Trello acquires Butler to add power of automation

Posted by on 10 December, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

Trello, the organizational tool owned by Atlassian, announced an acquisition of its very own this morning when it bought Butler for an undisclosed amount.

What Butler brings to Trello is the power of automation, stringing together a bunch of commands to make something complex happen automatically. As Trello’s Michael Pryor pointed out in a blog post announcing the acquisition, we are used to tools like IFTTT, Zapier and Apple Shortcuts, and this will bring a similar type of functionality directly into Trello.

Screenshot: Trello

“Over the years, teams have discovered that by automating processes on Trello boards with the Butler Power-Up, they could spend more time on important tasks and be more productive. Butler helps teams codify business rules and processes, taking something that might take ten steps to accomplish and automating it into one click.” Pryor wrote.

This means that Trello can be more than a static organizational tool. Instead, it can move into the realm of light-weight business process automation. For example, this could allow you to move an item from your To Do board to your Doing board automatically based on dates, or to share tasks with appropriate teams as a project moves through its lifecycle, saving a bunch of manual steps that tend to add up.

The company indicated that it will be incorporating the Alfred’s capabilities directly into Trello in the coming months. It will make it available to all level of users including the free tier, but they promise more advanced functionality for Business and Enterprise customers when the integration is complete. Pryor also suggested that more automation could be coming to Trello. “Butler is Trello’s first step down this road, enabling every user to automate pieces of their Trello workflow to save time, stay organized and get more done.”

Atlassian bought Trello in 2017 for $425 million, but this acquisition indicates it is functioning quasi-independently as part of the Atlassian family.

Posted Under: Tech News
Why you need a supercomputer to build a house

Posted by on 8 December, 2018

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When the hell did building a house become so complicated?

Don’t let the folks on HGTV fool you. The process of building a home nowadays is incredibly painful. Just applying for the necessary permits can be a soul-crushing undertaking that’ll have you running around the city, filling out useless forms, and waiting in motionless lines under fluorescent lights at City Hall wondering whether you should have just moved back in with your parents.

Consider this an ongoing discussion about Urban Tech, its intersection with regulation, issues of public service, and other complexities that people have full PHDs on. I’m just a bitter, born-and-bred New Yorker trying to figure out why I’ve been stuck in between subway stops for the last 15 minutes, so please reach out with your take on any of these thoughts: @Arman.Tabatabai@techcrunch.com.

And to actually get approval for those permits, your future home will have to satisfy a set of conditions that is a factorial of complex and conflicting federal, state and city building codes, separate sets of fire and energy requirements, and quasi-legal construction standards set by various independent agencies.

It wasn’t always this hard – remember when you’d hear people say “my grandparents built this house with their bare hands?” These proliferating rules have been among the main causes of the rapidly rising cost of housing in America and other developed nations. The good news is that a new generation of startups is identifying and simplifying these thickets of rules, and the future of housing may be determined as much by machine learning as woodworking.

When directions become deterrents

Photo by Bill Oxford via Getty Images

Cities once solely created the building codes that dictate the requirements for almost every aspect of a building’s design, and they structured those guidelines based on local terrain, climates and risks. Over time, townships, states, federally-recognized organizations and independent groups that sprouted from the insurance industry further created their own “model” building codes.

The complexity starts here. The federal codes and independent agency standards are optional for states, who have their own codes which are optional for cities, who have their own codes that are often inconsistent with the state’s and are optional for individual townships. Thus, local building codes are these ever-changing and constantly-swelling mutant books made up of whichever aspects of these different codes local governments choose to mix together. For instance, New York City’s building code is made up of five sections, 76 chapters and 35 appendices, alongside a separate set of 67 updates (The 2014 edition is available as a book for $155, and it makes a great gift for someone you never want to talk to again).

In short: what a shit show.

Because of the hyper-localized and overlapping nature of building codes, a home in one location can be subject to a completely different set of requirements than one elsewhere. So it’s really freaking difficult to even understand what you’re allowed to build, the conditions you need to satisfy, and how to best meet those conditions.

There are certain levels of complexity in housing codes that are hard to avoid. The structural integrity of a home is dependent on everything from walls to erosion and wind-flow. There are countless types of material and technology used in buildings, all of which are constantly evolving.

Thus, each thousand-page codebook from the various federal, state, city, township and independent agencies – all dictating interconnecting, location and structure-dependent needs – lead to an incredibly expansive decision tree that requires an endless set of simulations to fully understand all the options you have to reach compliance, and their respective cost-effectiveness and efficiency.

So homebuilders are often forced to turn to costly consultants or settle on designs that satisfy code but aren’t cost-efficient. And if construction issues cause you to fall short of the outcomes you expected, you could face hefty fines, delays or gigantic cost overruns from redesigns and rebuilds. All these costs flow through the lifecycle of a building, ultimately impacting affordability and access for homeowners and renters.

Startups are helping people crack the code

Photo by Caiaimage/Rafal Rodzoch via Getty Images

Strap on your hard hat – there may be hope for your dream home after all.

The friction, inefficiencies, and pure agony caused by our increasingly convoluted building codes have given rise to a growing set of companies that are helping people make sense of the home-building process by incorporating regulations directly into their software.

Using machine learning, their platforms run advanced scenario-analysis around interweaving building codes and inter-dependent structural variables, allowing users to create compliant designs and regulatory-informed decisions without having to ever encounter the regulations themselves.

For example, the prefab housing startup Cover is helping people figure out what kind of backyard homes they can design and build on their properties based on local zoning and permitting regulations.

Some startups are trying to provide similar services to developers of larger scale buildings as well. Just this past week, I covered the seed round for a startup called Cove.Tool, which analyzes local building energy codes – based on location and project-level characteristics specified by the developer – and spits out the most cost-effective and energy-efficient resource mix that can be built to hit local energy requirements.

And startups aren’t just simplifying the regulatory pains of the housing process through building codes. Envelope is helping developers make sense of our equally tortuous zoning codes, while Cover and companies like Camino are helping steer home and business-owners through arduous and analog permitting processes.

Look, I’m not saying codes are bad. In fact, I think building codes are good and necessary – no one wants to live in a home that might cave in on itself the next time it snows. But I still can’t help but ask myself why the hell does it take AI to figure out how to build a house? Why do we have building codes that take a supercomputer to figure out?

Ultimately, it would probably help to have more standardized building codes that we actually clean-up from time-to-time. More regional standardization would greatly reduce the number of conditional branches that exist. And if there was one set of accepted overarching codes that could still set precise requirements for all components of a building, there would still only be one path of regulations to follow, greatly reducing the knowledge and analysis necessary to efficiently build a home.

But housing’s inherent ties to geography make standardization unlikely. Each region has different land conditions, climates, priorities and political motivations that cause governments to want their own set of rules.

Instead, governments seem to be fine with sidestepping the issues caused by hyper-regional building codes and leaving it up to startups to help people wade through the ridiculousness that paves the home-building process, in the same way Concur aids employee with infuriating corporate expensing policies.

For now, we can count on startups that are unlocking value and making housing more accessible, simpler and cheaper just by making the rules easier to understand. And maybe one day my grandkids can tell their friends how their grandpa built his house with his own supercomputer.

And lastly, some reading while in transit:

Posted Under: Tech News
Pivotal announces new serverless framework

Posted by on 7 December, 2018

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Pivotal has always been about making open source tools for enterprise developers, but surprisingly up until now the arsenal has lacked a serverless component. That changed today with the alpha launch of Pivotal Function Service.

Pivotal Function Service is a Kubernetes-based, multi-cloud function service. It’s part of the broader Pivotal vision of offering you a single platform for all your workloads on any cloud,” the company wrote in a blog post announcing the new service.

What’s interesting about Pivotal’s flavor of serverless besides the fact that it’s open source, is that it has been designed to work both on-prem and in the cloud in a cloud native fashion, hence the Kubernetes-based aspect of it. This is unusual to say the least.

The idea up until now has been that the large-scale cloud providers like Amazon, Google and Microsoft could dial up whatever infrastructure your functions require, then dial them down when you’re finished without you ever having to think about the underlying infrastructure. The cloud provider deals with whatever compute, storage and memory you need to run the function and no more.

Pivotal wants to take that same idea and make it available in the cloud across any cloud service. It also wants to make it available on-prem, which may seem curious at first, but Pivotal’s Onsi Fakhouri says customers want that same abilities both on-prem and in the cloud. “One of the key values that you often hear about serverless is that it will run down to zero and there is less utilization, but at the same time there are customers who want to explore and embrace the serverless programming paradigm on-prem,” Fakhouri said. Of course, then it is up to IT to ensure that there are sufficient services to meet the demands of the serverless programs.

The new package includes several key components for developers including an environment for building, deploying and managing your functions, a native eventing ability that provides a way to build rich event triggers to call whatever functionality you require, and the ability to do this within a Kubernetes-based environment. This is particularly important as companies embrace a hybrid use case to manage the events across on-prem and cloud in a seamless way.

One of the advantages of Pivotal’s approach is that Pivotal can work on any cloud as an open product. This in contrast to the cloud providers like Amazon, Google and Microsoft who provide similar services that run exclusively on their clouds. Pivotal is not the first to build an open source Function as a Service, but they are attempting to package it in a way that makes it easier to use.

Serverless doesn’t actually mean there are no underlying servers. Instead, it means that developers don’t have to point to any servers because the cloud provider takes care of whatever infrastructure is required. In an on-prem scenario, IT has to make those resources available.

Posted Under: Tech News
IBM selling Lotus Notes/Domino business to HCL for $1.8B

Posted by on 7 December, 2018

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IBM announced last night that it is selling the final components from its 1995 acquisition of Lotus to Indian firm HCL for $1.8 billion.

IBM paid $3.5 billion for Lotus back in the day. The big pieces here are Lotus Notes, Domino and Portal. These were a big part of IBM’s enterprise business for a long time, but last year Big Blue began to pull away, selling the development part to HCL, while maintaining control of sales and marketing.

This announcement marks the end of the line for IBM involvement. With the development of the platform out of its control, and in need of cash after spending $34 billion for Red Hat, perhaps IBM simply decided it no longer made sense to keep any part of this in-house.

As for HCL, it sees an opportunity to continue to build the Notes/Domino business, and it’s seizing it with this purchase. “The large-scale deployments of these products provide us with a great opportunity to reach and serve thousands of global enterprises across a wide range of industries and markets,” C Vijayakumar, president and CEO at HCL Technologies, said in a statement announcing the deal.

Alan Lepofsky, an analyst at Constellation Research who keeps close watch on the enterprise collaboration space, says the sale could represent a fresh start for software that IBM hasn’t really been paying close attention to for some time. “HCL is far more interested in Notes/Domino than IBM has been for a decade. They are investing heavily, trying to rejuvenate the brand,” Lepofsky told TechCrunch.

While this software may feel long in the tooth, Notes and Domino are still in use in many corners of the enterprise, and this is especially true in EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) and AP (Asia Pacific), Lepofsky said.

He added that IBM appears to be completely exiting the collaboration space with this sale. “It appears that IBM is done with collaboration, out of the game,” he said.

This move makes sense for IBM, which is moving in a different direction as it develops its cloud business. The Red Hat acquisition in October, in particular, shows that the company wants to embrace private and hybrid cloud deployments, and older software like Lotus Notes and Domino don’t really play a role in that world.

The deal, which is subject to regulatory approval processes, is expected to close in the middle of next year.

Posted Under: Tech News
Contentful raises $33.5M for its headless CMS platform

Posted by on 6 December, 2018

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Contentful, a Berlin- and San Francisco-based startup that provides content management infrastructure for companies like Spotify, Nike, Lyft and others, today announced that it has raised a $33.5 million Series D funding round led by Sapphire Ventures, with participation from OMERS Ventures and Salesforce Ventures, as well as existing investors General Catalyst, Benchmark, Balderton Capital and Hercules. In total, the company has now raised $78.3 million.

It’s only been less than a year since the company raised its Series C round and as Contentful co-founder and CEO Sascha Konietzke told me, the company didn’t really need to raise right now. “We had just raised our last round about a year ago. We still had plenty of cash in our bank account and we didn’t need to raise as of now,” said Konietzke. “But we saw a lot of economic uncertainty, so we thought it might be a good moment in time to recharge. And at the same time, we already had some interesting conversations ongoing with Sapphire [formeraly SAP Ventures] and Salesforce. So we saw the opportunity to add more funding and also start getting into a tight relationship with both of these players.”

The original plan for Contentful was to focus almost explicitly on mobile. As it turns out, though, the company’s customers also wanted to use the service to handle its web-based applications and these days, Contentful happily supports both. “What we’re seeing is that everything is becoming an application,” he told me. “We started with native mobile application, but even the websites nowadays are often an application.”

In its early days, Contentful also focuses only on developers. Now, however, that’s changing and having these connections to large enterprise players like SAP and Salesforce surely isn’t going to hurt the company as it looks to bring on larger enterprise accounts.

Currently, the company’s focus is very much on Europe and North America, which account for about 80% of its customers. For now, Contentful plans to continue to focus on these regions, though it obviously supports customers anywhere in the world.

Contentful only exists as a hosted platform. As of now, the company doesn’t have any plans for offering a self-hosted version, though Konietzke noted that he does occasionally get requests for this.

What the company is planning to do in the near future, though, is to enable more integrations with existing enterprise tools. “Customers are asking for deeper integrations into their enterprise stack,” Konietzke said. “And that’s what we’re beginning to focus on and where we’re building a lot of capabilities around that.” In addition, support for GraphQL and an expanded rich text editing experience is coming up. The company also recently launched a new editing experience.

Posted Under: Tech News
Looker snags $103 million investment on $1.6 billion valuation

Posted by on 6 December, 2018

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Looker has been helping customers visualize and understand their data for seven years now and today it got a big reward, a $103 million Series E investment on a $1.6 billion valuation.

The round was led by Premji Invest with new investment from Cross Creek Advisors and participation from the company’s existing investors. With today’s investment Looker has raised $280.5 million, according the company.

In spite of the large valuation, Looker CEO Frank Bien really wasn’t in the mood to focus on that particular number, which he said was arbitrary, based on the economic conditions at the time of the funding round. He said having an executive team old enough to remember the dot-com bubble from the late 1990s and the crash of 2008, keeps them grounded when it comes to those kinds of figures

Instead, he preferred to concentrate on other numbers. He reported that the company has 1600 customers now and just crossed the $100 million revenue run rate, a significant milestone for any enterprise SaaS company. What’s more, Bien reports revenue is still growing 70 percent year over year, so there’s plenty of room to keep this going.

He said he took such a large round because there was interest and he believed that it was prudent to take the investment as they move deeper into enterprise markets. “To grow effectively into enterprise customers, you have to build more product, and you have to hire sales teams that take longer to activate. So you look to grow into that, and that’s what we’re going to use this financing for,” Bien told TechCrunch.

He said it’s highly likely that this is the last private fund-raising the company will undertake as it heads toward an IPO at some point in the future. “We would absolutely view this as our last round unless something drastic changed,” Bien told TechCrunch.

For now, he’s looking to build a mature company that is ready for the public markets whenever the time is right. That involves building internal processes of a public company even if they’re not there yet. “You create that maturity either way, and I think that’s what we’re doing. So when those markets look okay, you could look at that as another funding source,” he explained.

The company currently has around 600 employees. Bien indicated that they added 200 this year alone and expect to add additional headcount in 2019 as the business continues to grow and they can take advantage of this substantial cash infusion.

Posted Under: Tech News
LeanIX, the SaaS that lets enterprises map out their software architecture, closes $30M Series C

Posted by on 6 December, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

LeanIX, the Software-as-a-Service for ‘Enterprise Architecture Management’, has closed $30 million in Series C funding.

The round is led by Insight Venture Partners, with participation from previous investors Deutsche Telekom Capital Partners (DTCP), Capnamic Ventures, and Iris Capital. It brings LeanIX’s total funding to nearly $40 million since the German company was founded in 2012.

Operating in the Enterprise Architecture space, previously the domain of a company’s IT team only, LeanIX’s SaaS might well be described as a “Google Maps for IT architectures”.

The software lets enterprises map out all of the legacy software or modern SaS that the organisation is run on, including creating meta data on things like what business process it is used for or capable of supporting, what tech (and version) powers it, what teams are using or have access to it, who is responsible for it, as well as how the different architecture fits together.

From this vantage point, enterprises can not only keep a better handle on all of the software from different vendors they are buying in, including how that differs or might be better utilised across distributed teams, but also act in a more nimble way in terms of how they adopt new solutions or decommission legacy ones.

In a call with André Christ, co-founder and CEO, he described LeanIX as providing a “single source of truth” for an enterprise’s architecture. He also explained that the SaaS takes a semi-automatic approach to how its maps out that data. A lot of the initial data entry will need to be done manually but this is designed to be done collaboratively across an organisation and supported by an “easy-to-use UX,” while LeanIX also extracts some data automatically via integrations with ServiceNow (e.g. scanning software on servers) or Signavio (e.g. how IT Systems are used in Business Processes).

More broadly, Christ tells me that the need for a solution like LeanIX is only increasing, as enterprise architecture has shifted away from monolithic vendors and software to the use of a sprawling array of cloud or on-premise software where each typically does one job or business really well, rather than many.

“With the rising adoption of SaaS, multi-cloud and microservices, an agile management of the Enterprise Architecture is harder to achieve but more important than ever before,” he says. “Any company in any industry using more than a hundred applications is facing this challenge. That’s why the opportunity is huge for LeanIX to define and own this category”.

To that end, LeanIX says the investment will be used to accelerate growth in the U.S. and for continued product innovation. Meanwhile, the company says that in 2018 it achieved several major milestones, including doubling its global customer base, launching operations in Boston, and expanding its global headcount with the appointment of several senior-level executives. Enterprises using LeanIX include Adidas, DHL, Merck, and Santander, with strategic partnerships with Deloitte, ServiceNow, and PwC, among others.

“For businesses today, effective enterprise architecture management is critical for driving digital transformation, and requires robust tools that enable collaboration and agility,” said Teddie Wardi, Principal at Insight Venture Partners, in a statement. “LeanIX is a pioneer in the space of next-generation EA tools, achieved staggering growth over the last year, and is the trusted partner for some of today’s largest and most complex organizations. We look forward to supporting its continued growth and success as one of the world’s leading software solutions for the modernization of IT architectures”.

Posted Under: Tech News
Workato raises $25M for its integration platform

Posted by on 5 December, 2018

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Workato, a startup that offers an integration and automation platform for businesses that competes with the likes of MuleSoft, SnapLogic and Microsoft’s Logic Apps, today announced that it has raised a $25 million Series B funding round from Battery Ventures, Storm Ventures, ServiceNow and Workday Ventures. Combined with its previous rounds, the company has now received investments from some of the largest SaaS players, including Salesforce, which participated in an earlier round.

At its core, Workato’s service isn’t that different from other integration services (you can think of them as IFTTT for the enterprise), in that it helps you to connect disparate systems and services, set up triggers to kick off certain actions (if somebody signs a contract on DocuSign, send a message to Slack and create an invoice). Like its competitors, it connects to virtually any SaaS tool that a company would use, no matter whether that’s Marketo and Salesforce, or Slack and Twitter. And like some of its competitors, all of this can be done with a drag-and-drop interface.

What’s different, Workato founder and CEO Vijay Tella tells me, is that the service was built for business users, not IT admins. “Other enterprise integration platforms require people who are technical to build and manage them,” he said. “With the explosion in SaaS with lines of business buying them — the IT team gets backlogged with the various integration needs. Further, they are not able to handle all the workflow automation needs that businesses require to streamline and innovate on the operations.”

Battery Ventures’ general partner Neeraj Agrawal also echoed this. “As we’ve all seen, the number of SaaS applications run by companies is growing at a very rapid clip,” he said. “This has created a huge need to engage team members with less technical skill-sets in integrating all these applications. These types of users are closer to the actual business workflows that are ripe for automation, and we found Workato’s ability to empower everyday business users super compelling.”

Tella also stressed that Workato makes extensive use of AI/ML to make building integrations and automations easier. The company calls this Recipe Q. “Leveraging the tens of billions of events processed, hundreds of millions of metadata elements inspected and hundreds of thousands of automations that people have built on our platform — we leverage ML to guide users to build the most effective integration/automation by recommending next steps as they build these automations,” he explained. “It recommends the next set of actions to take, fields to map, auto-validates mappings, etc. The great thing with this is that as people build more automations — it learns from them and continues to make the automation smarter.”

The AI/ML system also handles errors and offers features like sentiment analysis to analyze emails and detect their intent, with the ability to route them depending on the results of that analysis.

As part of today’s announcement, the company is also launching a new AI-enabled feature: Automation Editions for sales, marketing and HR (with editions for finance and support coming in the future). The idea here is to give those departments a kit with pre-built workflows that helps them to get started with the service without having to bring in IT.

Posted Under: Tech News
Camunda hauls in $28M investment as workflow automation remains hot

Posted by on 5 December, 2018

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Camunda, a Berlin-based company that builds open source workflow automation software, announced a €25 million (approximately $28 million) investment from Highland Europe today.

This is the company’s first investment in its 10-year history. CEO and co-founder Jakob Freund says the company has been profitable since Day One, but decided to bring in outside capital now to take on a more aggressive international expansion.

The company launched in 2008 and for the first five years offered business process management consulting services, but they found traditional offerings from companies like Oracle, IBM and Pega weren’t encouraging software developers to really embrace BPM and build new applications.

In 2013 the company decided to solve that problem and began a shift from consulting to software. “We launched our own open source project, Camunda BPM, in 2013. We also offered a commercial distribution, obviously, because that’s where the revenue came from,” Freund explained.

The project took off and they flipped their revenue sources from 80 percent consulting/20 percent software to 90 percent software/10 percent consulting in the five years since first creating the product. They boast 200 paying customers and have built out an entire stack of products since their initial product launch.

The company expanded from 13 employees in 2013 to 100 today with offices in Berlin and San Francisco. Freund wants to open more offices and to expand the head count. To do that, he felt the time was right to go out and get some outside money. He said they continue to be profitable and more than doubled their ARR (annual recurring revenue) in the last 12 months, but knowing they wanted to expand quickly, they wanted the investment as a hedge in case revenue slowed down during the expansion.

“However, we also want to invest heavily right now and and build up the team very quickly over the next couple of years. And we want to do that in in such a quick way that we want to make sure that if the revenue growth doesn’t happen as quickly as as the headcount building, we’re not getting any situation where we would then need to go look funding,” he explained. Instead, they struck while the company and the overall workflow automation space is hot.

He says they want to open more sales and support offices on the east coast of the US and move into Asia as well. Further they want to keep investing in the open source products and the new money gives them room to do all of this.

Posted Under: Tech News
Pindrop raises $90M to bring its voice-fraud prevention to IoT devices and Europe

Posted by on 5 December, 2018

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When it comes to how humans communicate with each other or with machines, voice is a major interface, with growth in the latter fuelled by the rise of artificial intelligence, faster computing technology and an explosion of new devices — some of which only, or primarily, work with voice commands. But the supreme reign of voice has also opened a window of opportunity for malicious hackers — specifically, in the area of voice fraud.

Now, a security startup called Pindrop is announcing that it has raised $90 million to tackle this with a platform that it says can identify even the most sophisticated impersonations and hacking attempts, by analysing nearly 1,400 acoustic attributes to verify if a caller or a voice command is legit.

“We live in a brave new world where everything you thought you knew about security needs to be challenged,” said Vijay Balasubramaniyan, co-founder, CEO and CTO of Pindrop, who built the company (with co-founders Ahamad Mustaque and Paul Judge) originally out of his PhD thesis.

The funding is a growth round aimed specifically at two areas. First, taking US-based Pindrop into more international markets, starting with Europe — Vijay spoke to me in London — and coming soon to Asia. And second, to expand from customer service scenarios — the vast majority of its business today — into any applications that use voice interfaces, such as connected car platforms, home security devices, smart offices and smart home speakers.

To that end, this Series D includes a mix of strategic and financial investors: led by London’s Vitruvian Partners, it also includes Allegion Ventures (the corporate venture arm of the security giant), Cross Creek, systems integrator Dimension Data (“As you grow you want to be able to sell through partners,” Balasubramaniyan says), Singapore-based EDBI (to help with its push into Asia), and Goldman Sachs. Google’s CapitalG, IVP, Andreessen Horowitz, GV and Citi Ventures — all previous investors — were also in this round.

(The latter group of investors also has at least one strategic name in it: Pindrop is already working with Google, the CEO said.)

Valuation is not being disclosed, but in Pindrop’s Series C round in 2017, the company was valued at $600 million post-mioney, according to PitchBook, and the valuation now is “much higher,” Balasubramaniyan said with a laugh. The company’s raised $212 million to date.

The crux of what Pindrop has built is a platform that makes a voice “fingerprint” that identifies not just the specific tone you emit, but how you speak, where you are typically calling from and the sounds of that space, and even your regular device — something we can do now with the rise of smartphones that we typically don’t share with others — with each handset having a unique acoustic profile. Matching all these against what is determined to be your “normal” circumstances helps to start to build verification, Balasubramaniyan explained.

Founded in 2011 in Atlanta, GA, most of Pindrop’s business today has been built around helping to prevent voice fraud in customer service engagements. That business, Balasubramaniyan said, is on the path to profitability by the first quarter of 2019 and continues to grow well, with a voice fraud problem in the space that costs the industry $22 billion ($14 billion in fraud, $8 billion in time and systems wasted on security questions). (Pindrop claims it has stopped over $350 million in voice-based fraud and attacks so far  in 2018.)

Current customers include eight of the 10 largest banks and five largest insurance companies in the U.S., with more than 200 million consumer accounts protected at the moment. 

“There are 3.6 million agents in customer service jobs in the UK, with one in every 89 people in the US in this role,” he noted. “But last year, there there were 4.4 million new assistants added to the market,” referring to all the devices, apps and services that have hit us, “and that’s where we realised that it’s about expansion for us.”

In cases like connected home or office scenarios, some of the ways that these might get hacked are only starting to become apparent.

Balasubramaniyan noted that it can be something as innocent as a little girl ordering an expensive doll house while playing with Alexa (Pindrop is also now starting to work with Amazon, too, as it happens), or something more nefarious like a fraudster calling your answering machine to command your smart home hub to unlock your front door.

But we are unlikely to turn away from voice interfaces, and that is where a company like Pindrop (as well as competitors like Verint) come in.

“Voice-enabled interfaces are expanding how consumers interact with IoT devices in their everyday lives – as well as IoT manufacturers’ ability to offer smarter and stronger solutions,” said Allegion Ventures President Rob Martens, in a statement. “We’re excited about the future of voice technology and see Pindrop as a pioneer in the space. We look forward to working with Vijay and his team to accelerate the adoption of voice technology into new markets.”

More generally, as we see the rise of more voice services it’s only natural that we will start to see more ways of trying to hack them. Pindrop puts an interesting focus on the aural details of an experience as a way of helping to fight that. It’s detail that we often overlook in today’s very visual culture, but it’s also in a way a return to more analogue days.

Balasubramaniyan said one of his inspirations for the startup was a story he read as a child in 2600, the Hacker publication, that stuck with him, about Bell Labs. There, they had a team of blind engineers who could identify problems on a phone line by listening to the dial tone. “They had golden hearing,” he said.

 

Posted Under: Tech News
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