Mar
06
2019
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Clari platform aims to unify go-to-market operations data

Clari started as a company that wanted to give sales teams more information about their sales process than could be found in the CRM database. Today, the company announced a much broader platform, one that can provide insight across sales, marketing and customer service to give a more unified view of a company’s go-to-market operations, all enhanced by AI.

Company co-founder and CEO Andy Byrne says this involves pulling together a variety of data and giving each department the insight to improve their mission. “We are analyzing large volumes of data found in various revenue systems — sales, marketing, customer success, etc. — and we’re using that data to provide a new platform that’s connecting up all of the different revenue departments,” Byrne told TechCrunch.

For sales, that would mean driving more revenue. For marketing it would it involve more targeted plans to drive more sales. And for customer success it would be about increasing customer retention and reducing churn.

Screenshot: ClariThe company’s original idea when it launched in 2012 was looking at a range of data that touched the sales process, such as email, calendars and the CRM database, to bring together a broader view of sales than you could get by looking at the basic customer data stored in the CRM alone. The Clari data could tell the reps things like which deals would be most likely to close and which ones were at risk.

“We were taking all of these signals that had been historically disconnected from each other and we were connecting it all into a new interface for sales teams that’s very different than a CRM,” Byrne said.

Over time, that involved using AI and machine learning to make connections in the data that humans might not have been seeing. The company also found that customers were using the product to look at processes adjacent to sales, and they decided to formalize that and build connectors to relevant parts of the go-to-market system like marketing automation tools from Marketo or Eloqua and customer tools such as Dialpad, Gong.io and Salesloft.

With Clari’s approach, companies can get a unified view without manually pulling all this data together. The goal is to provide customers with a broad view of the go-to-market operation that isn’t possible looking at siloed systems.

The company has experienced tremendous growth over the last year, leaping from 80 customers to 250. These include Okta and Alteryx, two companies that went public in recent years. Clari is based in the Bay Area and has around 120 employees. It has raised more than $60 million. The most recent round was a $35 million Series C last May led by Tenaya Capital.

Feb
14
2019
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Zoho’s office suite gets smarter

As far as big tech companies go, Zoho is a bit different. Not only has it never taken any venture funding, it also offers more than 40 products that range from its online office suite to CRM and HR tools, email, workflow automation services, video conferencing, a bug tracker and everything in-between. You don’t often hear about it, but the company has more than 45 million users worldwide and offices in the U.S., Netherlands, Singapore, Dubai, Yokohama and Beijing — and it owns its data centers, too.

Today, Zoho is launching a major update to its core office suite products: Zoho Writer, Sheet, Show and Notebooks. These tools are getting an infusion of AI — under Zoho’s “Zia” brand — as well as new AppleTV and Android integrations and more. All of the tools are getting some kind of AI-based feature or another, but they are also getting support for Zia Voice, Zoho’s conversational AI assistant.

With this, you can now ask questions about data in your spreadsheets, for example, and Zia will create charts and even pivot tables for you. Similarly, Zoho is using Zia in its document editor and presentation tools to provide better grammar and spellchecking tools (and it’ll now offer a readability score and tips for improving your text). In Zoho Notebook, the note-taking application that is also the company’s newest app, Zia can help users create different formats for their note cards based on the content (text, photo, audio, checklist, sketch, etc.).

“We want to make AI helpful in a very contextual manner for a specific application,” Raju Vegesna, Zoho’s chief evangelist, told me. “Because we do AI across the board, we learned a lot and were are able to apply learnings on one technology and one piece of context and apply that to another.” Zoho first brought Zia to its business intelligence app, for example, and now it’s essentially bringing the same capabilities to its spreadsheet app, too.

It’s worth noting that Google and Microsoft are doing similar things with their productivity apps, too, of course. Zoho, however, argues that it offers a far wider range of applications — and its stated mission is that you should be able to run your entire business on its platform. And the plan is to bring some form of AI to all of them. “Fast-forward a few months and [our AI grammar and spellchecker] is applied to the business application context — maybe a support agent responding to a customer ticket can use this technology to make sure there are no typos in those responses,” Vegesna said.

There are plenty of other updates in this release, too. Zoho Show now works with AppleTV-enabled devices for example, and Android users can now use their phones as a smart remote for Show. Zoho Sheet now lets you build custom functions and scripts and Zoho Writer’s web, mobile and iPad versions can now work completely offline.

The broader context here, though, is that Zoho, with its ridiculously broad product portfolio, is playing a long game. The company has no interest in going public. But it also knows that it’s going up against companies like Google and Microsoft. “Vertical integration is not something that you see in our industry,” said Vegesna. “Companies are in that quick mode of getting traction, sell or go public. We are looking at it in the 10 to 20-year time frame. To really win that game, you need to make these serious investments in the market. The improvements you are seeing here are at the surface level. But we don’t see ourselves as a software company. We see ourselves as a technology company.” And to build up these capabilities, Vegesna said, Zoho has invested hundreds of millions of dollars into its own data centers in the U.S., Europe and Asia, for example.

Feb
07
2019
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Microsoft Azure sets its sights on more analytics workloads

Enterprises now amass huge amounts of data, both from their own tools and applications, as well as from the SaaS applications they use. For a long time, that data was basically exhaust. Maybe it was stored for a while to fulfill some legal requirements, but then it was discarded. Now, data is what drives machine learning models, and the more data you have, the better. It’s maybe no surprise, then, that the big cloud vendors started investing in data warehouses and lakes early on. But that’s just a first step. After that, you also need the analytics tools to make all of this data useful.

Today, it’s Microsoft turn to shine the spotlight on its data analytics services. The actual news here is pretty straightforward. Two of these are services that are moving into general availability: the second generation of Azure Data Lake Storage for big data analytics workloads and Azure Data Explorer, a managed service that makes easier ad-hoc analysis of massive data volumes. Microsoft is also previewing a new feature in Azure Data Factory, its graphical no-code service for building data transformation. Data Factory now features the ability to map data flows.

Those individual news pieces are interesting if you are a user or are considering Azure for your big data workloads, but what’s maybe more important here is that Microsoft is trying to offer a comprehensive set of tools for managing and storing this data — and then using it for building analytics and AI services.

(Photo credit:Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)

“AI is a top priority for every company around the globe,” Julia White, Microsoft’s corporate VP for Azure, told me. “And as we are working with our customers on AI, it becomes clear that their analytics often aren’t good enough for building an AI platform.” These companies are generating plenty of data, which then has to be pulled into analytics systems. She stressed that she couldn’t remember a customer conversation in recent months that didn’t focus on AI. “There is urgency to get to the AI dream,” White said, but the growth and variety of data presents a major challenge for many enterprises. “They thought this was a technology that was separate from their core systems. Now it’s expected for both customer-facing and line-of-business applications.”

Data Lake Storage helps with managing this variety of data since it can handle both structured and unstructured data (and is optimized for the Spark and Hadoop analytics engines). The service can ingest any kind of data — yet Microsoft still promises that it will be very fast. “The world of analytics tended to be defined by having to decide upfront and then building rigid structures around it to get the performance you wanted,” explained White. Data Lake Storage, on the other hand, wants to offer the best of both worlds.

Likewise, White argued that while many enterprises used to keep these services on their on-premises servers, many of them are still appliance-based. But she believes the cloud has now reached the point where the price/performance calculations are in its favor. It took a while to get to this point, though, and to convince enterprises. White noted that for the longest time, enterprises that looked at their analytics projects thought $300 million projects took forever, tied up lots of people and were frankly a bit scary. “But also, what we had to offer in the cloud hasn’t been amazing until some of the recent work,” she said. “We’ve been on a journey — as well as the other cloud vendors — and the price performance is now compelling.” And it sure helps that if enterprises want to meet their AI goals, they’ll now have to tackle these workloads, too.

Dec
06
2018
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Looker snags $103 million investment on $1.6 billion valuation

Looker has been helping customers visualize and understand their data for seven years, and today it got a big reward, a $103 million Series E investment on a $1.6 billion valuation.

The round was led by Premji Invest, with new investment from Cross Creek Advisors and participation from the company’s existing investors. With today’s investment, Looker has raised $280.5 million, according the company.

In spite of the large valuation, Looker CEO Frank Bien really wasn’t in the mood to focus on that particular number, which he said was arbitrary, based on the economic conditions at the time of the funding round. He said having an executive team old enough to remember the dot-com bubble from the late 1990s and the crash of 2008 keeps them grounded when it comes to those kinds of figures.

Instead, he preferred to concentrate on other numbers. He reported that the company has 1,600 customers now and just crossed the $100 million revenue run rate, a significant milestone for any enterprise SaaS company. What’s more, Bien reports revenue is still growing 70 percent year over year, so there’s plenty of room to keep this going.

He said he took such a large round because there was interest and he believed that it was prudent to take the investment as they move deeper into enterprise markets. “To grow effectively into enterprise customers, you have to build more product, and you have to hire sales teams that take longer to activate. So you look to grow into that, and that’s what we’re going to use this financing for,” Bien told TechCrunch.

He said it’s highly likely that this is the last private fundraising the company will undertake as it heads toward an IPO at some point in the future. “We would absolutely view this as our last round unless something drastic changed,” Bien said.

For now, he’s looking to build a mature company that is ready for the public markets whenever the time is right. That involves building internal processes of a public company even if they’re not there yet. “You create that maturity either way, and I think that’s what we’re doing. So when those markets look okay, you could look at that as another funding source,” he explained.

The company currently has around 600 employees. Bien indicated that they added 200 this year alone and expect to add additional headcount in 2019 as the business continues to grow and they can take advantage of this substantial cash infusion.

Oct
22
2018
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Oracle acquires DataFox, a developer of ‘predictive intelligence as a service’ across millions of company records

Oracle today announced that it has made another acquisition, this time to enhance both the kind of data that it can provide to its business customers, and its artificial intelligence capabilities: it is buying DataFox, a startup that has amassed a huge company database — currently covering 2.8 million public and private businesses, adding 1.2 million each year — and uses AI to analyse that to make larger business predictions. The business intelligence resulting from that service can in turn be used for a range of CRM-related services: prioritising sales accounts, finding leads, and so on.

“The combination of Oracle and DataFox will enhance Oracle Cloud Applications with an extensive set of AI-derived company-level data and signals, enabling customers to reach even better decisions and business outcomes,” noted Steve Miranda, EVP of applications development at Oracle, in a note to DataFox customers announcing the deal. He said that DataFox will sit among Oracle’s existing portfolio of business planning services like ERP, CX, HCM and SCM. “Together, Oracle and DataFox will enrich cloud applications with AI-driven company-level data, powering recommendations to elevate business performance across the enterprise.”

Terms of the deal do not appear to have been disclosed but we are trying to find out. DataFox — which launched in 2014 as a contender in the TC Battlefield at Disrupt — had raised just under $19 million and was last valued at $33 million back in January 2017, according to PitchBook. Investors in the company included Slack, GV, Howard Linzon, and strategic investor Goldman Sachs among others.

Oracle said that it is not committing to a specific product roadmap for DataFox longer term, but for now it will be keeping the product going as is for those who are already customers. The startup counted Goldman Sachs, Bain & Company and Twilio among those using its services. 

The deal is interesting for a couple of reasons. First, it shows that larger platform providers are on the hunt for more AI-driven tools to provide an increasingly sophisticated level of service to customers. Second, in this case, it’s a sign of how content remains a compelling proposition, when it is presented and able to be manipulated for specific ends. Many customer databases can get old and out of date, so the idea of constantly trawling information sources in order to create the most accurate record of businesses possible is a very compelling idea to anyone who has faced the alternative, and that goes even more so in sales environments when people are trying to look their sharpest.

It also shows that, although both companies have evolved quite a lot, and there are many other alternatives on the market, Oracle remains in hot competition with Salesforce for customers and are hoping to woo and keep more of them with the better, integrated innovations. That also points to Oracle potentially cross and up-selling people who come to them by way of DataFox, which is an SaaS that pitches itself very much as something anyone can subscribe to online.

Sep
25
2018
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LinkedIn steps into business intelligence with the launch of Talent Insights

LinkedIn may be best known as a place where people and organizations keep public pages of their professional profiles, using that as a starting point for networking, recruitment and more — a service that today that has racked up more than 575 million users, 20 million companies and 15 million active job listings. But now under the ownership of Microsoft, the company has increasingly started to build a number of other services; today sees the latest of these, the launch of a new feature called Talent Insights.

Talent Insights is significant in part because it is LinkedIn’s first foray into business intelligence, that branch of enterprise analytics aimed at helping execs and other corporate end users make more informed business decisions.

Talent Insights is also notable because it’s part of a trend, where LinkedIn has been launching a number of other services that take it beyond being a straight social network, and more of an IT productivity tool. They have included a way for users to look at and plan commutes to potential jobs (or other businesses); several integrations with Microsoft software including resume building in Word and Outlook integrations; and adding in more CRM tools to its Sales Navigator product.

Interestingly, it has been nearly a year between LinkedIn first announcing Talent Insights and actually launching it today. The company says part of the reason for the gap is because it has been tinkering with it to get the product right: it’s been testing it with a number of customers — there are now 100 using Talent Insights — with employees in departments like human resources, recruitment and marketing using it.

The product that’s launching today is largely similar to what the company previewed a year ago: there are two parts to it, one focused on people at a company, called “Talent Pool,” and another focused on data about a company, “Company Report.”

 

The first of these will let businesses run searches across the LinkedIn database to discover talent with characteristics similar to those what a business might already be hiring, and figure out where they are at the moment (in terms of location and company affiliation), and where they are moving, what skills they might have in common, and how to better spot those who might be on the way up based on all of this.

The second set of data tools (Company Report) provides a similar analytics profile but about your organisation and those that you would like to compare against it in areas like relative education levels and schools of the respective workforces; which skills employees have or don’t have; and so on.

Dan Francis, a senior product manager running Talent Insights, said in an interview that for now the majority of the data that’s being used to power Talent Insights is primarily coming from LinkedIn itself, although there are other data sources also added into it, such as material from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. (And indeed, even some of LinkedIn’s other data troves, for example in its recruitment listings, or even in its news/content play, the material that populates both comes from third parties.)

He also added that letting companies feed in their own data to use that in number crunching — either for their own reports or those of other companies — “is on our roadmap,” an indication that LinkedIn sees some mileage in this product.

Adding in more data sources could also help the company appear more impartial and accurate: although LinkedIn is huge and the biggest repository of information of its kind when it comes to professional profiles, it’s not always accurate and in some cases can be completely out of date or intentionally misleading.

(Related: LinkedIn has yet to launch any “verified”-style profiles for people, such as you get on Facebook or Twitter, to prove they are who they say they are, that they work where they claim to work, and that their backgrounds are what they claim them to be. My guess as to why that has not been rolled out is that it would be very hard, if not impossible, to verify everything in a clear way, and so LinkedIn relies on the power of public scrutiny to keep people mostly honest.)

“We’re pretty transparent about this,” said Francis. “We don’t position this as a product as comprehensive, but as a representative sample. Ensuring data quality is good is something that we are careful about. We know sometimes data is not perfect. In some cases it is directional.”

Sep
12
2018
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Sisense hauls in $80M investment as data analytics business matures

Sisense, a company that helps customers understand and visualize their data across multiple sources, announced an $80 million Series E investment today led by Insight Venture Partners. They also announced that Zack Urlocker, former COO at Duo Security and Zendesk, has joined the organization’s board of directors.

The company has attracted a prestigious list of past investors, who also participated in the round, including Battery Ventures, Bessemer Venture Partners, DFJ Venture Capital, Genesis Partners and Opus Capital. Today’s investment brings the total raised to close to $200 million.

CEO Amir Orad says investors like their mission of simplifying complex data with analytics and business intelligence and delivering it in whatever way makes sense. That could be on screens throughout the company, desktop or smartphone, or via Amazon Alexa. “We found a way to make accessing data extremely simple, mashing it together in a logical way and embedding it in every logical place,” he explained.

It appears to be resonating. The company has over 1000 customers including Expedia, Oppenheimer and Phillips to name but a few. Orad says they are actually the analytics engine behind Nasdaq Corporate Solutions, which is the the main investor relations system used by CFOs.

He was not in the mood to discuss the company’s valuation, an exercise he called “an ego boost he doesn’t relate to.” He says that he would prefer to be measured by how efficiently he uses the money investors give him or by customer satisfaction scores. Nor would he deal with IPO speculation. All he would say on that front was, “When you focus on the value you bring, positive things happen.”

In spite of that, he was clearly excited about having Urlocker join the board. He says the two spent six months getting to know each other and he sees a guy who has brought several companies to successful exit joining his team, and perhaps someone who can help him bring his company across the finish line, however that ultimately happens. Just last month, Cisco bought Urlocker’s former company, Duo Security for $2.35 billion.

For now Sisense, which launched in 2010, has another $80 million in the bank. They plan to add to the nearly 500 employees already in place in offices in New York, Tel Aviv, Kiev, Tokyo and Arizona. In particular, they plan to grow their international presence more aggressively, especially adding employees to help with customer success and field engineering. Orad also said that he was also open to acquiring companies should the right opportunity come along, saying “Because of talent, technology and presence, it’s something you have to be on lookout for.”

When a company reaches Series E and a couple of hundred million raised, it’s often a point where an exit could be coming sooner than later. By adding an experienced executive like Urlocker, it just emphasizes that possibility, but for now the company appears to be growing and thriving, and taking the view that whatever will be, will be.

Jul
24
2018
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Outlier raises $6.2 M Series A to change how companies use data

Traditionally, companies have gathered data from a variety of sources, then used spreadsheets and dashboards to try and make sense of it all. Outlier wants to change that and deliver a handful of insights right to your inbox that matter most for your job, company and industry. Today the company announced a $6.2 million Series A to further develop that vision.

The round was led by Ridge Ventures with assistance from 11.2 Capital, First Round Capital, Homebrew, Susa Ventures and SV Angel. The company has raised over $8 million.

The startup is trying to solve a difficult problem around delivering meaningful insight without requiring the customer to ask the right questions. With traditional BI tools, you get your data and you start asking questions and seeing if the data can give you some answers. Outlier wants to bring a level of intelligence and automation by pointing out insight without having to explicitly ask the right question.

Company founder and CEO Sean Byrnes says his previous company, Flurry, helped deliver mobile analytics to customers, but in his travels meeting customers in that previous iteration, he always came up against the same question: “This is great, but what should I look for in all that data?”

It was such a compelling question that after he sold Flurry in 2014 to Yahoo for more than $200 million, that question stuck in the back of his mind and he decided to start a business to solve it. He contends that the first 15 years of BI was about getting answers to basic questions about company performance, but the next 15 will be about finding a way to get the software to ask good questions based on the huge amounts of data.

Byrnes admits that when he launched, he didn’t have much sense of how to put this notion into action, and most people he approached didn’t think it was a great idea. He says he heard “No” from a fair number of investors early on because the artificial intelligence required to fuel a solution like this really wasn’t ready in 2015 when he started the company.

He says that it took four or five iterations to get to today’s product, which lets you connect to various data sources, and using artificial intelligence and machine learning delivers a list of four or five relevant questions to the user’s email inbox that points out data you might not have noticed, what he calls “shifts below the surface.” If you’re a retailer that could be changing market conditions that signal you might want to change your production goals.

Outlier email example. Photo: Outlier

The company launched in 2015. It took some time to polish the product, but today they have 14 employees and 14 customers including Jack Rogers, Celebrity Cruises and Swarovski.

This round should allow them to continuing working to grow the company. “We feel like we hit the right product-market fit because we have customers [generating] reproducible results and really changing the way people use the data,” he said.

Jun
11
2018
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Workday acquires financial modelling startup Adaptive Insights for $1.55B

Workday, the cloud-based platform that offers HR and other back-office apps for businesses, is making an acquisition to expand its portfolio of services: It’s buying Adaptive Insights, a provider of cloud-based business planning and financial modelling tools, for $1.55 billion. The acquisition is notable because Adaptive Insights had filed for an IPO as recently as May 17.

Workday says that the $1.55 billion price tag includes “the assumption of approximately $150 million in unvested equity issued to Adaptive Insights employees” related to that IPO. This deal is expected to close in Q3 of this year.

IPO filings are known to sometimes trigger M&A. Most recently, PayPal announced it would acquire iZettle just after the latter filed to go public. Skype was acquired by Microsoft in 2011 while it was waiting to IPO after previous owner eBay said it would spin it off.

Workday itself went public in 2012 and currently has a market cap of nearly $27 billion.

The deal will give Workday another string to its bow, in its attempt to become the go-to place for all for back-office services for its business customers: the company plans to integrate Adaptive Insights’ tools into its existing platform.

“Adaptive Insights is an industry leader with its Business Planning Cloud platform, and together with Workday, we will help customers accelerate their finance transformation in the cloud,” said Aneel Bhusri, Co-Founder and CEO, Workday, in a statement. “I am excited to welcome the Adaptive Insights team to Workday and look forward to coming together to continue delivering industry-leading products that equip finance organizations to make even faster, better business decisions to adapt to change and to drive growth.”

The two have been working together as partners since 2015.

In the case of Adaptive Insights, which says it has ‘thousands’ of customers, its growth mirrors that both of cloud services and specifically about how business intelligence has developed into a distinct software category of its own over the years, with not just the CFO but an army of in-house analysts relying on analytics of a business’ data to help make small and big decisions.

“The market opportunity here is huge as the CFO has become a power player in the C-Suite,” CEO Tom Bogan told TechCrunch when it raised $75 million in 2015, when it first passed the billion-dollar mark for its valuation. Bogan previously also held a role as chairman of Citrix. “As a former CFO myself, I have seen this first hand and it is accelerating.” Other examples of this force includes Twitter’s Anthony Noto catapulting from CFO to COO (and is now a CEO running SoFi). Around 25 percent of CEOs at Fortune 500 companies are former CFOs.

Adaptive Insights had raised $175 million prior to this.

Bogan will stay on and lead the business and report directly to Bhusri.

“Joining forces with Workday accelerates our vision to drive holistic business planning and digital transformation for our customers,” said Bogan, in a separate statement. “Most importantly, both Adaptive Insights and Workday have an employee-first and customer-centric approach to developing enterprise software that will only increase the power of the combined companies.”

More generally, while we have certainly seen a much wider opening of the door for tech IPOs this year, there is also an argument to be made for continuing consolidation it enterprise IT, in particular with regards to cloud services that might have small or potentially negative margins.

Adaptive Insights was not immune to that: the company in its public listing filing said that its previous fiscal year brough tin $106.5 million in revenues, up 30 percent from the year before, but it also posted a loss of $42.7 million in the same period. That was narrower than the $59.1 million it posted in 2016. Combined with the bigger trend of all-in-one platforms packing a bigger punch with businesses, it might have meant that Workday’s offer was too compelling to refuse. 

This looks like Workday’s biggest acquisition yet, but the company has been on a spree of sorts: just last week it announced the acquisition of RallyTeam to beef up its machine learning.

May
31
2018
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AWS launches pay-per-session pricing for its QuickSight BI tool

Amazon QuickSight, the company’s business intelligence tool for AWS, launched back in 2015, but it’s hard to say how much impact the service has made in the highly competitive BI market. The company has far from given up on this project, though, and today, it’s introducing a new pay-per-session pricing plan for access to QuickSight dashboards that is surely meant to give it a bit of a lift in a market where Tableau and Microsoft’s Power BI have captured much of the mindshare.

Under the new pricing plan, creating and publishing dashboards will stay cost $18 per user and month. For readers, though, who only need to have access to these dashboards, AWS now offers a very simple option: they will now pay $0.30 per session up to a maximum of $5 per month and user. Under this scheme, a session is defined as the first 30 minutes from login.

Previously, AWS offered two tiers of QuickSight plans: a $9 per user/month standard plan and a $24/user/month enterprise edition with support for Active Directory and encryption at rest.

That $9/user/month is still available and probably still makes sense for smaller companies where those who build dashboards and consume them are often the same person. The new pricing plan replaces the existing enterprise edition.

QuickSight already significantly undercuts the pricing of services like Tableau and others, though we’re also talking about a somewhat more limited feature set. This new pay-per-session offering only widens the pricing gap.

“With highly scalable object storage in Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3), data warehousing at one-tenth the cost of traditional solutions in Amazon Redshift, and serverless analytics offered by Amazon Athena, customers are moving data into AWS at an unprecedented pace,” said Dorothy Nicholls, Vice President of Amazon QuickSight at AWS, in a canned comment. “What’s changed is that virtually all knowledge workers want easy access to that data and the insights that can be derived. It’s been cost-prohibitive to enable that access for entire companies until the Amazon QuickSight pay-per-session pricing — this is a game-changer in terms of information and analytics access.”

Current QuickSight users include the NFL, Siemens, Volvo and AutoTrader.

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