Category Archives: Tech News

Google beefs up Firebase platform for the enterprise

Posted by on 29 October, 2018

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Today at the Firebase Summit in Prague, Google announced a number of updates to its Firebase app development platform designed to help it shift from an environment for individuals or small teams into a full-blown enterprise development tool.

Google acquired Firebase 4 years ago to help developers connect to key cloud tools like a database or storage via a set of software development kits (SDKs). Over time, it has layered on sophisticated functionality like monitoring to fix performance issues and access to analytics to see how users are engaging with the app, among other things. But the toolkit hasn’t necessarily been geared towards larger organizations until now.

“[Today’s announcements] are going to be around a set of features and updates that are catered more towards enterprises and sophisticated app teams that are looking to build and grow their mobile apps,” Francis Ma, head of product at Firebase told TechCrunch.

Perhaps the biggest piece of news was that they were adding corporate support. While the company boasts 1.5 million apps per month running on Firebase, in order to move deeper into the enterprise, it needed to have a place corporate IT could call when they run into issues. That is coming with the company expected to announce various support packages in Beta by the end of the year. These will be tied to broader Google Cloud Platform support.

“With this launch, if you already have a paid GCP Support package, you will be able to get your Firebase questions answered through the Google Cloud Platform (GCP) Support Console. Once the change is fully launched, Firebase support will be included at no additional charge with paid GCP Support packages, which includes target response times, a dedicated technical account manager (if you are enrolled in Enterprise Support) and more,” Ma explained in a blog post.

In addition, larger teams and organizations need more management tools and the company announced the Firebase Management API. This allows programmatic access to manage project workflows from IDE to Firebase. Ma says this includes direct integration with StackBlitz and Glitch, two web-based IDEs. “Their platforms will now automatically detect when you are creating a Firebase app and allow you to deploy to Firebase Hosting with the click of a button, without ever leaving their platforms,” Ma wrote.

There were a bushel of other announcements including access to better facial recognition tools in the Google ML kit announced last spring. There were also improvements to Crashlytics performance monitoring, which includes integration with PagerDuty now, and Firebase Predictions, its analytics tool, which is now generally available after graduating from Beta.

All of these announcements and more, are part of a maturation of the Firebase platform as Google aims to move it from a tool aimed directly at developers to one that can be integrated at the enterprise level.

Forget Watson, the Red Hat acquisition may be the thing that saves IBM

Posted by on 28 October, 2018

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With its latest $34 billion acquisition of Red Hat, IBM may have found something more elementary than “Watson” to save its flagging business.

Though the acquisition of Red Hat  is by no means a guaranteed victory for the Armonk, N.Y.-based computing company that has had more downs than ups over the five years, it seems to be a better bet for “Big Blue” than an artificial intelligence program that was always more hype than reality.

Indeed, commentators are already noting that this may be a case where IBM finally hangs up the Watson hat and returns to the enterprise software and services business that has always been its core competency (albeit one that has been weighted far more heavily on consulting services — to the detriment of the company’s business).

Watson, the business division focused on artificial intelligence whose public claims were always more marketing than actually market-driven, has not performed as well as IBM had hoped and investors were losing their patience.

Critics — including analysts at the investment bank Jefferies (as early as one year ago) — were skeptical of Watson’s ability to deliver IBM from its business woes.

As we wrote at the time:

Jefferies pulls from an audit of a partnership between IBM Watson and MD Anderson as a case study for IBM’s broader problems scaling Watson. MD Anderson cut its ties with IBM after wasting $60 million on a Watson project that was ultimately deemed, “not ready for human investigational or clinical use.”

The MD Anderson nightmare doesn’t stand on its own. I regularly hear from startup founders in the AI space that their own financial services and biotech clients have had similar experiences working with IBM.

The narrative isn’t the product of any single malfunction, but rather the result of overhyped marketing, deficiencies in operating with deep learning and GPUs and intensive data preparation demands.

That’s not the only trouble IBM has had with Watson’s healthcare results. Earlier this year, the online medical journal Stat reported that Watson was giving clinicians recommendations for cancer treatments that were “unsafe and incorrect” — based on the training data it had received from the company’s own engineers and doctors at Sloan-Kettering who were working with the technology.

All of these woes were reflected in the company’s latest earnings call where it reported falling revenues primarily from the Cognitive Solutions business, which includes Watson’s artificial intelligence and supercomputing services. Though IBM chief financial officer pointed to “mid-to-high” single digit growth from Watson’s health business in the quarter, transaction processing software business fell by 8% and the company’s suite of hosted software services is basically an afterthought for business gravitating to Microsoft, Alphabet, and Amazon for cloud services.

To be sure, Watson is only one of the segments that IBM had been hoping to tap for its future growth; and while it was a huge investment area for the company, the company always had its eyes partly fixed on the cloud computing environment as it looked for areas of growth.

It’s this area of cloud computing where IBM hopes that Red Hat can help it gain ground.

“The acquisition of Red Hat is a game-changer. It changes everything about the cloud market,” said Ginni Rometty, IBM Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer, in a statement announcing the acquisition. “IBM will become the world’s number-one hybrid cloud provider, offering companies the only open cloud solution that will unlock the full value of the cloud for their businesses.”

The acquisition also puts an incredible amount of marketing power behind Red Hat’s various open source services business — giving all of those IBM project managers and consultants new projects to pitch and maybe juicing open source software adoption a bit more aggressively in the enterprise.

As Red Hat chief executive Jim Whitehurst told TheStreet in September, “The big secular driver of Linux is that big data workloads run on Linux. AI workloads run on Linux. DevOps and those platforms, almost exclusively Linux,” he said. “So much of the net new workloads that are being built have an affinity for Linux.”

IBM to buy Red Hat for $34B in cash and debt, taking a bigger leap into hybrid cloud

Posted by on 28 October, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

After rumors flew around this weekend, IBM today confirmed that it would acquire open source, cloud software business Red Hat for $190 per share in cash, working out to a total value of $34 billion. IBM said the deal has already been approved by the boards of directors of both IBM and Red Hat but is still subject to Red Hat shareholder and regulatory approvals. If all goes as planned, the acquisition is expected to close in the latter half of 2019.

The deal is all about IBM, which has long continued to rely on its legacy server business, taking a bigger bet on the cloud, and very specifically cloud services that blend on-premises and cloud-based architectures — something that the two companies have already been working on together since May of this year (which now might be looked at as a test drive). Red Hat will be a distinct unit within IBM’s Hybrid Cloud team — which is already a $19 billion business for IBM, the company said — and it will continue to focus on open-source software. 

“The acquisition of Red Hat is a game-changer. It changes everything about the cloud market,” said Ginni Rometty, IBM Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer, in a statement. “IBM will become the world’s number-one hybrid cloud provider, offering companies the only open cloud solution that will unlock the full value of the cloud for their businesses.”

The combined businesses will be able to offer software in services spanning Linux, containers, Kubernetes, multi-cloud management, and cloud management and automation, IBM said. IBM also added that together the companies will continue to build partnerships with multiple cloud providers, including AWS, Microsoft’s Azure, Google Cloud, Alibaba and others, alongside the IBM Cloud.

As Josh Constine notes here, it’s one of the biggest-ever tech acquisitions, and arguably the biggest that is dedicated primarily to software. (Dell acquired EMC for $67 billion, to pick up software but also a substantial hardware and storage business.)

While companies like Amazon have gone all-in on cloud, in many cases, a lot of enterprises are making the move gradually — IBM cites stats that estimate that some 80 percent of business workloads “have yet to move to the cloud, held back by the proprietary nature of today’s cloud market.” Buying Red Hat will help IBM better tap into an opportunity to address that.

“Most companies today are only 20 percent along their cloud journey, renting compute power to cut costs,” she continued. “The next 80 percent is about unlocking real business value and driving growth. This is the next chapter of the cloud. It requires shifting business applications to hybrid cloud, extracting more data and optimizing every part of the business, from supply chains to sales.”

On top of that, it will give IBM a much stronger footing in open source software, the core of what Red Hat builds and deploys today.

“Open source is the default choice for modern IT solutions, and I’m incredibly proud of the role Red Hat has played in making that a reality in the enterprise,” said Jim Whitehurst, President and CEO, Red Hat, in a statement. “Joining forces with IBM will provide us with a greater level of scale, resources and capabilities to accelerate the impact of open source as the basis for digital transformation and bring Red Hat to an even wider audience –  all while preserving our unique culture and unwavering commitment to open source innovation.”

While IBM competes against the likes of Amazon, the companies will see to remain partners with them with this acquisition. “IBM is committed to being an authentic multi-cloud provider, and we will prioritize the use of Red Hat technology across multiple clouds” said Arvind Krishna, Senior Vice President, IBM Hybrid Cloud, in a statement. “In doing so, IBM will support open source technology wherever it runs, allowing it to scale significantly within commercial settings around the world.”

IBM said that Red Hat will add to its revenue growth, gross margin and free cash flow within 12 months of closing.

Microsoft has no problem taking the $10B JEDI cloud contract if it wins

Posted by on 26 October, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

The Pentagon’s $10 billion JEDI cloud contract bidding process has drawn a lot of attention. Earlier this month, Google withdrew, claiming ethical considerations. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos responded in an interview at Wired25 that he thinks that it’s a mistake for big tech companies to turn their back on the U.S. military. Microsoft president Brad Smith agrees.

In a blog post today, he made clear that Microsoft intends to be a bidder in government/military contracts, even if some Microsoft employees have a problem with it. While acknowledging the ethical considerations of today’s most advanced technologies like artificial intelligence, and the ways they could be abused, he explicitly stated that Microsoft will continue to work with the government and the military.

“First, we believe in the strong defense of the United States and we want the people who defend it to have access to the nation’s best technology, including from Microsoft,” Smith wrote in the blog post.

To that end, the company wants to win that JEDI cloud contract, something it has acknowledged from the start, even while criticizing the winner-take-all nature of the deal. In the blog post, Smith cited the JEDI contract as an example of the company’s desire to work closely with the U.S. government.

“Recently Microsoft bid on an important defense project. It’s the DOD’s Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure cloud project – or “JEDI” – which will re-engineer the Defense Department’s end-to-end IT infrastructure, from the Pentagon to field-level support of the country’s servicemen and women. The contract has not been awarded but it’s an example of the kind of work we are committed to doing,” he wrote.

He went on, much like Bezos, to wrap his company’s philosophy in patriotic rhetoric, rather than about winning lucrative contracts. “We want the people of this country and especially the people who serve this country to know that we at Microsoft have their backs. They will have access to the best technology that we create,” Smith wrote.

Microsoft president Brad Smith. Photo: Riccardo Savi/Getty Images

Throughout the piece, Smith continued to walk a fine line between patriotic duty to support the U.S. military, while carefully conceding that there will be different opinions in a large and diverse company population (some of whom aren’t U.S. citizens). Ultimately, he believes that it’s critical that tech companies be included in the conversation when the government uses advanced technologies.

“But we can’t expect these new developments to be addressed wisely if the people in the tech sector who know the most about technology withdraw from the conversation,” Smith wrote.

Like Bezos, he made it clear that the company leadership is going to continue to pursue contracts like JEDI, whether it’s out of a sense of duty or economic practicality or a little of both — whether employees agree or not.

Microsoft closes its $7.5B purchase of code-sharing platform GitHub

Posted by on 26 October, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

After getting EU approval a week ago, today Microsoft’s acquisition of GitHub, the Git-based code sharing and collaboration service with 31 million developers, has officially closed. The Redmond, WA-based software behemoth first said it would acquire GitHub for $7.5 billion in stock in June of this year, and after the acquisition closed it would continue to run it as an independent platform and business.

The acquisition is yet another sign of how Microsoft has been doubling down on courting developers and presenting itself as a neutral partner to help them with their projects.

That is because, despite its own very profitable proprietary software business, Microsoft also has a number of other businesses — for example, Azure, which competes with AWS and Google Cloud — that rely heavily on it being unbiased towards one platform or another. And GitHub, Microsoft hopes, will be another signal to the community of that position.

In that regard, it will be an interesting credibility test for the companies.

As previously announced, Nat Friedman, who had been the CEO of Xamarin (another developer-focused startup acquired by Microsoft, in 2016), will be CEO of the company, while GitHub founder and former CEO Chris Wanstrath will become a Microsoft technical fellow to work on strategic software initiatives. (Wanstrath had come back to his CEO role after his co-founder Tom Preston-Werner resigned following a harassment investigation in 2014.)

Friedman, in a short note, said that he will be taking over on Monday, and he also repeated what Microsoft said at the time of the deal: GitHub will be run as an independent platform and business.

This is a key point because there has been a lot of developer backlash over the deal, with many asking if GitHub would become partial or focused more around Microsoft-based projects  or products.

“We will always support developers in their choice of any language, license, tool, platform, or cloud,” he writes, noting that there will be more tools to come. “We will continue to build tasteful, snappy, polished tools that developers love,” he added.

One of those, he noted, will be further development and investment in Paper Cuts, a project it launched in August that it hopes will help address some of the gripes that its developer-users might have with how GitHub works that the company itself hadn’t been planning to address in bigger product upgrades. The idea here is that GitHub can either help find workarounds, or this will become a feedback forum of its own to help figure out what it should be upgrading next on the site.

Of course, the need to remain neutral is not just to keep hold of its 31 million developers (up by 3 million since the deal was first announced), but to keep them from jumping to GitHub competitors, which include GitLab and Bitbucket.

Dropbox expands Paper into planning tool with timelines

Posted by on 25 October, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

Dropbox has been building out Paper, its document-driven collaboration tool since it was first announced in 2015, slowly but surely layering on more functionality. Today, it added a timeline feature, pushing beyond collaboration into a light-weight project planning tool.

Dropbox has been hearing that customers really need a way to plan with Paper that was lacking. “That pain—the pain of coordinating all those moving pieces—is one we’re taking on today with our new timelines feature in Dropbox Paper,” the company wrote in a blog post announcing the new feature.

As you would expect with such a tool, it enables you to build a timeline with milestones, but being built into Paper, you can assign team members to each milestone and add notes with additional information including links to related documents.

You can also embed a To-do lists for the person assigned to a task right in the timeline to help them complete the given task, giving a single point of access for all the people assigned to a project

Gif: Dropbox

“Features like to-dos, @mentions, and due dates give team members easy ways to coordinate projects with each other. Timelines take these capabilities one step further, letting any team member create a clean visual representation of what’s happening when—and who’s responsible,” Dropbox wrote in the blog post announcement.

Dropbox has recognized it cannot live as simply a content storage tool. It needs to expand beyond that into collaboration and coordination around that content, and that’s what Dropbox Paper has been about. By adding timelines, the company is looking to expand that capability even further.

Alan Lepofsky, who covers the “future of work” for Constellation Research sees Paper as part of the changing face of collaboration tools. “I refer to the new breed of content creation tools as digital canvases. These apps simplify the user experience of integrating content from multiple sources. They are evolving the word-processor paradigm,” Lepofsky told TechCrunch.

It’s probably not going to replace a project manager’s full-blown planning tools any time soon, but it at least the potential to be a useful adjunct for the Paper arsenal to allow customers to continue to find ways to extract value from the content they store in Dropbox.

Daily Crunch: Tesla is profitable again

Posted by on 25 October, 2018

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The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here:

1. Tesla earns its first profit in two years

Tesla reported a profit in the third quarter, reversing seven consecutive quarters of losses. This is only the third time in the company’s history that it has achieved this milestone.

The turnaround was driven by sales of the Model 3. The company said customers are trading up their relatively cheaper vehicles to buy a Model 3, even though there is not yet a leasing option and the starting price was $49,000.

2. Trump has two ‘secure’ iPhones, but the Chinese are still listening

A new report by The New York Times puts a spotlight on the president’s array of devices and how he uses them. However, both Trump and a spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry have denied the story.

(BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

3. Red Dead Redemption 2 sets the bar high for the next generation of open world games

Tomorrow, Red Dead Redemption 2 goes live after months of breathless speculation. And according to Devin Coldewey and Jordan Crook, it’s as good as you’ve been hoping.

4. Facebook is building Lasso, a video music app to steal TikTok’s teens

Facebook is building a standalone product where users can record and share videos of themselves lip syncing or dancing to popular songs, according to information from current and former employees.

5. One-year-old Ribbon raises $225m to remove the biggest stress of home buying

The startup wants to replace the incredible stress of securing a mortgage during the home-buying process with a Ribbon Offer: If a buyer can’t secure a mortgage in time for close, Ribbon will pay for the house itself and give the buyer extra time to get financing.

6. Twitter beats Wall St Q3 estimates with $758M in revenue

Twitter reported a 29 percent increase in ad revenue to $650 million, and the company says total ad engagements increased 50 percent year over year. However, user growth didn’t quite match expectations.

7. Confirmed: ShopRunner acquires Spring, raises $40M

ShopRunner is announcing its first infusion of venture funding under CEO Sam Yagan, plus an acquisition of the shopping app Spring. Sources also say it’s readying a major overhaul of its mobile app.

Alexa for Business opens up to third-party device makers

Posted by on 24 October, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

Last year, Amazon announced a new initiative, Alexa for Business, designed to introduce its voice assistant technology and Echo devices into a corporate setting. Today, it’s giving the platform a big upgrade by opening it up to device makers who are building their own solutions that have Alexa built in.

The change came about based on feedback from the existing organizations where Alexa for Business is today being used, Amazon says. The company claims thousands of businesses have added an Amazon Echo alongside their existing office equipment since the program’s debut last year, including companies like Express Trucking, Fender and Propel Insurance, for example.

But it heard from businesses that they want to have Alexa built in to existing devices, to minimize the amount of technology they need to manage and monitor.

The update will allow device makers building with the Alexa Voice Service (AVS) SDK to now create products that can be registered with Alexa for Business, and managed as shared devices across the organization.

The device management capabilities include the ability to configure things like the room designation and location and monitor the device’s health, as well as manage which public and private skills are assigned to the shared devices.

A part of Alexa for Business is the ability for organizations to create their own internal — and practical — skills for a business setting, like voice search for employee directories, Salesforce data or company calendar information.

Amazon also recently launched its own feature for Alexa for Business users that offers the ability for staff to book conference rooms.

Amazon says it’s already working with several brands on integrating Alexa into their own devices, including Plantronics, iHome and BlackBerry. And it’s working with solution providers like Linkplay and Extron, it says. (Citrix has also begun to integrate with the “for Business” platform.)

“We’ve been using Alexa for Business since its launch by pairing Echo devices with existing Polycom equipment,” noted Laura Marx, VP of Alliance Marketing at Plantronics, in a statement about its plans to make equipment that works with Alexa. “Integrating those experiences directly into products like Polycom Trio will take our customer experience to the next level of convenience and ease of use,” she said.

Plantronics provided an early look at the Alexa experience earlier this year, and iHome has an existing device with Alexa built in – the iAVS16. However, it has not yet announced which product will be offered through Alexa for Business.

It’s still too soon to see how well any of Amazon’s business initiatives with Alexa pay off — after all, Echo devices today are often used for consumer-orientated purposes like playing music, getting news and information, setting kitchen timers and making shopping lists. But if Amazon is able to penetrate businesses with Echo speakers and other Alexa-powered business equipment, it could make inroads into a profitable voice market, beyond the smart home.

But not everyone believes Alexa in the workplace is a good idea. Hackers envision how the devices could be used for corporate espionage and hacks, and warn that companies with trade secrets shouldn’t have listening devices set around their offices.

Amazon, however, is plodding ahead. It has even integrated with Microsoft’s Cortana so Alexa can gain access to Cortana’s knowledge of productivity features like calendar management, day at a glance and customer email.

The Alexa for Business capabilities are provided as an extension to the AVS Device SDK, starting with version 1.10, available to download from GitHub.

 

Oracle’s Larry Ellison keeps poking AWS because he has no choice

Posted by on 24 October, 2018

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Larry Ellison gave his Oracle Openworld keynote on Monday and of course he took several shots at AWS. In his view, his company’s cloud products were cheaper, better and faster than AWS, but then what would you expect him to say?

He rolled out a slide with all the facts and figures in case you doubted it. He wrapped it up in a neat little marketing package for the world to see. Oracle has an autonomous self-healing database. AWS? Nope. That much he’s right.

Slide: Oracle

He makes claims that his cloud products are faster and cheaper, claims that are hard to substantiate given how hard it is to nail down any vendor’s cloud prices and speeds. He says they have no disaster recovery, when they do. None of it matters.

This was about showmanship. It was about chest beating and it’s about going after the market leader because frankly, the man has little choice. By now, it’s well documented that Oracle was late to the cloud. Larry Ellison was never a fan and he made it clear over the years, but today as the world shifts to a cloud model, his company has had to move with it.

It hasn’t been an easy transition. It required substantial investment on the part of the company to build its infrastructure to support a cloud model. It took a big change in the way their sales people sell the product. The cloud is based on a subscription model, and it requires more of a partnership approach with customers. Oracle doesn’t exactly have a reputation for playing nicely.

To make matters worse, Oracle’s late start puts it well behind market leader AWS. Hence, Ellison shouting from the rooftops how much better his company’s solutions are and how insecure the competitors are. Synergy Research, which follows the cloud market closely, has pegged Amazon’s cloud market share at around 35 percent. It has Oracle in the single digits in the most recent data from last summer (and the market hasn’t shifted dramatically since it came out with this data).

At the time, Synergy identified the four biggest players as Amazon, Microsoft, Google and IBM with Alibaba coming up fast. Synergy chief analyst John Dinsdale says Oracle is falling behind. “We have seen Oracle losing market share over the last few quarters in IaaS, PaaS and managed private cloud,” he said. “In a market that is growing at 50 percent per year, Microsoft, Google and Alibaba are all gaining market share, while the share of market leader AWS is holding steady,” he added.

To its credit, the company has seen some gains via its SaaS business. “As Oracle works to convert its huge on-premise software client base to SaaS, Oracle grew its share of enterprise SaaS markets in 2016 and 2017. Its market share then held steady in the first half of 2018,” Dinsdale pointed out.

Yet the company stopped breaking out its cloud revenue last June. As I wrote at the time, that isn’t usually a good sign:

That Oracle chose not to break out cloud revenue this quarter can’t be seen as a good sign. To be fair, we haven’t really seen Google break out their cloud revenue either with one exception in February. But when the guys at the top of the market shout about their growth, and the guys further down don’t, you can draw your own conclusions.

Further Oracle has been quite vocal about protesting the Pentagon’s $10 billion JEDI contract, believing that it has been written to favor Amazon over other vendors, a charge the Pentagon has denied. It hasn’t stopped Oracle from filing protests or even bringing their case directly to the president.

At least Ellison might have had some good news yesterday. CNBC reported that the big Amazon Prime outage in July might have been related to a transition away from Oracle databases that Amazon is currently undertaking.

Regardless, Oracle finds itself in an unfamiliar position. After years of domination, it is stuck behind in the pack. When you find yourself in such a position, you need to have a strong bark and Ellison is going after AWS hard. As the clear market leader, he has few other options right now.

Customer service ‘behavioral pairing’ startup Afiniti quietly raised $130M at a $1.6B valuation

Posted by on 23 October, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

Artificial intelligence touches just about every aspect of the tech world these days, aiming to provide new ways of making old processes work better. Now, a startup that has built an AI platform that tackles the ever-present, but never-perfect, business of customer service has quietly raised a large round of funding as it gears up for its next act, an IPO. Afiniti, which uses machine learning and behavioral science to better match customers with customer service agents — “behavioral pairing” is how it describes the process — has closed a $130 million round of funding ($75 million cash, $60 million debt) — a Series D that Afiniti CEO Zia Chishti says values his company at $1.6 billion.

If you are not familiar with the name Afiniti, you might not be alone. The company has been relatively under the radar, in part because it has never made much of an effort to publicise itself, and in part because the funding that it has raised up to now has largely been from outside the hive of VCs that swarm around many other startup deals that push those startups into the limelight.

At the same time, its backers make for a pretty illustrious list. This latest round includes former Verizon CEO Ivan SeidenbergFred Ryan, the CEO and publisher of the Washington Post; and investors Global Asset ManagementThe Resource Group (which Chishti helped found), Zeke Capitalas well as unnamed Australian investors.

The previous Series C round of $26.5 million, also has an interesting list of backers and also was not widely reported. They included McKinsey & Company, Elisabeth Murdoch, former Thomson Reuters CEO Tom Glocer, and former BP CEO John Browne, alongside Global Asset Management, The Resource Group, Seidenberg and Ryan.

That Series C was at a $100 million valuation, meaning that Afiniti’s valuation has increased more than 10 times in the last year on the back of 100 percent revenue growth each year over the last five.

That momentum led the company also to file confidentially for an IPO — although ultimately Chishti told TechCrunch that the company decided to raise privately at the potential IPO valuation since the money was easy to come by. (It’s also been one of the reasons he said he’s also rebuffed acquisitions, although at least one of the companies that’s approached him, McKinsey, now an investor.)

Now, Chishti — who is a repeat entrepreneur, with his previous company, Align Technology (which makes teeth alignment alternatives to braces), now at a $24 billion market cap — said that Afiniti has started to tip into profitability, so it seems the prospect of an IPO might be back on the table. That is possibly one reason that the company has started to speak to the press more and to make itself more visible.

Chishti and Afiniti are based out of the US, but it has roots into a range of local businesses globally in part by way of its well-connected team of advisors and local leaders. Among them, Princess Beatrice (or Beatrice York), currently 8th in line to the throne to succeed Queen Elizabeth, is the company’s vice president of partnerships. Alonso Aznar, the son of the former prime minister of Spain, runs Afiniti’s operations in Madrid.

The company itself sits in the general area of CRM, and specifically among that wave of startups that are trying to build tools using AI and other new technology to improve on the old ways of getting things done (it’s not alone: just today we noted that People.ai raised $30 million for its own AI-based CRM tools).

Afiniti on one hand calls itself a traditional AI company, but on the other, its CEO laments how overused and hackneyed the term has become. “AI is just a bubble,” he said in an interview. “The intensity of interest in AI is unwarranted because nothing has changed. It’s the same algorithms and software, and we just have faster hardware now.”

In actual fact, what Afiniti does is supply an AI layer to a process that is otherwise “ninety-nine percent human”, in the words of Chishti. The company uses AI to analyse sales people’s performance with specific types of calls and situations, and also to analyse customers in terms of their previous interactions with a company. It then matches up customer service reps who it believes will be most compatible with specific customers.

Afiniti’s pricing model has been an important lever for getting its foot in the door with companies. The company does not price its service per-seat or even per-month, but on a calculation between how well the company does when its call routing and running through Afiniti, versus how much is sold when it does not.

“We run systems on for 15 minutes, off for 5 minutes, and we do that perpetually,” Chishti said. It integrates with a company’s CRM, sales and telephony systems at the back end, in order both to route calls but also to track when those calls result in a sale. “We count the revenues, calculate the delta, and we get a share of that delta.”

If that sounds like a tricky measure, it doesn’t to customers, it seems. The zero-cost-to-try-it model is how it has surmounted the hurdle of getting used by a number of large, often slow-moving carriers and other large incumbents. “It means we have to continuously prove our value,” Chishti added.

As one example of how this works out, he used the example of Verizon (which is the owner of TechCrunch, by way of Oath). “Say Verizon makes $120 billion in revenues in a year,” he said, “and $30 billion of that is in phone-based sales. Afiniti would make $600 million on that.” Times that by dozens of customers in 22 countries, and that may point to how the company has quietly reached the valuation that it has.

Beyond its core product, the company has dozens of patents and more in the application phase in the US and other jurisdictions.

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