May
23
2018
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Meet the speakers at The Europas, and get your ticket free (July 3, London)

Excited to announce that this year’s The Europas Unconference & Awards is shaping up! Our half day Unconference kicks off on 3 July, 2018 at The Brewery in the heart of London’s “Tech City” area, followed by our startup awards dinner and fantastic party and celebration of European startups!

The event is run in partnership with TechCrunch, the official media partner. Attendees, nominees and winners will get deep discounts to TechCrunch Disrupt in Berlin, later this year.
The Europas Awards are based on voting by expert judges and the industry itself. But key to the daytime is all the speakers and invited guests. There’s no “off-limits speaker room” at The Europas, so attendees can mingle easily with VIPs and speakers.

What exactly is an Unconference? We’re dispensing with the lectures and going straight to the deep-dives, where you’ll get a front row seat with Europe’s leading investors, founders and thought leaders to discuss and debate the most urgent issues, challenges and opportunities. Up close and personal! And, crucially, a few feet away from handing over a business card. The Unconference is focused into zones including AI, Fintech, Mobility, Startups, Society, and Enterprise and Crypto / Blockchain.

We’ve confirmed 10 new speakers including:


Eileen Burbidge, Passion Capital


Carlos Eduardo Espinal, Seedcamp


Richard Muirhead, Fabric Ventures


Sitar Teli, Connect Ventures


Nancy Fechnay, Blockchain Technologist + Angel


George McDonaugh, KR1


Candice Lo, Blossom Capital


Scott Sage, Crane Venture Partners


Andrei Brasoveanu, Accel


Tina Baker, Jag Shaw Baker

How To Get Your Ticket For FREE

We’d love for you to ask your friends to join us at The Europas – and we’ve got a special way to thank you for sharing.

Your friend will enjoy a 15% discount off the price of their ticket with your code, and you’ll get 15% off the price of YOUR ticket.

That’s right, we will refund you 15% off the cost of your ticket automatically when your friend purchases a Europas ticket.

So you can grab tickets here.

Vote for your Favourite Startups

Public Voting is still humming along. Please remember to vote for your favourite startups!

Awards by category:

Hottest Media/Entertainment Startup

Hottest E-commerce/Retail Startup

Hottest Education Startup

Hottest Startup Accelerator

Hottest Marketing/AdTech Startup

Hottest Games Startup

Hottest Mobile Startup

Hottest FinTech Startup

Hottest Enterprise, SaaS or B2B Startup

Hottest Hardware Startup

Hottest Platform Economy / Marketplace

Hottest Health Startup

Hottest Cyber Security Startup

Hottest Travel Startup

Hottest Internet of Things Startup

Hottest Technology Innovation

Hottest FashionTech Startup

Hottest Tech For Good

Hottest A.I. Startup

Fastest Rising Startup Of The Year

Hottest GreenTech Startup of The Year

Hottest Startup Founders

Hottest CEO of the Year

Best Angel/Seed Investor of the Year

Hottest VC Investor of the Year

Hottest Blockchain/Crypto Startup Founder(s)

Hottest Blockchain Protocol Project

Hottest Blockchain DApp

Hottest Corporate Blockchain Project

Hottest Blockchain Investor

Hottest Blockchain ICO (Europe)

Hottest Financial Crypto Project

Hottest Blockchain for Good Project

Hottest Blockchain Identity Project

Hall Of Fame Award – Awarded to a long-term player in Europe

The Europas Grand Prix Award (to be decided from winners)

The Awards celebrates the most forward thinking and innovative tech & blockchain startups across over some 30+ categories.

Startups can apply for an award or be nominated by anyone, including our judges. It is free to enter or be nominated.

What is The Europas?

Instead of thousands and thousands of people, think of a great summer event with 1,000 of the most interesting and useful people in the industry, including key investors and leading entrepreneurs.

• No secret VIP rooms, which means you get to interact with the Speakers

• Key Founders and investors speaking; featured attendees invited to just network

• Expert speeches, discussions, and Q&A directly from the main stage

• Intimate “breakout” sessions with key players on vertical topics

• The opportunity to meet almost everyone in those small groups, super-charging your networking

• Journalists from major tech titles, newspapers and business broadcasters

• A parallel Founders-only track geared towards fund-raising and hyper-networking

• A stunning awards dinner and party which honors both the hottest startups and the leading lights in the European startup scene

• All on one day to maximise your time in London. And it’s PROBABLY sunny!

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That’s just the beginning. There’s more to come…

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Interested in sponsoring the Europas or hosting a table at the awards? Or purchasing a table for 10 or 12 guest or a half table for 5 guests? Get in touch with:
Petra Johansson
Petra@theeuropas.com
Phone: +44 (0) 20 3239 9325

May
22
2018
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Slack introduces Actions to make it easier to create and finish tasks without leaving

As Slack tries to graduate beyond a Silicon Valley darling to the go-to communications platform within a company, it’s had to find ways to increasingly pitch itself as an intelligent Swiss Army knife for companies — and not just a simple chat app — and it is trying to continue that today once again with a new feature called Actions.

Companies can now bake in a user experience of their own directly into the Slack application that isn’t yet another chatbot that’s tied into their services. Developers can essentially create a customized prompt for any kind of action, like submitting a support ticket, within the Slack core chat experience through a drop-down window called an Action. While Slackbots may have been an early incarnation of this, Slack’s platform has grown to include more than 200,000 developers, and there’s still constant need for robust tools internally. This offers partners and developers a little more flexibility when it comes to figuring out what experience makes the most sense for people that sit in Slack all day, but have to keep porting information to and from their own tools.

“There’s such a demand for specialized software, and for great tools that are easy to use and interoperable with all applications you use,” Slack chief product officer April Underwood said. “We think this is good, and we think more tools means customers have more choice. Ultimately there’s more competition in the marketplace, that means the best tools, the ones that truly help companies do their best work, rise to the top. But your work experience becomes increasingly siloed. Slack needs to be highly configurable, but in doing so we believe Slack is the collaboration hub that brings all this together.”

Each company that wants to build in an integration — like Asana for task management or Zendesk for ticket management — works to create a new flow within the core Slack experience, which includes a new dropdown inside a message and a prompt to bake something into the chat flow. Once that happens, all that information is then ported over to the integration and created in the same way an employee would create it within that environment. If someone creates a Zendesk ticket through an action in Slack, Zendesk automatically generates the ticket on their side.

Slack has sprawled out over time, and especially as companies using it get larger and larger, the company has to figure out a way to show that it can remain a dead-simple app without turning into a bloated window filled with thousands of instant messages. Actions is one potential approach to that, where users can know from the get-go where to coordinate certain activities like equipment procurement or managing some customer information — and not have to go anywhere else.

The other advantage here is that it makes the destination for completing a task not necessarily a “what,” but also a “who.” Slack is leaning on its machine learning tool to make it easier and easier to find the right people with the right answers, whether those questions are already answered somewhere or they know who can get you the information right away. Actions is another extension here, as well, as users can get accustomed to going to certain coworkers with the intent of completing tasks — such as their IT head in their office that they walk by every morning on the way to grabbing coffee.

The company says it’s also working on what it’s calling the Block Kit, which integrates those tasks and other elements directly into the Slack chat flow in a way that looks a little more user friendly from a kind of visual sense. The idea here is, again, to create an intuitive flow for people that goes beyond just a simple chat app, but also offers some additional way of interactivity that turns Slack into a more sensible feed rather than just a window with people talking to each other. Actions are available from Jira, Bitbucket, Asana, Zendesk, HubSpot, and several others.

Actions is a tool that Slack is unveiling at its own developer conference, Spec, this morning. That in of itself is yet another example of Slack looking to graduate beyond just a simpler information feed that works well with smaller companies. Developers are often the ones that figure out the best niche use cases for any platform, as it means Slack can focus on trying to figure out how all these integrations fit into its design ethos. The company has to figure out how to convince larger companies that they need a tool like this and it won’t get out of hand, and also ensure that smaller companies don’t graduate into something a little more flexible that can serve those niche cases as they get larger.

To be sure, Slack is growing. The company said it hit 8 million daily active users with 3 million paid users earlier this month. That’s helped it quickly jump to a $5.1 billion valuation (as of its most recent funding round), and the company has been carefully rolling out tools that might make communication within larger companies a little easier — including the long-awaited launch of threads a little more than a year ago.

But Slack also faces increasing competition as time goes on, not only from the traditional companies looking to build more robust but simpler tools, but also from companies that have spent a lot of time working on collaboration tools and are now exploring communication. Atlassian’s opened up its communications platform Stride to developers in February this year. Microsoft, too continues to update its Teams product. Slack was able to expose pent-up demand for this kind of an approach, but it also has to defend that approach — and making it a little more flexible without feature-creeping is going to be its biggest challenge going forward.

May
16
2018
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Dashdash, a platform to create web apps using only spreadsheet skills, nabs $8M led by Accel

Sometimes I think of spreadsheets as the dirty secret of the IT world today. We’ve seen a huge explosion in the number of productivity tools on the market tailored to help workers with different aspects of doing their job and organising their information, in part to keep them from simply dumping lots of information into Excel or whatever program they happen to use. And yet, spreadsheets are still one of the very, very most common pieces of software in use today to organise and share information: Excel alone now has around 1 billion users, and for those who are devotees, spreadsheets are not going to go away soon.

So it’s interesting that there are now startups — and larger companies like Microsoft — emerging that are tapping into that, creating new services that still appear like spreadsheets in the front end, while doing something completely different in the back.

One of the latest is a startup called dashdash, a startup out of Berlin and Porto that is building a platform for people, who might to be programmers but know their way around a spreadsheet, to use those skills to build, modify and update web apps.

The dashdash platform looks and acts like a spreadsheet up front, but behind the scenes, each ‘macro’ links to a web app computing feature, or a design element, to build something that ultimately will look nothing like a spreadsheet, bypassing all the lines of code that traditionally go into building web apps.

The startup is still in stealth mode, with plans to launch formally later this year. Today, it’s announcing that it has received $8 million in Series A funding to get there, with the round being led by Accel, with participation from Cherry Ventures, Atlantic Labs, and angel investors including Felix Jahn, founder of Home24. (It’s raised $9 million to date including $1 million in seed funding.)

Co-founded by serial entrepreneurs Humberto Ayres Pereira and Torben Schulz — who had also been co-founders of food delivery startup EatFirst — Ayres Pereira said that the idea came out of their own observations in work life and the bottleneck of getting things fixed or modified in a company’s apps (both internal and customer-facing).

“People have a lot of frustration with the IT department, and their generally access to it,” he said in an interview. “If you are part of an internet business, it’s very hard to get features prioritised in an app, no matter how small they are. Tech is like a big train on iron tracks, and it can be hard to steer it in a different direction.”

On the other hand, even among the less technical staff, there will be proficiency with certain software, including spreadsheets. “Programming and spreadsheets already store and transform data,” Ayers Pereira said. “There are already a lot of people trying to do more with incumbent spreadsheets, and [combining that with] non-IT people frustrated at having no solution for working on apps, we saw an opportunity to use this to build an elegant platform the empower people. We can’t teach people to program but we can provide them with the tools to do the exact same job.”

While in stealth mode, he said that early users have ranged from smaller businesses such as pharmacies, to “a multi-billion-dollar internet company.” (No names, of course, but it’s interesting to me that this problem even exists at large tech businesses.)

Dashdash is not the only company that is tapping this opportunity. The other week, and IoT startup called Hanhaa launched a service that would let those using Hanhaa IoT sensors in their networks to monitor and interact with them by way of an Excel spreadsheet — another tip of the hat to the realisation that those who might need to keep tabs on devices in the network might not be the people who are the engineers and technicians who have set them up.

That, in turn, is part of a bigger effort from Microsoft to catapult Excel from its reputation as a piece of clunky legacy software into something much more dynamic, playing on the company’s push into cloud services and Office 365.

In September of 2017, Microsoft gave a developer preview of new “streaming functions” for Excel on Office 365, which lets developers, IT professionals and end users the ability to bring streams of data from a variety of sources such as websites, stock tickers and hardware directly into a cell or cells in an Excel spreadsheet, by way of a custom function. “Because Excel is so widely used and familiar to so many people, the ability to do all kinds of amazing things with that data and without complex integration is now possible,” said Ben Summers, a senior product manager for the Office 365 ecosystem team, in a statement to TechCrunch.

That ability to remove the bottleneck from web app building, combined with the track record of the founders, are two of the reasons that Accel decided to invest before the product even launched.

“We believe in dashdash’s mission to democratise app creation and are excited to back Humberto and Torben at such an early stage in their journey,” said Andrei Brasoveanu, the Accel principal who led the deal. “The team has the experience and vision to build a high-impact company that brings computing to the fingertips of a broad audience. Over the past decade we’ve seen a proliferation of web services and APIs, but regular business users still need to rely on central IT and colleagues with development skills to leverage these in their day-to-day processes. With dashdash anyone will be able to access these powerful web services directly with minimal effort, empowering them to automate their day to day tasks and work more effectively.”

With every tool that emerges that frees up accessibility to more people — be they employees or consumers — there are inevitably questions about how that power will be used. In the case of dashdash, my first thought is about those who I know who work in IT: they generally don’t want anyone able to modify or “fix” their code, lest it just creates more problems. And that’s before you start wondering about how all these democratised web apps will look, and if they might inadvertently will add to more overall UI and UX confusion.

Ayres Pereira said dashdash is mindful of the design question, and will introduce ways of helping to direct this, for example for companies to implement their own house styles. And similarly, a business can put in place other controls to help channel how web apps created through dashdash’s spreadsheet interface ultimately get applied.

Apr
25
2018
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Drew Houston to upload his thoughts at TC Disrupt SF in September

Dropbox is a critically important tool for more than 500 million people, which is why we’re so excited to have founder and CEO Drew Houston on the Disrupt stage in September.

Dropbox launched back in 2007 and Houston has spent the last decade growing Dropbox to the behemoth it is today.

During that time, Houston has made some tough decisions.

A few years ago, Houston decided to move the Dropbox infrastructure off of AWS. In 2014, Houston chose to raise $500 million in debt financing to keep up pace with Box, which was considering an IPO at the time. And in March 2017, Dropbox took another $600 million in debt financing from JP Morgan.

Houston also reportedly turned down a nine-figure acquisition offer from Apple.

All the while, Houston led Dropbox to be cash-flow positive and grew the company to see a $1 billion revenue run rate as of last year.

And, of course, we can’t forget the decision to go public earlier this year.

Interestingly, Houston first told his story to a TechCrunch audience at TC50 in 2008 as part of the Startup Battlefield. In fact, you can check out the original pitch from TC50 right here.

At Disrupt SF in September, we’re excited to sit down with Houston to discuss his journey thus far, the decision to go public and the future of Dropbox.

The show runs from September 5 to September 7, and for the next week, our super early-bird tickets are still available.

Mar
23
2018
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Drew Houston on wooing Dropbox’s IPO investors: ‘We don’t fit neatly into any one mold’

Dropbox went public this morning to great fanfare, with the stock shooting up more than 40% in the initial moments of trading as the enterprise-slash-consumer company looked to convince investors that it could be a viable publicly-traded company.

And for one that Steve Jobs famously called a feature, and not a company, it certainly was an uphill battle to convince the world that it was worth even the $10 billion its last private financing round set. It’s now worth more than that, but that follows a long series of events, including an increased focus on enterprise customers and finding ways to make its business more efficient — like installing their own infrastructure. Dropbox CEO Drew Houston acknowledged a lot of this, as well as the fact that it’s going to continue to face the challenge of ensuring that its users and enterprises will trust Dropbox with some of their most sensitive files.

We spoke with Houston on the day of the IPO to talk a little bit about what it took to get here during the road show and even prior. Here’s a lightly-edited transcript of the conversation:

TC: In light of the problems that Facebook has had surrounding user data and user trust, how has that changed how you think about security and privacy as a priority?

DH: Our business is built on our customers’ trust. Whether we’re private or public, that’s super important to us. I think, to our customers, whether we’re private or public doesn’t change their view. I wouldn’t say that our philosophy changes as we get to bigger and bigger scale. As you can imagine we make big investments here. We have an awesome security team, our first cultural principle is be worthy of trust. This is existential for us.

TC: How’s the vibe now that longtime employees are going to have an opportunity to get rewarded for their work now that you’re a public company?

DH: I think everyone’s just really excited. This is the culmination of a lot of hard work by a lot of people. We’re really proud of the business we’ve built. I mean, building a great company or doing anything important takes time.

TC: Was there something that changed that convinced you to go public after more than a decade of going private, and how do you feel about the pop?

DH: We felt that we were ready. Our business was in great shape. We had a good balance of scale and profitability and growth. As a private company, there are a lot of reasons why it’s been easier to stay private for longer. We’re all proud of the business we’ve built. We see the numbers. We think we’re on to not just a great business, but pioneering a whole new model. We’re taking the best of our consumer roots, combining them with the best parts of software as a service, and it was really gratifying to see investors be excited about it and for the rest of the world to catch on.

TC: As you were on your road show, what were some of the big questions investors were asking?

DH: We don’t fit neatly into any one mold. We’re not a consumer company, and we’re not a traditional enterprise company. We’re basically taking that consumer internet playbook and applying it to business software, combining the virality and scale. Over the last couple years, as we’ve been building that engine, investors are starting to understand that we don’t fit into a traditional mold. The numbers speak to themselves, they can appreciate the unusual combination.

TC: What did you tell them to convince them?

DH: We’re just able to get adoption. Just the fact that we have hundreds of millions of users and we’ve found Dropbox is adopted in millions of companies [was enough evidence]. More than 300,000 of those users are Dropbox Business companies. We spend about half on sales of marketing as a percentage of revenue of a typical software as a service company. Efficiency and scale are the distinctive elements, and investors zero in on that. To be able to acquire customers at that scale and also really efficiently, that’s what makes us stand out. They’ve seen Atlassian be successful with self-serve products, but you can layer on top of that leveraging our freemium and viral elements and our focus on design and building great products.

TC: How do you think about deploying the capital you’ve picked up from the IPO?

DH: So, we’re public because they wanted us to be a public company. But our approach is still the same. First, it’s about getting the best talent in the building and making sure we build the best products, and if you do those things, make sure customers are happy, that’s what works.

TC: What about recruiting?

DH: It’s a big day for dropbox. We’re all really excited about it and hopefully a lot of other people are too.

TC: When you look at your customer acquisition ramp, what does that look like?

DH: I mean, we’ve been making a lot of progress in the past couple of years if you look at growth in subscribers. That will continue. We look at numbers, we have 11 million subscribers, 80% use dropbox for work. But at the same time, we look at the world, there’s 1 billion knowledge workers and growing. We’re not gonna run out of people who need Dropbox.

TC: What about convincing investors about the consumer part of the business? How did you do that?

DH: I think, when you explain that our consumer and cloud storage roots have really become a way for us to efficiently acquire business customers at scale, that helps them understand. Second, it’s easy to focus on how in the consumer realm that the business has been commoditized. There’s all this free space and all this competition. On the other hand, we’ve never lowered prices, we’ve never even given more free space, we know that what our customers really value is the sharing and collaboration, not just the storage. It’s been good to move investors beyond the 2010 understanding of our business.

TC: How did creating your own infrastructure play into your readiness to go public?

DH: When I say that today is the culmination of a lot of events, that’s a great example. We made a many-year investment to migrate off the public cloud. Certainly that was one of the more eye-popping investors watching our gross margins literally double over the last couple of years from burning cash to being cash flow positive. We’ll continue reaching larger and larger scale, and those investments will.

TC: Getting a new guitar any time soon?

DH: I probably should.

Mar
20
2018
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Mythic nets $40M to create a new breed of efficient AI-focused hardware

Another huge financing round is coming in for an AI company today, this time for a startup called Mythic getting a fresh $40 million as it appears massive deals are closing left and right in the sector.

Mythic particularly focuses on the inference side of AI operations — basically making the calculation on the spot for something based off an extensively trained model. The chips are designed to be low power, small, and achieve the same kind of performance you’d expect from a GPU in terms of the lightning-fast operations that algorithms need to perform to figure out whether or not that thing your car is about to run into is a cat or just some text on the road. SoftBank Ventures led this most-recent round of funding, with a strategic investment also coming from Lockheed Martin Ventures. ARM executive Rene Haas will also be joining the company’s board of directors.

“The key to getting really high performance and really good energy efficiency is to keep everything on the chip,” Henry said. “The minute you have to go outside the chip to memory, you lose all performance and energy. It just goes out the window. Knowing that, we found that you can actually leverage flash memory in a very special way. The limit there is, it’s for inference only, but we’re only going after the inference market — it’s gonna be huge. On top of that, the challenge is getting the processors and memory as close together as possible so you don’t have to move around the data on the chip.”

Mythic, like other startups, is looking to ease the back-and-forth trips to memory on the processors in order to speed things up and lower the power consumption, and CEO Michael Henry says the company has figured out how to essentially do the operations — based in a field of mathematics called linear algebra — on flash memory itself.

Mythic’s approach is designed to be what Henry calls more analog. To visualize how it might work, imagine a set-up in Minecraft, with a number of different strings of blocks leading to an end gate. If you flipped a switch to turn 50 of those strings on with some unit value, leaving the rest off, and joined them at the end and saw the combined final result of the power, you would have completed something similar to an addition operation leading to a sum of 50 units. Mythic’s chips are designed to do something not so dissimilar, finding ways to complete those kinds of analog operations for addition and multiplication in order to handle the computational requirements for an inference operation. The end result, Henry says, consumes less power and dissipates less heat while still getting just enough accuracy to get the right solution (more technically: the calculations are 8-bit results).

After that, the challenge is sticking a layer on top of that to make it look and behave like a normal chip to a developer. The goal is to, like other players in the AI hardware space, just plug into frameworks like TensorFlow. Those frameworks abstract out all the complicated tooling and tuning required for such a specific piece of hardware and make it very approachable and easy for developers to start building machine learning projects. Andrew Feldman, CEO of another AI hardware startup called Cerebras Systems, said at the Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet conference last month that frameworks like TensorFlow had  most of the value Nvidia had building up an ecosystem for developers on its own system.

Henry, too, is a big TensorFlow fan. And for good reason: it’s because of frameworks like TensorFlow that allow next-generation chip ideas to even get off the ground in the first place. These kinds of frameworks, which have become increasingly popular with developers, have abstracted out the complexity of working with specific low-level hardware like a field programmable gate array (FPGA) or a GPU. That’s made building machine learning-based operations much easier for developers and led to an explosion of activity when it comes to machine learning, whether it’s speech or image recognition among a number of other use cases.

“Things like TensorFlow make our lives so much easier,” Henry said. “Once you have a neural network described on TensorFlow, it’s on us to take that and translate that onto our chip. We can abstract that difficulty by having an automatic compiler.”

While many of these companies are talking about getting massive performance gains over a GPU — and, to be sure, Henry hopes that’ll be the case — the near term goal for Mythic is to match the performance of a $1,000 GPU while showing it can take up less space and consume less power. There’s a market for the card that customers can hot swap in right away. Henry says the company is focused on using a PCI-E interface, a very common plug-and-play system, and that’s it.

The challenge for Mythic, however, is going to get into the actual design of some of the hardware that comes out. It’s one thing to sell a bunch of cards that companies can stick into their existing hardware, but it’s another to get embedded into the actual pieces of hardware themselves — which is what’s going to need to happen if it wants to be a true workhorse for devices on the edge, like security cameras or things handling speech recognition. That makes the buying cycle a little more difficult, but at the same time, there will be billions of devices out there that need advanced hardware to power their inference operations.

“If we can sell a PCI card, you buy it and drop it in right away, but those are usually for low-volume, high-selling price products,” Henry said. “The other customers we serve design you into the hardware products. That’s a longer cycle, that can take upwards of a year. For that, typically the volumes are much higher. The nice thing is that you’re really really sticky. If they design you into a product you’re really sticky. We can go after both, we can go after board sales, and then go after design.”

There are probably going to be two big walls to Mythic, much less any of the other players out there. The first is that none of these companies have shipped a product. While Mythic, or other companies, might have a proof-of-concept chip that can drop on the table, getting a production-ready piece of next-generation silicon is a dramatic undertaking. Then there’s the process of not only getting people to buy the hardware, but actually convincing them that they’ll have the systems in place to ensure that developers will build on that hardware. Mythic says it plans to have a sample for customers by the end of the year, with a production product by 2019.

That also explains why Mythic, along with those other startups, are able to raise enormous rounds of money — which means there’s going to be a lot of competition amongst all of them. Here’s a quick list of what fundraising has happened so far: SambaNova Systems raised $56 million last week; Graphcore raised $50 million in November last year; Cerebras Systems’s first round was $25 million in December 2016; and this isn’t even counting an increasing amount of activity happening among companies in China. There’s still definitely a segment of investors that consider the space way too hot (and there is, indeed, a ton of funding) or potentially unnecessary if you don’t need the bleeding edge efficiency or power of these products.

And there are, of course, the elephants in the room in the form of Nvidia and to a lesser extent Intel. The latter is betting big on FPGA and other products, while Nvidia has snapped up most of the market thanks to GPUs being much more efficient at the kind of math needed for AI. The play for all these startups is they can be faster, more efficient, or in the case of Mythic, cheaper than all those other options. It remains to be seen whether they’ll unseat Nvidia, but nonetheless there’s an enormous amount of funding flowing in.

“The question is, is someone going to be able to beat Nvidia when they have the valuation and cash reserves,” Henry said. “But the thing, is we’re in a different market. We’re going after the edge, we’re going after things embedded inside phones and cars and drones and robotics, for applications like AR and VR, and it’s just really a different market. When investors analyze us they have to think of us differently. They don’t think, is this the one that wins Nvidia, they think, are one or more of these powder keg markets explode. It’s a different conversation for us because we’re an edge company.”

Mar
14
2018
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Pilot raises $15M to bring bookkeeping into the modern era

The first time Waseem Daher, Jessica McKellar, and Jeff Arnold worked together on a startup, they built one that allowed administrators to patch security updates to a system without having to restart it.

So it might come as a bit of a surprise that the next big technical challenge the three MIT graduates want to tackle is bookkeeping . But after selling Ksplice to Oracle back in 2011, it was actually the financial software they had built internally that made the jaws of the finance teams at Oracle drop, Daher said. They had created a continuously-updating internal version of QuickBooks, keeping a close eye on their spending and accounting and not having do hire a bookkeeper to do so, out of pure frustration with the process. And today that’s basically launching as Pilot, a startup that has now raised $15 million in a financing round led by Index Ventures.

“If you look at the history of bookkeeping, it goes back to the 1400s,” Daher said. “Probably the oldest written records were of transactions. Around 1400s, we invented double-entry bookkeeping, a system for how money moves into and out of various accounts of companies. That system, as articulated in 1400 in Venice, is basically still what people do in every American business today. You hire a bookkeeper or bookkeeping firm, you send them all your stuff and they track and produce the set of books. The way it’s done today is the same way it’s done in the 90s, the 40s.”

When a company starts working with Pilot, the actual core experience on the customer side doesn’t really change all that much: they still work with a human on the other end. But the bookkeeper from Pilot is working with the internal tools they have built to bring in the data from the company, organize it and structure it, and produce a set of books that are more accurate than someone might have produced than just doing it by hand. Customers will get the kinds of questions you might expect from a normal bookkeeper as they look to clarify what’s happening, but in the end the process happens much more seamlessly. They can integrate directly with their existing services like Expensify or Gusto (or ask Pilot to help out with that) and then go from there.

That kind of human-software mix is something that’s increasingly common in services businesses — like Pilot — as the tech industry figures out what should be automated and what should still be handled by a person. There are still a lot of things that a person can catch, but there’s also the actual human relationship, which isn’t a kind of repetitive task you’d want to automate with an algorithm. To begin, Pilot isn’t trying to force companies to completely rip out their bookkeeping software and start from scratch, and instead start to collect the electronic information they already have.

“Uber’s like that, the drivers are humans but the software makes them much more effective,” Index Ventures’ Mike Volpi said. “You can see it in a lot of applications where in IT support there’s a few businesses like this, you troubleshoot using software, and when you can’t you fix it pass it to humans. In customer service chats, a lot of times it’s an AI, and when the questions get tricky enough it rolls over to humans. It’s interesting because there are tasks which humans are fundamentally needed and there are tasks that are mundane that software can do and the human can avoid doing. It’s an interesting thesis around this hybrid.”

Prior to Pilot, the team sold another company to Dropbox called Zulip, and spent some time at the company as it continued to scale up (Dropbox is now in the process of going public). Some of the challenge alone was somehow assembling a team that found some fascination with the intersection of accounting, machine learning and working directly with customers, but so far McKellar said that they’ve been able to put one together thus far. And, more importantly, now that they are starting to roll out their service they can start getting some perspective on the industry as a whole.

“I think people can get motivated by almost any problem if you know you’re tackling a big problem for many people,” McKellar said. “But there’s quite a lot of subtlety to what we’re building. The rules and principles of bookkeeping are well define but the real world is really messy, and designing the right systems to automate bookkeeping at scale is actually a tricky thing. We have an incredible engineering team that is able to tackle this with the right mindset it. The analogy you can draw is self-driving cars — that’s a system normally done by a human, everyone understands what it takes to drive a car, what actions you should take. It’s difficult for people to put into words, what are the rules given a set of inputs, but it needs to work and be reliable.”

As more and more of this information comes in, and more and more companies start to work with Pilot, they can start spotting trends in the industry. For example, if a 17th SaaS business with a similar business model to other Pilot companies signs up, they could down the line take a look at their info and spot potential discrepancies based on anonymized trend data picked up from other comparables in the industry — or do a better job of spotting inefficiencies or others. And there are some obvious funnels for this already, like getting the right information for tax purposes to accountants.

There’s going to be a lot of increasing activity in this space, though. Already you’re seeing some funded projects like botkeeper, which are looking to find some ways to automate a bookkeeping service. There’s nothing quite so formalized and an obvious tool that looks to take out QuickBooks (and, again, a lot of these seem to be playing nice for now), and there’s always the chance that Intuit could try to take on the space itself. But at the end of the day, Volpi says it’s based on the team that they’ve assembled — and that combination of humans and algorithms — that gives them a shot at succeeding.

“If you look at a fundamental level, the bookkeeping for the doctor’s office or florist, it is really all following the same underlying principles,” McKellar said. “One of the engineering challenges is to build the tooling and systems and software in a way that’s intelligent. It has to be a set of processes that can flexibly accommodate every vertical over time. In some sense this company, why we raised this, was to validate a huge hypothesis — it’s possible to automate bookkeeping at scale across a range of industries.”

Here’s the rest of the investors in this round, since it’s a long list: Patrick and John Collison, Drew Houston, Diane Greene, Frederic Kerrest, Hans Robertson, Adam D’Angelo, Paul English, Howard Lerman, Joshua Reeves, Tien Tzuo, as well as many others.

Mar
07
2018
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Begin, a new app from Ryan Block, uses natural language to generate tasks from your Slack

Over two years after leaving Aol (now known as Oath) back in September 2015 to build a new startup, serial entrepreneur Ryan Block, with co-founder Brian LeRoux, is finally taking the wraps off the new venture: Begin, an intelligent app designed to help you keep track of things that you have to do, and when you should do them, as they come up in the stream of a messaging app.

By extension, Begin is also solving one of the more persistent problems of messaging apps: losing track of things you need to remember in the wider thread of the conversation.

Begin is launching today as an integration on Slack — which also happens to be one of its backers, by way of the Slack Fund .

Taking tasking apps to task

As you might have already seen, there are a lot apps out there today to help you track tasks and larger work you have to do, from software based around project management and specific to-do lists like Asana, Todoist, Wrike and Microsoft’s Wunderlist/To-Do, through to those geared more to planning performance management, like BetterWorks.

The problem is that while some people have found these various dedicated apps useful, for a good proportion, task apps are where tasks go to die. Block — despite a pretty productive resume that includes editor of Engadget, co-founder of Gdgt, and VP of Product at Aol — was one of the latter group.

“Every time I’ve ever tried using a task management app I found it sad and discouraging to use,” he said. “You just end up getting a massive backlog of tasks and you lose sight of what’s really important.” (I’m guessing he is not the only one: the proliferation of these dozens of apps, without any single, clear market leader, you could argue is one indication of how none of them have achieved a critical enough mass of users.)

So Block and LeRoux started to think about how you could fix task apps and make them a more natural part of how work gets done.

They thought of messaging apps and their role in communications today. And more specifically, they turned to Slack. With its rapid-fire conversations and ability to draw in data from other apps, Slack has not only been one of the fastest-growing services in the enterprise world, but it has changed the conversation around business communications (literally and figuratively) .

“Slack to us is more than just enterprise productivity,” Block said. “We see Slack as a primary tentpole in the future of work.”

Synchronicity

But, if you are one of the tens of millions of people that uses a messaging app like Slack at work, you’ll know that it can be wonderful and frustrating in equal parts. Wonderful because messaging can spur conversations or get answers quickly from people who might not be directly next to you; but frustrating because messaging can be — especially in group chat rooms — noisy, distracting and hard to track if you’re not paying attention all the time.

Begin has honed in on the third of these challenges of messaging platforms, and specifically in how it pertains to being in the working world.

Sometimes in the course of a conversation an item might come up that you or a coworker needs to follow up. Sometimes you might not even be a part of the conversation when that item comes up. In the course of a chat, the conversation might abruptly turn to another subject before you’ve had a chance to address an item. Begin is for all those moments.

Or, as Block described it to me, “It’s the difference between synchronous versus asynchronous work. Slack is good for certain things but for tracking things, it can be very hard.”

With Begin, the idea is that, when something arises that you need to follow up, you set yourself — or someone else — a reminder by essentially calling Begin (@begin) into the conversation and making a note of that task using normal language. (Example: “@begin Check in with @katie and @lynley about the earnings schedule tomorrow”.)

The two people I’ve tagged in my example don’t have to be there when I’m mentioning this, and they won’t have to look through Slack mentions to find what I said, nor do I need to leave the conversation to write the reminder. For all of us, we can turn to Begin itself to check out the tasks when we have time, and on Begin those tasks get ordered by their timing.

It’s a simple solution that is surprisingly not a part of the Slack experience today.

Aside from Slack, other investors in Begin’s seed round (of an undisclosed amount) include SV Angel, 415, SV Angel and General Catalyst, which took a stake in Begin as its first “bot” investment nearly two years ago.

Fast forward to today, with bot hype subsiding, Block is happy to say that while Begin has a degree of intelligence, particularly around reading natural language and turning that into an action of sorts (an action for you to do), he plays down the bot aspect. “We think of this as a Slack app, not as a bot,” he said.

Begin is, in fact, beginning small when it comes to features.

It’s only on Slack, you can’t draw in other apps or data into your tasks, it doesn’t give you a lot of short gradation when it comes to timing (days are currently the shortest increment for setting a task), and it doesn’t synchronise with any calendars.

Those are all areas that Block says that the company is working on for future iterations, either by being baked directly into the app by Begin itself, or there for others to integrate by way of an API.

Does Begin have a way of setting a task to look at your tasks? It’s one question that underscores the fact that ultimately you will still have to, at some point, look at a list. That may be something that the Begin team might try to address over time, too, but for now, it’s the simple creation that is the focus.

Mar
07
2018
--

Begin, a new app from Ryan Block, uses natural language to generate tasks from your Slack

 Over two years after leaving Aol (now known as Oath) back in September 2015 to build a new startup, serial entrepreneur Ryan Block, with co-founder Brian LeRoux, is finally taking the wraps off the new venture: Begin, an intelligent app designed to help you keep track of things that you have to do, and when you should do them, as they come up in the stream of a messaging app. By extension,… Read More

Mar
05
2018
--

Shogun wants to help businesses easily build a better online storefront

 Finbarr Taylor and Nick Raushenbush had started a little side project that was making just about enough money to keep the site’s lights on while they were working on their next plans. Then, a few months later, Shogun — a tool to help small businesses build shopfronts for sites like Shopify — started making a bit more. After a few months, it went from a nice dinner to a… Read More

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