Apr
28
2021
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Atlassian launches a Jira for every team

Atlassian today announced a new edition of its Jira project management tool, Jira Work Management. The company has long been on a journey of bringing Jira to teams beyond the software development groups it started out with. With Jira Service Management, it is successfully doing that with IT teams. With Jira Core, it also moved further in this direction, but Jira Work Management takes this a step further (and will replace Jira Core). The idea here is to offer a version of Jira that enables teams across marketing, HR, finance, design and other groups to manage their work and — if needed — connect it to that of a company’s development teams.

“Jira Software’s this de-facto standard,” Atlassian’s VP of Product Noah Wasmer told me. “We’re making just huge inroads with Jira Service Management right now, bringing IT teams into that loop. We have over 100,000 customers now on those two products. So it’s really doing incredibly well. But one of the things that CIOs say is that it’s really tough to put Jira Software in front of an HR team and the legal team. They often ask, what is code? What is a pull request?”

Image Credits: Atlassian

Wasmer also noted that even though Jira Software is specifically meant for developers, about half of its users are already in other teams that work with these development teams. “We think that [Jira Work Management] gives them the more contextually relevant tool — a tool that actually helps them accelerate and move faster,” Wasmer said.

With Jira Work Management, the company is looking at making it easier for any team to track and manage their work in what Wasmer described as a “universal system and family of product.” As company’s look at how to do remote and hybrid work, Atlassian believes that they’ll need this kind of core product to keep track of the work that is being done. But it’s also about the simple fact that every business is now a software business and while every team’s work touches upon this, marketing and design teams often still work in their own silos.

Image Credits: Atlassian

These different teams, though, also have quite different expectations of the user interface they need to manage their work most effectively. So while Jira Work Management features all of the automation features and privacy controls of its brethren, it is based around a slightly different and simplified user interface than Jira Software, for example.

What’s even more important, though, is that Jira Work Management offers a variety of views for teams to enter and manipulate their data. To get new users onboarded quickly, Atlassian built a set of templates for some of the most common use cases it expects, though users are obviously free to customize all these different views to their hearts’ — and business needs’ — content.

Atlassian also changed some of the language around Jira tickets. There are no “stories” and “bugs” in Jira Work Management (unless you add them yourself) and instead, these templates use words like “tasks,” “assets” (for design use cases) or “candidates” (for HR).

Image Credits: Atlassian

Given the fact that spreadsheets are the universal language of business, it’s maybe no surprise that the List view is core here, with an Excel/Airtable-like experience that should immediately feel familiar to any business user. It’s inline editable and completely abstracts away the usual Jira ticket, even though underneath, it’s the same taxonomy and infrastructure.

“We really wanted people to walk into this product and just understand that there is work that needs to be done,” Chase Wilson, the head of product marketing for Jira Work Management, said. He noted that the team worked on making the experience feel snappy.

Image Credits: Atlassian

The other views available are pretty straightforward: a calendar and Gantt chart-like timeline view, as well as the traditional Kanban board that has long been at the core of Jira (and Agile in general).

Jira Work Management also lets users build forms, using a drag-and-drop editor that makes it easy for anybody inside an organization to build forms and collect requests that way. Only a few weeks ago, Atlassian announced the acquisition of ThinkTilt, the company behind the popular no-code form-builder ProForma and it looks like it is already putting this acquisition to work here.

As Wasmer stressed, Jira Work Management is meant to help different teams get work done in a way that works best for them. But because Jira is now a family of products, it also enables a lot more cross-team collaboration. That means a development team that is working on implementing a GDPR requirement can now build a workflow that ties in with the project board for a legal team that then allows legal to hold up a software release until it approves this new feature.

“We hear about this all the time today,” he said. “They just stick the legal team into Jira Software — and it over-inundates them with information that’s not relevant to what they’re trying to get done. Now we can expose them. And we also then get that legal team, that marketing team, exposed to different templates for different work. What they’re finding is that once they get used to it for that must-do use case, they start saying: Well, hey, why don’t I use this for contract approvals at the end of the quarter?”

Image Credits: Atlassian

As for pricing, Atlassian follows its same standard template here, offering a free tier for teams with up to 10 users and then the paid tiers start at $5/user/month, with discounts for larger teams.

Looking ahead, Atlassian plans to add more reporting capabilities, native approvals for faster signoffs and more advanced functionality across the new work views.

It’s worth noting that Jira Work Management is the first product to come out of Point A, Atlassian’s new innovation program “dedicated to connecting early-adopter customers with product teams to build the next generation of teamwork tools.”

Apr
28
2021
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Opsera raises $15M for its continuous DevOps orchestration platform

Opsera, a startup that’s building an orchestration platform for DevOps teams, today announced that it has raised a $15 million Series A funding round led by Felicis Ventures. New investor HMG Ventures, as well as existing investors Clear Ventures, Trinity Partners and Firebolt Ventures also participated in this round, which brings the company’s total funding to $19.3 million.

Founded in January 2020, Opsera lets developers provision their CI/CD tools through a single framework. Using this framework, they can then build and manage their pipelines for a variety of use cases, including their software delivery lifecycle, infrastructure as code and their SaaS application releases. With this, Opsera essentially aims to help teams set up and operate their various DevOps tools.

The company’s two co-founders, Chandra Ranganathan and Kumar Chivukula, originally met while working at Symantec a few years ago. Ranganathan then spent the last three years at Uber, where he ran that company’s global infrastructure. Meanwhile, Chivukula ran Symantec’s hybrid cloud services.

Image Credits: Opsera

“As part of the transformation [at Symantec], we delivered over 50+ acquisitions over time. That had led to the use of many cloud platforms, many data centers,” Ranganathan explained. “Ultimately we had to consolidate them into a single enterprise cloud. That journey is what led us to the pain points of what led to Opsera. There were many engineering teams. They all had diverse tools and stacks that were all needed for their own use cases.”

The challenge then was to still give developers the flexibility to choose the right tools for their use cases, while also providing a mechanism for automation, visibility and governance — and that’s ultimately the problem Opsera now aims to solve.

Image Credits: Opsera

“In the DevOps landscape, […] there is a plethora of tools, and a lot of people are writing the glue code,” Opsera co-founder Chivukula noted. “But then they’re not they don’t have visibility. At Opsera, our mission and goal is to bring order to the chaos. And the way we want to do this is by giving choice and flexibility to the users and provide no-code automation using a unified framework.”

Wesley Chan, a managing director for Felicis Ventures who will join the Opsera board, also noted that he believes that one of the next big areas for growth in DevOps is how orchestration and release management is handled.

“We spoke to a lot of startups who are all using black-box tools because they’ve built their engineering organization and their DevOps from scratch,” Chan said. “That’s fine, if you’re starting from scratch and you just hired a bunch of people outside of Google and they’re all very sophisticated. But then when you talk to some of the larger companies. […] You just have all these different teams and tools — and it gets unwieldy and complex.”

Unlike some other tools, Chan argues, Opsera allows its users the flexibility to interface with this wide variety of existing internal systems and tools for managing the software lifecycle and releases.

“This is why we got so interested in investing, because we just heard from all the folks that this is the right tool. There’s no way we’re throwing out a bunch of our internal stuff. This would just wreak havoc on our engineering team,” Chan explained. He believes that building with this wide existing ecosystem in mind — and integrating with it without forcing users onto a completely new platform — and its ability to reduce friction for these teams, is what will ultimately make Opsera successful.

Opsera plans to use the new funding to grow its engineering team and accelerate its go-to-market efforts.

Apr
26
2021
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n8n raises $12M for its ‘fair code’ approach to low-code workflow automation

As businesses continue to look for better ways to work more efficiently, a pioneer in the space of low-code tools to help automate how apps work together is announcing a round of funding on the back of impressive early traction.

Berlin-based n8n — which provides a framework for both technical and non-technical people to synchronize and integrate data and workflows — has raised $12 million in a Series A round of funding.

The startup plans to use the money to continue expanding its team, which now numbers 60 people, and to expand its platform and the services it provides to users.

Currently, n8n can help link up and integrate data and functions between more than 200 established applications, as well as any custom apps or services that you might be using in your specific organization. And since launching in October 2019, the startup has picked up an impressive 16,000 users — including both developers and “citizen developers” (those whose jobs might be described as non-technical but they are not afraid to be more hands-on in trying to build in ways to work better).

Now it wants to make the service easier for more of the latter group to get stuck in with using it.

“We are still seen as a technical product and less of one for citizen developers,” founder and CEO Jan Oberhauser said in an interview. “Our plan is to make n8n simpler to use, so that it’s much easier to adopt. We want to give everyone technical superpowers, whether it’s the marketing team or the IT department.” That means for example building not just chatbots but more intelligent ones, or creating new ways of visualizing data in Slack or something else altogether. And n8n’s platform can also be used to build automation within products, for example to monitor performance and flag when something might need maintenance.

The round is being led by Felicis Ventures, with Sequoia Capital, firstminute Capital and Harpoon Ventures also participating. Sequoia and firstminute co-led n8n’s seed round about a year ago, which also included participation from Eventbrite’s Kevin Hartz, Supercell’s Ilkka Paananen and unnamed early employees of Google and Zendesk, among others. The startup has now raised around $14 million and is not disclosing valuation.

There are a number of low-code and no-code startups on the market today and many of them have been seeing a surge of in interest in the last year. It’s a trend I suspect was brought about in no small part by the arrival of COVID-19.

The pandemic not only led to more people working remotely and relying on apps and other cloud-based services to get what they needed to do done, but in many cases it led organizations to refocus on how they were working, and what could be improved. In some cases, it also has meant a severe tightening of belts, and so companies are needing to do more with less human power, another factor leading to more proactive efforts to use software to get more out of… software.

That’s meant more strain on IT teams, and that too has led to more people within departments themselves getting proactive in improving their own workflows.

Other startups in the space include Bryter (which raised a $66 million Series B earlier this month) and Genesis (which raised $45 million in March), along with Zapier, Airtable, Rows, GyanaUshurCreatio, EasySend and CapivateIQ, some of which are coming to the market with a variety of solutions targeting a set of generic tools, while others are building solutions for more narrow use cases.

In the case of n8n, the company might be considered a “pioneer” in the space not just because of its focus on the growing area of low-code tools, but because of how it views the world of software.

The basic approach n8n is taking is around the idea of “fair code.” This is somewhat similar to open-source, and is analogous to a freemium-style model for the concept. The code is available in a public repository and the idea is that this will never disappear (one issue many enterprises face on the bleeding edge of tech: companies and their services sometimes shut down). However, n8n itself limits how much it can be used for free, before users start to pay to use it so that n8n can monetize its work, which it does in the form of consulting and integration services. (In the case of n8n, that limit looks to be up to a limit of $30,000 in support services revenues.)

Oberhauser was an early proponent of the concept of n8n and he runs a site dedicated to spreading the word. (You can also read about the different approaches to fair code, and some of what led to the creation of the concept, here.)

While basic and limited access to the code will remain free, and even as a company like n8n aims to make it easier and easier for non-developers to build integrations, there will be areas that need attention to make those services accessible to the people within an organization. For starters, there is the issue of setting up the basic integration connectors, especially in cases where the software a company is using is proprietary or customized.

There is also another issue that is likely to become more prominent as low-code and no-code tools continue to grow in popularity, and that is security. While IT departments may not have oversight of every single integration, neither will the security teams, which means that new data vulnerabilities might well become more commonplace, too. For all of these reasons, n8n is betting that there will still be some integration and consulting involved in implementation.

“Almost every company needs help connecting outside and internal systems, to make it easier for people to get started,” Oberhauser said.

Aydin Senkut, founder and managing partner of Felicis Ventures, who led the round, said that what attracted him to n8n was the extensibility of the platform — that it could be applied not just for app integration and workflow automation in those apps but a much wider set of use cases — and the very early traction of 16,000 users that it’s picked up with very little fanfare, a sign that the service has some stickiness and usefulness to it.

And the fact that it lets developers — “citizen” or otherwise — play with so many options is also a key part of it.

“We feel that data is the new oil, and one of the special things here is not just low or no-code per se, but how n8n is making it seamless and easy to connect tens or even hundreds of apps.” Senkut said that it reminded him a little of Felicis’ early investment in Plaid. “Essentially, the more data and APIs you have the more valuable the company can be. I think to measure the potential of a company, look at the APIs. If you can connect disparate things together, that is key.”

Apr
16
2021
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Data scientists: Bring the narrative to the forefront

By 2025, 463 exabytes of data will be created each day, according to some estimates. (For perspective, one exabyte of storage could hold 50,000 years of DVD-quality video.) It’s now easier than ever to translate physical and digital actions into data, and businesses of all types have raced to amass as much data as possible in order to gain a competitive edge.

However, in our collective infatuation with data (and obtaining more of it), what’s often overlooked is the role that storytelling plays in extracting real value from data.

The reality is that data by itself is insufficient to really influence human behavior. Whether the goal is to improve a business’ bottom line or convince people to stay home amid a pandemic, it’s the narrative that compels action, rather than the numbers alone. As more data is collected and analyzed, communication and storytelling will become even more integral in the data science discipline because of their role in separating the signal from the noise.

Data alone doesn’t spur innovation — rather, it’s data-driven storytelling that helps uncover hidden trends, powers personalization, and streamlines processes.

Yet this can be an area where data scientists struggle. In Anaconda’s 2020 State of Data Science survey of more than 2,300 data scientists, nearly a quarter of respondents said that their data science or machine learning (ML) teams lacked communication skills. This may be one reason why roughly 40% of respondents said they were able to effectively demonstrate business impact “only sometimes” or “almost never.”

The best data practitioners must be as skilled in storytelling as they are in coding and deploying models — and yes, this extends beyond creating visualizations to accompany reports. Here are some recommendations for how data scientists can situate their results within larger contextual narratives.

Make the abstract more tangible

Ever-growing datasets help machine learning models better understand the scope of a problem space, but more data does not necessarily help with human comprehension. Even for the most left-brain of thinkers, it’s not in our nature to understand large abstract numbers or things like marginal improvements in accuracy. This is why it’s important to include points of reference in your storytelling that make data tangible.

For example, throughout the pandemic, we’ve been bombarded with countless statistics around case counts, death rates, positivity rates, and more. While all of this data is important, tools like interactive maps and conversations around reproduction numbers are more effective than massive data dumps in terms of providing context, conveying risk, and, consequently, helping change behaviors as needed. In working with numbers, data practitioners have a responsibility to provide the necessary structure so that the data can be understood by the intended audience.

Apr
15
2021
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Tecton teams with founder of Feast open source machine learning feature store

Tecton, the company that pioneered the notion of the machine learning feature store, has teamed up with the founder of the open source feature store project called Feast. Today the company announced the release of version 0.10 of the open source tool.

The feature store is a concept that the Tecton founders came up with when they were engineers at Uber. Shortly thereafter an engineer named Willem Pienaar read the founder’s Uber blog posts on building a feature store and went to work building Feast as an open source version of the concept.

“The idea of Tecton [involved bringing] feature stores to the industry, so we build basically the best in class, enterprise feature store. […] Feast is something that Willem created, which I think was inspired by some of the early designs that we published at Uber. And he built Feast and it evolved as kind of like the standard for open source feature stores, and it’s now part of the Linux Foundation,” Tecton co-founder and CEO Mike Del Balso explained.

Tecton later hired Pienaar, who is today an engineer at the company where he leads their open source team. While the company did not originally start off with a plan to build an open source product, the two products are closely aligned, and it made sense to bring Pienaar on board.

“The products are very similar in a lot of ways. So I think there’s a similarity there that makes this somewhat symbiotic, and there is no explicit convergence necessary. The Tecton product is a superset of what Feast has. So it’s an enterprise version with a lot more advanced functionality, but at Feast we have a battle-tested feature store that’s open source,” Pienaar said.

As we wrote in a December 2020 story on the company’s $35 million Series B, it describes a feature store as “an end-to-end machine learning management system that includes the pipelines to transform the data into what are called feature values, then it stores and manages all of that feature data and finally it serves a consistent set of data.”

Del Balso says that from a business perspective, contributing to the open source feature store exposes his company to a different group of users, and the commercial and open source products can feed off one another as they build the two products.

“What we really like, and what we feel is very powerful here, is that we’re deeply in the Feast community and get to learn from all of the interesting use cases […] to improve the Tecton product. And similarly, we can use the feedback that we’re hearing from our enterprise customers to improve the open source project. That’s the kind of cross learning, and ideally that feedback loop involved there,” he said.

The plan is for Tecton to continue being a primary contributor with a team inside Tecton dedicated to working on Feast. Today, the company is releasing version 0.10 of the project.

Apr
13
2021
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Meroxa raises $15M Series A for its real-time data platform

Meroxa, a startup that makes it easier for businesses to build the data pipelines to power both their analytics and operational workflows, today announced that it has raised a $15 million Series A funding round led by Drive Capital. Existing investors Root, Amplify and Hustle Fund also participated in this round, which together with the company’s previously undisclosed $4.2 million seed round now brings total funding in the company to $19.2 million.

The promise of Meroxa is that businesses can use a single platform for their various data needs and won’t need a team of experts to build their infrastructure and then manage it. At its core, Meroxa provides a single software-as-a-service solution that connects relational databases to data warehouses and then helps businesses operationalize that data.

Image Credits: Meroxa

“The interesting thing is that we are focusing squarely on relational and NoSQL databases into data warehouse,” Meroxa co-founder and CEO DeVaris Brown told me. “Honestly, people come to us as a real-time FiveTran or real-time data warehouse sink. Because, you know, the industry has moved to this [extract, load, transform] format. But the beautiful part about us is, because we do change data capture, we get that granular data as it happens.” And businesses want this very granular data to be reflected inside of their data warehouses, Brown noted, but he also stressed that Meroxa can expose this stream of data as an API endpoint or point it to a Webhook.

The company is able to do this because its core architecture is somewhat different from other data pipeline and integration services that, at first glance, seem to offer a similar solution. Because of this, users can use the service to connect different tools to their data warehouse but also build real-time tools on top of these data streams.

Image Credits: Meroxa

“We aren’t a point-to-point solution,” Meroxa co-founder and CTO Ali Hamidi explained. “When you set up the connection, you aren’t taking data from Postgres and only putting it into Snowflake. What’s really happening is that it’s going into our intermediate stream. Once it’s in that stream, you can then start hanging off connectors and say, ‘Okay, well, I also want to peek into the stream, I want to transfer my data, I want to filter out some things, I want to put it into S3.’ ”

Because of this, users can use the service to connect different tools to their data warehouse but also build real-time tools to utilize the real-time data stream. With this flexibility, Hamidi noted, a lot of the company’s customers start with a pretty standard use case and then quickly expand into other areas as well.

Brown and Hamidi met during their time at Heroku, where Brown was a director of product management and Hamidi a lead software engineer. But while Heroku made it very easy for developers to publish their web apps, there wasn’t anything comparable in the highly fragmented database space. The team acknowledges that there are a lot of tools that aim to solve these data problems, but few of them focus on the user experience.

Image Credits: Meroxa

“When we talk to customers now, it’s still very much an unsolved problem,” Hamidi said. “It seems kind of insane to me that this is such a common thing and there is no ‘oh, of course you use this tool because it addresses all my problems.’ And so the angle that we’re taking is that we see user experience not as a nice-to-have, it’s really an enabler, it is something that enables a software engineer or someone who isn’t a data engineer with 10 years of experience in wrangling Kafka and Postgres and all these things. […] That’s a transformative kind of change.”

It’s worth noting that Meroxa uses a lot of open-source tools but the company has also committed to open-sourcing everything in its data plane as well. “This has multiple wins for us, but one of the biggest incentives is in terms of the customer, we’re really committed to having our agenda aligned. Because if we don’t do well, we don’t serve the customer. If we do a crappy job, they can just keep all of those components and run it themselves,” Hamidi explained.

Today, Meroxa, which the team founded in early 2020, has more than 24 employees (and is 100% remote). “I really think we’re building one of the most talented and most inclusive teams possible,” Brown told me. “Inclusion and diversity are very, very high on our radar. Our team is 50% black and brown. Over 40% are women. Our management team is 90% underrepresented. So not only are we building a great product, we’re building a great company, we’re building a great business.”  

Apr
06
2021
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Esri brings its flagship ArcGIS platform to Kubernetes

Esri, the geographic information system (GIS), mapping and spatial analytics company, is hosting its (virtual) developer summit today. Unsurprisingly, it is making a couple of major announcements at the event that range from a new design system and improved JavaScript APIs to support for running ArcGIS Enterprise in containers on Kubernetes.

The Kubernetes project was a major undertaking for the company, Esri Product Managers Trevor Seaton and Philip Heede told me. Traditionally, like so many similar products, ArcGIS was architected to be installed on physical boxes, virtual machines or cloud-hosted VMs. And while it doesn’t really matter to end-users where the software runs, containerizing the application means that it is far easier for businesses to scale their systems up or down as needed.

Esri ArcGIS Enterprise on Kubernetes deployment

Esri ArcGIS Enterprise on Kubernetes deployment. Image Credits: Esri

“We have a lot of customers — especially some of the larger customers — that run very complex questions,” Seaton explained. “And sometimes it’s unpredictable. They might be responding to seasonal events or business events or economic events, and they need to understand not only what’s going on in the world, but also respond to their many users from outside the organization coming in and asking questions of the systems that they put in place using ArcGIS. And that unpredictable demand is one of the key benefits of Kubernetes.”

Deploying Esri ArcGIS Enterprise on Kubernetes

Deploying Esri ArcGIS Enterprise on Kubernetes. Image Credits: Esri

The team could have chosen to go the easy route and put a wrapper around its existing tools to containerize them and call it a day, but as Seaton noted, Esri used this opportunity to re-architect its tools and break it down into microservices.

“It’s taken us a while because we took three or four big applications that together make up [ArcGIS] Enterprise,” he said. “And we broke those apart into a much larger set of microservices. That allows us to containerize specific services and add a lot of high availability and resilience to the system without adding a lot of complexity for the administrators — in fact, we’re reducing the complexity as we do that and all of that gets installed in one single deployment script.”

While Kubernetes simplifies a lot of the management experience, a lot of companies that use ArcGIS aren’t yet familiar with it. And as Seaton and Heede noted, the company isn’t forcing anyone onto this platform. It will continue to support Windows and Linux just like before. Heede also stressed that it’s still unusual — especially in this industry — to see a complex, fully integrated system like ArcGIS being delivered in the form of microservices and multiple containers that its customers then run on their own infrastructure.

Image Credits: Esri

In addition to the Kubernetes announcement, Esri also today announced new JavaScript APIs that make it easier for developers to create applications that bring together Esri’s server-side technology and the scalability of doing much of the analysis on the client-side. Back in the day, Esri would support tools like Microsoft’s Silverlight and Adobe/Apache Flex for building rich web-based applications. “Now, we’re really focusing on a single web development technology and the toolset around that,” Esri product manager Julie Powell told me.

A bit later this month, Esri also plans to launch its new design system to make it easier and faster for developers to create clean and consistent user interfaces. This design system will launch April 22, but the company already provided a bit of a teaser today. As Powell noted, the challenge for Esri is that its design system has to help the company’s partners put their own style and branding on top of the maps and data they get from the ArcGIS ecosystem.

 

Apr
06
2021
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Okta launches a new free developer plan

At its Oktane21 conference, Okta, the popular authentication and identity platform, today announced a new — and free — developer edition that features fewer limitations and support for significantly more monthly active users than its current free plan.

The new ‘Okta Starter Developer Edition,’ as it’s called, allows developers to scale up to 15,000 monthly active users — up from only 1,000 on its existing free plan. In addition, the company is also launching enhanced documentation, a set of sample apps and new SDKs, which now cover languages and frameworks like Go, Java, JavaScript, Python, Vue.js, React Native and Spring Boot.

“Our overall philosophy isn’t, ‘we want to just provide […] a set of authentication and authorization services.’ The way we’re looking at this is, ‘hey, app developer, how do we provide you the foundation you need to get up and running quickly with authorization and authentication as one part of it,’ ” Diya Jolly, Okta’s chief product officer, told me. And she believes that Okta is in a unique position to do so, because it doesn’t only offer tools to manage authorization and access, but also systems for securing microservices and providing applications with access to privileged resources.

Image Credits: Okta

It’s also worth noting that, while the deal hasn’t closed yet, Okta’s intent to acquire Auth0 significantly extends its developer strategy, given Auth0’s developer-first approach.

As for the expanded free account, Jolly noted that the company found that developers wanted to be able to access more of the service’s features during their prototyping phases. That means the new free Developer Edition comes with support for multi-factor authentication, machine-to-machine tokens and B2B integrations, for example, in addition to expanded support for integrations into toolchains. As is so often the case with enterprise tools, the free edition doesn’t come with the usual enterprise support options and has lower rate limits than the paid plans.

Still, and Jolly acknowledged this, a small to medium-sized business may be able to build applications and take them into production based on this new free plan.

“15K [monthly active users] is is a lot, but if you look at our customer base, it’s about the right amount for the smaller business applications, the real SMBs, and that was the goal. In a developer motion, you want people to try out things and then upgrade. I think that’s the key. No developer is going to come and build with you if you don’t have a free offering that they can tinker around and play with.”

Image Credits: Okta

She noted that the company has spent a lot of time thinking about how to support developers through the application development lifecycle overall. That includes better CLI tools for developers who would rather bypass Okta’s web-based console, for example, and additional integrations with tools like Terraform, Kong and Heroku. “Today, [developers] have to stitch together identity and Okta into those experiences — or they use some other identity — we’ve pre-stitched all of this for them,” Jolly said.

The new Okta Starter Developer Edition, as well as the new documentation, sample applications and integrations, are now available at developer.okta.com.

Apr
06
2021
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Sendbird raises $100M at a $1B+ valuation, says 150M+ users now interact using its chat and video APIs

Messaging is the medium these days, and today a startup that has built an API to help others build text and video interactivity into their services is announcing a big round to continue scaling its business. Sendbird, a popular provider of chat, video and other interactive services to the likes of Reddit, Hinge, Paytm, Delivery Hero and hundreds of others by way of a few lines of code, has closed a round of $100 million, money that it plans to use to continue expanding the functionalities of its platform to meet our changing interactive times. Sendbird has confirmed that the funding values the company at $1.05 billion.

Today, customers collectively channel some 150 million users through Sendbird’s APIs to chat with each other and large groups of users over text and video, a figure that has seen a lot of growth in particular in the last year, where people were spending so much more time in front of screens as their primary interface to communicate with the world.

Sendbird already provides some services around that core functionality, such as moderation and text search. John Kim, Sendbird’s CEO and founder, said that additional developments like moderation has seen a huge take-up, and services it plans to add into the mix include payments and logistics features, and that it is looking at adding in group audio conversations for customers to build their own Clubhouse clones.

“We are getting enquiries,” said Kim. “We will be setting it up in a personalized way. Voice chat has certainly picked up due to Clubhouse.”

The funding — oversubscribed, the company says — is being led by Steadfast Financial, with SoftBank’s Vision Fund 2 also participating, along with previous backers ICONIQ Capital, Tiger Global Management and Meritech Capital. It comes about two years after Sendbird closed its Series B at $102 million, and the startup appears to have nearly doubled its valuation since then: PitchBook estimates it was around $550 million in 2019.

That growth, in a sense, is not a surprise, given not just the climate right now for virtual interaction, but the fact that Sendbird itself has tripled the number of customers using its tools since 2019. The company, co-headquartered in Seoul, Korea and San Mateo, California, has now raised around $221 million.

The market that Sendbird has been pecking away at since being founded in 2013 is a hefty one.

Messaging apps have become a major digital force, with a small handful of companies overtaking (and taking on) the primary features found on the most basic of phones and finding traction with people by making them easier to use and full of more interesting features to use alongside the basic functionality. That in turn has led a wave of other companies to build in their own communications features, a way both to provide more community for their users, and to keep people on their own platforms in the process.

“It’s an arms race going on between messaging and payment apps,” Sid Suri, Sendbird’s marketing head, said to me in describing the competitive landscape. “There is a high degree of urgency among all businesses to say we don’t have to lose users to any of them. White label services like ours are powering the ability to keep up.”

Sendbird is indeed one of a wave of companies that have identified both that trend and the opportunity of building that functionality out as a commodity of sorts that can be embedded anywhere a developer chooses to place it by way of an API. It’s not the only one: Others in the same space include publicly listed Twilio, the similarly named competitor MessageBird (which is also highly capitalised and has positioned itself as a consolidator in the space), PubNub, Sinch, Stream, Firebase and many more.

That competition is one reason Sendbird has raised money. It gives it more capital to bring on more users, and critically to invest in building out more functionality alongside its core features, to address the needs of its existing users and to discover new opportunities to provide them with features they perhaps didn’t know they needed in their messaging channels to keep users’ attention.

“We are doing a lot around transactions and payments, as well as logistics,” Kim said in an interview. “We are really building out the end to end experience [since that] really ties into engagement. A couple of new features will be heavily around transactions, and others will be around more engagement.”

Karan Mehandru, a partner at Steadfast, is joining the board with this round, and he believes that there remains a huge opportunity, especially when you consider the many verticals that have yet to adopt solid and useful communications channels within their services, such as healthcare.

“The channel that Sendbird is leveraging is the next channel we have come to expect from all brands,” he said in an interview. “Sendbird may look the same as others but if you peel the onion, providing a scalable chat experience that is highly customized is a real problem to solve. Large customers think this is critical but not a core competence and then zoom back to Sendbird because they can’t do it. Sendbird is a clear leader. Sendbird is permeating many verticals and types of companies now. This is one of those rare companies that has been at the right place at the right time.”

Mar
29
2021
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Testing platform Tricentis acquires performance testing service Neotys

If you develop software for a large enterprise company, chances are you’ve heard of Tricentis. If you don’t develop software for a large enterprise company, chances are you haven’t. The software testing company with a focus on modern cloud and enterprise applications was founded in Austria in 2007 and grew from a small consulting firm to a major player in this field, with customers like Allianz, BMW, Starbucks, Deutsche Bank, Toyota and UBS. In 2017, the company raised a $165 million Series B round led by Insight Venture Partners.

Today, Tricentis announced that it has acquired Neotys, a popular performance testing service with a focus on modern enterprise applications and a tests-as-code philosophy. The two companies did not disclose the price of the acquisition. France-based Neotys launched in 2005 and raised about €3 million before the acquisition. Today, it has about 600 customers for its NeoLoad platform. These include BNP Paribas, Dell, Lufthansa, McKesson and TechCrunch’s own corporate parent, Verizon.

As Tricentis CEO Sandeep Johri noted, testing tools were traditionally script-based, which also meant they were very fragile whenever an application changed. Early on, Tricentis introduced a low-code tool that made the automation process both easier and resilient. Now, as even traditional enterprises move to DevOps and release code at a faster speed than ever before, testing is becoming both more important and harder for these companies to implement.

“You have to have automation and you cannot have it be fragile, where it breaks, because then you spend as much time fixing the automation as you do testing the software,” Johri said. “Our core differentiator was the fact that we were a low-code, model-based automation engine. That’s what allowed us to go from $6 million in recurring revenue eight years ago to $200 million this year.”

Tricentis, he added, wants to be the testing platform of choice for large enterprises. “We want to make sure we do everything that a customer would need, from a testing perspective, end to end. Automation, test management, test data, test case design,” he said.

The acquisition of Neotys allows the company to expand this portfolio by adding load and performance testing as well. It’s one thing to do the standard kind of functional testing that Tricentis already did before launching an update, but once an application goes into production, load and performance testing becomes critical as well.

“Before you put it into production — or before you deploy it — you need to make sure that your application not only works as you expect it, you need to make sure that it can handle the workload and that it has acceptable performance,” Johri noted. “That’s where load and performance testing comes in and that’s why we acquired Neotys. We have some capability there, but that was primarily focused on the developers. But we needed something that would allow us to do end-to-end performance testing and load testing.”

The two companies already had an existing partnership and had integrated their tools before the acquisition — and many of its customers were already using both tools, too.

“We are looking forward to joining Tricentis, the industry leader in continuous testing,” said Thibaud Bussière, president and co-founder at Neotys. “Today’s Agile and DevOps teams are looking for ways to be more strategic and eliminate manual tasks and implement automated solutions to work more efficiently and effectively. As part of Tricentis, we’ll be able to eliminate laborious testing tasks to allow teams to focus on high-value analysis and performance engineering.”

NeoLoad will continue to exist as a stand-alone product, but users will likely see deeper integrations with Tricentis’ existing tools over time, include Tricentis Analytics, for example.

Johri tells me that he considers Tricentis one of the “best kept secrets in Silicon Valley” because the company not only started out in Europe (even though its headquarters is now in Silicon Valley) but also because it hasn’t raised a lot of venture rounds over the years. But that’s very much in line with Johri’s philosophy of building a company.

“A lot of Silicon Valley tends to pay attention only when you raise money,” he told me. “I actually think every time you raise money, you’re diluting yourself and everybody else. So if you can succeed without raising too much money, that’s the best thing. We feel pretty good that we have been very capital efficient and now we’re recognized as a leader in the category — which is a huge category with $30 billion spend in the category. So we’re feeling pretty good about it.”

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