Monthly Archives: October 2019

Demodesk scores $2.3M seed for sales-focused online meetings

Posted by on 23 October, 2019

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Demodesk, an early stage startup that wants to change how sales meetings are conducted online, announced a $2.3 million seed investment today.

Investors included GFC, FundersClub, Y Combinator, Kleiner Perkins and an unnamed group of angel investors. The company was a member of the Y Combinator Winter 2019 cohort.

CEO and co-founder Veronika Riederle says that the fact it’s so closely focused on sales separates it from other more general meeting tools like Zoom, WebEx or GoToMeeting. “We are building the first intelligent online meeting tool for customer facing conversations. So that is for inside sales and customer service professionals,” Riederle explained.

One of the key pieces of technology is what Riederle calls, “a unique approach to screen sharing.” Whereas most meeting software involves downloading software to use the tool, Demodesk doesn’t do this. You simply click a link and you’re in. The two parties online are seeing a live screen and each can interact with it. It’s not just a show and tell.

What’s more, in a sales scenario with a slide presentation, the customer sees the same live screen as the salesperson, but while the salesperson can see their presentation notes, the customer cannot.

She said while this could work for any number of scenarios from customer service to IT Help desks, at this stage in the company’s development she wants to concentrate on the sales scenario, then expand the vision over time. The service works on a subscription model with tiered-per user pricing starting at $19 per user per month.

When they got to Y Combinator, the company already had a working product and paying customers, but Riederle says that the experience has helped them grow the business to over 100 customers. “YC was extremely important for us because we immediately got access to an extremely valuable network of founders and potential customers, and also just a base for us to really [develop] the business.

Riderle founded the company with CTO Alex Popp in 2017 in Munich. Prior to this seed round, the founders mostly bootstrapped the company,. With the $2.3 million it should be able to hire more people and begin building out the product further, while investing in sales and marketing to expand its customer base.

Posted Under: Tech News
In latest $10B JEDI contract twist, Defense secretary recuses himself

Posted by on 22 October, 2019

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The JEDI drama never stops. The $10 billion, decade-long cloud contract has produced a series of twists and turns since the project was announced in 2018. These include everything from court challenges to the president getting involved to accusations of bias and conflict of interest. It has had all this and more. Today, in the latest plot twist, the Secretary of Defense Mark Esper recused himself from the selection process because one of his kids works at a company that was involved earlier in the process.

Several reports name his son, Luke Esper, who has worked at IBM since February. The RFP closed in April and Esper is a Digital Strategy Consultant, according to his LinkedIn page (which is no longer available), but given the persistent controversy around this deal, his dad apparently wanted to remove even a hint of impropriety in the selection and review process.

Chief Pentagon Spokesperson Jonathan Rath Hoffman issued an official DoD Cloud update earlier today:

As you all know, soon after becoming Secretary of Defense in July, Secretary Esper initiated a review of the Department’s cloud computing plans and to the JEDI procurement program. As part of this review process he attended informational briefings to ensure he had a full understanding of the JEDI program and the universe of options available to DoD to meet its cloud computing needs. Although not legally required to, he has removed himself from participating in any decision making following the information meetings, due to his adult son’s employment with one of the original contract applicants. Out of an abundance of caution to avoid any concerns regarding his impartiality, Secretary Esper has delegated decision making concerning the JEDI Cloud program to Deputy Secretary Norquist. The JEDI procurement will continue to move to selection through the normal acquisition process run by career acquisition professionals.

Perhaps the biggest beef around this contract, which was supposed to be decided in August, has been the winner-take-all nature of the deal. Only one company will eventually walk away a winner, and there was a persistent belief in some quarters that the deal was designed specifically with Amazon in mind. Oracle’s co-CEO Safra Catz took that concern directly to the president in 2018.

The DoD has repeatedly denied there was any vendor in mind when it created the RFP, and internal Pentagon reviews, courts and a government watchdog agency repeatedly found the procurement process was fair, but the complaints continue. The president got involved in August when he named his then newly appointed defense secretary to look into the JEDI contract procurement process. Now Espers is withdrawing from leading that investigation, and it will be up to others, including his deputy secretary, to finally bring this project over the finish line.

Last April, the DoD named Microsoft and Amazon as the two finalists. It’s worth pointing out that both are leaders in Infrastructure as a Service market share with around 16% and 33%, respectively.

It’s also worth noting that while $10 billion feels like a lot of money, it’s spread out over a 10-year period with lots of possible out clauses built into the deal. To put this deal size into perspective, a September report from Synergy Research found that worldwide combined infrastructure and software service spending in the cloud had already reached $150 billion, a number that is only expected to continue to rise over the next several years as more companies and government agencies like the DoD move more of their workloads to the cloud.

For complete TechCrunch JEDI coverage, see the Pentagon JEDI Contract.

Posted Under: Tech News
Former SAP CEO Bill McDermott taking over as ServiceNow CEO

Posted by on 22 October, 2019

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When Bill McDermott announced he was stepping down as CEO at SAP a couple of weeks ago, it certainly felt like a curious move — but he landed on his feet pretty quickly. ServiceNow announced he would be taking over as CEO there. The transition will take place at year-end.

If you’re wondering what happened to the current ServiceNow CEO, John Donahoe, well he landed a job as CEO at Nike. The CEO carousel goes round and round (and painted ponies go up and down).

Jeff Miller, lead independent director on the ServiceNow board of directors, was “thrilled” to have McDermott fill the void left by Donahoe’s departure. “His global experience and proven track record will provide for a smooth transition and continued strong leadership. Bill will further enhance ServiceNow’s momentum and reputation as a digital workflows leader committed to customer success, and as a preferred strategic partner enabling enterprise digital transformation,” Miller said in a statement.

Jennifer Morgan and Christian Klein replaced McDermott as co-CEOs at SAP, and during the announcement, McDermott indicated he would stay until the end of the year to help with the transition. After that, no vacation for McDermott, who will apparently start at ServiceNow after his obligations at SAP end.

As Frederic Lardinois wrote regarding McDermott’s resignation:

I last spoke to McDermott about a month ago, during a fireside chat at our TechCrunch Sessions: Enterprise event. At the time, I didn’t come away with the impression that this was a CEO on his way out (though McDermott reminded me that if he had already made his decision a month ago, he probably wouldn’t have given it away).

ServiceNow is a much different company than SAP. SAP was founded in 1972 and was a traditional on-premises software company. ServiceNow was founded in 2004 and was born as a SaaS company. While McDermott was part of a transition from a traditional, on-premises enterprise software company to the cloud, working at ServiceNow he will be leading a much smaller organization. Published estimates have SAP at around 100,000 employees, while ServiceNow now has around 10,000.

It’s worth noting that the company made the announcement after the market closed and it announced its latest quarterly earnings. Wall Street did not appear to the like news, as the stock was down $13.34, or 5.84%, in early after-hours trading.

Posted Under: Tech News
Databricks announces $400M round on $6.2B valuation as analytics platform continues to grow

Posted by on 22 October, 2019

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Databricks is a SaaS business built on top of a bunch of open source tools, and apparently it’s been going pretty well on the business side of things. In fact, the company claims to be one of the fastest growing enterprise cloud companies ever. Today the company announced a massive $400 million Series F funding round on a hefty $6.2 billion valuation. Today’s funding brings the total raised to almost a $900 million.

Andreessen Horowitz’s Late Stage Venture Fund led the round with new investors BlackRock, Inc., T. Rowe Price Associates, Inc. and Tiger Global Management also participating. The institutional investors are particularly interesting here because as a late stage startup, Databricks likely has its eye on a future IPO, and having those investors on board already could give them a head start.

CEO Ali Ghodsi was coy when it came to the IPO, but it sure sounded like that’s a direction he wants to go. “We are one of the fastest growing cloud enterprise software companies on record, which means we have a lot of access to capital as this fundraise shows. The revenue is growing gangbusters, and the brand is also really well known. So an IPO is not something that we’re optimizing for, but it’s something that’s definitely going to happen down the line in the not-too-distant future,” Ghodsi told TechCrunch.

The company announced as of Q3 it’s on a $200 million run rate, and it has a platform that consists of four products, all built on foundational open source: Delta Lake, an open source data lake product; MLflow, an open source project that helps data teams operationalize machine learning; Koalas, which creates a single machine frame work for Spark and Pandos, greatly simplifying working with the two tools; and finally, Spark, the open source analytics engine.

You can download the open source version of all of these tools for free, but they are not easy to use or manage. The way that Databricks make money is by offering each of these tools in the form of Software as a Service. They handle all of the management headaches associated with using these tools and they charge you a subscription price.

It’s a model that seems to be working as the company is growing like crazy. It raised $250 million just last February on a $2.75 billion valuation. Apparently the investors saw room for a lot more growth in the intervening six months, as today’s $6.2 billion valuation shows.

Posted Under: Tech News
Slack announces new features to help ease app integration pain

Posted by on 22 October, 2019

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As Slack has grown in popularity, one of the company’s key differentiators has been the ability to integrate with other enterprise tools, but as customers use Slack as a central work hub, it has created its own set of problems. In particular, users have trouble understanding what apps they have access to and how to make best use of them. Slack announced several ways to ease those issues at its Spec developer conference today.

Andy Pflaum, director of Slack platform, points out that there are 1800 app integrations available out of the box in Slack, and developers have created 500,000 additional custom apps. That’s obviously far too many for any user to keep track of, so Slack has created a home page for apps called App Launcher. It acts a bit like the Mac Launchpad, a centralized place where you can see your installed apps.

Slack App Launcher. Image: Slack

You access App Launcher from the Slack sidebar by clicking Apps. It opens App Launcher with the apps that make sense for you. When you select an app, Pflaum says it takes you to that app’s home screen where it will be ready to enter or display relevant information.

For example, if you selected Google Calendar, you would see your daily schedule along with meeting requests, which you can accept or reject. You can also launch meeting software directly from this page. All of this happens within Slack, without having to change focus. App Home will be available in Beta in the next few months, according to Pflaum.

Another way Slack is helping ease the app burden is with a new concept called Actions from Anywhere. The company actually launched Actions last year, enabling users to take an action from a message like attaching a Slack message to a pull request in Jira, as an example. Pflaum said that people liked these actions so much that they were requesting the ability to take actions from anywhere in Slack.

“At Spec, we are previewing this new kind of action — Actions from Anywhere — which gives users the ability to take an action from anywhere they are in Slack,” Pflaum said. To really take advantage of this capability, the company is adding a feature to select the five most recent actions from a quick-access menu. These actions fill in automatically based on your most recent activities, and could be a real time-saver for people working inside Slack all day long.

Finally, the company is enabling developers to open an external window inside Slack, what they call Modal windows, which open when users have to fill out a form, take a survey, enter expenses, or provide additional information outside the flow of Slack itself.

All of these and other announcements at Spec are part of the maturation process of Slack as it moves to solve some of the pain points of growing so quickly. When you grow past the point of understanding what a complex piece of software can do, it’s up to the vendor to provide ways to surface all of the benefits and features, and that’s what Slack is attempting to do with these new tools.

Posted Under: Tech News
Figma’s Community lets designers share and remix live files

Posted by on 22 October, 2019

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As designers grow both in sheer numbers and within the hierarchy of organizations, design tool makers are adapting to their evolving needs in different ways. Figma, the web-based collaborative design tool, is taking a note from the engineering revolution of the early aughts.

“What if there were a GitHub for designers?” mused Dylan Field, early on in the lifecycle of Figma as a company. Today, that vision is brought to life with the launch of Figma Community. (Figma Community is launching in a closed beta for now.)

In a crowded space, with competitors like Adobe, InVision, Sketch and more, Figma differentiates itself on its web-based multiplayer approach. Figma is a design tool that works like Google Docs, with multiple designers in the same file, working alongside one another without disrupting each other.

But that’s just the base level of the overall collaboration that Figma believes designers crave. Field told us that he sees a clear desire from designers to not only share their work, whether it’s on a portfolio webpage or on social media, as well as a desire to learn from the work of other designers.

And yet, when a creative shares a design on social media, it’s just a static image. Other designers can’t see how it went from a blank page to an interesting design, and are left to merely appreciate it without learning anything new.

With Figma Community, designers and even organizations can share live design files that others can inspect, remix and learn from.

Individual designers can set up their own public-facing profile page to show off their designs, as well as intra-organization profile pages so other team members within their organization can learn from each other. On the other hand, organizations can publicly share their design systems and philosophy on their own page.

For example, the city of Chicago has set up a profile on Figma Community for other designers to follow the city’s design system in their own materials.

As far as remixing design files goes, Figma is using a CC4 license, which allows for a remix but forces attribution. That said, Field says the company is using this closed beta period to learn more about what the community wants around different license types.

Community is free and is not meant to drive revenue for the company, but rather offer further value to designers using the platform.

“It’s early,” said Dylan Field. “This is just the scaffolding of what’s to come. It’s the start of a lot of work that we’re going to be doing in the area of collaboration and community.”

Figma has raised a total of $83 million from investors like Index, Sequoia, Kleiner Perkins and Grelock, according to Crunchbase.

Posted Under: Tech News
Early stage privacy startup DataGrail gets boost from Okta partnership

Posted by on 22 October, 2019

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When Okta launched its $50 million Okta Ventures investment fund in April, one of its investments was in an early stage privacy startup called DataGrail. Today, the companies announced a partnership that they hope will help boost DataGrail, while providing Okta customers with a privacy tool option.

DataGrail CEO and co-founder Daniel Barber says that with the increase in privacy legislation from GDPR to the upcoming California Consumer Protection Act (and many other proposed bills in various states of progress), companies need tools to help them comply and protect user privacy. “We are a privacy platform focused on delivering continuous compliance for businesses,” Barber says.

They do this in a way that fits nicely with Okta’s approach to identity. Whereas Okta provides a place to access all of your cloud applications from a single place with one logon, DataGrail connects to your applications with connectors to provide a way to monitor privacy across the organization from a single view.

It currently has 180 connectors to common enterprise applications like Salesforce, HubSpot, Marketo and Oracle. It then collects this data and presents it to the company in a central interface to help ensure privacy. “Our key differentiator is that we’re able to deliver a live data map of the customer data that exists within an organization,” Barber explained.

The company just launched last year, but Barber sees similarities in their approaches. “We we see clear alignment on our go-to-market approach. The product that we built aligns very similarly to the way Okta is deployed, and we’re a true  partner with the industry leader in identity management,” he said.

Monty Gray, SVP and head of corporate development at Okta, says that the company is always looking for innovative companies that fit well with Okta. The company liked DataGrail enough to contribute to the startup’s $5.2 million Series A investment in July.

Gray says that while DataGrail isn’t the only privacy company it’s partnering with, he likes how DataGrail is helping with privacy compliance in large organizations. “We saw how DataGrail was thinking about [privacy] in a modern fashion. They enable these technology companies to become not only compliant, but do it in a way where they were not directly in the flow, that they would get out of the way,” Gray explained.

Barber says having the help of Okta could help drive sales, and for a company that’s just getting off the ground, having a public company in your corner as an investor, as well as a partner, could help push the company forward. That’s all that any early startup can hope for.

Posted Under: Tech News
Aurora Insight emerges from stealth with $18M and a new take on measuring wireless spectrum

Posted by on 22 October, 2019

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Aurora Insight, a startup that provides a “dynamic” global map of wireless connectivity that it built and monitors in real time using AI combined with data from sensors on satellites, vehicles, buildings, aircraft and other objects, is emerging from stealth today with the launch of its first publicly-available product, a platform providing insights on wireless signal and quality covering a range of wireless spectrum bands, offered as a cloud-based, data-as-a-service product.

“Our objective is to map the entire planet, charting the radio waves used for communications,” said Brian Mengwasser, the co-founder and CEO. “It’s a daunting task.” He said that to do this the company first “built a bunker” to test the system before rolling it out at scale.

With it, Aurora Insight is also announcing that it has raised $18 million in funding — an aggregate amount that reaches back to its founding in 2016 and covering both a seed round and Series A — from an impressive list of investors. Led by Alsop Louie Partners and True Ventures, backers also include Tippet Venture Partners, Revolution’s Rise of the Rest Seed Fund, Promus Ventures, Alumni Ventures Group, ValueStream Ventures, and Intellectus Partners.

The area of measuring wireless spectrum and figuring out where it might not be working well (in order to fix it) may sound like an arcane area, but it’s a fairly essential one.

Mobile technology — specifically, new devices and the use of wireless networks to connect people, objects and services — continues to be the defining activity of our time, with more than 5 billion mobile users on the planet (out of 7.5 billion people) today and the proportion continuing to grow. With that, we’re seeing a big spike in mobile internet usage, too, with more than 5 billion people, and 25.2 billion objects, expected to be using mobile data by 2025, according to the GSMA.

The catch to all this is that wireless spectrum — which enables the operation of mobile services — is inherently finite and somewhat flaky in how its reliability is subject to interference. That in turn is creating a need for a better way of measuring how it is working, and how to fix it when it is not.

“Wireless spectrum is one of the most critical and valuable parts of the communications ecosystem worldwide,” said Rohit Sharma, partner at True Ventures and Aurora Insight board member, in a statement. “To date, it’s been a massive challenge to accurately measure and dynamically monitor the wireless spectrum in a way that enables the best use of this scarce commodity. Aurora’s proprietary approach gives businesses a unique way to analyze, predict, and rapidly enable the next-generation of wireless-enabled applications.”

If you follow the world of wireless technology and telcos, you’ll know that wireless network testing and measurement is an established field, about as old as the existence of wireless networks themselves (which says something about the general reliability of wireless networks). Aurora aims to disrupt this on a number of levels.

Mengwasser — who co-founded the company with Jennifer Alvarez, the CTO who you can see presenting on the company here — tells me that a lot of the traditional testing and measurement has been geared at telecoms operators, who own the radio towers, and tend to focus on more narrow bands of spectrum and technologies.

The rise of 5G and other wireless technologies, however, has come with a completely new playing field and set of challenges from the industry.

Essentially, we are now in a market where there are a number of different technologies coexisting — alongside 5G we have earlier network technologies (4G, LTE, Wifi); a potential set of new technologies. And we have a new breed of companies are building services that need to have close knowledge of how networks are working to make sure they remain up and reliable.

Mengwasser said Aurora is currently one of the few trying to tackle this opportunity by developing a network that is measuring multiples kinds of spectrum simultaneously, and aims to provide that information not just to telcos (some of whom have been working with Aurora while still in stealth) but the others kinds of application and service developers that are building businesses based on those new networks.

“There is a pretty big difference between us and performance measurement, which typically operates from the back of a phone and tells you when have a phone in a particular location,” he said. “We care about more than this, more than just homes, but all smart devices. Eventually, eerything will be connected to network so we are aiming to provide intelligence on that.”

One example are drone operators who are building delivery networks: Aurora has been working with at least one while in stealth to help develop a service, Mengwasser said, although he declined to say which one. (He also, incidentally, specifically declined to say whether the company had talked with Amazon.)

5G is a particularly tricky area of mobile network spectrum and services to monitor and tackle, one reason why Aurora Insight has caught the attention of investors.

“The reality of massive MIMO beamforming, high frequencies, and dynamic access techniques employed by 5G networks means it’s both more difficult and more important to quantify the radio spectrum,” said Gilman Louie of Alsop Louie Partners, in a statement. “Having the accurate and near-real-time feedback on the radio spectrum that Aurora’s technology offers could be the difference between building a 5G network right the first time, or having to build it twice.” Louie is also sitting on the board of the startup.

Posted Under: Tech News
Google picks up Microsoft veteran, Javier Soltero, to head G Suite

Posted by on 22 October, 2019

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Google has hired Microsoft’s former Cortana and Outlook VP, Javier Soltero, to head up its productivity and collaboration bundle, G Suite — which includes consumer and business tools such as Gmail, Hangouts, Drive, Google Docs and Sheets.

He tweeted the news yesterday, writing: “The opportunity to work with this team on products that have such a profound impact on the lives of people around the world is a real and rare privilege.”

 

Soltero joined Microsoft five years ago, after the company shelling out $200M to acquire his mobile email application, Acompli — staying until late last year.

His LinkedIn profile now lists him as vice president of G Suite, starting October 2019.

Soltero will report to Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian — who replaced Dianne Green when she stepped down from the role last year — per a company email reported by CNBC.

Previously, Google’s Prabhakar Raghavan — now SVP for its Advertising and Commerce products — was in charge of the productivity bundle, as VP of Google Apps and Google Cloud. But Mountain View has created a dedicated VP role for G Suite. Presumably to woo Soltero into his next major industry move — and into competing directly with his former employer.

The move looks intended to dial up focus on the Office giant, in response to Microsoft’s ongoing push to shift users from single purchase versions of flagship productivity products to subscription-based cloud versions, like Office 365.

This summer Google CEO, Sundar Pichai, announced that its cloud business unit had an $8 billion annual revenue run rate, up from $4BN reported in early 2018, though still lagging Microsoft’s Azure cloud.

He added that Google planned to triple the size of its cloud sales force over the next few years.

Posted Under: Tech News
Microsoft acquires Mover to help with Microsoft 365 cloud migration

Posted by on 21 October, 2019

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Microsoft wants to make it as easy as possible to migrate to Microsoft 365, and today the company announced it had purchased a Canadian startup called Mover to help. The companies did not reveal the acquisition price.

Microsoft 365 is the company’s bundle that includes Office 365, Microsoft Teams, security tools and workflow. The idea is to provide customers with a soup-to-nuts, cloud-based productivity package. Mover helps customers get files from another service into the Microsoft 365 cloud.

As Jeff Tepper wrote in a post on the Official Microsoft Blog announcing the acquisition, this about helping customers get to the Microsoft cloud as quickly and smoothly as possible. “Today, Mover supports migration from over a dozen cloud service providers — including Box, Dropbox, Egnyte, and Google Drive — into OneDrive and SharePoint, enabling seamless file collaboration across Microsoft 365 apps and services, including the Office apps and Microsoft Teams,” Tepper wrote.

Tepper also points out that they will be gaining the expertise of the Mover team as it moves to Microsoft and helps add to the migration tools already in place.

Tony Byrne, founder and principal analyst at Real Story Group, says that moving files from one system to another like this can be extremely challenging regardless of how you do it, and the file transfer mechanism is only part of it. “The transition to 365 from an on-prem system or competing cloud supplier is never a migration, per se. It’s a rebuild, with a completely different UX, admin model, set of services, and operational assumptions all built into the Microsoft cloud offering,” Byrne explained.

Mover is based in Calgary, Canada. It was founded in 2012 and raised $1 million, according to Crunchbase data. It counts some big clients as customers including AutoDesk, Symantec and BuzzFeed.

Posted Under: Tech News
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