Sep
11
2018
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Anaxi brings more visibility to the development process

Anaxi‘s mission is to bring more transparency to the software development process. The tool, which is now live for iOS, with web and Android versions planned for the near future, connects to GitHub to give you actionable insights about the state of your projects and manage your projects and issues. Support for Atlassian’s Jira is also in the works.

The new company was founded by former Apple engineering manager and Docker EVP of product development Marc Verstaen and former CodinGame CEO John Lafleur. Unsurprisingly, this new tool is all about fixing the issues these two have seen in their daily lives as developers.

“I’ve been doing software for 40 years,” Verstaen told me.” And every time is the same. You start with a small team and it’s fine. Then you grow and you don’t know what’s going on. It’s a black box.” While the rest of the business world now focuses on data and analytics, software development never quite reached that point. Verstaen argues that this was acceptable until 10 or 15 years ago because only software companies were doing software. But now that every company is becoming a software company, that’s not acceptable anymore.

Using Anaxi, you can easily see all issue reports and pull requests from your GitHub repositories, both public and private. But you also get visual status indicators that tell you when a project has too many blockers, for example, as well as the ability to define your own labels. You also can define due dates for issues.

One interesting aspect of Anaxi is that it doesn’t store all of this information on your phone or on a proprietary server. Instead, it only caches as little information as necessary (including your handles) and then pulls the rest of the information from GitHub as needed. That cache is encrypted on the phone, but for the most part, Anaxi simply relies on the GitHub API to pull in data when needed. There’s a bit of a trade-off here in terms of speed, but Verstaen noted that this also means you always get the most recent data and that GitHub’s API is quite fast and easy to work with.

The service is currently available for free. The company plans to introduce pricing plans in the future, with prices based on the number of developers that use the product inside a company.

Sep
11
2018
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Packet hauls in $25M Series B as customized cloud vision takes shape

In a world where large hyperscale companies like Amazon, Microsoft and Google dominate the public cloud, it would seem foolhardy for a startup to try to carve out a space, but Packet has an alternative customized cloud vision, and investors have taken notice. Today, the company announced a $25 million Series B led by Third Point Ventures.

An interesting mix of strategic and traditional investors joined the round including Battery Ventures, JA Mitsui Leasing and Samsung Next. Existing investors SoftBank Corp. and Dell Technologies Capital also participated. The company has now raised over $36 million.

The company also showed some signs of maturing by bringing in Ihab Tarazi as CTO and George Karidis as COO. Tarazi, who came over from Equinix, likes what he sees in Packet .

He says they offer several advantages over the public providers. First of all, customers can buy whatever hardware they want. “We offer the most diverse hardware options,” he said. That means they could get servers equipped with Intel, ARM, AMD or with specific nVidia GPUs in whatever configurations they want. By contrast public cloud providers tend to offer a more off-the-shelf approach. It’s cheap and abundant, but you have to take what they offer, and that doesn’t always work for every customer.

Another advantage Packet bring to the table, according to Tarazi, is that they support a range of open source software options, letting customers build whatever applications they want on top of that custom hardware.

They currently have 18 locations around the world, but Tarazi said they will soon be adding 50 more, also adding geographic diversity to the mix.

Finally, each customer gets their own bare metal offering, providing them with a single tenant private option inside Packet’s data center. This gives them the advantages of a privately run data center but where Packet handles all of the management, configuration and upkeep.

Tarazi doesn’t see Packet competing directly with the hyperscale players. Instead, he believes there will be room for both approaches. “I think you have a combination of both happening where people are trying to take advantage of all these hardware options to optimize performance across specific applications,” he explained.

The company, which launched in 2014, currently has about 50 employees with headquarters in New York City and offices in Palo Alto. They are also planning on opening an operations center in Dallas soon. The number should swell to 100 employees over the next year as they expand operations.

Sep
10
2018
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Intel acquires NetSpeed Systems to boost its system-on-a-chip business

Intel today is announcing another acquisition as it continues to pick up talent and IP to bolster its next generation of computing chips beyond legacy PCs. The company has acquired NetSpeed Systems, a startup that makes system-on-chip (SoC) design tools and interconnect fabric intellectual property (IP). The company will be joining Intel’s Silicon Engineering Group, and its co-founder and CEO, Sundari Mitra, herself an Intel vet, will be coming on as a VP at Intel where she will continue to lead her team.

Terms of the deal are not being disclosed, but for some context, during NetSpeed’s last fundraise in 2016 (a $10 million Series C) it had a post-money valuation of $60 million, according to data from PitchBook.

SoC is a central part of how newer connected devices are being made. Moving away from traditional motherboards to create all-in-one chips that include processing, memory, input/output and storage is an essential cornerstone when building ever-smaller and more efficient devices. This is an area where Intel is already active but against others like Nvidia and Qualcomm many believe it has some catching up to do, and so this acquisition in important in that context.

“Intel is designing more products with more specialized features than ever before, which is incredibly exciting for Intel architects and for our customers,” said Jim Keller, senior vice president and general manager of the Silicon Engineering Group at Intel, in a statement. “The challenge is synthesizing a broader set of IP blocks for optimal performance while reining in design time and cost. NetSpeed’s proven network-on-chip technology addresses this challenge, and we’re excited to now have their IP and expertise in-house.”

Intel has made a series of acquisitions to speed up development of newer chips to work in connected objects and smaller devices beyond the PCs that helped the company make its name. Another recent acquisition in the same vein include eASIC for IoT chipsets, which Intel acquired in July. Intel has also been acquiring startups in other areas where it hopes to make a bigger mark, such as deep learning (case in point: its acquisition of Movidius in August).

NetSpeed has been around since 2011 and Intel was one of its investors and customers.

“Intel has been a great customer of NetSpeed’s, and I’m thrilled to once again be joining the company,” said Mitra, in a statement. “Intel is world class at designing and optimizing the performance of custom silicon at scale. As part of Intel’s silicon engineering group, we’re excited to help invent new products that will be a foundation for computing’s future.”

Intel said it will to honor NetSpeed’s existing customer contracts, but it also sounds like it the company will not be seeking future business as Intel integrates the company into its bigger business.

Sep
10
2018
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Adobe looks to AI to lift customer experience business

For years, marketers have been trying to optimize the online shopping experience to better understand their customers and deliver more customized interactions that ultimately drive more sales. Artificial intelligence was supposed to accelerate that, and today Adobe announced enhancements to Adobe Target and Adobe Experience Manager that attempt to deliver at least partly on that promise.

Adobe has been trying to lift the enterprise side of its business for some time, and even though they are well on their way to becoming a $10 billion company, the potential for even more revenue from the enterprise side of the business remains tantalizing. They are counting on AI to help push that along.

Adobe’s Loni Stark says companies are looking for more sophisticated solutions around customization and optimization. Part of that involves using Adobe’s intelligence layer, which they call Sensei, to help marketers as they tweak these programs to drive better experiences.

For starters, the company wants to help users choose the best algorithms for any given set of tasks. Adobe is bringing AI in to assist with a tool it released last year called Auto-Target. “One of the challenges marketers face has been which algorithms do you use, and how do you map them to your personalization strategy. We are enabling Adobe Sensei to choose the best algorithm for them.” She says giving them a smart assistant to help choose should make this task much less daunting for marketers.

Adobe is also bringing some smarts to layout design with a new tool called Smart Layouts, first introduced in March at Adobe Summit. The idea here is to deliver the right layout at any given time to allow marketing teams to scale personalization and increase the likelihood of action, which in marketing speak means buying something.

Once again the company is letting AI guide the process to generate different layouts automatically for different segments, depending on visitor behavior at any given moment. That means a retailer should be able to deliver ever more granular pages based on what it knows about visitors as they move through the shopping process. The more customized the experience, the more likely the shopper turns into a buyer.

Adobe is also looking at new delivery channels, particularly voice, as devices like the Amazon Alexa become increasingly popular. As with the web, mobile, print and other delivery approaches, marketers need to be able apply basic tasks like A/B testing on different voices or workflows, and the company is building these into their tools.

All of these new features are part of Adobe’s ongoing attempt to streamline its marketing tools to make life easier for its customers. By using artificial intelligence to help guide the workflow, they hope to drive more revenue from the digital experience side of the house. While these tools should help, Adobe still makes the vast majority of its money from Creative Cloud. The Digital segment still lags at $586 million (up 18 percent YoY) out of total quarterly revenue of 2.20 billion in the most recent report in June.

The company spent a hefty $1.68 billion in May to snag Magento. They are due to report their next quarterly report on September 18th, and it will be interesting to see if the Magento acquisition and increasing use of artificial intelligence can help continue to grow this side of the business.

Sep
06
2018
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Microsoft commits to fixing custom apps broken by Windows 10 upgrades

Microsoft wants to make life easier for enterprise customers. Starting today, it is committing to fix any custom applications that may break as a result of updates to Windows 10 or the Office 365 product suite.

Most large companies have a series of custom applications that play a crucial role inside their organizations. When you update Windows and Office 365, Murphy’s Law of updates says one or more of those applications is going to break.

Up until this announcement when that inevitably happened, it was entirely the problem of the customer. Microsoft has taken a huge step today by promising to help companies understand which applications will likely break when you install updates, and working to help fix them if it ultimately happens anyway.

One of the reasons the company can afford to be so generous is they have data that suggests the vast majority of applications won’t break when customers move from Windows 7 to Windows 10. “Using millions of data points from customer diagnostic data and the Windows Insider validation process, we’ve found that 99 percent of apps are compatible with new Windows updates,” Microsoft’s Jared Spataro wrote in a blog post announcing these programs.

To that end, they have a new tool called Desktop Deployment Analytics, which creates a map of your applications and predicts using artificial intelligence which of them are most likely to have problems with the update.

“You now have the ability with the cloud to have intelligence in how you manage these end points and get smart recommendations around how you deploy Windows,” Spataro, who is corporate vice president of Microsoft 365, told TechCrunch.

Even with that kind of intelligence-driven preventive approach, things still break, and that’s where the next program, Desktop App Assure, comes into play. It’s a service designed to address any application compatibility issues with Windows 10 and Office 365 ProPlus. In fact, Microsoft has promised to assign an engineer to a company to fix anything that breaks, even if it’s unique to a particular organization.

That’s quite a commitment, and Spataro recognizes that there will be plenty of skeptics where this program in particular is concerned. He says that it’s up to Microsoft to deliver what it’s promised.

Over the years, organizations have spent countless resources getting applications to work after Windows updates, sometimes leaving older versions in place for years to avoid incompatibility problems. These programs theoretically completely remove that pain point from the equation, placing the burden to fix the applications squarely on Microsoft.

“We will look to make changes in Windows or Office before we ask you to make changes in your custom application,” Spataro says, but if that doesn’t solve it, they have committed to helping you fix it.

Finally, the company heard a lot of complaints from customers when they announced they were ending extended support for Windows 7 in 2020. Spataro said Microsoft listened to its customers, and has now extended paid support until 2024, letting companies change at their own pace. Theoretically, however, if they can assure customers that updating won’t break things, and they will commit to fixing them if that happens, it should help move customers to Windows 10, which appears to be the company’s goal here.

They also made changes to the standard support and update cadence for Windows 10 and Office 365:

All of these programs appear to be a major shift in how Microsoft has traditionally done business, showing a much stronger commitment to servicing the requirements of enterprise customers, while shifting the cost of fixing custom applications from the customer to Microsoft when updates to its core products cause issues. But they have done so knowing that they can help prevent a lot of those incompatibility problems before they happen, making it easier to commit to this type of program.

Sep
05
2018
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Forethought looks to reshape enterprise search with AI

Forethought, a 2018 TechCrunch Disrupt Battlefield participant, has a modern vision for enterprise search that uses AI to surface the content that matters most in the context of work. Its first use case involves customer service, but it has a broader ambition to work across the enterprise.

The startup takes a bit of an unusual approach to search. Instead of a keyword-driven experience we are used to with Google, Forethought uses an information retrieval model driven by artificial intelligence underpinnings that they then embed directly into the workflow, company co-founder and CEO Deon Nicholas told TechCrunch. They have dubbed their answer engine “Agatha.”

Much like any search product, it begins by indexing relevant content. Nicholas says they built the search engine to be able to index millions of documents at scale very quickly. It then uses natural language processing (NLP) and natural language understanding (NLU) to read the documents as a human would.

“We don’t work on keywords. You can ask questions without keywords and using synonyms to help understand what you actually mean, we can actually pull out the correct answer [from the content] and deliver it to you,” he said.

One of first use cases where they are seeing traction in is customer support. “Our AI, Agatha for Support, integrates into a company’s help desk software, either Zendesk, Salesforce Service Cloud, and then we [read] tickets and suggest answers and relevant knowledge base articles to help close tickets more efficiently,” Nicholas explained. He claims their approach has increased agent efficiency by 20-30 percent.

The plan is to eventually expand beyond the initial customer service use case into other areas of the enterprise and follow a similar path of indexing documents and embedding the solution into the tools that people are using to do their jobs.

When they reach beta or general release, they will operate as a cloud service where customers sign up, enter their Zendesk or Salesforce credentials (or whatever other products happen to be supported at that point) and the product begins indexing the content.

The founding team, mostly in their mid-20s, have had a passion for artificial intelligence since high school. In fact, Nicholas built an AI program to read his notes and quiz him on history while still in high school. Later, at the University of Waterloo, he published a paper on machine learning and had internships at Palantir, Facebook and Dropbox. His first job out of school was at Pure Storage. All these positions had a common thread of working with data and AI.

The company launched last year and they debuted Agatha in private beta four months ago. They currently have six companies participating, the first of which has been converted to a paying customer.

They have closed a pre-seed round of funding too, and although they weren’t prepared to share the amount, the investment was led by K9 Ventures. Village Global, Original Capital and other unnamed investors also participated.

Sep
05
2018
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Elastic’s IPO filing is here

Elastic, the provider of subscription-based data search software used by Dell, Netflix, The New York Times and others, has unveiled its IPO filing after confidentially submitting paperwork to the SEC in June. The company will be the latest in a line of enterprise SaaS businesses to hit the public markets in 2018.

Headquartered in Mountain View, Elastic plans to raise $100 million in its NYSE listing, though that’s likely a placeholder amount. The timing of the filing suggests the company will transition to the public markets this fall; we’ve reached out to the company for more details. 

Elastic will trade under the symbol ESTC.

The business is known for its core product, an open-source search tool called ElasticSearch. It also offers a range of analytics and visualization tools meant to help businesses organize large data sets, competing directly with companies like Splunk and even Amazon — a name it mentions 14 times in the filing.

Amazon offers some of our open source features as part of its Amazon Web Services offering. As such, Amazon competes with us for potential customers, and while Amazon cannot provide our proprietary software, the pricing of Amazon’s offerings may limit our ability to adjust,” the company wrote in the filing, which also lists Endeca, FAST, Autonomy and several others as key competitors.

This is our first look at Elastic’s financials. The company brought in $159.9 million in revenue in the 12 months ended July 30, 2018, up roughly 100 percent from $88.1 million the year prior. Losses are growing at about the same rate. Elastic reported a net loss of $18.5 million in the second quarter of 2018. That’s an increase from $9.9 million in the same period in 2017.

Founded in 2012, the company has raised about $100 million in venture capital funding, garnering a $700 million valuation the last time it raised VC, which was all the way back in 2014. Its investors include Benchmark, NEA and Future Fund, which each retain a 17.8 percent, 10.2 percent and 8.2 percent pre-IPO stake, respectively.

A flurry of business software companies have opted to go public this year. Domo, a business analytics company based in Utah, went public in June raising $193 million in the process. On top of that, subscription biller Zuora had a positive debut in April in what was a “clear sign post on the road to SaaS maturation,” according to TechCrunch’s Ron Miller. DocuSign and Smartsheet are also recent examples of both high-profile and successful SaaS IPOs.

Sep
05
2018
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Google adds a bunch of rugged devices to its Android Enterprise Recommended program

Rugged smartphones, the kind of devices that business can give to their employees who work in harsh environments, are a bit of a specialty market. Few consumers, after all, choose their smartphones based on how well they survive six-foot drops. But there is definitely a market there, and IDC currently expects that the market for Android -based rugged devices will grow at 23 percent annually over the next five years.

It’s maybe no surprise that Google is now expanding its Android Enterprise Recommended program to include rugged devices, too. Chances are you’ve never heard of many of the manufacturers in this first batch (or thought of them as smartphone manufacturers): Zebra, Honeywell, Sonim, Point Mobile, Datalogic. Panasonic, which has a long history of building rugged devices, will also soon become part of this program.

The minimum requirements for these devices are pretty straightforward: they have to support Android 7+, offer security updates within 90 days of release from Google and, because they are rugged devices, after all, be certified for ingress protection and rated for drop testing. They’ll also have to support at least one more major OS release.

Today’s launch continues our commitment to improving the enterprise experience for customers,” Google writes in today’s announcement. “We hope these devices will serve existing use cases and also enable companies to pursue new mobility use cases to help them realize their goals.

Sep
05
2018
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German mobility startup Wunder Mobility raises $30M Series B

Wunder Mobility, the Hamburg-based startup that provides a range of mobility services, from carpooling to electric scooter rentals, has raised $30 million in Series B funding. The round was led by KCK Group, with participation from previous backer Blumberg Capital and other non-disclosed investors.

The German company says the investment will be used to expand the company’s engineering team in its home country and to establish an international B2B sales organisation. Currently, Wunder Mobility has 70 employees working from four offices in Asia, Germany, and South America. The aim is to add another 100 employees over the next twelve months in the areas of product development and B2B sales.

Founded in Hamburg in 2014, but now with an international focus, including emerging markets, Wunder Mobility supplies software, hardware, and operational services for various “future-oriented” mobility concepts. These span smart shuttles, fleet management and carpooling, reaching more than two million users in a dozen countries, including France, Germany, Spain, Brazil, India, and the Philippines.

“We are enabling communities on four continents to address the global traffic challenge and to deploy more sustainable mobility options faster by hosting a full-stack urban mobility tech platform,” explains founder and CEO Gunnar Froh.

“Our three product lines either allow private people to share empty seats with people headed in the same direction (Wunder Carpool), match professional drivers with passengers in 6-10 seater vans (Wunder Shuttle), or give travellers the option to rent vehicles (electric scooters, cars) by the minute (Wunder Fleet)”.

In recent months, transport companies as well as customers from the automotive industry in Japan, Europe and America have committed to using Wunder technology. The company is already processing around one million trips per month worldwide.

To that end, Froh describes Wunder Mobility’s typical B2C customers as the emerging middle class in mega cities such as Rio de Janeiro, Manila or Dehli.

“Many of these customers commute to work every day for several hours, are often first-time car owners and are open to sharing empty seats in their cars in order save on gas and car expenses,” he says.

On the B2B side, the startup’s customers are large OEMs, and public transit companies or suppliers, such as the Japanese conglomerate Marubeni. “We are working with Marubeni on ambitious new mobility services worldwide,” adds Froh.

Meanwhile, Wunder Mobility’s competitors are cited as Via in New York on the shuttle side. In Europe it perhaps competes most directly with Berlin’s Door2Door, and Vulog in Paris.

Sep
04
2018
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Thoma Bravo buys majority stake in Apttus in unexpected ending

Apttus, a quote-to-cash vendor built on top of the Salesforce platform that looked to be heading toward an IPO in recent years has taken a different tack, instead being acquired by private equity firm Thoma Bravo today.

The company did not reveal the purchase price, but said it could be ready to share more details about the arrangement after the deal closes, probably next month. “What we can say is that Apttus views this development positively and believes Thoma Bravo can instill greater operational excellence, strengthen our market leadership and allow us to continue providing indispensable value to our customers,” a company spokesperson told TechCrunch.

They are describing this not as a full on acquisition, but as ‘taking a majority stake’. However you describe it, it probably wasn’t the ending the company envisioned after taking $404 million in investment since launching in 2006, one of the earliest startups to build a business on top of the Salesforce platform.

If the company believed that Salesforce would eventually buy it, that never happened. In fact, that dream probably went out the window when Salesforce bought SteelBrick, a similar company also built on Salesforce, at the end of 2015 for $360 million.

In spite of this, in an interview in 2016, CEO Kirk Krappe still was confident that an exit was coming, either by IPO or a possibly a Salesforce acquisition.

“We will be IPOing this year. That may be a function to figure what Salesforce wants to do and they may think about that [after purchasing SteelBrick at the end of last year]. There’s no reason they can’t buy us too. For me, I have to run the business, and we’re growing 100 percent year on year. If Salesforce came to the table, that would be great if the numbers work. If not, we have an amazingly strong business,” he said at the time.

That never came to pass of course, and the company tried to separate itself from Salesforce in April of 2016 when it released a version of Apttus that would work on Microsoft Dynamics. Krappe saw this as a way to show investors he wasn’t completely married to the Salesforce platform.

While Salesforce provided a system of record around the customer information and all that involved, once the salesperson actually closed in on a sale, that’s when software like Apttus came into play, allowing the company to generate a detailed proposal, a contract once the deal was agreed upon and finally collecting and recording the money from the sale.

Apttus took its last funding rounds in Sept 2017 for $55 million and later a debt financing round for another $75 million in February this year, according to data on Crunchbase.

Thoma Bravo has bought a number of enterprise software products over the years including Qlik, Sailpoint, Dynatrace, Solar Winds and others. Apttus should fit in well with that family of companies.

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