How Liberty Mutual shifted 44,000 workers from office to home

Posted by on 15 June, 2020

This post was originally published on this site

In a typical month, an IT department might deal with a small percentage of employees working remotely, but tracking a few thousand employees is one thing — moving an entire company offsite requires next-level planning.

To learn more about how large organizations are adapting to the rapid shift to working from home, we spoke to Liberty Mutual CIO James McGlennon, who helped orchestrate his company’s move about the challenges he faced as he shifted more than 44,000 employees in a variety of jobs, locations, cultures and living situations from office to home in short order.

Laying the groundwork

Insurance company Liberty Mutual is headquartered in the heart of Boston, but the company has offices in 29 countries. While some staffers in parts of Asia and Europe were sent home earlier in the year, by mid-March the company had closed all of its offices in the U.S. and Canada, eventually sending every employee home.

McGlennon said he never imagined such a situation, but the company saw certain networking issues in recent years that gave them an inkling of what it might look like. That included an unexpected incident in which two points on a network ring around one of its main data centers went down in quick succession, first because a backhoe hit a line, and then at another point because someone stole the fiber-optic cable.

That got the CIO and his team thinking about how to respond to worst cases. “We certainly hadn’t contemplated needing to get 44,000 people working from home or working remotely so quickly, but there have been a few things that have happened over the last few years that made me think,” he said.

Posted Under: Tech News
VESoft raises $8M to meet China’s growing need for graph databases

Posted by on 15 June, 2020

This post was originally published on this site

Sherman Ye founded VESoft in 2018 when he saw a growing demand for graph databases in China. Its predecessors like Neo4j and TigerGraph had already been growing aggressively in the West for a few years, while China was just getting to know the technology that leverages graph structures to store data sets and depict their relationships, such as those used for social media analysis, e-commerce recommendations, and financial risk management.

VESoft is ready for further growth after closing an $8 million funding round led by Redpoint China Ventures, an investment firm launched by Silicon Valley-based Redpoint Ventures in 2005. Existing investor Matrix Partners China also participated in the Series pre-A round. The new capital will allow the startup to develop products and expand to markets in North America, Europe, and other parts of Asia.

The 30-people team is comprised of former employees from Alibaba, Facebook, Huawei, and IBM. It’s based in Hangzhou, a scenic city known for its rich history and housing Alibaba and its financial affiliate Ant Financial, where Ye previously worked as a senior engineer after his four-year stint with Facebook in California. From 2017 to 2018, the entrepreneur noticed that Ant Financial’s customers were increasingly interested in adopting graph databases as an alternative to relational databases, a model that had been popular since the 80s and normally organizes data into tables.

“While relational databases are capable of achieving many functions carried out by graph databases… they deteriorate in performance as the quantity of data grows,” Yu told TechCrunch during an interview. “We didn’t use to have so much data.”

Information explosion is one reason why Chinese companies are turning to graph databases, which can handle millions of transactions to discover patterns within scattered data. The technology’s rise is also a response to new forms of online businesses that depend more on relationships.

“Take recommendations for example. The old model recommends content based purely on user profiles, but the problem of relying on personal browsing history is it fails to recommend new things. That was fine for a long time as the Chinese [internet] market was big enough to accommodate many players. But as the industry becomes saturated and crowded… companies need to ponder how to retain existing users, lengthen their time spent, and win users from rivals.”

The key lies in serving people content and products they find appealing. Graph databases come in handy, suggested Yu, when services try to predict users’ interest or behavior as the model uncovers what their friends or people within their social circles like. “That’s a lot more effective than feeding them what’s trending.”

Neo4j compares relational and graph databases (Link)

The company has made its software open source, which the founder believed can help cultivate a community of graph database users and educate the market in China. It will also allow VESoft to reach more engineers in the English-speaking world who are well-acquainted with the open-source culture.

“There is no such thing as being ‘international’ or ‘domestic’ for a technology-driven company. There are no boundaries between countries in the open-source world,” reckoned Yu.

When it comes to generating income, the startup plans to launch a paid version for enterprises, which will come with customized plug-ins and host services.

The Nebula Graph, the brand of VESoft’s database product, is now serving 20 enterprise clients from areas across social media, e-commerce, and finance including big names like food delivery giant Meituan, popular social commerce app Xiaohongshu, and e-commerce leader JD.com. A number of overseas companies are also trialing Nebula.

The time is ripe for enterprise-facing startups with a technological moat in China as the market for consumers has been divided by incumbents like Tencent and Alibaba. This makes fundraising relatively easy for VESoft. The founder is confident that Chinese companies are rapidly catching up with their Western counterparts in the space, for the gargantuan amount of data and the myriad of ways data is used in the country “will propel the technology forward.”

Posted Under: Tech News
Gauging growth in the most challenging environment in decades

Posted by on 11 June, 2020

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Traditionally, measuring business success requires a greater understanding of your company’s go-to-market lifecycle, how customers engage with your product and the macro-dynamics of your market. But in the most challenging environment in decades, those metrics are out the window.

Enterprise application and SaaS companies are changing their approach to measuring performance and preparing to grow when the economy begins to recover. While there are no blanket rules or guidance that applies to every business, company leaders need to focus on a few critical metrics to understand their performance and maximize their opportunities. This includes understanding their burn rate, the overall real market opportunity, how much cash they have on hand and their access to capital. Analyzing the health of the company through these lenses will help leaders make the right decisions on how to move forward.

Play the game with the hand you were dealt. Earlier this year, our company closed a $40 million Series C round of funding, which left us in a strong cash position as we entered the market slowdown in March. Nonetheless, as the impact of COVID-19 became apparent, one of our board members suggested that we quickly develop a business plan that assumed we were running out of money. This would enable us to get on top of the tough decisions we might need to make on our resource allocation and the size of our staff.

While I understood the logic of his exercise, it is important that companies develop and execute against plans that reflect their actual situation. The reality is, we did raise the money, so we revised our plan to balance ultra-conservative forecasting (and as a trained accountant, this is no stretch for me!) with new ideas for how to best utilize our resources based on the market situation.

Burn rate matters, but not at the expense of your culture and your talent. For most companies, talent is both their most important resource and their largest expense. Therefore, it’s usually the first area that goes under the knife in order to reduce the monthly spend and optimize efficiency. Fortunately, heading into the pandemic, we had not yet ramped up hiring to support our rapid growth, so were spared from having to make enormously difficult decisions. We knew, however, that we would not hit our 2020 forecast, which required us to make new projections and reevaluate how we were deploying our talent.

Posted Under: Tech News
OpenStack adds the StarlinkX edge computing stack to its top-level projects

Posted by on 11 June, 2020

This post was originally published on this site

The OpenStack Foundation today announced that StarlingX, a container-based system for running edge deployments, is now a top-level project. With this, it joins the main OpenStack private and public cloud infrastructure project, the Airship lifecycle management system, Kata Containers and the Zuul CI/CD platform.

What makes StarlingX a bit different from some of these other projects is that it is a full stack for edge deployments — and in that respect, it’s maybe more akin to OpenStack than the other projects in the foundation’s stable. It uses open-source components from the Ceph storage platform, the KVM virtualization solution, Kubernetes and, of course, OpenStack and Linux. The promise here is that StarlingX can provide users with an easy way to deploy container and VM workloads to the edge, all while being scalable, lightweight and providing low-latency access to the services hosted on the platform.

Early StarlingX adopters include China UnionPay, China Unicom and T-Systems. The original codebase was contributed to the foundation by Intel and Wind River System in 2018. Since then, the project has seen 7,108 commits from 211 authors.

“The StarlingX community has made great progress in the last two years, not only in building great open source software but also in building a productive and diverse community of contributors,” said Ildiko Vancsa, ecosystem technical lead at the OpenStack Foundation. “The core platform for low-latency and high-performance applications has been enhanced with a container-based, distributed cloud architecture, secure booting, TPM device enablement, certificate management and container isolation. StarlingX 4.0, slated for release later this year, will feature enhancements such as support for Kata Containers as a container runtime, integration of the Ussuri version of OpenStack, and containerization of the remaining platform services.”

It’s worth remembering that the OpenStack Foundation has gone through a few changes in recent years. The most important of these is that it is now taking on other open-source infrastructure projects that are not part of the core OpenStack project but are strategically aligned with the organization’s mission. The first of these to graduate out of the pilot project phase and become top-level projects were Kata Containers and Zuul in April 2019, with Airship joining them in October.

Currently, the only pilot project for the OpenStack Foundation is its OpenInfra Labs project, a community of commercial vendors and academic institutions, including the likes of Boston University, Harvard, MIT, Intel and Red Hat, that are looking at how to better test open-source code in production-like environments.

 

Posted Under: Tech News
Quolum announces $2.75M seed investment to track SaaS spending

Posted by on 11 June, 2020

This post was originally published on this site

As companies struggle to find ways to control costs in today’s economy, understanding what you are spending on SaaS tools is paramount. That’s precisely what early stage startup Quolum is attempting to do, and today it announced a $2.75 million seed round.

Surge Ventures and Nexus Venture Partners led the round with help from a dozen unnamed angel investors.

Company founder Indus Khatian says that he launched the company last summer pre-COVID, when he recognized that companies were spending tons of money on SaaS subscriptions and he wanted to build a product to give greater visibility into that spending.

This tool is aimed at finance, who might not know about the utility of a specific SaaS tool like PagerDuty, but who looks at the bills every month. The idea is to give them data about usage as well as cost to make sure they aren’t paying for something they aren’t using.

“Our goal is to give finance a better set of tools, not just to put a dollar amount on [the subscription costs], but also the utilization, as in who’s using it, how much are they using it and is it effective? Do I need to know more about it? Those are the questions that we are helping finance answer,” Khatian explained.

Eventually, he says he also wants to give that data directly to lines of business, but for starters he is focusing on finance. The product works by connecting to the billing or expense software to give insight into the costs of the services. It takes that data and combines it with usage data in a dashboard to give a single view of the SaaS spending in one place.

While Khatian acknowledges there are other similar tools in the marketplace such as Blissfully, Intello and others, he believes the problem is big enough for multiple vendors to do well. “Our differentiator is being end-to-end. We are not just looking at the dollars, or stopping at how many times you’ve logged in, but we’re going deep into consumption. So for every dollar that you’ve spent, how many units of that software you have consumed,” he said.

He says that he raised the money last fall and admits that it probably would have been tougher today, and he would have likely raised on a lower valuation.

Today the company consists of a 6 person development team in Bangalore in India and Khatian in the U.S. After the company generates some revenue he will be hiring a few people to help with marketing, sales and engineering.

When it comes to building a diverse company, he points out that he himself is an immigrant founder, and he sees the ability to work from anywhere, an idea amplified by COVID-19, helping result in a more diverse workforce. As he builds his company, and adds employees,  he can hire people across the world, regardless of location.

Posted Under: Tech News
InVision adds new features to Freehand, a virtual whiteboard tool, as user demand surges

Posted by on 11 June, 2020

This post was originally published on this site

No business is immune to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. We’ve seen Airbnb — a company particularly susceptible to this Black Swan event — go through an insane design sprint. Even enterprise collaboration tools have felt it, with Box readjusting its product road map to focus on how the tool worked for remote employees.

InVision has also seen the change in its users behavior and adapted accordingly. Freehand, the company’s collaborative white boarding tool has seen a huge surge in users and the startup has added a handful of new features to the product.

The company says that Freehand is seeing 130 percent growth in weekly active users since March.

New features include sticky notes that come in multiple color, size and text options, as well as templates to give teams a jumping off point for their whiteboarding exercise. Freehand has six new templates to start — brainstorming, wireframing, retrospectives, standups, diagrams, and ice breakers &madsh; and has plans to add more soon.

InVision has also added a ‘presenting’ mode to Freehand.

Because this virtual whiteboard has no space constraints, it can literally zoom out to infinity and is restricted only by the imagination of the team working on it. In ‘presenting’ mode, a team leader can take over the view of the virtual whiteboard to guide their team through one part of the content at a time.

Freehand has an integration with Microsoft Teams and Slack, and also has a new shortcut where users can type ‘freehand.new’ into any browser to start on a fresh whiteboard.

Interestingly, the user growth around Freehand doesn’t just come from the usual suspects of design, product and engineering teams. Departments across organizations, including HR, Marketing and IT teams, are coming to Freehand to collaborate on projects and tasks. More than 60 percent of Freehand users are not coming from the design team.

InVision has also added some fine-tuning features, such as a brand new toolbar to allow for easier drawing of shapes, alignment, color and opacity features, and better controls for turning lines into precise arrows or end-points for diagrams.

One of the most interesting things about Freehand is that it allows for democratized access to the whiteboard itself. With no restraints on time or space, and with no one gatekeeping up at the front of the room holding the marker, all members of a team can go in and add their thoughts and ideas to the whiteboard before, during or after a meeting.

“One of the nice things about a whiteboard or a virtual whiteboard like this one is it removes it removes the aspects of the restrictions of time and space, so teams can have more efficient meetings where they get the benefit of democratic input without the cost of having only one person at a time being able to speak or add,” said David Fraga, InVision President. “It offers a synchronous collision of collaboration.”

InVision has raised a total of $350 million from investors like FirstMark, Spark, Battery, Accel and Tiger Global Management. The company now boasts more than 7 million total registered users, with 100 of the Fortune 100 companies using the product. InVision is also part of the $100 million ARR club.

Posted Under: Tech News
API platform Postman delivers $150M Series C on $2B valuation

Posted by on 11 June, 2020

This post was originally published on this site

APIs provide a way to build connections to a set of disparate applications and data sources, and can help simplify a lot of the complex integration issues companies face. Postman has built an enterprise API platform and today it got rewarded with a $150 million Series C investment on a whopping $2 billion valuation — all during a pandemic.

Insight Partners led the round with help from existing investors CRV and Nexus Venture Partners. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $207 million, according to the company. That includes a $50 million Series B from a year ago, making it $200 million raised in just a year. That’s a lot of cash.

Abhinav Asthana, CEO and co-founder at Postman, says that what’s attracting all that dough is an end-to-end platform for building APIs. “We help developers, QA, DevOps — anybody who is in the business of building APIs — work on the same platform. They can use our tools for designing, documentation, testing and monitoring to build high quality APIs, and they do that faster.” Asthana told TechCrunch.

He says that he was not actively looking for funding before this round came together. In fact, he says that investors approached him after the pandemic shut everything down in California in March, and he sees it as a form of validation for the startup.

“We think it shows the strength of the company. We have phenomenal adoption across developers and enterprises and the pandemic has [not had much of an impact on us]. The company has been receiving crazy inbound interest [from investors],” he said.

He didn’t want to touch the question of going public just yet, but he feels the hefty valuation sends a message to the market that this is a solid company that is going to be around for the long term.

Jeff Horing, co-founder and managing director at lead investor Insight Partners certainly sees it that way. “The combination of the market opportunity, the management team and Postman’s proven track record of success shows that they are ready to become the software industry’s next great success,” he said in a statement.

Today the company has around 250 employees divided between the US and Bangalore in India, and he sees doubling that number in the next year. One thing the pandemic has shown him is that his employees can work from anywhere and he intends to hire people across the world to take advantage of the most diverse talent pool possible.

“Looking for diverse talent as part of our large community as we build this workforce up is going to be a key way in which we want to solve this. Along with that, we are bringing people from diverse communities into our events and making sure that we are constantly in touch with those communities, which should help us build up a very strong diverse kind of hiring function,” he said.

He added, “We want to be deliberate about that, and over the coming months we will also shed more light on what specifically we are doing.”

Posted Under: Tech News
Tulsa is trying to build a startup ecosystem from scratch

Posted by on 10 June, 2020

This post was originally published on this site

When you think about startup hubs, Tulsa, Oklahoma is probably not the first city that comes to mind.

A coalition of business, education, government and philanthropists are working to foster a startup ecosystem in a city that’s better known for its aerospace and energy companies. These community leaders recognized that raising the standard of living for a wide cross-section of citizens required a new generation of companies and jobs — which takes commitment from a broad set of interested parties.

In Tulsa, that effort began with George Kaiser Family Foundation (GKFF), a philanthropic organization, and ended with the creation of Tulsa Innovation Labs (TIL), a partnership between GKFF, Israeli cybersecurity venture capitalists Team8 and several area colleges and local government.

Why Tulsa?

Tulsa is a city of more than 650,000 people, with a median household income of $53,902 and a median house price of $150,500. Glassdoor reports that the average salary for a software engineer in Tulsa is $66,629; in San Francisco, the median home price is over $1.1 million, household income comes in at $112,376 and Glassdoor’s average software engineer salary is $115,822.

Home to several universities and a slew of cultural attractions, the city has a lot to offer. To sweeten the deal, GKFF spun up “Tulsa Remote,” an initiative that offers $10,000 to remote workers who will relocate and make the city their home base. The goal: draw in new, high-tech workers who will help build a more vibrant economy.

Tulsa is the second-largest city in the state of Oklahoma and 47th-most populous city in the United States. Photo Credit: DenisTangneyJr/Getty Images

Local colleges are educating the next generation of workers; Tulsa Innovation Labs is working with the University of Tulsa in partnership with Team8 through the university’s Cyber Fellows program. There are also ongoing discussions with Oklahoma State University-Tulsa and the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa about building a similar relationship.

These constituencies are trying to grow a startup ecosystem from the ground up. It takes a sense of cooperation and hard work and it will probably take some luck, but they are starting with $50 million, announced just this week from GKFF, for startup investments through TIL.

Posted Under: Tech News
Flatfile scores $7.6M seed investment to simplify data onboarding

Posted by on 10 June, 2020

This post was originally published on this site

One of the huge challenges companies like enterprise SaaS vendors face with new customers is getting customer data into their service. It’s a problem that Flatfile founders faced first hand in their jobs, and they decided to solve it. Today, the company announced a healthy $7.6 million seed investment to expand on that vision.

The company also announced the release of its latest product called Concierge.

Two Sigma Ventures led the investment with participation from previous investors Afore Capital, Designer Fund and Gradient Ventures (Google’s AI- focused venture fund).

Company CEO David Boskovic says he and co-founder Eric Crane recognized that this is a problem just about every company faces. Let’s say you sign up for a CRM tool like Hubspot (which is a Flatfile customer). Your first step is to get your customer data into the new service.

As Boskovic points out, if you have thousands of existing customers that can be a real problem, often involving days or even weeks to prepare the data, depending on the size of your customer base. It typically includes importing your data from an existing source, then manually moving it to an Excel spreadsheet.

“What we’re trying to solve for at Flatfile is automating that entire process. You can drop in any data that you have and get it into a new product, and what that solves from a market perspective is the speed of adopting new software,” Boskovic told TechCrunch.

Image Credit: Flatfile

He says they have automated the process to the point it usually takes just a few minutes to process the data, If there are problems that Flatfile can’t solve, it presents the issue to the user who can fix it and move on.

The founders realized that not every use case is going to involve a simple one-to-one data transfer, so they created their new product called Concierge to help companies manage more complex data integration scenarios for their customers

“What we do is we provide a bridge between disparate data formats that are a little bit more complex and let our customers collaborate with their new customers that they are onboarding to bring the data to the right state to use it in the new system,” Boscovic explained.

Whatever they are doing it seems to be working. The company launched in 2016 and today it has 160 customers with 300 sitting on a waiting list. It has increased that customer count by 5x since the beginning of the year in the middle of a pandemic.

Any product that reduces labor and increases efficiency and collaboration in a digital context is going to get the attention of customers right now, and Flatfile is seeing huge spike in interest in spite of the current economy. “We’re helping onboard customers quickly and more efficiently. And our Concierge service can also help reduce in-person touch points by reducing this long, typical data onboarding process,” Boscovic said.

The company has not had to change the way it’s worked because of the pandemic as it has been a distributed workforce from day one. In fact, Boscovic is in Denver and co-founder Eric Crane is based in Atlanta. The startup currently has 14 employees, but plans to fill at least 10 roles this year.

“We’ve got a pretty aggressive hiring map. Our pipeline is bigger than we can handle from a sales perspective,” he said. That means they will be looking to fill sales, marketing and product jobs.

Posted Under: Tech News
Hear from Figma founder and CEO Dylan Field at TC Early Stage in July

Posted by on 10 June, 2020

This post was originally published on this site

Figma is one of the fastest-growing companies in the world of design and in the broader SaaS category. So it goes without saying that we’re absolutely thrilled to have Figma CEO Dylan Field join us at Early Stage, our virtual two-day conference on July 21 and 22, as a speaker. You can pick up a ticket to the event here!

Early Stage is all about giving entrepreneurs the tools they need to be successful. Experts across a wide variety of core competencies, including fundraising, growth marketing, media management, recruiting, legal and tech development will offer their insights and answer questions from the audience.

Field joins an outstanding speaker list that includes Lo Toney, Ann Muira Ko, Dalton Caldwell, Charles Hudson, Cyan Banister and more.

Field founded Figma in 2012 after becoming a Theil fellow. The company spent six years in development before launching, working tediously on the technology and design of a product that aimed to be the Google Docs of design.

Figma is a web-based design product that allows people to design collaboratively on the same project in real time.

The design space is, in many respects, up for grabs as it goes through a transformation, with designers receiving more influence within organizations and other departments growing more closely involved with the design process overall.

This also means that there is fierce competition in this industry, with behemoths like Adobe iterating their products and growing startups like InVision and Canva sprinting hard to capture as much market as possible.

Figma, with $130 million+ in total funding, has lured investors like Index, A16Z, Sequoia, Greylock, and KPCB.

At Early Stage, we’ll talk to Field about staying patient during the product development process and then transitioning into an insane growth sprint. We’ll also chat about the fundraising process, how he built a team from scratch, and how he took the team remote in the midst of a pandemic, as well as chatting about the product development strategy behind Figma.

How to take your time as fast as you can

Figma spent six years in stealth before ever launching a product. But when it finally did come to market, its industry was in the midst of a paradigm shift. Entire organizations started participating in the design process, and conversely, designers became empowered, asserting more influence over the direction of the company and the products they built. We’ll hear from Figma founder and CEO Dylan Field on how he stayed patient with product development and sprinted towards growth.

Get your pass to Early Stage for access to over to 50 small-group workshops along with world-class networking with CrunchMatch. They start at just $199 but prices increase in a few days so grab yours today.

Posted Under: Tech News
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