May
12
2021
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AWS releases tool to open source that turns on-prem software into SaaS

AWS announced today that it’s releasing a tool called AWS SaaS Boost as open source distributed under the Apache 2.0 license. The tool, which was first announced at the AWS re:Invent conference last year, is designed to help companies transform their on-prem software into cloud-based software as a service.

In the charter for the software, the company describes its mission this way: “Our mission is to create a community-driven suite of extensible building blocks for Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) builders. Our goal is to foster an open environment for developing and sharing reusable code that accelerates the ability to deliver and operate multi-tenant SaaS solutions on AWS.”

What it effectively does is provide the tools to turn the application into one that lets you sign up users and let them use the app in a multi-tenant cloud context. Even though it’s open source, it is designed to get you to move your application into the AWS system where you can access a number of AWS services such as AWS CloudFormation, AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM), Amazon Route 53, Elastic Load Balancing, AWS Lambda (Amazon’s serverless tool), and Amazon Elastic Container Service (Amazon’s Kubernetes Service). Although presumably you could use alternative services, if you were so inclined.

By making it open source, it gives companies that would need this kind of service access to the source code, giving them a comfort level and an ability to contribute to the project to expand upon the base product and give back to the community. That makes it a win for users who get flexibility and the benefit of a community behind the tool, and a win for AWS, which gets that community working on the tool to improve and enhance it over time.

“Our objective with AWS SaaS Boost is to get great quality software based on years of experience in the hands of as many developers and companies as possible. Because SaaS Boost is open source software, anyone can help improve it. Through a community of builders, our hope is to develop features faster, integrate with a wide range of SaaS software, and to provide a high quality solution for our customers regardless of company size or location,” Amazon’s Adrian De Luca wrote in a blog post announcing the intent to open source SaaS Boost.

This announcement comes just a couple of weeks after the company open-sourced its Deep Racer device software, which runs its machine-learning fueled mini race cars. That said, Amazon has had a complex relationship with the open source in the past couple of years, where companies like MongoDB, Elastic and CockroachDB have altered their open-source licenses to prevent Amazon from making their own hosted versions of these software packages.

May
12
2021
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Ahead of Dell’s spin out, VMware appoints longtime exec Raghu Raghuram as its new CEO

Five months after it was announced that Pal Gelsinger would be stepping down as CEO of VMware to take the top job at Intel, the virtualization giant has finally appointed a permanent successor. Raghu Raghuram — a longtime employee of the company — has been appointed the new CEO. He will be taking on the new role on June 1. Until then, CFO Zane Rowe will continue in the role in the interim.

Raghuram has been with the company for 17 years in a variety of roles, most recently COO of products and cloud services. He’s also held positions at the company overseeing areas like data centers and VMware’s server business. Putting a veteran at the helm sends a clear message that VMware has picked someone clearly dedicated to the company and its culture. No drama here.

Indeed, the move is coming at a time when there is already a lot of other change underway and speaks to the company looking for stability and continuity to lead it through that. About a month ago, Dell confirmed long-anticipated news that it would be spinning out its stake in VMware in a deal that’s expected to bring Dell at least $9 billion — putting to an end a financial partnership that initially kicked off with an eye-watering acquisition of EMC in 2016. That partnership will not end the strategic relationship, however, which is set to continue and now Raghuram will be in charge of building and leading.

For that reason, you might look at this as a deal nodded through significantly by Dell.

“I am thrilled to have Raghu step into the role of CEO at VMware. Throughout his career, he has led with integrity and conviction, playing an instrumental role in the success of VMware,” said Michael Dell, chairman of the VMware board of directors, in a statement. “Raghu is now in position to architect VMware’s future, helping customers and partners accelerate their digital businesses in this multicloud world.”

Raghuram has not only been the person overseeing some of VMware’s biggest divisions and newer areas like software-defined networking and cloud computing, but he’s had a central role in building and driving strategy for the company’s core virtualization business, been involved with M&A and, as VMware points out, “key in driving partnerships with Dell Technologies,” among other partners.

“VMware is uniquely poised to lead the multicloud computing era with an end-to-end software platform spanning clouds, the data center and the edge, helping to accelerate our customers’ digital transformations,” said Raghuram in a statement. “I am honored, humbled and excited to have been chosen to lead this company to a new phase of growth. We have enormous opportunity, we have the right solutions, the right team and we will continue to execute with focus, passion and agility.”

The company also took the moment to update on guidance for its Q1 results, which will be coming out on May 27. Revenues are expected to come in at $2.994 billion, up 9.5% versus the same quarter a year ago. Subscription and SaaS and license revenue, meanwhile, is expected to be $1.387 billion, up 12.5%. GAAP net income per diluted share is expected to be $1.01 per diluted share, and non-GAAP net income per diluted share is expected to be $1.76 per diluted share, it said.

May
12
2021
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Cisco to acquire Indy startup Socio to bring hybrid events to Webex

Cisco announced this morning that it intends to acquire Indianapolis-based startup Socio, which helps plan hybrid in-person and virtual events. The two companies did not share the purchase price.

Socio provides a missing hybrid event management component for the company to add to its Webex platform. The goal appears to be to combine this with the recent purchase of Slido and transform Webex from an application mostly for video meetings into a more comprehensive event platform.

“As part of Cisco Webex’s vision to deliver inclusive, engaging and intelligent meeting and event experiences, the acquisition of Socio Labs complements Cisco’s recent acquisition of Slido, an industry-leading audience engagement tool, which together will create a comprehensive, cost-effective and easy-to-use event management solution [ … ],” the company explained in a statement.

The impact of the pandemic was not lost on Cisco, and it’s clear that as we can foresee going back to live events, having the ability to combine it with a virtual experience means that you can open up your event to a much wider audience beyond those who can attend in person. That’s likely not something that’s going away, even after we get past COVID.

Jeetu Patel, SVP and GM for security and collaboration at Cisco says that the future of work is going to be hybrid, whether it’s for work meetings or larger events and Cisco is making this acquisition to expand the use cases for the Webex platform.

“Whether it’s a 1:1 call, a small team huddle, a group meeting or a large external event, we want to remove friction and help people engage with each other in an inclusive manner. Slido allows for every voice to be heard — even when you’re not talking. Socio allows for getting your voice heard by a large number of people,” Patel said.

And the company believes that Webex provides the platform to make it all happen. “It’s a really potent combination of technology to make human interactions more engaging, no matter the type of conversation,” he added.

Brent Leary, founder and principal analyst at CRM Essentials, says that it’s a smart move to take advantage of the changing events landscape and that this acquisition helps make Cisco a serious player in this space.

“As we get closer to a post-pandemic world, the need to create hybrid event experiences is going to quickly accelerate as people start venturing out to attend physical events. So having an event stack that combines local event support/participation with tools to integrate a broader virtual audience will be the future of event management,” Leary told me.

Socio was founded in 2016 and raised around $7 million in investment capital, according to Crunchbase data. It has a prestigious list of enterprise customers that includes Microsoft, Google, Jet Blue, Greenpeace, PepsiCo and Hyundai.

The deal is expected to close in Q4 of FY2021. When it does close, Socio’s 135 employees will be joining Cisco. The plan is to incorporate Socio’s tooling into the Webex platform while allowing it to continue as a stand-alone product, according to a Cisco spokesperson.

May
12
2021
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Salesforce is bringing drag and drop interactive components to its low-code toolkit

Low-code and no-code tools abound these days, as the industry attempts to give nontechnical end users the ability to create applications without code (or very little anyway). Salesforce has been a big proponent of this approach to help reduce the complexity of working on its platform, and today the CRM giant announced a new wrinkle: drag and drop interactive components.

These new components allow users to create more sophisticated kinds of interactions, says Ryan Ellis, SVP for product management and platform at Salesforce. “We’re introducing this new feature called Dynamic Interactions and prior to their existence you had to have developers if you wanted to be able to build essentially truly interactive applications,” Ellis said.

What he means by this is if you have an application made up of multiple components such as a list of companies, a map and information about the company. You can click a company name and its location instantly appears on the map, and information about the company appears alongside it.

Salesforce will be providing about 150 such interactions like maps, lists, Einstein next best action and so forth. Developers can also create these for users as reusable building blocks that make sense to your organization or make them available in the AppExchange for others to use. Finally, you might have a systems integrator or consultant help build them for you.

“With dynamic interactions, we’re really dramatically simplifying the process of building apps with components that communicate with each other, pass data back and forth and react to user actions. It’s an entirely no-code tool so that developers write the code once for their component, and then that component can be reused by people who don’t have technical skills by dragging and dropping them onto the page, then configuring what should happen when a user takes an action,” Ellis explained.

An example of dynamic interactions from Salesforce. Clicking an item of the left causes its locations to appear in the center and information about the selected item on the right.

Image Credits: Salesforce

He says that this is part of a larger trend of digital transformation happening across the industry, one that was accelerated by the pandemic, something we hear frequently from tech companies like Salesforce.

“There’s really this big push to go digital faster than ever before, and this was happening for years as we were seeing businesses having to pivot much more rapidly as new business models were coming about. […] But then in this last year COVID really changed the game, and people just had to put on full gas in terms of actually being able to deliver those digital transformations in some instances overnight,” he said.

When you combine that with a shortage of developers, it makes sense that Salesforce and many other companies in the industry are developing these low-code tools that allow nontechnical business users to build some applications themselves, while freeing developers to concentrate on more sophisticated organizational requirements.

Dynamic Interactions will be available starting today from Salesforce (in beta). The product is expected to be generally available around Dreamforce in the fall.

May
11
2021
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Jamf snags zero trust security startup Wandera for $400M

Jamf, the enterprise Apple device management company, announced that it was acquiring Wandera, a zero trust security startup, for $400 million at the market close today. Today’s purchase is the largest in the company’s history.

Using a set of management services for Apple devices, Jamf provides IT at large organizations. It is the leader in the market, and snagging Wandera provides a missing modern security layer for the platform.

Jamf CEO Dean Hager says that Wandera’s zero trust approach fills in an important piece in the Jamf platform tool set. “The combination of Wandera and Jamf will provide our customers a single source platform that handles deployment, application lifecycle management, policies, filtering and security capabilities across all Apple devices while delivering zero trust network access for all mobile workers,” Hager said in a statement.

Zero trust, as the name implies, is an approach to security where you don’t trust anybody regardless of whether they are inside or outside your network. It requires that you force everyone to provide multiple forms of authentication to prove their identity before they can access company resources.

The need for a zero trust approach became even more acute during the pandemic when employees have often been working from home and have needed access to applications and other company resources from wherever they happened to be, a trend that was happening even prior to COVID, and is likely to continue after it ends.

Wandera, which is based in London, was founded in 2012 by brothers Roy and Eldar Tuvey, who had previously co-founded another security startup called ScanSafe. Cisco acquired that company, which helped protect web gateways as a service, for $183 million back in 2009. The brothers raised over $53 million along the way for Wandera. Investors included Bessemer Venture Partners, 83North and Sapphire Ventures.

Sapphire co-founder and managing director Andreas Weiskam had this to say about the company: “I’ve had the pleasure of working with co-founders (and brothers) Eldar Tuvey and Roy Tuvey for the last several years now and I can honestly say they’re great entrepreneurs and leaders, having built a real company of consequence.”

He added, “They’ve created a unique security product which addresses mobile threats by leveraging the increasingly important zero trust network. By joining the Jamf family, the two will help shape the future of the zero trust cloud. And it goes without saying that this is a big win for the customers, especially for those in the Apple ecosystem.”

Under the terms of the deal, Jamf is paying Wandera $350 million in cash, then paying them two $25 million payments on October 1, 2021 and December 15, 2021. The deal is expected to close in the third quarter, assuming it passes regulatory scrutiny.

 

May
11
2021
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SaaS companies can grow to $20M+ ARR by selling exclusively to developers

With more than 200,000 customers, a market cap of nearly $56 billion, and the recent acquisition of Segment for $3.2 billion, Twilio is a SaaS behemoth.

It’s hard to imagine companies like Twilio as anything but a giant. But everybody starts out small, and you can usually trace success back to key decisions made in the early days.

First, you need to have a product that developers can actually sign up for. This means ditching demos for real-time free trials or freemium tools.

For Twilio, a big differentiator was being one of the first technology-focused SaaS organizations that focused on empowering and building for the end user (which in their case is developers) with a self-service function. Another differentiator was, the executive team designed the organization to create tight feedback loops between sales and product with national roadshows, during which CEO Jeff Lawson frequently met with users.

Moreover, Twilio’s “secret sauce” per their S-1 is a developer-focused model and a strong belief in the future of software. They encourage developers to explore and innovate with Twilio’s flexible offering, which led to an incredible 155% net-dollar expansion rate at the time of the IPO.

Most importantly, Twilio put the product in the hands of teams before the sale happened, standing by to answer hard questions about how Twilio would fit into their infrastructure. This was pretty rare at the time — sales engineering resources aren’t cheap — and it was a strong differentiating factor. So much so that when the company went public, they were growing at 106% annually.

Twilio sells to developers at large enterprises by solving a problem that developers come up against regularly: Getting in touch with customers.

But as more successful public software companies emerge, it’s clear that Twilio’s secret sauce can and will be replicated.

Why traditional marketing doesn’t work on developers

Before I started looking at successful developer-focused businesses, I understood the developer-focused playbook to look a little like this:
  1. Don’t hire marketing (or sales, either). If you do, hire someone super experienced from an enterprise sales background. And then fire them within three to six months.
  2. Just hire someone who’s passionate about the product to “manage the community.” What is community management? Lots of swag. Cool meetups. Publish 1–2 articles as a stab at content (bonus points if they’re listicles). Oh, wait. How can we show the ROI here? Make the community manager do that until she quits. Repeat.

May
11
2021
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SightCall raises $42M for its AR-based visual assistance platform

Long before COVID-19 precipitated “digital transformation” across the world of work, customer services and support was built to run online and virtually. Yet it too is undergoing an evolution supercharged by technology.

Today, a startup called SightCall, which has built an augmented reality platform to help field service teams, the companies they work for, and their customers carry out technical and mechanical maintenance or repairs more effectively, is announcing $42 million in funding, money that it plans to use to invest in its tech stack with more artificial intelligence tools and expanding its client base.

The core of its service, explained CEO and co-founder Thomas Cottereau, is AR technology (which comes embedded in their apps or the service apps its customers use, with integrations into other standard software used in customer service environments including Microsoft, SAP, Salesforce and ServiceNow). The augmented reality experience overlays additional information, pointers and other tools over the video stream.

This is used by, say, field service engineers coordinating with central offices when servicing equipment; or by manufacturers to provide better assistance to customers in emergencies or situations where something is not working but might be repaired quicker by the customers themselves rather than engineers that have to be called out; or indeed by call centers, aided by AI, to diagnose whatever the problem might be. It’s a big leap ahead for scenarios that previously relied on work orders, hastily drawn diagrams, instruction manuals and voice-based descriptions to progress the work in question.

“We like to say that we break the barriers that exist between a field service organization and its customer,” Cottereau said.

The tech, meanwhile, is unique to SightCall, built over years and designed to be used by way of a basic smartphone, and over even a basic mobile network — essential in cases where reception is bad or the locations are remote. (More on how it works below.)

Originally founded in Paris, France before relocating to San Francisco, SightCall has already built up a sizable business across a pretty wide range of verticals, including insurance, telecoms, transportation, telehealth, manufacturing, utilities and life sciences/medical devices.

SightCall has some 200 big-name enterprise customers on its books, including the likes of Kraft-Heinz, Allianz, GE Healthcare and Lincoln Motor Company, providing services on a B2B basis as well as for teams that are out in the field working for consumer customers, too. After seeing 100% year-over-year growth in annual recurring revenue in 2019 and 2020, SightCall’s CEO says it’s looking like it will hit that rate this year as well, with a goal of $100 million in annual recurring revenue.

The funding is being led by InfraVia, a European private equity firm, with Bpifrance also participating. The valuation of this round is not being disclosed, but I should point out that an investor told me that PitchBook’s estimate of $122 million post-money is not accurate (we’re still digging on this and will update as and when we learn more).

For some further context on this investment, InfraVia invests in a number of industrial businesses, alongside investments in tech companies building services related to them such as recent investments in Jobandtalent, so this is in part a strategic investment. SightCall has raised $67 million to date.

There has been an interesting wave of startups emerging in recent years building out the tech stack used by people working in the front lines and in the field, a shift after years of knowledge workers getting most of the attention from startups building a new generation of apps.

Workiz and Jobber are building platforms for small business tradespeople to book jobs and manage them once they’re on the books; BigChange helps manage bigger fleets; and Hover has built a platform for builders to be able to assess and estimate costs for work by using AI to analyze images captured by their or their would-be customers’ smartphone cameras.

And there is Streem, which I discovered is a close enough competitor to SightCall that they’ve acquired AdWords ads based on SightCall searches in Google. Just ahead of the COVID-19 pandemic breaking wide open, General Catalyst-backed Streem was acquired by Frontdoor to help with the latter’s efforts to build out its home services business, another sign of how all of this is leaping ahead.

What’s interesting in part about SightCall and sets it apart is its technology. Co-founded in 2007 by Cottereau and Antoine Vervoort (currently SVP of product and engineering), the two are long-time telecoms industry vets who had both worked on the technical side of building next-generation networks.

SightCall started life as a company called Weemo that built video chat services that could run on WebRTC-based frameworks, which emerged at a time when we were seeing a wider effort to bring more rich media services into mobile web and SMS apps. For consumers and to a large extent businesses, mobile phone apps that work “over the top” (distributed not by your mobile network carrier but the companies that run your phone’s operating system, and thus partly controlled by them) really took the lead and continue to dominate the market for messaging and innovations in messaging.

After a time, Weemo pivoted and renamed itself as SightCall, focusing on packaging the tech that it built into whichever app (native or mobile web) where one of its enterprise customers wanted the tech to live.

The key to how it works comes by way of how SightCall was built, Cottereau explained. The company has spent 10 years building and optimizing a network across data centers close to where its customers are, which interconnects with Tier 1 telecoms carriers and has a lot of latency in the system to ensure uptime. “We work with companies where this connectivity is mission critical,” he said. “The video solution has to work.”

As he describes it, the hybrid system SightCall has built incorporates its own IP that works both with telecoms hardware and software, resulting in a video service that provides 10 different ways for streaming video and a system that automatically chooses the best in a particular environment, based on where you are, so that even if mobile data or broadband reception don’t work, video streaming will. “Telecoms and software are still very separate worlds,” Cottereau said. “They still don’t speak the same language, and so that is part of our secret sauce, a global roaming mechanism.”

The tech that the startup has built to date not only has given it a firm grounding against others who might be looking to build in this space, but has led to strong traction with customers. The next steps will be to continue building out that technology to tap deeper into the automation that is being adopted across the industries that already use SightCall’s technology.

“SightCall pioneered the market for AR-powered visual assistance, and they’re in the best position to drive the digital transformation of remote service,” said Alban Wyniecki, partner at InfraVia Capital Partners, in a statement. “As a global leader, they can now expand their capabilities, making their interactions more intelligent and also bringing more automation to help humans work at their best.”

“SightCall’s $42M Series B marks the largest funding round yet in this sector, and SightCall emerges as the undisputed leader in capital, R&D resources and partnerships with leading technology companies enabling its solutions to be embedded into complex enterprise IT,” added Antoine Izsak of Bpifrance. “Businesses are looking for solutions like SightCall to enable customer-centricity at a greater scale while augmenting technicians with knowledge and expertise that unlocks efficiencies and drives continuous performance and profit.”

Cottereau said that the company has had a number of acquisition offers over the years — not a surprise when you consider the foundational technology it has built for how to architect video networks across different carriers and data centers that work even in the most unreliable of network environments.

“We want to stay independent, though,” he said. “I see a huge market here, and I want us to continue the story and lead it. Plus, I can see a way where we can stay independent and continue to work with everyone.”

May
11
2021
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DataRobot expands platform and announces Zepl acquisition

DataRobot, the Boston-based automated machine learning startup, had a bushel of announcements this morning as it expanded its platform to give technical and nontechnical users alike something new. It also announced it has acquired Zepl, giving it an advanced development environment where data scientists can bring their own code to DataRobot. The two companies did not share the acquisition price.

Nenshad Bardoliwalla, SVP of Product at DataRobot says that his company aspires to be the leader in this market and it believes the path to doing that is appealing to a broad spectrum of user requirements, from those who have little data science understanding to those who can do their own machine learning coding in Python and R.

“While people love automation, they also want it to be [flexible]. They don’t want just automation, but then you can’t do anything with it. They also want the ability to turn the knobs and pull the levers,” Bardoliwalla explained.

To resolve that problem, rather than building a coding environment from scratch, it chose to buy Zepl and incorporate its coding notebook into the platform in a new tool called Composable ML. “With Composable ML and with the Zepl acquisition, we are now providing a really first-class environment for people who want to code,” he said.

Zepl was founded in 2016 and raised $13 million along the way, according to Crunchbase data. The company didn’t want to reveal the number of employees or the purchase price, but the acquisition gives it advanced capabilities, especially a notebook environment to call its own to attract those more advanced users to the platform. The company plans to incorporate the Zepl functionality into the platform, while also leaving the standalone product in place.

Bardoliwalla said that they see the Zepl acquisition as an extension of the automated side of the house, where these tools can work in conjunction with one another with machines and humans working together to generate the best models. “This [generates an] organic mixture of the best of what a system can generate using DataRobot AutoML and the best of what human beings can do and kind of trying to compose those together into something really interesting […],” Bardoliwalla said.

The company is also introducing a no-code AI app builder that enables nontechnical users to create apps from the data set with drag and drop components. In addition, it’s adding a tool to monitor the accuracy of the model over time. Sometimes, after a model is in production for a time, the accuracy can begin to break down as the data on which the model is based is no longer valid. This tool monitors the model data for accuracy and warns the team when it’s starting to fall out of compliance.

Finally, the company is announcing a model bias monitoring tool to help root out model bias that could introduce racist, sexist or other assumptions into the model. To avoid this, the company has built a tool to identify when it sees this happening both in the model-building phase and in production. It warns the team of potential bias, while providing them with suggestions to tweak the model to remove it.

DataRobot is based in Boston and was founded in 2012. It has raised more than $750 million and has a valuation of over $2.8 billion, according to PitchBook.

May
11
2021
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Cycode raises $20M to secure DevOps pipelines

Israeli security startup Cycode, which specializes in helping enterprises secure their DevOps pipelines and prevent code tampering, today announced that it has raised a $20 million Series A funding round led by Insight Partners. Seed investor YL Ventures also participated in this round, which brings the total funding in the company to $24.6 million.

Cycode’s focus was squarely on securing source code in its early days, but thanks to the advent of infrastructure as code (IaC), policies as code and similar processes, it has expanded its scope. In this context, it’s worth noting that Cycode’s tools are language and use case agnostic. To its tools, code is code.

“This ‘everything as code’ notion creates an opportunity because the code repositories, they become a single source of truth of what the operation should look like and how everything should function, Cycode CTO and co-founder Ronen Slavin told me. “So if we look at that and we understand it — the next phase is to verify this is indeed what’s happening, and then whenever something deviates from it, it’s probably something that you should look at and investigate.”

Cycode Dashboard

Cycode Dashboard. Image Credits: Cycode

The company’s service already provides the tools for managing code governance, leak detection, secret detection and access management. Recently it added its features for securing code that defines a business’ infrastructure; looking ahead, the team plans to add features like drift detection, integrity monitoring and alert prioritization.

“Cycode is here to protect the entire CI/CD pipeline — the development infrastructure — from end to end, from code to cloud,” Cycode CEO and co-founder Lior Levy told me.

“If we look at the landscape today, we can say that existing solutions in the market are kind of siloed, just like the DevOps stages used to be,” Levy explained. “They don’t really see the bigger picture, they don’t look at the pipeline from a holistic perspective. Essentially, this is causing them to generate thousands of alerts, which amplifies the problem even further, because not only don’t you get a holistic view, but also the noise level that comes from those thousands of alerts causes a lot of valuable time to get wasted on chasing down some irrelevant issues.”

What Cycode wants to do then is to break down these silos and integrate the relevant data from across a company’s CI/CD infrastructure, starting with the source code itself, which ideally allows the company to anticipate issues early on in the software life cycle. To do so, Cycode can pull in data from services like GitHub, GitLab, Bitbucket and Jenkins (among others) and scan it for security issues. Later this year, the company plans to integrate data from third-party security tools like Snyk and Checkmarx as well.

“The problem of protecting CI/CD tools like GitHub, Jenkins and AWS is a gap for virtually every enterprise,” said Jon Rosenbaum, principal at Insight Partners, who will join Cycode’s board of directors. “Cycode secures CI/CD pipelines in an elegant, developer-centric manner. This positions the company to be a leader within the new breed of application security companies — those that are rapidly expanding the market with solutions which secure every release without sacrificing velocity.”

The company plans to use the new funding to accelerate its R&D efforts, and expand its sales and marketing teams. Levy and Slavin expect that the company will grow to about 65 employees this year, spread between the development team in Israel and its sales and marketing operations in the U.S.

May
10
2021
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Zencargo raises $42M to expand its digital-first freight-forwarding platform internationally

While consumers and businesses continue to use their purchasing power to spin the wheels of the globalized economy, one of the companies that’s built a technology platform to help that economy operate more smoothly is announcing an investment to double down on growth.

Zencargo, which has built a digital platform to enable freight forwarding — the process by which companies organize and track the movements of items they are making and selling (and the components needed for those items) — has raised £30 million (about $42 million). Alex Hersham, the CEO who co-founded the company with Richard Fattal (CCO) and Jan Riethmayer, said that London-based Zencargo will be using the funding to open offices in the Netherlands, Hong Kong and the U.S.; to more than double its headcount to 350 from 150 today; and to begin to make moves into trade finance — a critical lever for facilitating the trading activities that are the bread and butter of Zencargo’s business.

The Series B is being led by Digital+ Partners, with HV Capital, which led its previous round, also participating. Zencargo is not disclosing its valuation, but the company — which provides services both to companies and distributors like Amazon to ship goods to its fulfillment centers, and brands like Vivienne Westwood, Swoon Furniture, and Soho Home — said that it is on track to make £100 million in revenues this year, and £200 million in 2022.

That is against the backdrop of some major world events that have both proven to be challenges as well as opportunities for the startup.

Brexit in the U.K. has created quite a mess for moving goods in and out of the country and into Europe (difficult but ultimately a net positive for Zencargo: it helps facilitate some aspects of that movement for its clients). COVID-19, meanwhile, has impacted economies (again: a difficult impact but also a positive, in that people are spending more money on goods for themselves and less on travel, leading to more demand for shipping those goods around the globe).

The Suez Canal blockage, on the other hand, also continues to loom (not great: Hersham said that Zencargo and others are still dealing with the fallout of those delays, although it’s highlighted the need for blended approaches when it comes to moving goods, with some items shipped slower by sea, and others faster by air or road). And there is the growing priority of how shipping impacts carbon footprints (an area of opportunity, interestingly: Zencargo can provide more efficient routing, and also services to consider how to carbon offset shipping activities).

The more general challenge that Zencargo is tackling goes hand in hand with our existence as consumers.

Many of us do not blink an eye when we go online or to a store to procure something, and we get whatever that happens to be right away.

But the simplicity of wanting and subsequently obtaining goods sits on top of a huge, and hugely complex, logistics operation. It might involve components, assembly or growing and processing things, shipping from one place to another, passing through multiple distribution and shipping hubs, customs, retailers and finally delivery to your store, or directly to you — a logistics chain that, taking all the world’s goods into account, has been estimated to be worth up to $12 trillion annually. Freight forwarding is the process by which all of that logistics works as it should, and in itself accounts for hundreds of billions of dollars in spend, and potentially more than $1 trillion in costs when things go awry.

Traditionally, a lot of freight forwarding work has been done offline, a messy process involving paper and faxing, prone to mistakes, over- and under-supply based on sales and typically hard to scrutinize because of the lack of centralized information. Companies like Zencargo — along with others in the same space like Flexport — have built digitized platforms to manage all of this, tracking items by SKU data, matching shipments with real-time insights into sales and demand, and balancing different kinds of freight options to provide the right items at the right time. (Zencargo works across sea, air and land freight, with sea accounting for about half of all of its traffic, Hersham said.)

Zencargo’s services arguably will continue to see demand growing in line with the growth of the logistics industry, but the curveballs of the last several years, and in the last 12 months in particular, that have impacted the shipping business lay out an interesting road ahead for the startup in the future.

“The freight industry has struggled to keep pace with innovation. Archaic processes are still in place across the board, resulting in widespread inefficiencies,” said Patrick Beitel, managing director and founding partner at Digital+ Partners, in a statement. “Zencargo’s cutting edge technologies, plus deep industry experience and knowledge, are transforming the supply chain, and that marries up perfectly with Digital + Partners’ mission to back companies with best-in-class technology and exceptional management teams. We are honoured to join them on the next stage of their journey.”

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