Aug
01
2019
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President throws latest wrench in $10B JEDI cloud contract selection process

The $10 billion, decade-long JEDI cloud contract drama continues. It’s a process that has been dogged by complaints, regulatory oversight and court cases. Throughout the months-long selection process, the Pentagon has repeatedly denied accusations that the contract was somehow written to make Amazon a favored vendor, but today The Washington Post reports President Trump has asked the newly appointed Defense Secretary, Mark T. Esper, to examine the process because of concerns over that very matter.

The Defense Department called for bids last year for a $10 billion, decade-long contract. From the beginning, Oracle in particular complained that the process favored Amazon. Even before the RFP process began Oracle executive Safra Catz took her concerns directly to the president, but at that time he did not intervene. Later, the company filed a complaint with the Government Accountability Office, which ruled that the procurement process was fair.

Finally, the company took the case to court, alleging that a person involved in defining the selection process had a conflict of interest, due to being an employee at Amazon before joining the DoD. That case was dismissed last month.

In April, the DoD named Microsoft and Amazon as the two finalists, and the winner was finally expected to be named some time this month. It appeared that we were close to the finish line, but now that the president has intervened at the 11th hour, it’s impossible to know what the outcome will be.

What we do know is that this is a pivotal project for the DoD, which is aimed at modernizing the U.S. military for the next decade and beyond. The fact is that the two finalists made perfect sense. They are the two market leaders, and each has tools, technologies and experience working with sensitive government contracts.

Amazon is the market leader, with 33% market share. Microsoft is No. 2, with 16%. The No. 3 vendor, Google, dropped out before the RFP process began. It is unclear at this point whether the president’s intervention will have any influence on the final decision, but The Washington Post reports it is an unusual departure from government procurement procedures.

Jul
08
2019
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Grasshopper’s Judith Erwin leaps into innovation banking

In the years following the financial crisis, de novo bank activity in the US slowed to a trickle. But as memories fade, the economy expands and the potential of tech-powered financial services marches forward, entrepreneurs have once again been asking the question, “Should I start a bank?”

And by bank, I’m not referring to a neobank, which sits on top of a bank, or a fintech startup that offers an interesting banking-like service of one kind or another. I mean a bank bank.

One of those entrepreneurs is Judith Erwin, a well-known business banking executive who was part of the founding team at Square 1 Bank, which was bought in 2015. Fast forward a few years and Erwin is back, this time as CEO of the cleverly named Grasshopper Bank in New York.

With over $130 million in capital raised from investors including Patriot Financial and T. Rowe Price Associates, Grasshopper has a notable amount of heft for a banking newbie. But as Erwin and her team seek to build share in the innovation banking market, she knows that she’ll need the capital as she navigates a hotly contested niche that has benefited from a robust start-up and venture capital environment.

Gregg Schoenberg: Good to see you, Judith. To jump right in, in my opinion, you were a key part of one of the most successful de novo banks in quite some time. You were responsible for VC relationships there, right?

…My background is one where people give me broken things, I fix them and give them back.

Judith Erwin: The VC relationships and the products and services managing the balance sheet around deposits. Those were my two primary roles, but my background is one where people give me broken things, I fix them and give them back.

Schoenberg: Square 1 was purchased for about 22 times earnings and 260% of tangible book, correct?

Erwin: Sounds accurate.

Schoenberg: Plus, the bank had a phenomenal earnings trajectory. Meanwhile, PacWest, which acquired you, was a “perfectly nice bank.” Would that be a fair characterization?

Erwin: Yes.

Schoenberg: Is part of the motivation to start Grasshopper to continue on a journey that maybe ended a little bit prematurely last time?

Erwin: That’s a great insight, and I did feel like we had sold too soon. It was a great deal for the investors — which included me — and so I understood it. But absolutely, a lot of what we’re working to do here are things I had hoped to do at Square 1.

Image via Getty Images / Classen Rafael / EyeEm

Schoenberg: You’re obviously aware of the 800-pound gorilla in the room in the form of Silicon Valley Bank . You’ve also got the megabanks that play in the segment, as well as Signature Bank, First Republic, Bridge Bank and others.

Jul
08
2019
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The startups creating the future of RegTech and financial services

Technology has been used to manage regulatory risk since the advent of the ledger book (or the Bloomberg terminal, depending on your reference point). However, the cost-consciousness internalized by banks during the 2008 financial crisis combined with more robust methods of analyzing large datasets has spurred innovation and increased efficiency by automating tasks that previously required manual reviews and other labor-intensive efforts.

So even if RegTech wasn’t born during the financial crisis, it was probably old enough to drive a car by 2008. The intervening 11 years have seen RegTech’s scope and influence grow.

RegTech startups targeting financial services, or FinServ for short, require very different growth strategies — even compared to other enterprise software companies. From a practical perspective, everything from the security requirements influencing software architecture and development to the sales process are substantially different for FinServ RegTechs.

The most successful RegTechs are those that draw on expertise from security-minded engineers, FinServ-savvy sales staff as well as legal and compliance professionals from the industry. FinServ RegTechs have emerged in a number of areas due to the increasing directives emanating from financial regulators.

This new crop of startups performs sophisticated background checks and transaction monitoring for anti-money laundering purposes pursuant to the Bank Secrecy Act, the Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) and FINRA rules; tracks supervision requirements and retention for electronic communications under FINRA, SEC, and CFTC regulations; as well as monitors information security and privacy laws from the EU, SEC, and several US state regulators such as the New York Department of Financial Services (“NYDFS”).

In this article, we’ll examine RegTech startups in these three fields to determine how solutions have been structured to meet regulatory demand as well as some of the operational and regulatory challenges they face.

Know Your Customer and Anti-Money Laundering

May
14
2019
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Beyond costs, what else can we do to make housing affordable?

This week on Extra Crunch, I am exploring innovations in inclusive housing, looking at how 200+ companies are creating more access and affordability. Yesterday, I focused on startups trying to lower the costs of housing, from property acquisition to management and operations.

Today, I want to focus on innovations that improve housing inclusion more generally, such as efforts to pair housing with transit, small business creation, and mental rehabilitation. These include social impact-focused interventions, interventions that increase income and mobility, and ecosystem-builders in housing innovation.

Nonprofits and social enterprises lead many of these innovations. Yet because these areas are perceived to be not as lucrative, fewer technologists and other professionals have entered them. New business models and technologies have the opportunity to scale many of these alternative institutions — and create tremendous social value. Social impact is increasingly important to millennials, with brands like Patagonia having created loyal fan bases through purpose-driven leadership.

While each of these sections could be their own market map, this overall market map serves as an initial guide to each of these spaces.

Social impact innovations

These innovations address:

May
13
2019
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Market map: the 200+ innovative startups transforming affordable housing

In this section of my exploration into innovation in inclusive housing, I am digging into the 200+ companies impacting the key phases of developing and managing housing.

Innovations have reduced costs in the most expensive phases of the housing development and management process. I explore innovations in each of these phases, including construction, land, regulatory, financing, and operational costs.

Reducing Construction Costs

This is one of the top three challenges developers face, exacerbated by rising building material costs and labor shortages.

May
13
2019
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Innovations in inclusive housing

Housing is big money. The industry has trillions under management and hundreds of billions under development.

And investors have noticed the potential. Opendoor raised nearly $1.3 billion to help homeowners buy and sell houses more quickly. Katerra raised $1.2 billion to optimize building development and construction, and Compass raised the same amount to help brokers sell real estate better. Even Amazon and Airbnb have entered the fray with high-profile investments.

Amidst this frenetic growth is the seed of the next wave of innovation in the sector. The housing industry — and its affordability problem — is only likely to balloon. By 2030, 84% of the population of developed countries will live in cities.

Yet innovation in housing lags compared to other industries. In construction, a major aspect of housing development, players spend less than 1% of their revenues on research and development. Technology companies, like the Amazons of the world, spend nearly 10% on average.

Innovations in older, highly regulated industries, like housing and real estate, are part of what Steve Case calls the “third wave” of technology. VCs like Case’s Revolution Fund and the SoftBank Vision Fund are investing billions into what they believe is the future.

These innovations are far from silver bullets, especially if they lack involvement from underrepresented communities, avoid policy and ignore distributive questions about who gets to benefit from more housing.

Yet there are hundreds of interventions reworking housing that cannot be ignored. To help entrepreneurs, investors and job seekers interested in creating better housing, I mapped these innovations in this package of articles.

To make sense of this broad field, I categorize innovations into two main groups, which I detail in two separate pieces on Extra Crunch. The first (Part 1) identifies the key phases of developing and managing housing. The second (Part 2) section identifies interventions that contribute to housing inclusion more generally, such as efforts to pair housing with transit, small business creation and mental rehabilitation.

Unfortunately, many of these tools don’t guarantee more affordability. Lowering acquisition costs, for instance, doesn’t mean that renters or homeowners will necessarily benefit from those savings. As a result, some tools likely need to be paired with others to ensure cost savings that benefit end users — and promote long-term affordability. I detail efforts here so that mission-driven advocates as well as startup founders can adopt them for their own efforts.


Topics We Explore

Today:

Coming Tomorrow:

  • Part 2. Other contributions to housing affordability
    • Social Impact Innovations
    • Landlord-Tenant Tools
    • Innovations that Increase Income
    • Innovations that Increase Transit Accessibility and Reduce Parking
    • Innovations that Improve the Ability to Regulate Housing
    • Organizations that Support the Housing Innovation Ecosystem
    • This Is Just the Beginning
    • I’m Personally Closely Watching the Following Initiatives
    • The Limitations of Technology
    • Move Fast and Protect People


Please feel free to let me know what else is exciting by adding a note to your LinkedIn invite here.

If you’re excited about this topic, feel free to subscribe to my future of inclusive housing newsletter by viewing a past issue here.

Apr
14
2019
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Diving into Google Cloud Next and the future of the cloud ecosystem

Extra Crunch offers members the opportunity to tune into conference calls led and moderated by the TechCrunch writers you read every day. This week, TechCrunch’s Frederic Lardinois and Ron Miller offered up their analysis on the major announcements that came out of Google’s Cloud Next conference this past week, as well as their opinions on the outlook for the company going forward.

Google Cloud announced a series of products, packages and services that it believes will improve the company’s competitive position and differentiate itself from AWS and other peers. Frederic and Ron discuss all of Google’s most promising announcements, including its product for managing hybrid clouds, its new end-to-end AI platform, as well as the company’s heightened effort to improve customer service, communication, and ease-of-use.

“They have all of these AI and machine learning technologies, they have serverless technologies, they have containerization technologies — they have this whole range of technologies.

But it’s very difficult for the average company to take these technologies and know what to do with them, or to have the staff and the expertise to be able to make good use of them. So, the more they do things like this where they package them into products and make them much more accessible to the enterprise at large, the more successful that’s likely going to be because people can see how they can use these.

…Google does have thousands of engineers, and they have very smart people, but not every company does, and that’s the whole idea of the cloud. The cloud is supposed to take this stuff, put it together in such a way that you don’t have to be Google, or you don’t have to be Facebook, you don’t have to be Amazon, and you can take the same technology and put it to use in your company”

Image via Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch

Frederic and Ron dive deeper into how the new offerings may impact Google’s market share in the cloud ecosystem and which verticals represent the best opportunity for Google to win. The two also dig into the future of open source in cloud and how they see customer use cases for cloud infrastructure evolving.

For access to the full transcription and the call audio, and for the opportunity to participate in future conference calls, become a member of Extra Crunch. Learn more and try it for free. 

Apr
11
2019
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Much to Oracle’s chagrin, Pentagon names Microsoft and Amazon as $10B JEDI cloud contract finalists

Yesterday, the Pentagon announced two finalists in the $10 billion, decade-long JEDI cloud contract process — and Oracle was not one of them. In spite of lawsuits, official protests and even back-channel complaining to the president, the two finalists are Microsoft and Amazon.

“After evaluating all of the proposals received, the Department of Defense has made a competitive range determination for the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure Cloud request for proposals, in accordance with all applicable laws and regulations. The two companies within the competitive range will participate further in the procurement process,” Elissa Smith, DoD spokesperson for Public Affairs Operations told TechCrunch. She added that those two finalists were in fact Microsoft and Amazon Web Services (AWS, the cloud computing arm of Amazon).

This contract procurement process has caught the attention of the cloud computing market for a number of reasons. For starters, it’s a large amount of money, but perhaps the biggest reason it had cloud companies going nuts was that it is a winner-take-all proposition.

It is important to keep in mind that whether it’s Microsoft or Amazon that is ultimately chosen for this contract, the winner may never see $10 billion, and it may not last 10 years, because there are a number of points where the DoD could back out —  but the idea of a single winner has been irksome for participants in the process from the start.

Over the course of the last year, Google dropped out of the running, while IBM and Oracle have been complaining to anyone who will listen that the contract unfairly favored Amazon. Others have questioned the wisdom of even going with a single-vendor approach. Even at $10 billion, an astronomical sum to be sure, we have pointed out that in the scheme of the cloud business, it’s not all that much money — but there is more at stake here than money.

There is a belief here that the winner could have an upper hand in other government contracts, that this is an entrée into a much bigger pot of money. After all, if you are building the cloud for the Department of Defense and preparing it for a modern approach to computing in a highly secure way, you would be in a pretty good position to argue for other contracts with similar requirements.

In the end, in spite of the protests of the other companies involved, the Pentagon probably got this right. The two finalists are the most qualified to carry out the contract’s requirements. They are the top two cloud infrastructure vendors on the market, although Microsoft is far behind with around 13 or 14 percent market share. Amazon is far head, with around 33 percent, according to several companies that track such things.

Microsoft in particular has tools and resources that would be very appealing, especially Azure Stack — a mini private version of Azure, that you can stand up anywhere, an approach that would have great appeal to the military — but both companies have experience with government contracts, and both bring strengths and weaknesses to the table. It will undoubtedly be a tough decision.

In February, the contract drama took yet another turn when the department reported it was investigating new evidence of conflict of interest by a former Amazon employee who was involved in the RFP process for a time before returning to the company. Smith reports that the department found no such conflict, but there could be some ethical violations they are looking into.

“The department’s investigation has determined that there is no adverse impact on the integrity of the acquisition process. However, the investigation also uncovered potential ethical violations, which have been further referred to DOD IG,” Smith explained.

The DoD is supposed to announce the winner this month, but the drama has continued non-stop.

Apr
10
2019
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The right way to do AI in security

Artificial intelligence applied to information security can engender images of a benevolent Skynet, sagely analyzing more data than imaginable and making decisions at lightspeed, saving organizations from devastating attacks. In such a world, humans are barely needed to run security programs, their jobs largely automated out of existence, relegating them to a role as the button-pusher on particularly critical changes proposed by the otherwise omnipotent AI.

Such a vision is still in the realm of science fiction. AI in information security is more like an eager, callow puppy attempting to learn new tricks – minus the disappointment written on their faces when they consistently fail. No one’s job is in danger of being replaced by security AI; if anything, a larger staff is required to ensure security AI stays firmly leashed.

Arguably, AI’s highest use case currently is to add futuristic sheen to traditional security tools, rebranding timeworn approaches as trailblazing sorcery that will revolutionize enterprise cybersecurity as we know it. The current hype cycle for AI appears to be the roaring, ferocious crest at the end of a decade that began with bubbly excitement around the promise of “big data” in information security.

But what lies beneath the marketing gloss and quixotic lust for an AI revolution in security? How did AL ascend to supplant the lustrous zest around machine learning (“ML”) that dominated headlines in recent years? Where is there true potential to enrich information security strategy for the better – and where is it simply an entrancing distraction from more useful goals? And, naturally, how will attackers plot to circumvent security AI to continue their nefarious schemes?

How did AI grow out of this stony rubbish?

The year AI debuted as the “It Girl” in information security was 2017. The year prior, MIT completed their study showing “human-in-the-loop” AI out-performed AI and humans individually in attack detection. Likewise, DARPA conducted the Cyber Grand Challenge, a battle testing AI systems’ offensive and defensive capabilities. Until this point, security AI was imprisoned in the contrived halls of academia and government. Yet, the history of two vendors exhibits how enthusiasm surrounding security AI was driven more by growth marketing than user needs.

Apr
05
2019
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Peter Kraus dishes on the market

During my recent conversation with Peter Kraus, which was supposed to be focused on Aperture and its launch of the Aperture New World Opportunities Fund, I couldn’t help veering off into tangents about the market in general. Below is Kraus’ take on the availability of alpha generation, the Fed, inflation versus Amazon, housing, the cross-ownership of U.S. equities by a few huge funds and high-frequency trading.

Gregg Schoenberg: Will alpha be more available over the next five years than it has been over the last five?

To think that at some point equities won’t become more volatile and decline 20% to 30%… I think it’s crazy.

Peter Kraus: Do I think it’s more available in the next five years than it was in the last five years? No. Do I think people will pay more attention to it? Yes, because when markets are up to 30 percent, if you get another five, it doesn’t matter. When markets are down 30 percent and I save you five by being 25 percent down, you care.

GS: Is the Fed’s next move up or down?

PK: I think the Fed does zero, nothing. In terms of its next interest rate move, in my judgment, there’s a higher probability that it’s down versus up.

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