Sep
13
2018
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Hybrid cloud data specialist Datrium nabs $60M led by Samsung at a $282M valuation

Cloud services — where our data, apps and computing power are all being managed in servers owned by others, many miles from where we are sitting — have taken off like a rocket in the decade with the rise of smaller devices, but in the business world, hybrid solutions — mixing cloud with on-premise architectures — remains the order of the day. And today, a provider of hybrid cloud services has raised a round of funding to capitalise on that. Datrium, a provider of back-up and other services for businesses that store and use data in hybrid environments, has raised $60 million in a Series D round of funding.

The company is not disclosing its valuation — we’re asking — but PitchBook estimates that it was at $222 million pre-money, putting it at $282 million post-money. This was an upround compared to previous raises, but it’s also playing on a more modest field than some of its competitors. As a point of comparison, another notable hybrid cloud back-up and data management startup, Rubrik, raised $180 million at a $1.3 billion valuation last year.

Interestingly, Datrium and Rubrik share an investor. This latest round was led by Samsung’s Catalyst Fund, with Icon Ventures, NEA and Lightspeed Venture Partners also participating. Lightspeed (whose investing partner founded and leads Rubrik) also backs Rubrik.

Large enterprises are gradually making the move to the cloud, but they are doing so while also continuing to use their legacy services and architectures — in part to continue sweating those assets, and in part because if something isn’t broken, it’s tempting fate to try to fix it. As a result of that, hybrid cloud services have been a big business up to now, with estimates that it will be a $44.6 billion market this year, and growing to $97.6 billion by 2023.

“As a world leader in memory and storage technologies, we’re always looking for novel and innovative ways to advance datacenter technology,” said Shankar Chandran, senior vice president and managing director, Samsung Catalyst Fund, in a statement. “At this unique moment in time—when data is powering the economy—cutting-edge infrastructure, like Datrium’s hybrid cloud platform, will help enterprises overcome major obstacles in data analysis and storage. We are excited to be an investor in their future.”

And with a market of that size, startups are not only ones targeting it. Google has gone all-in on hybrid; VMware is also interested; and HPE has made some acquisitions to expand its hybrid computing business, as has Microsoft (at least twice), and Cisco.

Datrium — with its flagship DVX platform — has been one of the hopefuls in providing a specific area of data services to enterprises operating hybrid environments: data management and data backup, with customers ranging from large players in healthcare and finance through to media and entertainment. Interestingly, it’s doing so at a time when others like Rubrik have gradually been building more cloud-only solutions to expand beyond hybrid environments customers relying on these.

With this round Michael Mullany of Icon Ventures — formerly a VP of marketing and products for VMware — is joining the board of Datrium.

“We are thrilled to partner with Samsung and Icon Ventures to expand our technical and geographical momentum,” said Tim Page, CEO of Datrium, in a statement. “Enterprises globally have the same problems in simplifying compute and data management across on-prem and cloud. Where SANs don’t even have a  path to cloud, traditional HCI has too many tradeoffs for core datacenters – backup requires separate purchasing and administration, and cloud DR automation is seldom guaranteed. Larger enterprises are realizing that Datrium software offers them a simpler path.”

Sep
13
2018
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Hacera creates directory to make blockchain projects more searchable

In the 1990s when the web was young, companies like Yahoo, created directories of web pages to help make them more discoverable. Hacera wants to bring that same idea to blockchain, and today it announced the launch of the Hacera Network Registry.

CEO Jonathan Levi says that blockchains being established today risk being isolated because people simply can’t find them. If you have a project like the IBM -Maersk supply chain blockchain announced last month, how does an interested party like a supplier or customs authority find it and ask to participate? Up until the creation of this registry, there was no easy way to search for projects.

Early participants include heavy hitters like Microsoft, Hitachi, Huawei, IBM, SAP and Oracle, who are linking to projects being created on their platforms. The registry supports projects based on major digital ledger communities including Hyperledger, Quorum, Cosmos, Ethereum and Corda. The Hacera Network Registry is built on Hyperledger Fabric, and the code is open source. (Levi was Risk Manager for Hyperledger Fabric 1.0.)

Hacera Network Registry page

While early sponsors of the project include IBM and Hyperledger Fabric, Levi stressed the network is open to all. Blockchain projects can create information pages, not unlike a personal LinkedIn page, and Hacera verifies the data before adding it to the registry. There are currently more than 70 networks in the registry, and Hacera is hoping this is just the beginning.

Jerry Cuomo, VP of blockchain technologies at IBM, says for blockchain to grow it will require a way to register, lookup, join and transact across a variety of blockchain solutions. “As the number of blockchain consortiums, networks and applications continues to grow we need a means to list them and make them known to the world, in order to unleash the power of blockchain,” Cuomo told TechCrunch. Hacera is solving that problem.

This is exactly the kind of underlying infrastructure that the blockchain requires to expand as a technology. Cuomo certainly recognizes this.”We realized from the start that you cannot do blockchain on your own; you need a vibrant community and ecosystem of like-minded innovators who share the vision of helping to transform the way companies conduct business in the global economy,” he said.

Hacera understands that every cloud vendor wants people using their blockchain service. Yet they also see that to move the technology forward, there need to be some standard ways of conducting business, and they want to provide that layer. Levi has a broader vision for the network beyond pure discoverability. He hopes eventually to provide the means to share data through the registry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sep
11
2018
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Packet hauls in $25M Series B as customized cloud vision takes shape

In a world where large hyperscale companies like Amazon, Microsoft and Google dominate the public cloud, it would seem foolhardy for a startup to try to carve out a space, but Packet has an alternative customized cloud vision, and investors have taken notice. Today, the company announced a $25 million Series B led by Third Point Ventures.

An interesting mix of strategic and traditional investors joined the round including Battery Ventures, JA Mitsui Leasing and Samsung Next. Existing investors SoftBank Corp. and Dell Technologies Capital also participated. The company has now raised over $36 million.

The company also showed some signs of maturing by bringing in Ihab Tarazi as CTO and George Karidis as COO. Tarazi, who came over from Equinix, likes what he sees in Packet .

He says they offer several advantages over the public providers. First of all, customers can buy whatever hardware they want. “We offer the most diverse hardware options,” he said. That means they could get servers equipped with Intel, ARM, AMD or with specific nVidia GPUs in whatever configurations they want. By contrast public cloud providers tend to offer a more off-the-shelf approach. It’s cheap and abundant, but you have to take what they offer, and that doesn’t always work for every customer.

Another advantage Packet bring to the table, according to Tarazi, is that they support a range of open source software options, letting customers build whatever applications they want on top of that custom hardware.

They currently have 18 locations around the world, but Tarazi said they will soon be adding 50 more, also adding geographic diversity to the mix.

Finally, each customer gets their own bare metal offering, providing them with a single tenant private option inside Packet’s data center. This gives them the advantages of a privately run data center but where Packet handles all of the management, configuration and upkeep.

Tarazi doesn’t see Packet competing directly with the hyperscale players. Instead, he believes there will be room for both approaches. “I think you have a combination of both happening where people are trying to take advantage of all these hardware options to optimize performance across specific applications,” he explained.

The company, which launched in 2014, currently has about 50 employees with headquarters in New York City and offices in Palo Alto. They are also planning on opening an operations center in Dallas soon. The number should swell to 100 employees over the next year as they expand operations.

Sep
05
2018
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Forethought looks to reshape enterprise search with AI

Forethought, a 2018 TechCrunch Disrupt Battlefield participant, has a modern vision for enterprise search that uses AI to surface the content that matters most in the context of work. Its first use case involves customer service, but it has a broader ambition to work across the enterprise.

The startup takes a bit of an unusual approach to search. Instead of a keyword-driven experience we are used to with Google, Forethought uses an information retrieval model driven by artificial intelligence underpinnings that they then embed directly into the workflow, company co-founder and CEO Deon Nicholas told TechCrunch. They have dubbed their answer engine “Agatha.”

Much like any search product, it begins by indexing relevant content. Nicholas says they built the search engine to be able to index millions of documents at scale very quickly. It then uses natural language processing (NLP) and natural language understanding (NLU) to read the documents as a human would.

“We don’t work on keywords. You can ask questions without keywords and using synonyms to help understand what you actually mean, we can actually pull out the correct answer [from the content] and deliver it to you,” he said.

One of first use cases where they are seeing traction in is customer support. “Our AI, Agatha for Support, integrates into a company’s help desk software, either Zendesk, Salesforce Service Cloud, and then we [read] tickets and suggest answers and relevant knowledge base articles to help close tickets more efficiently,” Nicholas explained. He claims their approach has increased agent efficiency by 20-30 percent.

The plan is to eventually expand beyond the initial customer service use case into other areas of the enterprise and follow a similar path of indexing documents and embedding the solution into the tools that people are using to do their jobs.

When they reach beta or general release, they will operate as a cloud service where customers sign up, enter their Zendesk or Salesforce credentials (or whatever other products happen to be supported at that point) and the product begins indexing the content.

The founding team, mostly in their mid-20s, have had a passion for artificial intelligence since high school. In fact, Nicholas built an AI program to read his notes and quiz him on history while still in high school. Later, at the University of Waterloo, he published a paper on machine learning and had internships at Palantir, Facebook and Dropbox. His first job out of school was at Pure Storage. All these positions had a common thread of working with data and AI.

The company launched last year and they debuted Agatha in private beta four months ago. They currently have six companies participating, the first of which has been converted to a paying customer.

They have closed a pre-seed round of funding too, and although they weren’t prepared to share the amount, the investment was led by K9 Ventures. Village Global, Original Capital and other unnamed investors also participated.

Sep
05
2018
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McCarthyFinch AI services platform automates tedious legal tasks

McCarthyFinch sounds a bit like a law firm — and with good reason. The startup has developed an AI as a Service platform aimed at the legal profession. This week, it’s competing in the 2018 TechCrunch Disrupt Battlefield in San Francisco.

The company began life as a project at a leading New Zealand law firm, MinterEllisonRuddWatts. They wanted to look at how they could take advantage of AI to automate legal processes to make them more efficient, cost-effective and faster, according to company president Richard DeFrancisco.

“They were working on leveraging technology to become the law firm of the future, and they realized there were some pretty tremendous gaps,” he explained. They found a bunch of Ph.Ds working on artificial intelligence who worked with more than 30 lawyers over time to address those gaps by leveraging AI technology.

That internal project was spun out as a startup last year, emerging as an AI platform with 18 services. MinterEllison, along with New Zealand VC Goat Ventures, gave the fledgling company US$2.5 million in pre-seed money to get started.

The company looked at automating a lot of labor-intensive tasks related to legal document review and discovery such as document tagging. “Lawyers spend a lot of time tagging things with regards to what’s relevant and not relevant, and it’s not a good use of their time. We can go through millions of documents very quickly,” DeFrancisco said. He claims they can lower the time it takes to tag a set of documents in a lawsuit from weeks to minutes.

He says that one of their key differentiators is their use of natural language processing (NLP), which he says allows the company to understand language and nuance to interpret documents with a high level of accuracy, even when there are small data sets. Instead of requiring thousands of documents to train their models, which he says law firms don’t have time to do, they can begin to understand the gist of a case in as little as two or three documents with 90 percent accuracy, based on their tests.

They don’t actually want to sell their platform directly to law firms. Instead, they hope to market their artificial intelligence skills as a service to other software vendors with a legal bent who are looking to get smarter without building their own AI from scratch.

“What we are doing is going to technology service providers and talking to them about using our solution. We have restful APIs to integrate into their technology and do a Powered By-model,” DeFrancisco explained.

The startup currently has 10 trials going on. While he couldn’t name them, he did say that they include the largest law firm in Europe, largest global provider of legal information and the fastest growing SaaS company in history. They are also working on agreements with large systems integrators including Deloitte and Accenture to act as resellers of their solution.

While they are based in New Zealand, they plan to open a U.S. office in the Los Angeles area shortly after Disrupt. The engineering team will remain in New Zealand, and DeFrancisco will build the rest of the company in the U.S as it seeks to expand its reach. They also plan to start raising their next round of funding.


Sep
05
2018
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PoLTE lets you track devices using LTE signal

Meet PoLTE, a Dallas-based startup that wants to make location-tracking more efficient. Thanks to PoLTE’s software solution, logistics and shipment companies can much more easily track packages and goods. The startup is participating in TechCrunch’s Startup Battlefield at Disrupt SF.

If you want to use a connected device to track a package, you currently need a couple of things — a way to determine the location of the package, and a way to transmit this information over the air. The most straightforward way of doing it is by using a GPS chipset combined with a cellular chipset.

Systems-on-chip have made this easier as they usually integrate multiple modules. You can get a GPS signal and wireless capabilities in the same chip. While GPS is insanely accurate, it also requires a ton of battery just to position a device on a map. That’s why devices often triangulate your position using Wi-Fi combined with a database of Wi-Fi networks and their positions.

And yet, using GPS or Wi-Fi as well as an LTE modem doesn’t work if you want to track a container over multiple weeks or months. At some point, your device will run out of battery. Or you’ll have to spend a small fortune to buy a ton of trackers with big batteries.

PoLTE has developed a software solution that lets you turn data from the cell modem into location information. It works with existing modems and only requires a software update. The company has been working with Riot Micro for instance.

Behind the scene PoLTE’s magic happens on their servers. IoT devices don’t need to do any of the computing. They just need to send a tiny sample of LTE signals and PoLTE can figure out the location from their servers. Customers can then get this data using an API.

It only takes 300 bytes of data to get location information with precision of less than a few meters. You don’t need a powerful CPU, Wi-Fi, GPS or Bluetooth.

“We offer 80 percent cost reduction on IoT devices together with longer battery life,” CEO Ed Chao told me.

On the business side, PoLTE is using a software-as-a-service model. You can get started for free if you don’t need a lot of API calls. You then start paying depending on the size of your fleet of devices and the number of location requests.

It doesn’t really matter if the company finds a good business opportunity. PoLTE is a low-level technology company at heart. Its solution is interesting by itself and could help bigger companies that are looking for an efficient location-tracking solution.


Sep
05
2018
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German mobility startup Wunder Mobility raises $30M Series B

Wunder Mobility, the Hamburg-based startup that provides a range of mobility services, from carpooling to electric scooter rentals, has raised $30 million in Series B funding. The round was led by KCK Group, with participation from previous backer Blumberg Capital and other non-disclosed investors.

The German company says the investment will be used to expand the company’s engineering team in its home country and to establish an international B2B sales organisation. Currently, Wunder Mobility has 70 employees working from four offices in Asia, Germany, and South America. The aim is to add another 100 employees over the next twelve months in the areas of product development and B2B sales.

Founded in Hamburg in 2014, but now with an international focus, including emerging markets, Wunder Mobility supplies software, hardware, and operational services for various “future-oriented” mobility concepts. These span smart shuttles, fleet management and carpooling, reaching more than two million users in a dozen countries, including France, Germany, Spain, Brazil, India, and the Philippines.

“We are enabling communities on four continents to address the global traffic challenge and to deploy more sustainable mobility options faster by hosting a full-stack urban mobility tech platform,” explains founder and CEO Gunnar Froh.

“Our three product lines either allow private people to share empty seats with people headed in the same direction (Wunder Carpool), match professional drivers with passengers in 6-10 seater vans (Wunder Shuttle), or give travellers the option to rent vehicles (electric scooters, cars) by the minute (Wunder Fleet)”.

In recent months, transport companies as well as customers from the automotive industry in Japan, Europe and America have committed to using Wunder technology. The company is already processing around one million trips per month worldwide.

To that end, Froh describes Wunder Mobility’s typical B2C customers as the emerging middle class in mega cities such as Rio de Janeiro, Manila or Dehli.

“Many of these customers commute to work every day for several hours, are often first-time car owners and are open to sharing empty seats in their cars in order save on gas and car expenses,” he says.

On the B2B side, the startup’s customers are large OEMs, and public transit companies or suppliers, such as the Japanese conglomerate Marubeni. “We are working with Marubeni on ambitious new mobility services worldwide,” adds Froh.

Meanwhile, Wunder Mobility’s competitors are cited as Via in New York on the shuttle side. In Europe it perhaps competes most directly with Berlin’s Door2Door, and Vulog in Paris.

Sep
04
2018
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Encrypted cloud storage and collaboration company Tresorit secures €11.5M Series B

Tresorit, the Swiss-Hungarian company that provides end-to-end encrypted “file sync and sharing” for businesses, has closed €11.5 million in Series B financing. The round is led by European growth capital investor 3TS Capital Partners, alongside PortfoLion, a Central European venture capital.

A number of existing investors also participated, such as Andreas Kemi, an early investor in LogMeIn and co-founder of Scala Business Solutions, and Márton Anka, founder of LogMeIn. I also understand the round included some secondary funding, meaning not all of the cash has entered Tresorit’s balance sheet.

Operating in the enterprise cloud storage and collaboration market, Tresorit provides what it describes as zero-knowledge encryption technology and unique encryption key management. The high level pitch is that the company is able to offer on-premise equivalent security for businesses while offering the type of simple user experience we have come to expect in consumer apps. It serves more than 17,000 customers and says it has grown recurring revenue by an average of 3x every year in the last three years.

Meanwhile, Tresorit will use the new Series B funding to further accelerate this growth by tapping into what it says is rising demand for secure cloud solutions, in light of a plethora of high profiles security breaches seen at major enterprises in recent years. This will include beefing up its management team with the aim of scaling up marketing and sales, and establishing new channel partners.

“We are at an inflection point with our business as awareness regarding data protection and cybersecurity threats is getting stronger and demand is set to grow exponentially for our service in and outside of Europe,” says Tresorit founder and CEO Istvan Lam.

He also says there is large market potential in channeling traditional IT expenditure into the cloud, citing a recent Deloitte survey indicating that traditional IT expenditure still accounts for two-thirds of all IT spending, while only one-third goes towards IT-as-a-service.

“Many enterprises are holding back from migrating to the cloud due to security and privacy concerns. With security guaranteed by end-to-end encryption, more businesses can and will choose Tresorit’s cloud solution,” adds Lam.

To that end, Tresorit recently launched a Beta version of “Tresorit Send,” a standalone file sharing product that offers a secure and encrypted alternative to unreliable file transfer sites and email attachments. The idea, presumably, is for the product to act as a shop window for the Tresorit user experience and the company’s broader end-to-end encryption offering.

Aug
30
2018
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InVision deepens integrations with Atlassian

InVision today announced a newly expanded integration and strategic partnership with Atlassian that will let users of Confluence, Trello and Jira see and share InVision prototypes from within those programs.

Atlassian’s product suite is built around making product teams faster and more efficient. These tools streamline and organize communication so developers and designers can focus on getting the job done. Meanwhile, InVision’s collaboration platform has caught on to the idea that design is now a team sport, letting designers, engineers, executives and other shareholders be involved in the design process right from the get-go.

Specifically, the expanded integration allows designers to share InVision Studio designs and prototypes right within Jira, Trello and Confluence. InVision Studio was unveiled late last year, offering designers an alternative to Sketch and Adobe.

Given the way design and development teams use both product suites, it only makes sense to let these product suites communicate with one another.

As part of the partnership, Atlassian has also made a strategic financial investment in InVision, though the companies declined to share the amount.

Here’s what InVision CEO Clark Valberg had to say about it in a prepared statement:

In today’s digital world creating delightful, highly effective customer experiences has become a central business imperative for every company in the world. InVision and Atlassian represent the essential platforms for organizations looking to unleash the potential of their design and development teams. We’re looking forward to all the opportunities to deepen our relationship on both a product and strategic basis, and build toward a more cohesive digital product operating system that enables every organization to build better products, faster.

InVision has been working to position itself as the Salesforce of the design world. Alongside InVision and InVision Studio, the company has also built out an asset and app store, as well as launched a small fund to invest in design startups. In short, InVision wants the design ecosystem to revolve around it.

Considering that InVision has raised more than $200 million, and serves 4 million users, including 80 percent of the Fortune 500, it would seem that the strategy is paying off.

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