The single vendor requirement ultimately doomed the DoD’s $10B JEDI cloud contract

Posted by on 7 July, 2021

This post was originally published on this site

When the Pentagon killed the JEDI cloud program yesterday, it was the end of a long and bitter road for a project that never seemed to have a chance. The question is why it didn’t work out in the end, and ultimately I think you can blame the DoD’s stubborn adherence to a single vendor requirement, a condition that never made sense to anyone, even the vendor that ostensibly won the deal.

In March 2018, the Pentagon announced a mega $10 billion, decade-long cloud contract to build the next generation of cloud infrastructure for the Department of Defense. It was dubbed JEDI, which aside from the Star Wars reference, was short for Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure.

The idea was a 10-year contract with a single vendor that started with an initial two-year option. If all was going well, a five-year option would kick in and finally a three-year option would close things out with earnings of $1 billion a year.

While the total value of the contract had it been completed was quite large, a billion a year for companies the size of Amazon, Oracle or Microsoft is not a ton of money in the scheme of things. It was more about the prestige of winning such a high-profile contract and what it would mean for sales bragging rights. After all, if you passed muster with the DoD, you could probably handle just about anyone’s sensitive data, right?

Regardless, the idea of a single-vendor contract went against conventional wisdom that the cloud gives you the option of working with the best-in-class vendors. Microsoft, the eventual winner of the ill-fated deal acknowledged that the single vendor approach was flawed in an interview in April 2018:

Leigh Madden, who heads up Microsoft’s defense effort, says he believes Microsoft can win such a contract, but it isn’t necessarily the best approach for the DoD. “If the DoD goes with a single award path, we are in it to win, but having said that, it’s counter to what we are seeing across the globe where 80% of customers are adopting a multicloud solution,” Madden told TechCrunch.

Perhaps it was doomed from the start because of that. Yet even before the requirements were fully known there were complaints that it would favor Amazon, the market share leader in the cloud infrastructure market. Oracle was particularly vocal, taking its complaints directly to the former president before the RFP was even published. It would later file a complaint with the Government Accountability Office and file a couple of lawsuits alleging that the entire process was unfair and designed to favor Amazon. It lost every time — and of course, Amazon wasn’t ultimately the winner.

While there was a lot of drama along the way, in April 2019 the Pentagon named two finalists, and it was probably not too surprising that they were the two cloud infrastructure market leaders: Microsoft and Amazon. Game on.

The former president interjected himself directly in the process in August that year, when he ordered the Defense Secretary to review the matter over concerns that the process favored Amazon, a complaint which to that point had been refuted several times over by the DoD, the Government Accountability Office and the courts. To further complicate matters, a book by former defense secretary Jim Mattis claimed the president told him to “screw Amazon out of the $10 billion contract.” His goal appeared to be to get back at Bezos, who also owns the Washington Post newspaper.

In spite of all these claims that the process favored Amazon, when the winner was finally announced in October 2019, late on a Friday afternoon no less, the winner was not in fact Amazon. Instead, Microsoft won the deal, or at least it seemed that way. It wouldn’t be long before Amazon would dispute the decision in court.

By the time AWS re:Invent hit a couple of months after the announcement, former AWS CEO Andy Jassy was already pushing the idea that the president had unduly influenced the process.

“I think that we ended up with a situation where there was political interference. When you have a sitting president, who has shared openly his disdain for a company, and the leader of that company, it makes it really difficult for government agencies, including the DoD, to make objective decisions without fear of reprisal,” Jassy said at that time.

Then came the litigation. In November the company indicated it would be challenging the decision to choose Microsoft charging that it was was driven by politics and not technical merit. In January 2020, Amazon filed a request with the court that the project should stop until the legal challenges were settled. In February, a federal judge agreed with Amazon and stopped the project. It would never restart.

In April the DoD completed its own internal investigation of the contract procurement process and found no wrongdoing. As I wrote at the time:

While controversy has dogged the $10-billion, decade-long JEDI contract since its earliest days, a report by the DoD’s inspector general’s office concluded today that, while there were some funky bits and potential conflicts, overall the contract procurement process was fair and legal and the president did not unduly influence the process in spite of public comments.

Last September the DoD completed a review of the selection process and it once again concluded that Microsoft was the winner, but it didn’t really matter as the litigation was still in motion and the project remained stalled.

The legal wrangling continued into this year, and yesterday the Pentagon finally pulled the plug on the project once and for all, saying it was time to move on as times have changed since 2018 when it announced its vision for JEDI.

The DoD finally came to the conclusion that a single-vendor approach wasn’t the best way to go, and not because it could never get the project off the ground, but because it makes more sense from a technology and business perspective to work with multiple vendors and not get locked into any particular one.

“JEDI was developed at a time when the Department’s needs were different and both the CSPs’ (cloud service providers) technology and our cloud conversancy was less mature. In light of new initiatives like JADC2 (the Pentagon’s initiative to build a network of connected sensors) and AI and Data Acceleration (ADA), the evolution of the cloud ecosystem within DoD, and changes in user requirements to leverage multiple cloud environments to execute mission, our landscape has advanced and a new way ahead is warranted to achieve dominance in both traditional and nontraditional warfighting domains,” said John Sherman, acting DoD chief information officer in a statement.

In other words, the DoD would benefit more from adopting a multicloud, multivendor approach like pretty much the rest of the world. That said, the department also indicated it would limit the vendor selection to Microsoft and Amazon.

“The Department intends to seek proposals from a limited number of sources, namely the Microsoft Corporation (Microsoft) and Amazon Web Services (AWS), as available market research indicates that these two vendors are the only Cloud Service Providers (CSPs) capable of meeting the Department’s requirements,” the department said in a statement.

That’s not going to sit well with Google, Oracle or IBM, but the department further indicated it would continue to monitor the market to see if other CSPs had the chops to handle their requirements in the future.

In the end, the single vendor requirement contributed greatly to an overly competitive and politically charged atmosphere that resulted in the project never coming to fruition. Now the DoD has to play technology catch-up, having lost three years to the histrionics of the entire JEDI procurement process and that could be the most lamentable part of this long, sordid technology tale.

Posted Under: Tech News
Opaque raises $9.5M seed to secure sensitive data in the cloud

Posted by on 7 July, 2021

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Opaque, a new startup born out of Berkely’s RISELabs, announced a $9.5 million seed round today to build a solution to access and work with sensitive data in the cloud in a secure way, even with multiple organizations involved. Intel Capital led today’s investment with participation by Race Capital, The House Fund and FactoryHQ.

The company helps customers work with secure data in the cloud while making sure the data they are working on is not being exposed to cloud providers, other research participants or anyone else, says company president Raluca Ada Popa.

“What we do is we use this very exciting hardware mechanism called Enclave, which [operates] deep down in the processor — it’s a physical black box — and only gets decrypted there. […] So even if somebody has administrative privileges in the cloud, they can only see encrypted data,” she explained.

Company co-founder Ion Stoica, who was a co-founder at Databricks, says the startup’s solution helps resolve two conflicting trends. On one hand, businesses increasingly want to make use of data, but at the same time are seeing a growing trend toward privacy. Opaque is designed to resolve this by giving customers access to their data in a safe and fully encrypted way.

The company describes the solution as “a novel combination of two key technologies layered on top of state-of-the-art cloud security—secure hardware enclaves and cryptographic fortification.” This enables customers to work with data — for example to build machine learning models — without exposing the data to others, yet while generating meaningful results.

Popa says this could be helpful for hospitals working together on cancer research, who want to find better treatment options without exposing a given hospital’s patient data to other hospitals, or banks looking for money laundering without exposing customer data to other banks, as a couple of examples.

Investors were likely attracted to the pedigree of Popa, a computer security and applied crypto professor at UC Berkeley and Stoica, who is also a Berkeley professor and co-founded Databricks. Both helped found RISELabs at Berkeley where they developed the solution and spun it out as a company.

Mark Rostick, vice president and senior managing director at lead investor Intel Capital says his firm has been working with the founders since the startup’s earliest days, recognizing the potential of this solution to help companies find complex solutions even when there are multiple organizations involved sharing sensitive data.

“Enterprises struggle to find value in data across silos due to confidentiality and other concerns. Confidential computing unlocks the full potential of data by allowing organizations to extract insights from sensitive data while also seamlessly moving data to the cloud without compromising security or privacy,” Rostick said in a statement

He added, “Opaque bridges the gap between data security and cloud scale and economics, thus enabling inter-organizational and intra-organizational collaboration.”

Posted Under: Tech News
AnyVision, the controversial facial recognition startup, has raised $235M led by SoftBank and Eldridge

Posted by on 7 July, 2021

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Facial recognition has been one of the more conflicted applications of artificial intelligence in the wider world: using computer vision to detect faces and subsequent identities of people has raised numerous questions about privacy, data protection, and the ethics underpinning the purposes of the work, and even the systems themselves. But on the other hand, it’s being adopted widely in a wide variety of use cases. Now one of the more controversial, but also successful, startups in the field has closed a big round of funding.

AnyVision — an Israeli startup that has built AI-based techniques to identify people by their faces, but also related tech such as temperature checks to detect higher temperatures in a crowd — has raised $235 million in funding, the company has confirmed.

This Series C, one of the bigger rounds for an AI startup, is being co-led by SoftBank’s Vision Fund 2 and Eldridge Industries, with previous investors also participating. (They are not named but the list includes Robert Bosch GmbH, Qualcomm Ventures and Lightspeed.) The company is not disclosing its valuation but we are asking. However, it has to be a sizable hike for the company, which had previously raised around $116 million, according to PitchBook, and has racked up a big list of customers since its last round in 2020.

Worth noting, too, that AnyVision’s CEO Avi Golan is a former operating partner at SoftBank’s investment arm.

AnyVision said the funding will be used to continue developing its SDKs, specifically to work in edge computing devices — smart cameras, body cameras, and chips that will be used in other devices — to increase the performance and speed of its systems.

Its systems, meanwhile, are used in video surveillance, watchlist alerts, and scenarios where an organization is looking to monitor crowds and control them, for example to keep track of numbers, to analyse dwell times in retail environments, or to flag illegal or dangerous behavior.

“AnyVision’s innovations in Recognition AI helped transform passive cameras into proactive security systems and empowered organizations take a more holistic view to advanced security threats,” Golan said in a statement in the investment announcement. “The Access Point AI platform is designed to protect people, places, and privacy while simultaneously reducing costs, power, bandwidth, and operational complexity.”

You may recognize the name AnyVision because of how much it has been in the press.

The startup was the subject of a report in 2019 that alleged that its technology was being quietly used by the Israeli government to run surveillance on Palestinians in the West Bank.

The company denied it, but the story quickly turned into a huge stain on its reputation, while also adding more scrutiny overall to the field of facial recognition.

That led to Microsoft, which had invested in AnyVision via its M12 venture arm, to run a full audit of the investment and its position on facial recognition investments overall. Ultimately, Microsoft divested its stake and pledged not to invest in further technology like it.

Since then, AnyVision has been working hard to spin itself as the “ethical” player in this space, acknowledging that there is a lot of work and shortcomings in the bigger market of facial recognition. But controversy has continued to court the company.

A report from Reuters in April of this year highlighted just how many companies were using AnyVision’s technology today, ranging from hospitals like Cedars Sinai in Los Angeles to major retailers like Macy’s and energy giant BP. AnyVision’s connections to power go beyond simply having big customers: it also turns out that the White House Press Secretary, Jen Psaki, once served as a communications consultant to the startup.

Then, a report published just yesterday in The Markup, combed through various public records for AnyVision, including a user guidebook from 2019, which also painted a pretty damning picture of just how much information the company can collect, and what it has been working on. (One pilot, and subsequent report resulting from it, involved tracking children in a school district in Texas: AnyVision collected 5,000 student photos and ran more than 164,000 detections in just seven days.)

There are other cases where you might imagine, however, that AnyVision’s technology might be deemed helpful or useful, maybe even welcomed. Its ability to detect temperatures, for example, and identify who may have been in contact with high-temperature people, could go a long way towards controlling less obvious cases of Covid-19, for example, helping contain the virus at mass events, providing a safeguard to enable those events to go ahead.

And to be completely clear, AnyVision is not the only company building and deploying this technology, nor the only one coming under scrutiny. Another, the U.S. company Clearview AI, is used by thousands of governments and law enforcement agencies, but earlier this year it was deemed “illegal” by Canadian privacy authorities.

Indeed, it seems that the story is not complete, either in terms of how these technologies will develop, how they will be used, and how the public comes to view them. For now, the traction AnyVision has had, even despite the controversy and ethical questions, seems to have swayed SoftBank.

“The visual recognition market is nascent but has large potential in the Western world,” said Anthony Doeh, a partner for SoftBank Investment Advisers, in a statement. “We have witnessed the transformative power of AI, biometrics and edge computing in other categories, and believe AnyVision is uniquely placed to redefine physical environment analytics across numerous industries.”

Posted Under: Tech News
Sarah Guo, Kobie Fuller & Casey Aylward headline investor panel at TC Sessions: SaaS

Posted by on 6 July, 2021

This post was originally published on this site

While SaaS has become the default way to deliver software in 2021, it still takes a keen eye to find the companies that will grow into successful businesses, maybe even more so with so much competition. That’s why we’re bringing together three investors to discuss what they look for when they invest in SaaS startups.

For starters, we’ll have Sarah Guo, who has been a partner at Greylock since 2013 where she concentrates on AI, cybersecurity, infrastructure and the future of work — all in a SaaS context of course. Among her investments are Obsidian, Clubhouse and Awake. Her exits include Demisto, which Palo Alto acquired for $560 million in 2019 and Skyhigh Networks, which McAfee bought for $400 million in 2018.

Prior to joining Greylock, she worked for Goldman Sachs investing in growth-stage companies and advising SaaS companies like Dropbox and Workday.

Next we’ll have Kobie Fuller, a partner at Upfront Ventures, who looks at SaaS as well as AR and VR. Fuller has been at Upfront since 2016 when he joined after a three-year stint at Accel. He oversaw a pair of billion dollar exits while at Accel including ExactTarget to Salesforce for $2.5 billion and Oculus to Facebook for $2 billion. Upfront investments include Bevy, community building software, which recently got a $40 million investment with 20% of that coming from 25 Black investors.

Finally, we’ll have Casey Aylward, a principal at Costanoa Ventures where she concentrates on early-stage enterprise startups. Among her investments have been Aserto, Bigeye and Cyral. She tends to concentrate on developer tools. “My entire career so far has been focused on developers: whether it was building tools for developers, building software myself or now investing in enabling technologies for the next generation of technical users,” she wrote on her bio page.

This prestigious group will share their thoughts at TC Sessions: SaaS, a one-day virtual event that will examine the state of SaaS to help startup founders, developers and investors understand the state of play and what’s next. We hope you’ll join us.

The single-day event will take place 100% virtually on October 27 and will feature actionable advice, Q&A with some of SaaS’s biggest names and plenty of networking opportunities. Importantly, $75 Early Bird passes are now on sale. Book your passes today to save $100 before prices go up.

Posted Under: Tech News
Nobody wins as DoD finally pulls the plug on controversial $10B JEDI contract

Posted by on 6 July, 2021

This post was originally published on this site

After several years of fighting and jockeying for position by the biggest cloud infrastructure companies in the world, the Pentagon finally pulled the plug on the controversial winner-take-all $10 billion JEDI contract today. In the end, nobody won.

“With the shifting technology environment, it has become clear that the JEDI cloud contract, which has long been delayed, no longer meets the requirements to fill the DoD’s capability gaps,” a Pentagon spokesperson stated.

The contract procurement process began in 2018 with a call for RFPs for a $10 billion, decade long contract to handle the cloud infrastructure strategy for The Pentagon. Pentagon spokesperson Heather Babb told TechCrunch why they were going with the. single-winner approach: “Single award is advantageous because, among other things, it improves security, improves data accessibility and simplifies the Department’s ability to adopt and use cloud services,” she said at the time.

From the start though, companies objected to the single winner approach, believing that the Pentagon would be better served with a multi-vendor approach. Some companies, particularly Oracle believed the procurement process was designed to favor Amazon.

In the end it came down to a pair of finalists — Amazon and Microsoft — and in the end Microsoft won. But Amazon believed that it had superior technology and only lost the deal because of direct interference by the previous president, who had open disdain for then CEO Jeff Bezos (who is also the owner of the Washington Post newspaper).

Amazon decided to fight the decision in court, and after months of delay, the Pentagon made the decision that it was time to move on. In a blog post, Microsoft took a swipe at Amazon for precipitating the delay.

“The 20 months since DoD selected Microsoft as its JEDI partner highlights issues that warrant the attention of policymakers: when one company can delay, for years, critical technology upgrades for those who defend our nation, the protest process needs reform. Amazon filed its protest in November 2019 and its case was expected to take at least another year to litigate and yield a decision, with potential appeals afterward,” Microsoft wrote in its blog post about the end of the deal.

It seems like a fitting end to a project that felt like it was doomed from the beginning. From the moment the Pentagon announced this contract with the cutesy twist on Star Wars name, the procurement process has taken more twist and turns than a TV soap.

In the end, there was a lot of sound and fury and now a lot of nothing. We move onto whatever cloud procurement process happens next.

Note: We have a request into Amazon for a comment and will update the story when they respond.

Posted Under: Tech News
Box takes fight with activist investor public in SEC filing

Posted by on 6 July, 2021

This post was originally published on this site

The war between Box’s current leadership and activist shareholder Starboard took a new turn today with a detailed timeline outlining the two groups’ relationship, thanks to an SEC filing and companion press release. Box is pushing back against a slate of board candidates put forth by Starboard, which wants to shake up the company’s leadership and sell it.

The SEC filing details a lengthy series of phone calls, meetings and other communications between the technology company and Starboard, which has held a stake in Box greater than 5% since September of 2019. Since then shares of Box have risen by around $10 per share.

Today’s news is multi-faceted, but we’ve learned more concerning Starboard’s demands that Box sell itself; how strongly the investor wanted co-founder and CEO Aaron Levie to be fired; and that the company’s complaints about a KKR-led investment into Box that it used to repurchase its shares did not match its behavior, in that Starboard asked to participate in the transaction despite its public statements.

Activist investors, a bit like short-sellers, are either groups that you generally like or do not. In this case, however, we can learn quite a lot from the Box filing. Including the sheer amount of time and communication that it takes to manage such an investor from the perspective of one of its public-market investments.

What follows are key excerpts from Box’s SEC filing on the matter, starting with its early stake and early agreement with Starboard:

  • On September 3, 2019, representatives of Starboard contacted Mr. Levie to inform Mr. Levie that Starboard would be filing a
  • Schedule 13D with the SEC reporting a 7.5% ownership stake in the company.
  • On March 9, 2020, Mr. O’Driscoll and Ms. Barsamian had a call with representatives of Starboard to discuss entering into a settlement agreement with Starboard.
  • On March 22, 2020, the company and Starboard entered into an agreement[.]
    Also on March 23, 2020, Starboard reported beneficial ownership of 7.7% of the outstanding Class A common stock.

Then Box reported earnings, which Starboard appeared to praise:

  • On May 27, 2020, the company reported its fiscal first quarter results, noting a 13% increase in year-over-year revenue, a 900 basis point increase in year-over-year GAAP operating margin and a $36.4 million increase in year-over-year cash flow from operations. Peter Feld, a representative of Starboard, and Mr. Levie had an email conversation related to the company’s first quarter results in which Mr. Feld stated “you guys are on a good path…congrats to the team and keep it up.”
  • Also on May 29, 2020, Starboard reported that it had decreased its beneficial ownership to 6.0% of the outstanding Class A common stock.

The same pattern repeated during Box’s next earnings report:

  • On August 27, 2020, Mr. Levie, Mr. Smith and company IR discussed the company’s earnings release with Starboard. Starboard indicated it was pleased with the rate of margin expansion and where the company was heading. In an email exchange between Mr. Feld and Mr. Levie related to the company’s results, Mr. Feld stated that he was “thrilled to see the company breaking out and performing better both on the top and bottom line. Appreciate you guys working with us and accepting the counsel. Not everyone behaves that way and it is greatly appreciated. Shows your comfort as a leader and a willingness to adapt. Very impressive.”

Then Box reported its next quarter’s results, which was followed by a change in message from Starboard (emphasis TechCrunch):

  • On December 1, 2020, the company announced its fiscal third quarter results, noting an 11% increase in year-over-year revenue, an improvement of 2100 basis points in year-over-year GAAP operating margin and a $36 million increase in year-over-year cash flow from operations. The company also provided guidance regarding its fiscal fourth quarter results, noting that its revised revenue guidance was due to “lower professional services bookings than we noted previously, which creates a roughly $2 million headwind” and that the company was being “prudent in our growth expectations given the macroeconomic challenges that our customers are facing.” The revised guidance for revenue was 1.1% below analysts’ consensus estimates of $198.8 million.
  • On December 2, 2020, Box’s common stock declined approximately 9% from its prior close of $18.54 to $16.91. On December 2, 2020 and December 4, 2020, Mr. Levie, Mr. Smith and Box IR discussed the company’s earnings release with representatives of Starboard. Despite the prior support Mr. Feld communicated to the company, Starboard reversed course and demanded that the company explore a sale of the entire company or fire the company’s CEO, or otherwise face a proxy contest from Starboard. Mr. Feld further stated that the company should not turn down an offer from a third party to buy the entire company “in the low twenties” and that Starboard would be a seller at such a price.

Recall that Box shares are now in the mid-$26s. At the time, however, Box shares lost value (emphasis: TechCrunch)

  • On December 16, 2020, two weeks after earnings, the company’s stock price closed at $18.85, which was above where it was trading immediately prior to the announcement of the company’s fiscal third quarter results on December 1, 2020.
  • On January 11, 2021, Starboard disclosed that it had increased its beneficial ownership to 7.9% of the outstanding Class A common stock.
  • On January 15, 2021, Mr. Lazar and Ms. Barsamian had a call with representatives from Starboard. Mr. Feld expressed his view that, while the company’s Convertible Senior Notes were executed on favorable terms, he was not supportive of the transaction. He reiterated his demand that the company sell itself and indicated that if the company did not do so then it must replace its CEO or otherwise face a proxy contest from Starboard to replace the CEO.

Over the next few months, Box bought SignRequest, reported earnings, and engaged external parties to try to help it bolster shareholder value. Then the KKR deal came onto the table:

  • On March 31, 2021, the Strategy Committee met to discuss the status of the strategic review. At such time, the Strategy Committee was in receipt of a proposal from KKR pursuant to which KKR and certain partners would make an investment in the form of convertible preferred stock at an initial yield of 3%, which had been negotiated down from KKR’s proposal of 7% yield in its preliminary indication of interest in early March.

The deal was unanimously approved by Box’s board, and announced on April 8th, 2021. Starboard was not stoked about the transaction, however:

  • Later on April 8, 2021, Ms. Mayer and Mr. Lazar had a call with representatives of Starboard. Mr. Feld expressed Starboard’s strong displeasure with the results of the strategic review. During the conversation, Mr. Feld indicated that he would stop the fight immediately if Mr. Levie were replaced.
  • On April 14, 2021, Ms. Mayer, Mr. Lazar and Ms. Barsamian had a call with Mr. Feld. Despite his prior statements, Mr. Feld now indicated that Starboard was not willing to sell its shares of Class A common stock at $21 or $22 per share. Mr. Feld requested that the company release KKR from its obligation to vote in favor of the company as a gesture of good faith. Mr. Feld reiterated Starboard’s desire to replace Mr. Levie as CEO and indicated that he would like to join the Board of Directors if the company did so. Ms. Mayer offered Mr. Feld the opportunity to execute a non-disclosure agreement to receive more information about the strategic review process, which Mr. Feld immediately declined.

Box was like, all right, but Feld doesn’t get to be on the board:

  • On April 20, 2021, Ms. Mayer and Mr. Lazar had a call with representatives of Starboard. Mr. Feld stated that Starboard would not move forward with its planned director nominations if Starboard were offered the opportunity to participate in the KKR-Led Transaction and Mr. Feld were appointed to the Board of Directors. Mr. Feld reiterated that he was not willing to sign a non-disclosure agreement.
  • On April 27, 2021, Mr. Park had a discussion with Mr. Feld. During this conversation, Mr. Feld reiterated his desire for Starboard to participate as an investor in the KKR-Led Transaction.
  • On April 28, 2021, Ms. Mayer and Mr. Lazar informed Mr. Feld that the Board of Directors was amenable to allowing Starboard to participate in the KKR-Led Transaction but would not appoint Mr. Feld as a director. Mr. Feld indicated that there is no path to a settlement that doesn’t include appointing him to the Board of Directors.

And then Starboard initiated a proxy war.

What to make of all of this? That trying to shake up a company from the position of a minority stake is not impossible, with Starboard able to exercise influence on Box despite having a sub-10% ownership position. And that Box was not willing to put a person on the board that wanted to fire its CEO.

What’s slightly silly about all of this is that the fight is coming at a time when Box is doing better than it has in some time. Its profitability has improved greatly, and in its most recent quarter the company topped expectations and raised its forward financial guidance.

There were times in Box’s history when it may have deserved a whacking for poor performance, but now? It’s slightly weird. Also recall that Starboard has already made quite a lot of money on its Box stake, with the company’s value appreciating sharply since the investor bought in.

Most media coverage is surrounding the public criticism by Starboard of the KKR deal and its private demand to be let into the deal. That dynamic is easily explained: Starboard thought that the deal wouldn’t make it money, but later decided that it could. So it changed its tune; if you are expecting an investor to do anything but try to maximize returns, you are setting yourself up for disappointment.

A person close to the company told TechCrunch that the current situation should be a win-win for everyone involved, but Starboard is not seeing it that way. “If you’re a near term shareholder, [like Starboard] then the path Box has taken has already been better. And if you’re a long term shareholder, Box sees significantly more upside. […] So overwhelmingly, the company believes this is the best path for shareholders and it’s already been proven out to be that,” the person said.

Alan Pelz-Sharpe, founder and principal analyst at the Deep Analysis, who has been watching the content management space for many years, says the battle isn’t much of a surprise given that the two have been at odds pretty much from the start of the relationship.

“Like any activist investor Starboard is interested in a quick increase in shareholder values and a flip. Box is in it for the long run. Further, it seems that Starboard may have mistimed or miscalculated their moves, Box clearly was not as weak as they appeared to believe and Box has been doing well over the past year. Bringing in KKR was the start of a big fight back, and the proposed changes couldn’t make it any clearer that they are fed up with Starboard and ready to fight back hard,” Pelz-Sharpe said.

He added that publicly revealing details of the two companies’ interactions is a bit unusual, but he thinks it was appropriate here.

“Actually naming and shaming, detailing Starboard’s moves and seemingly contradictory statements, is unusual but it may be effective. Starboard won’t back down without a fight, but from an investor relations/PR perspective this looks bad for them and it may well be time to walk away. That being said, I wouldn’t bet on Starboard walking away, as Silicon Valley has a habit of moving forward when they should be walking back from increasingly damaging situations”

What comes next is a vote on Box’s board makeup, which should happen later this summer. Let’s see who wins.

It’s worth noting that we attempted to contact Starboard Value, but as of publication they had not gotten back to us. Box indicated that the press release and SEC filing speak for themselves.

 

 

Posted Under: Tech News
Pleo raises $150M at a $1.7B valuation for its new approach to managing expenses for SMBs

Posted by on 6 July, 2021

This post was originally published on this site

Whether you are part of the accounting department, or just any employee at an organization, managing expenses can be a time-consuming and error-filled, yet also quite mundane, part of your job. Today, a startup called Pleo — which has built a platform that can help some of that work more smoothly, by way of a vertically integrated system that includes payment cards, expense management software, and integrated reimbursement and pay-out services — is announcing a big round of growth funding to expand its business after seeing strong traction.

The Copenhagen-based startup has raised $150 million — money that it will be using to continue building out more features for its users, and for business development. The round, which sets a record for being the largest Series C for a Danish startup, values Pleo at $1.7 billion, the startup has confirmed.

There are around 17,000 small and medium businesses now using Pleo, with companies at the medium end of that numbering around 1,000 employees. Now with Pleo moving into slightly larger customers (up to 5,000 employees, CEO Jeppe Rindom, said), the startup has set an ambitious target of reaching 1 million users by 2025, a very lucrative goal, considering that expenses management is estimated to be a $80 billion market in Europe (with the global opportunity, of course, even bigger).

It will also be using the funds simply to expand its business. Pleo has around 330 employees today spread across London, Stockholm, Berlin and Madrid, as well as in Copenhagen, and it will be using some of the investment to grow that team and its reach.

Bain Capital Ventures and Thrive Capital co-led this round, a Series C. Previous backers, including Creandum, Kinnevik, Founders, Stripes and Seedcamp, also participated. Stripes led the startup’s Series B in 2019. It looks like this round was oversubscribed: the original intention had been to raise just $100 million.

Like other business processes, managing expenses and handling company spending has come a long way in the last many years.

Gone are the days where expenses inevitably involved collecting paper receipts and inputting them manually into a system in order to be reimbursed; now, expense management software links up with company-issued cards and taps into a range of automation tools to cut out some of the steps in the process, integrating with a company’s internal accounting policies to shuffle the process along a little less painfully. And there are a number of companies in this space, from older players like SAP’s Concur through to startups on the cusp of going public like Expensify as well as younger entrants bringing new technology into the process.

But, there is still lots more room for improvement. Rindom, Pleo’s CEO who co-founded the company with CTO Niccolo Perra, said the pair came up with the idea for Pleo on the back of years of working in fintech — both were early employees at the B2B supply chain startup Tradeshift — and seeing first-hand how short-changed, so to speak, small and medium businesses in particular were when it came to tools to handle their expenses.

Pleo’s approach has been to build, from the ground up, a system for those smaller businesses that integrate all the different stages of how an employee might spend money on behalf of the company.

Pleo starts with physical and virtual payment cards (which can be used in, for example, Apple Wallet) that are issued by Pleo (in partnership with MasterCard) to buy goods and services, which in turn are automatically itemized according to a company’s internal accounting systems, with the ability to work with e-receipts, but also let people use their phones to snap pictures of receipts when they are only on paper, if required. This is pretty much table stakes for expense software these days, but Pleo’s platform is going a couple of steps beyond that.

Users (or employers) can integrate a users’ own banking details to make it easier to get reimbursed when they have had to pay for something out of their own pocket; or conversely to pay for something that shouldn’t have been charged on the card. And if there are invoices to be paid at a later date from the time of purchase, these too can be actioned and set up within Pleo rather than having to liaise separately with an accounts payable department to get those settled. Higher priced tiers (beyond the basic service for up to five users) also lets a company set spending limits for individual users. Pricing is based on number of users, per month.

Pleo also has built fraud protection services into the platform to detect, for example, cases when a card number might have been compromised and is being used for non-work purposes.

What’s notable is that the startup has built all of the tech that it uses, including the payments feature, from the ground up, to have full control over the features and specifically to be able to add more of them more flexibly over time.

“In the beginning we ran with a partner in services like payments, but it didn’t allow us to move fast enough,” Rindom said in an interview. “So we decided to take all of that in-house.”

It seems like this opens the door to a lot of possibilities for how Pleo might evolve in the years ahead now that it’s focused on hyper-growth. However, Rindom added that whatever the next steps might be, they will remain focused on continuing to solve the expenses problem.

“When it comes to our infrastructure we use it only for ourselves,” he said. “We have no plans of selling [for example, payments] as a service, even if we do have a lot of other ideas for broadening our offerings.” Indeed, the ability to pay invoices was launched only in April of this year. “We come up with things all the time, but will launch only those relevant to customers.” For now, at least.

That focus and perhaps even more than that the execution and customer traction are what have brought investors around to backing a fintech out of Copenhagen.

“The future of work empowers employees with the tools they need to be effective, productive, and successful,” said Keri Gohman, a partner at Bain Capital Ventures, in a statement. “Pleo understands this critical shift for modern companies toward employee centricity—providing workers with a fun-to-use spend management app that automatically tracks their corporate spending and generates expense reports, paired with the powerful tools businesses need to create full visibility and management of every penny spent.”

Bain has been a pretty active investor in European fintech, also backing GoCardless in its recent round. “BCV invests in founders who aren’t afraid to tackle big problems, and Jeppe and Nicco saw a big challenge that employers faced—tracking all corporate spending and reconciling expenses back to the general ledger—and solved it with elegant technology that both employers and employees love,” added Merritt Hummer, a partner at Bain Capital Ventures.

Thrive is also a notable backer here, and it will be interesting to see how and if Pleo links up with others in the VC’s portfolio, which include companies like Plaid, Gong and Trade Republic.

“Pleo has already transformed the way that over 17,000 companies think about managing their expenses, saving them time and lowering costs while increasing transparency,” noted Kareem Zaki, a general partner at Thrive Capital, in a statement. “We are excited to partner closely with the Pleo team to help drive their next phase of growth.”

Posted Under: Tech News
Jim Whitehurst steps down as president at IBM just 14 months after taking role

Posted by on 2 July, 2021

This post was originally published on this site

In a surprise announcement today, IBM announced that Jim Whitehurst, who came over in the Red deal, would be stepping down as company president just 14 months after taking over in that role.

IBM didn’t give a lot of details as to why he was stepping away, but acknowledged his key role in helping bring the 2018 $34 billion Red Hat deal to fruition and helping bring the two companies together after the deal closed. “Jim has been instrumental in articulating IBM’s strategy, but also, in ensuring that IBM and Red Hat work well together and that our technology platforms and innovations provide more value to our clients,” the company stated.

He will stay on as a senior advisor to Krishna, but it begs the question why he is leaving after such a short time in the role, and what he plans to do next. Oftentimes after a deal of this magnitude closes, there is an agreement as to how long key executives will stay. It could be simply that the period has expired and Whitehurst wants to move on, but some saw him as the heir apparent to Krishna and the move comes as a surprise when looked at in that context.

“I am surprised because I always thought Jim would be next in line as IBM CEO. I also liked the pairing between a lifer IBMer and an outsider,” Patrick Moorhead, founder and principal analyst at Moor Insight & Strategies told TechCrunch.

Regardless, it leaves a big hole in Krishna’s leadership team as he works to transform the company into one that is primarily focused on hybrid cloud.  Whitehurst was undoubtedly in a position to help drive that change through his depth of industry knowledge and his credibility with the open source community from his time at Red Hat. He is not someone who would be easily replaced and the announcement didn’t mention anyone filling his role.

When IBM bought Red Hat in 2018 for $34 billion, it led to a cascading set of changes at both companies. First Ginni Rometty stepped down as CEO at IBM and Arvind Krishna took over. At the same time, Jim Whitehurst, who had been Red Hat CEO moved to IBM as president and long-time employee Paul Cormier moved into his role.

At the same time, the company also announced some other changes including that long-time IBM executive Bridget van Kralingen announced she too was stepping away, leaving her role as senior vice president of global markets. Rob Thomas, who had been senior vice president of IBM cloud and data platform, will step in to replace Van Kraligen.

Posted Under: Tech News
To guard against data loss and misuse, the cybersecurity conversation must evolve

Posted by on 1 July, 2021

This post was originally published on this site

Data breaches have become a part of life. They impact hospitals, universities, government agencies, charitable organizations and commercial enterprises. In healthcare alone, 2020 saw 640 breaches, exposing 30 million personal records, a 25% increase over 2019 that equates to roughly two breaches per day, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. On a global basis, 2.3 billion records were breached in February 2021.

It’s painfully clear that existing data loss prevention (DLP) tools are struggling to deal with the data sprawl, ubiquitous cloud services, device diversity and human behaviors that constitute our virtual world.

Conventional DLP solutions are built on a castle-and-moat framework in which data centers and cloud platforms are the castles holding sensitive data. They’re surrounded by networks, endpoint devices and human beings that serve as moats, defining the defensive security perimeters of every organization. Conventional solutions assign sensitivity ratings to individual data assets and monitor these perimeters to detect the unauthorized movement of sensitive data.

It’s painfully clear that existing data loss prevention (DLP) tools are struggling to deal with the data sprawl, ubiquitous cloud services, device diversity and human behaviors that constitute our virtual world.

Unfortunately, these historical security boundaries are becoming increasingly ambiguous and somewhat irrelevant as bots, APIs and collaboration tools become the primary conduits for sharing and exchanging data.

In reality, data loss is only half the problem confronting a modern enterprise. Corporations are routinely exposed to financial, legal and ethical risks associated with the mishandling or misuse of sensitive information within the corporation itself. The risks associated with the misuse of personally identifiable information have been widely publicized.

However, risks of similar or greater severity can result from the mishandling of intellectual property, material nonpublic information, or any type of data that was obtained through a formal agreement that placed explicit restrictions on its use.

Conventional DLP frameworks are incapable of addressing these challenges. We believe they need to be replaced by a new data misuse protection (DMP) framework that safeguards data from unauthorized or inappropriate use within a corporate environment in addition to its outright theft or inadvertent loss. DMP solutions will provide data assets with more sophisticated self-defense mechanisms instead of relying on the surveillance of traditional security perimeters.

Posted Under: Tech News
After bootstrapping since 2002, Articulate raises $1.5B on $3.75B valuation

Posted by on 1 July, 2021

This post was originally published on this site

Most companies don’t announce their first venture investment after almost 20 years in the business, nor do they announce that round is the equivalent of a good startup’s entire private fundraising history. But Articulate, a SaaS training and development platform, is not your typical company and today it announced a whopping $1.5 billion investment on a $3.75 billion valuation.

You can call it Series A if you must label it, but whatever it is, it’s a hefty investment by any measure. General Atlantic led the round with participation from Blackstone Growth and Iconiq Growth. GA claims it’s one of the largest A rounds ever, and I’m willing to bet it’s right.

CEO Adam Schwartz founded the company with his life savings in 2002 and hasn’t taken a dime of outside investment since. “Our software enables organizations to develop, deliver, and analyze online training that is engaging and [interesting] for enterprises and SMBs,” Schwartz explained.

He says that the company started back in 2002 as a plug-in for PowerPoint. Today it is a software service with the goal of helping enable everyone to deliver training, even if they aren’t a training professional. Articulate actually has two main products, one is a set of tools for companies building training that connects to an enterprise learning management system or LMS. The other is aimed at SMBs or departments in an enterprise.

Its approach seems to be working with the company reporting it has 106,000 customers across 161 countries including every single one of the Fortune 100. Schwartz was loath to share any additional metrics, but did say they hope to use this money to grow 10x over the next several years.

Company president Lucy Suros, who has been with the organization for a decade, says even with this success, they see plenty of opportunity for growth and they felt taking this capital now would really enable them to accelerate.

“We are the most dominant player by far in course offering apps, but when you look at that whole ecosystem and you think about where companies are in transforming from instructor-led training to online training, they’re still really in the early innings so there’s a lot of opportunity,” she said.

Anton Levy, co-president and managing director at General Atlantic, who is leading the investment for the firm, says that this is a “big, bold, incredible business” and that’s why they’re making an investment of this size and scope. “The reason we’re stepping up in such a large way, and what’s such a large check for us, is because of the business they’ve built, the team they’ve built, and frankly the market opportunity that they’re playing in and their ambition,” he said.

Today the company has 300 employees and they have been working as a remote company long before COVID. With the new capital, that number could triple over the next several years. Suros says that when she started at the company, there were 50 employees, mostly male engineers and she went to work to make it a more diverse work environment.

“We’ve put emphasis and a lot of just structural things in place to ensure that we are bringing more [diverse] people to the table, and then supporting folks once they’re here,” she said. With the new capital, the company announced a lot of new benefits and she said those were developed with the idea of helping break down barriers for under-represented groups in their ranks including covering gender transition-related costs.

She says that one of the benefits of becoming more visible as a company is being able to talk about and their human-centered organization framework, the set of principles the company put in place to define its values. “[We think about] how that can impact the employees and drive human flourishing for its own sake, and that also happens to lead to better business outcomes. But we’re really also interested in it from [the standpoint that] we want to be good and do good in the world and promote human flourishing at work,” she said.

The company seems to have been doing just fine up until now, but with this kind of capital, it aims to take the business to another level, while trying to be good corporate citizens as they do that.

Posted Under: Tech News
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