Monthly Archives: November 2019

Box looks to balance growth and profitability as it matures

Posted by on 27 November, 2019

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Prevailing wisdom states that as an enterprise SaaS company evolves, there’s a tendency to sacrifice profitability for growth — understandably so, especially in the early days of the company. At some point, however, a company needs to become profitable.

Box has struggled to reach that goal since going public in 2015, but yesterday, it delivered a mostly positive earnings report. Wall Street seemed to approve, with the stock up 6.75% as we published this article.

Box CEO Aaron Levie says the goal moving forward is to find better balance between growth and profitability. In his post-report call with analysts, Levie pointed to some positive numbers.

“As we shared in October [at BoxWorks], we are focused on driving a balance of long-term growth and improved profitability as measured by the combination of revenue growth plus free cash flow margin. On this combined metric, we expect to deliver a significant increase in FY ’21 to at least 25% and eventually reaching at least 35% in FY ’23,” Levie said.

Growing the platform

Part of the maturation and drive to profitability is spurred by the fact that Box now has a more complete product platform. While many struggle to understand the company’s business model, it provides content management in the cloud and modernizing that aspect of enterprise software. As a result, there are few pure-play content management vendors that can do what Box does in a cloud context.

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Xerox tells HP it will bring takeover bid directly to shareholders

Posted by on 26 November, 2019

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Xerox fired the latest volley in the Xerox HP merger letter wars today. Xerox CEO John Visentin wrote to the HP Board that his company planned to take its $33.5 billion offer directly to HP shareholders.

He began his letter with hostile tone befitting a hostile takeover attempt, stating that their refusal to negotiate defied logic. “We have put forth a compelling proposal – one that would allow HP shareholders to both realize immediate cash value and enjoy equal participation in the substantial upside expected to result from a combination. Our offer is neither “highly conditional” nor “uncertain” as you claim,” Visentin wrote in his letter.

He added, “We plan to engage directly with HP shareholders to solicit their support in urging the HP Board to do the right thing and pursue this compelling opportunity.”

The letter was in response to one yesterday from HP in which it turned down Xerox’s latest overture, stating that the deal seemed beyond Xerox’s ability to afford it. It called into question Xerox’s current financial situation, citing Xerox’s own financial reports, and took exception to the way in which Xerox was courting the company.

“It is clear in your aggressive words and actions that Xerox is intent on forcing a potential combination on opportunistic terms and without providing adequate information,” the company wrote.

Visentin fired back in his letter, “While you may not appreciate our “aggressive” tactics, we will not apologize for them. The most efficient way to prove out the scope of this opportunity with certainty is through mutual due diligence, which you continue to refuse, and we are obligated to require.”

He further pulled no punches writing that he believes the deal is good for both companies and good for the shareholders. “The potential benefits of a combination between HP and Xerox are self-evident. Together, we could create an industry leader – with enhanced scale and best-in-class offerings across a complete product portfolio — that will be positioned to invest more in innovation and generate greater returns for shareholders.”

Patrick Moorhead, founder and principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategies, thinks HP ultimately has the upper hand in this situation. “I feel like we have seen this movie before when Carl Icahn meddled with Dell in a similar way. Xerox is a third of the size HP Inc., has been steadily declining in revenue, is running out of options, and needs HP more than HP needs it.”

It would seem Xerox has chosen a no-holds barred approach to the situation. The pen is now in HP’s hands as we await the next letter and see how the printing giant intends to respond to the latest missive from Xerox.

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New Amazon capabilities put machine learning in reach of more developers

Posted by on 26 November, 2019

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Today, Amazon announced a new approach that it says will put machine learning technology in reach of more developers and line of business users. Amazon has been making a flurry of announcements ahead of its re:Invent customer conference next week in Las Vegas.

While the company offers plenty of tools for data scientists to build machine learning models and process, store and visualize data, it wants to put that capability directly in the hands of developers with the help of the popular database query language, SQL.

By taking advantage of tools like Amazon QuickSight, Aurora and Athena in combination with SQL queries, developers can have much more direct access to machine learning models and underlying data without any additional coding, says VP of artificial intelligence at AWS, Matt Wood.

“This announcement is all about is making it easier for developers to add machine learning predictions to their products and their processes by integrating those predictions directly with their databases,” Wood told TechCrunch.

For starters, Wood says developers can take advantage of Aurora, the company’s SQL (and Postgres) compatible database to build a simple SQL query into an application, which will automatically pull the data into the application and run whatever machine learning model the developer associates with it.

The second piece involves Athena, the company’s serverless query service. As with Aurora, developers can write a SQL query — in this case, against any data store — and based on a machine learning model they choose, return a set of data for use in an application.

The final piece is QuickSight, which is Amazon’s data visualization tool. Using one of the other tools to return some set of data, developers can use that data to create visualizations based on it inside whatever application they are creating.

“By making sophisticated ML predictions more easily available through SQL queries and dashboards, the changes we’re announcing today help to make ML more usable and accessible to database developers and business analysts. Now anyone who can write SQL can make — and importantly use — predictions in their applications without any custom code,” Amazon’s Matt Assay wrote in a blog post announcing these new capabilities.

Assay added that this approach is far easier than what developers had to do in the past to achieve this. “There is often a large amount of fiddly, manual work required to take these predictions and make them part of a broader application, process or analytics dashboard,” he wrote.

As an example, Wood offers a lead-scoring model you might use to pick the most likely sales targets to convert. “Today, in order to do lead scoring you have to go off and wire up all these pieces together in order to be able to get the predictions into the application,” he said. With this new capability, you can get there much faster.

“Now, as a developer I can just say that I have this lead scoring model which is deployed in SageMaker, and all I have to do is write literally one SQL statement that I do all day long into Aurora, and I can start getting back that lead scoring information. And then I just display it in my application and away I go,” Wood explained.

As for the machine learning models, these can come pre-built from Amazon, be developed by an in-house data science team or purchased in a machine learning model marketplace on Amazon, says Wood.

Today’s announcements from Amazon are designed to simplify machine learning and data access, and reduce the amount of coding to get from query to answer faster.

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Instagram founders join $30M raise for Loom work video messenger

Posted by on 26 November, 2019

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Why are we all trapped in enterprise chat apps if we talk 6X faster than we type, and our brain processes visual info 60,000X faster than text? Thanks to Instagram, we’re not as camera-shy anymore. And everyone’s trying to remain in flow instead of being distracted by multi-tasking.

That’s why now is the time for Loom. It’s an enterprise collaboration video messaging service that lets you send quick clips of yourself so you can get your point across and get back to work. Talk through a problem, explain your solution, or narrate a screenshare. Some engineering hocus pocus sees videos start uploading before you finish recording so you can share instantly viewable links as soon as you’re done.

“What we felt was that more visual communication could be translated into the workplace and deliver disproportionate value” co-founder and CEO Joe Thomas tells me. He actually conducted our whole interview over Loom, responding to emailed questions with video clips.

Launched in 2016, Loom is finally hitting its growth spurt. It’s up from 1.1 million users and 18,000 companies in February to 1.8 million people at 50,000 businesses sharing 15 million minutes of Loom videos per month. Remote workers are especially keen on Loom since it gives them face-to-face time with colleagues without the annoyance of scheduling synchronous video calls. “80% of our professional power users had primarily said that they were communicating with people that they didn’t share office space with” Thomas notes.

A smart product, swift traction, and a shot at riding the consumerization of enterprise trend has secured Loom a $30 million Series B. The round that’s being announced later today was led by prestigious SAAS investor Sequoia and joined by Kleiner Perkins, Figma CEO Dylan Field, Front CEO Mathilde Collin, and Instagram co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger.

“At Instagram, one of the biggest things we did was focus on extreme performance and extreme ease of use and that meant optimizing every screen, doing really creative things about when we started uploading, optimizing everything from video codec to networking” Krieger says. “Since then I feel like some products have managed to try to capture some of that but few as much as Loom did. When I first used Loom I turned to Kevin who was my Instagram co-founder and said, ‘oh my god, how did they do that? This feels impossibly fast.’”

Systrom concurs about the similarities, saying “I’m most excited because I see how they’re tackling the problem of visual communication in the same way that we tried to tackle that at Instagram.” Loom is looking to double-down there, potentially adding the ability to Like and follow videos from your favorite productivity gurus or sharpest co-workers.

Loom is also prepping some of its most requested features. The startup is launching an iOS app next month with Android coming the first half of 2020, improving its video editor with blurring for hiding your bad hair day and stitching to connect multiple takes. New branding options will help external sales pitches and presentations look right. What I’m most excited for is transcription, which is also slated for the first half of next year through a partnership with another provider, so you can skim or search a Loom. Sometimes even watching at 2X speed is too slow.

But the point of raising a massive $30 million Series B just a year after Loom’s $11 million Kleiner-led Series A is to nail the enterprise product and sales process. To date, Loom has focused on a bottom-up distribution strategy similar to Dropbox. It tries to get so many individual employees to use Loom that it becomes a team’s default collaboration software. Now it needs to grow up so it can offer the security and permissions features IT managers demand. Loom for teams is rolling out in beta access this year before officially launching in early 2020.

Loom’s bid to become essential to the enterprise, though, is its team video library. This will let employees organize their Looms into folders of a knowledge base so they can explain something once on camera, and everyone else can watch whenever they need to learn that skill. No more redundant one-off messages begging for a team’s best employees to stop and re-teach something. The Loom dashboard offers analytics on who’s actually watching your videos. And integration directly into popular enterprise software suites will let recipients watch without stopping what they’re doing.

To build out these features Loom has already grown to a headcount of 45. It’s also hired away former head of growth at Dropbox Nicole Obst, head of design for Slack Joshua Goldenberg, and VP of commercial product strategy for Intercom Matt Hodges.

Still, the elephants in the room remain Slack and Microsoft Teams. Right now, they’re mainly focused on text messaging with some additional screensharing and video chat integrations. They’re not building Loom-style asynchronous video messaging…yet. “We want to be clear about the fact that we don’t think we’re in competition with Slack or Microsoft Teams at all. We are a complementary tool to chat” Thomas insists. But given the similar productivity and communication ethos, those incumbents could certainly opt to compete. Slack already has 12 million daily users it could provide with video tools.

Loom co-founder and CEO Joe Thomas

Hodges, Loom’s head of marketing, tells me “I agree Slack and Microsoft could choose to get into this territory, but what’s the opportunity cost for them in doing so? It’s the classic build vs. buy vs. integrate argument.” Slack bought screensharing tool Screenhero, but partners with Zoom and Google for video chat. Loom will focus on being easily integratable so it can plug into would-be competitors. And Hodges notes that “Delivering asynchronous video recording and sharing at scale is non-trivial. Loom holds a patent on its streaming, transcoding, and storage technology, which has proven to provide a competitive advantage to this day.”

The tea leaves point to video invading more and more of our communication, so I expect rival startups and features to Loom will crop up. Vidyard and Wistia’s Soapbox are already pushing into the space. As long as it has the head start, Loom needs to move as fast as it can. “It’s really hard to maintain focus to deliver on the core product experience that we set out to deliver versus spreading ourselves too thin. And this is absolutely critical” Thomas tells me.

One thing that could set Loom apart? A commitment to financial fundamentals. “When you grow really fast, you can sometimes lose sight of what is the core reason for a business entity to exist, which is to become profitable. . . Even in a really bold market where cash can be cheap, we’re trying to keep profitability at the top of our minds.”

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Coralogix announces $10M Series A to bring more intelligence to logging

Posted by on 26 November, 2019

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Coralogix, a startup that wants to bring automation and intelligence to logging, announced a $10 million Series A investment today.

The round was led by Aleph with participation from StageOne Ventures, Janvest Capital Partners and 2B Angels. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $16.2 million, according to the company.

CEO and co-founder Ariel Assaraf says his company focuses on two main areas: logging and analysis. The startup has been doing traditional applications performance monitoring up until now, but today, it also announced it was getting into security logging, where it tracks logs for anomalies and shares this information with security information and event management (SEIM) tools.

“We do standard log analytics in terms of ingesting, parsing, visualizing, alerting and searching for log data at scale using scaled, secure infrastructure,” Assaraf said. In addition, the company has developed a set of algorithms to analyze the data, and begin to understand patterns of expected behavior, and how to make use of that data to recognize and solve problems in an automated fashion.

“So the idea is to generally monitor a system automatically for customers plus giving them the tools to quickly drill down into data, understand how it behaves and get context to the issues that they see,” he said.

For instance, the tool could recognize that a certain sequence of events like a user logging in, authenticating that user and redirecting him or her to the application or website. All of those events happen every time, so if there is something different, the system will recognize that and share the information with DevOps team that something is amiss.

The company, which has offices in Tel Aviv, San Francisco and Kiev, was founded in 2015. It already has 1500 customers including Postman, Fiverr, KFC and Caesars Palace. They’ve been able to build the company with just 30 people to this point, but want to expand the sales and marketing team to help build it out the customer base further. The new money should help in that regard.

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Vivun snags $3M seed round to bring order to pre-sales

Posted by on 26 November, 2019

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Vivun, a startup that wants to help companies keep better track of pre-sales data announced a $3 million seed round today led by Unusual Ventures, the venture firm run by Harness CEO Jyoti Bansal.

Vivun founder and CEO Matt Darrow says that pre-sales team works more closely with the customer than anyone else, delivering demos and proof of concepts, and generally helping sales get over the finish line. While sales has CRM to store knowledge about the customer, pre-sales has been lacking a tool to track info about their interactions with customers, and that’s what his company built.

“The main problem that we solve is we give technology to those pre-sales leaders to run and operate their teams, but then take those insights from the group that knows more about the technology and the customer than anybody else, and we deliver that across the organization to the product team, sales team and executive staff,” Darrow explained.

Darrow is a Zuora alumni, and his story is similar to that company’s founder Tien Tzuo, who built the first billing system for Salesforce, then founded Zuroa to build a subscription billing system for everyone else. Similarly, Darrow built a pre-sales tool for Zuroa after finding there wasn’t anything else out there that was devoted specifically to tracking that kind of information.

“At Zuora, I had to build everything from scratch. After the IPO, I realized that this is something that every tech company can take advantage of because every technology company will really need this role to be of high value and impact,” he said.

The company not only tracks information via a mobile app and browser tool, it also has a reporting dashboard to help companies understand and share the information the pre-sales team is hearing from the customer. For example, they might know that x number of customers have been asking for a certain feature, and this information can be organized and passed onto other parts of the company.

Screenshot: Vivun

Bansal, who was previously CEO and co-founder at AppDynamics, a company he sold to Cisco for $3.7 billion just before its IPO in 2017, saw a company filling a big hole in the enterprise software ecosystem. He is not just an investor, he’s also a customer.

“To be successful, a technology company needs to understand three things: where it will be in five years, what its customers need right now, and what the market wants that it’s not currently providing. Pre-sales has answers to all three questions and is a strategically important department that needs management, analytics, and tools for accelerating deals. Yet, no one was making software for this critical department until Vivun,” he said in a statement.

The company was founded in 2018 and has been bootstrapped until now. It spent the first year building out the product. Today, the company has 20 customers including SignalFx (acquired by Splunk in August for $1.05 billion) and Harness.

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AWS expands its IoT services, brings Alexa to devices with only 1MB of RAM

Posted by on 25 November, 2019

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AWS today announced a number of IoT-related updates that, for the most part, aim to make getting started with its IoT services easier, especially for companies that are trying to deploy a large fleet of devices. The marquee announcement, however, is about the Alexa Voice Service, which makes Amazon’s Alex voice assistant available to hardware manufacturers who want to build it into their devices. These manufacturers can now create “Alexa built-in” devices with very low-powered chips and 1MB of RAM.

Until now, you needed at least 100MB of RAM and an ARM Cortex A-class processor. Now, the requirement for Alexa Voice Service integration for AWS IoT Core has come down 1MB and a cheaper Cortex-M processor. With that, chances are you’ll see even more lightbulbs, light switches and other simple, single-purpose devices with Alexa functionality. You obviously can’t run a complex voice-recognition model and decision engine on a device like this, so all of the media retrieval, audio decoding, etc. is done in the cloud. All it needs to be able to do is detect the wake word to start the Alex functionality, which is a comparably simple model.

“We now offload the vast majority of all of this to the cloud,” AWS IoT VP Dirk Didascalou told me. “So the device can be ultra dumb. The only thing that the device still needs to do is wake word detection. That still needs to be covered on the device.” Didascalou noted that with new, lower-powered processors from NXP and Qualcomm, OEMs can reduce their engineering bill of materials by up to 50 percent, which will only make this capability more attractive to many companies.

Didascalou believes we’ll see manufacturers in all kinds of areas use this new functionality, but most of it will likely be in the consumer space. “It just opens up the what we call the real ambient intelligence and ambient computing space,” he said. “Because now you don’t need to identify where’s my hub — you just speak to your environment and your environment can interact with you. I think that’s a massive step towards this ambient intelligence via Alexa.”

No cloud computing announcement these days would be complete without talking about containers. Today’s container announcement for AWS’ IoT services is that IoT Greengrass, the company’s main platform for extending AWS to edge devices, now offers support for Docker containers. The reason for this is pretty straightforward. The early idea of Greengrass was to have developers write Lambda functions for it. But as Didascalou told me, a lot of companies also wanted to bring legacy and third-party applications to Greengrass devices, as well as those written in languages that are not currently supported by Greengrass. Didascalou noted that this also means you can bring any container from the Docker Hub or any other Docker container registry to Greengrass now, too.

“The idea of Greengrass was, you build an application once. And whether you deploy it to the cloud or at the edge or hybrid, it doesn’t matter, because it’s the same programming model,” he explained. “But very many older applications use containers. And then, of course, you saying, okay, as a company, I don’t necessarily want to rewrite something that works.”

Another notable new feature is Stream Manager for Greengrass. Until now, developers had to cobble together their own solution for managing data streams from edge devices, using Lambda functions. Now, with this new feature, they don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time they want to build a new solution for connection management and data retention policies, etc., but can instead rely on this new functionality to do that for them. It’s pre-integrated with AWS Kinesis and IoT Analytics, too.

Also new for AWS IoT Greengrass are fleet provisioning, which makes it easier for businesses to quickly set up lots of new devices automatically, as well as secure tunneling for AWS IoT Device Management, which makes it easier for developers to remote access into a device and troubleshoot them. In addition, AWS IoT Core now features configurable endpoints.

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Making sense of a multi-cloud, hybrid world at KubeCon

Posted by on 22 November, 2019

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More than 12,000 attendees gathered this week in San Diego to discuss all things containers, Kubernetes and cloud-native at KubeCon.

Kubernetes, the container orchestration tool, turned five this year, and the technology appears to be reaching a maturity phase where it accelerates beyond early adopters to reach a more mainstream group of larger business users.

That’s not to say that there isn’t plenty of work to be done, or that most enterprise companies have completely bought in, but it’s clearly reached a point where containerization is on the table. If you think about it, the whole cloud-native ethos makes sense for the current state of computing and how large companies tend to operate.

If this week’s conference showed us anything, it’s an acknowledgment that it’s a multi-cloud, hybrid world. That means most companies are working with multiple public cloud vendors, while managing a hybrid environment that includes those vendors — as well as existing legacy tools that are probably still on-premises — and they want a single way to manage all of this.

The promise of Kubernetes and cloud-native technologies, in general, is that it gives these companies a way to thread this particular needle, or at least that’s the theory.

Kubernetes to the rescue

Photo: Ron Miller/TechCrunch

If you were to look at the Kubernetes hype cycle, we are probably right about at the peak where many think Kubernetes can solve every computing problem they might have. That’s probably asking too much, but cloud-native approaches have a lot of promise.

Craig McLuckie, VP of R&D for cloud-native apps at VMware, was one of the original developers of Kubernetes at Google in 2014. VMware thought enough of the importance of cloud-native technologies that it bought his former company, Heptio, for $550 million last year.

As we head into this phase of pushing Kubernetes and related tech into larger companies, McLuckie acknowledges it creates a set of new challenges. “We are at this crossing the chasm moment where you look at the way the world is — and you look at the opportunity of what the world might become — and a big part of what motivated me to join VMware is that it’s successfully proven its ability to help enterprise organizations navigate their way through these disruptive changes,” McLuckie told TechCrunch.

He says that Kubernetes does actually solve this fundamental management problem companies face in this multi-cloud, hybrid world. “At the end of the day, Kubernetes is an abstraction. It’s just a way of organizing your infrastructure and making it accessible to the people that need to consume it.

“And I think it’s a fundamentally better abstraction than we have access to today. It has some very nice properties. It is pretty consistent in every environment that you might want to operate, so it really makes your on-prem software feel like it’s operating in the public cloud,” he explained.

Simplifying a complex world

One of the reasons Kubernetes and cloud-native technologies are gaining in popularity is because the technology allows companies to think about hardware differently. There is a big difference between virtual machines and containers, says Joe Fernandes, VP of product for Red Hat cloud platform.

“Sometimes people conflate containers as another form of virtualization, but with virtualization, you’re virtualizing hardware, and the virtual machines that you’re creating are like an actual machine with its own operating system. With containers, you’re virtualizing the process,” he said.

He said that this means it’s not coupled with the hardware. The only thing it needs to worry about is making sure it can run Linux, and Linux runs everywhere, which explains how containers make it easier to manage across different types of infrastructure. “It’s more efficient, more affordable, and ultimately, cloud-native allows folks to drive more automation,” he said.

Bringing it into the enterprise

Photo: Ron Miller/TechCrunch

It’s one thing to convince early adopters to change the way they work, but as this technology enters the mainstream. Gabe Monroy, partner program manager at Microsoft says to carry this technology to the next level, we have to change the way we talk about it.

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Cloud Foundry’s Kubernetes bet with Project Eirini hits 1.0

Posted by on 22 November, 2019

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Cloud Foundry, the open-source platform-as-a-service that, with the help of lots of commercial backers, is currently in use by the majority of Fortune 500 companies, launched well before containers, and especially the Kubernetes orchestrator, were a thing. Instead, the project built its own container service, but the rise of Kubernetes obviously created a lot of interest in using it for managing Cloud Foundry’s container implementation. To do so, the organization launched Project Eirini last year; today, it’s officially launching version 1.0, which means it’s ready for production usage.

Eirini/Kubernetes doesn’t replace the old architecture. Instead, for the foreseeable future, they will operate side-by-side, with the operators deciding on which one to use.

The team working on this project shipped a first technical preview earlier this year and a number of commercial vendors, too, started to build their own commercial products around it and shipped it as a beta product.

“It’s one of the things where I think Cloud Foundry sometimes comes at things from a different angle,” IBM’s Julz Friedman told me. “Because it’s not about having a piece of technology that other people can build on in order to build a platform. We’re shipping the end thing that people use. So 1.0 for us — we have to have a thing that ticks all those boxes.”

He also noted that Diego, Cloud Foundry’s existing container management system, had been battle-tested over the years and had always been designed to be scalable to run massive multi-tenant clusters.

“If you look at people doing similar things with Kubernetes at the moment,” said Friedman, “they tend to run lots of Kubernetes clusters to scale to that kind of level. And Kubernetes, although it’s going to get there, right now, there are challenges around multi-tenancy, and super big multi-tenant scale”

But even without being able to get to this massive scale, Friedman argues that you can already get a lot of value even out of a small Kubernetes cluster. Most companies don’t need to run enormous clusters, after all, and they still get the value of Cloud Foundry with the power of Kubernetes underneath it (all without having to write YAML files for their applications).

As Cloud Foundry CTO Chip Childers also noted, once the transition to Eirini gets to the point where the Cloud Foundry community can start applying less effort to its old container engine, those resources can go back to fulfilling the project’s overall mission, which is about providing the best possible developer experience for enterprise developers.

“We’re in this phase in the industry where Kubernetes is the new infrastructure and [Cloud Foundry] has a very battle-tested developer experience around it,” said Childers. “But there’s also really interesting ideas that are out there that are coming from our community, so one of the things that I’ve suggested to the community writ large is, let’s use this time as an opportunity to not just evolve what we have, but also make sure that we’re paying attention to new workflows, new models, and figure out what’s going to provide benefit to that enterprise developer that we’re so focused on — and bring those types of capabilities in.”

Those new capabilities may be around technologies like functions and serverless, for example, though Friedman at least is more focused on Eirini 1.1 for the time being, which will include closing the gaps with what’s currently available in Cloud Foundry’s old scheduler, like Docker image support and support for the Cloud Foundry v3 API.

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Linear takes $4.2M led by Sequoia to build a better bug tracker and more

Posted by on 21 November, 2019

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Software will eat the world, as the saying goes, but in doing so, some developers are likely to get a little indigestion. That is to say, building products requires working with disparate and distributed teams, and while developers may have an ever-growing array of algorithms, APIs and technology at their disposal to do this, ironically the platforms to track it all haven’t evolved with the times. Now three developers have taken their own experience of that disconnect to create a new kind of platform, Linear, which they believe addresses the needs of software developers better by being faster and more intuitive. It’s bug tracking you actually want to use.

Today, Linear is announcing a seed round of $4.2 million led by Sequoia, with participation also from Index Ventures and a number of investors, startup founders and others that will also advise Linear as it grows. They include Dylan Field (Founder and CEO, Figma), Emily Choi (COO, Coinbase), Charlie Cheever (Co-Founder of Expo & Quora), Gustaf Alströmer (Partner, Y Combinator), Tikhon Berstram (Co-Founder, Parse), Larry Gadea (CEO, Envoy), Jude Gomila (CEO, Golden), James Smith (CEO, Bugsnag), Fred Stevens-Smith (CEO, Rainforest), Bobby Goodlatte, Marc McGabe, Julia DeWahl and others.

Cofounders Karri Saarinen, Tuomas Artman, and Jori Lallo — all Finnish but now based in the Bay Area — know something first-hand about software development and the trials and tribulations of working with disparate and distributed teams. Saarinen was previously the principal designer of Airbnb, as well as the first designer of Coinbase; Artman had been staff engineer and architect at Uber; and Lallo also had been at Coinbase as a senior engineer building its API and front end.

“When we worked at many startups and growth companies we felt that the tools weren’t matching the way we’re thinking or operating,” Saarinen said in an email interview. “It also seemed that no-one had took a fresh look at this as a design problem. We believe there is a much better, modern workflow waiting to be discovered. We believe creators should focus on the work they create, not tracking or reporting what they are doing. Managers should spend their time prioritizing and giving direction, not bugging their teams for updates. Running the process shouldn’t sap your team’s energy and come in the way of creating.”

Linear cofounders (from left): KarriSaarinen, Jori Lallo, and Tuomas Artma

All of that translates to, first and foremost, speed and a platform whose main purpose is to help you work faster. “While some say speed is not really a feature, we believe it’s the core foundation for tools you use daily,” Saarinen noted.

A ⌘K command calls up a menu of shortcuts to edit an issue’s status, assign a task, and more so that everything can be handled with keyboard shortcuts. Pages load quickly and synchronise in real time (and search updates alongside that). Users can work offline if they need to. And of course there is also a dark mode for night owls.

The platform is still very much in its early stages. It currently has three integrations based on some of the most common tools used by developers — GitHub (where you can link Pull Requests and close Linear issues on merge), Figma designs (where you can get image previews and embeds of Figma designs), and Slack (you can create issues from Slack and then get notifications on updates). There are plans to add more over time.

We started solving the problem from the end-user perspective, the contributor, like an engineer or a designer and starting to address things that are important for them, can help them and their teams,” Saarinen said. “We aim to also bring clarity for the teams by making the concepts simple, clear but powerful. For example, instead of talking about epics, we have Projects that help track larger feature work or tracks of work.”

Indeed, speed is not the only aim with Linear. Saarinen also said another area they hope to address is general work practices, with a take that seems to echo a turn away from time spent on manual management and more focus on automating that process.

“Right now at many companies you have to manually move things around, schedule sprints, and all kinds of other minor things,” he said. “We think that next generation tools should have built in automated workflows that help teams and companies operate much more effectively. Teams shouldn’t spend a third or more of their time a week just for running the process.”

The last objective Linear is hoping to tackle is one that we’re often sorely lacking in the wider world, too: context.

“Companies are setting their high-level goals, roadmaps and teams work on projects,” he said. “Often leadership doesn’t have good visibility into what is actually happening and how projects are tracking. Teams and contributors don’t always have the context or understanding of why they are working on the things, since you cannot follow the chain from your task to the company goal. We think that there are ways to build Linear to be a real-time picture of what is happening in the company when it comes to building products, and give the necessary context to everyone.”

Linear is a late entrant in a world filled with collaboration apps, and specifically workflow and collaboration apps targeting the developer community. These include not just Slack and GitHub, but Atlassian’s Trello and Jira, as well as Asana, Basecamp and many more.

Saarinen would not be drawn out on which of these (or others) that it sees as direct competition, noting that none are addressing developer issues of speed, ease of use and context as well as Linear is.

“There are many tools in the market and many companies are talking about making ‘work better,’” he said. “And while there are many issue tracking and project management tools, they are not supporting the workflow of the individual and team. A lot of the value these tools sell is around tracking work that happens, not actually helping people to be more effective. Since our focus is on the individual contributor and intelligent integration with their workflow, we can support them better and as a side effect makes the information in the system more up to date.”

Stephanie Zhan, the partner at Sequoia whose speciality is seed and Series A investments and who has led this round, said that Linear first came on her radar when it first launched its private beta (it’s still in private beta and has been running a waitlist to bring on new users. In that time it’s picked up hundreds of companies, including Pitch, Render, Albert, Curology, Spoke, Compound and YC startups including Middesk, Catch and Visly). The company had also been flagged by one of Sequoia’s Scouts, who invested earlier this year

Sequoia Logo Natalie Miyake

Although Linear is based out of San Francisco, it’s interesting that the three founders’ roots are in Finland (with Saarinen in Helsinki this week to speak at the Slush event), and brings up an emerging trend of Silicon Valley VCs looking at founders from further afield than just their own back yard.

“The interesting thing about Linear is that as they’re building a software company around the future of work, they’re also building a remote and distributed team themselves,” Zahn said. The company currently has only four employees.

In that vein, we (and others, it seems) had heard that Sequoia — which today invests in several Europe-based startups, including Tessian, Graphcore, Klarna, Tourlane, Evervault  and CEGX — has been considering establishing a more permanent presence in this part of the world, specifically in London.

Sources familiar with the firm, however, tell us that while it has been sounding out VCs at other firms, saying a London office is on the horizon might be premature, as there are as yet no plans to set up shop here. However, with more companies and European founders entering its portfolio, and as more conversations with VCs turn into decisions to make the leap to help Sequoia source more startups, we could see this strategy turning around quickly.

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