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Yesterday — July 2nd 2020Your RSS feeds

QuestDB nabs $2.3M seed to build open source time series database

By Ron Miller

QuestDB, a member of the Y Combinator summer 2020 cohort, is building an open source time series database with speed top of mind. Today the startup announced a $2.3 million seed round.

Episode1 Ventures led the round with assistance from Seedcamp, 7percent Ventures, YCombinator, Kima Ventures and several unnamed angel investors.

The database was originally conceived in 2013 when current CTO Vlad Ilyushchenko was building trading systems for a financial services company and he was frustrated by the performance limitations of the databases available at the time, so he began building a database that could handle large amounts of data and process it extremely fast.

For a number of years, QuestDB was a side project, a labor of love for Ilyushchenko until he met his other co-founders Nicolas Hourcard, who became CEO and Tancrede Collard, who became CPO, and the three decided to build a startup on top of the open source project last year.

“We’re building an open source database for time series data, and time series databases are a multi-billion dollar market because they’re central for financial services, IoT and other enterprise applications. And we basically make it easy to handle explosive amounts of data, and to reduce infrastructure costs massively,” Hourcard told TechCrunch.

He adds that it’s also about high performance. “We recently released a demo that you can access from our website that enables you to query a super large datasets — 1.6 billion rows with sub-second queries, mostly, and that just illustrates how performant the software is,” he said.

He sees open source as a way to build adoption from the bottom up inside organizations, winning the hearts and minds of developers first, then moving deeper in the company when they eventually build a managed cloud version of the product. For now, being open source also helps them as a small team to have a community of contributors help build the database and add to its feature set.

“We’ve got this open source product that is free to use, and it’s pretty important for us to have such a distribution model because we can basically empower developers to solve their problems, and we can ask for contributions from various communities. […] And this is really a way to spur adoption,” Hourcard said.

He says that working with YC has allowed them to talk to other companies in the ecosystem who have built similar open source-based startups and that’s been helpful, but it has also helped them learn to set and meet goals and have access to some of the biggest names in Silicon Valley, including Marc Andreessen, who delivered a talk to the cohort the same day we spoke.

Today the company has 7 employees including the three founders, spread out across the US, EU and South America. He sees this geographic diversity helping when it comes to building a diverse team in the future. “We definitely want to have more diverse backgrounds to make sure that we keep having a diverse team and we’re very strongly committed to that.”

For the short term, the company wants to continue building its community, working on continuing to improve the open source product, while working on the managed cloud product.

SEC filing indicates big data provider Palantir is raising $961M, $550M of it already secured

By Ingrid Lunden

Palantir, the secretive big data and analytics provider that works with governments and other public and private organizations to power national security, health and a variety of other services, has reportedly been eyeing up a public listing this autumn. But in the meantime it’s also continuing to push ahead in the private markets.

The company has filed a Form D indicating that it is in the process of raising nearly $1 billion — $961,099,010, to be exact — with $549,727,437 of that already sold, and a further $411,371,573 remaining to be raised.

The filing appears to confirm a report from back in September 2019 that the company was seeking to raise between $1 billion and $3 billion, its first fundraising in four years. That report noted Palantir was targeting a $26 billion valuation, up from $20 billion four years ago. A Reuters article from June put its valuation on secondary market trades at between $10 billion and $14 billion.

The bigger story of that Reuters report was that Palantir confirmed two fundraises from strategic investors that both work with the company: $500 million in funding from Japanese insurance company Sompo Holdings, and $50 million from Fujitsu. Together, it seems like these might account for $550 million already sold on the Form D.

It’s not clear if this fundraise would essentially mean a delay to a public listing, or if it would complement it.

To date Palantir has raised $3.3 billion in funding, according to PitchBook data, with no less than 108 investors on its cap table. But if you dig into the PitchBook data (some of which is behind a paywall) it also seems that Palantir has raised a number of other rounds of undisclosed amounts. Confusingly (but probably apt for a company famous for being secretive) some of that might also be part of this Form D amount.

We have reached out to Palantir to ask about the Form D and will update this post as we learn more.

While Palantir was last valued at $20 billion when it last raised money four years ago, there are some data points that point to a bigger valuation today.

In April, according to a Bloomberg report, the company briefed investors with documents showing that it expects to make $1 billion in revenues this year, up 38% on 2019, and breaking even in the first time since being founded 16 years ago by Peter Thiel, Nathan Gettings, Joe Lonsdale, Stephen Cohen, and current CEO, Alex Karp.

(The Bloomberg report didn’t explain why Palantir was briefing investors, whether for a potential public listing, or for the fundraise we’re reporting on here, or something else.)

On top of that, the company has been in the news a lot around the global novel coronavirus pandemic. Specifically, it’s been winning business, in the form of projects in major markets like the UK (where it’s part of a consortium of companies working with the NHS on a COVID-19 data trove) and the US (where it’s been working on a COVID-19 tracker for the federal government and a project with the CDC), and possibly others. Those projects will presumably need a lot of upfront capital to set up and run, possibly one reason raising money now.

Unpacking how Dell’s debt load and VMware stake could come together

By Ron Miller

Last week, we discussed the possibility that Dell could be exploring a sale of VMware as a way to deal with its hefty debt load, a weight that continues to linger since its $67 billion acquisition of EMC in 2016. VMware was the most valuable asset in the EMC family of companies, and it remains central to Dell’s hybrid cloud strategy today.

As CNBC pointed out last week, VMware is a far more valuable company than Dell itself, with a market cap of almost $62 billion. Dell, on the other hand, has a market cap of around $39 billion.

How is Dell, which owns 81% of VMware, worth less than the company it controls? We believe it’s related to that debt, and if we’re right, Dell could unlock lots of its own value by reducing its indebtedness. In that light, the sale, partial or otherwise, of VMware starts to look like a no-brainer from a financial perspective.

At the end of its most recent quarter, Dell had $8.4 billion in short-term debt and long-term debts totaling $48.4 billion. That’s a lot, but Dell has the ability to pay down a significant portion of that by leveraging the value locked inside its stake in VMware.

Yes, but …

Nothing is ever as simple as it seems. As Holger Mueller from Constellation Research pointed out in our article last week, VMware is the one piece of the Dell family that is really continuing to innovate. Meanwhile, Dell and EMC are stuck in hardware hell at a time when companies are moving faster than ever expected to the cloud due to the pandemic.

Dell is essentially being handicapped by a core business that involves selling computers, storage and the like to in-house data centers. While it’s also looking to modernize that approach by trying to be the hybrid link between on-premise and the cloud, the economy is also working against it. The pandemic has made the difficult prospect of large enterprise selling even more challenging without large conferences, golf outings and business lunches to grease the skids of commerce.

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Fleetsmith customers unhappy with loss of third-party app support after Apple acquisition

By Ron Miller

When Apple confirmed it had acquired Fleetsmith, a mobile device management vendor, on Wednesday, it seemed like a straightforward purchase, but Fleetsmith customers quickly learned a key piece of functionality had stopped working  — and many weren’t happy about it.

Apple systems administrators began complaining on social media on the morning of the acquisition announcement that the company was no longer allowing them to connect to third-party applications.

“Primarily Fleetsmith maintained a third party app catalog, so you could deploy things like Chrome or Zoom to your Macs, and Fleetsmith would maintain security updates for those apps. This was the main reason we purchased Fleetsmith,” a Fleetsmith customer told TechCrunch.

The customer added that the company described this functionality as a major feature in a company blog post:

Fleetsmith handles this all for you automatically. Once the version is enforced, it is downloaded and queued for install immediately across the device fleet. Most apps will update silently and automatically once they’re restarted, but users can also choose to do the update manually. Our agent will remind users about the update periodically, and then once the enforcement date hits, it will give them an opportunity to save work and then run the update itself.

As it turned out, Apple had made it clear that it was discontinuing this feature in an email to Fleetsmith customers on the day of the transition. The email included links to several help articles that were supposed to assist admins with the transition. (The email is included in full at the end of the article).

The general consensus among admins that I spoke to was that these articles were not terribly helpful. While they described a way to fix the issues, they said that Apple has turned what was a highly automated experience into a highly manual one, effectively eliminating the speed and ease of use advantage of having then update feature in the first place.

Apple did confirm that it had responded to some help ticket requests after the changes this week, saying that it would soon restore some configurations for Catalog apps, and were working with impacted customers as needed. The company did not make clear, however, why they removed this functionality in the first place.

Fleetsmith offered a couple of key features that appealed to Mac system administrators. For starters, it let them set up new Macs automatically out of the box. This allows them to ship a new Mac or other Apple device, and as soon as the employee powers it up and connects to WiFi, it connects to Fleetsmith where systems administrators can track usage and updates. In addition, it allowed System Administrators to enforce Apple security and OS updates on company devices.

What’s more, it could also do the same thing with third-party applications like Google Chrome, Zoom or many others. When these companies pushed a new update, system administrators could make sure all users had the most recent version running on their machines. This is the key functionality that was removed this week.

It’s not clear why Apple chose to strip out these features outlined in the email to customers, but it seems likely that most of this functionality  isn’t coming back, other than restoring some configurations for Catalog apps.

Email that went out to Fleetsmith customers the day of the acquisition outlining the changes:

 

Attempts to reach Fleetsmith founders for comment were unsuccessful. Should that change we will update the article.

CIO Cynthia Stoddard explains Adobe’s journey from boxes to the cloud

By Ron Miller

Up until 2013, Adobe sold its software in cardboard boxes that were distributed mostly by third party vendors.

In time, the company realized there were a number of problems with that approach. For starters, it took months or years to update, and Adobe software was so costly, much of its user base didn’t upgrade. But perhaps even more important than the revenue/development gap was the fact that Adobe had no direct connection to the people who purchased its products.

By abdicating sales to others, Adobe’s customers were third-party resellers, but changing the distribution system also meant transforming the way the company developed and sold their most lucrative products.

The shift was a bold move that has paid off handsomely as the company surpassed an $11 billion annual run rate in December — but it still was an enormous risk at the time. We spoke to Adobe CIO Cynthia Stoddard to learn more about what it took to completely transform the way they did business.

Understanding the customer

Before Adobe could make the switch to selling software as a cloud service subscription, it needed a mechanism for doing that, and that involved completely repurposing their web site, Adobe.com, which at the time was a purely informational site.

“So when you think about transformation the first transformation was how do we connect and sell and how do we transition from this large network of third parties into selling direct to consumer with a commerce site that needed to be up 24×7,” Stoddard explained.

She didn’t stop there though because they weren’t just abandoning the entire distribution network that was in place. In the new cloud model, they still have a healthy network of partners and they had to set up the new system to accommodate them alongside individual and business customers.

She says one of the keys to managing a set of changes this immense was that they didn’t try to do everything at once. “One of the things we didn’t do was say, ‘We’re going to move to the cloud, let’s throw everything away.’ What we actually did is say we’re going to move to the cloud, so let’s iterate and figure out what’s working and not working. Then we could change how we interact with customers, and then we could change the reporting, back office systems and everything else in a very agile manner,” she said.

Salesforce announces a new mobile collaboration tool for sales called Anywhere

By Ron Miller

Even before the pandemic pushed most employees to work from home, sales people often worked outside of the office. Salesforce introduced a new tool today at the Trailheadx Conference called Salesforce Anywhere that’s designed to let teams collaborate and share data wherever they happen to be.

Salesforce VP of product, Michael Machado says that the company began thinking about the themes of working from anywhere pre-COVID. “We were really thinking across the board what a mobile experience would be for the end users that’s extremely opinionated, really focuses on the jobs to be done and is optimized for what workers need and how that user experience can be transformed,” Machado explained.

As the pandemic took hold and the company saw how important collaboration was becoming in a digital context, the idea of an app like this took on a new sense of urgency. “When COVID happened, it really added fuel to the fire as we looked around the market and saw that this is a huge need with our customers going through a major transformation, and we wanted to be there to support them in Salesforce with kind of a native experience,” he said.

The idea is to move beyond the database and help surface the information that matters most to individual sales people based on their pipelines. “So we’re going to provide real time alerts so users are able to subscribe to their own alerts that they want to be notified about, whether it’s based on a list they use or a report that they work off of [in Salesforce], but also at the granularity of a single field in Salesforce,” he said.

Employees can then share information across a team, and have chats related to that information. While there are other chat tools out there, Machado says that this tool is focused on sharing Salesforce data, rather than being general purpose like Slack or other business chat tool.

Image Credit: Salesforce

 

Salesforce sees this as another way to remove the complexity of working in CRM. It’s not a secret that sales people don’t love entering customer information into CRM tools, so the company is attempting to leverage that information to make it worth their while. If the tool isn’t creating a layer of work just for record keeping’s sake, but actually taking advantage of that information to give the sales person key information about his or her pipeline when it matters most, that makes the record keeping piece more attractive. Being able to share and communicate around that information is another advantage.

This also creates a new collaboration layer that is increasingly essential with workers spread out and working from home. Even when we return to some semblance of normal, sales people on the road can use Anywhere to collaborate, communicate and stay on top of their tasks.

The new tool will be available in Beta in July. The company expects to make it generally available some time in the fourth quarter this year.

Zoom founder and CEO Eric Yuan will speak at Disrupt 2020

By Jordan Crook

The coronavirus pandemic has bruised and battered many technology startups, but it has also boosted a small few. One such company is Zoom, which has shouldered the task of keeping us connected to one another in the midst of remote work and social distancing.

So, of course, we’re absolutely thrilled to have the chance to chat with Zoom founder and CEO Eric Yuan at Disrupt 2020 online.

Yuan moved to Silicon Valley in 1997 after being rejected for a work visa nine times. He got a job at WebEx and, upon the company’s acquisition by Cisco, became VP of Engineering at the company. He pitched an idea for a mobile-friendly video conferencing system that was rejected by his higher-ups.

And thus, Zoom was born.

Zoom launched in 2011 and quickly became one of the biggest teleconferencing platforms in the world, competing with the likes of Google and Cisco. The company has investors like Emergence, Horizon Ventures and Sequoia, and ultimately filed to go public in 2019.

With some of the most reliable video conferencing software on the market, a tiered pricing structure that’s friendly to average users and massive enterprises alike, and a lively ecosystem of apps and bots on the Zoom App Marketplace, Zoom was well poised to be a public company. In fact, Zoom popped 81% in its first day of trading on the Nasdaq, garnering a valuation of $16 billion at the time.

But few could have prepared the company for the explosive growth it would see in 2020.

The coronavirus pandemic necessitated access to reliable and user-friendly video conferencing software for everyone, not just companies moving to remote work. People used Zoom for family dinners, cocktail hours with friends, first dates and religious gatherings.

In fact, Zoom reported 300 million daily active participants in April.

But that growth led to increased scrutiny of the business and the product. The company was beset by security issues and had to pause product innovation to focus its energy on resolving those issues.

We’ll talk to Yuan about the growing pains the company went through, his plans for Zoom’s future, the acceleration in changing user behavior and more.

It’ll be a conversation you won’t want to miss.

Disrupt 2020 runs from September 14 to September 18, and the show will be completely virtual. That means it’s easier than ever to attend and engage with the show. There are just a few Digital Pro Passes left at the $245 price — once they are gone, prices will increase. Discounts are available for current students and nonprofit/government employees. Or if you are a founder, you can exhibit at your virtual booth for $445 and be able to generate leads even before the event kicks off. Get your tickets today.

Why AWS built a no-code tool

By Frederic Lardinois

AWS today launched Amazon Honeycode, a no-code environment built around a spreadsheet-like interface that is a bit of a detour for Amazon’s cloud service. Typically, after all, AWS is all about giving developers all of the tools to build their applications — but they then have to put all of the pieces together. Honeycode, on the other hand, is meant to appeal to non-coders who want to build basic line-of-business applications. If you know how to work a spreadsheet and want to turn that into an app, Honeycode is all you need.

To understand AWS’s motivation behind the service, I talked to AWS VP Larry Augustin and Meera Vaidyanathan, a general manager at AWS.

“For us, it was about extending the power of AWS to more and more users across our customers,” explained Augustin. “We consistently hear from customers that there are problems they want to solve, they would love to have their IT teams or other teams — even outsourced help — build applications to solve some of those problems. But there’s just more demand for some kind of custom application than there are available developers to solve it.”

Image Credits: Amazon

In that respect then, the motivation behind Honeycode isn’t all that different from what Microsoft is doing with its PowerApps low-code tool. That, too, after all, opens up the Azure platform to users who aren’t necessarily full-time developers. AWS is taking a slightly different approach here, though, but emphasizing the no-code part of Honeycode.

“Our goal with honey code was to enable the people in the line of business, the business analysts, project managers, program managers who are right there in the midst, to easily create a custom application that can solve some of the problems for them without the need to write any code,” said Augustin. “And that was a key piece. There’s no coding required. And we chose to do that by giving them a spreadsheet-like interface that we felt many people would be familiar with as a good starting point.”

A lot of low-code/no-code tools also allow developers to then “escape the code,” as Augstin called it, but that’s not the intent here and there’s no real mechanism for exporting code from Honeycode and take it elsewhere, for example. “One of the tenets we thought about as we were building Honeycode was, gee, if there are things that people want to do and we would want to answer that by letting them escape the code — we kept coming back and trying to answer the question, ‘Well, okay, how can we enable that without forcing them to escape the code?’ So we really tried to force ourselves into the mindset of wanting to give people a great deal of power without escaping to code,” he noted.

Image Credits: Amazon

There are, however, APIs that would allow experienced developers to pull in data from elsewhere. Augustin and Vaidyanathan expect that companies may do this for their users on tthe platform or that AWS partners may create these integrations, too.

Even with these limitations, though, the team argues that you can build some pretty complex applications.

“We’ve been talking to lots of people internally at Amazon who have been building different apps and even within our team and I can honestly say that we haven’t yet come across something that is impossible,” Vaidyanathan said. “I think the level of complexity really depends on how expert of a builder you are. You can get very complicated with the expressions [in the spreadsheet] that you write to display data in a specific way in the app. And I’ve seen people write — and I’m not making this up — 30-line expressions that are just nested and nested and nested. So I really think that it depends on the skills of the builder and I’ve also noticed that once people start building on Honeycode — myself included — I start with something simple and then I get ambitious and I want to add this layer to it — and I want to do this. That’s really how I’ve seen the journey of builders progress. You start with something that’s maybe just one table and a couple of screens, and very quickly, before you know, it’s a far more robust app that continues to evolve with your needs.”

Another feature that sets Honeycode apart is that a spreadsheet sits at the center of its user interface. In that respect, the service may seem a bit like Airtable, but I don’t think that comparison holds up, given that both then take these spreadsheets into very different directions. I’ve also seen it compared to Retool, which may be a better comparison, but Retool is going after a more advanced developer and doesn’t hide the code. There is a reason, though, why these services were built around them and that is simply that everybody is familiar with how to use them.

“People have been using spreadsheets for decades,” noted Augustin. “They’re very familiar. And you can write some very complicated, deep, very powerful expressions and build some very powerful spreadsheets. You can do the same with Honeycode. We felt people were familiar enough with that metaphor that we could give them that full power along with the ability to turn that into an app.”

The team itself used the service to manage the launch of Honeycode, Vaidyanathan stressed — and to vote on the name for the product (though Vaidyanathan and Augustin wouldn’t say which other names they considered.

“I think we have really, in some ways, a revolutionary product in terms of bringing the power of AWS and putting it in the hands of people who are not coders,” said Augustin.

AWS launches Amazon Honeycode, a no-code mobile and web app builder

By Frederic Lardinois

AWS today announced the beta launch of Amazon Honeycode, a new fully managed low-code/no-code development tool that aims to make it easy for anybody in a company to build their own applications. All of this, of course, is backed by a database in AWS and a web-based drag-and-drop interface builder.

Developers can build applications for up to 20 users for free. After that, the pay per user and for the storage their applications take up.

Image Credits: Amazon/AWS

Like similar tools, Honeycode provides users with a set of templates for commonly use cases like to-do list applications, customer trackers, surveys, schedules and inventory management. Traditionally, AWS argues, a lot of businesses have relied on shared spreadsheets to do these things.

“Customers try to solve for the static nature of spreadsheets by emailing them back and forth, but all of the emailing just compounds the inefficiency because email is slow, doesn’t scale, and introduces versioning and data syncing errors,” the company notes in today’s announcement. “As a result, people often prefer having custom applications built, but the demand for custom programming often outstrips developer capacity, creating a situation where teams either need to wait for developers to free up or have to hire expensive consultants to build applications.”

It’s no surprise then that Honeycode uses a spreadsheet view as its core data interface, which makes sense, given how familiar virtually every potential user is with this concept. To manipulate data, users can work with standard spreadsheet-style formulas, which seems to be about the closest the service gets to actual programming.

AWS says these databases can easily scale up to 100,000 rows per workbook. With this, AWS argues, users can then focus on building their applications without having to worry about the underlying infrastructure.

Honeycode currently only runs in the AWS US West region in Oregon but is coming to other regions soon.

Among its first customers are SmugMug and Slack.

Updating…

Dell’s debt hangover from $67B EMC deal could put VMware stock in play

By Ron Miller

When Dell bought EMC in 2016 for $67 billion it was one of the biggest acquisitions in tech history, and it brought with it a boatload of debt. Since then Dell has been working on ways to mitigate that debt by selling off various pieces of the corporate empire and going public again, but one of its most valuable assets remains VMware, a company that came over as part of the huge EMC deal.

The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that Dell is considering selling part of its stake in VMware. The news sent the stock of both companies soaring.

It’s important to understand that even though VMware is part of the Dell family, it runs as a separate company, with its own stock and operations, just as it did when it was part of EMC. Still, Dell owns 81% of that stock, so it could sell a substantial stake and still own a majority the company, or it could sell it all, or incorporate into the Dell family, or of course it could do nothing at all.

Patrick Moorhead, founder and principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy thinks this might just be about floating a trial balloon. “Companies do things like this all the time to gauge value, together and apart, and my hunch is this is one of those pieces of research,” Moorhead told TechCrunch.

But as Holger Mueller, an analyst with Constellation Research, points out, it’s an idea that could make sense. “It’s plausible. VMware is more valuable than Dell, and their innovation track record is better than Dell’s over the last few years,” he said.

Mueller added that Dell has been juggling its debts since the EMC acquisition, and it will struggle to innovate its way out of that situation. What’s more, Dell has to wait on any decision until September 2021 when it can move some or all of VMware tax-free, five years after the EMC acquisition closed.

“While Dell can juggle finances, it cannot master innovation. The company’s cloud strategy is only working on a shrinking market and that ain’t easy to execute and grow on. So yeah, next year makes sense after the five year tax free thing kicks in,” he said.

In between the spreadsheets

VMware is worth $63.9 billion today, while Dell is valued at a far more modest $38.9 billion, according to Yahoo Finance data. But beyond the fact that the companies’ market caps differ, they are also quite different in terms of their ability to generate profit.

Looking at their most recent quarters each ending May 1, 2020, Dell turned $21.9 billion in revenue into just $143 million in net income after all expenses were counted. In contrast, VMware generated just $2.73 billion in revenue, but managed to turn that top line into $386 million worth of net income.

So, VMware is far more profitable than Dell from a far smaller revenue base. Even more, VMware grew more last year (from $2.45 billion to $2.73 billion in revenue in its most recent quarter) than Dell, which shrank from $21.91 billion in Q1 F2020 revenue to $21.90 billion in its own most recent three-month period.

VMware also has growing subscription software (SaaS) revenues. Investors love that top line varietal in 2020, having pushed the valuation of SaaS companies to new heights. VMware grew its SaaS revenues from $411 million in the year-ago period to $572 million in its most recent quarter. That’s not rocketship growth mind you, but the business category was VMware’s fastest growing segment in percentage and gross dollar terms.

So VMware is worth more than Dell, and there are some understandable reasons for the situation. Why wouldn’t Dell sell some VMware to lower its debts if the market is willing to price the virtualization company so strongly? Heck, with less debt perhaps Dell’s own market value would rise.

It’s all about that debt

Almost four years after the deal closed, Dell is still struggling to figure out how to handle all the debt, and in a weak economy, that’s an even bigger challenge now. At some point, it would make sense for Dell to cash in some of its valuable chips, and its most valuable one is clearly VMware.

Nothing is imminent because of the five year tax break business, but could something happen? September 2021 is a long time away, and a lot could change between now and then, but on its face, VMware offers a good avenue to erase a bunch of that outstanding debt very quickly and get Dell on much firmer financial ground. Time will tell if that’s what happens.

Apple has acquired Fleetsmith, a startup that helps IT manage Apple devices remotely

By Ron Miller

At a time where IT has to help employees set up and manage devices remotely, a service that simplifies those processes could certainly come in handy. Apple recognized that, and acquired Fleetsmith today, a startup that helps companies do precisely that with Apple devices.

While Apple didn’t publicize the acquisition, it has confirmed the deal with TechCrunch, while Fleetsmith announced the deal in a company blog post. Neither company was sharing the purchase price.

The startup has built technology that takes advantage of the Apple’s Device Enrollment Program allowing IT departments to bring devices online as soon as the employee takes it out of the box and powers it up.

At the time of its $30 million Series B funding last year, CEO Zack Blum explained the company’s core value proposition: “From a customer perspective, they can ship devices directly to their employees. The employee unwraps it, connects to Wi-Fi and the device is enrolled automatically in Fleetsmith,” Blum explained at that time.

Over time, the company has layered on other useful pieces beyond automating device registration like updating devices automatically with OS and security updates, while letting IT see a dashboard of the status of all devices under management, all in a pretty slick interface.

While Apple will in all likelihood continue to work with Jamf, the leader in the Apple device management space, this acquisition gives the company a remote management option at a time where it’s essential with so many employees working from home.

Fleetsmith, which has raised over $40 million from investors like Menlo Ventures, Tiger Global Management, Upfront Ventures and Harrison Metal will continue to sell the product through the company website, according to the blog post.

The founders put a happy on the face on the deal, as founders tend to do. “We’re thrilled to join Apple. Our shared values of putting the customer at the center of everything we do without sacrificing privacy and security, means we can truly meet our mission, delivering Fleetsmith to businesses and institutions of all sizes, around the world,” they wrote.

Slack announces Connect, an improved way for companies to talk to one another

By Alex Wilhelm

Virtual events are the new norm for product rollouts in 2020, with Slack taking to the internet earlier today to talk about a new part of its service called Slack Connect.

On the heels of Apple’s lengthy and pretty good virtual WWDC that took place earlier this week, Slack’s event, part experiment and part press conference, was called to detail the firm’s new Slack Connect capability, which will allow companies to better link together and communicate inside of their Slack instance than what was possible with its shared channels feature. The product was described inside of a business-to-business context, including examples about companies needing to chat with agencies and other external vendors.

In its most basic form, Slack is well-known for internal chat functionality, helping teams talk amongst themselves. Slack Connect appears to be a progression past that idea, pushing internal communications tooling to allow companies to plug their private comms into the private comms of other orgs, linking them for simple communication while keeping the entire affair secure.

Slack Connect, a evolution past what shared channels offered, includes better security tooling and the ability to share channels across 20 orgs. The enterprise SaaS company is also working to give Connect-using companies “the ability to form DM connections independent of channels,” the company told TechCrunch.

The product could slim down email usage; if Slack Connect can let many orgs chat amongst themselves, perhaps fewer emails will be needed to keep different companies in sync. That said, Slack is hardly a quiet product. During his part of the presentation, Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield noted that the service sees up to 65 million messages sent each second at peak times.

According to the CEO, Slack Connect has been piloted for a few months, and is now available for paid plans.

Slack shares are off 3.8% today, before the news came out. Its broader company cohort (SaaS) are also down today, along with the market more broadly; investors don’t appear to have reacted to this piece of news, at least yet.

Databricks acquires Redash, a visualizations service for data scientists

By Frederic Lardinois

Data and analytics service Databricks today announced that it has acquired Redash, a company that helps data scientists and analysts visualize their data and build dashboards around it.

Redash’s customers include the likes of Atlassian, Cloudflare, Mozilla and Soundcloud and the company offers both an open source self-hosted version of its tools, as well as paid hosted options.

The two companies did not disclose the financial details of the acquisition. According to Crunchbase, Tel Aviv-based Redash never raised any outside funding.

Databricks co-founder CEO Ali Ghodsi told me that the two companies met because one of his customers was using the product. “Since then, we’ve been impressed with the entire team and their attention to quality,” he said. “The combination of Redash and Databricks is really the missing link in the equation — an amazing backend with Lakehouse and an amazing front end built-in visualization and dashboarding feature from Redash to make the magic happen.”

Image Credits: Databricks

For Databricks, this is also a clear signal that it wants its service to become the go-to platform for all data teams and offer them all of the capabilities they would need to extract value from their data in a single platform.

“Not only are our organizations aligned in our open source heritage, but we also share in the mission to democratize and simplify data and AI so that data teams and more broadly, business intelligence users, can innovate faster,” Ghodsi noted. “We are already seeing awesome results for our customers in the combined technologies and look forward to continuing to grow together.”

In addition to the Redash acquisition, Databricks also today announced the launch of its Delta Engine, a new high-performance query engine for use with the company’s Delta Lake transaction layer.

Databricks’ new Delta Engine for Delta Lake enables fast query execution for data analytics and data science, without moving the data out of the data lake,” the company explains. “The high-performance query engine has been built from the ground up to take advantage of modern cloud hardware for accelerated query performance. With this improvement, Databricks customers are able to move to a unified data analytics platform that can support any data use case and result in meaningful operational efficiencies and cost savings.”

Airtable’s Howie Liu to join us at Disrupt 2020

By Jordan Crook

Collaborative enterprise software is absolutely booming, and Airtable is riding that wave in a very real way.

The company, which offers a flexible, collaborative database product, has raised more than $170 million in funding from investors like CRV, Benchmark, Coatue Management, and Thrive Capital. So it should come as no surprise that we’re simply thrilled to have Airtable cofounder and CEO Howie Liu join us at Disrupt 2020.

Liu went to Duke University before starting his first company, eTacts, which was an automated CRM system that received investment from the founders of YouTube, Powerset and Delicious, as well as investors like Ron Conway and Ashton Kutcher.

Liu then went on to lead the social CRM product for Salesforce before leaving to set his own course once again with Airtable .

Airtable was founded back in 2012 with a broad mission of democratizing software. At its essence, Airtable is a relational database. Laymen can think of it as a Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel on steroids, but it actually goes much deeper than that.

Software is built on data — organized data, to be exact — and while many of us can compile and organize data into a spreadsheet, few can make it sing its way to a software product. Airtable aims to make that possible for anyone, even a non-developer.

That said, the company faces several hurdles. Airtable is a product that can be used in many, many ways, from tracking sales goals to organizing product road maps to managing workflows. With this type of open-ended product, it can be difficult to educate the end-user on how to make the most of it, or how to use it to begin with.

We’ll talk with Liu about how to build a very complex product in the most user-friendly way possible. We’ll also ask him about the state of enterprise software sales at a time when most large companies are freezing or decreasing spending, the future of no- and low-code software, and how he thinks about hyper-growth.

Disrupt is all virtual in 2020 and runs September 14 to September 18, and we have several Digital Pass options to be part of the action or to exhibit virtually, which you can check out here.

Liu joins a stellar roster of speakers, including Roelof Botha, Cyan Banister, Charles Hudson, and Mike Cannon-Brookes, with more speakers to be announced soon!

Cloud Foundry gets an updated CLI to make life easier for enterprise developers

By Frederic Lardinois

The Cloud Foundry Foundation, the nonprofit behind the popular open-source enterprise platform-as-a-service project, is holding its developer conference today. What’s usually a bi-annual community gathering (traditionally one in Europe and one in North America) is now a virtual event, but there’s still plenty of news from the Summit, both from the organization itself and from the wider ecosystem.

After going through a number of challenging technical changes in order to adapt to the new world of containers and DevOps, the organization’s focus these days is squarely on improving the developer experience around Cloud Foundry (CF). The promise of CF, after all, has always been that it would make life easier for enterprise developers (assuming they follow the overall CF processes).

“There are really two areas of focus that our community has: number one, re-platform on Kubernetes. No major announcements about that. […] And then the secondary focus is continuing to evolve our developer experience,” Chip Childers, the executive director of the Cloud Foundry Foundation, told me ahead of today’s announcements.

At the core of the CF experience is its “cf” command-line interface(CLI). With today’s update, this is getting a number of new capabilities, mostly with an eye to giving developers more flexibility to support their own workflows.

“The cf CLI v7 was made possible through the tremendous work of a diverse, distributed group of collaborators and committers,” said Josh Collins, Cloud Foundry’s CLI project lead and senior product manager at VMware. “Modern development techniques are much simpler with Cloud Foundry as a result of the new CLI, which abstracts away the nuances of the CF API into a command-line interface that’s easy and elegant to use.”

Built on top of CF’s v3 APIs, which have been in the making for a while, the new CLI enables features like rolling app deployments for example, to allow developers to push updates without downtime. “Let’s say you have a number of instances of the application out there and you want to slowly roll instance by instance to perform the upgrade and allow traffic to be spread across both new and old versions,” explained Childers. “Being able to do that with just a simple command is a very powerful thing.”

Developers can also now run sub-steps of their “cf -push” processes. With this, they get more granular control over their deployments (“cf -push” is the command for deploying a CF application) and they now get the ability to push apps that run multiple processes, maybe for a UI process and a worker process.

In the overall Cloud Foundry ecosystem, things continue at their regular pace, with EngineerBetter, for example, joining the Cloud Foundry Foundation as a new member, Suse updating its Cloud Application Platform and long-time CF backers like anynines, Atos and Grape Up updating their respective CF-centric platforms, too. Stark & Wayne, which has long offered a managed CF solution, too, is launching new support options with the addition of college-style advisory sessions and an update to its Kubernetes-centric Gluon controller for CF deployments.

Suse launches version 2.0 of its Cloud Foundry-based Cloud Application Platform

By Frederic Lardinois

Suse, the well-known German open-source company that went through more corporate owners than anybody can remember until it finally became independent again in 2019, has long been a champion of Cloud Foundry, the open-source platform-as-a-service project. And while you may think of Suse as a Linux distribution, today’s company also offers a number of other services, including a container platform, DevOps tools and the Suse Cloud Application Platform, based on Cloud Foundry. Today, right in time for the bi-annual (and now virtual) Cloud Foundry Summit, the company announced the launch of version 2.0 of this platform.

The promise of the Application Platform, and indeed Cloud Foundry, is that it allows for one-step application deployments and an enterprise-ready platform to host them.

The marquee feature of version 2.0 is that it now includes a new Kubernetes Operator, a standard way of packaging, deploying and managing container-based applications, which makes deploying and managing Cloud Foundry on Kubernetes infrastructure easier.

Suse President of Engineering and Innovation Thomas Di Giacomo also notes that it’s now easier to “install, operate and maintain on Kubernetes platforms anywhere — on premises and in public clouds,” and that it opens up a new path for existing Cloud Foundry users to move to a modern container-based architecture. Indeed, for the last few years, Suse has been crucial to bringing both Kubernetes support to Cloud Foundry and Cloud Foundry to Kubernetes.

Cloud Foundry, it’s worth noting, long used its home-grown container orchestration tool, which the community developed before anybody had even heard of Kubernetes. Over the course of the last few years, though, Kubernetes became the de facto standard for container management, and today, Cloud Foundry supports both its own Diego tool and Kubernetes.

Suse Cloud Application Platform 2.0 builds on and advances those efforts, incorporating several upstream technologies recently contributed by Suse to the Cloud Foundry Community,” writes Di Giacomo. “These include KubeCF, a containerized version of the Cloud Foundry Application Runtime designed to run on Kubernetes, and Project Quarks, a Kubernetes operator for automating deployment and management of Cloud Foundry on Kubernetes.”

Lightrun raises $4M for its continuous debugging and observability platform

By Frederic Lardinois

Lightrun, a Tel Aviv-based startup that makes it easier for developers to debug their production code, today announced that it has raised a $4 million seed round led by Glilot Capital Partners, with participation from a number fo engineering executives from several Fortune 500 firms.

The company, which was co-founded by Ilan Peleg (who, in a previous life, was a competitive 800m runner) and Leonid Blouvshtein, with Peleg taking the CEO role and Blouvshtein the CTO position.

The overall idea behind Lightrun is that it’s too hard for developers to debug their production code. “In today’s world, whenever a developer issues a new software version and deploys it into production, the only way to understand the application’s behavior is based on log lines or metrics which were defined during the development stage,” Peleg explained. “The thing is, that is simply not enough. We’ve all encountered cases of missing a very specific log line when trying to troubleshoot production issues, then having to release a new hotfix version in order to add this specific logline, or –alternatively — reproduce the bug locally to better understand the application’s behavior.”

With Lightrun, as the co-founders showed me in a demo, developers can easily add new logs and metrics to their code from their IDE and then receive real-time data from their real production or development environments. For that to work, they need to have the Lightrun agent installed, but the overhead here is generally low because the agent sits idle until it is needed. In the IDE, the experience isn’t all that different from setting a traditional breakpoint in a debugger — only that there is no break. Lightrun can also use existing logging tools like Datadog to pipe its logging data to them.

While the service’s agent is agnostic about the environment it runs in, the company currently only supports JVM languages. Blouvshtein noted that building JVM language support was likely harder than building support for other languages and the company plans to launch support for more languages in the future.

“We make a point of investing in technologies that transform big industries,” said Kobi Samboursky, founder and managing partner at Glilot Capital Partners . “Lightrun is spearheading Continuous Debugging and Continuous Observability, picking up where CI/CD ends, turning observability into a real-time process instead of the iterative process it is today. We’re confident that this will become DevOps and development best practices, enabling I&O leaders to react faster to production issues.”

For now, there is still a bit of an onboarding process to get started with Lightrun, though that’s generally a very short process, the team tells me. Over time, the company plans to make this a self-service process. At that point, Lightrun will likely also become more interesting to smaller teams and individual developers, though the company is mostly focused on enterprise users and despite only really launching out of stealth today and offering limited language support, the company already has a number of paying customers, including major enterprises.

“Our strategy is based on two approaches: bottom-up and top-down. Bottom-up, we’re targeting developers, they are the end-users and we want to ensure they get a quality product they can trust to help them. We put a lot of effort into reaching out through the developer channels and communities, as well as enabling usage and getting feedback. […] Top-down approach, we are approaching R&D management like VP of R&D, R&D directors in bigger companies and then we show them how Lightrun saves company development resources and improves customer satisfaction.”

Unsurprisingly, the company, which currently has about a dozen employees, plans to use the new funding to add support for more languages and to improve its service with new features, including support for tracing.

Cape Privacy launches data science collaboration platform with $5.06M seed investment

By Ron Miller

Cape Privacy emerged from stealth today after spending two years building a platform for data scientists to privately share encrypted data. The startup also announced $2.95 million in new funding and $2.11 million in funding it got when the business launched in 2018 for a total of $5.06 million raised.

Boldstart Ventures and Version One led the round with participation from Haystack, Radical Ventures and Faktory Ventures.

Company CEO Ché Wijesinghe says that data science teams often have to deal with data sets that contain sensitive data and share data internally or externally for collaboration purposes. It creates a legal and regulatory data privacy conundrum that Cape Privacy is trying to solve.

“Cape Privacy is a collaboration platform designed to help focus on data privacy for data scientists. So the biggest challenge that people have today from a business perspective is managing privacy policies for machine learning and data science,” Wijesinghe told TechCrunch.

The product breaks down that problem into a couple of key areas. First of all it can take language from lawyers and compliance teams and convert that into code that automatically generates policies about who can see the different types of data in a given data set. What’s more, it has machine learning underpinnings so it also learns about company rules and preferences over time.

It also has a cryptographic privacy component. By wrapping the data with a cryptographic cypher, it lets teams share sensitive data in a safe way without exposing the data to people who shouldn’t be seeing it because of legal or regulatory compliance reasons.

“You can send something to a competitor as an example that’s encrypted, and they’re able  to process that encrypted data without decrypting it, so they can train their model on encrypted data,” company co-founder and CTO Gavin Uhma explained.

The company closed the new round in April, which means they were raising in the middle of a pandemic, but it didn’t hurt that they had built the product already and were ready to go to market, and that Uhma and his co-founders had already built a successful startup, GoInstant that was acquired by Salesforce in 2012. (It’s worth noting that GoInstant debuted at TechCrunch Disrupt in 2011.)

Uhma and his team brought Wijesinghe on board to build the sales and marketing team because as a technical team, they wanted someone with go to market experience running the company, so they could concentrate on building product.

The company has 14 employees and are already an all remote team, so that the team didn’t have to adjust at all when the pandemic hit. While it plans to keep hiring fairly limited for the foreseeable future, the company has had a diversity and inclusion plan from the start.

“You have to be intentional about about seeking diversity, so it’s something that when we sit down and map out our hiring and work with recruiters in terms of our pipeline, we really make sure that that diversity is one of our objectives. You just have you have it as a goal, as part of your culture, and it’s something that when we see the picture of the team, we want to see diversity,” he said.

Wijesinghe adds, “As a person of color myself, I’m very sensitive to making sure that we have a very diverse team, not just from a color perspective, but a gender perspective as well,” he said.

The company is gearing up to sell the product  and has paid pilots starting in the coming weeks.

Intercom announces the promotion of Karen Peacock to CEO

By Ron Miller

Three years ago almost to the day, Intercom announced that it was bringing former Intuit exec Karen Peacock on board as COO. Today, she got promoted to CEO, effective July 1. Current CEO and company co-founder Eoghan McCabe will become Chairman.

As it turns out, these moves aren’t a coincidence. McCabe had been actively thinking about a succession plan when he hired Peacock. “When I first started talking to Eoghan three years ago, he shared with me that his vision was to hire someone as COO, who could then become the CEO at the right time and he could transition into the chairman role,” Peacock told TechCrunch .

She said while the idea was always there, they didn’t feel the need to rush the process. “We were just looking for whatever the right time was, and it wasn’t something we were expected to do in the first year or two. And now is really the right time to transition with all of the momentum that we’re seeing in the market,” she said.

She said as McCabe makes the transition away from running the company he helped found, he will still be around, and they will continue working together on things like product and marketing strategy, but Peacock brings a pedigree of her own to the new role.

Not only has she been in charge of commercial aspects of the Intercom business for the past three years, prior to that she was SVP at Intuit where she ran small business products that included QuickBooks, and grew it from a $500 million business to a hefty $2.5 billion during her tenure.

McCabe says that experience was one of the reasons he spent six months trying to convince Peacock to become COO at Intercom in 2017. “It’s really hard to find a leader that’s as well rounded, and as unique as Karen is. You know she doesn’t actually fit your typical very experienced operator,” he said. He points to her deep product background, calling her a “product nerd,” and her undergraduate degree in applied mathematics from Harvard as examples.

In spite of the pandemic, she’s taking over a company that’s still managing to grow. The company’s business messenger products, which enable companies to chat with customers online, have become increasingly important during the pandemic with many brick-and-mortar businesses shut down and the majority of business is being conducted digitally.

“Our overall revenue is $150 million in annual recurring revenue, and a supporting data point to what we were just talking about is that our new business to up market customers through our sales teams has doubled year over year. So we’re really seeing some quite nice acceleration there,” she said.

Peacock says she wants to continue building the company and using her role to build a diverse and inclusive culture. “I believe that [diversity and inclusion] is not one person’s job, it’s all of our jobs, but we have one person who’s the center post of that (a head of D&I). And then we work with outside consulting firms as well to just try and stay in a place where we understand all of what’s possible and what we can do in the world.”

She adds, “I will say that we need to make more progress on diversity and inclusion. I wouldn’t step back and pat ourselves on the back and say we’ve done this perfectly. There’s a lot more that we need to do, and it’s one of the things that I’m very excited to tackle as CEO.”

According to a February Wall Street Journal article, less than 6% of women hold CEO jobs in the U.S. Peacock certainly sees this and wants to continue to mentor women as she takes over at Intercom. “It is something that I’m very passionate about. I do speak to various different groups of up and coming women leaders, and I mentor a group of women outside of Intercom,” she said. She also sits on the board at Dropbox with other women leaders like Condoleezza Rice and Meg Whitman.

Peacock says that taking over during a pandemic makes it interesting, and instead of visiting the company’s offices, she’ll be doing a lot of video conferences. But neither is she coming in cold to the company having to ramp up on the business side of things, while getting to know everyone.

“I feel very fortunate to have been with Intercom for three years, and so I know all the people and they all know me. And so I think it’s a lot easier to do that virtually than if you’re meeting people for the very first time. Similarly, I also know the business very well, and so it’s not like I’m trying to both ramp up on the business and deal with a pandemic,” she said.

Affirming the position of tech advocates, Supreme Court overturns Trump’s termination of DACA

By Jonathan Shieber

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that President Donald Trump’s administration unlawfully ended the federal policy providing temporary legal status for immigrants who came to the country as children.

The decision, issued Thursday, called the termination of the Obama-era policy known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program “arbitrary and capricious.” As a result of its ruling, nearly 640,000 people living in the United States are now temporarily protected from deportation.

While a blow to the Trump Administration, the ruling is sure to be hailed nearly unanimously by the tech industry and its leaders, who had come out strongly in favor of the policy in the days leading up to its termination by the current president and his advisors.

At the beginning of 2018, many of tech’s most prominent executives, including the CEOs of Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Google, joined more than 100 American business leaders in signing an open letter asking Congress to take action on the DACA program before it expired in March.

Tim Cook, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos and Sundar Pichai made a full-throated defense of the policy and pleaded with Congress to pass legislation ensuring that “Dreamers,” or undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children and were granted approval by the program, can continue to live and work in the country without risk of deportation.

At the time, those executives said the decision to end the program could potentially cost the U.S. economy as much as $215 billion.

In a 2017 tweet, Tim Cook noted that Apple employed roughly 250 “Dreamers.”

250 of my Apple coworkers are #Dreamers. I stand with them. They deserve our respect as equals and a solution rooted in American values.

— Tim Cook (@tim_cook) September 3, 2017

The list of tech executives who came out in support of the DACA initiative is long. It included: IBM CEO Ginni Rometty; Brad Smith, the president and chief legal officer of Microsoft; Hewlett Packard Enterprise CEO Meg Whitman; and CEOs or other leading executives of AT&T, Dropbox, Upwork, Cisco Systems, Salesforce, LinkedIn, Intel, Warby Parker, Uber, Airbnb, Slack, Box, Twitter, PayPal, Code.org, Lyft, Etsy, AdRoll, eBay, StitchCrew, SurveyMonkey, DoorDash and Verizon (the parent company of Verizon Media Group, which owns TechCrunch).

At the heart of the court’s ruling is the majority view that Department of Homeland Security officials didn’t provide a strong enough reason to terminate the program in September 2017. Now, the issue of immigration status gets punted back to the White House and Congress to address.

As the Boston Globe noted in a recent article, the majority decision written by Chief Justice John Roberts did not determine whether the Obama-era policy or its revocation were correct, just that the DHS didn’t make a strong enough case to end the policy.

“We address only whether the agency complied with the procedural requirement that it provide a reasoned explanation for its action,” Roberts wrote. 

While the ruling from the Supreme Court is some good news for the population of “Dreamers,” the question of their citizenship status in the country is far from settled. The U.S. government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has basically consisted of freezing as much of the nation’s immigration apparatus as possible.

An executive order in late April froze the green card process for would-be immigrants, and the administration was rumored to be considering a ban on temporary workers under H1-B visas as well.

The president has, indeed, ramped up the crackdown with strict border control policies and other measures to curb both legal and illegal immigration. 

More than 800,000 people joined the workforce as a result of the 2012 program crafted by the Obama administration. DACA allows anyone under 30 to apply for protection from deportation or legal action on their immigration cases if they were younger than 16 when they were brought to the U.S., had not committed a crime and were either working or in school.

In response to the Supreme Court decision, the President tweeted “Do you get the impression that the Supreme Court doesn’t like me?”

Do you get the impression that the Supreme Court doesn’t like me?

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 18, 2020

 

 

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