Monthly Archives: October 2018

Shasta Ventures is doubling down on security startups with 3 new hires

Posted by on 10 October, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

Early-stage venture capital firm Shasta Ventures has brought on three new faces to beef up its enterprise software and security portfolio amid a big push to “go deeper” into cybersecurity, per Shasta’s managing director Doug Pepper.

Balaji Yelamanchili (above left), the former general manager and executive vice president of Symantec’s enterprise security business unit, joins as a venture partner on the firm’s enterprise software team. He was previously a senior vice president at Oracle and Dell EMC. Pepper says Yelamanchili will be sourcing investments and may take board seats in “certain cases.”

The firm has also tapped Salesforce’s former chief information security officer Izak Mutlu (above center) as an executive-in-residence, a role in which he’ll advise Shasta portfolio companies. Mutlu spent 11 years at the cloud computing company managing IT security and compliance.

InterWest board partner Drew Harman, the final new hire, has joined as a board partner and will work closely with the chief executive officers of Shasta’s startups. Harman has worked in enterprise software for 25 years across a number of roles. He is currently on the boards of the cloud-based monetization platform Aria, enterprise content marketing startup NewsCred, customer retention software provider Totango and others.

There’s no area today that’s more important than cybersecurity,” Pepper told TechCrunch. “The business of venture has gotten increasingly competitive and it demands more focus than ever before. We aren’t looking for generalists, we are looking for domain experts.”

Shasta’s security investments include email authentication service Valimail, which raised a $25 million Series B in May. Airspace Systems, a startup that built “kinetic capture” technologies that can identify offending unmanned aircrafts and take them down, raised a $20 million round with participation from Shasta in March. And four-year-old Stealth Security, a startup that defends companies from automated bot attacks, secured an $8 million investment from Shasta in February.

The Menlo Park-based firm filed to raise $300 million for its fifth flagship VC fund in 2016. A year later, it announced a specialty vehicle geared toward augmented and virtual reality app development. With more than $1 billion under management, the firm also backs consumer, IoT, robotics and space-tech companies across the U.S.

In the last year, Shasta has promoted Nikhil Basu Trivedi, Nitin Chopra and Jacob Mullins from associate to partner, as well as added two new associates, Natalie Sandman and Rachel Star.

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Shared inbox startup Front launches a complete redesign

Posted by on 10 October, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

Front is launching a major revamp today. And it starts with a brand new design. Front is now powered by React for the web and desktop app, which should make it easier to add new features down the road.

Front hasn’t pivoted to become something else. At heart, it remains a multiplayer email client. You can share generic email addresses with your coworkers, such as sales@yourcompany or jobs@yourcompany. You can then assign emails, comment before replying and integrate your CRM with your email threads.

But the company is also adding a bunch of new features. The most interesting one is the ability to start a thread with your team without having to send an email first. If a client sends you an email, you can comment on the thread and mention your coworkers just like on a Facebook post.

Many companies already use emails for internal communications. So they started using Front to talk to their coworkers. Before today, you had to send an original email and then people could comment on it. Now, you can just create a post by giving it a title and jumping to the comment section. It’s much more straightforward.

“We aren’t planning for all internal conversations to move to Front, but a lot of them very well could. A tool like Slack is often used for questions that don’t require the immediate response that Slack demands,” co-founder and CEO Mathilde Collin told me. “By bringing these messages into Front, we aim to reduce disruptions and help people stay focused.”

In other words, a Slack message feels like a virtual tap on the shoulder. You have to interrupt what you’re doing to take a minute and answer. Front can be used for asynchronous conversations and things that don’t need an immediate response. That’s why you can now also send Slack messages to Front so that you can deal with them in Front.

With this update, Front is making sharing more granular. Front isn’t just about shared addresses. You can assign your personal emails to a coworker — this is much more efficient than forwarding an email. Now, you can easily see who can read and interact with an email thread at the top of the email view.

If somebody sends an email to Sarah and Sam, they’ll both have a copy of this email in their personal inboxes. If Sarah and Sam start commenting and @-mentioning people, Front will now merge the threads.

As a user, you get a unified inbox with all your personal emails, emails that were assigned to you and messages assigned to your team inbox.

Finally, Front has improved its smart filtering system. You can now create more flexible rules. For instance, if an email matches some or all criteria, Front can assign an email to a team or a person, send an automated reply, trigger another rule and more.

The new version of Front will be available later this month. Once again, Front remains focused on its core mission — making work conversations more efficient and more flexible. The company doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel and still relies heavily on emails.

Many people (myself included) say that email is too often a waste of time. Dealing with emails doesn’t necessarily mean getting work done. Front wants to remove all the pains of this messaging protocol so that you can focus on the content of the messages.

Posted Under: Tech News
Zenefits’ Parker Conrad returns with Rippling to kill HR & IT busywork

Posted by on 10 October, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

Parker Conrad likes to save time, even though it’s gotten him in trouble. The former CEO of Zenefits was pushed out of the $4.5 billion human resources startup because he built a hack that let him and employees get faster insurance certifications. But 2.5 years later, he’s back to take the busy work out of staff onboarding as well as clumsy IT services like single-sign on to enterprise apps. Today his startup Rippling launches its combined employee management system, which Conrad calls a much larger endeavor than the minimum viable product it announced while in Y Combinator’s accelerator 18 months ago.

“It’s not an HR system. It’s a level below that” Conrad tells me. “It’s this unholy, crazy mashup of three different things”. First, it handles payroll, benefits, taxes, and PTO across all 50 states. “Except Syria and North Korea, you can pay anyone in the world with Rippling” Conrad claims. That makes it a competitor with Gusto…and Zenefits.

Second, it’s a replacement for Okta, Duo, and other enterprise single-sign on security apps that authenticate staffers across partnered apps. Rippling bookmarklets make it easy to auth into over 250 workplace apps like Gmail, Slack, Dropbox, Asana, Trello, AWS, Salesforce, GitHub and more. When an employee is hired or changes teams, a single modification to their role in Ripple automatically changes all the permissions of what they can access.

And third, it handles computer endpoint security like Jamf. When an employee is hired, Rippling can instantly ship them a computer with all the right software installed and the hard drive encrypted, or have staffers add the Rippling agent that enforces the company’s security standards. The system is designed so there’s no need for an expert IT department to manage it.

“Distributed, fragmented systems of record for employee data are secretly the cause of almost all the annoying administrative work of running a company” Conrad explains. “If you could build this system that ties all of it together you could eliminate all this crap work.” That’s Rippling. It’s opening up to all potential clients today, charging them a combined subscription or a la carte fees for any of the three wings of the product.

Conrad refused to say how much Rippling has raised total, citing the enhanced scrutiny Zenefits’ raises drew. But he says a Wall Street Journal report that Rippling had raised $7 million was inaccurate. “We haven’t raised any priced VC rounds. Just a bunch of seed money. We raised from Initialized Capital, almost all the early seed investors at Zenefits, and a lot of individuals.” He cited Y Combinator, YC Growth Fund, YC’s founder Jessica Livingston and president Sam Altman, other YC partners, as well as DFJ and SV Angel.

“Because we were able to raise bunch of money and court great engineers . . . we were able to spend a lot of time building this fundamental technology” Conrad tells me. Rippling has about 50 team members now, with about 40 of them being engineers, highlighting just how thoroughly Conrad wants to eradicate manual work about work, starting with his own startup.

The CEO refused to discuss details of exactly what down at Zenefits and whether he thought his ejection was fair. He was accused of allowing Zenefits’ insurance brokers to sell in states where they weren’t licensed, and giving some employees a macro that led them more quickly pass the online insurance certification exam. Conrad ended up paying about $534,000 in SEC fines. Zenefits laid off 430 employees, or 45 percent of its staff, and moved to selling software to other insurance brokers.

But when asked what he’d learned from Zenefits, Conrad looked past those troubles and instead recalled that “one of the the mistakes that we made was that we did a lot stuff manually behind the scenes. When you scale up, there are these manual processes, and it’s really hard to come back later when it’s a big hard complicated thing and replace it with technology. You get upside down on margins. If you start at the beginning and never let the manual processes creep in . . . it sort of works.”

Perhaps it was trying to cut corners that got Conrad into the Zenefits mess, but now that same intention has inspired Rippling’s goal of eliminating HR and IT drudgery with an all-in-one tool.

“I think I’m someone who feels the pain of that kind of stuff particularly strongly. So that’s always been a real irritant to me, and I saw this problem. The conventional wisdom is ‘don’t build something like this, start with something much smaller’” Conrad concludes. “But I knew if I didn’t do this, that no one else was gong to do it and I really wanted this system to exist. This is a company that’s all about annoying stuff and making that fucking annoying stuff go away.”

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Egnyte hauls in $75M investment led by Goldman Sachs

Posted by on 10 October, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

Egnyte launched in 2007 just two years after Box, but unlike its enterprise counterpart, which went all-cloud and raised hundreds of millions of dollars, Egnyte saw a different path with a slow and steady growth strategy and a hybrid niche, recognizing that companies were going to keep some content in the cloud and some on prem. Up until today it had raised a rather modest $62.5 million, and hadn’t taken a dime since 2013, but that all changed when the company announced a whopping $75 million investment.

The entire round came from a single investor, Goldman Sachs’ Private Capital Investing arm, a part of Goldman’s Special Situations group. Holger Staude, vice president of Goldman Sachs Private Capital Investing will join Egnyte’s board under the terms of the deal. He says Goldman liked what it saw, a steady company poised for bigger growth with the right influx of capital. In fact, the company has had more than eight straight quarters of growth and have been cash flow positive since Q4 in 2016.

“We were impressed by the strong management team and the company’s fiscal discipline, having grown their top line rapidly without requiring significant outside capital for the past several years. They have created a strong business model that we believe can be replicated with success at a much larger scale,” Staude explained.

Company CEO Vineet Jain helped start the company as a way to store and share files in a business context, but over the years, he has built that into a platform that includes security and governance components. Jain also saw a market poised for growth with companies moving increasing amounts of data to the cloud. He felt the time was right to take on more significant outside investment. He said his first step was to build a list of investors, but Goldman shined through, he said.

“Goldman had reached out to us before we even started the fundraising process. There was inbound interest. They were more aggressive compared to others. Given there was prior conversations, the path to closing was shorter,” he said.

He wouldn’t discuss a specific valuation, but did say they have grown 6x since the 2013 round and he got what he described as “a decent valuation.” As for an IPO, he predicted this would be the final round before the company eventually goes public. “This is our last fund raise. At this level of funding, we have more than enough funding to support a growth trajectory to IPO,” he said.

Philosophically, Jain has always believed that it wasn’t necessary to hit the gas until he felt the market was really there. “I started off from a point of view to say, keep building a phenomenal product. Keep focusing on a post sales experience, which is phenomenal to the end user. Everything else will happen. So this is where we are,” he said.

Jain indicated the round isn’t about taking on money for money’s sake. He believes that this is going to fuel a huge growth stage for the company. He doesn’t plan to focus these new resources strictly on the sales and marketing department, as you might expect. He wants to scale every department in the company including engineering, posts-sales and customer success.

Today the company has 450 employees and more than 14,000 customers across a range of sizes and sectors including Nasdaq, Thoma Bravo, AppDynamics and Red Bull. The deal closed at the end of last month.

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Nvidia launches Rapids to help bring GPU acceleration to data analytics

Posted by on 10 October, 2018

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Nvidia, together with partners like IBM, HPE, Oracle, Databricks and others, is launching a new open-source platform for data science and machine learning today. Rapids, as the company is calling it, is all about making it easier for large businesses to use the power of GPUs to quickly analyze massive amounts of data and then use that to build machine learning models.

“Businesses are increasingly data-driven,” Nvidia’s VP of Accelerated Computing Ian Buck told me. “They sense the market and the environment and the behavior and operations of their business through the data they’ve collected. We’ve just come through a decade of big data and the output of that data is using analytics and AI. But most it is still using traditional machine learning to recognize complex patterns, detect changes and make predictions that directly impact their bottom line.”

The idea behind Rapids then is to work with the existing popular open-source libraries and platforms that data scientists use today and accelerate them using GPUs. Rapids integrates with these libraries to provide accelerated analytics, machine learning and — in the future — visualization.

Rapids is based on Python, Buck noted; it has interfaces that are similar to Pandas and Scikit, two very popular machine learning and data analysis libraries, and it’s based on Apache Arrow for in-memory database processing. It can scale from a single GPU to multiple notes and IBM notes that the platform can achieve improvements of up to 50x for some specific use cases when compared to running the same algorithms on CPUs (though that’s not all that surprising, given what we’ve seen from other GPU-accelerated workloads in the past).

Buck noted that Rapids is the result of a multi-year effort to develop a rich enough set of libraries and algorithms, get them running well on GPUs and build the relationships with the open-source projects involved.

“It’s designed to accelerate data science end-to-end,” Buck explained. “From the data prep to machine learning and for those who want to take the next step, deep learning. Through Arrow, Spark users can easily move data into the Rapids platform for acceleration.”

Indeed, Spark is surely going to be one of the major use cases here, so it’s no wonder that Databricks, the company founded by the team behind Spark, is one of the early partners.

“We have multiple ongoing projects to integrate Spark better with native accelerators, including Apache Arrow support and GPU scheduling with Project Hydrogen,” said Spark founder Matei Zaharia in today’s announcement. “We believe that RAPIDS is an exciting new opportunity to scale our customers’ data science and AI workloads.”

Nvidia is also working with Anaconda, BlazingDB, PyData, Quansight and scikit-learn, as well as Wes McKinney, the head of Ursa Labs and the creator of Apache Arrow and Pandas.

Another partner is IBM, which plans to bring Rapids support to many of its services and platforms, including its PowerAI tools for running data science and AI workloads on GPU-accelerated Power9 servers, IBM Watson Studio and Watson Machine Learning and the IBM Cloud with its GPU-enabled machines. “At IBM, we’re very interested in anything that enables higher performance, better business outcomes for data science and machine learning — and we think Nvidia has something very unique here,” Rob Thomas, the GM of IBM Analytics told me.

“The main benefit to the community is that through an entirely free and open-source set of libraries that are directly compatible with the existing algorithms and subroutines that their used to — they now get access to GPU-accelerated versions of them,” Buck said. He also stressed that Rapids isn’t trying to compete with existing machine learning solutions. “Part of the reason why Rapids is open source is so that you can easily incorporate those machine learning subroutines into their software and get the benefits of it.”

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Cloud Foundry expands its support for Kubernetes

Posted by on 10 October, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

Not too long ago, the Cloud Foundry Foundation was all about Cloud Foundry, the open source platform as a service (PaaS) project that’s now in use by most of the Fortune 500 enterprises. This project is the Cloud Foundry Application Runtime. A year ago, the Foundation also announced the Cloud Foundry Container Runtime that helps businesses run the Application Platform and their container-based applications in parallel. In addition, Cloud Foundry has also long been the force behind BOSH, a tool for building, deploying and managing cloud applications.

The addition of the Container Runtime a year go seemed to muddle the organization’s mission a bit, but now that the dust has settled, the intent here is starting to become clearer. As Cloud Foundry CTO Chip Childers told me, what enterprises are mostly using the Container Runtime for is for running the pre-packaged applications they get from their vendors. “The Container Runtime — or really any deployment of Kubernetes — when used next to or in conjunction with the App Runtime, that’s where people are largely landing packaged software being delivered by an independent software vendor,” he told me. “Containers are the new CD-ROM. You just want to land it in a good orchestration platform.”

Because the Application Runtime launched well before Kubernetes was a thing, the Cloud Foundry project built its own container service, called Diego.

Today, the Cloud Foundry foundation is launching two new Kubernetes-related projects that take the integration between the two to a new level. The first is Project Eirini, which was launched by IBM and is now being worked on by Suse and SAP as well. This project has been a long time in the making and it’s something that the community has expected for a while. It basically allows developers to choose between using the existing Diego orchestrator and Kubernetes when it comes to deploying applications written for the Application Runtime. That’s a big deal for Cloud Foundry.

“What Eirini does, is it takes that Cloud Foundry Application Runtime — that core PaaS experience that the [Cloud Foundry] brand is so tied to and it allows the underlying Diego scheduler to be replaced with Kubernetes as an option for those use cases that it can cover,” Childers explained. He added that there are still some use cases the Diego container management system is better suited for than Kubernetes. One of those is better Windows support — something that matters quite a bit to the enterprise companies that use Cloud Foundry. Childers also noted that the multi-tenancy guarantees of Kubernetes are a bit less stringent than Diego’s.

The second new project is ContainerizedCF, which was initially developed by Suse. Like the name implies, ContainerizedCF basically allows you to package the core Cloud Foundry Application Runtime and deploy it in Kubernetes clusters with the help of the BOSH deployment tool. This is pretty much what Suse is already using to ship its Cloud Foundry distribution.

Clearly then, Kubernetes is becoming part and parcel of what the Cloud Foundry PaaS service will sit on top of and what developers will use to deploy the applications they write for it in the near future. At first glance, this focus on Kubernetes may look like it’s going to make Cloud Foundry superfluous, but it’s worth remembering that, at its core, the Cloud Foundry Application Runtime isn’t about infrastructure but about a developer experience and methodology that aims to manage the whole lifecycle of the application development. If Kubernetes can be used to help manage that infrastructure, then the Cloud Foundry project can focus on what it does best, too.

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Workplace by Facebook launches Safety Check for business users

Posted by on 9 October, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

Workplace, Facebook’s communications platform for enterprises, is launching its own version of Safety Check today. Safety Check itself is obviously not a new feature. Indeed, Facebook has now activated this tool, which lets you report your status during a crisis, thousands of times. For business users, though, Facebook is now offering a number of new tools that allow them to activate this feature at will, run drills with their workforce and get an accurate headcount of their employees’ status.

“Safety Check for Workplace is essentially the enterprise version of the Safety Check that we have in the big blue app [Facebook’s name for its flagship mobile app],” Facebook CIO Atish Banerjea told me. He noted that a few years ago, Facebook first built a version of this for its own employees. “Then the idea came of extending this to the customers of Workplace, primarily because given the global expansion of companies, with people traveling all over the world, keeping track of employees during times of crisis and during a natural disaster has become a very difficult challenge,” he explained.

Safety Check lets businesses locate their employees and notify them through Workplace Chat and other avenues when they are in harm’s way. The tool also allows these companies to regularly ping those who haven’t confirmed themselves as safe yet.

Facebook notes that Workplace doesn’t use any mobile geolocation technologies here to identify where employees are. That data has to come from the companies that use the tool and the travel services they use to know when they are on the road and the employee data they have to know who works in which location. Banerjea noted that this is very much on purpose and in line with the way Workplace handles data. This is not the Facebook app, after all, so none of the employee data is ever shared with Facebook.

What’s interesting here is that this is the first time Facebook has taken a tool that its own internal Enterprise Engineering group built for its employees and brought it to a wider audience. Typically, this group only builds tools for Facebook’s own growing employee base, but the team decided to take this one public. The challenge was then to ensure that this tool, which was meant to handle the demands of Facebook’s more than 30,000 employees and run on its own proprietary stack, could scale up to work for companies that are far larger. “As you can imagine, the scaling challenges are significantly different,” Facebook’s VP of Enterprise Engineering Anil Wilson told me. “Where we are talking about going from tens of thousands of employees at Facebook and going to supporting hundreds of thousands of employees in many companies.”

To get Safety Check for Workplace up and running, the company organized an internal hackathon in February of this year. “We had to completely rebuild the product,” Wilson said. “We had to switch out the backend technology to help with scale.” The team also redid its data models to accommodate new features and redesigned the user experience to be more in line with the rest of the Workplace experience. In the process, the team also added support for new features, including multi-language support.

Unsurprisingly, the Enterprise Engineering group is now also looking at bringing to a wider audience other tools that Facebook first developed for its internal usage. “There’s tons of opportunity,” Wilson said. “We don’t have the specific products mapped out yet.” Most of the tools that his team builds are very much meant for Facebook’s own specific use cases, no matter whether those are HR applications, or tools for the finance group or the marketing and sales teams. But he believes there is plenty of room for taking some of those and making them available to Workplace customers as premium offerings.

Wilson also noted that this move to bringing more of these internally developed tools to the public is going to help his group with hiring. “We’re already a pretty interesting organization to come and work for,” he said. “But the fact that some of our products are now potentially going to be launched externally adds an additional dimension of interest for engineers who are coming to work on our team.”

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Microsoft shows off government cloud services with JEDI due date imminent

Posted by on 9 October, 2018

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Just a day after Google decided to drop out of the Pentagon’s massive $10 billion, 10-year JEDI cloud contract bidding, Microsoft announced increased support services for government clients. In a long blog post, the company laid out its government focused cloud services.

While today’s announcement is not directly related to JEDI per se, the timing is interesting just three days ahead of the October 12th deadline for submitting RFPs. Today’s announcement is about showing just how comprehensive the company’s government-specific cloud services are.

In a blog post, Microsoft corporate vice president for Azure, Julia White made it clear the company was focusing hard on the government business. “In the past six months we have added over 40 services and features to Azure Government, as well as publishing a new roadmap for the Azure Government regions providing ongoing transparency into our upcoming releases,” she wrote.

“Moving forward, we are simplifying our approach to regulatory compliance for federal agencies, so that our government customers can gain access to innovation more rapidly. In addition, we are adding new options for buying and onboarding cloud services to make it easier to move to the cloud. Finally, we are bringing an array of new hybrid and edge capabilities to government to ensure that government customers have full access to the technology of the intelligent edge and intelligent cloud era,” White added.

While much of the post was around the value proposition of Azure in general such as security, identity, artificial intelligence and edge data processing services, there were a slew of items aimed specifically at the government clients.

For starters, the company is increasing its FedRAMP compliance, a series of regulations designed to ensure vendors deliver cloud services securely to federal government customers. Specifically Microsoft is moving from FedRAMP moderate to high ratings on 50 services.

“By taking the broadest regulatory compliance approach in the industry, we’re making commercial innovation more accessible and easier for government to adopt,” White wrote.

In addition, Microsoft announced it’s expanding Azure Secret Regions, a solution designed specifically for dealing with highly classified information in the cloud. This one appears to take direct aim at JEDI. “We are making major progress in delivering this cloud designed to meet the regulatory and compliance requirements of the Department of Defense and the Intelligence Community. Today, we are announcing these newest regions will be available by the end of the first quarter of 2019. In addition, to meet the growing demand and requirements of the U.S. Government, we are confirming our intent to deliver Azure Government services to meet the highest classification requirements, with capabilities for handling Top Secret U.S. classified data,” White wrote.

The company’s announcements, which included many other pieces that have been previously announced, is clearly designed to show off its government chops at a time where a major government contract is up for grabs. The company announced Azure Stack for Government in August, another piece mentioned in this blog post.

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Pitch, from the founders of Wunderlist, raises $19M to take on Powerpoint in presentations

Posted by on 9 October, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

Microsoft’s Powerpoint today has over 1 billion installs, 500 million users, and some 95 percent market share, making it the most ubiquitous presentation software in the world. But that doesn’t make it the most loved. Now, a new startup out of Berlin called Pitch is emerging from stealth with plans to challenge it, by making what CEO and co-founder Christian Reber describes as “a presentation tool for the Slack generation.” And to do so, the company is announcing $19 million in Series A funding, ahead of a projected launch date by Summer 2019 (Reber is talking, but without any previews of the actual product).

The Slack reference is intentional, not just because of how the product will be built (more on that below). Part of the funding is coming from the Slack Fund, the arm of the work-chat unicorn that makes strategic investments into like-minded startups. Others in the round include Index Ventures and BlueYard as leads, along with Zoom CEO Eric Yuan, Framer CEO Koen Bok, Elastic Co-Founder Simon Willnauer, Datadog CEO Olivier Pomel, Wunderlist-backer Frank Thelen, and Metalab Founder Andrew Wilkinson. Blue Yard led Pitch’s seed funding as well: the company has raised $22 million to date.

“Pitch is one of Europe’s few true product-centric companies breaking new ground in software for businesses,” said Neil Rimer, partner at Index Ventures, in a statement. “From messaging to file sharing, software companies like Slack and Dropbox have transformed how teams work together and unlocked greater productivity as a result. We believe Pitch has the potential to redefine the presentation space and become a central hub for content collaboration, knowledge-sharing, and ultimately a platform for better decision-making.” Rimer’s also joining the board.

If $22 million sounds like a lot of money for a product that hasn’t launched, in a field that already has a very dominant player, Pitch is not your average contender. it’s being built by the same founders who created Wunderlist, a popular to-do app that — coincidentally — Microsoft acquired to supercharge its existing list-making and to-do software. You could say that Pitch knows just what it is pitching, when it goes after a problem that already appears to be “solved.”

In an interview, Reber said that he and the team — which includes founders Vanessa Stock; Marvin Labod; Adam Renklint; Charlette Prevot; Jan Martin; Eric Labod; and Misha Karpenko and 12 others — have been at work on the app for about nine months already and that it is in some private betas with a few businesses.

As for the app itself, Reber would not show it off to me, but he did provide some detail about what it’s setting out to do.

The premise behind Pitch is to make “a presentation tool for the Slack generation,” he said, in reference to the workplace communications tool that became a runaway hit with organizations because of its ease of use, its speed, and the fact that it positions itself as a platform, integrating with just about any app that a person might use in the normal course of a working day, turning itself into a communication layer underpinning all those apps, too.

The same will go for Pitch. “Pitch integrates with everything you already use,” Reber said, describing Pitch presentations as “living documents” that will essentially update with information as data in other documents gets modified.

There will also be a social element, a la SlideShare (a cloud-based presentation app that was acquired by LinkedIn many years ago but has seen few updates since, and of course now is part of Microsoft too, like PowerPoint). In the case of Pitch, users will be able to create documents for their own ends, but they can also use Pitch as a distribution platform, either to a selected group of users (for example, if you are pitching your startup to investors), or to a wider audience who are also Pitch users.

It’s ironic that Reber, who joined Microsoft along with the rest of the Wunderlist team when the startup was acquired, left the mothership rather than potentially trying to either build another presentation tool within Microsoft, or moving to PowerPoint to work on updating that product. The reasons, I suspect, are the same ones that keep large tech giants from being able to move quickly on ideas, and to often live with bad ones for too long: they are too big and too entrenched, and the halls are rife with politics.

Reber — who jokes that he seems to have a knack at trying to build things “that others have already built” — said that another reason is that he also has a little regret for selling Wunderlist when they did. “I didn’t feel like I’d accomplished my goal,” he said reflecting on the sale. (For the reasons why he sold anyway, you might speak to a lot of other founders who have exited, and I’d guess that the multiple reasons are often the same.) “So, a year after the exit I thought I would like a chance to start from scratch and be more strategic in how I built my startup.”

The choice to tackle presentations came, as many startup ideas often do, out of his own frustrations — and possibly yours, too, if you have been PowerPointed at some moment in your life.

The most popular presentation tools that exist today are just outdated, he said, with different versions out in the wild, across different platforms, making for a challenge in sharing presentations with others. Reber describes the Pitch-nee-Wunderlist team as “design driven,” you can imagine how that kind of lack of aesthetic consistency might grate.

He noted that Pitch is built on Electron — the application framework that’s used for WhatsApp, WordPress and many other apps — to smooth out some of those bumps across platforms.

Pitch is most certainly going into business with its eyes open, knowing that even if you put Microsoft’s PowerPoint and SlideShare to the side, there are yet others, such as Keynote from Apple, the web-based Prezi, and Slides from Google. But there are plenty of precedents that nevertheless indicate opportunity.

“It’s really fascinating for me why new products win,” Reber said. “Just look at the business communications space. The market was saturated, and Hipchat dominated the startup world, but then all of the sudden Slack came and everything change. It just took over. There will be a similar shift, I think.”

Besides, he added, having multiple competitors is a good thing. “It just means that the best product will come out the winner.” Let’s hope so.

Posted Under: Tech News
Upskill launches support for Microsoft HoloLens

Posted by on 9 October, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

Upskill has been working on a platform to support augmented and mixed reality for almost as long as most people have been aware of the concept. It began developing an agnostic AR/MR platform way back in 2010. Google Glass didn’t even appear until two years later. Today, the company announced the early release of Skylight for Microsoft HoloLens.

Upskill has been developing Skylight as an operating platform to work across all devices, regardless of the manufacturer, but company co-founder and CEO Brian Ballard sees something special with HoloLens. “What HoloLens does for certain types of experiences, is it actually opens up a lot more real estate to display information in a way that users can take advantage of,” Ballard explained.

He believes the Microsoft device fits well within the broader approach his company has been taking over the last several years to support the range of hardware on the market while developing solutions for hands-free and connected workforce concepts.

“This is about extending Skylight into the spatial computing environment making sure that the workflows, the collaboration, the connectivity is seamless across all of these different devices,” he told TechCrunch.

Microsoft itself just announced some new HoloLens use cases for its Dynamics 365 platform around remote assistance and 3D layout, use cases which play to the HoloLens strengths, but Ballard says his company is a partner with Microsoft, offering an enhanced, full-stack solution on top of what Microsoft is giving customers out of the box.

That is certainly something Microsoft’s Terry Farrell, director of product marketing for mixed reality at Microsoft recognizes and acknowledges. “As adoption of Microsoft HoloLens continues to rapidly increase in industrial settings, Skylight offers a software platform that is flexible and can scale to meet any number of applications well suited for mixed reality experiences,” he said in a statement.

That involves features like spatial content placement, which allows employees to work with digital content in HoloLens, while keeping their hands free to work in the real world. They enhance this with the ability to see multiple reference materials across multiple windows at the same time, something we are used to doing with a desktop computer, but not with a device on our faces like HoloLens. Finally, workers can use hand gestures and simple gazes to navigate in virtual space, directing applications or moving windows, as we are used to doing with keyboard or mouse.

Upskill also builds on the Windows 10 capabilities in HoloLens with its broad experience securely connecting to back-end systems to pull the information into the mixed reality setting wherever it lives in the enterprise.

The company is based outside of Washington, D.C. in Herndon, Virginia. It has raised over $45 million, according to Crunchbase. Ballard says the company currently has 70 employees. Customers using Skylight include Boeing, GE, Coca-Cola, Telestra and Accenture.

Posted Under: Tech News
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