A startup factory? $1.2B-exit team launches $65M super{set}

Posted by on 2 October, 2019

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Think Jack Dorsey’s jobs are tough? Well, Tom Chavez is running six startups. He thinks building businesses can be boiled down to science, so today he’s unveiling his laboratory for founding, funding and operating companies. He and his team have already proven they can do it themselves after selling their startups Rapt to Microsoft and Krux to Salesforce for a combined $1.2 billion. Now they’ve raised a $65 million fund for “super{set}”, an enterprise startup studio with a half-dozen companies currently in motion.

The idea is that {super}set either conceptualizes a company or brings in founders whose dream they can make a reality. The studio provides early funding and expertise while the startup works from their shared space in San Francisco, plus future ones in New York and Boston. The secret sauce is the “super{set} Code,” an execution playbook plus technological tools and building blocks that guide the strategy and eliminate redundant work. “Our belief is that we can make the companies 10x faster and increase capital efficiency by 5X,” says Chavez of his partnership with {super}set co-founders Vivek Vaidya, who acts as CTO, and Jae Lim who manages the fund.

Superset Team

The {super}set team (from left): Tom Chavez, Jae Lim, Jen Elena and Vivek Vaidya

Perhaps the question isn’t whether the portfolio startups can scale, but if the humans behind them can without breaking. It’s stressful running a single company, let alone six. Even with the order of operations nailed down, each encounters unique challenges and no plan is one-size-fits-all. But after delivering 17.5X returns to their past investors, Chavez et al. have proven their power to repeatedly recognize what enterprises need and build admittedly boring but bountiful products in customer data management, and advertising yield.

The studio’s playbooks cover business plan formation, pitch strategies, go to market, revenue, machine learning, management principles, HR processes, sales methods, pipeline measurement, product sequencing, finance, legal and more. There’s also shared engineering code it provides, so each startup doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel. “I don’t think you can systemize it but I do think you can accelerate and de-risk the path,” Chavez explains.

Superset Code 1

{super}set Code

Today, the first {super}set company is coming out of stealth. Eskalera helps enterprises retain top talent by tracking diversity and inclusion stats of employees to engage them with career growth and community programs. Chavez is the CEO, but plans to install a new one shortly so he can focus more time on founding more startups. There are 55 employees across the first six companies, with two already generating revenue and most ready to emerge in the next nine months.

The funding for Eskalera and other {super}set companies comes with unique terms. Because Chavez and the team aren’t just board members you hear from once a quarter but “shoulder to shoulder with the entrepreneurs” as he repeats several times in our interview, the startups pay more equity for the cash.

The hope is having seasoned leadership aboard is worth it. “We’re product people first and foremost,” Chavez tells me. “What are you going to build? Who’s going to buy it? Why? What’s the technical moat? We’re not people doing jazz hands.” The {super}set team has plenty of skin in the game, though, given Chavez himself put in a big chunk of the $65 million, and the fund sticks to a standard management fee.

Eskalera

Eskalera

To supercharge the companies, {super}set brings in expert staffers in artificial intelligence, data science and more, who then align with the most relevant companies in the portfolio. They get equity grants to incentivize them to work hard on the startups’ behalf. “The worry I have about these larger funds is that they have an incentive disconnect where they work for the fees” Chavez says. His fund hopes to win through follow-on funding of its winners.

Tom Chavez Superset

{super}set co-founder Tom Chavez

If portfolio companies hit hard times, Chavez says {super}set will stick with them. “My first company had multiple layoffs and a major pivot. We had an enterperenur that walked away. They lost conviction, but we brought that company to an $180 million exit after people said there was no effing way and that felt really good,” Chavez says of staying the course. “The good entrepreneurs have that demonic energy.” But if everyone involved agrees a project isn’t working, they’ll shutter it. “It comes back to opportunity cost of people’s time.”

Chavez has respect for studios taking different approaches, like Atomic in consumer startups, Science in e-commerce and Pioneer Square Labs, which maintains a larger fund staff. “What excites me is moving entrepreneurship a step forward. Why couldn’t we franchise this in other cities?” He hopes {super}set can attract top talent that “just want to work on cool shit” rather than getting sucked into a single company.

Can {super}set keep all the plates spinning and really lower their risk? “If we’re wrong there will be a giant orange plume streak across the sky. The early returns are promising but we have to prove it,” Chavez says. But after accruing plenty of wealth for himself, he says the thrill that keeps him in the startup game is seeing life-changing outcomes for his teams. “I have spreadsheets showing the wealth generated by employees of companies I’ve built and nothing makes me happier than seeing them pay for tuitions, property, or retiring.”

Posted Under: Tech News
Salesforce is building an office tower in Sydney, pledging 1000 new jobs in next five years

Posted by on 1 October, 2019

This post was originally published on this site

Salesforce announced this week that it’s building another shiny tower. This one will be in Sydney with views of the harbor and the iconic Sydney Opera House. The company has also committed to adding 1000 new jobs in the next five years and to building the tower in a sustainable fashion.

In fact, Salesforce is pledging the new tower will be one of the greenest buildings in the country when they are finished. “The building has achieved Sydney’s first-ever WELL core and shell Platinum pre-certification, the highest obtainable pre-certification, and will achieve a 6 Star Green Star Design and As-Built rating, representing world excellence in sustainable design,” Salesforce’s Elizabeth Pinkham wrote in a blog post announcing the project.

As is Salesforce’s way, it’s going to be the tallest building in the city when it’s done, and will sit in the Circular Quay, part of the central business district in the city, and will house shops and restaurants on the main floor. As with all of its modern towers, it’s going to dedicate the top floor to allow for flexible use for employees, customers and partners. The building will also boast a variety of spaces including a Salesforce Innovation Center for customers along with social lounges, mindfulness areas and a variety of spaces for employees to collaborate.

Salesforce has had a presence in Sydney for over 15 years, according to the company, and this tower is an attempt to consolidate that presence into a single, modern space with room to expand over the next five years and add hundreds of new employees.

The announcement comes on the heels of the one earlier this year that the company was building a similarly grand project in Dublin to centralize operations in that city where it has had a presence since 2001.

Posted Under: Tech News
Rhino looks to replace renters’ security deposits with a small monthly fee

Posted by on 1 October, 2019

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Rhino, the insurtech startup incubated by Kairos and co-founded by Kairos CEO Ankur Jain, has today announced the close of a $21 million Series A round led by Kairos and Lakestar.

Rhino was founded in 2017 with the goal of putting the billions of dollars that are locked up in cash security deposits to renters, all while protecting landlords and their property. As it stands now, landlords usually take one month’s rent to cover any damage that might be done to the apartment during the lease. This is piled on top of first and sometimes last month’s rent, and even at times a broker’s fee of one month’s rent, which adds up to an incredibly steep cost of moving.

Because of certain regulations, this money is held in an individual escrow account and can’t really generate interest, which results in billions of dollars zapped out of the economy and instead sitting dead in some account.

Rhino is looking to give renters the option to pay a small monthly fee (as low as $3) to cover an insurance policy for the landlord. Rhino is itself a managing general agent, allowing the company to both sell and create policy plans for landlords through partnerships with carriers.

Thus far the startup has saved renters upwards of $60 million in 2019, with users in more than 300,000 rental units across the country.

“The greatest challenge is working against legacy and industry norms,” said Rhino CEO and cofounder Paraag Sarva. “That start has begun, but there is a huge amount of inertia behind the status quo and that is far and away what we are most challenged by day in and day out.”

To help speed up the process, Rhino is working alongside policymakers to enact change on a federal level.

Alongside the funding announcement, the company is announcing its new policy proposal that was created in collaboration with federal, state and local government officials. The policy essentially allows for renters to be given a choice when it comes to cash deposits, including allowing residents to cover security deposits in installments or use insurtech products like Rhino to cover deposits.

Rhino says it will be sharing the policy proposal with 2020 Presidential candidates on both sides of the aisle.

Rhino is one of a handful of companies that has been incubated by Kairos, a startup studio led by Ankur Jain with the goal of solving the biggest problems faced by everyday Americans. The studio focuses on housing and healthcare, with companies such as Rhino, June Homes, Little Spoon, Cera and a couple startups still in stealth.

Posted Under: Tech News
AWS IQ matches AWS customers with certified service providers

Posted by on 30 September, 2019

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AWS has a lot going on, and it’s not always easy for customers to deal with the breadth of its service offerings on its own. Today, the company announced a new service called AWS IQ that is designed to connect customers with certified service providers.

“Today I would like to tell you about AWS IQ, a new service that will help you to engage with AWS Certified third party experts for project work,” AWS’s Jeff Barr wrote in a blog post introducing the new feature. This could involve training, support, managed services, professional services or consulting. All of the companies available to help have received associate, specialty or professional certification from AWS, according to the post.

You start by selecting the type of service you are looking for such as training or professional services, then the tool walks you through the process of defining your needs including providing a title, description and what you are willing to pay for these services. The service then connects the requestor with a set of providers that match the requirements. From there, the requestor can review expert profiles and compare the ratings and offerings in a kind of online marketplace.

AWS IQ start screen

You start by selecting the type of service you want to engage.

Swami Sivasubramanian, vice president at AWS says they wanted to offer a way for customers and service providers to get together. “We built AWS IQ to serve as a bridge between our customers and experts, enabling them to get to work on new projects faster and easier, and removing many of the hassles and roadblocks that both groups usually encounter when dealing with project-based work,” he said in a statement.

The company sees this as a particularly valuable tool for small and medium sized vendors, who might lack the expertise to find help with AWS services. The end result is that everyone should win. Customers get direct access to this community of experts, and the experts can more easily connect with potential customers to build their AWS consulting practice.

Posted Under: Tech News
Microsoft’s Windows Virtual Desktop service is now generally available

Posted by on 30 September, 2019

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Microsoft today announced that Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD), its Azure-based system for virtualizing the Windows and Office user experience it announced last September, is now generally available. Using WVD, enterprises can give their employees access to virtualized applications and remote desktops, including the ability to provide multi-session Windows 10 experiences, something that sets Microsoft’s own apart from that of other vendors who offer virtualized Windows desktops and applications.

In addition to making the service generally available, Microsoft is also rolling it out globally, whereas the preview was U.S.-only and the original plan was to slowly roll it out globally. As Scott Manchester, the principal engineering lead for WVD, also told me that over 20,000 companies signed up for the preview. He also noted that Microsoft Teams is getting enhanced support in WVD with a significantly improved video conferencing experience.

Shortly after announcing the preview of WVD, Microsoft acquired a company called FSLogix, which specialized in provisioning the same kind of virtualized Windows environments that Microsoft offers through WVD. As Microsoft’s corporate VP for Microsoft 365 told me ahead of today’s announcement, the company took a lot of the know-how from FSLogix to ensure that the user experience on WVD is as smooth as possible.

Andreson noted that just as enterprises are getting more comfortable with moving some of their infrastructure to the cloud (and have others worry about managing it), there is now also growing demand from organizations that want this same experience for their desktop experiences. “They look at the cloud as a way of saying, ‘listen, let the experts manage the infrastructure. They can optimize it; they can fine-tune it; they can make sure that it’s all done right.’ And then I’ll just have a first-party service — in this case Microsoft — that I can leverage to simplify my life and enable me to spin up and down capacity on demand,” Anderson said. He also noted, though, that making sure that these services are always available is maybe even more critical than for other workloads that have moved to the cloud. If your desktop stops working, you can’t get much done, after all.

Anderson also stressed that if a customer wants a multi-session Windows 10 environment in the cloud, WVD is the only way to go because that is the only way to get a license to do so. “We’ve built the operating system, we built the public cloud, so that combination is going to be unique and this gives us the ability to make sure that that Windows 10 experience is the absolute best on top of that public cloud,” he noted.

He also stressed that the FSLogix acquisition enabled his team to work with the Office team to optimize the user experience there. Thanks to this, when you spin up a new virtualized version of Outlook, for example, it’ll just take a second or two to load instead of almost a minute.

A number of companies are also still looking to upgrade their old Windows 7 deployments. Microsoft will stop providing free security patches for them very soon, but on WVD, these users will still be able to get access to virtualized Windows 7 desktops with free extended security updates until January 2023.  Anderson does not believe that this will be a major driver for WVD adoption, but he does see “pockets of customers who are working on their transition.”

Enterprises can access Windows 10 Enterprise and Windows 7 Enterprise on WVD at no additional licensing cost (though, of course, the Azure resources they consume will cost them) if they have an eligible Windows 10 Enterprise or Microsoft 365 license.

 

Posted Under: Tech News
Confluent adds free tier to Kafka real-time streaming data cloud service

Posted by on 30 September, 2019

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When Confluent launched a cloud service in 2017, it was trying to reduce some of the complexity related to running a Kafka streaming data application. Today, it introduced a free tier to that cloud service. The company hopes to expand its market beyond large technology company customers, and the free tier should make it easier for smaller companies to get started.

The new tier provides up to $50 of service a month for up to three months. Company CEO Jay Kreps says that while $50 might not sound like much, it’s actually hundreds of gigabytes of throughput and makes it easy to get started with the tool.

“We felt like we can make this technology really accessible. We can make it as easy as we can. We want to make it something where you can just get going in seconds, and not have to pay anything to start building an application that uses real time streams of data,” Kreps said.

Kafka has been available as an open source product since 2011, so it’s been free to download, install and build applications, but still required a ton of compute and engineering resources to pull off. The cloud service was designed to simplify that, and the free tier lets developers get comfortable building a small application without making a large financial investment.

Once they get used to working with Kafka on the free version, users can then buy in whatever increments make sense for them, and only pay for what they use. It can be pennies worth of Kafka or hundreds of dollars depending on a customer’s individual requirements. “After free, you can buy 11 cents worth of Kafka or you can buy it $10 worth, all the way up to these massive users like Lyft that use Kafka Cloud at huge scale as part of their ride sharing service,” he said.

While a free SaaS trial might feel like a common kind of marketing approach, Kreps says for a service like Kafka, it’s actually much more difficult to pull off. “With something like a distributed system where you get a whole chunk of infrastructure, it’s actually technically an extraordinarily difficult thing to provide zero to elastic scale up capabilities. And a huge amount of engineering goes into making that possible,” Kreps explained.

Kafka processes massive streams of data in real time. It was originally developed inside LinkedIn and open sourced in 2011. Confluent launched as a commercial entity on top of the open source project in 2014. In January the company raised $125 million on a $2.5 billion valuation. It has raised over $205 million, according to Crunchbase data.

Posted Under: Tech News
Why is Dropbox reinventing itself?

Posted by on 29 September, 2019

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According to Dropbox CEO Drew Houston, 80% of the product’s users rely on it, at least partially, for work.

It makes sense, then, that the company is refocusing to try and cement its spot in the workplace; to shed its image as “just” a file storage company (in a time when just about every big company has its own cloud storage offering) and evolve into something more immutably core to daily operations.

Earlier this week, Dropbox announced that the “new Dropbox” would be rolling out to all users. It takes the simple, shared folders that Dropbox is known for and turns them into what the company calls “Spaces” — little mini collaboration hubs for your team, complete with comment streams, AI for highlighting files you might need mid-meeting, and integrations into things like Slack, Trello and G Suite. With an overhauled interface that brings much of Dropbox’s functionality out of the OS and into its own dedicated app, it’s by far the biggest user-facing change the product has seen since launching 12 years ago.

Shortly after the announcement, I sat down with Dropbox VP of Product Adam Nash and CTO Quentin Clark . We chatted about why the company is changing things up, why they’re building this on top of the existing Dropbox product, and the things they know they just can’t change.

You can find these interviews below, edited for brevity and clarity.

Greg Kumparak: Can you explain the new focus a bit?

Adam Nash: Sure! I think you know this already, but I run products and growth, so I’m gonna have a bit of a product bias to this whole thing. But Dropbox… one of its differentiating characteristics is really that when we built this utility, this “magic folder”, it kind of went everywhere.

Posted Under: Tech News
Google will soon open a cloud region in Poland

Posted by on 27 September, 2019

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Google today announced its plans to open a new cloud region in Warsaw, Poland to better serve its customers in Central and Eastern Europe.

This move is part of Google’s overall investment in expanding the physical footprint of its data centers. Only a few days ago, after all, the company announced that, in the next two years, it would spend $3.3 billion on its data center presence in Europe alone.

Google Cloud currently operates 20 different regions with 61 availability zones. Warsaw, like most of Google’s regions, will feature three availability zones and launch with all the standard core Google Cloud services, including Compute Engine, App Engine, Google Kubernetes Engine, Cloud Bigtable, Cloud Spanner, and BigQuery.

To launch the new region in Poland, Google is partnering with Domestic Cloud Provider (a.k.a. Chmury Krajowej, which itself is a joint venture of the Polish Development Fund and PKO Bank Polski). Domestic Cloud Provider (DCP) will become a Google Cloud reseller in the country and build managed services on top of Google’s infrastructure.

“Poland is in a period of rapid growth, is accelerating its digital transformation, and has become an international software engineering hub,” writes Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian. “The strategic partnership with DCP and the new Google Cloud region in Warsaw align with our commitment to boost Poland’s digital economy and will make it easier for Polish companies to build highly available, meaningful applications for their customers.”

 

Posted Under: Tech News
MediaRadar’s new product helps event organizers maximize sales

Posted by on 26 September, 2019

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MediaRadar CEO Todd Krizelman describes his company as having “a very specific objective, which is to help media salespeople sell more advertising” by providing them with crucial data. And with today’s launch of MediaRadar Events, Krizelman hopes to do something similar for event organizers.

These customer groups might actually be one and the same, as plenty of companies (including TechCrunch) see both advertising and events as part of their business. In fact, Krizelman said customer demand “basically pushed us into this business.

He also suggested that that after years of seeing traditional ad dollars shifting into digital, “the money is now moving out of digital into events.”

If you’re organizing a trade show, you can use MediaRadar Events to learn about the overall size of the market, and then see who’s been purchasing sponsorships and exhibitor booths at similar events.

The product doesn’t just tell you who to reach out to, but how much these companies have paid for booths and sponsorships in the past, whether there are seasonal patterns in their conference spending and how that spending fits into their overall marketing budget — after all, Krizelman said, “In 2019, very few companies are siloed by media format as a buyer or a seller. Anyone doing that is putting their business at risk.”

He also described collecting the data needed to power MediaRadar Events as “much more complicated than we expected,” which is why it took the team two years to build the product. He said that data comes from three sources — some of it is posted publicly by event organizers, some of is shared directly by the event organizers with MediaRadar and in some cases members of the MediaRadar team will attend the events themselves.

MediaRadar Events support a wide range of events, although Krizelman acknowledged that it doesn’t have data for every industry. For example, he suggested that a convention for coin-operated laundromat owners might be “too niche” (though he hastened to add that he meant no offense to the laundromat business).

In a statement, James Ogle — chief financial officer at AdExchanger owner Access Intelligence — said:

Hosting events and the resulting revenue that comes from them is a big part of our business. However, the event space is getting more and more crowded and also more niche. Relevancy equals value, so we want to make sure our attendees are within the right target market for our exhibitors. MediaRadar provides critical transparency into the marketplace.

Posted Under: Tech News
Battlefield vets StrongSalt (formerly OverNest) announces $3M seed round

Posted by on 26 September, 2019

This post was originally published on this site

StrongSalt, then known as OverNest, appeared at the TechCrunch Disrupt NYC Battlefield in 2016, and announced product for searching encrypted code, which remains unusual to this day. Today, the company announced a $3 million seed round led by Valley Capital Partners.

StrongSalt founder and CEO Ed Yu, says encryption remains a difficult proposition, and that when you look at the majority of breaches, encryption wasn’t used. He said that his company wants to simplify adding encryption to applications, and came up with a new service to let developers add encryption in the form of an API. “We decided to come up with what we call an API platform. It’s like infrastructure that allows you to integrate our solution into any existing or any new applications,” he said.

The company’s original idea was to create a product to search encrypted code, but Yu says the tech has much more utility as an API that’s applicable across applications, and that’s why they decided to package it as a service. It’s not unlike Twilio for communications or Stripe for payments, except in this case you can build in searchable encryption.

The searchable part is actually a pretty big deal because, as Yu points out, when you encrypt data it is no longer searchable. “If you encrypt all your data, you cannot search within it, and if you cannot search within it, you cannot find the data you’re looking for, and obviously you can’t really use the data. So we actually solved that problem,” he said.

Developers can add searchable encryption as part of their applications. For customers already using a commercial product, the company’s API actually integrates with popular services, enabling customers to encrypt the data stored there, while keeping it searchable.

“We will offer a storage API on top of Box, AWS S3, Google cloud, Azure — depending on what the customer has or wants. If the customer already has AWS S3 storage, for example, then when they use our API, and after encrypting the data, it will be stored in their AWS repository,” Yu explained.

For those companies who don’t have a storage service, the company is offering one. What’s more, they are using the blockchain to provide a mechanism for the sharing, auditing and managing encrypted data. “We also use the blockchain for sharing data by recording the authorization by the sender, so the receiver can retrieve the information needed to reconstruct the keys in order to retrieve the data. This simplifies key management in the case of sharing and ensures auditability and revocability of the sharing by the sender,” Yu said.

If you’re wondering how the company has been surviving since 2016, while only getting its seed round today, it had a couple of small seed rounds prior to this, and a contract with the US Department of Defense, which replaced the need for substantial earlier funding.

“The DOD was looking for a solution to have secure communication between between computers, and they needed to have a way to securely store data, and so we were providing a solution for them,” he said. In fact, this work was what led them to build the commercial API platform they are offering today.

The company, which was founded in 2015, currently has 12 employees spread across the globe.

Posted Under: Tech News
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