Across the country, university campuses are in limbo.
The California State University system has committed to online classes in Fall 2020. Northeastern University is reopening as normal. UT Austin is taking a hybrid approach: in-person classes until Thanksgiving break, then online classes during flu season.
This presents a special set of circumstances for university entrepreneurs. The traditional resources and networks are nonoperational. But time and focus, historically the most scarce resources for ambitious students, is now at an all-time high.
It’s often noted that both Facebook and Microsoft were started during Harvard’s Reading Period, a week where classes are cancelled to let students study. This spring has been like one long Reading Period, sometimes with even less responsibility.
Stanford undergraduate Markie Wagner is taking advantage of the mandatory Pass/Fail policy that the school adopted. Since grades are no longer a consideration, Markie and her friends have free rein to put classes on the back burner to focus on talking to entrepreneurs and experimenting with business ideas.
She told us, “I’m going full hackathon mode this quarter. I’ve been reaching out to lots of founders and VCs to learn from them.” Planning on spending her upcoming senior year building a company, she’s getting a head start on exploration and network building.
If the pandemic forces school closings for the long-run, however, students will have to deal with more than a semester with an easier course load.
There’s near-universal resentment toward the idea of paying full tuition for online classes. Many of the students in Contrary’s network are planning gap years. Or, like Austin Moninger, even skipping senior year altogether. A senior at Rice studying computer science, he originally intended to graduate in spring of 2021. But given the virtual nature moving forward, he decided to accelerate graduation and is currently pursuing full-time software engineering roles. He notes, “We’ve all learned that we’re really paying for the experience and the network at the end of the day, so without it, I might as well take my time and money elsewhere.”
This puts universities in a precarious position: They must choose between letting students take breaks and defer admissions, which risks class size or financial issues (as an example, Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business decided against this, refusing to allow students to defer), or pushing forward at full price and risking brand damage.
That said, some students are affected by shutdowns or online classes more than the schools themselves are. Research-focused entrepreneurs working in biotech, hardware or other sectors typically require expensive lab equipment to make progress. Pure software plays like Facebook and Snap usually come to mind first when talking about university entrepreneurship, but such lean operations are certainly not the only ones being built.
It’s also unclear how prolonged closures or online classes will impact education itself and how that will impact founders in the long run. Most founders have completed the majority of their degrees by the time they commit to their companies and attempt to raise money. We have not seen any meaningful skill gap in 2020, nor do we expect to throughout the rest of the year.
Unless building a deep-tech startup, company-building can continue as long as an entrepreneur has enough of a technical or financial foundation to self-educate and learn by doing. Malwarebytes CEO Marcin Kleczynski is an excellent example of this — he famously started his cybersecurity company as a freshman at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign and did the bare minimum required to get C grades in school.
Although seed funding for university entrepreneurs has not slowed down since school closings, company-building has certainly not gotten any easier.
The main challenge for 22-year-old talent is not having energy or being scrappy — it’s usually growing the network needed to recruit the right co-founder and hire an early team. In an on-campus environment, there’s enough serendipity to make this natural. But if school closings persist and virtual offerings don’t fill the vacuum, we’ll likely see a lag in new company formation.
It’s rare that founders embark on the startup journey without having known each other for at least a year. Right now, not enough time has passed to make this a problem. But at campuses where students can’t get to know peers at a deep level, it’s impossible to build bonds over a long time period.
To combat this, at Contrary, for example, we hosted a virtual community of founders this past spring with a simple premise: Put 100 people in a room (or Slack channel, more literally), make sure they spend time together and give them the tools to build.
Over the course of six weeks, 150+ collaborations occurred as people experimented on different ideas and projects. Seventy-five percent of the founders said they’d been more productive since the remote transition occurred, and at the end of the program, nearly 70% of the group planned to continue working on their companies or begin a fresh project.
Perhaps most notable is the diversity of connections made — most interactions between participants were between students enrolled in different schools. Since even the best institutions in the world each matriculate only a single digit percentage of talent nationwide, virtualizing the program made the talent pool far larger.
Successful entrepreneurs like Steve Huffman from Reddit and Paul English from Kayak (and now Lola) gave off-the-record talks, but it turned out that most of the value came from access to a highly curated group of peers that each member wouldn’t otherwise meet. The program forced the serendipity that school closures lost, then combined that with the other necessary ingredient: Tangible opportunities to build rather than talk.
You can treat a university like a bundle of tools: The education, network, credential and social learnings all compose into one holistic experience.
Over the past decade, much of that value-stack has been eaten by other organizations.
To prove that you’re a talented individual, you can try applying for the Thiel Fellowship, or lean on name-brand past internships. Or to learn about venture, you can read Scott Kupor’s book or Paul Graham’s blog.
Until very recently, the university’s main “network effect” was the fact that you had to be there to meet other great individuals. Since COVID-19 has shifted most interactions to the cloud, however, that’s no longer the default path.
Hopefully flattening the curve will soon become extinguishing the curve. But until then, university-based founders will have to focus on the alternative infrastructure that powers funding, networking, credentialing and learning.
Had Contrary, Slack, Y Combinator or free AWS credits not existed prior, the closure of schools may have dealt a death knell to founders. But given the abundance of options now available to plug into the Valley and build, surprisingly little has changed.
The Cloud Native Computing Foundation, the Linux Foundation-based home of open-source projects like Kubernetes, OpenTracing and Envoy, today announced that Dan Kohn, the long-time executive director of the organization, is stepping down, with Priyanka Sharma, the director of Cloud Native Alliances at GitLab, stepping into the general manager role. Kohn will continue to be part of the Linux Foundation, where he will launch a new initiative “to help public health authorities use open source software to fight COVID-19 and other epidemics.”
Sharma, who once presented in the TechCrunch Disrupt Battlefield competition a startup she co-founded, became part of the overall cloud-native community during her time as head of marketing and strategic partnerships at Lightstep, a role she took in 2016. Her involvement with the OpenTracing project snowballed into a deeper relationship with the CNCF, she told me. “Once I joined GitLab, I was fortunate enough to be elected to the board of the CNCF — and until the 31st, I am in that role,” she told me. “That was really helpful, but that gave me the context about how does such a successful foundation and community run — what is the governance piece here — which, when I was on the community side, I wasn’t that involved in.”
Kohn had been at the helm of the CNCF since 2016 and guided the project from its early days to becoming one of the most successful open-source foundations of all time. Its bi-annual conferences draw thousands of developers from all over the world. While its marquee project is obviously Kubernetes, Kohn and his team at the foundation put a lot of emphasis on the overall ecosystem. The organization’s mission, after all, is “to make cloud native computing ubiquitous.” Today, the CNCF is home to 10 graduated projects, like Kubernetes, Prometheus, Envoy, Jaeger and Vitess, as well as 16 so-called “incubating projects,” like OpenTracing, Linkerd, Rook and etcd.
“Priyanka’s contributions to CNCF as a speaker, governing board member, and community leader over the last several years has been invaluable,” said Kohn in a statement. “I think she is a great choice to lead the organization to its next stage.”
Sharma says she’ll start her tenure by listening to the community. “Cloud native has become the de facto standard,” she said. “We’re doing great with regard to technology adoption, growth — but as things evolve — with the number of people already in the foundation that is on track to be 600 members — I think as a community, and there is so much growth opportunity there, we can go deeper into developer engagement, have more conversations around education and understanding of all the projects. Now we have 10 graduated projects — not just Kubernetes — so there’s lots of adoption to happen there. So I’m just very excited for the second wave that we will have.”
Now that everybody knows that DevOps and containers are, she wants to bring more people into the fold — and also look at new technologies like serverless and service meshes. “We’ve been off to a blockbuster start and now I think we have to mature a little and go deeper,” she said.
It’s worth noting that current CNCF CTO Chris Aniszczyk will continue in his role at the foundation. “The cloud native community has grown leaps and bounds in the last few years as companies look for more flexible and innovative solutions to meet their continuously evolving infrastructure and application needs,” he said. “As CNCF now reaches nearly 50 projects and 90,000 contributors globally, I’m thrilled to have an opportunity to work with Priyanka to cultivate and grow our cloud native community in its next evolution.”
HenQ, an Amsterdam-based VC that invests in European B2B software startups typically at seed and Series A, recently disclosed the first close of its fourth fund at €70 million. The final close is expected to top out at between €75-€85 million later this year, and the firm has already begun backing companies out of the new fund.
However, what sets henQ apart from many VC firms isn’t just its pure focus on B2B software but that its team is fully remote. Primarily investing in the Nordics and Benelux, henQ doesn’t have any official offices, with the team working from different temporary locations. Even before the coronavirus pandemic, henQ closed deals remotely.
Successes from its previous funds include Mendix (acquired by Siemens) and SEOshop (acquired by Lightspeed).
I spoke to partners Jan Andriessen, Mick Mackaay and Jelmer de Jong to learn more about henQ, what it’s like to be a fully remote VC and how the firm envisions the post-pandemic era.
TechCrunch: Can you be more specific regarding the size of check you write and the types of companies, geographies, technologies and business models you are focusing on?
Jan Andriessen: Our main focus is seed rounds, in which we often are the lead investor. We also invest in Series A rounds, often as a co-investor. Initial check sizes vary from €500,000 to €3.5 million.
A typical seed investment has a product and perhaps a few pilot customers. The key here is not revenue (which is OK to be zero), but there is proof of the actual need for the product.
Most of our recent deals were in the Nordics and Benelux, the areas where we spent the majority of our time. But we have also invested in the Baltics, Czech Republic and the UK. For henQ 4, we expect this to be the same: the bulk of our investments will be in the Nordics and Benelux, with an occasional deal in broader Europe.
In terms of technology and business trends, one of the things we firmly believe in is the consumerization of enterprise software: successful startups are centered around their customers and focus on the job to be done. More generally, we have always been focused on startups with staying power: companies that have a right to exist over time, not just now, as they deliver a product that touches the core processes of their customers and operate at the heart of their customer’s business.
For example, looking at our portfolio, Zivver delivers secure communication solutions for hospitals and governments. Stravito works deep in the research departments of FMCGs, delivering a knowledge management platform. Mews runs the full operations of hotels with their property management system, and Orderchamp enables retailers to digitize their buying process.
We see the business model of a company as a means, not an end. Most of the startups we invest in charge a SaaS plus implementation fee, and have a more enterprise-sales driven business model. We are not afraid to invest in startups that have a more complex and longer sales cycle, and are not per se looking for SaaS ‘by-the-book.'
In a surprise move, Mirantis acquired Docker’s Enterprise platform business at the end of last year, and while Docker itself is refocusing on developers, Mirantis kept the Docker Enterprise name and product. Today, Mirantis is rolling out its first major update to Docker Enterprise with the release of version 3.1.
For the most part, these updates are in line with what’s been happening in the container ecosystem in recent months. There’s support for Kubernetes 1.17 and improved support for Kubernetes on Windows (something the Kubernetes community has worked on quite a bit in the last year or so). Also new is Nvidia GPU integration in Docker Enterprise through a pre-installed device plugin, as well as support for Istio Ingress for Kubernetes and a new command-line tool for deploying clusters with the Docker Engine.
In addition to the product updates, Mirantis is also launching three new support options for its customers that now give them the option to get 24×7 support for all support cases, for example, as well as enhanced SLAs for remote managed operations, designated customer success managers and proactive monitoring and alerting. With this, Mirantis is clearly building on its experience as a managed service provider.
What’s maybe more interesting, though, is how this acquisition is playing out at Mirantis itself. Mirantis, after all, went through its fair share of ups and downs in recent years, from high-flying OpenStack platform to layoffs and everything in between.
“Why we do this in the first place and why at some point I absolutely felt that I wanted to do this is because I felt that this would be a more compelling and interesting company to build, despite maybe some of the short-term challenges along the way, and that very much turned out to be true. It’s been fantastic,” Mirantis CEO and co-founder Adrian Ionel told me. “What we’ve seen since the acquisition, first of all, is that the customer base has been dramatically more loyal than people had thought, including ourselves.”
Ionel admitted that he thought some users would defect because this is obviously a major change, at least from the customer’s point of view. “Of course we have done everything possible to have something for them that’s really compelling and we put out the new roadmap right away in December after the acquisition — and people bought into it at very large scale,” he said. With that, Mirantis retained more than 90% of the customer base and the vast majority of all of Docker Enterprise’s largest users.
Ionel, who almost seemed a bit surprised by this, noted that this helped the company to turn in two “fantastic” quarters and was profitable in the last quarter, despite COVID-19.
“We wanted to go into this acquisition with a sober assessment of risks because we wanted to make it work, we wanted to make it successful because we were well aware that a lot of acquisitions fail,” he explained. “We didn’t want to go into it with a hyper-optimistic approach in any way — and we didn’t — and maybe that’s one of the reasons why we are positively surprised.”
He argues that the reason for the current success is that enterprises are doubling down on their container journeys and because they actually love the Docker Enterprise platform, like infrastructure independence, its developer focus, security features and ease of use. One thing many large customers asked for was better support for multi-cluster management at scale, which today’s update delivers.
“Where we stand today, we have one product development team. We have one product roadmap. We are shipping a very big new release of Docker Enterprise. […] The field has been completely unified and operates as one salesforce, with record results. So things have been extremely busy, but good and exciting.”
Like all business leaders, chief information security officers (CISOs) have shifted their roles quickly and dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic, but many have had to fight fires they never expected.
Most importantly, they’ve had to ensure corporate networks remain secure even with 100% of employees suddenly working from home. Controllers are moving millions between corporate accounts from their living rooms, HR managers are sharing employees’ personal information from their kitchen tables and tens of millions of workers are accessing company data using personal laptops and phones.
This unprecedented situation reveals once and for all that security is not only about preventing breaches, but also about ensuring fundamental business continuity.
While it might take time, everyone agrees the pandemic will end. But how will the cybersecurity sector look in a post-COVID-19 world? What type of software will CISOs want to buy in the near future, and two years down the road?
To find out, I asked six of the world’s leading CISOs to share their experiences during the pandemic and their plans for the future, providing insights on how cybersecurity companies should develop and market their solutions to emerge stronger:
The good news is, many CISOs believe that cybersecurity will weather the economic storm better than other enterprise software sectors. That’s because security has become even more top of mind during the pandemic; with the vast majority of corporate employees now working remotely, a secure network has never been more paramount, said Rinki Sethi, CISO at Rubrik. “Many security teams are now focused on ensuring they have controls in place for a completely remote workforce, so endpoint and network security, as well as identity and access management, are more important than ever,” said Sethi. “Additionally, business continuity and disaster recovery planning are critical right now — the ability to respond to a security incident and have a robust plan to recover from it is top priority for most security teams, and will continue to be for a long time.”
That’s not to say all security companies will necessarily thrive during this current economic crisis. Adrian Ludwig, CISO at Atlassian, notes that an overall decline in IT budgets will impact security spending. But the silver lining is that some companies will be acquired. “I expect we will see consolidation in the cybersecurity markets, and that most new investments by IT departments will be in basic infrastructure to facilitate work-from-home,” said Ludwig. “Less well-capitalized cybersecurity companies may want to begin thinking about potential exit opportunities sooner rather than later.”
Palantir, the data analytics company co-founded by Peter Thiel, is already an active tech player in the scrum for federal contracts, but it’s playing a new and increasingly prominent role in providing the government with software tools to address the COVID-19 crisis.
This month, the Department of Veterans Affairs awarded a new $5 million contract to Palantir through veteran-owned software reseller i3 Federal LLC, which lists Palantir as a partner. The contract, set to run through November, will provide the VA with Palantir’s Gotham software to “track and analyze COVID-19 outbreak areas and make timely decisions with insight into supply chain capacity, hospital inventory, social service utilization and lab diagnostics.”
Palantir’s Gotham tool, best known for its use by law enforcement agencies, is one of the company’s main products and collects disparate data streams onto one platform. Twitter user Jack Poulson first spotted the contract, which was later reported by FedScoop.
A smaller contract also listed this month awards Palantir $2 million to provide the National Institutes of Health within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) a”COVID-19 dataset aggregation proof of concept.”
Palantir moved early to provide its services to governments grappling with the threat of the coronavirus and by mid-March was already working with the CDC to model infection patterns and anticipate hospital equipment needs.
In April, HHS awarded two contracts worth nearly $25 million to the company for a software platform called HHS Protect Now, intended to inform public health decisions made by the White House’s Coronavirus Task Force. HHS didn’t solicit competition for those contracts, noting that the COVID-19 crisis created a situation of “unusual and compelling urgency.”
Apple and Google today made available the first public version of their exposure notification API, which was originally debuted as a joint-contact tracing software tool. The partners later renamed it the Exposure Notification system to more accurately reflect its functionality, which is designed to notify individuals of potential exposure to others who have confirmed cases of COVID-19, while preserving privacy around identifying info and location data.
The launch today means that public health agencies can now use the API in apps released to the general public. To date, Apple and Google have only released beta versions of the API to help developed with the development process.
To be clear, this launch means that developers working on behalf of public health agencies can now issue apps that make use of it – Apple and Google themselves are not creating an exposure notification or contact tracing app. The companies say that many U.S. states and 22 countries across five continents have already asked for, and been provided access to the API to support their development efforts, and they anticipate more being added going forward. So far, Apple and Google say they have conducted over 24 briefings and tech talks for public health officials, epidemiologists, and app developers working on their behalf.
The exposure notification API works using a decentralized identifier system that uses randomly generated temporary keys created on a user’s device (but not tied to their specific identify or info). Apple and Google’s API allows public health agencies to define what constitutes potential exposure in terms of exposed time and distance, and they can tweak transmission risk and other factors according to their own standards.
Further, Apple and Google will allow apps to make use of a combination of the API and voluntarily submitted user data that they provide through individual apps to enable public health authorities to contact exposure users directly to make them aware of what steps they should take.
During the course of the API’s development, Apple and Google have made various improvements to ensure that privacy is an utmost consideration, including encrypting all Bluetooth metadata (like signal strength and specific transmitting power) since that could potentially be used to determine what type of device was used, which offers a slim possibility of associating an individual with a specific device and using that as one vector for identification.
The companies have also explicitly barred use of the API in any apps that also seek geolocation information permission from users – which means some apps being developed by public health authorities for contact tracing that use geolocation data won’t be able to access the exposure notification API. That has prompted some to reconsider their existing approach.
Apple and Google provided the following joint statement about the API and how it will support contact tracing efforts undertaken by public health officials and agencies:
One of the most effective techniques that public health officials have used during outbreaks is called contact tracing. Through this approach, public health officials contact, test, treat and advise people who may have been exposed to an affected person. One new element of contact tracing is Exposure Notifications: using privacy-preserving digital technology to tell someone they may have been exposed to the virus. Exposure Notification has the specific goal of rapid notification, which is especially important to slowing the spread of the disease with a virus that can be spread asymptomatically.
To help, Apple and Google cooperated to build Exposure Notifications technology that will enable apps created by public health agencies to work more accurately, reliably and effectively across both Android phones and iPhones. Over the last several weeks, our two companies have worked together, reaching out to public health officials scientists, privacy groups and government leaders all over the world to get their input and guidance.
Starting today, our Exposure Notifications technology is available to public health agencies on both iOS and Android. What we’ve built is not an app — rather public health agencies will incorporate the API into their own apps that people install. Our technology is designed to make these apps work better. Each user gets to decide whether or not to opt-in to Exposure Notifications; the system does not collect or use location from the device; and if a person is diagnosed with COVID-19, it is up to them whether or not to report that in the public health app. User adoption is key to success and we believe that these strong privacy protections are also the best way to encourage use of these apps.
Today, this technology is in the hands of public health agencies across the world who will take the lead and we will continue to support their efforts.
The companies previously announced plans to make Exposure Notification a system-level feature in a later update to both their respective mobile operating systems, to be released sometime later this year. That ‘Phase two’ portion of the strategy might be under revision, however, as Google and Apple said they continue to be in conversation with public health authorities about what system-level features will be useful to them in development of their COVID-19 mitigation strategies.
During his Build keynote, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella today confirmed that the company has acquired Softomotive, a software robotic automation platform. Bloomberg first reported that this acquisition was in the works earlier this month, but the two companies didn’t comment on the report at the time.
Today, Nadella noted that Softomotive would become part of Microsoft’s Power Automate platform. “We’re bringing RPA – or robotic process automation to legacy apps and services with our acquisition of Softomotive,” Nadella said.
Softomotive currently has about 9,000 customers around the world. Softomotive’s WinAutomation platform will be freely available to Power Automate users with what Microsoft calls an RPA attended license in Power Automate.
In Power Automate, Microsoft will use Softomotive’s tools to enable a number of new capabilities, including Softomotives low-code desktop automation solution WinAutomation. Until now, Power Automate did not feature any desktop automation tools.
It’ll also build Softomotive’s connectors for applications from SAP, as well as legacy terminal screens and Java, into its desktop automation experience and enable parallel execution and multitasking for UI automation.
Softomotives other flagship application, ProcessRobot for server-based enterprise RPA development, will also find a new home in Power Automate. My guess, though, is that Microsoft mostly bought the company for its desktop automation skills.
“One of our most distinguishing characteristics, and an indelible part of our DNA, is an unswerving commitment to usability,” writes Softomotive CEO and co-founder Marios Stavropoulos. “We have always believed in the notion of citizen developers and, since less than two percent of the world population can write code, we believe the greatest potential for both process improvement and overall innovation comes from business end users. This is why we have invested so diligently in abstracting complexity away from end users and created one of the industry’s most intuitive user interfaces – so that non-technical business end users can not just do more, but also make deeper contributions by becoming professional problem solvers and innovators. We are extremely excited to pursue this vision as part of Microsoft.”
The two companies did not disclose the financial details of the transaction.
Microsoft’s Edge browser is getting a bunch of new features soon. Some of these are for casual users while others are aimed at business users, IT admins and developers, but they all demonstrate that after releasing the first stable version of the browser only recently, the team is now starting to build in new features that it surely hopes will set Edge apart from its competition.
One new feature for more casual users is an integration with Pinterest and Edge’s collections feature. There is an obvious overlap here, since both Pinterest and collections are about allowing people to save links to the research they’ve done online about virtually any topic. Now, Edge will feature a Pinterest-powered tool that will show suggestions from Pinterest at the bottom of a collection. Clicking on that, Microsoft says, will take users to a Pinterest board “of similar, trending Pins so users can quickly find and add ideas relevant to their collection.” Users will also be able to export collections to Pinterest. I’m sure this will prove useful to some, but I personally hope it’s something you can turn off, too.
In addition to the Pinterest integration, collections is also getting the ability to send items to Microsoft’s OneNote note-taking tool, which is in addition to its existing Word and Excel integrations.
These new features for collections are scheduled to launch in the Edge pre-release channels within the next few days.
Also new in Edge is Sidebar Search. This, as the name implies, will allow you to do your searches in the sidebar without having to open a new tab in your main browser window. That sidebar will also be persistent as you move between tabs, making this a nifty idea and something that others will surely emulate over time.
For those of us who often mix business and personal accounts on the same machine and in the same browser, Edge is now introducing automatic profile switching, which can automatically switch your browser profile to your work settings when it detects a link that needs your work credentials.
In a related announcement, Microsoft also said that Edge will now support Windows Information Protection on Windows 10, which separates personal and corporate data and includes audit reporting for compliance. Microsoft says this has been a “top ask by many customers.”
For developers, Microsoft is also launching a couple of new features and tools. One of these is Origin Trials, which will allow developers to test experimental web features on their websites for a set time period with Edge users. These are essentially “prototypes that we haven’t enabled for the general web yet will work on your site for a selection of your visitors in Microsoft Edge, enabling you to gather and provide early feedback which can influence the final API,” Microsoft explains.
Windows developers can also start testing the new WebView2 preview, which now also supports .NET and UWP apps, while it was previously restricted to Win32 programs.
In addition, progressive web apps in Windows are now getting a boost. Users will be able to manage these web apps, when installed from Edge, from the Windows settings, use them to share content and even receive content from other apps. They will also now be included in the Start Menu. For now, this feature is only available to users on the Windows Insider builds and the Edge Canary preview builds — and even then, users have to toggle the “Web Apps Identity Proxy” flag in the browser.
Overall, these are some interesting new additions to Edge’s feature set. Most importantly, though, they show that the team is now starting to release features that go beyond the core browser tools and looking to offer tools that differentiate Edge from its competitors — something it currently doesn’t really do, despite being a very competent Chromium-based browser.
At its (virtual) Build developer conference, Microsoft today announced a slew of updates for its Teams collaboration and communications platform. Given that Microsoft now sees Teams as its hub for teamwork and collaboration through calls, chats, and audio and video meetings, it’s no surprise that it would highlight Teams across today’s announcements.
For the most part, the new features the company is adding to Teams are pretty straightforward.
For users, most of the important updates are around meetings in teams, where you’ll soon be able to schedule, manage and conduct virtual appointments through the Bookings app, for example. On the scheduling side, Teams is also getting new capabilities in the Shifts app, including new triggers and templates to enable auto-approvals for shift requests, for example, when a managers approval isn’t needed.
In the near future, Microsoft will also add a number of customizable templates to Teams to help new users get started. These include many standard business scenarios like event management and crisis response, as well as industry-specific templates for hospitals and bands, for example. The templates include pre-set channels, apps and guidance, the company says.
Soon, Microsoft will also make Power Virtual Agents chatbots available in the Teams app store, which will make creating and managing these bots easier.
Microsoft will also soon enable a new feature that makes it easier to integrated Power Apps and Power Automate business process templates into Teams, and Power BI users will soon be able to quickly share reports to Teams with the click of a single button.
Another new feature that will have a bit more of a niche audience is Network Device Interface (NDI) support – but that niche will be very happy to hear it’s coming. Currently, you can enable a similar feature in Skype, where it allows you to stream Skype interviews with multiple participants through your favorite streaming software and platform (think OBS, Wirecast, etc.). It allows you to receive separate video streams for every participant (though for reasons only known to the Skype team, you only get one audio feed, which makes dealing with any audio delays a nightmare).
Now, this is also coming to teams so that it’ll be easier for companies to create public or private broadcasts based on Teams chats. Teams will also get integrations with Skype TX, the hardware-based Skype solution that’s used by many broadcast networks to conduct remote interviews. NDI support should go live in Teams next month.
Fluid Framework was one of the sleeper hits of Microsoft’s 2019 Build developer conference. The idea behind the Fluid Framework is to provide developers with a new platform for building low-latency collaborative experiences around documents — and Microsoft itself is using it to do just that by rethinking some of the workflows in its own Office applications.
Now, for the first time, it is building Fluid Framework into a couple of key productivity apps, starting with Outlook and Office.com. In addition, Microsoft is also open-sourcing the Fluid Framework and making the code available on GitHub within the next few weeks.
“Discovering the full potential of the Fluid Framework can only be accomplished through creating a diverse, open, and vibrant developer community,” explains Microsoft’s Jared Spataro in today’s announcement. “For this reason, Microsoft will be making the Fluid Framework open source, allowing developers and creators to use key infrastructure from Fluid Framework in their own applications.”
Spataro notes that the company is open-sourcing the framework to invite developers to work alongside Microsoft on building the framework. Though Microsoft is obviously only releasing the code as open source now that it has most of the core components in place, it’s still nice to see the company bring this to the community, especially given that the code now seems to be ready for deployment in Microsoft’s own Office 365 tools.
Talking about those tools. Fluid Framework will soon make its debut in Outlook for the web, where it will allow users to work with tables, charts and task lists in the form of so-called Fluid Components that are updated automatically as they are editing elsewhere and hence automatically stay up to date.
In Office.com, Microsoft is introducing Fluid Framework workspaces for collaborative editing. They will include support for @mentions and feature activity feeds for each document.
Visual Studio Live Share is Microsoft’s tool for real-time collaborative code editing in the Visual Studio IDE and the Visual Studio Code editor. Earlier this year, the company also launched a preview of a browser-based version of the tool. While a shared real-time code editor is great, though, users always had to rely on additional tools to actually discuss what they were doing. That’s changing, however, because at Build 2020, Microsoft today announced that it is adding voice and text chat to this service.
Given the current state of things, any tool that makes it easier to collaborate online is probably a welcome addition to developers’ toolboxes. Unlike screen shares or other hacks for working together, one nice aspect of Live Share is that individual developers can keep their own, often somewhat idiosyncratic, settings they are used to. Like in most modern collaborative document editors, everybody gets to keep their own cursor, too.
As of now, it doesn’t look like the text and voice chat are integrated with any of Microsoft’s other communications tools like Teams, so at least for the time being, what happens in Live Share stays in Live Share.
The new features are now in public preview.
Facebook will acquire Giphy, the web-based animated gif search engine and platform provider, Facebook confirmed today, in a deal worth around $400 million, according to a report by Axios. Facebook said it isn’t disclosing terms of the deal. Giphy has grown to be a central source for shareable, high-engagement content, and its animated response gifs are available across Facebook’s platforms, as well as through other social apps and services on the web.
Most notably, Giphy provides built-in search and sticker functions for Facebook’s Instagram, and it will continue to operate in that capacity, becoming a part of the Instagram team. Giphy will also be available to Facebook’s other apps through existing and additional integrations. People will still be able to upload their own GIFs, and Facebook intends to continue to operate Giphy under its own branding and offer integration to outside developers.
Facebook says it will invest in additional tech development for Giphy, as well as build out new relationships for it on both the content side and the endpoint developer side. The company says that fully 50% of traffic that Giphy receives already comes from Facebook’s apps, including Instagram, Messenger, the FB app itself and WhatsApp .
Giphy was founded in 2013, and was originally simply a search engine for gifs. The website’s first major product expansion was an extension that allowed sharing via Facebook, introduced later in its founding year, and it quickly added Twitter as a second integration. According to the most recent data from Crunchbase, Giphy had raised $150.9 million across five rounds, backed by funders including DFJ Growth, Lightspeed, Betaworks, GV, Lerer Hippeau and more.
What’s been overlooked in the wake of such workflow-specific tools has been the base class of products that enterprises are using to build the core of their machine learning (ML) workflows, and the shift in focus toward automating the deployment and governance aspects of the ML workflow.
That’s where MLOps comes in, and its popularity has been fueled by the rise of core ML workflow platforms such as Boston-based DataRobot. The company has raised more than $430 million and reached a $1 billion valuation this past fall serving this very need for enterprise customers. DataRobot’s vision has been simple: enabling a range of users within enterprises, from business and IT users to data scientists, to gather data and build, test and deploy ML models quickly.
Founded in 2012, the company has quietly amassed a customer base that boasts more than a third of the Fortune 50, with triple-digit yearly growth since 2015. DataRobot’s top four industries include finance, retail, healthcare and insurance; its customers have deployed over 1.7 billion models through DataRobot’s platform. The company is not alone, with competitors like H20.ai, which raised a $72.5 million Series D led by Goldman Sachs last August, offering a similar platform.
Why the excitement? As artificial intelligence pushed into the enterprise, the first step was to go from data to a working ML model, which started with data scientists doing this manually, but today is increasingly automated and has become known as “auto ML.” An auto-ML platform like DataRobot’s can let an enterprise user quickly auto-select features based on their data and auto-generate a number of models to see which ones work best.
As auto ML became more popular, improving the deployment phase of the ML workflow has become critical for reliability and performance — and so enters MLOps. It’s quite similar to the way that DevOps has improved the deployment of source code for applications. Companies such as DataRobot and H20.ai, along with other startups and the major cloud providers, are intensifying their efforts on providing MLOps solutions for customers.
We sat down with DataRobot’s team to understand how their platform has been helping enterprises build auto-ML workflows, what MLOps is all about and what’s been driving customers to adopt MLOps practices now.
VC fund Runa Capital was launched with $135 million in 2010, and is perhaps best known for its investment into NGINX, which powers many web sites today. In more recent years it has participated or led investments into startups such as Zipdrug ($10.8 million); Rollbar this year ($11 million); and Monedo (for €20 million).
HQ’d in San Francisco, it has now completed the final closing on its $157 million Runa Capital Fund III, which, they say, exceeded its original target of $135 million.
The firm typically invests between $1 million and $10 million in early-stage companies, predominantly Series A rounds, and has a strong interest in cloud infrastructure, open-source software, AI and machine intelligence and B2B SaaS, in markets such as finance, education and healthcare.
Dmitry Chikhachev, co-founder and managing partner of Runa Capital, said in a statement: “We are excited to see many of our portfolio companies’ founders investing in Runa Capital III, along with tech-savvy LPs from all parts of the world, who supported us in all of our funds from day one… We invested in deep tech long before it became the mainstream for venture capital, betting on Nginx in 2011, Wallarm and ID Quantique in 2013, and MariaDB in 2014.”
Going forward the firm says it aims to concentrate much of its firepower in the realm of machine learning and quantum computing.
In addition, Jinal Jhaveri, ex-CEO & founder of SchoolMint, a former portfolio company of Runa Capital which was acquired by Hero K12, has joined the firm as a venture partner.
Runa operates out of its HQ in Palo Alto to its offices throughout Europe. Its newest office opened in Berlin in early 2020, given Runa Capital’s growing German portfolio. German investments have included Berlin-based Smava and Mambu, as well as the recently added Monedo (formerly Kreditech), Vehiculum and N8N (a co-investment with Sequoia Capital) . Other investments made from the third fund include Rollbar, Reelgood, Forest Admin, Uploadcare and Oxygen.
N8N and three other startups were funded through Runa Capital’s recently established seed program that focuses on smaller investments up to $100,000.
Under different circumstances, GitHub would be hosting its Satellite conference in Paris this week. Like so many other events, GitHub decided to switch Satellite to a virtual event, but that isn’t stopping the Microsoft-owned company from announcing quite a bit of news this week.
The highlight of GitHub’s announcement is surely the launch of GitHub Codespaces, which gives developers a full cloud-hosted development environment in the cloud, based on Microsoft’s VS Code editor. If that name sounds familiar, that’s likely because Microsoft itself rebranded Visual Studio Code Online to Visual Studio Codespaces a week ago — and GitHub is essentially taking the same concepts and technology and is now integrating it directly inside its service. If you’ve seen VS Online/Codespaces before, the GitHub environment will look very similar.
“Contributing code to a community can be hard. Every repository has its own way of configuring a dev environment, which often requires dozens of steps before you can write any code,” writes Shanku Niyogi, GitHub’s SVP of Product, in today’s announcement. “Even worse, sometimes the environment of two projects you are working on conflict with one another. GitHub Codespaces gives you a fully-featured cloud-hosted dev environment that spins up in seconds, directly within GitHub, so you can start contributing to a project right away.”
Currently, GitHub Codespaces is in beta and available for free. The company hasn’t set any pricing for the service once it goes live, but Niyogi says the pricing will look similar to that of GitHub Actions, where it charges for computationally intensive tasks like builds. Microsoft currently charges VS Codespaces users by the hour and depending on the kind of virtual machine they are using.
The other major new feature the company is announcing today is GitHub Discussions. These are essentially discussion forums for a given project. While GitHub already allowed for some degree of conversation around code through issues and pull requests, Discussions are meant to enable unstructured threaded conversations. They also lend themselves to Q&As, and GitHub notes that they can be a good place for maintaining FAQs and other documents.
Currently, Discussions are in beta for open-source communities and will be available for other projects soon.
On the security front, GitHub is also announcing two new features: code scanning and secret scanning. Code scanning checks your code for potential security vulnerabilities. It’s powered by CodeQL and free for open-source projects. Secret scanning is now available for private repositories (a similar feature has been available for public projects since 2018). Both of these features are part of GitHub Advanced Security.
As for GitHub’s enterprise customers, the company today announced the launch of Private Instances, a new fully managed service for enterprise customers that want to use GitHub in the cloud but know that their code is fully isolated from the rest of the company’s users. “Private Instances provides enhanced security, compliance, and policy features including bring-your-own-key encryption, backup archiving, and compliance with regional data sovereignty requirements,” GitHub explains in today’s announcement.
Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.
“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”
“Dear Sophie” columns are accessible for Extra Crunch subscribers; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one or two-year subscription for 50% off.
I was recently laid off but found another position at a growing biotech company. My new employer just submitted the H-1B petition before the end of my grace period. I would like to stay permanently in the United States. How long do I have to apply for a green card?
If my employer isn’t willing to sponsor me, I heard I can self-petition for an EB-1A or EB-2 NIW green card?
—Hopeful in Hayward
Congrats on your new job offer and H-1B transfer. Many companies are hiring talented individuals right now. Every company has the right to their own immigration sponsorship policy, so it can be worthwhile to discuss this going into your new role to make sure that everybody’s on the same page as to how things can unfold with respect to your green card.