Wickr teams up with Psiphon to ensure your packets arrive safely no matter where you are

Posted by on 23 August, 2018

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Encrypted collaboration app Wickr has added a feather to its cap with a partnership with Psiphon, provider of smart VPN tools. Wickr will use Psiphon’s tech to guarantee your packets get where they need to go regardless of whether you’re at home, at a cafe with bad wi-fi, or at a cafe with bad wi-fi in China.

The idea is that the user shouldn’t have to be auditing their own connection to be sure their apps will work properly. That can be a matter of safety, such as a poorly secured access point; connectivity, such as one where certain ports or apps are inoperable; or censorship, like requesting data from a service banned in the country you’re visiting.

Wickr already encrypts all your traffic, so there are no worries on that account, but if the connection you’re using were to block video calls or certain traffic patterns, there’s not much the company can do about that.

Psiphon, however, is in the business of circumventing deliberate or accidental blockages with a suite of tools that analyze the network and attempt to find a way to patch you through. Whether that’s anonymizing your traffic, bouncing it off non-blocked servers, doing automatic port forwarding, or some other method, the idea is the packets get through one way or another.

There’s a cost in latency and throughput, of course, but while that may matter for online gaming or video streaming, it’s far less important for something like uploading an image, chatting with colleagues, and the other functions that Wickr provides. At all events you can turn the feature on or off at will.

There will be a monetary cost too, of course, in the form of premiums added to paid plans. Enterprise customers will be the first to receive the Psiphon-powered traffic handling, today in fact, and the feature will then trickle its way down to other paid users and free users over the next few weeks.

Posted Under: Tech News
Slack must use cash hoard to find new ways to keep competition at bay

Posted by on 22 August, 2018

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It was quite a week for Slack, wasn’t it? The enterprise communications platform confirmed this publication’s earlier report that it had scored another $427 million investment on an over-the-moon valuation of over $7 billion. Slack took a market that had once been in the doldrums and turned it into something significant by making itself more than a communications tool.

It changed the game by making itself a work hub. Through APIs and UI updates, it has made it simple for countless third parties (like Evernote) to integrate with Slack and provide the long-sought workplace hub for the enterprise. Instead of task switching, you can work mostly in one place and keep your focus on your work.

It’s quite a value proposition and it has enabled Slack to raise $1.2 billion (with a b) across 11 funding rounds, according to data on Crunchbase. They have grown to 8 million daily active users. They boast 70,000 teams paying to use it. Whatever they are doing, it’s working.

Competing with corporate behemoths

That said, Slack’s success has always been a bit surprising because it’s facing off against giants like Microsoft, Facebook, Google, Cisco, Salesforce and many others, all gunning for this upstart’s market. In fact, Microsoft is giving Teams away for free to Office 365 customers. You could say it’s hard to compete with free, yet Slack continues to hold its own (and also offers a free version, for the record).

Perhaps that’s because it doesn’t require customers to use any particular toolset. Microsoft Teams is great for Microsoft users. Google Hangouts is great for G Suite users. You’re already signed in and it’s all included in the package, and there is a huge convenience factor there, but Slack works on anything and with anything and companies have shown there is great value in that.

The question is can Slack continue to play David to these corporate behemoths or will patience, bushels of cash on hand and a long view allow these traditional tech companies to eventually catch up and pass the plucky newbie. Nobody can see into the future, but obviously investors recognize it takes a lot of capital to keep up with what the competition is bringing to the table.

Expanding their reach

They also clearly have some confidence in the company’s ability to keep growing and keep the titans at bay or they wouldn’t have thrown all of that moolah at them. Up until now, they seem to have always found a way, but they need to step up if they are going to keep it going.

Alan Lepofsky, an analyst with Constellation Research, who keeps a careful eye on the enterprise collaboration market, says in a recent video commentary that it’s great they got all this money, but now that someone has shown them all of this dough, they have to prove they know what to do with it.

“For Slack to continue to be successful, they need to expand beyond what they are currently doing and really, truly redefine the way people communicate, collaborate, coordinate around their work. They need to branch out to project management, task management, content creation — all sorts of things more than just collaboration.”

What comes next?

Lepofsky says this could happen via a build or buy scenario, or even partnering, but they need to use their money strategically to differentiate the product from the hefty competition and stay ahead in this market.

The other elephant in the room is the idea that one of the competing mega corporations could make a run at them and try to acquire them. It would take a boat load of money to make that happen, but if someone had the cojones to do it, they would be getting the state of the art, the market share, the engineering, the whole package.

For now, that’s pure speculation. For now, Slack is sitting comfortably on a huge cash pile, and perhaps they should go shopping and expand their product set with their newly found wealth, as Lepofsky suggests. If they can do that, maybe they can keep the technology wolves from the door and make their way down the path to their seemingly inevitable IPO.

Posted Under: Tech News
Evernote refines integrations with Slack and Salesforce

Posted by on 22 August, 2018

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When you’re working in a key business tool like Slack or Salesforce, you don’t want to switch focus by opening up another application to pull additional information. Evernote Business has let you access Evernote content from these applications for some time, and today it announced some refinements to enhance those integrations.

The Slack integration had worked with the old slash commands to display Evernote content directly within Slack, but Slack has changed that to allow you to access applications like Evernote in a more visual way, says Eric Wrobel, chief product officer at Evernote.

“Earlier this year, Slack announced something called Slack Actions. It allows you to surface an application in a more visual way, so discoverability and ease of use is better to reduce friction,” he said.

Evernote embedded inside Slack. Screenshot: Evernote

Evernote has take advantage of this new capability in this release to get away from the command interface style that Slack had previously used and make it easier for their core knowledge workers to access Evernote content inside of Slack.

Users can take an Evernote note in Slack, which will then show up in Evernote automatically in a “Notes from Slack” folder. From there, users can edit the notes and move them to other folders (or tag them) to further organize them in any way they see fit. Similarly you can save a conversation you’re having in Slack to Evernote as a note and move it or edit from Evernote later on.

The Salesforce Connection

While Salesforce deals with structured systems of record, Evernote works with unstructured content and bringing the two together can be useful and powerful for users. Typically, a team member interacting with the customer on the phone or in the field, will take notes in Evernote, and they want to share that information with other members of the team in the Salesforce record, Wrobel explained.

The user who took the note can link one or more notes inside Salesforce, so they essentially become part of the customer record. The newer version improves the technical connections between the two cloud applications including the ability to “pin” a note to a record. What’s more, once a note is linked there is two-way sync, which means regardless of whether you change that note in Salesforce or Evernote, it will update in both places (because the integration is a live version of Evernote).

Evernote notes embedded in Salesforce record. Screenshot: Evernote

Evernote also surfaces related content automatically at the bottom of the customer record to help users find other Evernote subject matter connected to the record. While you can’t link a note to Salesforce directly from Evernote yet, that is a requested feature and Wrobel said they are working on it for a future release.

These updates are available today for Slack and Salesforce customers using Evernote Business.

Posted Under: Tech News
Talla builds a smarter customer knowledge base

Posted by on 21 August, 2018

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Talla is taking aim at the customer service industry with its latest release, an AI-infused knowledge base. Today, the company released version 2.0 of the Talla Intelligent Knowledge Base.

The company also announced that Paula Long, most recently CEO at Data Gravity, has joined the company as SVP of engineering.

This tool combines customer content with automation, chatbots and machine learning. It’s designed to help teams who work directly with customers get at the information they need faster and the machine learning element should allow it to improve over time.

You can deploy the product as a widget on your website to give customers direct access to the information, but Rob May, company founder and CEO says the most common use case involves helping sales, customer service and customer success teams get access to the most relevant and current information, whether that’s maintenance or pricing.

The information can get into the knowledge base in several ways. First of all you can enter elements like product pages and FAQs directly in the Talla product as with any knowledge base. Secondly if an employee asks a questions and there isn’t an adequate answer, it exposes the gaps in information.

Talla Knowledge Base gap list. Screenshot: Talla

“It really shows you the unknown unknowns in your business. What are the questions people are asking that you didn’t realize you don’t have content for or you don’t have answers for. And so that allows you to write new content and better content,” May explained.

Finally, the company can import information into the knowledge base from Salesforce, ServiceNow, Jira or wherever it happens to live, and that can be added to a new page or incorporated into existing page as appropriate.

Employees interact with the system by asking a bot questions and it supplies the answers if one exists. It works with Slack, Microsoft Teams or Talla Chat.

Talla bot in action in Talla Chat. Screenshot: Talla

Customer service remains a major pain point for many companies. It is the direct link to customers when they are having issues. A single bad experience can taint a person’s view of a brand, and chances are when a customer is unhappy they let their friends know on social media, making an isolated incident much bigger. Having quicker access to more accurate information could help limit negative experiences.

Today’s announcement builds on an earlier version of the product that took aim at IT help desks. Talla found customers kept asking for a solution that provided similar functionality with customer-facing information and they have tuned it for that.

May launched Talla in 2015 after selling his former startup Backupify to Datto in 2014. The company, which is based near Boston, has raised $12.3 million.

Posted Under: Tech News
Foundries.io promises standardized open source IoT device security

Posted by on 21 August, 2018

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IoT devices currently lack a standard way of applying security. It leaves consumers, whether business or individuals, left to wonder if their devices are secure and up-to-date. Foundries.io, a company that launched today, wants to change that by offering a standard way to secure devices and deliver updates over the air.

“Our mission is solving the problem of IoT and embedded space where there is no standardized core platform like Android for phones,” Foundries.io CEO George Grey explained.

What Foundries has created is an open and secure solution that saves everyone from creating their own and reinventing the wheel every time. Grey says Foundries’ approach is not only secure, it provides a long-term solution to the device update problem by providing a way to deliver updates over the air in an automated manner on any device from tiny sensors to smart thermostats to autonomous cars.

He says this approach will allow manufacturers to apply security patches in a similar way that Apple applies regular updates to iOS. “Manufacturers can continuously make sure their devices can be updated with the latest software to fix security flaws or Zero Day flaws,” he said.

The company offers two solutions, depending on the size and complexity of your device. The Zephyr RTOS microPlatform is designed for smaller, less complex devices. For those that are more complex, Foundries offers a version of Linux called the Linux OE microPlatform.

Diagram: Foundries.io

Grey claims that these platforms free manufacturers to build secure devices without having to hire a team of security experts. But he says the real beauty of the product is that the more people who use it, the more secure it will get, as more and more test it against their products in a virtuous cycle.

You may be wondering how they can make money in this model, but they do it by charging a flat fee of $10,000 per year for Zephyr RTOS and $25,000 per year for Linux OE. These are one-time prices and apply by the product, regardless of how many units get sold and there is no lock-in, according to Grey. Companies are free to back out any time. “If you want to stop subscribing you take over maintenance and you still have access to everything up to the point,. You just have to arrange maintenance yourself,” he said.

There is also a hobbyist and education package for $10 a month.

The company spun off from research at Linaro, an organization that promotes development on top of ARM chips.

To be successful, Foundries.io needs to build a broad community of manufacturers. Today’s launch is the first step in that journey. If it eventually takes off, it has the potential to provide a consistent way of securing and updating IoT devices, a move which would certainly be welcome.

Posted Under: Tech News
Semmle, startup that makes code searchable, hauls in $21M Series B

Posted by on 21 August, 2018

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Semmle, a startup that originally spun out of research at Oxford, announced a $21 million Series B investment today led by Accel Partners. It marked the second time Accel has led an investment in the company.

Other investors include Work-Bench, Capital One, Credit Suisse, Google, Microsoft, NASA and Nasdaq Trust. Today’s investment brings the total to $31 million.

Semmle has warranted this kind of interest by taking a unique approach to finding vulnerabilities in code. “The key idea behind our technology is to treat code as data and treat analysis problems as simple queries against a database. What this allows you to do is very easily encode domain expertise, security expertise or any other kinds of specialist knowledge in such a way it can be easily and automatically applied to large amounts of code,” Pavel Avgustinov, Semmle co-founder and VP of platform engineering told TechCrunch.

Screenshot: Semmle

Once you create the right query, you can continuously run it against your code to prevent the same mistakes from entering the code base on subsequent builds. The key here is building the queries and the company has a couple of ways to deal with that.

They can work with customers to help them create queries, although in the long run that is not a sustainable way of working. Instead, they share queries, and encourage customers to share them with the community.

“What we find is that the great tech companies we work with have the best security teams in the world, and they are giving back what they created on the Semmle platform with other users in an open source fashion. There is a GitHub repository where we publish queries, but Microsoft and Google are doing the same thing,” Oege de Moor, company CEO and co-founder explained.

In fact, the Semmle solution is freely available to open source programmers to use with their applications, and the company currently analyzes every commit of almost 80,000 open source projects. Open source developers can run shared queries against their code or create their own.

They also have a paid version with customers like Microsoft, Google, Credit Suisse, NASA and Nasdaq. They have relied mostly on these strategic partners up until now, all of which are also investors. With today’s investment they plan to build out their sales and marketing departments to expand their customer base into a wider enterprise market.

The company spun out of research at Oxford University in 2006. They are now based in San Francisco with 60 employees, a number that should go up with this investment. They received an $8 million Series A in 2014 and $2 million seed round in 2011.

Posted Under: Tech News
Distributed teams are rewriting the rules of office(less) politics

Posted by on 18 August, 2018

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When we think about designing our dream home, we don’t think of having a thousand roommates in the same room with no doors or walls. Yet in today’s workplace where we spend most of our day, the purveyors of corporate office design insist that tearing down walls and bringing more people closer together in the same physical space will help foster better collaboration while dissolving the friction of traditional hierarchy and office politics.

But what happens when there is no office at all?

This is the reality for Jason Fried, Founder and CEO of Basecamp, and Matt Mullenweg, Founder and CEO of Automattic (makers of WordPress), who both run teams that are 100% distributed across six continents and many time zones. Fried and Mullenweg are the founding fathers of a movement that has inspired at least a dozen other companies to follow suit, including Zapier, Github, and Buffer. Both have either written a book, or have had a book written about them on the topic.

For all of the discussions about how to hire, fire, coordinate, motivate, and retain remote teams though, what is strangely missing is a discussion about how office politics changes when there is no office at all. To that end, I wanted to seek out the experience of these companies and ask: does remote work propagate, mitigate, or change the experience of office politics? What tactics are startups using to combat office politics, and are any of them effective?

“Can we take a step back here?”

Office politics is best described by a simple example. There is a project, with its goals, metrics, and timeline, and then there’s who gets to decide how it’s run, who gets to work on it, and who gets credit for it. The process for deciding this is a messy human one. While we all want to believe that these decisions are merit-based, data-driven, and objective, we all know the reality is very different. As a flood of research shows, they come with the baggage of human bias in perceptions, heuristics, and privilege.

Office politics is the internal maneuvering and positioning to shape these biases and perceptions to achieve a goal or influence a decision. When incentives are aligned, these goals point in same direction as the company. When they don’t, dysfunction ensues.

Perhaps this sounds too Darwinian, but it is a natural and inevitable outcome of being part of any organization where humans make the decisions. There is your work, and then there’s the management of your coworker’s and boss’s perception of your work.

There is no section in your employee handbook that will tell you how to navigate office politics. These are the tacit, unofficial rules that aren’t documented. This could include reworking your wardrobe to match your boss’s style (if you don’t believe me, ask how many people at Facebook own a pair of Nike Frees). Or making time to go to weekly happy hour not because you want to, but because it’s what you were told you needed to do to get ahead.

One of my favorite memes about workplace culture is Sarah Cooper’s “10 Tricks to Appear Smart in Meetings,” which includes…

  • Encouraging everyone to “take a step back” and ask “what problem are we really trying to solve”
  • Nodding continuously while appearing to take notes
  • Stepping out to take an “important phone call”
  • Jumping out of your seat to draw a Venn diagram on the whiteboard

Sarah Cooper, The Cooper Review

These cues and signals used in physical workplaces to shape and influence perceptions do not map onto the remote workplace, which gives us a unique opportunity to study how office politics can be different through the lens of the officeless.

Friends without benefits

For employees, the analogy that coworkers are like family is true in one sense — they are the roommates that we never got to choose. Learning to work together is difficult enough, but the physical office layers on the additional challenge of learning to live together. Contrast this with remote workplaces, which Mullenweg of Automattic believes helps alleviate the “cohabitation annoyances” that come with sharing the same space, allowing employees to focus on how to best work with each other, versus how their neighbor “talks too loud on the phone, listens to bad music, or eats smelly food.”

Additionally, remote workplaces free us of the tyranny of the tacit expectations and norms that might not have anything to do with work itself. At an investment bank, everyone knows that analysts come in before the managing director does, and leave after they do. This signals that you’re working hard.

Basecamp’s Fried calls this the “presence prison,” the need to be constantly aware of where your coworkers are and what they are doing at all times, both physically and virtually. And he’s waging a crusade against it, even to the point of removing the green dot on Basecamp’s product. “As a general rule, nobody at Basecamp really knows where anyone else is at any given moment. Are they working? Dunno. Are they taking a break? Dunno. Are they at lunch? Dunno. Are they picking up their kid from school? Dunno. Don’t care.”

There is credible basis for this practice. A study of factory workers by Harvard Business School showed that workers were 10% to 15% more productive when managers weren’t watching. This increase was attributed to giving workers the space and freedom to experiment with different approaches before explaining to managers, versus the control group which tended to follow prescribed instructions under the leery watch of their managers.

Remote workplaces experience a similar phenomenon, but by coincidence. “Working hard” can’t be observed physically so it has to be explained, documented, measured, and shared across the company. Cultural norms are not left to chance, or steered by fear or pressure, which should give individuals the autonomy to focus on the work itself, versus how their work is perceived.

Lastly, while physical workplaces can be the source of meaningful friendships and community, recent research by the Wharton School of Business is just beginning to unravel the complexities behind workplace friendships, which can be fraught with tensions from obligations, reciprocity and allegiances. When conflicts arise, you need to choose between what’s best for the company, and what’s best for your relationship with that person or group. You’re not going to help Bob because your best friend Sally used to date him and he was a dick. Or you’re willing to do anything for Jim because he coaches your kid’s soccer team, and vouched for you to get that promotion.

In remote workplaces, you don’t share the same neighborhood, your kids don’t go to the same school, and you don’t have to worry about which coworkers to invite to dinner parties. Your physical/personal and work communities don’t overlap, which means you (and your company) unintentionally avoid many of the hazards of toxic workplace relationships.

On the other hand, these same relationships can be important to overall employee engagement and well-being. This is evidenced by one of the findings in Buffer’s 2018 State of Remote Work Report, which surveyed over 1900 remote workers around the world. It found that next to collaborating and communicating, loneliness was the biggest struggle for remote workers.

Graph by Buffer (State of Remote Work 2018)

So while you may be able to feel like your own boss and avoid playing office politics in your home office, ultimately being alone may be more challenging than putting on a pair of pants and going to work.

Feature, not a bug?

Physical offices can have workers butting heads with each other. Image by UpperCut Images via Getty Images.

For organizations, the single biggest difference between remote and physical teams is the greater dependence on writing to establish the permanence and portability of organizational culture, norms and habits. Writing is different than speaking because it forces concision, deliberation, and structure, and this impacts how politics plays out in remote teams.

Writing changes the politics of meetings. Every Friday, Zapier employees send out a bulletin with: (1) things I said I’d do this week and their results, (2) other issues that came up, (3) things I’m doing next week. Everyone spends the first 10 minutes of the meeting in silence reading everyone’s updates.

Remote teams practice this context setting out of necessity, but it also provides positive auxiliary benefits of “hearing” from everyone around the table, and not letting meetings default to the loudest or most senior in the room. This practice can be adopted by companies with physical workplaces as well (in fact, Zapier CEO Wade Foster borrowed this from Amazon), but it takes discipline and leadership to change behavior, particularly when it is much easier for everyone to just show up like they’re used to.

Writing changes the politics of information sharing and transparency. At Basecamp, there are no all-hands or town hall meetings. All updates, decisions, and subsequent discussions are posted publicly to the entire company. For companies, this is pretty bold. It’s like having a Facebook wall with all your friends chiming in on your questionable decisions of the distant past that you can’t erase. But the beauty is that there is now a body of written decisions and discussions that serves as a rich and permanent artifact of institutional knowledge, accessible to anyone in the company. Documenting major decisions in writing depoliticizes access to information.

Remote workplaces are not without their challenges. Even though communication can be asynchronous through writing, leadership is not. Maintaining an apolitical culture (or any culture) requires a real-time feedback loop of not only what is said, but what is done, and how it’s done. Leaders lead by example in how they speak, act, and make decisions. This is much harder in a remote setting.

A designer from WordPress notes the interpersonal challenges of leading a remote team. “I can’t always see my teammates’ faces when I deliver instructions, feedback, or design criticism. I can’t always tell how they feel. It’s difficult to know if someone is having a bad day or a bad week.”

Zapier’s Foster is also well aware of these challenges in interpersonal dynamics. In fact, he has written a 200-page manifesto on how to run remote teams, where he has an entire section devoted to coaching teammates on how to meet each other for the first time. “Because we’re wired to look for threats in any new situation… try to limit phone or video calls to 15 minutes.” Or “listen without interrupting or sharing your own stories.” And to “ask short, open ended questions.” For anyone looking for a grade school refresher on how to make new friends, Wade Foster is the Dale Carnegie of the remote workforce.

To office, or not to office

What we learn from companies like Basecamp, Automattic, and Zapier is that closer proximity is not the antidote for office politics, and certainly not the quick fix for a healthy, productive culture.

Maintaining a healthy culture takes work, with deliberate processes and planning. Remote teams have to work harder to design and maintain these processes because they don’t have the luxury of assuming shared context through a physical workspace.

The result is a wealth of new ideas for a healthier, less political culture — being thoughtful about when to bring people together, and when to give people their time apart (ending the presence prison), or when to speak, and when to read and write (to democratize meetings). It seems that remote teams have largely succeeded in turning a bug into a feature. For any company still considering tearing down those office walls and doors, it’s time to pay attention to the lessons of the officeless.

Posted Under: Tech News
Incentivai launches to simulate how hackers break blockchains

Posted by on 17 August, 2018

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Cryptocurrency projects can crash and burn if developers don’t predict how humans will abuse their blockchains. Once a decentralized digital economy is released into the wild and the coins start to fly, it’s tough to implement fixes to the smart contracts that govern them. That’s why Incentivai is coming out of stealth today with its artificial intelligence simulations that test not just for security holes, but for how greedy or illogical humans can crater a blockchain community. Crypto developers can use Incentivai’s service to fix their systems before they go live.

“There are many ways to check the code of a smart contract, but there’s no way to make sure the economy you’ve created works as expected” says Incentivai’s solo founder Piotr Grudzień. “I came up with the idea to build a simulation with machine learning agents that behave like humans so you can look into the future and see what your system is likely to behave like.”

Incentivai will graduate from Y Combinator next week and already has a few customers. They can either pay Incentivai to audit their project and produce a report, or they can host the AI simulation tool like a software-as-a-service. The first deployments of blockchains it’s checked will go out in a few months, and the startup has released some case studies to prove its worth.

“People do theoretical work or logic to prove that under certain conditions, this is the optimal strategy for the user. But users are not rational. There’s lots of unpredictable behavior that’s difficult to model” Grudzień explains. Incentivai explores those illogical trading strategies so developers don’t have to tear their hair out trying to imagine them.

Protecting Crypto From The Human X-Factor

There’s no rewind button in the blockchain world. The immutable and irreversible qualities of this decentralized technology prevent inventors from meddling with it once in use, for better or worse. If developers don’t foresee how users could make false claims and bribe others to approve them, or take other actions to screw over the system, they might not be able to thwart the attack. But given the right open-ended incentives (hence the startup’s name), AI agents will try everything they can to earn the most money, exposing the conceptual flaws in the project’s architecture.

“The strategy is the same as what DeepMind does with AlphaGo, testing different strategies” Grudzień explains. He developed his AI chops earning a masters at Cambridge before working on natural language processing research for Microsoft.

Here’s how Incentivai works. First a developer writes the smart contracts they want to test for a product like selling insurance on the blockchain. Incentivai tells its AI agents what to optimize for and lays out all the possible actions they could take. The agents can have different identities, like a hacker trying to grab as much money as they can, a faker filing false claims, or a speculator that cares about maximizing coin price while ignoring its functionality.

Incentivai then tweaks these agents to make them more or less risk averse, or care more or less about whether they disrupt the blockchain system in its totality. The startup monitors the agents and pulls out insights about how to change the system.

For example, Incentivai might learn that uneven token distribution leads to pump and dump schemes, so the developer should more evenly divide tokens and give fewer to early users. Or it might find that an insurance product where users vote on what claims should be approved needs to increase its bond price that voters pay for verifying a false claim so that it’s not profitable for voters to take bribes from fraudsters.

Grudzień has done some predictions about his own startup too. He thinks that if the use of decentralized apps rises, there will be a lot of startups trying to copy his approach to security services. He says there are already some doing token engineering audits, incentive design, and consultancy, but he hasn’t seen anyone else with a functional simulation product that’s produced case studies. “As the industry matures, I think we’ll see more and more complex economic systems that need this.”

Posted Under: Tech News
Klarity uses AI to strip drudgery from contract review

Posted by on 17 August, 2018

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Klarity, a member of the Y Combinator 2018 Summer class, wants to automate much of the contract review process by applying artificial intelligence, specifically natural language processing.

Company co-founder and CEO Andrew Antos has experienced the pain of contract reviews first hand. After graduating from Harvard Law, he landed a job spending 16 hours a day reviewing contract language, a process he called mind-numbing. He figured there had to be a way to put technology to bear on the problem and Klarity was born.

“A lot of companies are employing internal or external lawyers because their customers, vendors or suppliers are sending them a contract to sign,” Antos explained They have to get somebody to read it, understand it and figure out whether it’s something that they can sign or if it requires specific changes.

You may think that this kind of work would be difficult to automate, but Antos said that  contracts have fairly standard language and most companies use ‘playbooks.’ “Think of the playbook as a checklist for NDAs, sales agreements and vendor agreements — what they are looking for and specific preferences on what they agree to or what needs to be changed,” Antos explained.

Klarity is a subscription cloud service that checks contracts in Microsoft Word documents using NLP. It makes suggestions when it sees something that doesn’t match up with the playbook checklist. The product then generates a document, and a human lawyer reviews and signs off on the suggested changes, reducing the review time from an hour or more to 10 or 15 minutes.

Screenshot: Klarity

They launched the first iteration of the product last year and have 14 companies using it with 4 paying customers so far including one of the world’s largest private equity funds. These companies signed on because they have to process huge numbers of contracts. Klarity is helping them save time and money, while applying their preferences in a consistent fashion, something that a human reviewer can have trouble doing.

He acknowledges the solution could be taking away work from human lawyers, something they think about quite a bit. Ultimately though, they believe that contract reviewing is so tedious, it is freeing up lawyers for work that requires a greater level of intellectual rigor and creativity.

Antos met his co-founder and CTO, Nischal Nadhamuni, at an MIT entrepreneurship class in 2016 and the two became fast friends. In fact, he says that they pretty much decided to start a company the first day. “We spent 3 hours walking around Cambridge and decided to work together to solve this real problem people are having.”

They applied to Y Combinator two other times before being accepted in this summer’s cohort. The third time was the charm. He says the primary value of being in YC is the community and friendships they have formed and the help they have had in refining their approach.

“It’s like having a constant mirror that helps you realize any mistakes or any suboptimal things in your business on a high speed basis,” he said.

Posted Under: Tech News
Work-Bench enterprise report predicts end of SaaS could be coming

Posted by on 16 August, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

Work-Bench, a New York City venture capital firm that spends a lot of time around Fortune 1000 companies, has put together The Work-Bench Enterprise Almanac: 2018 Edition, which you could think of as a State of the Enterprise report. It’s somewhat like Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends report, but with a focus on the tools and technologies that will be having a major impact on the enterprise in the coming year.

Perhaps the biggest take-away from the report could be that the end of SaaS as we’ve known could be coming if modern tools make it easier for companies to build software themselves. More on this later.

While the report writers state that their findings are based at least partly on anecdotal evidence, it is clearly an educated set of observations and predictions related to the company’s work with enterprise startups and the large companies they tend to target.

As they wrote in their Medium post launching the report, “Our primary aim is to help founders see the forest from the trees. For Fortune 1000 executives and other players in the ecosystem, it will help cut through the noise and marketing hype to see what really matters.” Whether that’s the case will be in the eye of the reader, but it’s a comprehensive attempt to document the state of the enterprise as they see it, and there are not too many who have done that.

The big picture

The report points out the broader landscape in which enterprise companies — startups and established players alike — are operating today. You have traditional tech companies like Cisco and HP, the mega cloud companies like Amazon, Microsoft and Google, the Growth Guard with companies like Snowflake, DataDog and Sumo Logic and the New Guard, those early stage enterprise companies gunning for the more established players.

 

As the report states, the mega cloud players are having a huge impact on the industry by providing the infrastructure services for startups to launch and grow without worrying about building their own data centers or scaling to meet increasing demand as a company develops.

The mega clouders also scoop up a fair number of startups. Yet they don’t devote quite the level of revenue to M&A as you might think based on how acquisitive the likes of Salesforce, Microsoft and Oracle have tended to be over the years. In fact, in spite of all the action and multi-billion deals we’ve seen, Work-Bench sees room for even more.

It’s worth pointing out that Work-Bench predicts Salesforce itself could become a target for mega cloud M&A action. They are predicting that either Amazon or Microsoft could buy the CRM giant. We saw such speculation several years ago and it turned out that Salesforce was too rich for even these company’s blood. While they may have more cash to spend, the price has probably only gone up as Salesforce acquires more and more companies and its revenue has surpassed $10 billion.

About those mega trends

The report dives into 4 main areas of coverage, none of which are likely to surprise you if you read about the enterprise regularly in this or other publications:

  • Machine Learning
  • Cloud
  • Security
  • SaaS

While all of these are really interconnected as SaaS is part of the cloud and all need security and will be (if they aren’t already) taking advantage of machine learning. Work-Bench is not seeing it in such simple terms, of course, diving into each area in detail.

The biggest take-away is perhaps that infrastructure could end up devouring SaaS in the long run. Software as a Service grew out of couple of earlier trends, the first being the rise of the Web as a way to deliver software, then the rise of mobile to move it beyond the desktop. The cloud-mobile connection is well documented and allowed companies like Uber and Airbnb, as just a couple of examples, to flourish by providing scalable infrastructure and a computer in our pockets to access their services whenever we needed them. These companies could never have existed without the combination of cloud-based infrastructure and mobile devices.

End of SaaS dominance?

But today, Work-Bench is saying that we are seeing some other trends that could be tipping the scales back to infrastructure. That includes containers and microservices, serverless, Database as a Service and React for building front ends. Work-Bench argues that if every company is truly a software company, these tools could make it easier for companies to build these kind of services cheaply and easily, and possibly bypass the SaaS vendors.

What’s more, they suggest that if these companies are doing mass customization to these services, then it might make more sense to build instead of buy, at least on one level. In the past, we have seen what happens when companies try to take these kinds of massive software projects on themselves and it hardly ever ended well. They were usually bulky, difficult to update and put the companies behind the curve competitively. Whether simplifying the entire developer tool kit would change that remains to be seen.

They don’t necessarily see companies running wholesale away from SaaS just yet to do this, but they do wonder if developers could push this trend inside of organizations as more tools appear on the landscape to make it easier to build your own.

The remainder of the report goes in depth into each of these trends, and this article just has scratched the surface of the information you’ll find there. The entire report is embedded below.

View this document on Scribd

Posted Under: Tech News
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