Web infrastructure company Cloudflare is releasing a new tool today that aims to provide a way for health agencies and organizations globally tasked with rolling out COVID-19 vaccines to maintain a fair, equitable and transparent digital queue – completely free of charge. The company’s ‘Project Fair Shot’ initiative will make its new Cloudflare Waiting Room offering free to any organization that qualifies, essentially providing a way from future vaccine recipients to register and gain access to a clear and constantly-updated view of where they are in line to receive the preventative treatment.
“The wife of one of Cloudflare’s executives in our Austin was trying to register her parents for the COVID-19 vaccine program there,” explained Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince via email. “The registration site kept crashing. She said to her husband: why doesn’t Cloudflare build a queuing feature to help vaccine sites? As it happened, we had exactly such a feature under development and scheduled to be launched in early February.”
After realizing the urgency of the need for something like this tool to help alleviate the many infrastructure challenges that come up when you’re trying to vaccinate a global population against a viral threat as quickly as possible, Cloudflare changed their release timetable and devoted additional resources to the project.
“We talked to the team about moving up the scheduled launch of our Waiting Room feature,” Prince added. “They worked around the clock because they recognized how important helping with vaccine delivery was. These are the sorts of projects that really drive our team: when we can use our technical expertise and infrastructure to solve problems with broad, positive impact.”
On the technical side, Cloudflare Waiting Room is simple to implement, according to the company, and can be added to any registration website built on the company’s existing content delivery network without any engineering or coding knowledge required. Visitors to the site can register and will receive a confirmation that they’re in line, and then will receive a follow-up directing them to a sign-up page for the organization administering their vaccine when it’s their turn. Further configuration options allow Waiting Room operators to offer wait time estimates to registrants, as well as provide additional alerts when their turn is nearing (though that functionality is coming in a future update).
As Prince mentioned, Waiting Room was already on Cloudflare’s project roadmap, and was actually intended for other high-demand, limited supply allocation items: Think must-have concert tickets, or the latest hot sneaker release. But the Fair Shot program will provide it totally free to those organizations that need it, whereas that would’ve been a commercial product. Interested parties can sign up at Cloudflare’s registration page to get on the waitlist for availability.
“With Project Fair Shot we stand ready to help ensure everyone who is eligible can get equitable access to the COVID-19 vaccines and we, along with the rest of humanity, look forward to putting this disease behind us,” Prince explained.
JustKitchen operates cloud kitchens, but the company goes beyond providing cooking facilities for delivery meals. Instead, it sees food as a content play, with recipes and branding instead of music or shows as the content, and wants to create the next iteration of food franchises. JustKitchen currently operates its “hub and spoke” model in Taiwan, with plans to expand four other Asian markets, including Hong Kong and Singapore, and the United States this year.
Launched last year, JustKitchen currently offers 14 brands in Taiwan, including Smith & Wollensky and TGI Fridays. Ingredients are first prepped in a “hub” kitchen, before being sent to smaller “spokes” for final assembly and pickup by delivery partners, including Uber Eats and Foodpanda. To reduce operational costs, spokes are spread throughout cities for quicker deliveries and the brands each prepares is based on what is ordered most frequently in the area.
In addition to licensing deals, JustKitchen also develops its own brands and performs research and development for its partners. To enable that, chief operating officer Kenneth Wu told TechCrunch that JustKitchen is moving to a more decentralized model, which means its hub kitchens will be used primarily for R&D, and production at some of its spoke kitchens will be outsourced to other food vendors and manufacturers. The company’s long-term plan is to license spoke operation to franchisees, while providing order management software and content (i.e. recipes, packaging and branding) to maintain consistent quality.
Demand for meal and grocery deliveries increased dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the United States, this means food deliveries made up about 13% of the restaurant market in 2020, compared to the 9% forecast before the pandemic, according to research firm Statista, and may rise to 21% by 2025.
But on-demand food delivery businesses are notoriously expensive to operate, with low margins despite markups and fees. By centralizing food preparation and pickup, cloud kitchens (also called ghost kitchens or dark kitchens) are supposed to increase profitability while ensuring standardized quality. Not surprisingly, companies in the space have received significant attention, including former Uber chief executive officer Travis Kalanick’s CloudKitchens, Kitchen United and REEF, which recently raised $1 billion led by SoftBank.
Wu, whose food delivery startup Milk and Eggs was acquired by GrubHub in 2019, said one of the main ways JustKitchen differentiates is by focusing on operations and content in addition to kitchen infrastructure. Before partnering with restaurants and other brands, JustKitchen meets with them to design a menu specifically for takeout and delivery. Once a menu is launched, it is produced by JustKitchen instead of the brands, which are paid royalties. For restaurants that operate only one brick-and-mortar location, this gives them an opportunity to expand into multiple neighborhoods and cities (or countries, when JustKitchen begins its international expansion) simultaneously, a new take on the franchising model for the on-demand delivery era.
Each spoke kitchen puts the final touches on meals before handing them to delivery partners. Spoke kitchens are smaller than hubs, closer to customers, and the goal is to have a high revenue to square footage ratio.
“The thesis in general is how do you get economies of scale or a large volume at the hub, or the central kitchen where you’re making it, and then send it out deep into the community from the spokes, where they can do a short last-mile delivery,” said Wu.
JustKitchen says it can cut industry standard delivery times by half, and that its restaurant partners have seen 40% month on month growth. It also makes it easier for delivery providers like Uber Eats to stack orders, which means having a driver pick up three or four orders at a time for separate addresses. This reduces costs, but is usually only possible at high-volume restaurants, like fast food chain locations. Since JustKitchen offers several brands in one spoke, this gives delivery platforms more opportunities to stack orders from different brands.
In addition to partnerships, JustKitchen also develops its own food brands, using data analytics from several sources to predict demand. The first source is its own platform, since customers can order directly from Just Kitchen. It also gets high-level data from delivery partners that lets them see food preferences and cart sizes in different regions, and uses general demographic data from governments and third-party providers with information about population density, age groups, average income and spending. This allows it to plan what brands to launch in different locations and during different times of the day, since JustKitchen offers breakfast, lunch and dinner.
JustKitchen is incorporated in Canada, but launched in Taiwan first because of its population density and food delivery’s popularity. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, food delivery penetration in the U.S. and Europe was below 20%, but in Taiwan, it was already around 30% to 40%, Wu said. The new demand for food delivery in the U.S. “is part of the new norm and we believe that is not going away,” he added. JustKitchen is preparing to launch in Seattle and several Californian cities, where it already has partners and kitchen infrastructure.
“Our goal is to focus on software and content, and give franchisees operations so they have a turnkey franchise to launch immediately,” said Wu. “We have the content and they can pick whatever they want. They have software to integrate, recipes and we do the food manufacturing and sourcing to control quality, and ultimately they will operate the single location.”
A couple of months ago at CNBC’s Transform conference, IBM CEO Arvind Krishna painted a picture of a company in the midst of a transformation. He said that he wanted to take advantage of IBM’s $34 billion 2018 Red Hat acquisition to help customers manage a growing hybrid cloud world, while using artificial intelligence to drive efficiency.
It seems like a sound enough approach. But instead of the new strategy acting as a big growth engine, IBM’s earnings today showed that its cloud and cognitive software revenues were down 4.5% to $6.8 billion. Meanwhile cognitive applications — where you find AI incomes — were flat.
If Krishna was looking for a silver lining, perhaps he could take solace in the fact that Red Hat itself performed well, with revenue up 18% compared to the year-ago period, according to the company. But overall the company’s revenue declined for the fourth straight quarter, leaving the executive in much the same position as his predecessor Ginni Rometty, who led IBM during 22 straight quarters of revenue losses.
Krishna laid out his strategy in November, telling CNBC, “The Red Hat acquisition gave us the technology base on which to build a hybrid cloud technology platform based on open-source, and based on giving choice to our clients as they embark on this journey.” So far the approach is simply not generating the growth Krishna expected.
The company is also in the midst of spinning out its legacy managed infrastructure services division, which, as Krishna said in the same November interview, should allow Big Blue to concentrate more on its new strategy. “With the success of that acquisition now giving us the fuel, we can then take the next step, and the larger step, of taking the managed infrastructure services out. So the rest of the company can be absolutely focused on hybrid cloud and artificial intelligence,” he said.
While it’s certainly too soon to say his transformation strategy has failed, the results aren’t there yet, and IBM’s falling top line has to be as frustrating to Krishna as it was to Rometty. If you guide the company toward more modern technologies and away from the legacy ones, at some point you should start seeing results, but so far that has not been the case for either leader.
Krishna continued to build on this vision at the end of last year by buying some additional pieces like cloud applications performance monitoring company Instana and hybrid cloud consulting firm Nordcloud. He did so to build a broader portfolio of hybrid cloud services to make IBM more of a one-stop shop for these services.
As retired NFL football coach Bill Parcells used to say, referring to his poorly performing teams, “you are what your record says you are.” Right now IBM’s record continues to trend in the wrong direction. While it’s making some gains with Red Hat leading the way, it’s simply not enough to offset the losses, and something needs to change.
CloudNatix, a startup that provides infrastructure for businesses with multiple cloud and on-premise operations, announced it has raised $4.5 million in seed funding. The round was led by DNX Ventures, an investment firm that focuses on United States and Japanese B2B startups, with participation from Cota Capital. Existing investors Incubate Fund, Vela Partners and 468 Capital also contributed.
The company also added DNX Ventures managing partner Hiro Rio Maeda to its board of directors.
CloudNatix was founded in 2018 by chief executive officer Rohit Seth, who previously held lead engineering roles at Google. The company’s platform helps businesses reduce IT costs by analyzing their infrastructure spending and then using automation to make IT operations across multiple clouds more efficient. The company’s typical customer spends between $500,000 to $50 million on infrastructure each year, and use at least one cloud service provider in addition on-premise networks.
Built on open-source software like Kubernetes and Prometheus, CloudNatix works with all major cloud providers and on-premise networks. For DevOps teams, it helps configure and manage infrastructure that runs both legacy and modern cloud-native applications, and enables them to transition more easily from on-premise networks to cloud services.
CloudNatix competes most directly with VMWare and Red Hat OpenShift. But both of those services are limited to their base platforms, while CloudNatix’s advantage is that is agnostic to base platforms and cloud service providers, Seth told TechCrunch.
The company’s seed round will be used to scale its engineering, customer support and sales teams.
Citrix, which is best known for its digital workspaces, sees this as a good match, especially at a time where employees have been forced to work from home because of the pandemic. By combining the two companies, it produces a powerful combination, one that didn’t escape Citrix CEO and president David Henshall
“Together, Citrix and Wrike will deliver the solutions needed to power a cloud-delivered digital workspace experience that enables teams to securely access the resources and tools they need to collaborate and get work done in the most efficient and effective way possible across any channel, device or location,” Henshall said in a statement.
Andrew Filev, founder and CEO at Wrike, who has managed the company through these multiple changes and remains at the helm, believes his company has landed in a good spot with the Citrix purchase.
“First, as part of the Citrix family we will be able to scale our product and accelerate our roadmap to deliver capabilities that will help our customers get more from their Wrike investment. We have always listened to our customers and have built our product based on their feedback — now we will be able to do more of that, faster.,” Filev wrote in a company blog post announcing the deal, stating a typical argument from CEOs of acquired companies.
The startup reports $140 million ARR, growing at 30% annually, so that comes out to approximately 16x its present-day revenue, which is the price companies are generally paying for acquisitions these days. However, as Wrike expects to reach $180 million to $190 million in ARR this year, the company’s sale price could look like a bargain in a few years’ time if the projections come to pass.
The price was not revealed in the 2018 sale, but it surely feels like a big win for Vista. Consider that Wrike has previously raised just $26 million.
The company’s impressive valuation comes after its most recent 2019 Series E in which it raised $268 million on a 2.75 billion valuation, an increase of $3.25 billion in under 18 months. Company co-founder and CEO Sid Sijbrandij believes the increase is due to his company’s progress adding functionality to the platform.
“We believe the increase in valuation over the past year reflects the progress of our complete DevOps platform towards realizing a greater share of the growing, multi-billion dollar software development market,” he told TechCrunch.
While the startup has raised over $434 million, this round involved buying employee stock options, a move that allows the company’s workers to cash in some of their equity prior to going public. CNBC reported that the firms buying the stock included Alta Park, HMI Capital, OMERS Growth Equity, TCV and Verition.
The next logical step would appear to be IPO, something the company has never shied away from. In fact, it actually at one point included the proposed date of November 18, 2020 as a target IPO date on the company wiki. While they didn’t quite make that goal, Sijbrandij still sees the company going public at some point. He’s just not being so specific as in the past, suggesting that the company has plenty of runway left from the last funding round and can go public when the timing is right.
“We continue to believe that being a public company is an integral part of realizing our mission. As a public company, GitLab would benefit from enhanced brand awareness, access to capital, shareholder liquidity, autonomy and transparency,” he said.
He added, “That said, we want to maximize the outcome by selecting an opportune time. Our most recent capital raise was in 2019 and contributed to an already healthy balance sheet. A strong balance sheet and business model enables us to select a period that works best for realizing our long-term goals.”
GitLab has not only published IPO goals on its Wiki, but its entire company philosophy, goals and OKRs for everyone to see. Sijbrandij told TechCrunch’s Alex Wilhelm at a TechCrunch Disrupt panel in September that he believes that transparency helps attract and keep employees. It doesn’t hurt that the company was and remains a fully remote organization, even pre-COVID.
“We started [this level of] transparency to connect with the wider community around GitLab, but it turned out to be super beneficial for attracting great talent as well,” Sijbrandij told Wilhelm in September.
The company, which launched in 2014, offers a DevOps platform to help move applications through the programming lifecycle.
Update: The original headline of this story has been changed from ‘GitLab raises $195M in secondary funding on $6 billion valuation.’
Harness, the startup that wants to create a suite of engineering tools to give every company the kind of technological reach that the biggest companies have, announced an $85 million Series C today on a $1.7 billion valuation.
Today’s round comes after 2019’s $60 million Series B, which had a $500 million valuation, showing a company rapidly increasing in value. For a company that launched just three years ago, this is a fairly remarkable trajectory.
Alkeon Capital led the round with help from new investors Battery Ventures, Citi Ventures, Norwest Venture Partners, Sorenson Capital and Thomvest Ventures. The startup also revealed a previously unannounced $30 million B-1 round raised after the $60 million round, bringing the total raised to date to $195 million.
Company founder and CEO Jyoti Bansal previously founded AppDynamics, which he sold to Cisco in 2017 for $3.7 billion. With his track record, investors came looking for him this round. It didn’t hurt that revenue grew almost 3x last year.
“The business is doing very well, so the investor community has been proactively reaching out and trying to invest in us. We were not actually planning to raise a round until later this year. We had enough capital to get through that, but there were a lot of people wanting to invest,” Bansal told me.
In fact, he said there is so much investor interest that he could have raised twice as much, but didn’t feel a need to take on that much capital at this time. “Overall, the investor community sees the value in developer tools and the DevOps market. There are so many big public companies now in that space that have gone out in the last three to five years and that has definitely created even more validation of this space,” he said.
Bansal says that he started the company with the goal of making every company as good as Google or Facebook when it comes to engineering efficiency. Since most companies lack the engineering resources of these large companies, that’s a tall task, but one he thinks he can solve through software.
The company started by building a continuous delivery module. A cloud cost-efficiency module followed. Last year the company bought open-source continuous integration company Drone.io and they are working on building that into the platform now, with it currently in beta. There are additional modules on the product roadmap coming this year, according to Bansal.
As the company continued to grow revenue and build out the platform in 2020, it also added a slew of new employees, growing from 200 to 300 during the pandemic. Bansal says that he has plans to add another 200 by the end of this year. Harness has a reputation of being a good place to work, recently landing on Glassdoor’s best companies list.
As an experienced entrepreneur, Bansal takes building a diverse company with a welcoming culture very seriously. “Yes, you have to provide equal opportunity and make sure that you are open to hiring people from diverse backgrounds, but you have to be more proactive about it in the sense that you have to make sure that your company environment and company culture feels very welcoming to everyone,” he said.
It’s been a difficult time building a company during the pandemic, adding so many new employees, and finding a way to make everyone feel welcome and included. Bansal says he has actually seen productivity increase during the pandemic, but now has to guard against employee burnout.
He says that people didn’t know how to draw boundaries when working at home. One thing he did was introduce a program to give everyone one Friday a month off to recharge. The company also recently announced it would be a “work from anywhere” company post-COVID, but Bansal still plans on having regional offices where people can meet when needed.
In the last decade we’ve seen massive changes in how we consume and interact with our world. The Yellow Pages is a concept that has to be meticulously explained with an impertinent scoff at our own age. We live within our smartphones, within our apps.
While we thrive with the information of the world at our fingertips, we casually throw away any semblance of privacy in exchange for the convenience of this world.
This line we straddle has been drawn with recklessness and calculation by big tech companies over the years as we’ve come to terms with what app manufacturers, large technology companies, and app stores demand of us.
According to Symantec, 89% of our Android apps and 39% of our iOS apps require access to private information. This risky use sends our data to cloud servers, to both amplify the performance of the application (think about the data needed for fitness apps) and store data for advertising demographics.
While large data companies would argue that data is not held for long, or not used in a nefarious manner, when we use the apps on our phones, we create an undeniable data trail. Companies generally keep data on the move, and servers around the world are constantly keeping data flowing, further away from its source.
Once we accept the terms and conditions we rarely read, our private data is no longer such. It is in the cloud, a term which has eluded concrete understanding throughout the years.
A distinction between cloud-based apps and cloud computing must be addressed. Cloud computing at an enterprise level, while argued against ad nauseam over the years, is generally considered to be a secure and cost-effective option for many businesses.
Even back in 2010, Microsoft said 70% of its team was working on things that were cloud-based or cloud-inspired, and the company projected that number would rise to 90% within a year. That was before we started relying on the cloud to store our most personal, private data.
To add complexity to this issue, there are literally apps to protect your privacy from other apps on your smart phone. Tearing more meat off the privacy bone, these apps themselves require a level of access that would generally raise eyebrows if it were any other category of app.
Consider the scenario where you use a key to encrypt data, but then you need to encrypt that key to make it safe. Ultimately, you end up with the most important keys not being encrypted. There is no win-win here. There is only finding a middle ground of contentment in which your apps find as much purchase in your private data as your doctor finds in your medical history.
The cloud is not tangible, nor is it something we as givers of the data can access. Each company has its own cloud servers, each one collecting similar data. But we have to consider why we give up this data. What are we getting in return? We are given access to applications that perhaps make our lives easier or better, but essentially are a service. It’s this service end of the transaction that must be altered.
App developers have to find a method of service delivery that does not require storage of personal data. There are two sides to this. The first is creating algorithms that can function on a local basis, rather than centralized and mixed with other data sets. The second is a shift in the general attitude of the industry, one in which free services are provided for the cost of your personal data (which ultimately is used to foster marketing opportunities).
Of course, asking this of any big data company that thrives on its data collection and marketing process is untenable. So the change has to come from new companies, willing to risk offering cloud privacy while still providing a service worth paying for. Because it wouldn’t be free. It cannot be free, as free is what got us into this situation in the first place.
What we can do right now is at least take a stance of personal vigilance. While there is some personal data that we cannot stem the flow of onto cloud servers around the world, we can at least limit the use of frivolous apps that collect too much data. For instance, games should never need access to our contacts, to our camera and so on. Everything within our phone is connected, it’s why Facebook seems to know everything about us, down to what’s in our bank account.
This sharing takes place on our phone and at the cloud level, and is something we need to consider when accepting the terms on a new app. When we sign into apps with our social accounts, we are just assisting the further collection of our data.
The cloud isn’t some omnipotent enemy here, but it is the excuse and tool that allows the mass collection of our personal data.
The future is likely one in which devices and apps finally become self-sufficient and localized, enabling users to maintain control of their data. The way we access apps and data in the cloud will change as well, as we’ll demand a functional process that forces a methodology change in service provisions. The cloud will be relegated to public data storage, leaving our private data on our devices where it belongs. We have to collectively push for this change, lest we lose whatever semblance of privacy in our data we have left.
Drata, a startup that helps businesses get their SOC 2 compliance, today announced that it has raised a $3.2 million seed round led by Cowboy Ventures and that it is coming out of stealth. Other investors include Leaders Fund, SV Angel and a group of angel investors.
Like similar services, Drata helps businesses automate a lot of the evidence collection as they prepare for a SOC 2 audit. The focus of the service is obviously on running tests against the SOC 2 framework to help businesses prepare for their audit (and to prepare the right materials for the auditor). To do so, it features integrations with a lot of standard online business tools and cloud services to regularly pull in data. One nifty feature is that it also lets you step through all of the various sections of the SOC 2 criteria to check your current readiness for an audit.
At the end of the day, tools like Drata are meant to get you through an audit, but at the same time, the idea here is also to give you a better idea of your own security posture. For that, Drata offers continuous control monitoring, as well as tools to track if your employees have turned on all the right controls on their work computers, for example. Since companies have to regularly renew their certification, too, Drata can help them to continuously collect all of the data for their renewal, something that previously often involved boring — and quickly forgotten — manual tasks like taking screenshots of various settings every month or so.
Drata co-founder and CEO Adam Markowitz worked on the space shuttle engines after graduating from college and then launched his own startup, Portfolium, after that program ended. Portfolium, which helped students showcase their work in the form of — you guessed it — a portfolio, eventually sold to Instructure in 2019, where Markowitz stayed on until he launched Drata last June, together with a group of former Portfolium founders and engineers. Besides Markowitz, the co-founders include CTO Daniel Marashlian and CRO Troy Markowitz. It was the team’s experience seeing companies go through the audit process, which has traditionally been a drawn-out and manual process, that led them to look at building their own solution.
The company already managed to sign up a number of customers ahead of its official launch. These include Spot by NetApp, Accel Robotics, Abnormal Security, Chameleon and Vareto. As Markowitz told me, even though Drata already had customers who were using the service to prepare for their audits, the team wanted to remain in stealth mode until it had used its own tool to go through its own audit. With that out of the way, and Drata receiving its SOC 2 certification, it’s now ready to come out of stealth.
As the number of companies that need to go through these kinds of audits increases, it’s maybe no surprise that we’re also seeing a growing number of companies that aim to automate much of this process. With that, unsurprisingly, the number of VC investments in this space also continues to increase. In recent months, Secureframe and Strike Graph announced their own funding rounds, for example.
Stacklet, a startup that is commercializing the Cloud Custodian open-source cloud governance project, today announced that it has raised an $18 million Series A funding round. The round was led by Addition, with participation from Foundation Capital and new individual investor Liam Randall, who is joining the company as VP of business development. Addition and Foundation Capital also invested in Stacklet’s seed round, which the company announced last August. This new round brings the company’s total funding to $22 million.
Stacklet helps enterprises manage their data governance stance across different clouds, accounts, policies and regions, with a focus on security, cost optimization and regulatory compliance. The service offers its users a set of pre-defined policy packs that encode best practices for access to cloud resources, though users can obviously also specify their own rules. In addition, Stacklet offers a number of analytics functions around policy health and resource auditing, as well as a real-time inventory and change management logs for a company’s cloud assets.
The company was co-founded by Travis Stanfield (CEO) and Kapil Thangavelu (CTO). Both bring a lot of industry expertise to the table. Stanfield spent time as an engineer at Microsoft and leading DealerTrack Technologies, while Thangavelu worked at Canonical and most recently in Amazon’s AWSOpen team. Thangavelu is also one of the co-creators of the Cloud Custodian project, which was first incubated at Capital One, where the two co-founders met during their time there, and is now a sandbox project under the Cloud Native Computing Foundation’s umbrella.
“When I joined Capital One, they had made the executive decision to go all-in on cloud and close their data centers,” Thangavelu told me. “I got to join on the ground floor of that movement and Custodian was born as a side project, looking at some of the governance and security needs that large regulated enterprises have as they move into the cloud.”
As companies have sped up their move to the cloud during the pandemic, the need for products like Stacklets has also increased. The company isn’t naming most of its customers, but one of them is FICO, among a number of other larger enterprises. Stacklet isn’t purely focused on the enterprise, though. “Once the cloud infrastructure becomes — for a particular organization — large enough that it’s not knowable in a single person’s head, we can deliver value for you at that time and certainly, whether it’s through the open source or through Stacklet, we will have a story there.” The Cloud Custodian open-source project is already seeing serious use among large enterprises, though, and Stacklet obviously benefits from that as well.
“In just 8 months, Travis and Kapil have gone from an idea to a functioning team with 15 employees, signed early Fortune 2000 design partners and are well on their way to building the Stacklet commercial platform,” Foundation Capital’s Sid Trivedi said. “They’ve done all this while sheltered in place at home during a once-in-a-lifetime global pandemic. This is the type of velocity that investors look for from an early-stage company.”
Looking ahead, the team plans to use the new funding to continue to developed the product, which should be generally available later this year, expand both its engineering and its go-to-market teams and continue to grow the open-source community around Cloud Custodian.
While the initial shock of the COVID-19 pandemic has subsided for businesses, one of its main legacies is how it ushered in a tidal wave of accelerated digital transformation.
A recent Twilio survey revealed that 97% of global enterprise decision-makers believe the pandemic sped up their company’s digital transformation, and on top of that, 79% of the respondents said that COVID-19 increased the budget for digital transformation.
As technology becomes the driving force of competitive differentiation, cloud plays a key role in making this a reality and impacts everything from data and analytics to the modern workplace. Cloud-based infrastructure promises more flexibility, scale and cost-effectiveness, as well as enables enterprises to have more agile application development and keep up with service demand.
What’s clear is that despite shortfalls in security, innovation in cloud and infrastructure will charge ahead.
Even with all of the hype and excitement around cloud’s potential, it is still early days. In his recent keynote at AWS re:Invent, the AWS CEO Andy Jassy mentioned that spending on cloud computing is still only 4% of the overall IT market. And a Barclays CIO survey found that enterprises have 30% of their workloads running in the public cloud, with the expectation to increase to 39% in 2021.
It’s become clear that the movement to cloud has its barriers and that large enterprises are often skittish to make the jump. Flexera’s State of the Cloud 2020 report outlined some of these top cloud challenges, citing security as #1. This has been widely apparent in conversations that I’ve had with Fortune 500 CISOs and security teams, who are wary of the shift from their current state of security operations. Some of the major concerns brought up include:
Vantage, a new service that makes managing AWS resources and their associated spend easier, is coming out of stealth today. The service offers its users an alternative to the complex AWS console with support for most of the standard AWS services, including EC2 instances, S3 buckets, VPCs, ECS and Fargate and Route 53 hosted zones.
The company’s founder, Ben Schaechter, previously worked at AWS and Digital Ocean (and before that, he worked on Crunchbase, too). Yet while DigitalOcean showed him how to build a developer experience for individuals and small businesses, he argues that the underlying services and hardware simply weren’t as robust as those of the hyperclouds. AWS, on the other hand, offers everything a developer could want (and likely more), but the user experience leaves a lot to be desired.
“The idea was really born out of ‘what if we could take the user experience of DigitalOcean and apply it to the three public cloud providers, AWS, GCP and Azure,” Schaechter told me. “We decided to start just with AWS because the experience there is the roughest and it’s the largest player in the market. And I really think that we can provide a lot of value there before we do GCP and Azure.”
The focus for Vantage is on the developer experience and cost transparency. Schaechter noted that some of its users describe it as being akin to a “Mint for AWS.” To get started, you give Vantage a set of read permissions to your AWS services and the tool will automatically profile everything in your account. The service refreshes this list once per hour, but users can also refresh their lists manually.
Given that it’s often hard enough to know which AWS services you are actually using, that alone is a useful feature. “That’s the number one use case,” he said. “What are we paying for and what do we have?”
At the core of Vantage is what the team calls “views,” which allows you to see which resources you are using. What is interesting here is that this is quite a flexible system and allows you to build custom views to see which resources you are using for a given application across regions, for example. Those may include Lambda, storage buckets, your subnet, code pipeline and more.
On the cost-tracking side, Vantage currently only offers point-in-time costs, but Schaechter tells me that the team plans to add historical trends as well to give users a better view of their cloud spend.
Schaechter and his co-founder bootstrapped the company and he noted that before he wants to raise any money for the service, he wants to see people paying for it. Currently, Vantage offers a free plan, as well as paid “pro” and “business” plans with additional functionality.
Grafana Labs, the company behind the increasingly popular open-source monitoring and observability platform, today announced both an updated version of its cloud service and the launch of a free tier for it.
The free plan for Grafana Cloud has some limitations, but it includes access to virtually all of Grafana Labs’ tools for monitoring modern applications. In addition, Grafana’s paid Pro plan for its hosted service is also getting an update and will now include access to five times more metrics per month.
With the free plan, users get a 14-day retention period for metrics and logs, access for up to three team members, 50 GB of log storage and up to 10,000 series for Prometheus and Graphite metrics. For Pro plans, those numbers increase to 15,000 series, 13 months of retention for metrics (up from 3,000 previously) and 100 GB of logs with a one-month retention period.
Offering a hosted service is par for the course for open-source companies. For most of them, after all, this is the most obvious way to monetize their tools.
“The origin story of Grafana Cloud is one of open source,” the company writes in today’s announcement. “Just like the development of our features, Grafana Cloud was first born from the pains and needs of our open source community. We were looking to give users a quick way to get Grafana up and running. It was a product created out of necessity, and it made sense at the time because it’s what our customers wanted back then.”
Given its open-source origins, the team decided that it made sense to also offer a free plan. In addition, though, adding a free plan will also make it easier for new users to get started — and maybe become paying users over time.
We are more than seven years into the notion of modern containerization, and it still requires a complex set of tools and a high level of knowledge on how containers work. The DockerSlim open source project developed several years ago from a desire to remove some of that complexity for developers.
Slim.ai, a new startup that wants to build a commercial product on top of the open source project, announced a $6.6 million seed round today from Boldstart Ventures, Decibel Partners, FXP Ventures and TechAviv Founder Partners.
Company co-founder and CEO John Amaral says he and fellow co-founder and CTO Kyle Quest have worked together for years, but it was Quest who started and nurtured DockerSlim. “We started coming together around a project that Kyle built called DockerSlim. He’s the primary author, inventor and up until we started doing this company, the sole proprietor of that of that community,” Amaral explained.
At the time Quest built DockerSlim in 2015, he was working with Docker containers and he wanted a way to automate some of the lower level tasks involved in dealing with them. “I wanted to solve my own pain points and problems that I had to deal with, and my team had to deal with dealing with containers. Containers were an exciting new technology, but there was a lot of domain knowledge you needed to build production-grade applications and not everybody had that kind of domain expertise on the team, which is pretty common in almost every team,” he said.
He originally built the tool to optimize container images, but he began looking at other aspects of the DevOps lifecycle including the author, build, deploy and run phases. He found as he looked at that, he saw the possibility of building a commercial company on top of the open source project.
Quinn says that while the open source project is a starting point, he and Amaral see a lot of areas to expand. “You need to integrate it into your developer workflow and then you have different systems you deal with, different container registries, different cloud environments and all of that. […] You need a solution that can address those needs and doing that through an open source tool is challenging, and that’s where there’s a lot of opportunity to provide premium value and have a commercial product offering,” Quinn explained.
Ed Sim, founder and general partner at Boldstart Ventures, one of the seed investors sees a company bringing innovation to an area of technology where it has been lacking, while putting some more control in the hands of developers. “Slim can shift that all left and give developers the power through the Slim tools to answer all those questions, and then, boom, they can develop containers, push them into production and then DevOps can do their thing,” he said.
They are just 15 people right now including the founders, but Amaral says building a diverse and inclusive company is important to him, and that’s why one of his early hires was head of culture. “One of the first two or three people we brought into the company was our head of culture. We actually have that role in our company now, and she is a rock star and a highly competent and focused person on building a great culture. Culture and diversity to me are two sides of the same coin,” he said.
The company is still in the very early stages of developing that product. In the meantime, they continue to nurture the open source project and to build a community around that. They hope to use that as a springboard to build interest in the commercial product, which should be available some time later this year.
Roboflow, a startup that aims to simplify the process of building computer vision models, today announced that it has raised a $2.1 million seed round co-led by Lachy Groom and Craft Ventures. Additional investors include Segment co-founder Calvin French-Owen, Lob CEO Leore Avidar, Firebase co-founder James Tamplin and early Dropbox engineer Aston Motes, among others. The company is a graduate of this year’s Y Combinator summer class.
Co-founded by Joseph Nelson (CEO) and Brad Dwyer (CTO), Roboflow is the result of the team members’ previous work on AR and AI apps, including Magic Sudoku from 2017. After respectively exiting their last companies, the two co-founders teamed up again to launch a new AR project, this time with a focus on board games. In 2019, the team actually participated in the TC Disrupt hackathon to add chess support to that app — but in the process, the team also realized that it was spending a lot of time trying to solve the same problems that everybody else in the computer vision field was facing.
“In building both those [AR] products, we realized most of our time wasn’t spent on the board game part of it, it was spent on the image management, the annotation management, the understanding of ‘do we have enough images of white queens, for example? Do we have enough images from this angle or this angle? Are the rooms brighter or darker?’ This data mining of understanding in visual imagery is really underdeveloped. We had built a bunch of — at the time — internal tooling to make this easier for us,” Nelson explained. “And in the process of building this company, of trying to make software features for real-world objects, realize that developers didn’t need inspiration. They needed tooling.”
So shortly after participating in the hackathon, the founders started putting together the first version of Roboflow and launched the first version a year ago in January 2020. And while the service started out as a platform for managing large image data sets, it has since grown to become an end-to-end solution for handling image management, analysis, pre-processing and augmentation, up to building the image recognition models and putting them into production. As Nelson noted, while the team didn’t set out to build an end-to-end solution, its users kept pushing the team to add more features.
So far, about 20,000 developers have used the service, with use cases ranging from accelerating cancer research to smart city applications. The thesis here, Nelson said, is that computer vision is going to be useful for every single industry. But not every company has the in-house expertise to set up the infrastructure for building models and putting it into production, so Roboflow aims to provide an easy to use platform for this that individual developers and (over time) large enterprise teams can use to quickly iterate on their ideas.
Roboflow plans to use the new funding to expand its team, which currently consists of five members, both on the engineering and go-to-market side.
“As small cameras become cheaper and cheaper, we’re starting to see an explosion of video and image data everywhere,” Segment co-founder and Roboflow investor French-Owen noted. “Historically, it’s been hard for anyone but the biggest tech companies to harness this data, and actually turn it into a valuable product. Roboflow is building the pipelines for the rest of us. They’re helping engineers take the data that tells a thousand words, and giving them the power to turn that data into recommendations and insights.”
Cockroach Labs, makers of CockroachDB, have been on a fundraising roll for the last couple of years. Today the company announced a $160 million Series E on a fat $2 billion valuation. The round comes just eight months after the startup raised an $86.6 million Series D.
The latest investment was led by Altimeter Capital with participation from new investors Greenoaks and Lone Pine along with existing investors Benchmark, Bond, FirstMark, GV, Index Ventures and Tiger Global. The round doubled the company’s previous valuation and increased the amount raised to $355 million.
Co-founder and CEO Spenser Kimball says that the company’s revenue more than doubled in 2020 in spite of COVID, and that caught the attention of investors. He attributed this paradoxical rise to the rapid shift to the cloud brought on by the pandemic that many people in the industry have seen.
“People became more aggressive with what was already underway, a real move to embrace the cloud to build the next generation of applications and services, and that’s really fundamentally where we are,” Kimball told me.
As that happened, the company began a shift in thinking. While it has embraced an open source version of CockroachDB along with a 30-day free trial on the company’s cloud service as ways to attract new customers to the top of the funnel, it wants to try a new approach.
In fact, it plans to replace the 30 day trial with a newer version later this year without any time limits. It believes this will attract more developers to the platform and enable them to see the full set of features without having to enter credit card information. What’s more, by taking this approach it should end up costing the company less money to support the free tier.
“What we expect is that you can do all kinds of things on that free tier. You can do a hackathon, any kind of hobby project […] or even a startup that has ambitions to be the next DoorDash or Airbnb,” he said. As he points out, there’s a point where early stage companies don’t have many users, and can remain in the free tier until they achieve product-market fit.
“That’s when they put a credit card down, and they can extend beyond the free tier threshold and pay for what they use,” he said. The newer free tier is still in the beta testing phase, but will be rolled out during this year.
Kimball says that company wasn’t necessarily looking to raise, although he knew that it would continue to need more cash on the balance sheet to run with giant competitors like Oracle, AWS and the other big cloud vendors, along with a slew of other database startups. As the company’s revenue grows, he certainly sees an IPO in its future, but he doesn’t see it happening this year.
The startup ended the year with 200 employees and Kimball expects to double that by the end of this year. He says growing a diverse group of employees takes good internal data and building a welcoming and inclusive culture.
“I think the starting point for anything you want to optimize in a business is to make sure that you have the metrics in front of you, and that you’re constantly looking at them […] in order to measure how you’re doing,” he explained.
He added, “The thing that we’re most focused on in terms of action is really building the culture of the company appropriately and that’s something we’ve been doing for all six years we’ve been around. To the extent that you have an inclusive environment where people actually really view the value of respect, that helps with diversity.”
Kimball says he sees a different approach to running the business when the pandemic ends with some small percentage going into the office regularly and others coming for quarterly visits, but he doesn’t see a full return to the office post-pandemic.
Venrock, the 51-year-old firm that started as the venture arm of the Rockefeller family, has closed its ninth fund with $450 million, the same amount it raised for its last two funds. The outfit, with offices in Palo Alto, New York and Cambridge, clearly feels comfortable with the fund size, but it says change is otherwise a constant, given that trends and tech shift so fast that so-called pattern recognition can prove a liability if an investment team isn’t careful.
To learn more about what the team is tracking at Venrock — whose newest exits include last year’s IPOs of Cloudflare and 10x Genomics IPO, and the recent sales of Corvidia and Personal Capital — we were in touch earlier today with longtime partner Bryan Roberts, who has spent his 24-year career in venture with the firm.
Our exchange has been edited lightly for length and clarity.
TC: I talked with your colleague Camille Samuels earlier this year about aging biology. How big an area of focus is that for Venrock and why?
BR: It’s one of many interesting areas of biology on a go-forward basis, along with immunology, CNS (central nervous system) and other areas where there has been little progress and great unmet need.
TC: Speaking of unmet needs, Camille also talked about why infectious disease isn’t good business for new companies, as are cancers and orphan diseases. As she explained it, with something like the coronavirus, it’s hard to get funding before it’s an actual problem; once a treatment is developed, it has to be sold at low cost, and then you hope you won’t have repeat customers. Do you agree, and do you think this needs to change?
BR: Yes, I think things need to change, but there are several issues. In the case of one company on which I lost a bunch of money — Achaogen, which made a successful drug for a big unmet need [but faced] screwy commercialization dynamics in the infectious disease space — and for many historical infectious disease companies, the cost of a drug is borne by the hospital, not billed separately.
It has also been hard historically to get anyone to pay attention to much of anything from a preventive perspective — even more so in communicable diseases. COVID was, on the one hand, not a particularly hard biological problem to solve, but from an investing perspective, the issue was it was a problem tailor-made for an existent or large company to tackle, not a startup. Startups take 12 or more months to find their way out the front door, and the problem is largely solved by then by one of the very large competitors.
You saw this with Moderna. Its tech turned out to be specifically suited to vaccines — and then a pandemic hit.
TC: Venrock recently helped incubate a new microbiome startup called Federation Bio, which is the firm’s first bet on the space. Why not move faster into this area, and how would you describe the size of the opportunity now? Is this something you want to delve into more aggressively?
BR: We did spend 12 months or so helping get Federation started, including my partner Racquel Bracken acting as the initial CEO. We weren’t compelled by the prior approaches and teams, and it is really the intersection of those two dynamics that get us involved in new projects.
In this case, a terrific academic, Michael Fischbach, had generated great data, so we ran with it. We recently spent more than 12 months incubating a new gene therapy startup in the same manner — in the latter case, a couple of great academics generated exquisite cell type specificity — so we went out and found some leadership and just seeded the business.
TC: It’s one way to avoid crazy valuations. Where have valuations gone up the most?
BR: Everywhere, but especially for companies that appear — or actually have — reduced binary risk and become growth-stage businesses [and that’s] across sectors.
TC: You focus on so much: biotechnology, diagnostics, genomics, healthcare IT, medical devices. What are some of biggest trends you’re watching in some of these areas, and where do you think you might be spending a little more of your time in 2021?
BR: Personally, I am compelled these days by first, value-based care in healthcare delivery — meaning it’s more efficient, there are better outcomes, there’s better customer experience — and mostly from full-stack platforms versus point solutions. I’m also focused on biological insights and applications that new genomics tools — single cell; gene editing — can bring. Last, [I’m tracking what] novel therapeutic modalities can bring to really bad diseases. It feels like we’re in the first inning of cell and gene therapy.
TC: How do you think the new administration in Washington could impact your work?
BR: I think there will be lots of talk about material changes to healthcare and other stuff, but I think it will mostly be talk given the slim margin in the Senate, as well as the decreased and small margin [that Democrats have] in the House. I think it will be a positive in that a bunch of the silly stuff around the [Affordable Care Act] will fade to nothing and people can get on with trying to improve implementation and go build.
TC: What do you make of the recent collapse of Haven, the joint venture of Amazon, JPMorgan Chase and Berkshire Hathaway to reduce the healthcare costs of their own employees? Would you like to see Amazon focused more — or less — on healthcare?
BR: We’ve long been bears [about its odds] for a bunch of the reasons folks cited over the last few weeks [including lack of transparency into healthcare costs].
I would love to see Amazon use its brand, delivery logistics excellence and ability to compete at super-tight margins in healthcare. I don’t think it extends to real regulatory, privacy or risk appetite, but the company could be an awesome pharmacy/pharmacy benefit manager — and I hope they do it.
TC: Regarding Venrock’s new fund, have there been personnel changes? Will check sizes change?
BR: We made Racquel Bracken and Ethan Batraski partners; it’s always fun when you can promote terrific young talent from within.
As for our high-level strategy, check sizes and stages all remain the same. We’ve raised $450 million for each of the last several funds because we like that size and our culture and personality is way more focused on performance than on asset accumulation. It also feels really hard to raise increasing amounts of capital without affecting performance excellence.
TC: Healthcare has never been hotter. How much of Venrock’s capital is focused on healthcare, and will that change with this newest fund?
BR: We’re pretty bottoms-up allocation driven; we invest based on the projects we find and fall in love with. Life sciences usually ends up being around 30% to 40% [of capital invested]. Healthcare IT, which depending who you talk to in the universe gets lumped into healthcare or tech — I confess those software-enabled services businesses feel much more tech-like than biotech — usually ends up being about a quarter of the fund and there are no anticipated changes. The balance will go into tech — primarily tech and data-enabled software and services businesses.
TC: Has Venrock considered forming a blank-check company to take a company public, as more VCs are doing?
BR: We have not. I feel like most investors that have formed SPACs have done so more because of the compelling sponsor economics than a compelling, durable mechanism to get awesome companies public in a much more efficient manner than they otherwise might. It’ll be interesting to see how the economics change as the supply and demand of SPACs versus “great targets” changes and the SPACs get closer to the end of their hunting-license period.
F5, the applications networking company announced today that it is acquiring Volterra, a multi-cloud management startup for $500 million. That breaks down to $440 million in cash and $60 million in deferred and unvested incentive compensation.
Volterra emerged in 2019 with a $50 million investment from multiple sources including Khosla Ventures and Mayfield along with strategic investors like M12 (Microsoft’s venture arm) and Samsung Ventures. As the company described it to me at the time of the funding:
Volterra has innovated a consistent, cloud-native environment that can be deployed across multiple public clouds and edge sites — a distributed cloud platform. Within this SaaS-based offering, Volterra integrates a broad range of services that have normally been siloed across many point products and network or cloud providers.
The solution is designed to provide a single way to view security, operations and management components.
F5 president and CEO François Locoh-Donou sees Volterra’s edge solution integrating across its product line. “With Volterra, we advance our Adaptive Applications vision with an Edge 2.0 platform that solves the complex multi-cloud reality enterprise customers confront. Our platform will create a SaaS solution that solves our customers’ biggest pain points,” he said in a statement.
Volterra founder and CEO Ankur Singla, writing in a company blog post announcing the deal, says the need for this solution only accelerated during 2020 when companies were shifting rapidly to the cloud due to the pandemic. “When we started Volterra, multi-cloud and edge were still buzzwords and venture funding was still searching for tangible use cases. Fast forward three years and COVID-19 has dramatically changed the landscape — it has accelerated digitization of physical experiences and moved more of our day-to-day activities online. This is causing massive spikes in global Internet traffic while creating new attack vectors that impact the security and availability of our increasing set of daily apps,” he wrote.
He sees Volterra’s capabilities fitting in well with the F5 family of products to help solve these issues. While F5 had a quiet 2020 on the M&A front, today’s purchase comes on top of a couple of major acquisitions in 2019 including Shape Security for $1 billion and NGINX for $670 million.
The deal has been approved by both companies boards, and is expected to close before the end of March subject to regulatory approvals.
RedHat today announced that it’s acquiring container security startup StackRox . The companies did not share the purchase price.
RedHat, which is perhaps best known for its enterprise Linux products has been making the shift to the cloud in recent years. IBM purchased the company in 2018 for a hefty $34 billion and has been leveraging that acquisition as part of a shift to a hybrid cloud strategy under CEO Arvind Krishna.
The acquisition fits nicely with RedHat OpenShift, its container platform, but the company says it will continue to support StackRox usage on other platforms including AWS, Azure and Google Cloud Platform. This approach is consistent with IBM’s strategy of supporting multi-cloud, hybrid environments.
In fact, Red Hat president and CEO Paul Cormier sees the two companies working together well. “Red Hat adds StackRox’s Kubernetes-native capabilities to OpenShift’s layered security approach, furthering our mission to bring product-ready open innovation to every organization across the open hybrid cloud across IT footprints,” he said in a statement.
CEO Kamal Shah, writing in a company blog post announcing the acquisition, explained that the company made a bet a couple of years ago on Kubernetes and it has paid off. “Over two and half years ago, we made a strategic decision to focus exclusively on Kubernetes and pivoted our entire product to be Kubernetes-native. While this seems obvious today; it wasn’t so then. Fast forward to 2020 and Kubernetes has emerged as the de facto operating system for cloud-native applications and hybrid cloud environments,” Shah wrote.
Shah sees the purchase as a way to expand the company and the road map more quickly using the resources of Red Hat (and IBM), a typical argument from CEOs of smaller acquired companies. But the trick is always finding a way to stay relevant inside such a large organization.
StackRox’s acquisition is part of some consolidation we have been seeing in the Kubernetes space in general and the security space more specifically. That includes Palo Alto Networks acquiring competitor TwistLock for $410 million in 2019. Another competitor, Aqua Security, which has raised $130 million, remains independent.
StackRox was founded in 2014 and raised over $65 million, according to Crunchbase data. Investors included Menlo Ventures, Redpoint and Sequoia Capital. The deal is expected to close this quarter subject to normal regulatory scrutiny.