Sep
18
2020
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Salesforce announces 12,000 new jobs in the next year just weeks after laying off 1,000

In a case of bizarre timing, Salesforce announced it was laying off 1,000 employees at the end of last month just a day after announcing a monster quarter with over $5 billion in revenue, putting the company on a $20 billion revenue run rate for the first time. The juxtaposition was hard to miss.

Earlier today, Salesforce CEO and co-founder Marc Benioff announced in a tweet that the company would be hiring 4,000 new employees in the next six months, and 12,000 in the next year. While it seems like a mixed message, it’s probably more about reallocating resources to areas where they are needed more.

While Salesforce wouldn’t comment further on the hirings, the company has obviously been doing well in spite of the pandemic, which has had an impact on customers. In the prior quarter, the company forecasted that it would have slower revenue growth due to giving some customers facing hard times with economic downturn time to pay their bills.

That’s why it was surprising when the CRM giant announced its earnings in August and that it had done so well in spite of all that. While the company was laying off those 1,000 people, it did indicate it would give those employees 60 days to find other positions in the company. With these new jobs, assuming they are positions the laid-off employees are qualified for, they could have a variety of positions from which to choose.

The company had 54,000 employees when it announced the layoffs, which accounted for 1.9% of the workforce. If it ends up adding the 12,000 news jobs in the next year, that would put the company at approximately 65,000 employees by this time next year.

Sep
17
2020
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Perigee infrastructure security solution from former NSA employee moves into public beta

Perigee founder Mollie Breen used to work for NSA where she built a security solution to help protect the agency’s critical infrastructure. She spent the last two years at Harvard Business School talking to Chief Information Security Officers (CISOs) and fine-tuning that idea she started at NSA into a commercial product.

Today, the solution that she built moves into public beta and will compete at TechCrunch Disrupt Battlefield with other startups for $100,000 and the Disrupt Cup.

Perigree helps protect things like heating and cooling systems or elevators that may lack patches or true security, yet are connected to the network in a very real way. It learns what normal behavior looks like from an operations system when it interacts with the network, such as what systems it interacts with and which individual employees tend to access it. It can then determine when something seems awry and stop an anomalous activity before it reaches the network. Without a solution like the one Breen has built, these systems would be vulnerable to attack.

Perigee is a cloud-based platform that creates a custom firewall for every device on your network,” Breen told TechCrunch. “It learns each device’s unique behavior, the quirks of its operational environment and how it interacts with other devices to prevent malicious and abnormal usage while providing analytics to boost performance.”

Perigee HVAC fan dashboard view

Image Credits: Perigee

One of the key aspects of her solution is that it doesn’t require an agent, a small piece of software on the device, to make it work. Breen says this is especially important since that approach doesn’t scale across thousands of devices and can also introduce bugs from the agent itself. What’s more, it can use up precious resources on these devices if they can even support a software agent.

“Our sweet spot is that we can protect those thousands of devices by learning those nuances and we can do that really quickly, scaling up to thousands of devices with our generalized model because we take this agentless-based approach,” she said.

By creating these custom firewalls, her company is able to place security in front of the device preventing a hacker from using it as a vehicle to get on the network.

“One thing that makes us fundamentally different from other companies out there is that we sit in front of all of these devices as a shield,” she said. That essentially stops an attack before it reaches the device.

While Breen acknowledges that her approach can add a small bit of latency, it’s a tradeoff that CISOs have told her they are willing to make to protect these kinds of operational systems from possible attacks. Her system is also providing real-time status updates on how these devices are operating, giving them centralized device visibility. If there are issues found, the software recommends corrective action.

It’s still very early for her company, which Breen founded last year. She has raised an undisclosed amount of pre-seed capital. While Perigee is pre-revenue with just one employee, she is looking to add paying customers and begin growing the company as she moves into a wider public beta.

Sep
17
2020
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APAC cloud infrastructure revenue reaches $9B in Q2 with Amazon leading the way

When you look at the Asia-Pacific (APAC) regional cloud infrastructure numbers, it would be easy to think that one of the Chinese cloud giants, particularly Alibaba, would be the leader in that geography, but new numbers from Synergy Research show Amazon leading across the region overall, which generated $9 billion in revenue in Q2.

The only exception to Amazon’s dominance was in China, where Alibaba leads the way with Tencent and Baidu coming in second and third, respectively. As Synergy’s John Dinsdale points out, China has its own unique market dynamics, and while Amazon leads in other APAC sub-regions, it remains competitive.

“China is a unique market and remains dominated by local companies, but beyond China there is strong competition between a range of global and local companies. Amazon is the leader in four of the five sub-regions, but it is not the market leader in every country,” he explained in a statement.

APAC Cloud Infrastructure leaders chart from Synergy Research

Image Credits: Synergy Research

The $9 billion in revenue across the region in Q2 represents less than a third of the more than $30 billion generated in the worldwide market in the quarter, but the APAC cloud market is still growing at more than 40% per year. It’s also worth pointing out as a means of comparison that Amazon alone generated more than the entire APAC region, with $10.81 billion in cloud infrastructure revenue in Q2.

While Dinsdale sees room for local vendors to grow, he says that the global nature of the cloud market in general makes it difficult for these players to compete with the largest companies, especially as they try to expand outside their markets.

“The challenge for local players is that in most ways cloud is a truly global market, requiring global presence, leading edge technology, strong brand name and credibility, extremely deep pockets and a long-term focus. For any local cloud companies looking to expand significantly beyond their home market, that is an extremely challenging proposition,” Dinsdale said in a statement.

Sep
16
2020
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Luther.AI is a new AI tool that acts like Google for personal conversations

When it comes to pop culture, a company executive or history questions, most of us use Google as a memory crutch to recall information we can’t always keep in our heads, but Google can’t help you remember the name of your client’s spouse or the great idea you came up with at a meeting the other day.

Enter Luther.AI, which purports to be Google for your memory by capturing and transcribing audio recordings, while using AI to deliver the right information from your virtual memory bank in the moment of another online conversation or via search.

The company is releasing an initial browser-based version of their product this week at TechCrunch Disrupt where it’s competing for the $100,000 prize at TechCrunch Disrupt Battlefield.

Luther.AI’s founders say the company is built on the premise that human memory is fallible, and that weakness limits our individual intelligence. The idea behind Luther.AI is to provide a tool to retain, recall and even augment our own brains.

It’s a tall order, but the company’s founders believe it’s possible through the growing power of artificial intelligence and other technologies.

“It’s made possible through a convergence of neuroscience, NLP and blockchain to deliver seamless in-the-moment recall. GPT-3 is built on the memories of the public internet, while Luther is built on the memories of your private self,” company founder and CEO Suman Kanuganti told TechCrunch.

It starts by recording your interactions throughout the day. For starters, that will be online meetings in a browser, as we find ourselves in a time where that is the way we interact most often. Over time though, they envision a high-quality 5G recording device you wear throughout your day at work and capture your interactions.

If that is worrisome to you from a privacy perspective, Luther is building in a few safeguards starting with high-end encryption. Further, you can only save other parties’ parts of a conversation with their explicit permission. “Technologically, we make users the owner of what they are speaking. So for example, if you and I are having a conversation in the physical world unless you provide explicit permission, your memories are not shared from this particular conversation with me,” Kanuganti explained.

Finally, each person owns their own data in Luther and nobody else can access or use these conversations either from Luther or any other individual. They will eventually enforce this ownership using blockchain technology, although Kanuganti says that will be added in a future version of the product.

Luther.ai search results recalling what person said at meeting the other day about customer feedback.

Image Credits: Luther.ai

Kanuganti says the true power of the product won’t be realized with a few individuals using the product inside a company, but in the network effect of having dozens or hundreds of people using it, even though it will have utility even for an individual to help with memory recall, he said.

While they are releasing the browser-based product this week, they will eventually have a stand-alone app, and can also envision other applications taking advantage of the technology in the future via an API where developers can build Luther functionality into other apps.

The company was founded at the beginning of this year by Kanuganti and three co-founders including CTO Sharon Zhang, design director Kristie Kaiser and scientist Marc Ettlinger . It has raised $500,000 and currently has 14 employees including the founders.

Sep
16
2020
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Pure Storage acquires data service platform Portworx for $370M

Pure Storage, the public enterprise data storage company, today announced that it has acquired Portworx, a well-funded startup that provides a cloud-native storage and data-management platform based on Kubernetes, for $370 million in cash. This marks Pure Storage’s largest acquisition to date and shows how important this market for multicloud data services has become.

Current Portworx enterprise customers include the likes of Carrefour, Comcast, GE Digital, Kroger, Lufthansa, and T-Mobile. At the core of the service is its ability to help users migrate their data and create backups. It creates a storage layer that allows developers to then access that data, no matter where it resides.

Pure Storage will use Portworx’s technology to expand its hybrid and multicloud services and provide Kubernetes -based data services across clouds.

Image Credits: Portworx

“I’m tremendously proud of what we’ve built at Portworx: An unparalleled data services platform for customers running mission-critical applications in hybrid and multicloud environments,” said Portworx CEO Murli Thirumale. “The traction and growth we see in our business daily shows that containers and Kubernetes are fundamental to the next-generation application architecture and thus competitiveness. We are excited for the accelerated growth and customer impact we will be able to achieve as a part of Pure.”

When the company raised its Series C round last year, Thirumale told me that Portworx had expanded its customer base by over 100% and its bookings increased by 376 from 2018 to 2019.

“As forward-thinking enterprises adopt cloud-native strategies to advance their business, we are thrilled to have the Portworx team and their groundbreaking technology joining us at Pure to expand our success in delivering multicloud data services for Kubernetes,” said Charles Giancarlo, chairman and CEO of Pure Storage. “This acquisition marks a significant milestone in expanding our Modern Data Experience to cover traditional and cloud native applications alike.”

Sep
15
2020
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Dropbox CEO Drew Houston says the pandemic forced the company to reevaluate what work means

Dropbox CEO and co-founder Drew Houston, appearing at TechCrunch Disrupt today, said that COVID has accelerated a shift to distributed work that we have been talking about for some time, and these new ways of working will not simply go away when the pandemic is over.

“When you think more broadly about the effects of the shift to distributed work, it will be felt well beyond when we go back to the office. So we’ve gone through a one-way door. This is maybe one of the biggest changes to knowledge work since that term was invented in 1959,” Houston told TechCrunch Editor-In-Chief Matthew Panzarino.

That change has prompted Dropbox to completely rethink the product set over the last six months, as the company has watched the way people work change in such a dramatic way. He said even though Dropbox is a cloud service, no SaaS tool in his view was purpose-built for this new way of working and we have to reevaluate what work means in this new context.

“Back in March we started thinking about this, and how [the rapid shift to distributed work] just kind of happened. It wasn’t really designed. What if you did design it? How would you design this experience to be really great? And so starting in March we reoriented our whole product road map around distributed work,” he said.

He also broadly hinted that the fruits of that redesign are coming down the pike. “We’ll have a lot more to share about our upcoming launches in the future,” he said.

Houston said that his company has adjusted well to working from home, but when they had to shut down the office, he was in the same boat as every other CEO when it came to running his company during a pandemic. Nobody had a blueprint on what to do.

“When it first happened, I mean there’s no playbook for running a company during a global pandemic so you have to start with making sure you’re taking care of your customers, taking care of your employees, I mean there’s so many people whose lives have been turned upside down in so many ways,” he said.

But as he checked in on the customers, he saw them asking for new workflows and ways of working, and he recognized there could be an opportunity to design tools to meet these needs.

“I mean this transition was about as abrupt and dramatic and unplanned as you can possibly imagine, and being able to kind of shape it and be intentional is a huge opportunity,” Houston said.

Houston debuted Dropbox in 2008 at the precursor to TechCrunch Disrupt, then called the TechCrunch 50. He mentioned that the Wi-Fi went out during his demo, proving the hazards of live demos, but offered words of encouragement to this week’s TechCrunch Disrupt Battlefield participants.

Although his is a public company on a $1.8 billion run rate, he went through all the stages of a startup, getting funding and eventually going public, and even today as a mature public company, Dropbox is still evolving and changing as it adapts to changing requirements in the marketplace.

Sep
15
2020
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Data virtualization service Varada raises $12M

Varada, a Tel Aviv-based startup that focuses on making it easier for businesses to query data across services, today announced that it has raised a $12 million Series A round led by Israeli early-stage fund MizMaa Ventures, with participation by Gefen Capital.

“If you look at the storage aspect for big data, there’s always innovation, but we can put a lot of data in one place,” Varada CEO and co-founder Eran Vanounou told me. “But translating data into insight? It’s so hard. It’s costly. It’s slow. It’s complicated.”

That’s a lesson he learned during his time as CTO of LivePerson, which he described as a classic big data company. And just like at LivePerson, where the team had to reinvent the wheel to solve its data problems, again and again, every company — and not just the large enterprises — now struggles with managing their data and getting insights out of it, Vanounou argued.

varada architecture diagram

Image Credits: Varada

The rest of the founding team, David Krakov, Roman Vainbrand and Tal Ben-Moshe, already had a lot of experience in dealing with these problems, too, with Ben-Moshe having served at the chief software architect of Dell EMC’s XtremIO flash array unit, for example. They built the system for indexing big data that’s at the core of Varada’s platform (with the open-source Presto SQL query engine being one of the other cornerstones).

Image Credits: Varada

Essentially, Varada embraces the idea of data lakes and enriches that with its indexing capabilities. And those indexing capabilities is where Varada’s smarts can be found. As Vanounou explained, the company is using a machine learning system to understand when users tend to run certain workloads, and then caches the data ahead of time, making the system far faster than its competitors.

“If you think about big organizations and think about the workloads and the queries, what happens during the morning time is different from evening time. What happened yesterday is not what happened today. What happened on a rainy day is not what happened on a shiny day. […] We listen to what’s going on and we optimize. We leverage the indexing technology. We index what is needed when it is needed.”

That helps speed up queries, but it also means less data has to be replicated, which also brings down the cost. As MizMaa’s Aaron Applbaum noted, since Varada is not a SaaS solution, the buyers still get all of the discounts from their cloud providers, too.

In addition, the system can allocate resources intelligently so that different users can tap into different amounts of bandwidth. You can tell it to give customers more bandwidth than your financial analysts, for example.

“Data is growing like crazy: in volume, in scale, in complexity, in who requires it and what the business intelligence uses are, what the API uses are,” Applbaum said when I asked him why he decided to invest. “And compute is getting slightly cheaper, but not really, and storage is getting cheaper. So if you can make the trade-off to store more stuff, and access things more intelligently, more quickly, more agile — that was the basis of our thesis, as long as you can do it without compromising performance.”

Varada, with its team of experienced executives, architects and engineers, ticked a lot of the company’s boxes in this regard, but he also noted that unlike some other Israeli startups, the team understood that it had to listen to customers and understand their needs, too.

“In Israel, you have a history — and it’s become less and less the case — but historically, there’s a joke that it’s ‘ready, fire, aim.’ You build a technology, you’ve got this beautiful thing and you’re like, ‘alright, we did it,’ but without listening to the needs of the customer,” he explained.

The Varada team is not afraid to compare itself to Snowflake, which at least at first glance seems to make similar promises. Vananou praised the company for opening up the data warehousing market and proving that people are willing to pay for good analytics. But he argues that Varada’s approach is fundamentally different.

“We embrace the data lake. So if you are Mr. Customer, your data is your data. We’re not going to take it, move it, copy it. This is your single source of truth,” he said. And in addition, the data can stay in the company’s virtual private cloud. He also argues that Varada isn’t so much focused on the business users but the technologists inside a company.

 

Sep
15
2020
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Verkada adds environmental sensors to cloud-based building operations toolkit

As we go deeper into the pandemic, many buildings sit empty or have limited capacity. During times like these, having visibility into the state of the building can give building operations peace of mind. Today, Verkada, a startup that helps operations manage buildings via the cloud, announced a new set of environmental sensors to give customers even greater insight into building conditions.

The company had previously developed cloud-based video cameras and access control systems. Verkada CEO and co-founder of Filip Kaliszan says today’s announcement is about building on these two earlier products.

“What we do today is cameras and access control — cameras, of course provide the eyes and the view into building in spaces, while access control controls how you get in and out of these spaces,” Kaliszan told TechCrunch. Operations teams can manage these devices from the cloud on any device.

The sensor pack that the company is announcing today layers on a multi-function view into the state of the environment inside a building. “The first product that we’re launching along this environmental sensor line is the SV11, which is a very powerful unit with multiple sensors on board, all of which can be managed in the cloud through our Verkada command platform. The sensors will give customers insight into things like air quality, temperature, humidity, motion and occupancy of the space, as well as the noise level,” he said.

There is a clear strategy behind the company’s product road map. The idea is to give building operations staff a growing picture of what’s going on inside the space. “You can think of all the data being combined with the other aspects of our platform, and then begin delivering a truly integrated building and setting the standard for enterprise building security,” Kaliszan said.

These tools, and the ability to access all the data about a building remotely in the cloud, obviously have even more utility during the pandemic. “I think we’re fortunate that our products can help customers mitigate some of the effects of the pandemic. So we’ve seen a lot of customers use our tools to help them manage through the pandemic, which is great. But when we were originally designing this environmental sensor, the rationale behind it were these core use cases like monitoring server rooms for environmental changes.”

The company, which was founded in 2016, has been doing well. It has 4,200 customers and roughly 400 employees. It is still growing and actively hiring and expects to reach 500 by the end of the year. It has raised $138.9 million, the most recent coming January this year, when it raised an $80 million Series C investment led Felicis Ventures on a $1.6 billion valuation.

Sep
14
2020
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Quantum startup CEO suggests we are only five years away from a quantum desktop computer

Today at TechCrunch Disrupt 2020, leaders from three quantum computing startups joined TechCrunch editor Frederic Lardinois to discuss the future of the technology. IonQ CEO and president Peter Chapman suggested we could be as little as five years away from a desktop quantum computer, but not everyone agreed on that optimistic timeline.

“I think within the next several years, five years or so, you’ll start to see [desktop quantum machines]. Our goal is to get to a rack-mounted quantum computer,” Chapman said.

But that seemed a tad optimistic to Alan Baratz, CEO at D-Wave Systems. He says that when it comes to developing the super-conducting technology that his company is building, it requires a special kind of rather large quantum refrigeration unit called a dilution fridge, and that unit would make a five-year goal of having a desktop quantum PC highly unlikely.

Itamar Sivan, CEO at Quantum Machines, too, believes we have a lot of steps to go before we see that kind of technology, and a lot of hurdles to overcome to make that happen.

“This challenge is not within a specific, singular problem about finding the right material or solving some very specific equation, or anything. It’s really a challenge, which is multidisciplinary to be solved here,” Sivan said.

Chapman also sees a day when we could have edge quantum machines, for instance on a military plane, that couldn’t access quantum machines from the cloud efficiently.

“You know, you can’t rely on a system which is sitting in a cloud. So it needs to be on the plane itself. If you’re going to apply quantum to military applications, then you’re going to need edge-deployed quantum computers,” he said.

One thing worth mentioning is that IonQ’s approach to quantum is very different from D-Wave’s and Quantum Machines’ .

IonQ relies on technology pioneered in atomic clocks for its form of quantum computing. Quantum Machines doesn’t build quantum processors. Instead, it builds the hardware and software layer to control these machines, which are reaching a point where that can’t be done with classical computers anymore.

D-Wave, on the other hand, uses a concept called quantum annealing, which allows it to create thousands of qubits, but at the cost of higher error rates.

As the technology develops further in the coming decades, these companies believe they are offering value by giving customers a starting point into this powerful form of computing, which when harnessed will change the way we think of computing in a classical sense. But Sivan says there are many steps to get there.

“This is a huge challenge that would also require focused and highly specialized teams that specialize in each layer of the quantum computing stack,” he said. One way to help solve that is by partnering broadly to help solve some of these fundamental problems, and working with the cloud companies to bring quantum computing, however they choose to build it today, to a wider audience.

“In this regard, I think that this year we’ve seen some very interesting partnerships form which are essential for this to happen. We’ve seen companies like IonQ and D-Wave, and others partnering with cloud providers who deliver their own quantum computers through other companies’ cloud service,” Sivan said. And he said his company would be announcing some partnerships of its own in the coming weeks.

The ultimate goal of all three companies is to eventually build a universal quantum computer, one that can achieve the goal of providing true quantum power. “We can and should continue marching toward universal quantum to get to the point where we can do things that just can’t be done classically,” Baratz said. But he and the others recognize we are still in the very early stages of reaching that end game.

Sep
14
2020
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Airtable raises $185M and launches new low-code and automation features

The spreadsheet-centric database and no-code platform Airtable today announced that it has raised a $185 million Series D funding round, putting the company at a $2.585 billion post-money valuation.

Thrive Capital led the round, with additional funding by existing investors Benchmark, Coatue, Caffeinated Capital and CRV, as well as new investor D1 Capital. With this, Airtable, which says it now has 200,000 companies using its service, has raised a total of about $350 million. Current customers include Netflix, HBO, Condé Nast Entertainment, TIME, City of Los Angeles, MIT Media Lab and IBM.

In addition, the company is also launching one of its largest feature updates today, which starts to execute on the company’s overall platform vision that goes beyond its current no-code capabilities and brings tools to the service more low-code features, as well new automation (think IFTTT for Airtable) and data management.

As Airtable founder and CEO Howie Liu told me, a number of investors approached the company since it raised its Series C round in 2018, in part because the market clearly realized the potential size of the low-code/no-code market.

“I think there’s this increasing market recognition that the space is real, and the space is very large […],” he told me. “While we didn’t strictly need the funding, it allowed us to continue to invest aggressively into furthering our platform, vision and really executing aggressively, […] without having to worry about, ‘well, what happens with COVID?’ There’s a lot of uncertainty, right? And I think even today there’s still a lot of uncertainty about what the next year will bear.”

The company started opening the round a couple of months after the first shelter in place orders in California, and for most investors, this was a purely digital process.

Liu has always been open about the fact that he wants to build this company for the long haul — especially after he sold his last company to Salesforce at an early stage. As a founder, that likely means he is trying to keep his stake in the company high, even as Airtable continues to raise more money. He argues, though, that more so than the legal and structural controls, being aligned with his investors is what matters most.

“I think actually, what’s more important in my view, is having philosophical alignment and expectations alignment with the investors,” he said. “Because I don’t want to be in a position where it comes down to a legal right or structural debate over the future of the company. That almost feels to me like the last resort where it’s already gotten to a place where things are ugly. I’d much rather be in a position where all the investors around the table, whether they have legal say or not, are fully aligned with what we’re trying to do with this business.”

Just as important as the new funding though, are the various new features the company is launching today. Maybe the most important of these is Airtable Apps. Previously, Airtable users could use pre-built blocks to add maps, Gantt charts and other features to their tables. But while being a no-code service surely helped Airtable’s users get started, there’s always an inevitable point where the pre-built functionality just isn’t enough and users need more custom tools (Liu calls this an escape valve). So with Airtable Apps, more sophisticated users can now build additional functionality in JavaScript — and if they choose to do so, they can then share those new capabilities with other users in the new Airtable Marketplace.

Image Credits: Airtable

“You may or may not need an escape valve and obviously, we’ve gotten this far with 200,000 organizations using Airtable without that kind of escape valve,” he noted. “But I think that we open up a lot more use cases when you can say, well, Airtable by itself is 99% there, but that last 1% is make or break. You need it. And then, just having that outlet and making it much more leveraged to build that use case on Airtable with 1% effort, rather than building the full-stack application as a custom built application is all the difference.”

Image Credits: Airtable

The other major new feature is Airtable Automations. With this, you can build custom, automated workflows to generate reports or perform other repetitive steps. You can do a lot of that through the service’s graphical interface or use JavaScript to build your own custom flows and integrations, too. For now, this feature is available for free, but the team is looking into how to charge for it over time, given that these automated flows may become costly if you run them often.

The last new feature is Airtable Sync. With this, teams can more easily share data across an organization, while also providing controls for who can see what. “The goal is to enable people who built software with Airtable to make that software interconnected and to be able to share a source of truth table between different instances of our tables,” Liu explained.

Image Credits: Airtable

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