Monthly Archives: March 2019

Alibaba acquires Israeli VR startup Infinity Augmented Reality

Posted by on 25 March, 2019

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Infinity Augmented Reality, an Israeli virtual reality startup, has been acquired by Alibaba, the companies announced this weekend. The deal’s terms were not disclosed. Alibaba and InfinityAR have had a strategic partnership since 2016, when Alibaba Group led InfinityAR’s Series C. Since then, the two have collaborated on augmented reality, computer vision and artificial intelligence projects.

Founded in 2013, the startup’s augmented glasses platform enables developers in a wide range of industries (retail, gaming, medical, etc.) to integrate AR into their apps. InfinityAR’s products include software for ODMs and OEMs and a SDK plug-in for 3D engines.

Alibaba’s foray into virtual reality started three years ago, when it invested in Magic Leap and then announced a new research lab in China to develop ways of incorporating virtual reality into its e-commerce platform.

InfinityAR’s research and development team will begin working out of Alibaba’s Israel Machine Laboratory, part of Alibaba DAMO Academy, the R&D initiative it is pouring $15 billion into with the goal of eventually serving two billion customers and creating 100 million jobs by 2036. DAMO Academy collaborates with universities around the world and Alibaba’s Israel Machine Laboratory has a partnership with Tel Aviv University focused on video analysis and machine learning.

In a press statement, the laboratory’s head, Lihi Zelnik-Manor, said “Alibaba is delighted to be working with InfinityAR as one team after three years of partnership. The talented team brings unique knowhow in sensor fusion, computer vision and navigation technologies. We look forward to exploring these leading technologies and offering additional benefits to customers, partners and developers.”

Posted Under: Tech News
How Salesforce paved the way for the SaaS platform approach

Posted by on 22 March, 2019

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When we think of enterprise SaaS companies today, just about every startup in the space aspires to be a platform. That means they want people using their stack of services to build entirely new applications, either to enhance the base product, or even build entirely independent companies. But when Salesforce launched Force.com, the company’s Platform as a Service in 2007, there wasn’t any model.

It turns out that Force.com was actually the culmination of a series of incremental steps after the launch of the first version of Salesforce in February, 2000, all of which were designed to make the software more flexible for customers. Company co-founder and CTO Parker Harris says that they didn’t have this goal to be a platform early on. “We were a solution first, I would say. We didn’t say let’s build a platform and then build sales-force automation on top of it. We wanted a solution that people could actually use,” Harris told TechCrunch.

The march toward becoming a full-fledged platform started with simple customization. That first version of Salesforce was pretty basic, and the company learned over time that customers didn’t always use the same language it did to describe customers and accounts — and that was something that would need to change.

Customizing the product

Posted Under: Tech News
HoneyBook, a client management platform for creative businesses, raises $28M Series C led by Citi Ventures

Posted by on 21 March, 2019

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HoneyBook co-founders Oz and Naama Alon

HoneyBook, a customer-relationship management platform aimed at small businesses in creative fields, announced today it has raised a $28 million Series C led by Citi Ventures. All of its existing investors, including Norwest Venture Partners, Aleph, Vintage Investment Partners and Hillsven Capital, also returned for the round. Citi is a strategic partner for HoneyBook and this will enable it to offer new financial products to freelancers, its co-founder and CEO Oz Alon told TechCrunch.

This brings HoneyBook’s total raised so far to $72 million. It is using the funds to grow its teams in San Francisco and Tel Aviv and build new features for its user base, including small companies, people who work by themselves (“solopreneurs”) and freelancers. Like other CRMs, HoneyBook helps them develop relationships with potential new clients, manage projects, send invoices and accept payments, but with tools scaled for their business’ needs.

Alon told TechCrunch in an email that one segment HoneyBook is focused on is millennials (he cites a survey that found 49 percent of people under 40 plan to start their own business). HoneyBook currently claims tens of thousands of customers and has passed $1 billion in business booked using its software, along with 75,000 members in Rising Tide, the company’s online community for creative entrepreneurs.

Other management software platforms competing for the attention of entrepreneurs and freelancers include Tave, Dubsado and 17hats. One of the main ways HoneyBook differentiates is by enabling its users to accept online payments without integrating with a third-party service. Thanks to this, its users “transact more than 80 percent of their business online, significantly more than any other payments platform serving this audience, Alon said. It’s partnership with Citi will also allow the company to develop more unique services for its target customers, he added.

In a prepared statement, Citi Ventures’ Israel director and venture investing lead Omit Shinar said “We are in the midst of a period of extensive changes in societal structures and economic models. The fintech ecosystem is producing more and more breakthrough innovations that serve the needs of modern consumers, and we believe, as a pioneer in its space, HoneyBook can become a market leader in the U.S.”

Posted Under: Tech News
Windows Virtual Desktop is now in public preview

Posted by on 21 March, 2019

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Last year, Microsoft announced the launch of its Windows Virtual Desktop service. At the time, this was a private preview, but starting today, any enterprise user who wants to try out what using a virtual Windows 10 desktop that’s hosted in the Azure cloud looks like will be able to give it a try.

It’s worth noting that this is very much a product for businesses. You’re not going to use this to play Apex Legends on a virtual machine somewhere in the cloud. The idea here is that a service like this, which also includes access to Office 365 ProPlus, makes managing machines and the software that runs on them easier for enterprises. It also allows employers in regulated industries to provide their mobile workers with a virtual desktop that ensures that all of their precious data remains secure.

One stand-out feature here is that businesses can run multiple Windows 10 sessions on a single virtual machine.

It’s also worth noting that many of the features of this service are powered by technology from FSLogix, which Microsoft acquired last year. Specifically, these technologies allow Microsoft to give the non-persistent users relatively fast access to applications like their Outlook and OneDrive applications, for example.

For most Microsoft 365 enterprise customers, access to this service is simply part of the subscription cost they already pay — though they will need an Azure subscription and pay for the virtual machines that run in the cloud.

Right now, the service is only available in the US East 2 and US Central Azure regions. Over time, and once the preview is over, Microsoft will expand it to all of its cloud regions.

Posted Under: Tech News
Microsoft Defender comes to the Mac

Posted by on 21 March, 2019

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Microsoft today announced that it is bringing its Microsoft Defender Advanced Threat Protection (ATP) to the Mac. Previously, this was a Windows solution for protecting the machines of Microsoft 365 subscribers and assets the IT admins that try to keep them safe. It was also previously called Windows Defender ATP, but given that it is now on the Mac, too, Microsoft decided to drop the ‘Windows Defender’ moniker in favor or ‘Microsoft Defender.’

“For us, it’s all about experiences that follow the person and help the individual be more productive,” Jared Spataro, Microsoft’s corporate VP for Office and Windows, told me. “Just like we did with Office back in the day — that was a big move for us to move it off of Windows-only — but it was absolutely the right thing. So that’s where we’re headed.”

He stressed that this means that Microsoft is moving off its “Windows-centric approach to life.” He likened it to bringing the Office apps to the iPad and Android. “We’re just headed in that same direction of saying that it’s our intent that we can secure every endpoint so that this Microsoft 365 experience is not just Windows-centric,” Spataro said. Indeed, he argued that the news here isn’t even so much the launch of this service for the Mac but that Microsoft is reorienting the way it thinks about how it can deliver value for Microsoft 365 clients.

Given that Microsoft Defender is part of the Microsoft 365 package, you may wonder why those users would even care about the Mac, but there are plenty of enterprises that use a mix of Windows machines and Mac, and which provide all of their employees with Office already. Having a security solution that spans both systems can greatly reduce complexity for IT departments — and keeping up with security vulnerabilities on one system is hard enough to begin with.

In addition to the launch of the Mac version of Microsoft Defender ATP, the company also today announced the launch of new threat and vulnerability management capabilities for the service. Over the last few months, Microsoft had already launched a number of new features that help businesses proactively monitor and identify security threats.

“What we’re hearing from customers now, is that the landscape is getting increasingly sophisticated, the volume of alerts that we’re starting to get is pretty overwhelming,” Spataro said. “We really don’t have the budget to hire the thousands of people required to sort through all this and figure out what to do.”

So with this new tool, Microsoft uses its machine learning smarts to prioritize threads and present them to its customers for remediation.

To Spataro, these announcements come down to the fact that Microsoft is slowly morphing into more of a security company than ever before. “I think we’ve made a lot more progress than people realize,” he said. “And it’s been driven by the market.” He noted that its customers have long asked Microsoft to help them protect their endpoints. Now, he argues, customers have realized that Microsoft is now moving to this person-centric approach (instead of a Windows-centric one) and that the company may now be able to help them protect large parts of their systems. At the same time, Microsoft realized that it could use all of the billions of signals it gets from its users to better help its customers proactively.

Posted Under: Tech News
Skedulo raises $28M for its mobile workforce management service

Posted by on 20 March, 2019

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Skedulo, a service that helps businesses manage their mobile employees, today announced that it has raised a $28 million Series B funding round led by M12, Microsoft’s venture fund. Existing investors Blackbird and Castanoa Ventures also participated in this round.

The company’s service offers businesses all fo the necessary tools to manage their mobile employees, including their schedules. A lot of small businesses still use basic spreadsheets and email to do this, but that’s obviously not the most efficient way to match the right employee to the right job, for example.

“Workforce management has traditionally been focused on employees that are sitting at a desk for the majority of their day,” Skedulo  CEO and Co-Founder Matt Fairhurst told me. “The overwhelming majority — 80 percent — of workers will be deskless by 2020 and so far, there has been no one that has addressed the needs of this growing population at scale.  We’re excited to help enterprises confront these challenges head-on so they can compete and lean into rapidly changing customer and employee expectations.”

At the core of Skedulo, which offers both a mobile app and web-based interface, is the company’s so-called ‘Mastermind’ engine that helps businesses automatically match the right employee to a job, based on the priorities the company has specified. The company plans to use the new funding to enhance this tool through new machine learning capabilities. Skedulo will also soon offer new analytics tools and integrations with third-party services like HR and financial management tools, as well as payroll systems.

The company also plans to use the new funding to double its headcount, which includes hiring at least 60 new employees in its Australian offices in Brisbane and Sydney.

As part of this round, Priya Saiprasad, Principal of M12, will join Skedulo’s Board of Directors. “We found a strong sense of aligned purpose with Priya Saiprasad and the team at M12 – and their desire to invest in companies that help reduce cycles in a person’s working day,” Fairhurst said. “Fundamentally, Skedulo is a productivity company. We help companies, the back-office and mobile workforce, reduce the number of cycles it takes to get work done. This gives them time back to focus on the work that matters most.”

Posted Under: Tech News
Movius raises $45M for its business communications service

Posted by on 20 March, 2019

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Atlanta-based Movius, a company that allows companies to assign a separate business number for voice calls and texting to any phone, today announced that it has raised a $45 million Series D round led by JPMorgan Chase, with participation from existing investors PointGuard Ventures, New Enterprise Associates and Anschutz Investment company. With this, the company has now raised a total of $100 million.

In addition to the new funding, Movius also today announced that it has brought on former Adobe and Sun executive John Loiacono as its new CEO. Loiacono was also the founding CEO of network analytics startup Jolata.

“The Movius opportunity is pervasive. Almost every company on planet Earth is mobilizing their workforce but are challenged to find a way to securely interact with their customers and constituents using all the preferred communication vehicles – be that voice, SMS or any other channel they use in their daily lives,” said Loiacono. “I’m thrilled because I’m joining a team that features highly passionate and proven innovators who are maniacally focused on delivering this very solution. I look forward to leading this next chapter of growth for the company.”

Sanjay Jain, the chief strategy officer at Hyperloop Transportation Technologies and Larry Feinsmith, the head of JP Morgan Chase’s Technology Innovation, Strategy & Partnerships office are joining the company’s board.

Movius currently counts more than 1,400 businesses as its customers and its carrier partners include Sprint, Telstra and Telefonica. What’s important to note is that Movius is more than a basic VoIP app on your phone. What the company promises is a carrier-grade network that allows businesses to assign a second number to their employee’s phones. That way, the employer remains in charge, even as employees bring their own devices to work.

Posted Under: Tech News
Iterable lands $50M Series C investment to expand cross-channel marketing platform

Posted by on 20 March, 2019

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Iterable, a startup that helps companies build complex marketing campaigns across channels to reduce churn and increase usage, announced a $50 million Series C round today.

Investors include Blue Cloud Ventures, CRV, Harmony Partners, Index Ventures and Stereo Capital. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $80 million.

Company co-founder and CEO Justin Zhu says the Iterable platform captures a constant stream of data from consumers from a variety of sources to give marketers the ability to build segments or event triggers based on consumer behavior.

“Customers are streaming real-time updates of who they are, where they’re purchasing, what they’re doing in the app, what they’re up to on the website, and we’re taking all that data and making it available in real time,” Zhu explained.

Photo: Iterable

This could allow marketers to contact people based on behaviors, such as a segment of people who haven’t opened the app in two weeks. Marketers can also use event triggers to automate contact. In the classic scenario of the abandoned shopping cart, a marketer could set a trigger to send an email or an SMS message two hours after the cart was abandoned to prompt the customer to come back.

As a platform, Iterable is offering a set of tools in a single solution that marketers would have had to buy separately. “In the past, what you typically would do is cobble together a variety of point solutions. You may buy a product just for mobile and buy one just for email. You may have engineers cobble together custom code to handle the lifecycle management. With Iterable, that can be all done in one place, and it can be done by a marketer, which would be the focus for their job,” Zhu said.

He said that the company is streaming customer data from the various data sources directly to the marketers, so there is no data sharing involved with third parties. “This is a first-party data from our own customers,” he said.

The company is reporting triple digit year-over-year growth, although it would not share specific revenue numbers. Iterable has 300 customers including Box, DoorDash and Zillow. It currently has 200 employees spread across three locations including the company headquarters in San Francisco and offices in Denver and New York City.

Zhu says the company’s vision is to be a global company, and with this funding it plans to expand into Europe and Asia, as it continues to build the company.

Posted Under: Tech News
Abstract, a versioning platform that helps designers work like developers, raises $30M

Posted by on 20 March, 2019

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Design and engineering are two sides of the same coin when it comes to building software and hardware, and yet — unlike engineers, who can use services like GitHub, Bitbucket, GitLab or many others to help manage their development process — it’s traditionally been slim pickings for designers when it comes to tools to manage the iterations and collaborations that are a part of their workflow.

Now, we are seeing a rising wave of startups responding to that vacuum in the market. In the latest development, Abstract, which has built a platform to help manage versioning and workflow for design projects, is announcing $30 million in funding led by Lightspeed Venture Partners with participation from previous investors Scale Venture Partners, Amplify Partners, and Cowboy Ventures.

Abstract is not disclosing valuation but I understand from sources that it is now $190 million, a decent leap from the $76 million valuation (according to PitchBook) it reached in its last round. Abstract has raised around $55 million since 2016.

This latest round, a Series C, comes at a time when we are seeing a number of other startups that are building tools for designers — some competing with Abstract, and some significantly larger — also raising big money.

In December, InVision (which has an ambition to be the “Salesforce of design”), raised $115 million at a $1.9 billion valuation. Last month, Figma (building both design development and collaboration tools) raised $40 million at a $440 million valuation. Last week, Sketch (which also makes design tools) raised its first outside round of $20 million after a long track record as a very popular bootstrapped startup.

Abstract fits very much in the middle of this spread. The problem that it has identified is that many designers still work in an inefficient way compared to their engineering counterparts (as well as those in other parts of an operation, including people who collaborate on creating documents or presentations). Designers still typically sling around multiple versions of the same file, or try to handle all passing around and working on one single file. That loose structure makes for many errors and lost changes, not to mention an inability to track who has done what and when.

To address this, Abstract offers a number of features. First and foremost, it provides a way for designers to track versions of files — it automatically uploads the most recent copy even if you are working locally, so that whoever works next will use the most updated version. It also lets a project manager task different people with different parts of a project and manage the reviewing system. When a project is in progress or already completed, there is a way to present it and also gather feedback. And then, importantly, the design team can also use Abstract to interface with engineering teams who are building the tech underneath and around that design.

The funding is going to help Abstract expand that with more features, including a better and more streamlined way to export the most current files, as well as more security integrations for better control over who can access materials and when.

It started with a hashtag…

Abstract was co-founded by Josh Brewer and Kevin Smith — the former a designer, the latter an engineer who has also headed up design teams. Brewer, the CEO, said in an interview that his own past experience — his track record includes a period as Twitter’s principal designer — was the kindling that eventually led to the building of Abstract. One example he gave was the rebuild of Twitter’s hashtag back in 2011, which needed to be redesigned across web, mobile web, iOS and Android with a consistent navigation pattern, and new behavioral/usage patterns. (Not a small task, considering how key the hashtag has been to how Twitter has grown both as a viral social platform, and as a commercial business.)

“We had only 12 designers at that time, a relatively small crew, but also a short timeline,” he recalled. “We decided to try to standardize on one tool to manage everything, but didn’t really have much to work with.” He and the team decided to “hack some of the tools we were using at the time,” which included Apache Subversion and GitHub for software development, “to solve the problem.” This helped him identify that there was a clear opportunity to build something that spoke specifically to designers’ needs.

That something has indeed started to find some traction: there are now over 5,000 design teams using Abstract, with companies using it including Shopify, Cisco, Intuit, Spotify, Salesforce, Zappos and Instacart.

“As design becomes an increasingly significant competitive advantage, the tools designers use have to become more sophisticated, collaborative, and transparent to the broader organization. At Lightspeed, we invest in the sort of exceptional teams that are poised to transform a market,” said Nakul Mandan, who is also joining the board. “Josh, Kevin and the rest of the Abstract team have reimagined a design workflow that is quickly becoming the professional standard for how growing design teams work together and with functional stakeholders. We are excited to partner with Abstract to help the company continue its explosive growth.”

Abstract’s first efforts have been to support Sketch, the design tool that raised money just last week. The two are often associated with each other, it seems: many tend to use Abstract and Sketch together as an alternative to using Figma. But in addition to adding more versioning tools, the plan will be to add more design software to the list Abstract supports, starting with Adobe XD and Illustrator (it’s currently opened early-access waitlists for both). But even in the effort to be the go-platform for all kinds of design projects, there are lines being drawn. It seems there are no plans, for example, to support Figma.

Another thing Abstract does not plan to do, Smith added, is to start building and offering many of those design tools itself.

“We are focused on expanding support for other file formats and bringing all your design files, whether its for a font or data to populate a design,” he said. There might be exceptions down the line, however: the company launched an SDK last fall, which Smith described as “our first step to exposing data to developers and design engineers, and that is part of our vision, which may or may not involve other kinds of tooling on the Abstract platform.”

He noted that “one of the things we’re been hearing about is the need for light-weight editing,” so that might be one area where Abstract might build or offer a third-party tool. “If we understand the data we are storing it’s not outside the realm of possibility to expose that. From a tooling perspective, it would be coming from the needs of our customers.”

Posted Under: Tech News
Portworx raises $27M Series C for its cloud-native data management platform

Posted by on 20 March, 2019

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As enterprises adopt cloud-native technologies like containers to build their applications, the next question they often have to ask themselves is how they adapt their data storage and management practices to this new reality, too. One of the companies in this business is the four-year-old Portworx, which has managed to attract customers like Lufthansa Systems, GE Digital and HPE with its cloud-native storage and data-management platform for the Kubernetes container orchestration platform.

Portworx today announced that it has raised a $27 million Series C funding round led by  Sapphire Ventures and the ventures arm of Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala Investment Company. Existing investors Mayfield Fund and GE Ventures also participated, as well as new investors Cisco, HPE and NetApp, which clearly have a strategic interest in bringing Portworx’s storage offering to their own customers, too, and partnering with the company.

Portworx’s tools make it easier for developers to migrate data, create backups and recover them after an issue. The service supports most popular databases, including Cassandra, Redis and MySQL, but also other storage services. Essentially, it creates a storage layer for database containers or other stateful containers that your apps can then access, no matter where they run or where the data resides.

“As the cloud-native stack matures, Portworx’s leadership in the data layer is really what is highlighted by our funding,” Portworx CEO and co-founder Murli Thirumale told me. “We clearly have a significant number of customers, there is a lot of customer growth, our partner network is growing. What you are seeing is that within that cloud-native ecosystem, we have the maximum number of production deployments and that momentum is something we’re continuing to fuel and fund with this round.”

As Portworx CEO and co-founder Murli Thirumale told me, the company expanded its customer base by over 100 percent last year and increased its total bookings by 376 percent year-over-year. That’s obviously the kind of growth that investors want to see. Thirumale noted, though, that the company wasn’t under any pressure to raise at this point. “We were seeing such strong growth momentum that we knew we need the money to fuel the growth.” That means expanding the company’s sales force, especially internationally, as well as its support team to help its new customers manage their data lifecycle.

In addition to today’s funding round, Portworx also today announced the latest version of its flagship Portworx Enterprise platform, which now includes new data security and disaster recovery functions. These include improved role-based access controls that go beyond what Kubernetes traditionally offers (and that integrate with existing enterprise systems). The new disaster recovery tools now allow enterprises to make incremental backups to data centers that sit in different geographical locations. Maybe more importantly, Portworx now also lets users automatically save data in two nearby data centers zones as updates happen. That’s meant o enable use cases where zero data loss would be acceptable in the case of an outage. With this, a company could automatically backup data from a database that sits in Azure Germany Central and back it up to AWS Europe Frankfurt, for example.

Posted Under: Tech News
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