Boast.ai raises $23M to help businesses get their R&D tax credits

Posted by on 10 December, 2020

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Nobody likes dealing with taxes — until the system works in your favor. In many countries, startups can receive tax credits for their R&D work and related employee cost, but as with all things bureaucracy, that’s often a slow and onerous task. Boast.ai aims to make this process far easier, by using a mix of AI and tax experts. The company, which currently has about 1,000 customers, today announced that it has raised a $23 million Series A round led by Radian Capital.

Launched in 2012 by co-founders Alex Popa (CEO) and Lloyed Lobo (president), Boast focuses on helping companies — and especially startups — in the U.S. and Canada claim their R&D tax credits.

“Globally, over $200 billion has been given in R&D incentives to fund businesses, not only in the U.S. and Canada, but the U.K., Australia, France, New Zealand, Ireland give out these incentives,” Lobo explained. “But there’s huge red tape. It’s a cumbersome process. You got to dive in and figure out work that qualifies and what doesn’t. Then you’ve got to file it with your taxes. Then if the government audits you, it’s like a long, laborious process.”

Image Credits: Boast.ai

After working on a few other startup ideas, the co-founders decided to go all-in on Boast. And in the process of working on other ideas, they also realized that AI wasn’t going to be able to do it all, but that it was getting good enough to augment humans to make a complex process like dealing with R&D tax credits scalable.

“The way I think to bootstrap a company is three things,” Lobo explained. “One, customers are looking for an outcome. Get them that outcome in the fastest, cheapest way possible. Two, when you’re doing that, you may have to do a lot of manual work. Figure out what those manual touch points are and then build the workflow to automate that. And once you have those two things, then you’ll have enough data to start working on artificial intelligence and machine learning. Those are the key learnings that we learned the hard way.”

So after doing some of that manual work, Boast can now automatically pull in data using tech tools like JIRA and GitHub and a company’s financial tools like QuickBooks and (soon) ADP. It then uses its algorithms to cluster this data, figure out how much time employees spend on projects that would qualify for a tax credit and automate the tax filing process. Throughout the process — and to interact with the government if necessary — the company keeps humans in the loop.

“So all our [customer success] team is engineers,” Lobo noted. “Because if you don’t have engineers they can’t inform the decision-making process. They help figure out if there are any loose ends and then they deal with the audits, communicating with the government and whatnot. That’s how we’re able to effectively get SaaS-like margins or more.”

Ideally, a tool like Boast pays for itself and the company says it has secured more than $150 million in R&D tax credits since launch. Currently, it’s also doubling growth year over year, and that’s what made the founders decide to raise outside money for the first time. That funding will go toward increasing the sales team (which is currently only four people strong) and improving the platform, but Lobo was clear that he doesn’t want to be too aggressive. The goal, he said, is not to have to raise again until Boast can hit the $30 to $50 million revenue mark.

Once fully implemented, Boast also effectively becomes a system of record for all R&D and engineering data. And indeed, that’s the company’s overall vision, with the tax credits being somewhat of a Trojan horse to get to this point. By the middle of next year, the team plans to offer a new product around R&D-based financing, Lobo tells me.

Over the years, the Boast team also focused on not just growing its customer base but also the overall startup ecosystem in the markets in which it operates, with a special focus on Canada. The Boast team, for example, is also the team behind the popular annual Traction conference in Vancouver, Canada (Disclosure: I’ve moderated sessions at the event since its inception). A thriving startup ecosystem creates a larger client base for Boast, too, after all — and coincidently, the team met its investors at the event, too.

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HiBob raises $70M for its new take on human resources

Posted by on 10 December, 2020

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Productivity software has been getting a major re-examination this year, and human resources platforms — used for hiring, firing, paying, and managing employees — have been no exception. Today, one of the startups that’s built what it believes is the next generation of how HR should and will work is announcing a big fundraise, underscoring its own growth and the focus on the category.

Hibob, the startup behind the HR platform that goes by the name of “bob” (the company name is pronounced, “Hi, Bob!”), has picked up $70 million in funding at a valuation that reliable sources close to the company tell us is around $500 million.

“Our mission is to modernize HR technology,” said Ronni Zehavi, Hibob’s CEO, who cofounded the company with Israel David. “We are a people management platform for how people work today. Whether that’s remotely or physically collaborative, our customers face challenges with work. We believe that the HR platforms of the future will not be clunky systems, annoying, giant platforms. We believe it should be different. We are a system of engagement rather than record.”

The Series B is being led by SEEK and Israel Growth Partners, with participation also from Bessemer Venture Partners, Battery Ventures, Eight Roads Ventures, Arbor Ventures, Presidio Ventures, Entree Capital, Cerca Partners, and Perpetual Partners, the same group that also backed Hibob in its last round (a Series A extension) in 2019. It has raised $124 million to date.

The company has its roots in Israel but these days describes its headquarters as London and New York, and the funding comes on the back of strong growth in multiple markets. In an interview, Zehavi said that Hibob specialises in the mid-market customers and says that it has over 1,000 of them currently on its books across the US, Europe and Asia, including Monzo, Revolut, Happy Socks, Ironsource, Receipt Bank, Fiverr, Gong, and VaynerMedia. In the last year Hibob has had “triple digit” year-on-year growth (it didn’t specify what those digits are).

Human resources has never been at the more glamorous end of how a company works, and it can sometimes even be looked on with some disdain. However HR has found itself in a new spotlight in 2020, the year when every company — whether one based around people sitting at desks or in more interactive and active environments — had to change how it worked.

That might have involved sending everyone home to sign in from offices possibly made out of corners of bedrooms or kitchens, or that might have involved a vastly different set of practices in terms of when and where workers showed up and how they interacted with people once they did. But regardless of the implementations, they all involved a team of people who needed to be linked together and still feeling connected and managed; and sometimes hired, furloughed, or let go.

That focus has started to reveal the strains of how some legacy systems worked, with older systems built to consider little more than creating an employee identity number that could then be tracked for payroll and other purposes.

Hibob — Zehavi said they chose the name after the person who owned the bob.com domain wanted too much to sell it, but they liked bob for the actual product — takes an approach from the ground up that is in line with how many people work today, balancing different software and apps depending on what they are doing, and linking them up by way of integrations: its own includes Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Mercer and other packages that are popular with HR departments. 

While it covers all of the necessary HR bases like payroll and further compensation, onboarding, managing time off, and benefits, it further brings in a variety of other features that help build out bigger profiles of users, such as performance and culture, with the ability for peers, managers and workers themselves to provide feedback to enhance their own engagement with the company, and for the company to have a better idea of how they are fitting into the organization, and what might need more attention in the future.

That then links into a bigger organizational chart and conceptual charts that highlight strong performers, those who are possible flight risks, those who are leaders and so on. While there have been a number of others in the HR world that have built standalone apps that cover some of these features (for example, 15five was early to spot the value of a platform that made it much easier to set goals and provide feedback), what’s notable here is how they are all folded into one system together.

The end effect, as you can see here, looks less like word salad and more interactive, graphic interfaces that are presumably a lot more enjoyable and at least easier to use for HR people themselves.

The importance for investors has been that the product and the startup has identified the opportunity, but has delivered not just more engagement, but a strong piece of software that still provides the essentials.

“This is certainly not a Workday,” said Adam Fisher, a partner at Bessemer, in an interview. “Our overall thesis has been that HR is only growing in importance. And while engagement is super important, that opportunity is not enough to create the market.”

The end result is a platform that has a significant shot at building in even more over time. For example, another large area that has been seeing traction in the world of enterprise and B2B software is employee training. Specifically, enterprise learning systems are creating another way to help keep people not only speed on important aspects of how the work, but also engaged at a time when connections are under strain.

“Training, a SuccessFactors-style offering, is definitely in our roadmap,” said Zehavi, who noted they are adding new features all the time. The latest has been compensation, sometimes known as merit increase cycles. “That is a very complex issue and requires deeper integrations finance and and the CFO’s office. We streamlined it and made it easy to use. We launched two months ago and it’s on fire. After learning and development the are other modules also down the road.”

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New Relic acquires Kubernetes observability platform Pixie Labs

Posted by on 10 December, 2020

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Two months ago, Kubernetes observability platform Pixie Labs launched into general availability and announced a $9.15 million Series A funding round led by Benchmark, with participation from GV. Today, the company is announcing its acquisition by New Relic, the publicly traded monitoring and observability platform.

The Pixie Labs brand and product will remain in place and allow New Relic to extend its platform to the edge. From the outset, the Pixie Labs team designed the service to focus on providing observability for cloud-native workloads running on Kubernetes clusters. And while most similar tools focus on operators and IT teams, Pixie set out to build a tool that developers would want to use. Using eBPF, a relatively new way to extend the Linux kernel, the Pixie platform can collect data right at the source and without the need for an agent.

At the core of the Pixie developer experience are what the company calls “Pixie scripts.” These allow developers to write their debugging workflows, though the company also provides its own set of these and anybody in the community can contribute and share them as well. The idea here is to capture a lot of the informal knowledge around how to best debug a given service.

“We’re super excited to bring these companies together because we share a mission to make observability ubiquitous through simplicity,” Bill Staples, New Relic’s Chief Product Officer, told me. “[…] According to IDC, there are 28 million developers in the world. And yet only a fraction of them really practice observability today. We believe it should be easier for every developer to take a data-driven approach to building software and Kubernetes is really the heart of where developers are going to build software.”

It’s worth noting that New Relic already had a solution for monitoring Kubernetes clusters. Pixie, however, will allow it to go significantly deeper into this space. “Pixie goes much, much further in terms of offering on-the-edge, live debugging use cases, the ability to run those Pixie scripts. So it’s an extension on top of the cloud-based monitoring solution we offer today,” Staples said.

The plan is to build integrations into New Relic into Pixie’s platform and to integrate Pixie use cases with New Relic One as well.

Currently, about 300 teams use the Pixie platform. These range from small startups to large enterprises and as Staples and Asgar noted, there was already a substantial overlap between the two customer bases.

As for why he decided to sell, Pixie co-founder (and former Google AI CEO Zain Asgar told me that it was all about accelerating Pixie’s vision.

“We started Pixie to create this magical developer experience that really allows us to redefine how application developers monitor, secure and manage their applications,” Asgar said. “One of the cool things is when we actually met the team at New Relic and we got together with Bill and [New Relic founder and CEO] Lou [Cirne], we realized that there was almost a complete alignment around this vision […], and by joining forces with New Relic, we can actually accelerate this entire process.”

New Relic has recently done a lot of work on open-sourcing various parts of its platform, including its agents, data exporters and some of its tooling. Pixie, too, will now open-source its core tools. Open-sourcing the service was always on the company’s roadmap, but the acquisition now allows it to push this timeline forward.

“We’ll be taking Pixie and making it available to the community through open source, as well as continuing to build out the commercial enterprise-grade offering for it that extends the New Relic one platform,” Staples explained. Asgar added that it’ll take the company a little while to release the code, though.

“The same fundamental quality that got us so excited about Lew as an EIR in 2007, got us excited about Zain and Ishan in 2017 — absolutely brilliant engineers, who know how to build products developers love,” Bessemer Ventures General Partner Eric Vishria told me. “New Relic has always captured developer delight. For all its power, Kubernetes completely upends the monitoring paradigm we’ve lived with for decades.  Pixie brings the same — easy to use, quick time to value, no-nonsense approach to the Kubernetes world as New Relic brought to APM.  It is a match made in heaven.”

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Nutanix brings in former VMware exec as new CEO

Posted by on 9 December, 2020

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Nutanix announced today that it was bringing in former VMware executive Rajiv Ramaswami as president and CEO. Ramaswami replaces co-founderr Dheeraj Pandey, who previously announced his plans to retire in August.

The new CEO brings 30 years of industry experience to the position including stints with Broadcom, Cisco, Nortel and IBM — in addition to his most recent gig at VMware as Chief Operating Officer of Products and Cloud Services at VMware.

At his position at VMware, Ramaswami had the opportunity to see Nutanix up close as a key competitor, and he now has the opportunity to lead the company into its next phase. “I have long admired Nutanix as a formidable competitor, a pioneer in hyperconverged infrastructure solutions and a leader in cloud software,” he said in a statement. He hopes to build on his industry knowledge to continue growing the company.

Sohaib Abbasi, lead independent director of Nutanix says that as a candidate, Ramaswami’s experience really stood out. “Rajiv distinguished himself among the CEO candidates with his rare combination of operational discipline, business acumen, technology vision and inclusive leadership skills,” he said in statement.

Holger Mueller, an analyst at Constellation Research says the hiring makes a lot of sense as VMware is quickly becoming the company’s primary competitor. “Nutanix and VMware want to be the same in the future — the virtualization and workload portability Switzerland across cloud and on premise compute infrastructures,” he told me.

What’s more, it allows Nutanix to grab a talented executive. “So hiring Ramaswami brings both an expert for multi-cloud to the Nutanix helm, as well as weakening a key competitor from a talent perspective,” he said.

Nutanix was founded in 2009. It raised over $600 million from firms like Khosla Ventures, Lightspeed Ventures, Sapphire Ventures, Fidelity and Wellington Management, according to Crunchbase data. The company went public in 2016. Investors seem pleased by the announcement with the company stock price up 1.29% as of publication.

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Microsoft brings new process mining features to Power Automate

Posted by on 9 December, 2020

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Power Automate is Microsoft’s platform for streamlining repetitive workflows — you may remember it under its original name: Microsoft Flow. The market for these robotic process automation (RPA) tools is hot right now, so it’s no surprise that Microsoft, too, is doubling down on its platform. Only a few months ago, the team launched Power Automate Desktop, based on its acquisition of Softomotive, which helps users automate workflows in legacy desktop-based applications, for example. After a short time in preview Power Automate Desktop is now generally available.

The real news today, though, is that the team is also launching a new tool, the Process Advisor, which is now in preview as part of the Power Automate platform. This new process mining tool provides users with a new collaborative environment where developers and business users can work together to create new automations.

The idea here is that business users are the ones who know exactly how a certain process works. With Process Advisor, they can now submit recordings of how they process a refund, for example, and then submit that to the developers, who are typically not experts in how these processes usually work.

What’s maybe just as important is that a system like this can identify bottlenecks in existing processes where automation can help speed up existing workflows.

Image Credits: Microsoft

“This goes back to one of the things that we always talk about for Power Platform, which, it’s a corny thing, but it’s that development is a team sport,” Charles Lamanna, Microsoft’s corporate VP for its Low Code Application Platform, told me. “That’s one of our big focuses: how do bring people to collaborate and work together who normally don’t. This is great because it actually brings together the business users who live the process each and every day with a specialist who can build the robot and do the automation.”

The way this works in the backend is that Power Automate’s tools capture exactly what the users do and click on. All this information is then uploaded to the cloud and — with just five or six recordings — Power Automate’s systems can map how the process works. For more complex workflows, or those that have a lot of branches for different edge cases, you likely want more recordings to build out these processes, though.

Image Credits: Microsoft

As Lamanna noted, building out these workflows and process maps can also help businesses better understand the ROI of these automations. “This kind of map is great to go build an automation on top of it, but it’s also great because it helps you capture the ROI of each automation you do because you’ll know for each step, how long it took you,” Lamanna said. “We think that this concept of Process Advisor is probably going to be one of the most important engines of adoption for all these low-code/no-code technologies that are coming out. Basically, it can help guide you to where it’s worth spending the energy, where it’s worth training people, where it’s worth building an app, or using AI, or building a robot with our RPA like Power Automate.”

Lamanna likened this to the advent of digital advertising, which for the first time helped marketers quantify the ROI of advertising.

The new process mining capabilities in Power Automate are now available in preview.

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Arthur.ai snags $15M Series A to grow machine learning monitoring tool

Posted by on 9 December, 2020

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At a time when more companies are building machine learning models, Arthur.ai wants to help by ensuring the model accuracy doesn’t begin slipping over time, thereby losing its ability to precisely measure what it was supposed to. As demand for this type of tool has increased this year, in spite of the pandemic, the startup announced a $15 million Series A today.

The investment was led by Index Ventures with help from new comers Acrew and Plexo Capital along with previous investors Homebrew, AME Ventures and Work-Bench.The round comes almost exactly a year after its $3.3 million seed round.

As CEO and co-founder Adam Wenchel explains, data scientists build and test machine learning models in the lab under ideal conditions, but as these models are put into production, the performance can begin to deteriorate under real world scrutiny. Arthur.AI is designed to root out when that happens.

Even as COVID has wreaked havoc throughout much of this year, the company has grown revenue 300% in the last six months smack dab in the middle of all that. “Over the course of 2020, we have begun to open up more and talk to [more] customers. And so we are starting to get some really nice initial customer traction, both in traditional enterprises as well as digital tech companies,” Wenchel told me. With 15 customers, the company is finding that the solution is resonating with companies.

It’s interesting to note that AWS announced a similar tool yesterday at re:Invent called SageMaker Clarify, but Wenchel sees this as more of a validation of what his startup has been trying to do, rather than an existential threat. “I think it helps create awareness, and because this is our 100% focus, our tools go well beyond what the major cloud providers provide,” he said.

Investor Mike Volpi from Index certainly sees the value proposition of this company. “One of the most critical aspects of the AI stack is in the area of performance monitoring and risk mitigation. Simply put, is the AI system behaving like it’s supposed to?,” he wrote in a blog post announcing the funding.

When we spoke a year ago, the company had 8 employees. Today it has 17 and it expects to double again by the end of next year. Wenchel says that as a company whose products looks for different types of bias, it’s especially important to have a diverse workforce. He says that starts with having a diverse investment team and board makeup, which he has been able to achieve, and goes from there.

“We’ve sponsored and work with groups that focus on both general sort of coding for different underrepresented groups as well as specifically AI, and that’s something that we’ll continue to do. And actually I think when we can get together for in person events again, we will really go out there and support great organizations like AI for All and Black Girls Code,” he said. He believes that by working with these groups, it will give the startup a pipeline to underrepresented groups, which they can draw upon for hiring as the needs arise.

Wenchel says that when he can go back to the office, he wants to bring employees back, at least for part of the week for certain kinds of work that will benefit from being in the same space.

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HealNow raises $1.3 million to bring online payments to pharmacies

Posted by on 9 December, 2020

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As the healthtech landscape rapidly evolves another startup is making its presence known. HealNow has closed a $1.3 million round of funding from SoftBank Opportunity Fund and Redhawk VC.

The company was founded by Halston Prox and Joshua Smith. Prox has worked in healthcare for more than a decade with major organizations such as Providence Health, Mount Sinai and Baylor Scott & White, mostly focused on digitizing health records and designing and implementing software for doctors, nurses, etc. Smith, CTO at the company, has been a developer since 2012.

The duo founded HealNow to become the central nervous system for order and delivery of prescriptions, according to Prox. Your average payments processing system isn’t necessarily applicable to pharmacies large and small because of the complexities of health insurance and the regulatory landscape.

Not only is it costly to facilitate online payments for pharmacies, but they also have their own pharmacy management systems and workflows that can be easily disrupted by moving to a new payments system.

HealNow has built a system that’s specifically tailored to pharmacies of any shape or size, from grocery stores to mom and pop pharmacies and everything in between. It’s a white label solution, meaning that any pharmacy can put their brand language on the product.

“We’re embedded in their current workflows and pharmacies don’t have to do anything manual, even if they’re using a pharmacy management system,” said Prox.

When a user looks to get a prescription from their pharmacy, they are sent a link that allows them to securely answer any questions that may be necessary for the pick-up, enter insurance info, make a payment, and schedule a curbside pick-up or a delivery. The tech also integrates with third-party delivery services for pharmacies that offer deliveries.

This technology has been particularly important during the COVID-19 pandemic, giving smaller pharmacies the chance to compete with bigger chains who have digital solutions already set up that allow for curbside pick up. This is especially true now that Amazon has gotten into the space with the launch of Amazon Pharmacy.

HealNow is a SaaS company, charging a monthly subscription fee for use of the platform as well as a service fee for prescriptions purchased on the platform. However, that service fee is a flat rate that never changes based on the cost of the prescription.

The space is crowded and growing more crowded, with competitors like NimbleRX and Capsule offering their own spin on simplifying and digitizing the pharmacy. One big difference for HealNow, says Prox, is that the startup has no intention of ever being a pharmacy, but rather serving pharmacies in a way that doesn’t disrupt their current workflow or system.

“We’re not a pharmacy, and we want to enable all these pharmacies to be online,” said Prox. “To do that we have to do that in an unbiased way by focusing on being a complete tech company.”

The funding is going primarily toward building out the sales and marketing arms of the company to continue fueling growth. HealNow has a foothold in the West, Southwest and Middle America, and is opening an office in Birmingham to sprint across the East Coast. Prox says the company is processing thousands of orders a day and tens of thousands of orders each month.

HealNow launched in 2018 after graduating from the Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator .

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WorkRamp raises $17M to ramp up its enterprise learning platform

Posted by on 9 December, 2020

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Remote learning and training have become a large priority this year for organizations looking to keep employees engaged and up to date on work practices at a time when many of them are not working in an office — and, in the case of those who have joined in 2020, may have never met any of their work colleagues in person, ever. Today one of the startups that’s built a new, more user-friendly approach to creating and provisioning those learning materials is announcing some funding as it experiences a boost in its growth.

WorkRamp, which has built a platform that helps organizations build their own training materials, and then distribute them both to their workforce and to partners, has raised $17 million, a Series B round of funding that’s being led by Omers Ventures with Bow Capital also participating.

Its big pitch is that it has built the tools to make it easy for companies to build their own training and learning materials, incorporating tests, videos, slide shows and more, and by making it easier for companies to build these themselves, the materials themselves become more engaging and less stiff.

“We’re disrupting the legacy LMS [learning management system] providers, the Cornerstones of the world, with our bite-size training platform,” said CEO and founder Ted Blosser in an interview. “We want to do what Peloton did for the exercise market, but with corporate training. We are aiming for a consumer-grade experience.”

The company, originally incubated in Y Combinator, has now raised $27 million.

The funding comes on the back of strong growth for WorkRamp . Blosser said that it now has around 250 customers, with 1 million courses collectively created on its platform. That list includes fast-growing tech companies like Zoom, Box, Reddit and Intercom, as well as Disney, GlobalData and PayPal. As it continues to expand, it will be interesting to see how and if it can also snag more legacy, late adopters who are not as focused on tech in their own DNA.

WorkRamp estimates that there is some $20 billion spent annually by organizations on corporate training. Unsurprisingly, that has meant the proliferation of a number of companies building tools to address that market.

Just Google WorkRamp and you’re likely to encounter a number of its competitors who have bought its name as a keyword to snag a little more attention, . There are both big and small players in the space, including Leapsome, Capterra, Lessonly, LearnUpon (which itself recently raised a big round), SuccessFactors and TalentLMS.

The interesting thing about what WorkRamp has built is that it plays on the idea of the “creator” which really has been a huge development in our digital world. YouTube may have kicked things off with the concept of “user-generated content” but today we have TikTok, Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, and so many more platforms — not to mention smartphones themselves, with their easy facilities to shoot videos and photos of others, or of yourself, and then share with others — which have made the idea of building your own work, and looking at that of others, extremely accessible.

That has effectively laid the groundwork for a new way of conceiving of even more prosaic things, like corporate training. (Can there really be anything more comedically prosaic than that?) Other startups like Kahoot have also played on this idea, by making it easy for enterprises to build their own games to help train their staff.

This is what WorkRamp has aimed to tap into with its own take on the learning market, to help its customers eschew the idea of hiring outside production companies to make training materials, or expect WorkRamp to build those materials for them: instead, the people who are going to use the training now have the control.

“I think it’s critical to be able to build your own customer education,” Blosser said. “That’s a big trend for clients that want both to rapidly onboard people but also reduce costs.”

The company’s platform includes user-friendly drag-and-drop functionality, which also lets people build slide shows, flip cards and questions that viewers can answer. The plan is to bring on more “Accenture” style consultants, Blosser said, for bigger customers who may not be as tech savvy to help them take better advantage of the tools. It also integrates with third-party packages like Salesforce.com, Workday, and Zoom both to build out training as well as to distribute it.

“Since 2000, we have seen three major technology shifts in the enterprise: the transition from on-premise to SaaS, the growth of mobile, and the most recent – sweeping digital transformation across almost every part of every business,” said Eugene Lee of OMERS Ventures, in a statement. “The pandemic has forced adoption of a digital-first approach towards customers and employees across virtually all industries. WorkRamp’s platform is foundational to empowering both of these important audiences today and in the future. We are bullish on the massive opportunity in front of the company and are excited to get involved.” Lee is joining the board with this round.

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Firebolt raises $37M to take on Snowflake, Amazon and Google with a new approach to data warehousing

Posted by on 9 December, 2020

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For many organizations, the shift to cloud computing has played out more realistically as a shift to hybrid architectures, where a company’s data is just as likely to reside in one of a number of clouds, as it might in an on-premise deployment, in a data warehouse, or in a data lake. Today, a startup that has built a more comprehensive way to assess, analyse and use that data is announcing funding as it looks to take on Snowflake, Amazon, Google and others in the area of enterprise data analytics.

Firebolt, which has redesigned the concept of a data warehouse to work more efficiently and at a lower cost, is today announcing that it has raised $37 million from Zeev Ventures, TLV Partners, Bessemer Venture Partners and Angular Ventures. It plans to use the funding to continue developing its product and bring on more customers.

The company is officially “launching” today but — as is the case with so many enterprise startups these days operating in stealth — it has been around for two years already building its platform and signing commercial deals. It now has some 12 large enterprise customers and is “really busy” with new business, said CEO is Eldad Farkash in an interview.

The funding may sound like a large amount for a company that has not really been out in the open, but part of the reason is because of the track record of the founders. Farkash, was one of the founders of SiSense, the successful business intelligence startup, and he has co-founded Firebolt with two others who were on SiSense’s founding team, Saar Bitner as COO and Ariel Yaroshevich as CTO.

At SiSense, these three were coming up against an issue: when you are dealing in terabytes of data, cloud data warehouses were straining to deliver good performance to power its analytics and other tools, and the only way to potentially continue to mitigate that was by piling on more cloud capacity.

Farkash is something of a technical savant and said that he decided to move on and build Firebolt to see if he could tackle this, which he described as a new, difficult, and “meaningful” problem. “The only thing I know how to do is build startups,” he joked.

In his opinion, while data warehousing has been a big breakthrough in how to handle the mass of data that companies now amass and want to use better, it has started to feel like a dated solution.

“Data warehouses are solving yesterday’s problem, which was, ‘How do I migrate to the cloud and deal with scale?’” he said, citing Google’s BigQuery, Amazon’s RedShift and Snowflake as fitting answers for that issue. “We see Firebolt as the new entrant in that space, with a new take on design on technology. We change the discussion from one of scale to one of speed and efficiency.”

The startup claims that its performance is up to 182 times faster than that of other data warehouses. It’s a SQL-based system that works on principles that Farkash said came out of academic research that had yet to be applied anywhere, around how to handle data in a lighter way, using new techniques in compression and how data is parsed. Data lakes in turn can be connected up with a wider data ecosystem, and what it translates to is a much smaller requirement for cloud capacity.

This is not just a problem at SiSense. With enterprise data continuing to grow exponentially, cloud analytics is growing with it, and is estimated by 2025 to be a $65 billion market, Firebolt estimates.

Still, Farkash said the Firebolt concept was initially a challenging sell even to the engineers that it eventually hired to build out the business: it required building completely new warehouses from the ground up to run the platform, five of which exist today and will be augmented with more, on the back of this funding, he said.

And it should be pointed out that its competitors are not exactly sitting still either. Just yesterday, Dataform announced that it had been acquired by Google to help it build out and run better performance at BigQuery.

“Firebolt created a SaaS product that changes the analytics experience over big data sets” Oren Zeev of Zeev Ventures said in a statement. “The pace of innovation in the big data space has lagged the explosion in data growth rendering most data warehousing solutions too slow, too expensive, or too complex to scale. Firebolt takes cloud data warehousing to the next level by offering the world’s most powerful analytical engine. This means companies can now analyze multi Terabyte / Petabyte data sets easily at significantly lower costs and provide a truly interactive user experience to their employees, customers or anyone who needs to access the data.”

Posted Under: Tech News
AWS expands on SageMaker capabilities with end-to-end features for machine learning

Posted by on 8 December, 2020

This post was originally published on this site

Nearly three years after it was first launched, Amazon Web Services’ SageMaker platform has gotten a significant upgrade in the form of new features, making it easier for developers to automate and scale each step of the process to build new automation and machine learning capabilities, the company said.

As machine learning moves into the mainstream, business units across organizations will find applications for automation, and AWS is trying to make the development of those bespoke applications easier for its customers.

“One of the best parts of having such a widely adopted service like SageMaker is that we get lots of customer suggestions which fuel our next set of deliverables,” said AWS vice president of machine learning, Swami Sivasubramanian. “Today, we are announcing a set of tools for Amazon SageMaker that makes it much easier for developers to build end-to-end machine learning pipelines to prepare, build, train, explain, inspect, monitor, debug and run custom machine learning models with greater visibility, explainability and automation at scale.”

Already companies like 3M, ADP, AstraZeneca, Avis, Bayer, Capital One, Cerner, Domino’s Pizza, Fidelity Investments, Lenovo, Lyft, T-Mobile and Thomson Reuters are using SageMaker tools in their own operations, according to AWS.

The company’s new products include Amazon SageMaker Data Wrangler, which the company said was providing a way to normalize data from disparate sources so the data is consistently easy to use. Data Wrangler can also ease the process of grouping disparate data sources into features to highlight certain types of data. The Data Wrangler tool contains more than 300 built-in data transformers that can help customers normalize, transform and combine features without having to write any code.

Amazon also unveiled the Feature Store, which allows customers to create repositories that make it easier to store, update, retrieve and share machine learning features for training and inference.

Another new tool that Amazon Web Services touted was Pipelines, its workflow management and automation toolkit. The Pipelines tech is designed to provide orchestration and automation features not dissimilar from traditional programming. Using pipelines, developers can define each step of an end-to-end machine learning workflow, the company said in a statement. Developers can use the tools to re-run an end-to-end workflow from SageMaker Studio using the same settings to get the same model every time, or they can re-run the workflow with new data to update their models.

To address the longstanding issues with data bias in artificial intelligence and machine learning models, Amazon launched SageMaker Clarify. First announced today, this tool allegedly provides bias detection across the machine learning workflow, so developers can build with an eye toward better transparency on how models were set up. There are open-source tools that can do these tests, Amazon acknowledged, but the tools are manual and require a lot of lifting from developers, according to the company.

Other products designed to simplify the machine learning application development process include SageMaker Debugger, which enables developers to train models faster by monitoring system resource utilization and alerting developers to potential bottlenecks; Distributed Training, which makes it possible to train large, complex, deep learning models faster than current approaches by automatically splitting data across multiple GPUs to accelerate training times; and SageMaker Edge Manager, a machine learning model management tool for edge devices, which allows developers to optimize, secure, monitor and manage models deployed on fleets of edge devices.

Last but not least, Amazon unveiled SageMaker JumpStart, which provides developers with a searchable interface to find algorithms and sample notebooks so they can get started on their machine learning journey. The company said it would give developers new to machine learning the option to select several pre-built machine learning solutions and deploy them into SageMaker environments.

Posted Under: Tech News
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