attention from our operations and result in substantial legal fees and other costs. For example, we are presently subject to a CPSC investigation and other litigation related to injuries sustained by Members and others who use or purchase the Tread+, and we have reporting obligations to safety regulators in all jurisdictions where we sell Connected Fitness Products, where reporting may trigger further regulatory investigations.
The company declined to comment further on the investigations.
Peloton was, notably, at odds with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)’s initial warning to stop using its treadmill products after an accident with the Tread+ resulted in a child’s death. At the time, Peloton said it was “troubled” by the reporting and insisted that “there is no reason to stop using the Tread+, as long as all warnings and safety instructions are followed.” In May, CEO John Foley apologized for the pushback and agreed to work with the CPSC on a recall.
The Commission cited more than 70 incidents in all, noting, “a six-year-old child recently died after being pulled under the rear of the treadmill. In addition, Peloton has received 72 reports of adult users, children, pets and/or objects being pulled under the rear of the treadmill, including 29 reports of injuries to children such as second- and third-degree abrasions, broken bones, and lacerations.”
The cheaper Tread model, meanwhile, was at the center of separate issue wherein the product’s touchscreen could detach and cause injury during use. The new version of the device features a reinforced screen. The recalls impacted around 125,000 Tread+ systems and more than 5,500 Treads, which were in early release.
Apple recently began a research study designed to collect speech data from study participants. Earlier this month, the company launched a new iOS app called “Siri Speech Study” on the App Store, which allows participants who have opted in to share their voice requests and other feedback with Apple. The app is available in a number of worldwide markets but does not register on the App Store’s charts, including under the “Utilities” category where it’s published.
According to data from Sensor Tower, the iOS app first launched on August 9 and was updated to a new version on August 18. It’s currently available in the U.S., Canada, Germany, France, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, and Taiwan — an indication of the study’s global reach. However, the app will not appear when searching the App Store by keyword or when browsing through the list of Apple’s published apps.
The Siri Speech Study app itself offers little information about the study’s specific goals, nor does it explain how someone could become a participant. Instead, it only provides a link to a fairly standard license agreement and a screen where a participant would enter their ID number to get started.
Reached for comment, Apple told TechCrunch the app is only being used for Siri product improvements, by offering a way for participants to share feedback directly with Apple. The company also explained people have to be invited to the study — there’s not a way for consumers to sign up to join.
Image Credits: App Store screenshot
The app is only one of many ways Apple is working to improve Siri.
In the past, Apple had tried to learn more about Siri’s mistakes by sending some small portion of consumers’ voice recordings to contractors for manual grading and review. But a whistleblower alerted media outlet The Guardian that the process had allowed them to listen in on confidential details at times. Apple shortly thereafter made manual review an opt-in process and brought audio grading in-house. This type of consumer data collection continues, but has a different aim that what a research study would involve.
Unlike this broader, more generalized data collection, a focus group-like study allows Apple to better understand Siri’s mistakes because it combines the collected data with human feedback. With the Siri Speech Study app, participants provide explicit feedback on per request basis, Apple said. For instance, if Siri misheard a question, users could explain what they were trying to ask. If Siri was triggered when the user hadn’t said “Hey Siri,” that could be noted. Or if Siri on HomePod misidentified the speaker in a multi-person household, the participant could note that, too.
Another differentiator is that none of the participants’ data is being automatically shared with Apple. Rather, users can see a list of the Siri requests they’ve made and then select which to send to Apple with their feedback. Apple also noted no user information is collected or used in the app, except the data directly provided by participants.
Image Credits: Apple WWDC 2021
Apple understands that an intelligent virtual assistant that understands you is a competitive advantage.
This year, the company scooped up ex-Google AI scientist Samy Bengio to help make Siri a stronger rival to Google Assistant, whose advanced capabilities are often a key selling point for Android devices. In the home, meanwhile, Alexa-powered smart speakers are dominating the U.S. market and compete with Google in the global landscape, outside China. Apple’s HomePod has a long way to go to catch up.
But despite the rapid progress in voice-based computing in recent years, virtual assistants can still have a hard time understanding certain types of speech. Earlier this year, for example, Apple said it would use a bank of audio clips from podcasts where users had stuttered to help it improve its understanding of this kind of speech pattern. Assistants can also stumble when there are multiple devices in a home that are listening for voice commands from across several rooms. And assistants can mess up when trying to differentiate between different family members’ voices or when trying to understand a child’s voice.
In other words, there are still many avenues a speech study could pursue over time, even if these aren’t its current focus.
That Apple is running a Siri speech study isn’t necessarily new. The company has historically run evaluations and studies like this in some form. But it’s less common to find Apple’s studies published directly on the App Store.
Though Apple could have published the app through the enterprise distribution process to keep it more under wraps, it chose to use its public marketplace. This more closely follows the App Store’s rules, as the research study is not an internally-facing app meant only for Apple employees.
Still, it’s not likely consumers will stumble across the app and be confused — the Siri Speech Study app is hidden from discovery. You have to have the app’s direct link to find it. (Good thing we’re nosy!)
Do you remember the first time you received a personalized ad? Perhaps you discussed a product with a friend, and the next day, an advertisement for that product popped up on social media. It almost makes you think someone’s listening to your conversations, doesn’t it?
Over time, consumers have become increasingly skeptical about ads like these — and for good reason. A 2019 Accenture study found many customers felt brands communicated in a way they felt was too personal — and 71% of those customers worried how the brands had acquired personal information they hadn’t voluntarily shared.
First-, second- and third-party data make it possible to generate hyperpersonalized ads. But these data collection efforts fall short. Consumers find these methods invasive and a breach of trust — and the data collected is often inaccurate. Google’s third-party cookie is going away, and Apple has made recent changes to its Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA), but no one has clarified the effect of these changes on advertisers’ or marketers’ abilities to reach and remarket consumers.
Many advertisers have begun leveraging AOOH as a more significant part of their brand and marketing strategy to improve reach, frequency and overall business outcomes.
It’s not so much that customers don’t appreciate ads targeting their interests — the concern lies in the methods marketers use to collect data and how consumers can maintain control over what personal data they choose to share. Interestingly, as consumer demands for personalization have increased, according to the 2021 State of Ad Personalization report, half of marketers have yet to invest in ad personalization.
Personalization and data play a vital role in the success of marketing and advertising campaigns today. Brands and their marketing departments must think outside the box and use a more targeted medium not predicated on invading privacy but designed, nevertheless, to provide a unique, personalized experience for in-store shoppers: audio out-of-home (AOOH) technology.
AOOH technology does not request the use of personal data to work effectively. Instead, it focuses on the in-store customer experience. AOOH broadcasts premium music and programmatic advertisements to enrich customer experiences and reach shoppers directly at the point of sale, influencing buying decisions and positively impacting sales.
In the marketing world, personalization has many nuances. Ultimately, marketers see its goal as providing a unique experience to every individual based on personal preferences and data. The current generation of personalization in marketing is not about collecting cookies or third-party data, merchandising or guesswork.
Today’s personalization focuses instead on delivering the right content, the right offer, the right channel and, most importantly, the right sequence of events generating value exchange between the brand and the consumer.
Although consumers don’t trust superpersonalized ads, they still expect brands to offer a personalized experience. Ninety-one percent of consumers polled in another Accenture study indicated a willingness to shop brands with some form of personalization.
On the other hand, personalization in audio advertising has seen significant growth over the past 15 years, as reflected by a willingness by brands to invest in this medium. A recent report predicts an astonishing 84% growth in digital audio ad revenue for 2025 compared to 2019.
Along with a surge in connected fitness funding, it seems that rowing machines are really having their moment. In April, Ergatta announced a $30 million raise, last month, CityRow announced a $12 million round for its studios and home machines, and today, Aviron is announcing a $4.5 million round. A rising tide and all that good stuff.
The round, which includes Samsung Next, Formic Ventures, GFC and Y Combinator, follows $750,000 in early-stage funding. As we noted in January, the Toronto-based startup spent much of the pandemic (understandably) pivoting from gym equipment to connected home fitness. As more people look to rowing as a full-body alternative to cycling that’s much kinder on your knees than running, the company’s looking to differentiate itself through gamification.
Image Credits: Aviron
“We’re going a lot harder on the gamification side of things,” founder and CEO Andy Hoang tells TechCrunch. “And that’s the biggest differentiator between, say, us and a Peloton or a Hydro. They focus almost exclusively on instructor-led classes, while we focus on these high-intensity races and fully animated games, where you’re shooting bugs or running away from zombies.”
Last month, however, Peloton announced plans to compete more directly on the game side of things, with plans to roll out in late-2021/early 2022. The first product is a Tron-esque racing game. “Peloton created Lanebreak to complement instructor-led classes with a fresh new experience for members, giving them more ways to stay engaged and motivated with their workouts,” the company wrote in a release last month. Aviron says it’s trying to add something deeper.
“What makes Aviron really different is we’re not gamifying the fitness experience by added new graphics or achievements to the end of your workout,” says Hoang. “What we’re doing is gaming the fitness experience. What makes games really fun and exciting isn’t the bells and whistles. It’s the characters, it’s the story, discovering new things and unlocking them.”
Image Credits: Aviron
The company has already begun to increase headcount. Last time we checked in, Aviron was at 10 full-time employees. The company has increased to 25, roughly half of whom are involved in its game development team.
“We’re constantly looking for people. Content is our focus, and we’re hiring the right people for marketing and branding,” adds Hoang. “We’re doing a whole new rebrand.”
Amazon is giving its Alexa voice platform a shot in the arm after seeing further declines in skill growth over the past year, indicating lagging interest from third-party voice app developers. At the company’s Alexa Live developer event today, the company announced a slew of new features and tools for the developer community — its largest release of new tools to date, in fact. Among the new releases are those to encourage Alexa device owners to discover and engage with Alexa skills, new tools for making money from skills, and other updates that will push customers to again make Alexa more a part of their daily routines.
The retailer’s hopes for Alexa as voice shopping platform may have not panned out as it had hoped, as only a sliver of Alexa customers actually made Amazon.com purchases through the smart speakers. However, the larger Alexa footprint and developer community remains fairly sizable, Amazon said today, noting there are “millions” of Alexa devices used “billions of times” every week, and over 900,000 registered developers who have published over 130,000 Alexa skills.
However, Amazon hasn’t yet solved the challenge of helping customers find and discover skills they want to use — something that’s been historically difficult on voice-only devices. That’s improved somewhat with the launch of Alexa devices with screens, like the Alexa Show, which offers a visual component.
Image Credits: Amazon
On this front, Amazon says it will introduce a way for developers to create Widgets for their skills which customers can then add to their Echo Show or other Alexa device with a screen sometime later this year. Developers will also be able to build Featured Skill Cards to promote their skills in the home screen rotation.
For voice-only devices, developers will now be able to have their skill suggested when Alexa responds to common requests, like “Alexa, tell me a story,” “Alexa, let’s play a game,” or “Alexa, I need a workout,” among others. Alexa will begin to offer personalized skill suggestions based on customers’ use of similar skills, while new “contextual discovery” mechanisms that will allow customers to use natural language and phrases to accomplish tasks across skills.
Amazon also said it’s expanding the ways developers can get paid for their skills.
Already, it offers tools like consumables, paid subscriptions and in-skill purchases. Now, it will add support for Paid Skills, a new in-skill purchase that allows customers to pay a one-time fee to access the content a skill provides. It will also now expand in-skill purchases to India and Canada.
Amazon will attempt to leverage the developer community to drive sales on its retail site, too. With new Shopping Actions, developers can sell Amazon products in their skill. For example, a role-playing game could suggest customers buy the tabletop version, as sci-fi game Starfinder does. Developers can also earn affiliate revenue on their product referrals.
Music and media skill developers will be able to use new tools for more entertaining experiences, like a Song Request Skill that DJs can use to take song requests via Alexa, which iHeartRadio will adopt. Others will shorten the time it takes for Radio, Podcast and Music providers to launch interactive experiences.
Other new features aim to make skills more practical and useful.
Image Credits: Amazon
For example, restaurants will gain access to a Food Skill API that will allow them to create pickup and delivery order experiences. A new “Send to Phone” feature will allow developers to connect their skill with mobile devices, and new event-based triggers and proactive suggestions will enable new experiences — like a skill that reminds users to lock their home when they are leaving. Amazon-owned Whole Foods will use these features for a curbside pickup experience arriving later this year, the company says.
Alexa replenishment support, which allows customers to reorder common household items like laundry detergent or batteries, will also expand to replacement parts to better tie in with other sorts of household and smart home devices. Thermostat makers Carrier and Resideo will use this to replenish air filters and Bissell will use this with its vacuum cleaners.
Menahile, safety device makers — like smoke, carbon-monoxide, and water leak detectors — will be able to tie into Alexa’s security system, Alexa Guard to send notifications to mobile devices.
Amazon is also introducing a set of new tools that make creating skills easier for developers, including the ability to use Alexa Entities, which is basically Amazon’s own set of general, Wikipedia-like knowledge. They’ll also gain access to new tools to aid with custom pronunciations plus the previously U.S.-only Alexa Conversations nature language feature (now in beta in Germany, developer preview in Japan, and live all English locales). A longer list of tools, detailed on Amazon’s announcement, focus on regional expansions of existing toolkits (i.e. AVS, ACK), and others that enable better interoperability with smart home devices — like those that allow for unique wake words, among others.
Z1, a Sao Paulo-based digital bank aimed at Latin American GenZers, has raised $2.5 million in a round led by U.S.-based Homebrew.
A number of other investors also participated in the financing including Clocktower Ventures, Mantis – the VC firm owned by The Chainsmokers, Goodwater, Gaingels, Soma Capital and Rebel Fund. Notably, Mantis has also backed Step, a teen-focused fintech based in the U.S., and Goodwater has also invested in Greenlight, which too has a similar offering as Z1.
Z1 participated in Y Combinator’s Winter ‘21 batch earlier this year, and at the time got $125,000 in funding from the accelerator. Maya Capital led its $700,000 seed round in March of 2020.
Put simply, Z1 is a digital bank app built for teenagers and young adults. The company was founded on the notion that by using its app and linked prepaid card, Brazilian and Latin American teenagers can become more financially independent.
João Pedro Thompson and Thiago Achatz started the company in late 2019 and soon after, Mateus Craveiro and Sophie Secaf joined as co-founders. In its early days, Z1 is focused on Brazil but the startup has plans to expand into other countries in Latin America over time.
“Z1 is what we’re building to be the go to bank of the next generation, and not just be a digital bank for teens,” Achatz told TechCrunch. “We want to grow with him and one day, be the biggest bank in Brazil and LatAm.”
“We’re acquiring users really early and creating brand loyalty with the intention of being their bank for life,” he said. “We will still meet their needs as they grow into adulthood.”
Image Credits: Z1
While Z1’s offering is not completely unlike that of Greenlight here in the U.S. the founders agree that its products have been adapted more to the Brazil-specific cultural and market situation.
For example, points out Thompson, most teenagers in Brazil use cash because they don’t have access to other financial services, whether they be traditional or digital.
“We offer an account where they can deposit money, cash out money via an instant payment system in Brazil or spend through a prepaid credit card,” he said. “Most sites don’t accept debit cards so this is a big step compared to what teens already have.”
Part of the company’s use for the capital is to make its product more robust so they can do things like save money for big purchases such as an iPhone and earn interest on their accounts.
Another big difference between Brazil and the U.S., the company believes, is that many parents in general in Latin America haven’t had a true financial education that they can pass down to their kids.
“We’re not top down like Greenlight,” Achatz said. “That approach doesn’t make sense in Latin America. Here, many are independent from an early age and already work whether it’s through a microbusiness, a side job or selling things on Instagram. They’re much more self-taught and the income they earn is often outside of their parents.”
Z1 has grown 30% per week and 200% per month since launch, spending “very little” on marketing and relying mostly on word-of-mouth. For example, the company is following the lead of its U.S. counterparts and turning to TikTok to spread the word about its offering.
“Step has around 200,000 followers on TikTok, and we have a little under half of that,” the company says. “We’re well-positioned in terms of branding.”
For lead investor Homebrew, the opportunity to educate and provide financial services to Gen Z in Latin America is even more exciting than the opportunity in the US., notes partner Satya Patel.
Over one third of LatAm Gen Z’ers have a “side hustle,” generating their own income independent from their parents, he said.
“While millennials grew up during an economic boom, Gen Z grew up during recessions – 3 in Brazil over the last decade – and wants to become financially independent as soon as possible. They’re becoming economically educated and active much earlier than previous generations,” Patel added.
He also believes the desire to transact online, for gaming and entertainment in particular, creates a groundswell of GenZ demand in Brazil for credit card and digital payments products.
It is said that the best way to lose the next war is to keep fighting the last one. The citadels of the medieval ages were an effective defense until gunpowder and cannons changed siege warfare forever. Battlefield superiority based on raw troop numbers ceded to the power of artillery and the machine gun.
During World War I, tanks were the innovation that literally rolled over fortifications built using 19th-century technology. Throughout military history, innovators enjoyed the spoils of war while those who took too long to adapt were left crushed and defeated.
Cyberwarfare is no different, with conventional weapons yielding to technologies that are just as deadly to our economic and national security. Despite our military superiority and advances on the cyber front, America is still fighting a digital enemy using analog ways of thinking.
Despite our military superiority and advances on the cyber front, America is still fighting a digital enemy using analog ways of thinking.
This must change, and it begins with the government making some difficult choices about how to wield its offensive powers against an enemy hidden in the shadows, how to partner with the private sector and what it will take to protect the nation against hostile actors that threaten our very way of life.
In the aftermath of the ransomware attack against Colonial Pipeline, the Russia-linked hacking group known as DarkSide reportedly shuttered and the Federal Bureau of Investigation recovered part of the $4.4 million ransom that was paid. These are positive developments and an indicator that our government is taking these types of attacks seriously. But it does not change the fact that cyberterrorists, acting with impunity in a hostile foreign country using a technique that has been known for years, managed to shut down the country’s largest oil pipeline and walk away with millions of dollars in ransom payments. They will likely never face justice, Russia will not face any real consequences and these attacks will no doubt continue.
The reality is that while companies can get smarter about cyber defenses and users can get more vigilant in their cyber hygiene practices, only the government has the power to bring this behavior to a halt.
Countries that permit cybercriminals to operate within their borders should be made to hand them over or be subject to crippling economic sanctions. Those found providing sanctuary or other assistance to such individuals or groups should face material support charges like anyone who assists a designated terrorist organization.
Regulators should insist that cryptocurrency exchanges and wallets help track down illicit transactions and parties or be cut off from the U.S. financial system. Law enforcement, the military and the intelligence community should be aggressively working to make it so difficult, so unsafe and so unprofitable for cyberterrorists to operate that they would not dare attempt another attack against American industry or critical infrastructure.
Our biggest vulnerability and missed opportunity is the inability of public and private entities to form a unified front against cyberwar. It is essential from both a defensive and offensive perspective that the government and private sectors share cyber risk and incident information in real time. This is not currently happening.
Companies are too scared that in revealing vulnerabilities they will be sued, investigated and further victimized by the very government that is supposed to help them defend against attack. The federal government still has no answer for the problems of overclassification of information, overlapping bureaucracies and cultural barriers that provide no incentive to proactively engage with private industry to share information and technologies.
The answer is not to strong-arm companies into coming to the table and expect one-way information flow. Private actors should be able to come forward voluntarily and share information without having to fear plaintiff litigation and regulatory action. Self-disclosed cyber data made in real time should be kept confidential and used to defend and fight back, not to further punish the victim. That is no basis for a mutual partnership.
And if federal agencies, the military or the intelligence community have intelligence about future attacks and how to prevent them, they should not sit on it until long after it will do any good. There are ways to share information with private industry that are safe, timely and mutually beneficial.
Cooperation should also go beyond the exchange of cyber event information. The private sector and academia account for a massive amount of advancement in the cyber space, with total research and development spending split roughly 90%-10% between the private and public sector over the past two decades.
Our private sector — with technology companies employing the best and brightest spanning from Silicon Valley to Austin, Texas, to the technology corridor of Northern Virginia — has a tremendous amount to offer to the government yet remains a largely untapped resource. The same innovations driving private-sector profit should be used to strengthen national security.
China has already figured this out, and if we cannot find a way to leverage private-sector innovation and young talent in the United States, we will fall behind. If there has ever been a call to action where the Biden administration, Democrats and Republicans in Congress can set politics aside and embrace bipartisan solutions, this is it.
Thankfully, there is a model public-private dynamic that in many ways is working. Weapons systems today are almost exclusively manufactured by the Defense Industrial Base, and when deployed to the battlefield there is constant two-way communication with warfighters about vulnerabilities, threats and opportunities to improve effectiveness. This relationship was not forged overnight and is far from perfect. But after decades of efforts, secure collaboration platforms were developed, security clearance standards were established and trust was formed.
We must do the same between cyber authorities in the federal government and actors throughout the private sector. Financial institutions, energy companies, retailers, manufacturers and pharmaceuticals must be able to engage the government to share real-time cyber data in both directions. If the federal government learns of a threat group or technique, it should not only take the offensive to shut it down but also push that information securely and quickly to the private sector.
It is not practical for the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security or the military to assume the burden of defending private networks against cyberattacks, but the government can and should be a shoulder-to-shoulder partner in the effort. We must adopt a relationship that recognizes this is both a joint battle and burden, and we do not have years to get it right.
When you look at the history of war, the advantage has always gone to those who innovate first. With respect to cyberwarfare, the solution does not lie solely in advanced technologies like artificial intelligence, quantum computing or blockchain. The most powerful development in today’s war against cyberterrorism might be as simple as what we all learned in preschool: the value of sharing and cooperation.
The government, the technology industry and the broader private sector must come together not only to maintain our competitive edge and embrace advances like cloud computing, autonomous vehicles and 5G, but to ensure that we defend and preserve our way of life. We have been successful in building public and private partnerships in the past and can evolve from an analog relationship to a digital one. But the government must take the reins and lead the way.
Entrepreneur Kuljeev Singh has had a three-course meal in the restaurant business. He was an angel investor in ChefHero, a part-time owner in an Australian-style meat pie shop, and now, is the founder of ResQ, a startup that helps restaurants repair and service their equipment through contractor work.
Sitting at multiple seats at the table showed Singh the “unfortunate reality of what it takes to run a restaurant. Weeks into buying that meat pie shop, Singh watched tens of thousands of dollars burn due to failing equipment and contractor issues.
“I realized [that] I have so much support at the front of the house to drive revenue to the door, but I have no technology to support the back of the house,” he said. Singh soon realized that his pain point was shared by many other restaurant owners, which seeded the idea for ResQ, a startup all about optimizing the back of the house, or non-customer facing, operation for restaurants.
ResQ announced today that it has raised $7.5 million in seed funding led by Homebrew, Golden Ventures, and Inovia Capital. Participating angel investors include Nilam Ganenthiran, president at Instacart; Gokul Rajaram, Doordash executive and board member of Pinterest and Coinbase, as well as customers, including Soul Foods, a global franchisee of Yum! Brands. ResQ has now raised $9 million in known venture capital to date.
The capital will primarily help ResQ double or triple its 60-person team across engineering, sales, and operation roles. The company will also earmark money toward launching in new markets, building atop its current presence in San Francisco, LA, Dallas, Chicago, and Phoenix.
ResQ’s business is split into two parts: a software platform and contractor marketplace.
The platform allows restaurants to request, manage, and pay for a service that they need done, from plumbing issues to electrical mishaps. ResQ claims it can save restaurants between 10-30% in annual repairs by offering competitive rates, and faster communication and hiring loops. It charges a monthly SaaS fee per rooftop to a restaurant group.
ResQ product mock-up.
The software layer sits on top of ResQ’s contractor marketplace, which is essentially a supply of geographic-specific workers with a variety of specialties that can come to do repairs or management. In exchange for providing contractors with work, ResQ takes a portion of revenue they make from each service. Singh sees the marketplace business of ResQ as a differentiator from incumbents or startup competitors such as ServiceChannel.
“You don’t just need a fancy-looking piece of software,” Singh said. “You need a product that can manage vendors, that can make sure they show up on time, that can make sure that they’re not overcharging, so that’s why we’re a SaaS enabled marketplace in the background.” By owning the supply side of the repair market, ResQ can have more precision when meeting demand and understanding its end customer.
Of course, a challenge with any marketplace is balancing and sourcing a high-quality supply. ResQ has over 700 contractors on its platform right now, but it needs to continue building them up in order to meet needs and get restaurant services on time. Singh said that a majority of its contractor supply comes from its restaurant customers bringing on preferred partners to their platform. ResQ then backfills, he said, any gaps in supply or if there are any specialties that are missing. While that process may be convenient for now, the startup could eventually scale – and sweeten the deal – by generating its own supply of contractors.
Hunter Walk, partner at Homebrew, thinks that ResQ could eventually use its positioning as a marketplace to bring on edtech and fintech services to contractors. For example, it has plans to eventually turn into a skills provider to train and place local talent. ResQ also wants to turn into a “business in a box” for these contractors, helping them grow their business through payment and billing support.
“For me that’s the difference between ‘you’re just making things more efficient’ versus ‘you’re also giving some percentage of your worker base the chance to think in new ways about the services they provide,” Walk said. “If you’re just thinking about it as an as a optimization algorithm, then you’re never really going to get into the ‘what can I do to help make these people’s lives better’ and those are where some of the upside of the economics live as well.” He noted that Singh’s experience, and ethos as a founder, will lead to ResQ solving problems more holistically and humanly.
ResQ founder Kuljeev Singh
Even with successful operations, margins can be razor-thin in the restaurant industry. This reality puts any startup in the restaurant tech industry at risk: when costs need to be cut, SaaS tools could be the first to go. Toast, for example, initially cut 50% of its staff due to the economic impact of the pandemic.
For ResQ, the pandemic created new urgency around rebuilding tech-forward restaurants, Singh said.
“We started building a new paradigm to our product and transitioned from a transactional marketplace mobile only focused on smaller restaurants, to a fully SaaS product focused on multi-unit operators powered by a local marketplace,” Singh said. Surely enough, the company’s revenue grew 750% over the past year.
To date, ResQ has worked with over 3,000 restaurant groups including KFC, Taco Bell, and Tim Hortons. With millions in the bank, let’s hope that number grows and it continues to find ways to grow its back of the house footprint.
Apple didn’t announce that rumored combined Apple TV device that would combine the set-top box with a HomePod speaker during its WWDC keynote, but it did announce a few features that will improve the Apple TV experience — including one that involves a HomePod Mini. Starting this fall, Apple said you’ll be able to select the HomePod Mini as the speaker for your Apple TV 4K. It also introduced a handful of software updates for Apple TV users, including a new way to see shows everyone in the family will like, and support for co-watching shows through FaceTime.
The co-watching feature is actually a part of a larger FaceTime update, which will let users stream music, TV, and screen share through their FaceTime calls. The Apple TV app is one of those that’s supported through this new system, called SharePlay. It will now include a new “Shared with You” row that highlights the shows and movies your friends are sharing, as well.
Another feature called “For All of You” will display a collection of shows and movies based on everyone’s interests within Apple TV’s interface. This is ideal you’re planning to watch something as a family — like for movie night, for example. And you can fine tune the suggestions based on who’s watching.
A new Apple TV widget is also being made available, which now includes iPad support.
And the new support for HomePod Mini will help deliver “rich, balanced sound” and “crystal clear dialog,” when you’re watching Apple TV with the Mii set up as your speakers, Apple said.