Category Archives: Tech News

Hyperledger Fabric, the open source distributed ledger, reaches release 2.0

Posted by on 30 January, 2020

This post was originally published on this site

The open source Hyperledger Foundation announced the release of Hyperledger Fabric 2.0 today, the first such project to reach a 2.0 release.

It’s a notable milestone. The blockchain as a business tool has certainly had a rocky road over the last few years, but there is still plenty to like about smart contracts that have automated compliance checks built in. Hyperledger Fabric 2.0 has lots of new features with that in mind.

The biggest updates involve forcing agreement among the parties before any new data can be added to the ledger, known as decentralized governance of the smart contracts. In practice, it means that the system will prevent any entity from writing to the ledger until there is consensus among the parties involved in the transaction, a basic blockchain tenet.

This is a requirement because the beauty and the curse of the distributed ledger is that it is an immutable record. Once you have written something in the ledger, it becomes very difficult to change it without the agreement of all those involved in the contract. You want to make sure you get it right before you commit something to the ledger.

Along those same lines, developers can build in automated checks along the way. As they say, this ensures the parties can “validate additional information before endorsing a transaction proposal.”

Brian Behlendorf, Executive Director at Hyperledger and a big advocate of open source distributed ledger technology, says this is a big milestone for the project and the organization as it looks to help organizations adopt distributed ledger technology.

“Fabric 2.0 is a new generation framework developed by and for the enterprises that are building distributed ledger capabilities into the core of their businesses. This new release reflects both the development and deployment experience of the Fabric community and confirms the arrival of the production era for enterprise blockchain,” Behlendorf said in a statement.

That remains to be seen. The rise of blockchain in business has moved at a slow pace, but this release shows that the open source community is still committed to building enterprise-grade distributed ledger technology. Today’s announcement is another step in that direction.

OpsRamp raises $37.5M for its hybrid IT operations platform

Posted by on 30 January, 2020

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OpsRamp, a service that helps IT teams discover, monitor, manage and — maybe most importantly — automate their hybrid environments, today announced that it has closed a $37.5 million funding round led by Morgan Stanley Expansion Capital, with participation from existing investor Sapphire Ventures and new investor Hewlett Packard Enterprise.

OpsRamp last raised funding in 2017, when Sapphire led its $20 million Series A round.

At the core of OpsRamp’s services is its AIOps platform. Using machine learning and other techniques, this service aims to help IT teams manage increasingly complex infrastructure deployments, provide intelligent alerting, and eventually automate more of their tasks. The company’s overall product portfolio also includes tools for cloud monitoring and incident management.

The company says its annual recurrent revenue increased by 300 percent in 2019 (though we obviously don’t know what number it started 2019 with). In total, OpsRamp says it now has 1,400 customers on its platform and alliances with AWS, ServiceNow, Google Cloud Platform and Microsoft Azure.

OpsRamp co-founder and CEO Varma Kunaparaju

According to OpsRamp co-founder and CEO Varma Kunaparaju, most of the company’s customers are mid to large enterprises. “These IT teams have large, complex, hybrid IT environments and need help to simplify and consolidate an incredibly fragmented, distributed and overwhelming technology and infrastructure stack,” he said. “The company is also seeing success in the ability of our partners to help us reach global enterprises and Fortune 5000 customers.”

Kunaparaju told me that the company plans to use the new funding to expand its go-to-market efforts and product offerings. “The company will be using the money in a few different areas, including expanding our go-to-market motion and new pursuits in EMEA and APAC, in addition to expanding our North American presence,” he said. “We’ll also be doubling-down on product development on a variety of fronts.”

Given that hybrid clouds only increase the workload for IT organizations and introduce additional tools, it’s maybe no surprise that investors are now interested in companies that offer services that rein in this complexity. If anything, we’ll likely see more deals like this one in the coming months.

“As more of our customers transition to hybrid infrastructure, we find the OpsRamp platform to be a differentiated IT operations management offering that aligns well with the core strategies of HPE,” said Paul Glaser, Vice President and Head of Hewlett Packard Pathfinder. “With OpsRamp’s product vision and customer traction, we felt it was the right time to invest in the growth and scale of their business.”

Greylock’s Reid Hoffman and Sarah Guo to talk fundraising at Early Stage SF 2020

Posted by on 29 January, 2020

This post was originally published on this site

Early Stage SF is around the corner, and we are more than excited for this brand new event. The intimate gathering of founders, VCs, operators and tech industry experts is all about giving founders the tools they need to find success, no matter the challenge ahead of them.

Struggling to understand the legal aspects of running a company, like negotiating cap tables or hiring international talent? We’ve got breakout sessions for that. Wondering how to go about fundraising, from getting your first yes to identifying the right investors to planning the timeline for your fundraise sprint? We’ve got breakout sessions for that. Growth marketing? PR/Media? Building a tech stack? Recruiting?

We. Got. You.

Hoffman + Guo

Today, we’re very proud to announce one of our few Main Stage sessions that will be open to all attendees. Reid Hoffman and Sarah Guo will join us for a conversation around “How To Raise Your Series A.”

Reid Hoffman is a legendary entrepreneur and investor in Silicon Valley. He was an Executive VP and founding board member at PayPal, before going on to co-found LinkedIn in 2003. He led the company to profitability as CEO before joining Greylock in 2009. He serves on the boards of Airbnb, Apollo Fusion, Aurora, Coda, Convoy, Entrepreneur First, Microsoft, Nauto, and Xapo, among others. He’s also an accomplished author, with books like Blitzscaling, The Startup of You, and The Alliance.

Sarah Guo has a wealth of experience in the tech world. She started her career in high school at a tech firm founded by her parents, called Casa Systems. She then joined Goldman Sachs, where she invested in growth-stage tech startups such as Zynga and Dropbox, and advised both pre-IPO companies (Workday) and publicly traded firms (Zynga, Netflix, and Nvidia). She joined Greylock Partners in 2013 and led the firm’s investment in Cleo, Demisto, Sqreen and Utmost. She has a particular focus on B2B applications as well as infrastructure, cybersecurity, collaboration tools, AI, and healthcare.

The format for Hoffman and Guo’s main stage chat will be familiar to folks who have followed the investors. It will be an updated, in-person combination of Hoffman’s famously annotated LinkedIn Series B pitchdeck that led to Greylock’s investment, and Sarah Guo’s in-depth breakdown of what she looks for in a pitch.

They’ll lay out a number of universally applicable lessons that folks seeking Series A funding can learn from, tackling each from their own unique perspectives. Hoffman has years of experience in consumer-focused companies, with a special expertise in network effects. Guo is one of the top minds when it comes to investment in enterprise software.

We’re absolutely thrilled about this conversation, and to be honest, the entire Early Stage agenda.

How it works

Here’s how it all works:

There will be about 50+ breakout sessions at the event, and attendees will have an opportunity to attend at least seven. The sessions will cover all the core topics confronting early-stage founders — up through Series A — as they build a company, from raising capital to building a team to growth. Each breakout session will be led by notables in the startup world.

Don’t worry about missing a breakout session, because transcripts from each will be available to show attendees. And most of the folks leading the breakout sessions have agreed to hang at the show for at least half the day and participate in CrunchMatch, TechCrunch’s app to connect founders and investors based on shared interests.

Here’s the fine print. Each of the 50+ breakout sessions is limited to around 100 attendees. We expect a lot more attendees, of course, so signups for each session are on a first-come, first-serve basis. Buy your ticket today and you can sign up for the breakouts that we’ve announced. Pass holders will also receive 24-hour advance notice before we announce the next batch. (And yes, you can “drop” a breakout session in favor of a new one, in the event there is a schedule conflict.)

Grab yourself a ticket and start registering for sessions right here. Interested sponsors can hit up the team here.

RealityEngines launches its autonomous AI service

Posted by on 28 January, 2020

This post was originally published on this site

RealityEngines.AI, an AI and machine learning startup founded by a number of former Google executives and engineers, is coming out of stealth today and announcing its first set of products.

When the company first announced its $5.25 million seed round last year, CEO Bindu Reddy wasn’t quite ready to disclose RealityEngines’ mission beyond saying that it planned to make machine learning easier for enterprises. With today’s launch, the team is putting this into practice by launching a set of tools that specifically tackle a number of standard enterprise use cases for ML, including user churn predictions, fraud detection, sales lead forecasting, security threat detection and cloud spend optimization. For use cases that don’t fit neatly into these buckets, the service also offers a more general predictive modeling service.

Before co-founding RealiyEngines, Reddy was the head of product for Google Apps and general manager for AI verticals at AWS. Her co-founders are Arvind Sundararajan (formerly at Google and Uber) and Siddartha Naidu (who founded BigQuery at Google). Investors in the company include Eric Schmidt, Ram Shriram, Khosla Ventures and Paul Buchheit.

As Reddy noted, the idea behind this first set of products from RealityEngines is to give businesses an easy entry into machine learning, even if they don’t have data scientists on staff.

Besides talent, another issue that businesses often face is that they don’t always have massive amounts of data to train their networks effectively. That has long been a roadblock for many companies that want to see what AI can do for them but that didn’t have the right resources to do so. RealityEngines overcomes this by creating realistic synthetic data that it can then use to augment a company’s existing data. In its tests, this creates models that are up to 15 percent more accurate than models that were trained without the synthetic data.

“The most prominent use of generative adversarial networks  — GANS — has been to create deep fakes,” said Reddy. “Deepfakes have captured the public’s imagination by highlighting how easy it to spread misinformation with these doctored videos and images. However, GANS can also be applied to productive and good use. They can be used to create synthetic datasets which when then be combined with the original data, to produce robust AI models even when a business doesn’t have much training data.”

RealityEngines currently has about 20 employees, most of whom have a deep background in ML/AI, both as researchers and practitioners.

 

Nutanix execs discuss how they built their 2016 IPO roadshow deck

Posted by on 28 January, 2020

This post was originally published on this site

Bringing a startup from idea to IPO isn’t an easy task, but if you can build something successful, one major milestone is to go public. Before your Nasdaq debut, however, there’s a major step — building a deck and taking it on the road for investors.

Cloud computing company Nutanix went public in 2016, so we spoke to CEO Dheeraj Pandey and CFO Duston Williams, both of whom were with the company for the big event, to learn about how a company should define itself for investors as it seeks to go public.

Who are you?

Building a roadshow deck is an exercise in communications as founders attempt to carefully lay out their company’s core purpose and how they built it, along with their ethics, aspirations, financials and value proposition. In a nutshell, an effective roadshow deck summarizes who you are, what you stand for and why your company will make a good investment.

CEO Pandey says that in addition to investment bank Goldman Sachs, a number of people from the company helped craft the presentation. “Fifteen people across different functions were involved in building the deck. That included product and marketing, to finance and corporate communications, to legal. I think there were at least six different departments,” he said.

ServiceNow acquires conversational AI startup Passage AI

Posted by on 28 January, 2020

This post was originally published on this site

ServiceNow announced this morning that it has acquired Passage AI, a startup that helps customers build chatbots, something that should come in handy as ServiceNow continues to modernize its digital service platform. The companies did not share terms of the deal.

With Passage AI, ServiceNow gets a bushel of AI talent, which in itself has value, but it also gets AI technology, which should fit in nicely with ServiceNow’s mission. For starters, the company’s chatbot solutions gives ServiceNow an automated way to respond to customer/user inquiries.

Even more interesting for ServiceNow, Passage includes an IT automation component that uses ” a conversational interface to submit tickets, handle queries, and take direct action through APIs,” according to the company website. It also gets an HR automation piece, giving the company an intelligent tool it could incorporate across its Now Platform in tools like ServiceNow Virtual Agent and Service Portal, Workspaces in multiple languages.

The multi-lingual support was an aspect of the deal that appeals to Debu Chatterjee, senior director of AI Engineering at ServiceNow. “Building deep learning, conversational AI capabilities into the Now Platform will enable a work request initiated in German or a customer inquiry initiated in Japanese to be solved by Virtual Agent,” he said in a statement.

Companies are increasingly looking for ways to solve common customer problems using chatbots, while only bringing humans into the loop when the bot can’t answer the query. Passage AI gives ServiceNow much deeper knowledge in this growing area.

Passage AI, which launched in 2016, has raised $10.3 million, according to Crunchbase data. The company website lists a variety of large customers including MasterCard, Shell, Mercedes Benz and SoftBank. The acquisition comes less than a week after the company purchased another AI-focused startup, Loom Systems, one that concentrates on automating operations data.

The deal is expected to close this quarter. ServiceNow will be announcing earnings on Wednesday afternoon.

Cooks Venture raises $4 million from Golden West Food Group to ramp up distribution

Posted by on 28 January, 2020

This post was originally published on this site

Cooks Venture, the agtech company looking to revolutionize the chicken industry, has today announced the close of a $4 million funding round led by Golden West Food Group.

Cooks Venture has been working in stealth for many years, but launched onto the scene in 2018 with a plan to reshape agriculture from the ground up. And the key to that strategy? Chickens.

Cooks Venture geneticists and scientists have spent years isolating genetic lines of chickens to create a new breed, called the Heirloom chicken. Most folks don’t know that, no matter what brand of chicken you buy at the store, chances are that it’s one of two breeds, the Cobb 500 or the Ross 308, which are produced by Cobb and Aviagen respectively.

Both of these breeds of broilers are fast-growing (they’re ready to be processed in about a month) and use a three-phase feed system for growth. This system, and these breeds, are a big reason why animal activist groups express so much concern over the wellbeing of chicken livestock, often explaining that the birds are too young to carry around all the weight they put on so quickly.

Cooks Venture looked to science to solve the problem. The company’s Heirloom chicken can eat a highly diverse diet, and can be raised in about two months. This means that the Heirloom chickens are truly free range, wandering around the farm. It also means that these chickens, with a digestive track that can handle a diverse diet and the ability to exercise, are actually healthier to eat and taste better than your average Cobb 500 or Ross 308, according to the company.

But the chickens themselves are only part of the solution. A byproduct of the proliferation of these fast-growing chickens produced by Cobb and Aviagen is that they have to eat, and their diet is very specific. That means that farmers must produce a great deal of one or two crops to feed the millions of chickens out there. The result is that our agricultural land is not being used in an efficient or eco-friendly way.

In fact, Cooks Venture founder Matt Wadiak says that 97 percent of our crop production in the United States is used for ethanol or animal feed, which indexes towards corn and soy. Many farmers would love to implement regenerative agricultural practices, a big part of which includes creating a biodiverse ecosystem with many different crops, but who would they sell the extra low-demand crops to?

The answer now can be Cooks Venture. With strong digestive systems, Cooks Venture chickens can eat a diet that comes from a more biodiverse farm. Moreover, when Cooks Venture is ready to expand globally, the chickens are able to eat crops local to the ecosystems of emerging nations, such as yucca and quinoa.

Cooks Venture has its own farm, and works with farm partners to set up regenerative agricultural practices around producing Heirloom chicken feed. Cooks also does its own processing at its own plant.

Golden West Food Group is a manufacturer of meat products and value-add food products like marinated chicken, such as Jack Daniels pulled pork. It’s worth noting that GWFG is not a competitor to Cooks Venture, as it produces no meat products whatsoever, but rather an important distribution partner for the brand.

Through the partnership with GWFG, Cooks can start to ramp up commercialization of its chickens, which are currently sold through some retailers, on the Cooks website, and on HelloFresh.

As part of the announcement, Cooks Venture is also bringing on Ankur Agrawal as Chief Financial Officer. Wadiak, a cofounder at Blue Apron, worked with Agrawal back in the Blue Apron days and says that his understanding of agricultural finance is top of the line.

Chicago’s ActiveCampaign raises $100M for an all-in-one marketing and sales automation platform

Posted by on 28 January, 2020

This post was originally published on this site

Marketing and sales automation — tools that leverage the advances and data of our digital age to better identify and then interact with customers — is big business, with the whole market expected to generate some $6.6 billion in revenues for related companies by 2025.

But “companies” is the operative word here: it’s a very fragmented space, with dozens of hopefuls covering different aspects of marketing and sales, each with its own unique approach. There is an alternative trend, though, and today a customer experience automation company called ActiveCampaign, catering not just to large enterprises but small and medium businesses too, has raised a large round of funding to build out its own one-stop-shop model. It includes the tools to run email and messaging-based marketing campaigns; marketing automation across sites and events; and sales and CRM.

The Chicago-based company is today announcing that it has closed a Series B of $100 million, money that it will use to invest in building out new technology and to expand internationally. The funding is being led by Susquehanna Growth Equity, with PE firm Silversmith Capital Partners also participating.

ActiveCampaign is not your typical startup. It has been around since 2003, and this is only the second time that it has raised money — the first time was in 2016, a modest $20 million round from Silversmith. Fundraising is not the only thing that sets it apart: it’s also profitable and has been for years (one reason it hasn’t raised money), and it’s actually already quite large, with 90,000 customers in 161 countries.

Yet it’s something of a theme in the world of “startups” — meaning tech companies that are still privately owned and raising from VCs and related backers — particularly those that are B2B focused, that some of the more interesting and successfully bootstrapped of them at some point turn to VC and private equity when it comes to needing an extra boost to move beyond what has become its natural growth rate.

In the case of ActiveCampaign, it had a taste of what a little outside investment could do in the last few years: Jason VandeBoom, founder and CEO of ActiveCampaign, said that the company has seen its annual recurring revenues grow 6x since 2016 to $90 million, with employees booming from 65 to more than 550.

The company’s core proposition is that it provides a less fragmented approach to businesses interested in building in some digital marketing or sales tools into their outreach and then considering what to do next.

“What we are up against are a number of companies focused on a single slice of customer experience, either CRM or a customer success platform,” VandeBoom said. “We’re still at this point in the industry where the category is taking shape,” which spells a ripe opportunity for ActiveCampaign.

The need for what ActiveCampaign provides is a basic one: whether you are an online retailer or any business that wants to expand its audience or make sure to stay connected to the one you already have, you need tools to reach users, figure out what they want to see from you, and connect in a relevant way.

VandeBoom added while there are no specific plans for acquisitions that can be discussed now, the funding also gives the company “optionality” in terms of what it might do next.

Part of the company’s approach is to build technology in-house, but in the spirit of all-in-one platforms, its value also lies in how many other things its users can plug into using ActiveCampaign.

The company has some 260 technology partners and a “recipe library” with more than 250 automations already built, or users can build and customise themselves from more than 300 possible apps that can be integrated, including Shopify, Square, Facebook, Eventbrite, and Salesforce.

With this round, Martin Angert, Director at Susquehanna, is joining ActiveCampaign’s board of directors. His existing roles on the boards of Workfront, WhiteSource, XebiaLabs, and Allocadia speaks to interesting potential strategic partnerships for ActiveCampaign.

“ActiveCampaign and the CXA category have grown significantly and our investment in the series B reconfirms Silversmith’s commitment to ActiveCampaign’s future,” said Todd Maclean, Co-Founder & Managing Partner of Silversmith Capital Partners, in a statement.

Persona raises $17.5M for an identify verification platform that goes beyond user IDs and passwords

Posted by on 28 January, 2020

This post was originally published on this site

The proliferation of data breaches based on leaked passwords, and the rising tide of regulation that puts a hard stop on just how much user information can be collected, stored and used by companies have laid bare the holes in simple password and memorable-information-based verification systems.

Today a startup called Persona, which has built a platform to make it easier for organisations to implement more watertight methods based on third-party documentation, real-time evaluation, and AI to verify users, is announcing a funding round, speaking to the shift in the market and subsequent demand for new alternatives to the old way of doing things.

The startup has raised $17.5 million in a Series A from a list of impressive investors that include Coatue and First Round Capital, money that it plans to use to double down on its core product: a platform that businesses and organisations can access by way of an API, which lets them use a variety of documents, from government-issued IDs through to biometrics, to verify that customers are who they say they are.

Current customers include Rippling, Petal, UrbanSitter, Branch, Brex, Postmates, Outdoorsy, Rently, SimpleHealth and Hipcamp, among others. Persona’s target user today is any company involved in any kind of online financial transaction to verify for regulatory compliance, fraud prevention and for trust and safety.

The startup is young and is not disclosing valuation. Previously, Persona had raised an undisclosed amount of funding from Kleiner Perkins and FirstRound, according to data from PitchBook. Angels in the company have included Zach Perret and William Hockey (co-founders of Plaid), Dylan Field (founded Figma), Scott Belsky (Behance) and Tony Xu (DoorDash).

Founded by Rick Song and Charles Yeh, respectively former engineers from Square and Dropbox (companies that have had their own concerns with identity verification and breaches), Persona’s main premise is that most companies are not security companies and therefore lack the people, skills, time and money to build strong authentication and verification services — much less to keep up with the latest developments on what is best practice.

And on top of that, there have been too many breaches that have underscored the problem with companies holding too much information on users, collected for identification purposes but then sitting there waiting to be hacked. While a number of services have arisen to help protect identity for repeat users of products — for example Duo and Okta on the enterprise front, or authenticators for online applications as a more secure alternative to two-factor authentication using text messaging — these don’t really fill the use case of verification for the kinds of companies that are typical Persona customers.

The name of the game for Persona is to provide services that are easy to use and as wide as possible in their applicability. For those who can’t or don’t access the code of their apps or websites for registration flows, they can even verify users by way of email-based links.

“Digital identity is one of the most important things to get right, but there is no silver bullet,” Song, who is the CEO, said in an interview. “I believe longer term we’ll see that it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach.” Not least because malicious hackers have an ever-increasing array of tools to get around every system that gets put into place. (The latest is the rise of deep-fakes to mimic people, putting into question how to get around that in, say, a video verification system.)

At Persona, the company currently gives customers the option to ask for social security numbers, biometric verification such as fingerprints or pictures, or government ID uploads and phone lookups, some of which (like biometrics) is built by Persona itself and some of which is accessed via third-party partnerships.

Added to that are other tools like quizzes and video-based interactions. Song said the list is expanding, and the company is looking at ways of using the AI engine that it’s building — which actually performs the matching — to also potentially suggest the best tools for each and every transaction.

It’s notable to me that the platform has been conceived of and built in part by an engineer from a payments company.

API-based platforms taking out some of the extreme complexity of payment systems by doing all the hard work “under the hood” have been a building block of how a lot of financial services get integrated into workflows in cases where the business in question may rely on them but is actually not actually a fintechs (or payment tech provider) in and of themselves. This has been the premise of companies like Stripe, Adyen, CurrencyCloud and even Square to an extent, since its customers are integrating the tool that Square has built for them.

Another key point with Persona is that it provides a way for its customers to access and use information for verification by linking up with other databases, meaning the data is then not kept by the customer itself.

This is a moving target, and one that is becoming increasingly harder to focus on, given not just the rise in malicious hacking, but also regulation that limits how and when data can be accessed and used by online businesses.

Persona notes a McKinsey forecast that the personal identify and verification market will be worth some $20 billion by 2022, which is not a surprising figure when you consider the nearly $9 billion that Google has been fined so far for GDPR violations, or the $700 million Equifax paid out, or the $50 million Yahoo (a sister company now) paid out for its own user-data breach.

Pantheon bets on WebOps as it charts a course to an IPO

Posted by on 27 January, 2020

This post was originally published on this site

It has been 10 years since Pantheon launched. At the time, it was mostly a hosting service for Drupal sites, but about six years ago, it added WordPress hosting to its lineup and raised more VC money as some of its competitors did the same. After its 2016 Series C round, things started quieting down, though the company has clear ambitions to become a public company in the next few years. To chat about those plans and the overall state of the business, I sat down with Pantheon co-founder and CEO Zack Rosen and new Pantheon board member Elissa Fink, former CMO of Tableau.

Maybe the biggest change at Pantheon is that when it launched, its team was almost solely focused on the developer experience. And while Pantheon was essentially a hosting service and offers personal plans, its focus was never on individuals who wanted a WordPress blog (which a lot of companies focused on, especially in the pre-Twitter days). Its efforts always revolved around businesses, large enterprises and the agencies that serve them.

“Back then, our overriding focus was really around the developer experience — the practitioner experience — of using our product,” Rosen explained. “And frankly, at the time, we actually really didn’t know what to call it. It really didn’t have a category, but we always felt it was something new.” He noted that over the last few years, Pantheon started talking to a lot of marketers and realized that the needs of these marketing leaders are driving this space.

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