All posts by Richy George

Packet hauls in $25M Series B as customized cloud vision takes shape

Posted by on 11 September, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

In a world where large hyperscale companies like Amazon, Microsoft and Google dominate the public cloud, it would seem foolhardy for a startup to try and carve out a space, but Packet has an alternative customized cloud vision, and investors have taken notice. Today, the company announced a $25 million Series B led by Third Point Ventures.

An interesting mix of strategic and traditional investors joined the round including Battery Ventures, JA Mitsui Leasing and Samsung Next. Existing investors SoftBank Corp. and Dell Technologies Capital also participated. The company has now raised over $40 million.

The company also showed some signs of maturing by bringing in Ihab Tarazi as CTO and George Karidis as COO. Tarazi, who came over from Equinix, likes what he sees in Packet .

He says they offer several advantages over the public providers. First of all, customers can buy whatever hardware they want. “We offer the most diverse hardware options,” he said. That means they could get servers equipped with Intel, ARM, AMD or with specific nVidia GPUs in whatever configurations they want. By contrast public cloud providers tend to offer a more off-the-shelf approach. It’s cheap and abundant, but you have to take what they offer, and that doesn’t always work for every customer.

Another advantage Packet bring to the table, according to Tarazi, is that they support a range of open source software options, letting customers build whatever applications they want on top of that custom hardware.

They currently have 18 locations around the world, but Tarazi said they will soon be adding 50 more, also adding geographic diversity to the mix.

Finally, each customer gets their own bare metal offering, providing them with a single tenant private option inside Packet’s data center. This gives them the advantages of a privately run data center but where Packet handles all of the management, configuration and upkeep.

Tarazi doesn’t see Packet competing directly with the hyperscale players. Instead, he believes there will be room for both approaches. “I think you have a combination of both happening where people are trying to take advantage of all these hardware options to optimize performance across specific applications,” he explained.

The company, which launched in 2014, currently has about 50 employees with headquarters in New York City and offices in Palo Alto. They are also planning on opening an operations center in Dallas soon. The number should swell to 100 employees over the next year as they expand operations.

Posted Under: Tech News
Zendesk expands into CRM with Base acquisition

Posted by on 10 September, 2018

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Zendesk has mostly confined itself to customer service scenarios, but it seems that’s not enough anymore. If you want to truly know the customer behind the interaction, you need a customer system of record to go with the customer service component. To fill that need, Zendesk announced it was acquiring Base, a startup that has raised over $50 million.

The companies did not share the purchase price, but Zendesk did report that the acquisition should not have a significant impact on revenue.

While Base might not be as well known as Salesforce, Microsoft or Oracle in the CRM game, it has created a sophisticated sales force automation platform, complete with its own artificial intelligence underpinnings. CEO Uzi Shmilovici claimed his company’s AI could compete with its more well-heeled competitors when it was released in 2016 to provide salespeople with meaningful prescriptive advice on how to be more successful.

Zendesk CEO Mikkel Svane certainly sees the value of adding a company like Base to his platform. “We want to do for sales what Zendesk has already done for customer service: give salespeople tools built around them and the customers they serve,” he said in a statement.

If the core of customer data includes customer service, CRM and marketing, Base gives Zendesk one more of those missing components, says Brent Leary, owner at CRM Essentials, a firm that keeps close watch on this market.

“Zendesk has a great position in customer service, but now to strengthen their position with midmarket/enterprise customers looking for integrated platforms, Base adds a strong mobile sales force automation piece to their puzzle,” Leary told TechCrunch.

As he points out, we have seen HubSpot make a similar move with HubSpot Apps, while SugarCRM, which was recently sold to Accel-KKR, could be shopping too, with its new owner’s deeper pockets. “This is almost like a CRM enterprise software Hunger Games going on,” he joked. But he indicates that we should be expecting more consolidation here as these companies try to acquire missing pieces of their platforms to offer more complete solutions.

Matt Price, who previously had the title of senior vice president for product portfolio at Zendesk will lead the Base team moving forward.

Base was founded in 2009 and boasts more than 5,000 customers. It’s worth pointing out that Base was already available for sale in the company app marketplace, so there was some overlap here, but the company intends to try to move existing customers to Base, of course.

Zendesk has indicated it will continue to support all Base customers. In addition, Base’s 125 employees have been invited to join Zendesk, so there will be no blood-letting here.

Posted Under: Tech News
Intel acquires NetSpeed Systems to boost its system-on-a-chip business

Posted by on 10 September, 2018

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Intel today is announcing another acquisition as it continues to pick up talent and IP to bolster its next generation of computing chips beyond legacy PCs. The company has acquired NetSpeed Systems, a startup that makes system-on-chip (SoC) design tools and interconnect fabric intellectual property (IP). The company will be joining Intel’s Silicon Engineering Group, and its co-founder and CEO, Sundari Mitra, herself an Intel vet, will be coming on as a VP at Intel where she will continue to lead her team.

Terms of the deal are not being disclosed, but for some context, during NetSpeed’s last fundraise in 2016 (a $10 million Series C) it had a post-money valuation of $60 million, according to data from PitchBook.

SoC is a central part of how newer connected devices are being made. Moving away from traditional motherboards to create all-in-one chips that include processing, memory, input/output and storage is an essential cornerstone when building ever-smaller and more effcient devices. This is an area where Intel is already active but against others like Nvidia and Qualcomm many believe it has some catching up to do, and so this acquisition in important in that context.

“Intel is designing more products with more specialized features than ever before, which is incredibly exciting for Intel architects and for our customers,” said Jim Keller, senior vice president and general manager of the Silicon Engineering Group at Intel, in a statement. “The challenge is synthesizing a broader set of IP blocks for optimal performance while reining in design time and cost. NetSpeed’s proven network-on-chip technology addresses this challenge, and we’re excited to now have their IP and expertise in-house.”

Intel has made a series of acquisitions to speed up development of newer chips to work in connected objects and smaller devices beyond the PCs that helped the company make its name. Another recent acquisition in the same vein include eASIC for IoT chipsets, which Intel acquired in July. Intel has also been acquiring startups in other areas where it hopes to make a bigger mark, such as deep learning (case in point: its acquisition of Movidius in August).

NetSpeed has been around since 2011 and Intel was one of its investors and customers.

“Intel has been a great customer of NetSpeed’s, and I’m thrilled to once again be joining the company,” said Mitra, in a statement. “Intel is world class at designing and optimizing the performance of custom silicon at scale. As part of Intel’s silicon engineering group, we’re excited to help invent new products that will be a foundation for computing’s future.”

Intel said it will to honor NetSpeed’s existing customer contracts, but it also sounds like it the company will not be seeking future business as Intel integrates the company into its bigger business.

Posted Under: Tech News
New Relic shifts with changing monitoring landscape

Posted by on 10 September, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

New Relic CEO Lew Cirne was feeling a bit nostalgic last week when he called to discuss the announcements for the company’s FutureStack conference taking place tomorrow in San Francisco. It had been 10 years since he first spoke to TechCrunch about his monitoring tool. A lot has changed in a decade including what his company is monitoring these days.

Cirne certainly recognizes that his company has come a long way since those first days. The monitoring world is going through a seismic shift as the ways we develop apps changes. His company needs to change with it to remain relevant in today’s market.

In the early days, they monitored Ruby on Rails applications, but gone are the days of only monitoring a fixed virtual machine. Today companies are using containers and Kubernetes, and beyond that, serverless architecture. Each of these approaches brings challenges to a monitoring company like New Relic, particularly the ephemeral nature and the sheer volume associated with these newer ways of working.

‘We think those changes have actually been an opportunity for us to further differentiate and further strengthen our thesis that the New Relic way is really the most logical way to address this.” He believes that his company has always been centered on the code, as opposed to the infrastructure where it’s delivered, and that has helped it make adjustments as the delivery mechanisms have changed.

Today, the company introduced a slew of new features and capabilities designed to keep the company oriented toward the changing needs of its customer base. One of the ways they are doing that is with a new feature called Outlier Detection, which has been designed to address changes in key metrics wherever your code happens to be deployed.

Further, Incident Context lets you see exactly where the incident occurred in the code so you don’t have to go hunting and pecking to find it in the sea of data.

Outlier Detection in action. Gif: New Relic

The company also introduced developer.newrelic.com, a site that extends the base APIs to provide a central place to build on top of the New Relic platform and give customers a way to extend the platform’s functionality. Cirne said each company has its own monitoring requirements, and they want to give them ability to build for any scenario.

In addition, they announced New Relic Query Language (NRQL) data, which leverages the New Relic GraphQL API to help deliver new kinds of customized, programmed capabilities to customers that aren’t available out of the box.”What if I could program New Relic to take action when a certain thing happens. When an application has a problem, it could post a notice to the status page or restart the service. You could automate something that has been historically done manually,” he explained.

Whatever the company is doing it appears to be working It went public in 2014 with an IPO share price of $30.14 and a market cap of $1.4 billion. Today, the share price was $103.65 with a market cap of $5.86 billion (as of publishing).

Posted Under: Tech News
Adobe looks to AI to lift customer experience business

Posted by on 10 September, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

For years, marketers have been trying to optimize the online shopping experience to better understand their customers and deliver more customized interactions that ultimately drive more sales. Artificial intelligence was supposed to accelerate that, and today Adobe announced enhancements to Adobe Target and Adobe Experience Manager that attempt to deliver at least partly on that promise.

Adobe has been trying to lift the enterprise side of its business for some time, and even though they are well on their way to becoming a $10 billion company, the potential for even more revenue from the enterprise side of the business remains tantalizing. They are counting on AI to help push that along.

Adobe’s Loni Stark says companies are looking for more sophisticated solutions around customization and optimization. Part of that involves using Adobe’s intelligence layer, which they call Sensei, to help marketers as they tweak these programs to drive better experiences.

For starters, the company wants to help users choose the best algorithms for any given set of tasks. Adobe is bringing AI in to assist with a tool it released last year called Auto-Target. “One of the challenges marketers face has been which algorithms do you use, and how do you map them to your personalization strategy. We are enabling Adobe Sensei to choose the best algorithm for them.” She says giving them a smart assistant to help choose should make this task much less daunting for marketers.

Adobe is also bringing some smarts to layout design with a new tool called Smart Layouts, first introduced in March at Adobe Summit. The idea here is to deliver the right layout at any given time to allow marketing teams to scale personalization and increase the likelihood of action, which in marketing speak means buying something.

Once again the company is letting AI guide the process to generate different layouts automatically for different segments, depending on visitor behavior at any given moment. That means a retailer should be able to deliver ever more granular pages based on what it knows about visitors as they move through the shopping process. The more customized the experience, the more likely the shopper turns into a buyer.

Adobe is also looking at new delivery channels, particularly voice, as devices like the Amazon Alexa become increasingly popular. As with the web, mobile, print and other delivery approaches, marketers need to be able apply basic tasks like A/B testing on different voices or workflows, and the company is building these into their tools.

All of these new features are part of Adobe’s ongoing attempt to streamline its marketing tools to make life easier for its customers. By using artificial intelligence to help guide the workflow, they hope to drive more revenue from the digital experience side of the house. While these tools should help, Adobe still makes the vast majority of its money from Creative Cloud. The Digital segment still lags at $586 million (up 18 percent YoY) out of total quarterly revenue of 2.20 billion in the most recent report in June.

The company spent a hefty $1.68 billion in May to snag Magento. They are due to report their next quarterly report on September 18th, and it will be interesting to see if the Magento acquisition and increasing use of artificial intelligence can help continue to grow this side of the business .

Posted Under: Tech News
PagerDuty raises $90M to wake up more engineers in the middle of the night

Posted by on 6 September, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

PagerDuty, the popular service that helps businesses monitor their tech stacks, manage incidents and alert engineers when things go sideways, today announced that it has raised a $90 million Series D round at a valuation of $1.3 billion. With this, PagerDuty, which was founded in 2009, has now raised well over $170 million.

The round was led by T. Rowe Price Associates and Wellington Management . Accel, Andreessen Horowitz and Bessemer Venture Partners participated. Given the leads in this round, chances are that PagerDuty is gearing up for an IPO.

“This capital infusion allows us to continue our investments in innovation that leverages artificial intelligence and machine learning, enabling us to help our customers transform their companies and delight their customers,” said Jennifer Tejada, CEO at PagerDuty in today’s announcement. “From a business standpoint, we can strengthen our investment in and development of our people, our most valuable asset, as we scale our operations globally. We’re well positioned to make the lives of digital workers better by elevating work to the outcomes that matter.”

Currently PagerDuty users include the likes of GE, Capital One, IBM, Spotify and virtually every other software company you’ve ever heard of. In total, more than 10,500 enterprises now use the service. While it’s best known for its alerting capabilities, PagerDuty has expanded well beyond that over the years, though it’s still a core part of its service. Earlier this year, for example, the company announced its new AIOps services that aim to help businesses reduce the amount of noisy and unnecessary alerts. I’m sure there’s a lot of engineers who are quite happy about that (and now sleep better).

Posted Under: Tech News
Microsoft commits to fixing custom apps broken by Windows 10 upgrades

Posted by on 6 September, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

Microsoft wants to make life easier for enterprise customers. Starting today, it is committing to fix any custom applications that may break as a result of updates to Windows 10 or the Office 365 product suite.

Most large companies have a series of custom applications that play a crucial role inside their organizations. When you update Windows and Office 365, Murphy’s Law of updates says one or more of those applications is going to break.

Up until this announcement when that inevitably happened, it was entirely the problem of the customer. Microsoft has taken a huge step today by promising to help companies understand which applications will likely break when you install updates, and working to help fix them if it ultimately happens anyway.

One of the reasons the company can afford to be so generous is they have data that suggests the vast majority of applications won’t break when customers move from Windows 7 to Windows 10. “Using millions of data points from customer diagnostic data and the Windows Insider validation process, we’ve found that 99 percent of apps are compatible with new Windows updates,” Microsoft’s Jared Spataro wrote in a blog post announcing these programs.

To that end, they have a new tool called Desktop Deployment Analytics, which creates a map of your applications and predicts using artificial intelligence which of them are most likely to have problems with the update.

“You now have the ability with the cloud to have intelligence in how you manage these end points and get smart recommendations around how you deploy Windows,” Spataro, who is corporate vice president of Microsoft 365, told TechCrunch.

Even with that kind of intelligence-driven preventive approach, things still break, and that’s where the next program, Desktop App Assure, comes into play. It’s a service designed to address any application compatibility issues with Windows 10 and Office 365 ProPlus. In fact, Microsoft has promised to assign an engineer to a company to fix anything that breaks, even if it’s unique to a particular organization.

That’s quite a commitment, and Spataro recognizes that there will be plenty of skeptics where this program in particular is concerned. He says that it’s up to Microsoft to deliver what it’s promised.

Over the years, organizations have spent countless resources getting applications to work after Windows updates, sometimes leaving older versions in place for years to avoid incompatibility problems. These programs theoretically completely remove that pain point from the equation, placing the burden to fix the applications squarely on Microsoft.

“We will look to make changes in Windows or Office before we ask you to make changes in your custom application,” Spataro says, but if that doesn’t solve it, they have committed to helping you fix it.

Finally, the company heard a lot of complaints from customers when they announced they were ending extended support for Windows 7 in 2020. Spataro said Microsoft listened to its customers, and has now extended paid support until 2024, letting companies change at their own pace. Theoretically, however, if they can assure customers that updating won’t break things, and they will commit to fixing them if that happens, it should help move customers to Windows 10, which appears to be the company’s goal here.

They also made changes to the standard support and update cadence for Windows 10 and Office 365:

All of these programs appear to be a major shift in how Microsoft has traditionally done business, showing a much stronger commitment to servicing the requirements of enterprise customers, while shifting the cost of fixing custom applications from the customer to Microsoft when updates to its core products cause issues. But they have done so knowing that they can help prevent a lot of those incompatibility problems before they happen, making it easier to commit to this type of program.

Posted Under: Tech News
Salesforce updates Sales Cloud ahead of Dreamforce with increased automation

Posted by on 6 September, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

Dreamforce, Salesforce’s massive customer conference is coming later this month to San Francisco, but the news is starting already well ahead of the event. Today, the company announced updates to its core Sales Cloud with an emphasis toward automation and integration.

For starters, the company wants to simplify inside phone sales, giving the team not only a list of calls organized by those most likely to convert, but walking them through a sales process that’s been defined by management according to what they believe to be best practices.

High Velocity Sales is designed to take underlying intelligence from Salesforce Einstein and apply it to the sales process to give sales people the best chance to convert that prospect. That includes defining contact cadence and content. For calls, the content could be as detailed as call scripts with what to say to the prospect. For emails, it could provide key details designed to move the prospect closer to sale and how often to send that next email.

Defining sales cadence workflow in Sales Cloud. Photo: Salesforce

Once the sales teams begins to move that sale towards a close, Salesforce CPQ (configure, price, quote) capabilities come into play. That product has its roots in the company’s SteelBrick acquisition several years ago, and it too gets a shiny new update for Dreamforce this year.

As sales inches toward a win, it typically moves the process to the the proposal stage where pricing and purchases are agreed upon, and if all goes well a contract gets signed. Updates to CPQ are designed to automate this to the extent possible, pulling information from notes and conversations into an automated quote, or relying on the sales person when it gets more complex.

The idea though is to help sales automate the quote and creation of bill once the quote has been accepted to the extent possible, even providing a mechanism for automatic renewal when a subscription is involved.

The last piece involves Pardot Einstein, a sales and marketing tool, designed to help find the best prospects that come through a company’s marketing process. This is also getting some help from the intelligence layer in a couple of ways.

Einstein Campaign Insights looks at the range of marketing campaigns that are coming out of the marketing organization, determining which campaigns are performing — and those that aren’t — and pushing the art of campaign creation using data science to help determine which types of activities are most likely to succeed in helping convert that shopper into a buyer.

The other piece is called Einstein Behavior Score, which again is using the company’s underlying artificial intelligence tooling to analyze buying behavior based on intent. In other words, which people coming through your web site and apps are most likely to actually buy based on their behaviors — pages they visit, items they click and so forth.

Salesforce recognized the power of artificial intelligence to drive a more automated sales process early on, introducing Einstein in 2016. In typical Salesforce fashion, it has built upon that initial announcement and tried to use AI to automate and drive more successful sales.

The core CRM tool that is the center of the Sales Cloud, is simply a system of record of the customers inside any organization, but the company is trying to automate and integrate across its broad family of products whenever possible to make connections between products and services that might be difficult for humans to make on their own.

While it’s easy to get lost in AI marketing hype — and calling their AI layer by the name “Einstein” certainly doesn’t help in that regard — the company is trying to take advantage of the technology to help customers drive more sales faster, which is the goal of any sales team. It will be up to Salesforce’s customers to decide how well it works.

Posted Under: Tech News
Forethought looks to reshape enterprise search with AI

Posted by on 5 September, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

Forethought, a 2018 TechCrunch Disrupt Battlefield participant, has a modern vision for enterprise search that uses AI to surface the content that matters most in the context of work. Its first use case involves customer service, but it has a broader ambition to work across the enterprise.

The startup takes a bit of an unusual approach to search. Instead of a keyword-driven experience we are used to with Google, Forethought uses an information retrieval model driven by artificial intelligence underpinnings that they then embed directly into the workflow, company co-founder and CEO Deon Nicholas told TechCrunch. They have dubbed their answer engine ‘Agatha.’

Much like any search product, it begins by indexing relevant content. Nicholas says they built the search engine to be able to index millions of documents at scale very quickly. It then uses natural language processing (NLP) and natural language understanding (NLU) to read the documents as a human would.

“We don’t work on keywords. You can ask questions without keywords and using synonyms to help understand what you actually mean, we can actually pull out the correct answer [from the content] and deliver it to you,” he said.

One of first use cases where they are seeing traction in is customer support. “Our AI, Agatha for Support, integrates into a company’s help desk software, either Zendesk, Salesforce Service Cloud, and then we [read] tickets and suggest answers and relevant knowledge base articles to help close tickets more efficiently,” Nicholas explained. He claims their approach has increased agent efficiency by 20-30 percent.

Forethought at work in Salesforce Service Cloud. Screenshot: Forethought

The plan is to eventually expand beyond the initial customer service use case into other areas of the enterprise and follow a similar path of indexing documents and embedding the solution into the tools that people are using to do their jobs.

When they reach Beta or general release, they will operate as a cloud service where customers sign up, enter their Zendesk or Salesforce credentials (or whatever other products happen to be supported at that point) and the product begins indexing the content.

Forethought in Zendesk. Screenshot: Forethought

The founding team, all in their mid-20s, have had a passion for artificial intelligence since high school. In fact, Nicholas built an AI program to read his notes and quiz him on history while still in high school. Later at the University of Waterloo he published a paper on machine learning and had internships at Palantir, Facebook and Dropbox. His first job out of school was at Pure Storage. All these positions had a common thread of working with data and AI.

The company launched last year and they debuted Agatha in private Beta 4 months ago. They currently have six companies participating, the first of which has been converted to a paying customer.

They have closed a pre-seed round of funding too, and although they weren’t prepared to share the amount, the investment was led by K9 Ventures. While Village Global, Original Capital and other unnamed investors also participated.

Posted Under: Tech News
McCarthyFinch AI services platform automates tedious legal tasks

Posted by on 5 September, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

McCarthyFinch sounds a bit like a law firm — and with good reason. The startup has developed an AI as a Service platform aimed at the legal profession. This week, it’s competing in the 2018 TechCrunch Disrupt Battlefield in San Francisco.

The company began life as a project at a leading New Zealand law firm, MinterEllisonRuddWatts. They wanted to look at how they could take advantage of AI to automate legal processes to make them more efficient, cost-effective and faster, according to company president Richard DeFrancisco.

“They were working on leveraging technology to become the law firm of the future, and they realized there were some pretty tremendous gaps,” he explained. They found a bunch of Ph.Ds working on artificial intelligence who worked with more than 30 lawyers over time to address those gaps by leveraging AI technology.

 

That internal project was spun out as a startup last year, emerging as an AI platform with 18 services. MinterEllison, along with New Zealand VC Goat Ventures, gave the fledgling company US$2.5 million in pre-seed money to get started.

The company looked at automating a lot of labor-intensive tasks related to legal document review and discovery such as document tagging. “Lawyers spend a lot of time tagging things with regards to what’s relevant and not relevant, and it’s not a good use of their time. We can go through millions of documents very quickly,” DeFrancisco said. He claims they can lower the time it takes to tag a set of documents in a lawsuit from weeks to minutes.

He says that one of their key differentiators is their use of natural language processing (NLP), which he says allows the company to understand language and nuance to interpret documents with a high level of accuracy, even when there are small data sets. Instead of requiring thousands of documents to train their models, which he says law firms don’t have time to do, they can begin to understand the gist of a case in as little as two or three documents with 90 percent accuracy, based on their tests.

They don’t actually want to sell their platform directly to law firms. Instead, they hope to market their artificial intelligence skills as a service to other software vendors with a legal bent who are looking to get smarter without building their own AI from scratch.

“What we are doing is going to technology service providers and talking to them about using our solution. We have restful APIs to integrate into their technology and do a Powered By-model,” DeFrancisco explained.

The startup currently has 10 trials going on. While he couldn’t name them, he did say that they include the largest law firm in Europe, largest global provider of legal information and the fastest growing SaaS company in history. They are also working on agreements with large systems integrators including Deloitte and Accenture to act as resellers of their solution.

While they are based in New Zealand, they plan to open a U.S. office in the Los Angeles area shortly after Disrupt. The engineering team will remain in New Zealand, and DeFrancisco will build the rest of the company in the U.S as it seeks to expand its reach. They also plan to start raising their next round of funding.

Posted Under: Tech News
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