Feb
11
2020
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Google backs productivity startup building algorithmic inbox for Slacks, emails and texts

There have been plenty of stories written about the so-called “Slack-lash” and the growing unrest among workers dealing with DM interruptions that take their attention away from the task at hand. Slack is a poster child for the problem, but VCs have invested heavily in a number of collaboration tools over the past several years that have compartmentalized chat and commenting systems and have left workers reeling.

It seems fairly likely that we’ve reached peak VC interest in collaboration, but VCs are dealing with any slowdown by betting more heavily on tools that help workers make sense of the panoply of slick interfaced messaging tools. The latest bet, ’nuffsaid, is, yes, yet another productivity startup, though one that seems devoted to making the messaging realities of 2020 employment a bit more tolerable.

The Utah startup is emerging from stealth, launching the first element of their productivity platform in early access, and disclosing that they’ve raised $4.3 million in seed funding from General Catalyst, Google’s Gradient Ventures, Global Founders Capital, Work Life Ventures, SV Angel and Wasabi Ventures.

The oddly named company is releasing its first oddly named product, ‘nflow, into early access, bringing multiple collaboration platforms and a calendar into a single inbox. Just as the algorithmic timeline shaped how we digest the firehose of social media content, algorithmic inboxes might be the solution to a Slack-lash. And ’nuffsaid is taking this algorithmic approach for prioritizing Slack messages, as well as emails, texts and Zoom messages, with ‘nflow. The searchable unified inbox brings all of your messages into a single app, letting you know what’s urgent and what can probably wait until you’re finished taking care of the task at hand.

“We think there’s going to be an entire category of products that are all about adding AI into existing workflows. With ‘nflow, we think we’re taking our first baby step to our vision of that future,” CEO and co-founder Chris Hicken tells TechCrunch. Hicken was previously COO of UserTesting.

One of the more exciting elements of ‘nflow is the way it brings the calendar inside the communications hub. Google Calendar is still among the more estranged elements of productivity workflows. Using messages and emails as the basis for calendar events has always been a wishlist item, but the integration is rarely tight enough. Although ’nuffsaid’s drag-and-drop interface for creating calendar events while tagging team members and adding additional info showcases seems to be a pretty attractive solution, I’ll wait until I can poke around the app myself before making any full-throated endorsements.

The ’nuffsaid team says ‘nflow will launch commercially at (a rather pricey) $25 per month, but that people who sign up for their early access waitlist will unlock a lifetime rate of $10 per month.

The team of 18 has bigger near-term ambitions than the product they’re launching in early access today. If ‘nflow represents a more mass-market approach to delivering a productivity tool to workers frustrated by a messaging overload, their future launches signify a desire to dig deeper into specific enterprise workflows and bring specific types of teams on board.

Over the summer, the company plans to roll out a separate AI-driven customer success module that integrates with a variety of apps to give workers more actionable insights on what tasks are the most critical to maintaining and building customer relationships. The startup plans to build and roll out dedicated versions of the module for engineering, product and marketing, as well.

“There are so many collaboration tools, what I like about ’nuffsaid is that it’s where the work is actually happening and they’re not asking users to change their procedures,” General Catalyst Managing Director Niko Bonatsos tells TechCrunch. “Users still have the same email address, they’re still contacting their customers the same ways, they don’t have to start doing unnatural things that disrupt their workflows.”

Sep
24
2019
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Fundbox raises $176 million Series C to build ‘Visa’ for B2B payments

Credit cards have become all but ubiquitous for consumer transactions, and it isn’t hard to see why. By intermediating payments, networks like Visa allow buyers and sellers to exchange money for goods and services without knowing the financial risk profile of the counter-party. Rather than applying for credit at every merchant you shop at, you apply once at your issuing institution, and then can transact with every merchant on the network. It’s the simple formula: reducing friction means more sales, and therefore more profits.

Yet for all the innovation in the consumer side of the economy, there has been an astonishingly limited amount of innovation in the B2B world. Payments between businesses are still conducted through invoices, with net payment terms that can exceed 90 days and with little knowledge of the financial risk of the counter-parties. There is no FICO score for business as there is with consumers, nor is there a system that can intermediate those transactions and reduce their friction.

That’s where Fundbox comes in. The SF-headquartered startup wants to ultimately transform B2B payments by creating a Visa-like payments network that allows businesses to transact with each other without having to know counter-party risk while also getting everyone paid faster.

It’s a vision that has pulled in the attention of even more venture capital. The company, which was founded in 2013, announced today that it has raised $176 million in a series C equity financing led by a consortium of funders, including Allianz X, Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan, HarbourVest and a litany of others. Existing backers Khosla, General Catalyst, and Spark Capital Growth also participated. With this new round of capital, the company’s total equity funding reaches upwards of $300 million.

In addition to the equity capital, the company also announced that it has raised a $150 million credit facility to underwrite its product.

Fundbox CEO Eyal Shinar said that a priority in this fundraise was to select backers who not only could invest in equity, but also had large balance sheets who could expand the company’s underwriting capability as it scales.

Today, Fundbox’s core product is a revolving line of credit for small businesses. Cash flow is a huge concern for many companies, since they often have to wait for a payment from an invoice to arrive before investing in their next projects or hiring more employees. A revolving line of credit allows companies to flexibly draw down and pay back a loan, while only paying fees on what a company uses.

To apply for the loan, companies connect Fundbox to their financial data store (for example, QuickBooks), and Fundbox slurps in the data and offers a credit decision in as fast as minutes. Companies can then tap their line of credit almost immediately and use it as working capital. As invoices are paid, companies can then pay off their line of credit and stop paying fees.

From that product base, Shinar ultimately sees Fundbox as a GDP-scale startup, given the value it could potentially unlock for companies and the economy at large. “There are more than $3 trillion locked in those invoices,” he explained to me, “$3.4 trillion flows through consumer credit cards, but $23 trillion are in invoices … and even if you focus on [just] small and medium business, it’s $9 trillion.”

As the company collects data from all the players in the market, it wants to build upon those data network effects to ultimately operate the payment rails for B2B transactions. So instead of offering a line of credit to the seller, it could facilitate both sides of the transaction and get rid of the root complexity in the first place.

It’s a bold vision, and certainly one that has attracted a variety of players. In the startup world, Kabbage (whose co-founder and president Kathryn Petralia I will be interviewing at TechCrunch Disrupt SF next week) has built a business around line of credit lending and has similarly raised large amounts of venture capital.

Larger companies like Square, PayPay, and Intuit (which owns the popular accounting software QuickBooks) have introduced various lending products to B2B customers. And in terms of payments, Stripe through its new credit card and Brex offer the means for companies to empower their employees to make purchases on behalf of the company.

Shinar said that a huge priority for Fundbox has been to make underwriting more efficient. He said that a large percentage of the current employee base at the company is data scientists, and the company has built upon the wave of digitalization that has taken place among small and medium businesses. “Every company has at least one set of APIs … and it is accessible, and it is granular,” Shinar said. By just tapping into those existing data feeds, Fundbox is able to avoid the human underwriting common with much of business lending today.

One initiative the company has undertaken is a tool dubbed “X-Ray” to better describe how the company’s machine learning models are really underwriting its loan products. Shinar noted that payments is a highly-regulated space, and that the company has to be able to explain its decisions and how they are unbiased to any regulator that might start asking questions.

The company today has 240 employees spread across SF, Tel Aviv, and a recently launched office in Dallas. Shinar says that he wants to use the new funds to “go on the offensive” and “double and triple down on what is working.”

Aug
21
2019
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Splunk acquires cloud monitoring service SignalFx for $1.05B

Splunk, the publicly traded data processing and analytics company, today announced that it has acquired SignalFx for a total price of about $1.05 billion. Approximately 60% of this will be in cash and 40% in Splunk common stock. The companies expect the acquisition to close in the second half of 2020.

SignalFx, which emerged from stealth in 2015, provides real-time cloud monitoring solutions, predictive analytics and more. Upon close, Splunk argues, this acquisition will allow it to become a leader “in observability and APM for organizations at every stage of their cloud journey, from cloud-native apps to homegrown on-premises applications.”

Indeed, the acquisition will likely make Splunk a far stronger player in the cloud space as it expands its support for cloud-native applications and the modern infrastructures and architectures those rely on.

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Ahead of the acquisition, SignalFx had raised a total of $178.5 million, according to Crunchbase, including a recent Series E round. Investors include General Catalyst, Tiger Global Management, Andreessen Horowitz and CRV. Its customers include the likes of AthenaHealth, Change.org, Kayak, NBCUniversal and Yelp.

“Data fuels the modern business, and the acquisition of SignalFx squarely puts Splunk in position as a leader in monitoring and observability at massive scale,” said Doug Merritt, president and CEO, Splunk, in today’s announcement. “SignalFx will support our continued commitment to giving customers one platform that can monitor the entire enterprise application lifecycle. We are also incredibly impressed by the SignalFx team and leadership, whose expertise and professionalism are a strong addition to the Splunk family.”

Jul
23
2019
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Arrcus snags $30M Series B as it tries to disrupt networking biz

Arrcus has a bold notion to try and take on the biggest names in networking by building a better networking management system. Today it was rewarded with a $30 million Series B investment led by Lightspeed Venture Partners.

Existing investors General Catalyst and Clear Ventures also participated. The company previously raised a seed and Series A totaling $19 million, bringing the total raised to date to $49 million, according to numbers provided by the company.

Founder and CEO Devesh Garg says the company wanted to create a product that would transform the networking industry, which has traditionally been controlled by a few companies. “The idea basically is to give you the best-in-class [networking] software with the most flexible consumption model at the lowest overall total cost of ownership. So you really as an end customer have the choice to choose best-in-class solutions,” Garg told TechCrunch.

This involves building a networking operating system called ArcOS to run the networking environment. For now, that means working with manufacturers of white-box solutions and offering some combination of hardware and software, depending on what the customer requires. Garg says that players at the top of the market like Cisco, Arista and Juniper tend to keep their technical specifications to themselves, making it impossible to integrate ArcOS with those companies at this time, but he sees room for a company like Arrcus .

“Fundamentally, this is a very large marketplace that’s controlled by two or three incumbents, and when you have lack of competition you get all of the traditional bad behavior that comes along with that, including muted innovation, rigidity in terms of the solutions that are provided and these legacy procurement models, where there’s not much flexibility with artificially high pricing,” he explained.

The company hopes to fundamentally change the current system with its solutions, taking advantage of unbranded hardware that offers a similar experience but can run the Arrcus software. “Think of them as white-box manufacturers of switches and routers. Oftentimes, they come from Taiwan, where they’re unbranded, but it’s effectively the same components that are used in the same systems that are used by the [incumbents],” he said.

The approach seems to be working, as the company has grown to 50 employees since it launched in 2016. Garg says that he expects to double that number in the next six-nine months with the new funding. Currently the company has double-digit paying customers and more than 20 in various stages of proofs of concepts, he said.

Jun
11
2019
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Alyce picks up $11.5 million Series A to help companies give better corporate gifts

Alyce, an AI-powered platform that helps sales people, marketers and event planners give better corporate gifts, has today announced the close of an $11.5 million Series A funding. The round was led by Manifest, with participation from General Catalyst, Boston Seed Capital, Golden Ventures, Morningside and Victress Capital.

According to Alyce, $120 billion is spent each year (just in the United States) on corporate gifts, swag, etc. Unfortunately, the impact of these gifts isn’t usually worth the hassle. No matter how thoughtful or clever a gift is, each recipient is a unique individual with their own preferences and style. It’s nearly impossible for marketers and event planners to find a one-size-fits-all gift for their recipients.

Alyce, however, has a solution. The company asks the admin to upload a list of recipients. The platform then scours the internet for any publicly available information on each individual recipient, combing through their Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, videos and podcasts in which they appear, etc.

Alyce then matches each individual recipient with their own personalized gift, as chosen from one of the company’s merchant partners. The platform sends out an invitation to that recipient to either accept the gift, exchange the gift for something else on the platform, or donate the dollar value to the charity of their choice.

This allows Alyce to ensure marketers and sales people always give the right gift, even when they don’t. For charity donations, the donation is made in the name of the corporate entity who gave the gift, not the recipient, meaning that all donations act as a write-off for the gifting company.

The best marketers and sales people know how impactful a great gift, at the right time, can be. But the work involved in figuring out what a person actually wants to receive can be overwhelming. Hell, I struggle to find the right gifts for my close friends and loved ones.

Alyce takes all the heavy lifting out of the equation.

The company also has integrations with Salesforce, so users can send an Alyce gift from directly within Salesforce.

Alyce charges a subscription to businesses who use the software, and also takes a small cut of gifts accepted on the platform. The company also offers to send physical boxes with cards and information about the gift as another revenue channel.

Alyce founder and CEO Greg Segall says the company is growing 30 percent month-over-month and has clients such as InVision, Lenovo, Marketo and Verizon.

May
29
2019
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Logz.io lands $52M to keep growing open source-based logging tools

Logz.io announced a $52 million Series D investment today. The round was led by General Catalyst.

Other investors participating in the round included OpenView Ventures, 83North, Giza Venture Capital, Vintage Investment Partners, Greenspring Associates and Next47. Today’s investment brings the total raised to nearly $100 million, according to Crunchbase data.

Logz.io is a company built on top of the open-source tools Elasticsearch, Logstash and Kibana (collectively known by the acronym ELK) and Grafana. It’s taking those tools in a typical open-source business approach, packaging them up and offering them as a service. This approach enables large organizations to take advantage of these tools without having to deal with the raw open-source projects.

The company’s solutions intelligently scan logs looking for anomalies. When it finds them, it surfaces the problem and informs IT or security, depending on the scenario, using a tool like PagerDuty. This area of the market has been dominated in recent years by vendors like Splunk and Sumo Logic, but company founder and CEO Tomer Levy saw a chance to disrupt that space by packaging a set of open-source logging tools that were rapidly increasing in popularity. They believed they could build on that growing popularity, while solving a pain point the founders had actually experienced in previous positions, which is always a good starting point for a startup idea.

Screenshot: Logz.io

“We saw that the majority of the market is actually using open source. So we said, we want to solve this problem, a problem we have faced in the past and didn’t have a solution. What we’re going to do is we’re going to provide you with an easy-to-use cloud service that is offering an open-source compatible solution,” Levy explained. In other words, they wanted to build on that open-source idea, but offer it in a form that was easier to consume.

Larry Bohn, who is leading the investment for General Catalyst, says that his firm liked the idea of a company building on top of open source because it provides a built-in community of developers to drive the startup’s growth — and it appears to be working. “The numbers here were staggering in terms of how quickly people were adopting this and how quickly it was growing. It was very clear to us that the company was enjoying great success without much of a commercial orientation,” Bohn explained.

In fact, Logz.io already has 700 customers, including large names like Schneider Electric, The Economist and British Airways. The company has 175 employees today, but Levy says they expect to grow that by 250 by the end of this year, as they use this money to accelerate their overall growth.

May
29
2019
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Logz.io lands $52M to keep growing open source-based logging tools

Logz.io announced a $52 million Series D investment today. The round was led by General Catalyst.

Other investors participating in the round included OpenView Ventures, 83North, Giza Venture Capital, Vintage Investment Partners, Greenspring Associates and Next47. Today’s investment brings the total raised to nearly $100 million, according to Crunchbase data.

Logz.io is a company built on top of the open-source tools Elasticsearch, Logstash and Kibana (collectively known by the acronym ELK) and Grafana. It’s taking those tools in a typical open-source business approach, packaging them up and offering them as a service. This approach enables large organizations to take advantage of these tools without having to deal with the raw open-source projects.

The company’s solutions intelligently scan logs looking for anomalies. When it finds them, it surfaces the problem and informs IT or security, depending on the scenario, using a tool like PagerDuty. This area of the market has been dominated in recent years by vendors like Splunk and Sumo Logic, but company founder and CEO Tomer Levy saw a chance to disrupt that space by packaging a set of open-source logging tools that were rapidly increasing in popularity. They believed they could build on that growing popularity, while solving a pain point the founders had actually experienced in previous positions, which is always a good starting point for a startup idea.

Screenshot: Logz.io

“We saw that the majority of the market is actually using open source. So we said, we want to solve this problem, a problem we have faced in the past and didn’t have a solution. What we’re going to do is we’re going to provide you with an easy-to-use cloud service that is offering an open-source compatible solution,” Levy explained. In other words, they wanted to build on that open-source idea, but offer it in a form that was easier to consume.

Larry Bohn, who is leading the investment for General Catalyst, says that his firm liked the idea of a company building on top of open source because it provides a built-in community of developers to drive the startup’s growth — and it appears to be working. “The numbers here were staggering in terms of how quickly people were adopting this and how quickly it was growing. It was very clear to us that the company was enjoying great success without much of a commercial orientation,” Bohn explained.

In fact, Logz.io already has 700 customers, including large names like Schneider Electric, The Economist and British Airways. The company has 175 employees today, but Levy says they expect to grow that by 250 by the end of this year, as they use this money to accelerate their overall growth.

Mar
26
2019
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Lola.com raises $37M to take on SAP and others in the world of business travel

Business customers continue to be a huge target for the travel industry, and today a startup has raised a tidy sum to help it double down on the $1.7 trillion opportunity. Lola.com — a platform for business users to book and manage trips — has raised $37 million to continue building out its technology and hire more talent as it takes on incumbents like SAP targeting the corporate sector.

The Series C is led by General Catalyst and Accel, with participation from CRV, Tenaya Capital and GV. All are previous investors. We are asking about the valuation but it looks like prior to this, the company had raised just under $65 million, and its last post-money valuation, in 2017, was $100 million, according to PitchBook.

There are signs that the valuation will have had a bump in this round. The company said in 2018, its bookings have gone up by 423 percent, with revenues up 786 percent, although it’s not disclosing what the actual figures are for either.

“As business travelers have become increasingly mobile, Lola.com’s mission is to completely transform the landscape of corporate travel management,” said Mike Volpe, CEO of Lola.com, who took the top role at the company last year. “The continued support of our investors underscores the market potential, which is leading us to expand our partner ecosystem and double our headcount across engineering, sales and marketing. At the core, we continue to invest in building the best, simplest corporate travel management platform in the industry.”

Co-founded by Paul English and Bill O’Donnell — respectively, the former CTO/co-founder and chief architect of the wildly successful consumer travel booking platform Kayak — Lola originally tried to fix the very thing that Kayak and others like it had disrupted: it was designed as a platform for people to connect to live agents to help them organise their travel. That larger cruise ship might have already said, however (so to speak), and so the company later made a pivot to cater to a more specific demographic in the market that often needs and expects the human touch when arranging logistics: the business user.

Its unique selling point has not been just to provide a pain-free “agile” platform to make bookings, but for the platform’s human agents to be proactively pinging business users when there are modifications to a booking (for example because of flight delays), and offering help when needed to sort out the many aspects of modern travel that can be painful and time consuming for busy working people, such as technical issues around a frequent flyer program.

Lola.com is not the only one to spot the opportunity there. To further diversify its business and to move into higher-margin, bigger-ticket offerings, Airbnb has also been slowly building out its own travel platform targeting business customers by adding in hotels and room bookings.

There are others that are either hoping to bypass or complement existing services with their own takes on how to improve business travel such as TravelPerk (most recent raise: $44 million), Travelstop (an Asia-focused spin), and TripActions (most recently valued at $1 billion), to name a few. That speaks to an increasingly crowded market of players that are competing against incumbents like SAP, which owns Concur, Hipmunk and a plethora of other older services.

Lola.com has made some interesting headway in its own approach to the market, by partnering with one of the names most synonymous with corporate spending, American Express, and specifically a JV it is involved in called American Express Global Business Travel.

“Lola.com offers an incredibly simple solution to corporate travel management, which enables American Express Global Business Travel to take our value proposition to even more companies across the middle market,” said Evan Konwiser, VP of Product Strategy and Marketing for American Express GBT, in a statement.

Dec
06
2018
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Contentful raises $33.5M for its headless CMS platform

Contentful, a Berlin- and San Francisco-based startup that provides content management infrastructure for companies like Spotify, Nike, Lyft and others, today announced that it has raised a $33.5 million Series D funding round led by Sapphire Ventures, with participation from OMERS Ventures and Salesforce Ventures, as well as existing investors General Catalyst, Benchmark, Balderton Capital and Hercules. In total, the company has now raised $78.3 million.

It’s been less than a year since the company raised its Series C round and, as Contentful co-founder and CEO Sascha Konietzke told me, the company didn’t really need to raise right now. “We had just raised our last round about a year ago. We still had plenty of cash in our bank account and we didn’t need to raise as of now,” said Konietzke. “But we saw a lot of economic uncertainty, so we thought it might be a good moment in time to recharge. And at the same time, we already had some interesting conversations ongoing with Sapphire [formerly SAP Ventures] and Salesforce. So we saw the opportunity to add more funding and also start getting into a tight relationship with both of these players.”

The original plan for Contentful was to focus almost explicitly on mobile. As it turns out, though, the company’s customers also wanted to use the service to handle its web-based applications and these days, Contentful happily supports both. “What we’re seeing is that everything is becoming an application,” he told me. “We started with native mobile application, but even the websites nowadays are often an application.”

In its early days, Contentful focused only on developers. Now, however, that’s changing, and having these connections to large enterprise players like SAP and Salesforce surely isn’t going to hurt the company as it looks to bring on larger enterprise accounts.

Currently, the company’s focus is very much on Europe and North America, which account for about 80 percent of its customers. For now, Contentful plans to continue to focus on these regions, though it obviously supports customers anywhere in the world.

Contentful only exists as a hosted platform. As of now, the company doesn’t have any plans for offering a self-hosted version, though Konietzke noted that he does occasionally get requests for this.

What the company is planning to do in the near future, though, is to enable more integrations with existing enterprise tools. “Customers are asking for deeper integrations into their enterprise stack,” Konietzke said. “And that’s what we’re beginning to focus on and where we’re building a lot of capabilities around that.” In addition, support for GraphQL and an expanded rich text editing experience is coming up. The company also recently launched a new editing experience.

Nov
30
2018
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Enterprise AR is an opportunity to ‘do well by doing good,’ says General Catalyst

A founder-investor panel on augmented reality (AR) technology here at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin suggests growth hopes for the space have regrouped around enterprise use-cases, after the VR consumer hype cycle landed with yet another flop in the proverbial ‘trough of disillusionment’.

Matt Miesnieks, CEO of mobile AR startup 6d.ai, conceded the space has generally been on another downer but argued it’s coming out of its third hype cycle now with fresh b2b opportunities on the horizon.

6d.ai investor General Catalyst‘s Niko Bonatsos was also on stage, and both suggested the challenge for AR startups is figuring out how to build for enterprises so the b2b market can carry the mixed reality torch forward.

“From my point of view the fact that Apple, Google, Microsoft, have made such big commitments to the space is very reassuring over the long term,” said Miesnieks. “Similar to the smartphone industry ten years ago we’re just gradually seeing all the different pieces come together. And as those pieces mature we’ll eventually, over the next few years, see it sort of coalesce into an iPhone moment.”

“I’m still really positive,” he continued. “I don’t think anyone should be looking for some sort of big consumer hit product yet but in verticals in enterprise, and in some of the core tech enablers, some of the tool spaces, there’s really big opportunities there.”

Investors shot the arrow over the target where consumer VR/AR is concerned because they’d underestimated how challenging the content piece is, Bonatsos suggested.

“I think what we got wrong is probably the belief that we thought more indie developers would have come into the space and that by now we would probably have, I don’t know, another ten Pokémon-type consumer massive hit applications. This is not happening yet,” he said.

“I thought we’d have a few more games because games always lead the adoption to new technology platforms. But in the enterprise this is very, very exciting.”

“For sure also it’s clear that in order to have the iPhone moment we probably need to have much better hardware capabilities,” he added, suggesting everyone is looking to the likes of Apple to drive that forward in the future. On the plus side he said current sentiment is “much, much much better than what it was a year ago”.


Discussing potential b2b applications for AR tech one idea Miesnieks suggested is for transportation platforms that want to link a rider to the location of an on-demand and/or autonomous vehicle.

Another area of opportunity he sees is working with hardware companies — to add spacial awareness to devices such as smartphones and drones to expand their capabilities.

More generally they mentioned training for technical teams, field sales and collaborative use-cases as areas with strong potential.

“There are interesting applications in pharma, oil & gas where, with the aid of the technology, you can do very detailed stuff that you couldn’t do before because… you can follow everything on your screen and you can use your hands to do whatever it is you need to be doing,” said Bonatsos. “So that’s really, really exciting.

“These are some of the applications that I’ve seen. But it’s early days. I haven’t seen a lot of products in the space. It’s more like there’s one dev shop is working with the chief innovation officer of one specific company that is much more forward thinking and they want to come up with a really early demo.

“Now we’re seeing some early stage tech startups that are trying to attack these problems. The good news is that good dollars is being invested in trying to solve some of these problems — and whoever figures out how to get dollars from the… bigger companies, these are real enterprise businesses to be built. So I’m very excited about that.”

At the same time, the panel delved into some of the complexities and social challenges facing technologists as they try to integrate blended reality into, well, the real deal.

Including raising the spectre of Black Mirror style dystopia once smartphones can recognize and track moving objects in a scene — and 6d.ai’s tech shows that’s coming.

Miesnieks showed a brief video demo of 3D technology running live on a smartphone that’s able to identify cars and people moving through the scene in real time.

“Our team were able to solve this problem probably a year ahead of where the rest of the world is at. And it’s exciting. If we showed this to anyone who really knows 3D they’d literally jump out of the chair. But… it opens up all of these potentially unintended consequences,” he said.

“We’re wrestling with what might this be used for. Sure it’s going to make Pokémon game more fun. It could also let a blind person walk down the street and have awareness of cars and people and they may not need a cane or something.

“But it could let you like tap and literally have people be removed from your field of view and so you only see the type of people that you want to look at. Which can be dystopian.”

He pointed to issues being faced by the broader technology industry now, around social impacts and areas like privacy, adding: “We’re seeing some of the social impacts of how this stuff can go wrong, even if you assume good intentions.

“These sort of breakthroughs that we’re having are definitely causing us to be aware of the responsibility we have to think a bit more deeply about how this might be used for the things we didn’t expect.”

From the investor point of view Bonatsos said his thesis for enterprise AR has to be similarly sensitive to the world around the tech.

“It’s more about can we find the domain experts, people like Matt, that are going to do well by doing good. Because there are a tonne of different parameters to think about here and have the credibility in the market to make it happen,” he suggested, noting: “It‘s much more like traditional enterprise investing.”

“This is a great opportunity to use this new technology to do well by doing good,” Bonatsos continued. “So the responsibility is here from day one to think about privacy, to think about all the fake stuff that we could empower, what do we want to do, what do we want to limit? As well as, as we’re creating this massive, augmented reality, 3D version of the world — like who is going to own it, and share all this wealth? How do we make sure that there’s going to be a whole new ecosystem that everybody can take part of it. It’s very interesting stuff to think about.”

“Even if we do exactly what we think is right, and we assume that we have good intentions, it’s a big grey area in lots of ways and we’re going to make lots of mistakes,” conceded Miesnieks, after discussing some of the steps 6d.ai has taken to try to reduce privacy risks around its technology — such as local processing coupled with anonymizing/obfuscating any data that is taken off the phone.

“When [mistakes] happen — not if, when — all that we’re going to be able to rely on is our values as a company and the trust that we’ve built with the community by saying these are our values and then actually living up to them. So people can trust us to live up to those values. And that whole domain of startups figuring out values, communicating values and looking at this sort of abstract ‘soft’ layer — I think startups as an industry have done a really bad job of that.

“Even big companies. There’d only a handful that you could say… are pretty clear on their values. But for AR and this emerging tech domain it’s going to be, ultimately, the core that people trust us.”

Bonatsos also pointed to rising political risk as a major headwind for startups in this space — noting how China’s government has decided to regulate the gaming market because of social impacts.

“That’s unbelievable. This is where we’re heading with the technology world right now. Because we’ve truly made it. We’ve become mainstream. We’re the incumbents. Anything we build has huge, huge intended and unintended consequences,” he said.

“Having a government that regulates how many games that can be built or how many games can be released — like that’s incredible. No company had to think of that before as a risk. But when people are spending so many hours and so much money on the tech products they are using every day. This is the [inevitable] next step.”

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