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Every TC Sessions: Enterprise 2019 ticket includes a free pass to Disrupt SF

By Emma Comeau

Shout out to all the savvy enterprise software startuppers. Here’s a quick, two-part money-saving reminder. Part one: TC Sessions: Enterprise 2019 is right around the corner on September 5, and you have only two days left to buy an early-bird ticket and save yourself $100. Part two: for every Session ticket you buy, you get one free Expo-only pass to TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2019.

Save money and increase your ROI by completing one simple task: buy your early-bird ticket today.

About 1,000 members of enterprise software’s powerhouse community will join us for a full day dedicated to exploring the current and future state of enterprise software. It’s certainly tech’s 800-pound gorilla — a $500 billion industry. Some of the biggest names and brightest minds will be on hand to discuss critical issues all players face — from early-stage startups to multinational conglomerates.

The day’s agenda features panel discussions, main-stage talks, break-out sessions and speaker Q&As on hot topics including intelligent marketing automation, the cloud, data security, AI and quantum computing, just to name a few. You’ll hear from people like SAP CEO Bill McDermott; Aaron Levie, Box co-founder; Jim Clarke, director of Quantum Hardware at Intel and many, many more.

Customer experience is always a hot topic, so be sure to catch this main-stage panel discussion with Amit Ahuja (Adobe), Julie Larson-Green (Qualtrics) and Peter Reinhardt (Segment):

The Trials and Tribulations of Experience Management: As companies gather more data about their customers and employees, it should theoretically improve their experience, but myriad challenges face companies as they try to pull together information from a variety of vendors across disparate systems, both in the cloud and on prem. How do you pull together a coherent picture of your customers, while respecting their privacy and overcoming the technical challenges?

TC Sessions: Enterprise 2019 takes place in San Francisco on September 5. Take advantage of this two-part money-saving opportunity. Buy your early-bird ticket by August 16 at 11:59 p.m. (PT) to save $100. And score a free Expo-only pass to TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2019 for every ticket you buy. We can’t wait to see you in September!

Interested in sponsoring TC Sessions: Enterprise? Fill out this form and a member of our sales team will contact you.

Adobe’s Amit Ahuja will be talking customer experience at TechCrunch Sessions: Enterprise

By Ron Miller

As companies collect increasingly large amounts of data about customers, the end game is about improving the customer experience. It’s a term we’re hearing a lot of these days, and we are going to be discussing that very topic with Amit Ahuja, Adobe’s vice president of ecosystem development, next month at TechCrunch Sessions: Enterprise in San Francisco. Grab your early-bird tickets right now – $100 savings ends today!

Customer experience covers a broad array of enterprise software and includes data collection, analytics and software. Adobe deals with all of this including the Adobe Experience Platform for data collection, Adobe Analytics for visualization and understanding and Adobe Experience Cloud for building applications.

The idea is to begin to build an understanding of your customers through the various interactions you have with them, and then build applications to give them a positive experience. There is lots of talk about “delighting” customers, but it’s really about using the digital realm to help them achieve what they want as efficiently as possible, whatever that means to your business.

Ahuja will be joining TechCrunch’s editors along with Qualtrics chief experience officer Julie Larson-Green and Segment CEO Peter Reinhardt to discuss the finer points of what it means to build a customer experience, and how software can help drive that.

Ahuja has been with Adobe since 2005 when he joined as part of the $3.4 billion Macromedia acquisition. His primary role today involves building and managing strategic partnerships and initiatives. Prior to this, he was the Head of Emerging businesses and the GM of Adobe’s Data Management Platform business, which focuses on advertisers. He also spent 7 years in Adobe’s Corporate Development Group where he helped complete the acquisitions of Omniture, Scene7, Efficient Frontier, Demdex and Auditude.

Amit will be joining us on Sept 5 in San Francisco along with some of the biggest influencers in enterprise including Bill McDermott from SAP, Scott Farquhar from Atlassian, Aparna Sinha from Google, Wendy Nather from Duo Security, Aaron Levie from Box and Andrew Ng from Landing AI.

Early-bird savings end today, August 9. Book your tickets today and you’ll save $100 before prices go up.

Bringing a group? Book our 4+ group tickets and you’ll save 20% on the early-bird rate. Bring the whole squad here.

Keith Rabois, BoxGroup back New York-based Brex competitor

By Kate Clark

Considering its unparalleled success, it was only a matter of time before a Brex copycat emerged.

Ramp Financial, a new startup led by Capital One-acquired Paribus founders Eric Glyman and Karim Atiyeh (pictured), has raised $7 million, TechCrunch has learned. The capital came from Keith Rabois of Founders Fund, BoxGroup’s Adam Rothenberg and Coatue Management, a hedge fund that recently launched a $700 million early-stage investment vehicle.

Ramp Financial, Founders Fund, BoxGroup and Coatue Management declined to comment.

Ramp Financial is in the very early stages of product development, though we’re told, “It’s the same as Brex .” Other details available on the new startup, which raised on a pre-money valuation of $25 million, according to sources, are slim. Even its name may be subject to change.

Brex, founded in 2017 by a pair of now 23-year-olds, created a corporate charge card tailored for startups. The Y Combinator graduate doesn’t require cardholders to submit Social Security numbers or credit scores, granting entrepreneurs a new avenue to credit and method of protecting their credit scores. Brex’s software also expedites the time-consuming expense management, and accounting and budgeting processes for employees. Quickly, it has become essential to the company-building process in Silicon Valley.

It helps that VCs are wild for Brex. The startup has raised more than $300 million in VC funding in only two years. Most recently, it closed a $100 million round led by Kleiner Perkins at a valuation of $2.6 billion.

Given Brex’s rapid growth and the uptick in venture capital investment in challenger banks, or new financial services competing with incumbent financiers, we’re guessing Ramp Financial didn’t have a tough time pitching VCs. Plus, its founders Glyman and Atiyeh have a clear track record of success.

The duo previously built Paribus, a startup acquired by Capital One roughly one year after launching onstage at TechCrunch Disrupt New York 2015. Paribus, which raised just over $2 million from Slow Ventures, General Catalyst, Greylock and others before the M&A transaction, helps online shoppers get money back when prices drop on items they’ve purchased. Terms of Capital One’s acquisition were not disclosed.

Paribus is also a graduate of Y Combinator, completing the startup accelerator in the summer of 2015.

Aside from both completing Y Combinator, the founders of Brex and Ramp Financial share connections to the PayPal mafia. Rabois, a general partner at Founders Fund, was an executive at the business in the early 2000s. PayPal co-founders Peter Thiel and Max Levchin are Brex investors.

Ment.io wants to help your team make decisions

By Frederic Lardinois

Getting even the most well-organized team to agree on anything can be hard. Tel Aviv’s Ment.io, formerly known as Epistema, wants to make this process easier by applying smart design and a dose of machine learning to streamline the decision-making process.

Like with so many Israeli startups, Ment.io’s co-founders Joab Rosenberg and Tzvika Katzenelson got their start in Israel’s intelligence service. Indeed, Rosenberg spent 25 years in the intelligence service, where his final role was that of the deputy head analyst. “Our story starts from there, because we had the responsibility of gathering the knowledge of a thousand analysts, surrounded by tens of thousands of collection unit soldiers,” Katzenelson, who is Ment.io’s CRO, told me. He noted that the army had turned decision making into a form of art. But when the founders started looking at the tech industry, they found a very different approach to decision making — and one that they thought needed to change.

If there’s one thing the software industry has, it’s data and analytics. These days, the obvious thing to do with all of that information is to build machine learning models, but Katzenelson (rightly) argues that these models are essentially black boxes. “Data does not speak for itself. Correlations that you may find in the data are certainly not causations,” he said. “Every time you send analysts into the data, they will come up with some patterns that may mislead you.”

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So Ment.io is trying to take a very different approach. It uses data and machine learning, but it starts with questions and people. The service actually measures the level of expertise and credibility every team member has around a given topic. “One of the crazy things we’re doing is that for every person, we’re creating their cognitive matrix. We’re able to tell you within the context of your organization how believable you are, how balanced you are, how clearly you are being perceived by your counterparts, because we are gathering all of your clarification requests and every time a person challenges you with something.”Ment1

At its core, Ment.io is basically an internal Q&A service. Anybody can pose questions and anybody can answer them with any data source or supporting argument they may have.

“We’re doing structuring,” Katzenelson explained. “And that’s basically our philosophy: knowledge is just arguments and counterarguments. And the more structure you can put in place, the more logic you can apply.”

In a sense, the company is doing this because natural language processing (NLP) technology isn’t yet able to understand the nuances of a discussion.Ment6If you’re anything like me, though, the last thing you want is to have to use yet another SaaS product at work. The Ment.io team is quite aware of that and has built a deep integration with Slack already and is about to launch support for Microsoft Teams in the next few days, which doesn’t come as a surprise, given that the team has participated in the Microsoft ScaleUp accelerator program.

The overall idea here, Katzenelson explained, is to provide a kind of intelligence layer on top of tools like Slack and Teams that can capture a lot of the institutional knowledge that is now often shared in relatively ephemeral chats.

Ment.io is the first Israeli company to raise funding from Peter Thiel’s late-stage fund, as well as from the Slack Fund, which surely creates some interesting friction, given the company’s involvement with both Slack and Microsoft, but Katzenelson argues that this is not actually a problem.

Microsoft is also a current Ment.io customer, together with the likes of Intel, Citibank and Fiverr.

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Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket will go reusable, with the company aiming for mid-air helicopter recovery

By Darrell Etherington

Private rocket launch startup and SpaceX competitor Rocket Lab made a big announcement today: It’ll be looking to re-use the first stage of its Electron rockets, returning them to Earth with a controlled landing after they make their initial trip to orbit with the payload on board. The landing sequence will be different from SpaceX’s however: They’ll attempt to catch the returned first stage mid-air using a helicopter.

That’s in part because, as Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck told a crowd when announcing the news today, the company is “not doing a propulsive re-entry” and “we’re not doing a propulsive landing,” and instead will leach off its immense speed upon return to Earth through a turnaround burn in space before releasing a parachute to slow it down enough for a helicopter to catch it.

There are a number of steps required to get to that point, but already, Rocket Lab has been looking to measure all the data it needs to ensure this is possible through its last few launches. It’s upgrading the instrumentation for its eighth flight to gather yet more data, and then on flight 10 it’ll have the rocket splash down into the ocean to recover that rocket for even more learning. Then, during a flight to be determined later (Beck is unwilling to put a number on it at this stage) they’ll try to actually bring one down in good enough shape to reuse it.

As for why, there’s a clear advantage to being able to re-fly rockets, and it’s a simple one to understand when you realize that there’s a huge amount of demand for commercial launches.

“The fundamental reason we’re doing this is launch frequency,” Beck said. “Even if I can get the stage done once, I can effectively double production ratio.”

Beck also added that the biggest difficulty will be braking the rocket’s speed as it returns to Earth — a feat next to which he said the actual mid-air capture of the Electron via helicopter is actually pretty easy, from his POV as an amateur helicopter pilot in training.

Rocket Lab has an HQ in Huntington Beach, Calif. and its own private launch site in New Zealand; it was founded in 2006 by Beck. The company has been test launching its orbital Electron rocket since 2017, and serving customers commercially since 2018. It also intends to launch from Virginia in the U.S. starting in 2019.

The company revealed its Photon satellite platform earlier this year, which would allow small satellite operators to focus on their specific service and use the off-the-shelf Photon design to skip the step of actually designing and building the satellite itself.

Segment CEO Peter Reinhardt is coming to TechCrunch Sessions: Enterprise to discuss customer experience management

By Ron Miller

There are few topics as hot right now in the enterprise as customer experience management, that ability to collect detailed data about your customers, then deliver customized experiences based on what you have learned about them. To help understand the challenges companies face building this kind of experience, we are bringing Segment CEO Peter Reinhardt to TechCrunch Sessions: Enterprise on September 5 in San Francisco (p.s. early-bird sales end this Friday, August 9).

At the root of customer experience management is data — tons and tons of data. It may come from the customer journey through a website or app, basic information you know about the customer or the customer’s transaction history. It’s hundreds of signals and collecting that data in order to build the experience where Reinhardt’s company comes in.

Segment wants to provide the infrastructure to collect and understand all of that data. Once you have that in place, you can build data models and then develop applications that make use of the data to drive a better experience.

Reinhardt, and a panel that includes Qualtrics’ Julie Larson-Green and Adobe’s Amit Ahuja, will discuss with TechCrunch editors the difficulties companies face collecting all of that data to build a picture of the customer, then using it to deliver more meaningful experiences for them. See the full agenda here.

Segment was born in the proverbial dorm room at MIT when Reinhardt and his co-founders were students there. They have raised more than $280 million since inception. Customers include Atlassian, Bonobos, Instacart, Levis and Intuit .

Early-bird tickets to see Peter and our lineup of enterprise influencers at TC Sessions: Enterprise are on sale for just $249 when you book here; but hurry, prices go up by $100 after this Friday!

Are you an early-stage startup in the enterprise-tech space? Book a demo table for $2,000 and get in front of TechCrunch editors and future customers/investors. Each demo table comes with four tickets to enjoy the show.

Rocket Lab successfully launches seventh Electron rocket for ‘Make It Rain’ mission

By Darrell Etherington

Private rocket launch startup Rocket Lab has succeeded in launching its ‘Make It Rain’ mission, which took off yesterday from the company’s private Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand. On board Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket (its seventh to launch so far) were multiple satellites flow for various clients in a rideshare arrangement brokered by Rocket Lab client Spaceflight.

Payloads for the launch included a satellite for Spaceflight subsidiary BlackSky, which will join its existing orbital imaging constellation. There was also a CubeSat operated by the Melbourne Space Program, and two Prometheus satellites launched for the U.S. Special Operations Command.

Rocket Lab had to delay launch a couple of times earlier in the week owing to suboptimal launch conditions, but yesterday’s mission went off without a hitch at 12:30 AM EDT/4:30 PM NZST. After successfully lifting off and achieving orbit, Rocket Lab’s Electron also delayed all of its payloads to their target orbits as planned.

Later this year, Rocket Lab hopes to have a second privately owned launch complex fully constructed and operational, located in Virginia on Wallops Island. The company, founded by engineer Peter Beck, intends to be able to serve both U.S. government and commercial missions as frequently as monthly from this second launch site.

Peter Thiel-backed auto commerce startup Drive Motors has a new name and $5M in capital

By Kirsten Korosec

Not that long ago, visiting the website of an auto dealership was a little like going to a store without a cash register. The retailer’s website might list all the cars, trucks and SUVs in its inventory, but there would be no way to actually buy one online.

A digital commerce startup called Drive Motors jumped in to fill that void. Unlike Carvana and Shift and other online used car startups that have emerged on the scene, this company is providing the “buy button” for  dealerships and automakers by creating a native transaction layer within their existing webpages and stores.

Now, the three-year-old company is flush with a fresh injection of capital, high-profile investors and a new name that founder Aaron Krane says better reflects its broader vision and business plan. 

The startup, now called Modal, has raised $5 million in capital from new investors, including Peter Thiel, Japanese dealer conglomerate IDOM, and Ally Ventures, the investing arm of national auto lender Ally Financial.

The company started small, first landing local dealerships in California as customers of its real-time financing and digital commerce platform. Today, its customers include auto brands and some of the largest dealer groups in the country. In 2018, the startup saw its online monthly volume per store double to more than $1.8 million per month, and more than $10 million per month for top-performing individual stores.

That transaction layer is still the core feature of the company’s business, Krane told TechCrunch. Modal has added several new features since its last funding round, including real-time financing, digital documents and in-store point of sale.

Krane initially landed on the name Drive Motors because it sounded relevant to the auto dealerships he wanted to win over and not the Silicon Valley tech world where he had come from. (Krane founded Drive Motors after selling his fantasy sports startup Hitpost to Yahoo, and becoming an entrepreneur-in-residence at Khosla Ventures.)

The new name and capital just better reflects its broader strategy, he added. Krane landed on the name Modal because it embodies the company’s primary mission of delivering transactions within someone else’s experience.

“We want to be invisible, we want to be a fully self-contained embedded feature within a car brand’s vehicle page, or a car retailer’s vehicle page,” Krane said. “We don’t want to change the context on the buyer at all; that’s a philosophy that starts at the top and penetrates all the way down even the smallest decisions in our company.”

That notion of transparency and self-contained interactions led Krane to the new name because “modal,” in software terminology, means a self-contained user interface that is overlaid on top of an existing application page and keeps that existing application page in full view the whole time.

The new name also hints towards where the company is headed.

“The platform starts with just creating accessibility to a digital transaction, but it becomes the ultimate channel to introduce an entire ownership operating system, which can span everything from the more contemporary mundane automotive needs like servicing, all the way through introducing the most far out mobility or connected vehicle features,” Krane said.

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