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Today — January 22nd 2020Your RSS feeds

TriggerMesh scores $3M seed from Index and Crane to help enterprises embrace ‘serverless’

By Steve O'Hear

TriggerMesh, a startup building on top of the open source Kubernetes software to help enterprises go “serverless” across apps running in the cloud and traditional data centers, has raised $3 million in seed funding.

The round is led Index Ventures and Crane Venture Partners. TriggerMesh says the investment will be used to scale the company and grow its development team in order to offer what it bills as the industry’s first “cloud native integration platform for the serverless era”.

Founded by two prominent names in the open source community — Sebastien Goasguen (CEO) and Mark Hinkle (CMO), based in Geneva and North Carolina, respectively — TriggerMesh’s platform will enable organizations to build enterprise-grade applications that span multiple cloud and data center environments, therefore helping to address what the startup says is a growing pain point as serverless architectures become more prevalent.

TriggerMesh’s platform and serverless cloud bus is said to facilitate “application flow orchestration” to consume events from any data center application or cloud event source and trigger serverless functions.

“As cloud-native applications use a greater number of serverless offerings in the cloud, TriggerMesh provides a declarative API and a set of tools to define event flows and functions that compose modern applications,” explains the company.

One feature TriggerMesh is specifically talking up and very relevant to legacy enterprises is its integration functionality with on-premise software. Via its wares, it says it is easy to connect SaaS, serverless cloud offerings and on-premises applications to provide scalable cloud-native applications at a low cost and quickly.

“There are huge numbers of disconnected applications that are unable to fully benefit from cloud computing and increased network connectivity,” noted Scott Sage, co-founder and partner at Crane Venture Partners, in a statement. “Most companies have some combination of cloud and on-premises applications and with more applications around, often from different vendors, the need for integration has never been greater. We see TriggerMesh’s solution as the ideal fit for this need which made them a compelling investment”.

Descartes Labs launches its new platform for analyzing geospatial data

By Frederic Lardinois

Descartes Labs, a wellfunded startup based in New Mexico, provides businesses with geospatial data and the tools to analyze it in order to make business decisions. Today, the company announced the launch of its Descartes Labs Platform, which promises to bring its data together with all of the tools data scientists — including those with no background in analyzing this kind of information — would need to work with these images to analyze them and build machine learning models based on the data in them.

Descartes Labs CEO Phil Fraher, who took this position only a few months ago, told me that the company’s current business often includes a lot of consulting work to get its customers started. These customers span the range from energy and mining companies to government agencies, financial services and agriculture businesses, but many don’t have the in-house expertise to immediately make use of the data that Descartes Labs provides them with.

“For the most part, we still have to evangelize how to use geospatial data to solve business problems. And so a lot of our customers rely on us to do consulting,” Fraher said. “But what’s really interesting is that even with some of our existing customers, we’re now seeing more early adopters, more business and analysis teams and data scientists being hired, that do focus on geospatial data. So what’s really exciting with this launch is we’re now going to put our platform tool in the hands of those particular individuals that now can do their own work.”

In many ways, this new platform gives these customers access to the tools and data that Descartes Labs’ own team uses and allows them to collaborate with the company to solve their problems and use the new modeling tools to build solutions for their individual businesses.

“Previously, a data science team that at a company that’s interested in this kind of analysis would also have to know how to wrangle very large-scale or petabyte-scale Earth observation data sets,” Fraher said. “These are very unique and specific skillsets and because of that kind of barrier to entry, the adoption of some of this technology and data sources has been slow.”

To enable more businesses to get started with working with this data (and become Descartes Labs customers), the company is betting on the standard tools in the industry, with hosted Jupyter notebooks, Python support and a set of APIs. It also includes tools to transform ad clean the incoming data from Descartes’ third-party partners in order to make it usable for data scientists.

“it’s not just like some simple ETL-like data processing pipeline,” Descartes Labs’  Head of Engineering Sam Skillman noted. “It’s something where we have to combine very in-depth data science, remote sensing and large scale compute capabilities to bring all of that data in in a way that normalizes it and gets it ready for analysis.”

All of this analysis is handled in the cloud, with AWS being Descartes Labs cloud of choice.

The new platform is now available to businesses that want to give it a try.

 

ServiceNow acquires Loom Systems to expand AIOps coverage

By Ron Miller

ServiceNow announced today that it has acquired Loom Systems, an Israeli startup that specializes in AIOps. The companies did not reveal the purchase price.

IT operations collects tons of data across a number of monitoring and logging tools, way too much for any team of humans to keep up with. That’s why there are startups like Loom turning to AI to help sort through it. It can find issues and patterns in the data that would be challenging or impossible for humans to find. Applying AI to operations data in this manner has become known as AIOps in industry parlance.

ServiceNow is first and foremost a company trying to digitize the service process, however that manifests itself. IT service operations is a big part of that. Companies can monitor their systems, wait until a problem happens and then try and track down the cause and fix it, or they can use the power of artificial intelligence to find potential dangers to the system health and neutralize them before they become major problems. That’s what an AIOps product like Loom’s can bring to the table.

Jeff Hausman, vice president and general manager of IT Operations Management at ServiceNow sees Loom’s strengths merging with ServiceNow’s existing tooling to help keep IT systems running. “We will leverage Loom Systems’ log analytics capabilities to help customers analyze data, automate remediation and reduce L1 incidents,” he told TechCrunch.

Loom co-founder and CEO Gabby Menachem not surprisingly sees a similar value proposition. “By joining forces, we have the unique opportunity to bring together our AI innovations and ServiceNow’s AIOps capabilities to help customers prevent and fix IT issues before they become problems,” he said in a statement.

Loom raised $16 million since it launched in 2015, according to PitchBook data. Its most recent round for $10 million was in November 2019. Today’s deal is expected to close by the end of this quarter.

Thundra announces $4M Series A to secure and troubleshoot serverless workloads

By Ron Miller

Thundra, an early stage serverless tooling startup, announced a $4 million Series A today led by Battery Ventures. The company spun out from OpsGenie after it was sold to Atlassian for $295 million in 2018.

York IE, Scale X Ventures and Opsgenie founder Berkay Mollamustafaoglu also participated in the round. Battery’s Neeraj Agarwal is joining the company’s board under the terms of the agreement.

The startup also announced that it had recently hired Ken Cheney as CEO with technical founder Serkan Ozal becoming CTO.

Originally, Thundra helped run the serverless platform at OpsGenie. As a commercial company, it helps monitor, debug and secure serverless workloads on AWS Lambda. These three tasks could easily be separate tools, but Cheney says it makes sense to include them all because they are all related in some way.

“We bring all that together and provide an end-to-end view of what’s happening inside the application, and this is what really makes Thundra unique. We can actually provide a high-level distributed view of that constantly-changing application that shows all of the components of that application, and how they are interrelated and how they’re performing. It can also troubleshoot down to the local service, as well as go down into the runtime code to see where the problems are occurring and let you know very quickly,” Cheney explained.

He says that this enables developers to get this very detailed view of their serverless application that otherwise wouldn’t be possible, helping them concentrate less on the nuts and bolts of the infrastructure, the reason they went serverless in the first place, and more on writing code.

Serverless trace map in Thundra. Screenshot: Thundra

Thundra is able to do all of this in a serverless world, where there isn’t a fixed server and resources are ephemeral, making it difficult to identity and fix problems. It does this by installing an agent at the Lambda (AWS’ serverless offering) level on AWS, or at runtime on the container at the library level,” he said.

Battery’s Neeraj Agarwal says having invested in OpsGenie, he knew the engineering team and was confident in the team’s ability to take it from internal tool to more broadly applicable product.

“I think it has to do with the quality of the engineering team that built OpsGenie. These guys are very microservices oriented, very product oriented, so they’re very quick at iterating and developing products. Even though this was an internal tool I think of it as very much productized, and their ability to now sell it to the broader market is very exciting,” he said.

The company offers a free version, then tiered pricing based on usage, storage and data retention. The current product is a cloud service, but it plans to add an on prem version in the near future.

Placer.ai, a location data analytics startup, raises $12 million Series A

By Catherine Shu

Placer.ai, a startup that analyzes location and foot traffic analytics for retailers and other businesses, announced today that it has closed a $12 million Series A. The round was led by JBV Capital, with participation from investors including Aleph, Reciprocal Ventures and OCA Ventures.

The funding will be used on research and development of new features and to expand Placer.ai’s operation in the United States.

Launched in 2016, Placer.ai’s SaaS platform gives its clients to real-time data that helps them make decisions like where to rent or buy properties, when to hold sales and promotions and how to manage assets.

Placer.ai analyzes foot traffic and also creates consumer profiles to help clients make marketing and ad spending decisions. It does this by collecting geolocation and proximity data from devices that are enabled to share that information. Placer.ai’s co-founder and CEO Noam Ben-Zvi says the company protects privacy and follows regulation by displaying aggregated, anonymous data and does not collect personally identifiable data. It also does not sell advertising or raw data.

The company currently serves clients in the retail (including large shopping centers), commercial real estate and hospitality verticals, including JLL, Regency, SRS, Brixmor, Verizon* and Caesars Entertainment.

“Up until now, we’ve been heavily focused on the commercial real estate sector, but this has very organically led us into retail, hospitality, municipalities and even [consumer packaged goods],” Ben-Zvi told TechCrunch in an email. “This presents us with a massive market, so we’re just focused on building out the types of features that will directly address the different needs of our core audience.”

He adds that lack of data has hurt retail businesses with major offline operations, but that “by effectively addressing this gap, we’re helpiong drive more sustainable growth or larger players or minimizing the risk for smaller companies to drive expansion plans that are strategically aggressive.”

Others startups in the same space include Dor, Aislelabs, RetailNext, ShopperTrak and Density. Ben-Zvi says Placer. ai wants to differentiate by providing more types of real-time data analysis.

While there are a lot of companies touching the location analytics space, we’re in a unique situation as the only company providing these deep and actionable insights for any location in the country in a real-time platform with a wide array of functionality,” he said.

*Disclosure: Verizon Media is the parent company of TechCrunch.

LumApps raises $70M Series C led by Goldman Sachs

By Steve O'Hear

LumApps, the cloud-based social intranet for the enterprise, has closed $70 million in Series C funding. Leading the round is Goldman Sachs Growth, with participation from Bpifrance via its Growth Fund Large Venture.

Others participating include Idinvest Partners, Iris Capital, and Famille C (the family office of Courtin-Clarins). The round brings the total raised by the French company to around $100 million.

Founded in Paris back in 2012, before launching today’s proposition in 2015, LumApps has developed what it describes as a “social intranet” for enterprises to enable employees to better informed, connect and collaborate. The SaaS integrates with other enterprise software such as G Suite, Microsoft Office 365 and Microsoft SharePoint, to centralize access to corporate content, business applications and social features under a single platform. The central premise is to help companies “break down silos” and streamline internal communication.

LumApps customers include Airbus, Veolia, Valeo, Air Liquide, Colgate-Palmolive, The Economist, Schibsted, EA, Logitech, Toto, and Japan Airlines, and the company claims to have achieved year-on-year revenue growth of 100%.

“Our dream was to enable access to useful information in one click, from one place and for everyone,” LumApps founder and CEO Sébastien Ricard told TechCrunch when the company raised its Series B early last year. “We wanted to build a solution that bridged [an] intranet and social network, with the latest new technologies. A place that users will love.”

Since then, LumApps has added several new offices and has seven worldwide: Lyon, Paris, London, New York, Austin, San Francisco, and Tokyo. Armed with additional funding, the company will continue adding significant headcount, hiring across engineering, product, sales and marketing. There are also plans to expand to Canada, more of Asia Pacific, and Germany.

“We’re actually looking at hiring 200 people minimum,” Ricard tells me. “We’re growing fast and have ambitious plans to take the product to new heights, including fulfilling our vision of making LumApps a personal assistant powered by AI. This will require a significant investment in top engineering/AI talent globally”.

Asked to elaborate on what machine learning and AI could bring to a social intranet, Ricard says the vision is to make LumApps a personal assistant for all communications and workflows in the enterprise.

“We see a future where this personal assistant can make predictive suggestions based on historical data and actions. Applying AI to prompt authors with suggested content, flagging important items that demand attention, and auto-archiving old content, are a few examples. Managing the massive troves of content and data companies have today is critical”.

Ricard also sees AI playing a big role in data security. “Employees have a high-degree of control with regard to data sharing and AI can help manage what employees can share in the workplace. This is more long-term but it’s where we’re headed,” he says.

“In the short-term, we’re making investments in automating as many workflows as possible with the goal of reducing or eliminating administrative tasks that keep employees from more productive tasks, including team collaboration and knowledge sharing”.

Meanwhile, LumApps says it may also use part of the Series C for M&A activity. “We’re growing fast and we’re looking at different areas for expansion opportunities,” Ricard says. “This includes retail and manufacturing and some business functions like HR, marketing and communications. We don’t have concrete plans to acquire any companies at the moment but we are keeping our options open as acquiring best-in-breed technologies often makes more sense from a business perspective than building it yourself”.

Yesterday — January 21st 2020Your RSS feeds

Corporate relocation startup Shyft raises $15M

By Anthony Ha

Shyft is announcing that it has raised $15 million in Series A funding to make the moving process less painful — specifically in the situations where your employer is paying for the move.

There other startups are looking to offer concierge-type services for regular moving — I used a service called Moved last year and liked it. But Shyft co-founder and CEO Alex Alpert (who’s spent years in the moving business) told me that there are no direct competitors focused on corporate relocation.

“Even at the highest levels, the process is totally jacked up,” Alpert said. “We saw an opportunity to partner with corporations and relocation management companies to build a customized, tech-driven experience with more choices, more flexibility and to be able to navigate the quoting process seamlessly.”

So when a company that uses Shyft decides to relocate you — whether you’re a new hire or just transferring to a new office — you should get an email prompting you to download the Shyft app, where you can chat with a “move coach” who guides you through the process.

You’ll also be able to catalog the items you want to move over a video call and get estimates from movers. And you’ll receive moving-related offers from companies like Airbnb, Wag, Common, Sonder and Home Chef.

And as Alpert noted, Shyft also partners with more traditional relocation companies like Graebel, rather than treating them as competitors.

Shyft screenshot

The company was originally called Crater and focused on building technology for creating accurate moving estimates via video. It changed its name and its business model back in 2018 (Alpert acknowledged, “It wasn’t a very popular pitch in the beginning: ‘Hey, we’re building estimation software for moving companies.'”) but the technology remains a crucial differentiator.

“Our technology is within 95% accurate at identifying volume and weight of the move,” he said. “When moving companies know the information is reliable, they can bid very aggressively.”

As result, Alpert said the employer benefits not just from having happier employees, but lower moving costs.

The new funding, meanwhile, was led by Inovia Capital, with participation from Blumberg Capital and FJ Labs.

“There’s a total misalignment between transactional relocation services and the many logistical, social, and lifestyle needs that come with moving to a new city,” Inovia Partner Todd Simpson said in a statement. “As businesses shift towards more distributed workforces and talent becomes accustomed to personalized experiences, the demand for a curated moving offering will continue to grow.”

Google Cloud lands Lufthansa Group and Sabre as new customers

By Frederic Lardinois

Google’s strategy for bringing new customers to its cloud is to focus on the enterprise and specific verticals like healthcare, energy, financial service and retail, among others. It’s healthcare efforts recently experienced a bit of a setback, with Epic now telling its customers that it is not moving forward with its plans to support Google Cloud, but in return, Google now got to announce two new customers in the travel business: Lufthansa Group, the world’s largest airline group by revenue, and Sabre, a company that provides backend services to airlines, hotels and travel aggregators.

For Sabre, Google Cloud is now the preferred cloud provider. Like a lot of companies in the travel (and especially the airline) industry, Sabre runs plenty of legacy systems and is currently in the process of modernizing its infrastructure. To do so, it has now entered a 10-year strategic partnership with Google “to improve operational agility while developing new services and creating a new marketplace for its airline,  hospitality and travel agency customers.” The promise, here, too, is that these new technologies will allow the company to offer new travel tools for its customers.

When you hear about airline systems going down, it’s often Sabre’s fault, so just being able to avoid that would already bring a lot of value to its customers.

“At Google we build tools to help others, so a big part of our mission is helping other companies realize theirs. We’re so glad that Sabre has chosen to work with us to further their mission of building the future of travel,” said Google CEO Sundar Pichai . “Travelers seek convenience, choice and value. Our capabilities in AI and cloud computing will help Sabre deliver more of what consumers want.”

The same holds true for Google’s deal with Lufthansa Group, which includes German flag carrier Lufthansa itself, but also subsidiaries like Austrian, Swiss, Eurowings and Brussels Airlines, as well as a number of technical and logistics companies that provide services to various airlines.

“By combining Google Cloud’s technology with Lufthansa Group’s operational expertise, we are driving the digitization of our operation even further,” said Dr. Detlef Kayser, Member of the Executive Board of the Lufthansa Group. “This will enable us to identify possible flight irregularities even earlier and implement countermeasures at an early stage.”

Lufthansa Group has selected Google as a strategic partner to “optimized its operations performance.” A team from Google will work directly with Lufthansa to bring this project to life. The idea here is to use Google Cloud to build tools that help the company run its operations as smoothly as possible and to provide recommendations when things go awry due to bad weather, airspace congestion or a strike (which seems to happen rather regularly at Lufthansa these days).

Delta recently launched a similar platform to help its employees.

Canonical’s Anbox Cloud puts Android in the cloud

By Frederic Lardinois

Canonical, the company behind the popular Ubuntu Linux distribution, today announced the launch of Anbox Cloud, a new platform that allows enterprises to run Android in the cloud.

On Anbox Cloud, Android becomes the guest operating system that runs containerized applications. This opens up a range of use cases, ranging from bespoke enterprise apps to cloud gaming solutions.

The result is similar to what Google does with Android apps on Chrome OS, though the implementation is quite different and is based on the LXD container manager, as well as a number of Canonical projects like Juju and MAAS for provisioning the containers and automating the deployment. “LXD containers are lightweight, resulting in at least twice the container density compared to Android emulation in virtual machines – depending on streaming quality and/or workload complexity,” the company points out in its announcements.

Anbox itself, it’s worth noting, is an open-source project that came out of Canonical and the wider Ubuntu ecosystem. Launched by Canonical engineer Simon Fels in 2017, Anbox runs the full Android system in a container, which in turn allows you to run Android application on any Linux-based platform.

What’s the point of all of this? Canonical argues that it allows enterprises to offload mobile workloads to the cloud and then stream those applications to their employees’ mobile devices. But Canonical is also betting on 5G to enable more use cases, less because of the available bandwidth but more because of the low latencies it enables.

“Driven by emerging 5G networks and edge computing, millions of users will benefit from access to ultra-rich, on-demand Android applications on a platform of their choice,” said Stephan Fabel, director of Product at Canonical, in today’s announcement. “Enterprises are now empowered to deliver high performance, high density computing to any device remotely, with reduced power consumption and in an economical manner.”

Outside of the enterprise, one of the use cases that Canonical seems to be focusing on is gaming and game streaming. A server in the cloud is generally more powerful than a smartphone, after all, though that gap is closing.

Canonical also cites app testing as another use case, given that the platform would allow developers to test apps on thousands of Android devices in parallel. Most developers, though, prefer to test their apps in real — not emulated — devices, given the fragmentation of the Android ecosystem.

Anbox Cloud can run in the public cloud, though Canonical is specifically partnering with edge computing specialist Packet to host it on the edge or on-premise. Silicon partners for the project are Ampere and Intel .

Snyk snags $150M investment as its valuation surpasses $1B

By Ron Miller

Snyk, the company that wants to help developers secure their code as part of the development process, announced a $150 million investment today. The company indicated the investment brings its valuation to over $1 billion (although it did not share the exact figure).

Today’s round was led by Stripes, a New York City investment firm with help from Coatue, Tiger Global, BoldStart,Trend Forward, Amity and Salesforce Ventures. The company reports it has now raised over $250 million.

The idea behind Snyk is to fit security firmly in the development process. Rather than offloading it to a separate team, something that can slow down a continuous development environment, Snyk builds in security as part of the code commit.

The company offers an open source tool that helps developers find open source vulnerabilities when they commit their code to GitHub, Bitbucket, GitLab or any CI/CD tool. It has built up a community of over 400,000 developers with this approach.

Snyk makes money with a container security product, and by making the underlying vulnerability database they use in the open source product available to companies as a commercial product.

CEO Peter McKay, who came on board last year as the company was making a move to expand into the enterprise, says the open source product drives the revenue-producing products and helped attract this kind of investment. “Getting to [today’s] funding round was the momentum in the open source model from the community to freemium to [land] and expand — and that’s where we are today,” he told TechCrunch.

He said that the company wasn’t looking for this money, but investors came knocking and gave them a good offer, based on Snyk’s growing market momentum. “Investors said we want to take advantage of the market, and we want to make sure you can invest the way you want to invest and take advantage of what we all believe is this very large opportunity,” McKay said.

In fact, the company has been raising money at a rapid clip since it came out of the gate in 2016 with a $3 million seed round. A $7 million Series A and $22 million Series B followed in 2018 with a $70 million Series C last fall.

The company reports over 4X revenue growth in 2019 (without giving exact revenue figures), and some major customer wins including the likes of Google, Intuit, Nordstrom and Salesforce. It’s worth noting that Salesforce thought enough of the company that it also invested in this round through its Salesforce Ventures investment arm.

Before yesterdayYour RSS feeds

Harvestr gathers user feedback in one place

By Romain Dillet

Meet Harvestr, a software-as-a-service startup that wants to help product managers centralize customer feedback from various places. Product managers can then prioritize outstanding issues and feature requests. Finally, the platform helps you get back to your customers once changes have been implemented.

The company just raised a $650,000 funding round led by Bpifrance with various business angels also participating, such as 360Learning co-founders Nicolas Hernandez and Guillaume Alary as well as Station F director Roxanne Varza through the Atomico Angel Programme.

Harvestr integrates directly with Zendesk, Intercom, Salesforce, Freshdesk, Slack and Zapier. For instance, if a user opens a ticket on Zendesk and another user interacts with your support team through an Intercom chat widget, everything ends up in Harvestr.

Once you have everything in the system, Harvestr helps you prioritize tasks that seem more urgent or that are going to have a bigger impact.

When you start working on a feature or when you’re about to ship it, you can contact your users who originally reached out to talk to you about it.

Eventually, Harvestr should help you build a strong community of power users around your product. And there are many advantages in pursuing this strategy.

First, you reward your users by keeping them in the loop. It should lead to higher customer satisfaction and lower churn. Your most engaged customers could also become your best ambassadors to spread the word around.

Harvestr costs $49 per month for 5 seats and $99 per month for 20 seats. People working for 360Learning, HomeExchange, Dailymotion and other companies are currently using it.

Microsoft announces global Teams ad push as it combats Slack for the heart of enterprise comms

By Alex Wilhelm

The long-running contest between Microsoft and its Teams service and Slack’s eponymous application continued this morning, with Redmond announcing what it describes as its first “global” advertising push for its enterprise communication service.

Slack, a recent technology IPO, exploded in the back half of last decade, accreting huge revenues while burrowing into the tech stacks of the startup world. The former startup’s success continued as it increasingly targeted larger companies; it’s easier to stack revenue in enterprise-scale chunks than it is by onboarding upstarts.

Enterprise productivity software, of course, is a large percentage of Microsoft’s bread and butter. And as Slack rose — and Microsoft decided against buying the then-nascent rival — the larger company invested in its competing Teams service. Notably, today’s ad push is not the first advertising salvo between the two companies. Slack owns that record, having welcomed Microsoft to its niche in a print ad that isn’t aging particularly well.

Slack and Teams are competing through public usage announcements. Most recently, Teams announced that it has 20 million daily active users (DAUs); Slack’s most recent number is 12 million. Slack, however, has touted how active its DAUs are, implying that it isn’t entirely sure that Microsoft’s figures line up to its own. Still, the rising gap between their numbers is notable.

Microsoft’s new ad campaign is yet another chapter in the ongoing Slack vs. Teams. The ad push itself is only so important. What matters more is that Microsoft is choosing to expend some of its limited public attention bandwidth on Teams over other options.

Stock

While Teams is merely part of the greater Office 365 world that Microsoft has been building for some time, Slack’s product is its business. And since its direct listing, some air has come out of its shares.

Slack’s share price has fallen from the mid-$30s after it debuted to the low-$20s today. I’ve explored that repricing and found that, far from the public markets repudiating Slack’s equity, the company was merely mispriced in its early trading life. The company’s revenue multiple has come down since its first days as a public entity, but remains rich; investors are still pricing Slack like an outstanding company.

Ahead, Slack and Microsoft will continue to trade competing DAU figures. The question becomes how far Slack’s brand can carry it against Microsoft’s enterprise heft.

Zendesk launches Sell Marketplace to bring app store to CRM product

By Ron Miller

Zendesk acquired Base CRM in 2018 to give customers a CRM component to go with its core customer service software. After purchasing the company, it changed the name to Sell, and today the company announced the launch of the new Sell Marketplace.

Officially called The Zendesk Marketplace for Sell, it’s a place where companies can share components that extend the capabilities of the core Sell product. Companies like MailChimp, HubSpot and QuickBooks are available at launch.

App directory in Sell Marketplace. Screenshot: Zendesk

Matt Price, SVP and general manager at Zendesk, sees the marketplace as a way to extend Sell into a platform play, something he thinks could be a “game changer.” He likened it to the impact of app stores on mobile phones.

“It’s that platform that accelerated and really suddenly [transformed smart phones] from being just a product to [launching an] industry. And that’s what the marketplace is doing now, taking Sell from being a really great sales tool to being able to handle anything that you want to throw at it because it’s extensible through apps,” Price explained.

Price says that this ability to extend the product could manifest in several ways. For starters, customers can build private apps with a new application development framework. This enables them to customize Sell for their particular environment, such as connecting to an internal system or building functionality that’s unique to them.

In addition, ISVs can build custom apps, something Price points out they have been doing for some time on the Zendesk customer support side. “Interestingly Zendesk obviously has a very large community of independent developers, hundreds of them, who are [developing apps for] our support product, and now we have another product that they can support,” he said.

Finally, industry partners can add connections to their software. For instance, by installing Dropbox for Sell, it gives sales people a way to save documents to Dropbox and associate them with a deal in Sell.

Of course, what Zendesk is doing here with Sell Marketplace isn’t new. Salesforce introduced this kind of app store concept to the CRM world in 2006 when it launched AppExchange, but the Sell Marketplace still gives Sell users a way to extend the product to meet their unique needs, and that could prove to be a powerful addition.

DigitalOcean is laying off staff, sources say 30-50 affected

By Ingrid Lunden

After appointing a new CEO and CFO last summer, cloud infrastructure provider DigitalOcean is embarking on a wider reorganisation: the startup has announced a round of layoffs, with potentially between 30 and 50 people affected.

DigitalOcean has confirmed the news with the following statement:

“DigitalOcean recently announced a restructuring to better align its teams to its go-forward growth strategy. As part of this restructuring, some roles were, unfortunately, eliminated. DigitalOcean continues to be a high-growth business with $275M in [annual recurring revenues] and more than 500,000 customers globally. Under this new organizational structure, we are positioned to accelerate profitable growth by continuing to serve developers and entrepreneurs around the world.”

Before the confirmation was sent to us this morning, a number of footprints began to emerge last night, when the layoffs first hit, with people on Twitter talking about it, some announcing that they are looking for new opportunities, and some offering help to those impacted. Inbound tips that we received estimate the cuts at between 30 and 50 people. With around 500 employees (an estimate on PitchBook) that would work out to up to 10% of staff affected.

It’s not clear what is going on here — we’ll update as and when we hear more — but when Yancey Spruill and Bill Sorenson were respectively appointed CEO and CFO in July 2019 (Spruill replacing someone who was only in the role for a year), the incoming CEO put out a short statement that, in hindsight, hinted at a refocus of the business in the near future.

“My aspiration is for us to continue to provide everything you love about DO now, but to also enhance our offerings in a way that is meaningful, strategic and most helpful for you over time,” he said at the time.

The company provides a range of cloud infrastructure services to developers, including scalable compute services (“Droplets” in DigitalOcean terminology), managed Kubernetes clusters, object storage, managed database services, Cloud Firewalls, Load Balancers and more, with 12 datacenters globally. It says it works with more than 1 million developers across 195 countries. It’s also been expanding the services that it offers to developers, including more enhancements in its managed database services, and a free hosting option for continuous code testing in partnership with GitLab.

All the same, as my colleague Frederic pointed out when DigitalOcean appointed its latest CEO, while developers have generally been happy with the company, it isn’t as hyped as it once was, and is a smallish player nowadays.

And in an area of business where economies of scale are essential for making good margins on a business, it competes against some of the biggest leviathans in tech: Google (and its Google Cloud Platform), Amazon (which as AWS) and Microsoft (with Azure). That could mean that DigitalOcean is either trimming down as it talks investors for a new round; or to better conserve cash as it sizes up how best to compete against these bigger, deep-pocketed players; or perhaps to start thinking about another kind of exit.

In that context, it’s notable that the company not only appointed a new CFO last summer, but also a CEO with prior CFO experience. It’s been a while since DigitalOcean has raised capital. According to PitchBook, DigitalOcean last raised money in 2017, an undisclosed amount from Mighty Capital, Glean Capital, Viaduct Ventures, Black River Ventures, Hanaco Venture Capital, Torch Capital and EG Capital Advisors. Before that, it took out $130 million in debt, in 2016. Altogether it has raised $198 million and its last valuation was from a round in 2015, $683 million.

We’ll update this post as we learn more. Best wishes to those affected by the news.

Visa’s Plaid acquisition shows a shifting financial services landscape

By Ron Miller

When Visa bought Plaid this week for $5.3 billion, a figure that was twice its private valuation, it was a clear signal that traditional financial services companies are looking for ways to modernize their approach to business.

With Plaid, Visa picks up a modern set of developer APIs that work behind the scenes to facilitate the movement of money. Those APIs should help Visa create more streamlined experiences (both at home and inside other companies’ offerings), build on its existing strengths and allow it to do more than it could have before, alone.

But don’t take our word for it. To get under the hood of the Visa-Plaid deal and understand it from a number of perspectives, TechCrunch got in touch with analysts focused on the space and investors who had put money into the erstwhile startup.

Epsagon scores $16M Series A to monitor modern development environments

By Ron Miller

Epsagon, an Israeli startup that wants to help monitor modern development environments like serverless and containers, announced a $16 million Series A today.

U.S. Venture Partners (USVP), a new investor, led the round. Previous investors Lightspeed Venture Partners and StageOne Ventures also participated. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $20 million, according to the company.

CEO and co-founder Nitzan Shapira says that the company has been expanding its product offerings in the last year to cover not just its serverless roots, but also giving deeper insights into a number of forms of modern development.

“So we spoke around May when we launched our platform for microservices in the cloud products, and that includes containers, serverless and really any kind of workload to build microservices apps. Since then we have had a few several significant announcements,” Shapira told TechCrunch.

For starters, the company announced support or tracing and metrics for Kubernetes workloads including native Kubernetes along with managed Kubernetes services like AWS EKS and Google GKE. “A few months ago, we announced our Kubernetes integration. So, if you’re running any Kubernetes workload, you can integrate with Epsagon in one click, and from there you get all the metrics out of the box, then you can set up a tracing in a matter of minutes. So that opens up a very big number of use cases for us,” he said.

The company also announced support for AWS AppSync, a no-code programming tool on the Amazon cloud platform. “We are the only provider today to introduce tracing for AppSync and that’s [an area] where people really struggle with the monitoring and troubleshooting of it,” he said.

The company hopes to use the money from today’s investment to expand the product offering further with support for Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform in the coming year. He also wants to expand the automation of some tasks that have to be manually configured today.

“Our intention is to make the product as automated as possible, so the user will get an amazing experience in a matter of minutes including advanced monitoring, identifying different problems and troubleshooting,” he said

Shapira says the company has around 25 employees today, and plans to double headcount in the next year.

Cyral announces $11M Series A to help protect data in cloud

By Ron Miller

Cyral, an early-stage startup that helps protect data stored in cloud repositories, announced an $11 million Series A today. The company also revealed a previous undisclosed $4.1 million angel investment, making the total $15.1 million.

The Series A was led by Redpoint Ventures. A.Capital Ventures, Costanoa VC, Firebolt, SV Angel and Trifecta Capital also participated in on the round.

Cyral co-founder and CEO Manav Mital says the company’s product acts as a security layer on top of cloud data repositories — whether databases, data lakes, data warehouse or other data repository — helping identify issues like faulty configurations or anomalous activity.

Mital says that unlike most security data products of this ilk, Cyral doesn’t use an agent or watch points to try to detect signals that indicate something is happening to the data. Instead, he says that Cyral is a security layer attached directly to the data.

“The core innovation of Cyral is to put a layer of visibility attached right to the data endpoint, right to the interface where application services and users talk to the data endpoint, and in real time see the communication,” Mital explained.

As an example, he says that Cyral could detect that someone has suddenly started scanning rows of credit card data, or that someone was trying to connect to a database on an unencrypted connection. In each of these cases, Cyral would detect the problem, and depending on the configuration, send an alert to the customer’s security team to deal with the problem, or automatically shut down access to the database before informing the security team.

It’s still early days for Cyral, with 15 employees and a handful of early access customers. Mital says for this round he’s working on building a product to market that’s well-designed and easy to use.

He says that people get the problem he’s trying to solve. “We could walk into any company and they are all worried about this problem. So for us getting people interested has not been an issue. We just want to make sure we build an amazing product,” he said.

Cloudinary passes $60M ARR without VC money

By Alex Wilhelm

Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between.

Today we’re continuing our exploration of companies that have reached material scale, usually viewed through the lens of annual recurring revenue (ARR). We’ve looked at companies that have reached the $100 million ARR mark and a few that haven’t quite yet, but are on the way.

Today, a special entry. We’re looking at a company that isn’t yet at the $100 million ARR mark. It’s 60% of the way there, but with a twist. The company is bootstrapped. Yep, from pre-life as a consultancy that built a product to fit its own needs, Cloudinary is cruising toward nine-figure recurring revenue and an IPO under its own steam.

Google Cloud gets a premium support plan with 15-minute response times

By Frederic Lardinois

Google Cloud today announced the launch of its premium support plans for enterprise and mission-critical needs. This new plan brings Google’s support offerings for the Google Cloud Platform (GCP) in line with its premium G Suite support options.

“Premium Support has been designed to better meet the needs of our customers running modern cloud technology,” writes Google’s VP of Cloud Support, Atul Nanda. “And we’ve made investments to improve the customer experience, with an updated support model that is proactive, unified, centered around the customer, and flexible to meet the differing needs of their businesses.”

The premium plan, which Google will charge for based on your monthly GCP spent (with a minimum cost of what looks to be about $12,500 per month), promises a 15-minute response time for P1 cases. Those are situations when an application or infrastructure is unusable in production. Other features include training and new product reviews, as well as support for troubleshooting third-party systems.

Google stresses that the team that will answer a company’s calls will consist of “content-aware experts” that know your application stack and architecture. Like with similar premium plans from other vendors, enterprises will have a Technical Account manager who works through these issues with them. Companies with global operations can opt to have (and pay for) technical account managers available during business hours in multiple regions.

The idea here, however, is also to give GCP users more proactive support, which will soon include a site reliability engineering engagement, for example, that is meant to help customers “design a wrapper of supportability around the Google Cloud customer projects that have the highest sensitivity to downtime.” The Support team will also work with customers to get them ready for special events like Black Friday or other peak events in their industry. Over time, the company plans to add more features and additional support plans.

As with virtually all of Google’s recent cloud moves, today’s announcement is part of the company’s efforts to get more enterprises to move to its cloud. Earlier this week, for example, it launched support for IBM’s Power Systems architecture, as well as new infrastructure solutions for retailers. In addition, it also acquired no-code service AppSheet.

Kadena fulfills hybrid blockchain vision with launch of public chain

By Ron Miller

For the last few years blockchain startup Kadena, has been working on a vision of bringing blockchain to the enterprise. Today it announced the final piece of that vision with the launch of the Kadena public blockchain.

In earlier releases, the company offered the ability to build private blockchains on AWS or Azure. Company co-founder and CEO Will Martino says the public network brings together public and private chains in a hybrid vision for the first time.

“The big exciting thing is that the public chain is out, smart contracts are about to turn on, and that allows us to then go and hit the market with what we’re calling these hybrid applications. These are applications that run both on a private blockchain, but have public smart contracts that allow people on the public side to interact with the private chain,” Martino explained.

The smart contracts are a set of rules that must be met and validated for the private and public chains to interact. Only valid actors and actions as defined in the smart contract will be allowed to move between the two chains.

Overcoming scaling issues

One of the major challenges with building a chain like this has been scaling it to meet the needs of enterprise users. Martino says that his company has solved this problem and can scale from the 10 chains today to 10,000 or more in the future as the company grows. He further claims that his company is the only one one with a tractable roadmap capable of achieving this.

Martino says this could help push companies who have been dabbling in blockchain technology in the last couple of years to take a bigger leap. “This is a watershed moment for enterprises. Up until now, they’ve never had a platform that they could go and use on a public blockchain platform and know that it’s going to have the throughput they need if the product they deployed on that blockchain has legs and starts to take off.” Martino says this blockchain has that.

Kadena public blockchain in action.

Kadena has also developed an open source smart contract language called Pact that Martino says allows a lawyer with Excel-level programming understanding to write these contracts and place them on the chain.

“There are a lot of lawyers who are good with Excel, so you can actually hand the smart contracts to a lawyer and have them review them for compliance. And that’s a crazy idea but we think it’s fundamental because when you’re representing core business workflows that are sensitive, you need to be absolutely certain they are compliant.”

Show me the money

The company is making all of the basic pieces available for free. That includes the private chain development tools on AWS and Azure, the public chain released today along with the Pact smart contract language.

Martino says that there are a couple of ways for the business to make money. For starters, it’s building partnerships where it helps companies in various sectors from financial services to insurance and healthcare build viable hybrid applications on the Kadena blockchain. When they make money so will Kadena.

Secondly, they control a bushel of tokens on their public network, which have value, and if the vision comes to fruition, will have much more over time. They will be able to sell some of these tokens on the public market and make money. Right now he says the tokens have a value of between 20 cents and a dollar, but he expects that to increase as the network becomes more viable.

The blockchain has lost some of its luster as it has moved through the enterprise hype cycle in recent years, but if Kadena can succeed in building a fully decentralized, scalable blockchain, it could help push the technology deeper into the enterprise.

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