Nov
01
2018
--

Rockset launches out of stealth with $21.5 M investment

Rockset, a startup that came out of stealth today, announced $21.5M in previous funding and the launch of its new data platform that is designed to simplify much of the processing to get to querying and application building faster.

As for the funding, it includes $3 million in seed money they got when they started the company, and a more recent $18.5 million Series A, which was led by Sequoia and Greylock.

Jerry Chen, who is a partner at Greylock sees a team that understands the needs of modern developers and data scientists, one that was born in the cloud and can handle a lot of the activities that data scientists have traditionally had to handle manually. “Rockset can ingest any data from anywhere and let developers and data scientists query it using standard SQL. No pipelines. No glue. Just real time operational apps,” he said.

Company co-founder and CEO Venkat Venkataramani is a former Facebook engineer where he learned a bit about processing data at scale. He wanted to start a company that would help data scientists get to insights more quickly.

Data typically requires a lot of massaging before data scientists and developers can make use of it and Rockset has been designed to bypass much of that hard work that can take days, weeks or even months to complete.

“We’re building out our service with innovative architecture and unique capabilities that allows full-featured fast SQL directly on raw data. And we’re offering this as a service. So developers and data scientists can go from useful data in any shape, any form to useful applications in a matter of minutes. And it would take months today,” Venkataramani explained.

To do this you simply connect your data set wherever it lives to Rockset and it deals with the data ingestion, building the schema, cleaning the data, everything. It also makes sure you have the right amount of infrastructure to manage the level of data you are working with. In other words, it can potentially simplify highly complex data processing tasks to start working with the raw data almost immediately using SQL queries.

To achieve the speed, Venkataramani says they use a number of indexing techniques. “Our indexing technology essentially tries to bring the best of search engines and columnar databases into one. When we index the data, we build more than one type of index behind the scenes so that a wide spectrum of pre-processing can be automatically fast out of the box,” he said. That takes the burden of processing and building data pipelines off of the user.

The company was founded in 2016. Chen and Sequoia partners Mike Vernal joined the Rockset board under the terms of the Series A funding, which closed last August.

Nov
01
2018
--

Spoke enhances AI engine to power help desk ticketing system

Spoke, a startup that wants to simplify the way companies add and process help desk tickets using artificial intelligence underpinnings, announced it has enhanced its AI engine to allow for more complex queries.

The company founders were working at Google after a previous startup had been sold to the search giant when they encountered a problem with help desk ticket processing. It was spread across different tools and generally was more complicated than they thought it needed to be.

Like all good entrepreneurs, when they left Google in 2016 and were looking for their next challenge, they decided to attack this pain point, which they felt acutely in their time at Google. Like many startups, that pain point gave rise to a new company: Spoke.

The product launched last March and the company already has 150 customers. The idea with the service is to provide an intelligent internal ticketing system, whether that’s for HR, IT or other internal help desks.

They wanted to make the tool as conversational as possible, so you simply enter a question or statement such as “the Wi-Fi is down in my conference room” or “how much vacation do I have left.” The system generally recognizes the type of request — Wi-Fi would go to IT and vacation to HR — and it moves the ticket through the system accordingly. If there is a relevant knowledge base article available, it might pull that as suggested reading. They say they have gotten to the point that 50 percent of requests can be resolved automatically without routing to a human.

Along the way, it keeps asking for feedback so that the artificial intelligence engine underlying the tool can learn what it got right and wrong and adjust accordingly in the future.

While the tool has its own complete interface, the founders recognized that people work in different ways, so they have also built integrations with Zapier (the workflow tool) and Slack, allowing customers to take that Spoke functionality and use it inside the tools they commonly use at work without explicitly having to open the Spoke tool.

The company has 20 full-time employees. Customers include DoorDash, Evernote and charity: water. They have raised $28 million.

Oct
25
2018
--

Daily Crunch: Tesla is profitable again

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here:

1. Tesla earns its first profit in two years

Tesla reported a profit in the third quarter, reversing seven consecutive quarters of losses. This is only the third time in the company’s history that it has achieved this milestone.

The turnaround was driven by sales of the Model 3. The company said customers are trading up their relatively cheaper vehicles to buy a Model 3, even though there is not yet a leasing option and the starting price was $49,000.

2. Trump has two ‘secure’ iPhones, but the Chinese are still listening

A new report by The New York Times puts a spotlight on the president’s array of devices and how he uses them. However, both Trump and a spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry have denied the story.

(BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

3. Red Dead Redemption 2 sets the bar high for the next generation of open world games

Tomorrow, Red Dead Redemption 2 goes live after months of breathless speculation. And according to Devin Coldewey and Jordan Crook, it’s as good as you’ve been hoping.

4. Facebook is building Lasso, a video music app to steal TikTok’s teens

Facebook is building a standalone product where users can record and share videos of themselves lip syncing or dancing to popular songs, according to information from current and former employees.

5. One-year-old Ribbon raises $225m to remove the biggest stress of home buying

The startup wants to replace the incredible stress of securing a mortgage during the home-buying process with a Ribbon Offer: If a buyer can’t secure a mortgage in time for close, Ribbon will pay for the house itself and give the buyer extra time to get financing.

6. Twitter beats Wall St Q3 estimates with $758M in revenue

Twitter reported a 29 percent increase in ad revenue to $650 million, and the company says total ad engagements increased 50 percent year over year. However, user growth didn’t quite match expectations.

7. Confirmed: ShopRunner acquires Spring, raises $40M

ShopRunner is announcing its first infusion of venture funding under CEO Sam Yagan, plus an acquisition of the shopping app Spring. Sources also say it’s readying a major overhaul of its mobile app.

Oct
23
2018
--

Bright Machines lands $179M to bring smarter robotics to manufacturing

Robotics has had a role in manufacturing since the 1970s, but even today they are aren’t often driven by the latest software. Bright Machines, a San Francisco startup wants to change that and it got a whopping $179 million Series A today to get this thing going. While it was at it, it also officially launched the company.

The startup wants to bring a software-driven approach to robotics, one that would let you take dumb robotics and program it in a more automated fashion to perform a set of tasks, taking advantage of artificial intelligence and machine learning in ways that they say most manufacturing companies simply aren’t equipped to handle right now.

This is clearly not your typical Series A and Bright Machines does not appear to be a typical Series A company, feeling its way trying to get a product to market. Perhaps that’s because the company began life as incubated project inside Flex, a customized manufacturing company. It was then spun out as a startup called AutoLab AI and changed the name to Bright Machines today for the big company unveiling.

It already boast over 300 employees and brought in CEO, Armar Hanspal, who was most recently co-CEO at Autodesk to run the show. Former Autodesk CEO Carl Bass is a board member. Other board members include Mike McNamara, CEO of Flex and Steve Luszo, CEO of Seagate. Eclipse led the round.

What is attracting all of this money and talent to such a young company? Bright Machines is trying to solve a hard and expensive manufacturing problem. “We’re putting together the people, the tech stack and funding and other resources to go really go tackle this big under-served environment by bringing more automation and software to the factory floor,” CEO Hanspal told TechCrunch.

While he acknowledges we have seen a move toward automating the factor floor for decades, they are attacking an area that up until now has been underserved by robotics because the technology simply wasn’t ready to handle it. “What we’re doing that’s different is going from dumb, blind and costly robots to ones that are sensor rich, have computer vision, machine learning and are adaptable,” he said.

What’s more, they are bringing a subscription model to this approach, allowing customers to set up custom manufacturing lines on the fly with what they claim is much lower cost and fuss they faced with more traditional approaches. 

They are taking on this sum of money so early because they believe it is a huge market and if they can attract the right talent, they can bring a substantive change to manufacturing that is lacking today. Time will tell if the bet pays off.

Oct
18
2018
--

Daivergent connects people on the autism spectrum with jobs in data management

Great startups normally come from a personal place. Byran Dai’s new company, Daivergent, is no different.

Founded in December 2017, Daivergent looks to connect enterprise clients with folks on the autism spectrum who will help complete tasks in AI/ML data management.

Dai’s younger brother, Brandon, is on the autism spectrum. Dai realized that his brother and other folks on the spectrum are perfect candidates for certain high-complexity tasks that require extraordinary attention to detail, such as data entry and enrichment, quality assurance and data validation, and content moderation.

In a landscape where just about everyone is working on AI and machine learning algorithms, organizing data is a top priority. Daivergent believes that it can put together the perfect pool of data specialists to complete any task in this space.

Daivergent partners with various agencies including the AHRC and Autism Speaks to source talent. Those folks go through a screening process, which assesses their abilities to complete these sorts of tasks. They then become Daivergent contractors, where they get further training and then start working on projects.

The company says that there are 2.5 million adults with autism in the U.S., and Autism Speaks reports an 85 percent unemployment rate among college-educated adults with autism.

Daivergent not only provides a way for these people to get into the workforce, but it offers a way for corporations and companies to employ American workers for projects they would likely otherwise employ overseas contractors.

When a new task comes in to Daivergent, the company splits that project into smaller tasks and then assigns those tasks to its workers. The company also determines the complexity of the overall project, factoring in the urgency level of the request, to decide pricing.

Daivergent takes a small cut of the earnings and passes the rest on to the workers.

Right now, Daivergent has 25 active workers performing tasks for customers, with 150 workers registered and going through the qualification process and another 400 adults with autism in the candidate pool.

The company recently graduated from the ERA accelerator.

Oct
18
2018
--

Seva snares $2.4M seed investment to find info across cloud services

Seva, a New York City startup, that wants to help customers find content wherever it lives across SaaS products, announced a $2.4 million seed round today. Avalon Ventures led the round with participation from Studio VC and Datadog founder and CEO Olivier Pomel.

Company founder and CEO Sanjay Jain says that he started this company because he felt the frustration personally of having to hunt across different cloud services to find the information he was looking for. When he began researching the idea for the company, he found others who also complained about this fragmentation.

“Our fundamental vision is to change the way that knowledge workers acquire the information they need to do their jobs from one where they have to spend a ton of time actually seeking it out to one where the Seva platform can prescribe the right information at the right time when and where the knowledge worker actually needs it, regardless of where it lives.”

Seva, which is currently in Beta, certainly isn’t the first company to try to solve this issue. Jain believes that with a modern application of AI and machine learning and single sign-on, Seva can provide a much more user-centric approach than past solutions simply because the technology wasn’t there yet.

The way they do this is by looking across the different information types. Today they support a range of products including Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Drive,, Box, Dropbox, Slack and JIRA, Confluence. Jain says they will be adding additional services over time.

Screenshot: Seva

Customers can link Seva to these products by simply selecting one and entering the user credentials. Seva inherits all of the security and permissioning applied to each of the services, so when it begins pulling information from different sources, it doesn’t violate any internal permissioning in the process.

Jain says once connected to these services, Seva can then start making logical connections between information wherever it lives. A salesperson might have an appointment with a customer in his or her calendar, information about the customer in a CRM and a training video related to the customer visit. It can deliver all of this information as a package, which users can share with one another within the platform, giving it a collaborative element.

Seva currently has 6 employees, but with the new funding is looking to hire a couple of more engineers to add to the team. Jain hopes the money will be a bridge to a Series A round at the end of next year by which time the product will be generally available.

Oct
10
2018
--

Shared inbox startup Front launches a complete redesign

Front is launching a major revamp today. And it starts with a brand new design. Front is now powered by React for the web and desktop app, which should make it easier to add new features down the road.

Front hasn’t pivoted to become something else. At heart, it remains a multiplayer email client. You can share generic email addresses with your coworkers, such as sales@yourcompany or jobs@yourcompany. You can then assign emails, comment before replying and integrate your CRM with your email threads.

But the company is also adding a bunch of new features. The most interesting one is the ability to start a thread with your team without having to send an email first. If a client sends you an email, you can comment on the thread and mention your coworkers just like on a Facebook post.

Many companies already use emails for internal communications. So they started using Front to talk to their coworkers. Before today, you had to send an original email and then people could comment on it. Now, you can just create a post by giving it a title and jumping to the comment section. It’s much more straightforward.

“We aren’t planning for all internal conversations to move to Front, but a lot of them very well could. A tool like Slack is often used for questions that don’t require the immediate response that Slack demands,” co-founder and CEO Mathilde Collin told me. “By bringing these messages into Front, we aim to reduce disruptions and help people stay focused.”

In other words, a Slack message feels like a virtual tap on the shoulder. You have to interrupt what you’re doing to take a minute and answer. Front can be used for asynchronous conversations and things that don’t need an immediate response. That’s why you can now also send Slack messages to Front so that you can deal with them in Front.

With this update, Front is making sharing more granular. Front isn’t just about shared addresses. You can assign your personal emails to a coworker — this is much more efficient than forwarding an email. Now, you can easily see who can read and interact with an email thread at the top of the email view.

If somebody sends an email to Sarah and Sam, they’ll both have a copy of this email in their personal inboxes. If Sarah and Sam start commenting and @-mentioning people, Front will now merge the threads.

As a user, you get a unified inbox with all your personal emails, emails that were assigned to you and messages assigned to your team inbox.

Finally, Front has improved its smart filtering system. You can now create more flexible rules. For instance, if an email matches some or all criteria, Front can assign an email to a team or a person, send an automated reply, trigger another rule and more.

The new version of Front will be available later this month. Once again, Front remains focused on its core mission — making work conversations more efficient and more flexible. The company doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel and still relies heavily on emails.

Many people (myself included) say that email is too often a waste of time. Dealing with emails doesn’t necessarily mean getting work done. Front wants to remove all the pains of this messaging protocol so that you can focus on the content of the messages.

Oct
10
2018
--

Zenefits’ Parker Conrad returns with Rippling to kill HR & IT busywork

Parker Conrad likes to save time, even though it’s gotten him in trouble. The former CEO of Zenefits was pushed out of the $4.5 billion human resources startup because he built a hack that let him and employees get faster insurance certifications. But 2.5 years later, he’s back to take the busy work out of staff onboarding as well as clumsy IT services like single sign-on to enterprise apps. Today his startup Rippling launches its combined employee management system, which Conrad calls a much larger endeavor than the minimum viable product it announced while in Y Combinator’s accelerator 18 months ago.

“It’s not an HR system. It’s a level below that,” Conrad tells me. “It’s this unholy, crazy mashup of three different things.” First, it handles payroll, benefits, taxes and PTO across all 50 states. “Except Syria and North Korea, you can pay anyone in the world with Rippling,” Conrad claims. That makes it a competitor with Gusto… and Zenefits.

Second, it’s a replacement for Okta, Duo and other enterprise single-sign on security apps that authenticate staffers across partnered apps. Rippling bookmarklets make it easy to auth into over 250 workplace apps, like Gmail, Slack, Dropbox, Asana, Trello, AWS, Salesforce, GitHub and more. When an employee is hired or changes teams, a single modification to their role in Rippling automatically changes all the permissions of what they can access.

And third, it handles computer endpoint security like Jamf. When an employee is hired, Rippling can instantly ship them a computer with all the right software installed and the hard drive encrypted, or have staffers add the Rippling agent that enforces the company’s security standards. The system is designed so there’s no need for an expert IT department to manage it.

“Distributed, fragmented systems of record for employee data are secretly the cause of almost all the annoying administrative work of running a company,” Conrad explains. “If you could build this system that ties all of it together, you could eliminate all this crap work.” That’s Rippling. It’s opening up to all potential clients today, charging them a combined subscription or à la carte fees for any of the three wings of the product.

Conrad refused to say how much Rippling has raised total, citing the enhanced scrutiny Zenefits’ raises drew. But he says a Wall Street Journal report that Rippling had raised $7 million was inaccurate. “We haven’t raised any priced VC rounds. Just a bunch of seed money. We raised from Initialized Capital, almost all the early seed investors at Zenefits and a lot of individuals.” He cited Y Combinator, YC Growth Fund, YC’s founder Jessica Livingston and president Sam Altman, other YC partners, as well as DFJ and SV Angel.

“Because we were able to raise a bunch of money and court great engineers . . . we were able to spend a lot of time building this fundamental technology,” Conrad tells me. Rippling has about 50 team members now, with about 40 of them being engineers, highlighting just how thoroughly Conrad wants to eradicate manual work about work, starting with his own startup.

The CEO refused to discuss details of exactly what went down at Zenefits and whether he thought his ejection was fair. He was accused of allowing Zenefits’ insurance brokers to sell in states where they weren’t licensed, and giving some employees a macro that let them more quickly pass the online insurance certification exam. Conrad ended up paying about $534,000 in SEC fines. Zenefits laid off 430 employees, or 45 percent of its staff, and moved to selling software to small-to-medium sized businesses through a network of insurance brokers.

But when asked what he’d learned from Zenefits, Conrad looked past those troubles and instead recalled that “one of the mistakes that we made was that we did a lot stuff manually behind the scenes. When you scale up, there are these manual processes, and it’s really hard to come back later when it’s a big hard complicated thing and replace it with technology. You get upside down on margins. If you start at the beginning and never let the manual processes creep in . . . it sort of works.”

Perhaps it was trying to cut corners that got Conrad into the Zenefits mess, but now that same intention has inspired Rippling’s goal of eliminating HR and IT drudgery with an all-in-one tool.

“I think I’m someone who feels the pain of that kind of stuff particularly strongly. So that’s always been a real irritant to me, and I saw this problem. The conventional wisdom is ‘don’t build something like this, start with something much smaller,’ ” Conrad concludes. “But I knew if I didn’t do this, that no one else was gong to do it and I really wanted this system to exist. This is a company that’s all about annoying stuff and making that fucking annoying stuff go away.”

Oct
09
2018
--

Upskill launches support for Microsoft HoloLens

Upskill has been working on a platform to support augmented and mixed reality for almost as long as most people have been aware of the concept. It began developing an agnostic AR/MR platform way back in 2010. Google Glass didn’t even appear until two years later. Today, the company announced the early release of Skylight for Microsoft HoloLens.

Upskill has been developing Skylight as an operating platform to work across all devices, regardless of the manufacturer, but company co-founder and CEO Brian Ballard sees something special with HoloLens. “What HoloLens does for certain types of experiences, is it actually opens up a lot more real estate to display information in a way that users can take advantage of,” Ballard explained.

He believes the Microsoft device fits well within the broader approach his company has been taking over the last several years to support the range of hardware on the market while developing solutions for hands-free and connected workforce concepts.

“This is about extending Skylight into the spatial computing environment making sure that the workflows, the collaboration, the connectivity is seamless across all of these different devices,” he told TechCrunch.

Microsoft itself just announced some new HoloLens use cases for its Dynamics 365 platform around remote assistance and 3D layout, use cases which play to the HoloLens strengths, but Ballard says his company is a partner with Microsoft, offering an enhanced, full-stack solution on top of what Microsoft is giving customers out of the box.

That is certainly something Microsoft’s Terry Farrell, director of product marketing for mixed reality at Microsoft recognizes and acknowledges. “As adoption of Microsoft HoloLens continues to rapidly increase in industrial settings, Skylight offers a software platform that is flexible and can scale to meet any number of applications well suited for mixed reality experiences,” he said in a statement.

That involves features like spatial content placement, which allows employees to work with digital content in HoloLens, while keeping their hands free to work in the real world. They enhance this with the ability to see multiple reference materials across multiple windows at the same time, something we are used to doing with a desktop computer, but not with a device on our faces like HoloLens. Finally, workers can use hand gestures and simple gazes to navigate in virtual space, directing applications or moving windows, as we are used to doing with keyboard or mouse.

Upskill also builds on the Windows 10 capabilities in HoloLens with its broad experience securely connecting to back-end systems to pull the information into the mixed reality setting wherever it lives in the enterprise.

The company is based outside of Washington, D.C. in Vienna, Virginia. It has raised over $45 million, according to Crunchbase. Ballard says the company currently has 70 employees. Customers using Skylight include Boeing, GE, Coca-Cola, Telstra and Accenture.

Oct
08
2018
--

WeWork taps Lemonade to offer insurance to WeLive members

WeWork has partnered with Lemonade to provide renters insurance to WeLive members.

WeLive is the residential offering from WeWork, offering members a fully-furnished apartment, complete with amenities like housekeeping, mailroom, and on-site laundry, on a flexible rental schedule. In other words, bicoastal workers or generally nomadic individuals can rent a short-term living space without worrying about all the extras.

As part of that package, WeLive is now referring new and existing WeLive members to Lemonade for renters insurance.

WeLive currently has two locations — one in New York and one in D.C. — collectively representing more than 400 units. WeWork says that both units are nearly at capacity. The company has plans to open a third location in Seattle Washington by Spring 2020.

Lemonade, meanwhile, is an up-and-coming insurance startup that is rethinking the centuries-old industry. The company’s first big innovation was the digitization of getting insurance. The company uses a chatbot to lead prospective customers through the process in under a minute.

The second piece of Lemoande’s strategy is rooted in the business model. Unlike incumbent insurance providers, Lemonade takes its profit up-front, raking away a percentage of customers’ monthly payments. The rest, however, is set aside to fulfill claims. Whatever goes unclaimed at the end of the year is donated to the charity of each customer’s choice.

To date, Lemonade has raised a total of $180 million. WeWork, on the other hand, has raised just over $9 billion, with a reported valuation as high as $35 billion.

Of course, part of the reason for that lofty valuation is the fact that WeWork is a real estate behemoth, with Re/Code reporting that the company is Manhattan’s second biggest private office tenant. But beyond sheer square footage, WeWork has spent the past few years filling its arsenal with various service providers for its services store.

With 175,000 members (as of end of 2017, so that number is likely much higher now), WeWork has a considerable userbase with which it can negotiate deals with service providers, from enterprise software makers to… well, insurance providers.

Lemonade is likely just the beginning of WeWork’s stretch into developing a suite of services and partnerships for its residential members.

Powered by WordPress | Theme: Aeros 2.0 by TheBuckmaker.com