Apr
03
2020
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Zoom will enable waiting rooms by default to stop Zoombombing

Zoom is making some drastic changes to prevent rampant abuse as trolls attack publicly-shared video calls. Starting April 5th, it will require passwords to enter calls via Meeting ID, since these may be guessed or reused. Meanwhile, it will change virtual waiting rooms to be on by default so hosts have to manually admit attendees.

The changes could prevent “Zoombombing”, a term I coined two weeks ago to describe malicious actors entering Zoom calls and disrupting them by screensharing offensive imagery. New Zoombombing tactics have since emerged, like spamming the chat thread with terrible GIFs, using virtual backgrounds to spread hateful messages, or just screaming profanities and slurs. Anonymous forums have now become breeding grounds for organized trolling efforts to raid calls.

Just imagine the most frightened look on all these people’s faces. That’s what happened when Zoombombers attacked the call.

The FBI has issued a warning about the Zoombombing problem after children’s online classes, alcoholics anonymous meetings, and private business calls were invaded by trolls. Security researchers have revealed many ways that attackers can infiltrate a call.

The problems stem from Zoom being designed for trusted enterprise use cases rather than cocktail hours, yoga classes, roundtable discussions, and classes. But with Zoom struggling to scale its infrastructure as its daily user count has shot up from 10 million to 200 million over the past month due to coronavirus shelter-in-place orders, it’s found itself caught off guard.

Zoom CEO Eric Yuan apologized for the security failures this week and vowed changes. But at the time, the company merely said it would default to making screensharing host-only and keeping waiting rooms on for its K-12 education users. Clearly it determined that wasn’t sufficient, so now waiting rooms are on by default for everyone.

Zoom communicated the changes to users via an email sent this afternoon that explains “we’ve chosen to enable passwords on your meetings and turn on Waiting Rooms by default as additional security enhancements to protect your privacy.”

The company also explained that “For meetings scheduled moving forward, the meeting password can be found in the invitation. For instant meetings, the password will be displayed in the Zoom client. The password can also be found in the meeting join URL.” Some other precautions users can take include disabling file transfer, screensharing, or rejoining by removed attendees.

NEW YORK, NY – APRIL 18: Zoom founder Eric Yuan reacts at the Nasdaq opening bell ceremony on April 18, 2019 in New York City. The video-conferencing software company announced it’s IPO priced at $36 per share, at an estimated value of $9.2 billion. (Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images)

The shift could cause some hassle for users. Hosts will be distracted by having to approve attendees out of the waiting room while they’re trying to lead calls. Zoom recommends users resend invites with passwords attached for Meeting ID-based calls scheduled for after April 5th. Scrambling to find passwords could make people late to calls.

But that’s a reasonable price to pay to keep people from being scarred by Zoombombing attacks. The rash of trolling threatened to sour many people’s early experiences with the video chat platform just as it’s been having its breakout moment. A single call marred by disturbing pornography can leave a stronger impression than 100 peaceful ones with friends and colleagues. The old settings made sense when it was merely an enterprise product, but it needed to embrace its own change of identity as it becomes a fundamental utility for everyone.

Technologists will need to grow better at anticipating worst-case scenarios as their products go mainstream and are adapted to new use cases. Assuming everyone will have the best intentions ignores the reality of human nature. There’s always someone looking to generate a profit, score power, or cause chaos from even the smallest opportunity. Building development teams that include skeptics and realists, rather than just visionary idealists, could keep ensure products get safeguarded from abuse before rather than after a scandal occurs.

Apr
03
2020
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In the wake of COVID-19, UK puts up £20M in grants to develop resilience tech for critical industries

Most of the world — despite the canaries in the coal mine — was unprepared to cope with the coronavirus outbreak that’s now besieging us. Now, work is starting to get underway both to help manage what is going on now and better prepare us in the future. In the latest development, the UK government today announced that it will issue £20 million ($24.5 million) in grants of up to £50,000 each to startups and other businesses that are developing tools to improve resilience for critical industries — in other words, those that need to keep moving when something cataclysmic like a pandemic hits.

You can start your application here. Unlike a lot of other government efforts, this one is aimed at a quick start: you need to be ready to kick of your project using the grant no later than June 2020, but earlier is okay, too.

Awarded through Innovate UK, which part of UK Research and Innovation (itself a division of the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), the grants will be available to businesses of any size as long as they are UK-registered, and aim to cover a wide swathe of industries that form the core fabric of how society and the economy can continue to operate.

“The Covid-19 situation is not just a health emergency, but also one that effects the economy and society. With that in mind, Innovate UK has launched this rapid response competition today seeking smart ideas from innovators,” said Dr Ian Campbell Executive Chair, Innovate UK, in a statement. “These could be proposals to help the distribution of goods, educate children remotely, keep families digitally connected and even new ideas to stream music and entertainment. The UK needs a great national effort and Innovate UK is helping by unleashing the power of innovation for people and businesses in need.”

These include not just what are typically considered “critical” industries like healthcare and food production and distribution, but also those that are less tangible but equally important in keeping society running smoothly, like entertainment and wellbeing services:

  • community support services
  • couriers and delivery (rural and/or city based)
  • education and culture
  • entertainment (live entertainment, music, etc.)
  • financial services
  • food manufacture and processing
  • healthcare
  • hospitality
  • personal protection equipment
  • remote working
  • retail
  • social care
  • sport and recreation
  • transport
  • wellbeing

The idea is to introduce new technologies and processes that will support existing businesses and organizations, not use the funding to build new startups from scratch. Those getting the funding could already be businesses in these categories, or building tools to help companies that fall under these themes.

The grants were announced at a time where we are seeing a huge surge of companies step up to the challenge of helping communities and countries cope with COVID-19. That’s included not only those that already made medical supplies increase production, but a number of other businesses step in and try to help where they can, or recalibrate what they normally do to make their factories or other assets more useful. (For example, in the UK, Rolls Royce, Airbus and the Formula 1 team are all working on ventilators and other hospital equipment, a model of industry retooling that has been seen in many other countries, too.)

That trend is what helped to inspire this newest wave of non-equity grants.

“The response of researchers and businesses to the coronavirus outbreak have been remarkable,” said Science Minister Amanda Solloway in a statement. “This new investment will support the development of technologies that can help industries, communities and individuals adapt to new ways of working when situations like this, and other incidents, arise.”

The remit here is intentionally open-ended but will likely be shaped by some of the shortcomings and cracks that have been appearing in recent weeks while systems get severely stress-tested.

So, unsurprisingly, the sample innovations that UK Innovate cites appear to directly relate to that. They include things like technology to help respond to spikes in online consumer demand — every grocery service in the online and physical world has been overwhelmed by customer traffic, leading to sites crashing, people leaving stores disappointed at what they cannot find, and general panic. Or services for families to connect with and remotely monitor vulnerable relatives: while Zoom and the rest have seen huge surges in traffic, there are still too many people on the other side of the digital divide who cannot access or use these. And better education tools: again, there are thousands of edtech companies in the world, but in the UK at least, I wouldn’t say that the educational authorities had done even a small degree of disaster planning, leaving individual schools to scramble and figure out ways to keep teaching remotely that works for everyone (again not always easy with digital divides, safeguarding and other issues).

None of this can cure coronavirus or stop another pandemic from happening — there are plenty of others that are working very squarely on that now, too — but these are equally critical to get right to make sure that a health disaster doesn’t extend into a more permanent economic or societal one.

More information and applications are here.

Apr
02
2020
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Collibra nabs another $112.5M at a $2.3B valuation for its big data management platform

GDPR and other data protection and privacy regulations — as well as a significant (and growing) number of data breaches and exposées of companies’ privacy policies — have put a spotlight on not just the vast troves of data that businesses and other organizations hold on us, but also how they handle it. Today, one of the companies helping them cope with that data in a better and legal way is announcing a huge round of funding to continue that work. Collibra, which provides tools to manage, warehouse, store and analyse data troves, is today announcing that it has raised $112.5 million in funding, at a post-money valuation of $2.3 billion.

The funding — a Series F, from the looks of it — represents a big bump for the startup, which last year raised $100 million at a valuation of just over $1 billion. This latest round was co-led by ICONIQ Capital, Index Ventures, and Durable Capital Partners LP, with previous investors CapitalG (Google’s growth fund), Battery Ventures, and Dawn Capital also participating.

Collibra was originally a spin-out from Vrije Universiteit in Brussels, Belgium and today it works with some 450 enterprises and other large organizations. Customers include Adobe, Verizon (which owns TechCrunch), insurers AXA and a number of healthcare providers. Its products cover a range of services focused around company data, including tools to help customers comply with local data protection policies and store it securely, and tools (and plug-ins) to run analytics and more.

These are all features and products that have long had a place in enterprise big data IT, but they have become increasingly more used and in-demand both as data policies have expanded, as security has become more of an issue, and as the prospects of what can be discovered through big data analytics have become more advanced.

With that growth, many companies have realised that they are not in a position to use and store their data in the best possible way, and that is where companies like Collibra step in.

“Most large organizations are in data chaos,” Felix Van de Maele, co-founder and CEO, previously told us. “We help them understand what data they have, where they store it and [understand] whether they are allowed to use it.”

As you would expect with a big IT trend, Collibra is not the only company chasing this opportunity. Competitors include Informatica, IBM, Talend, and Egnyte, among a number of others, but the market position of Collibra, and its advanced technology, is what has continued to impress investors.

“Durable Capital Partners invests in innovative companies that have significant potential to shape growing industries and build larger companies,” said Henry Ellenbogen, founder and chief investment officer for Durable Capital Partners LP, in a statement (Ellenbogen is formerly an investment manager a T. Rowe Price, and this is his first investment in Collibra under Durable). “We believe Collibra is a leader in the Data Intelligence category, a space that could have a tremendous impact on global business operations and a space that we expect will continue to grow as data becomes an increasingly critical asset.”

“We have a high degree of conviction in Collibra and the importance of the company’s mission to help organizations benefit from their data,” added Matt Jacobson, general partner at ICONIQ Capital and Collibra board member, in his own statement. “There is an increasing urgency for enterprises to harness their data for strategic business decisions. Collibra empowers organizations to use their data to make critical business decisions, especially in uncertain business environments.”

Apr
01
2020
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Okta launches Lifecycle Management Workflows to make building identity-centric processes easy

Okta, the popular identity and access management service, today used its annual (and now virtual) user conference to launch Lifecycle Management Workflows, a new tool that helps IT teams build and manage IFTTT-like automated processes with the help of an easy to use graphical interface.

The new service is an extension of Okta’s existing automation tools. But the key here is that IT teams and developers can now easily build complex identity-centric workflows across a wide range of applications. With this, these teams can easily automate an onboarding process, where setting up a new Okta account also immediately kicks off processes on third-party services like Box, Salesforce, ServiceNow and Slack to set up accounts there. The same goes for offboarding workflows and username creation. A lot of companies still do this manually, which is not just a hassle but also error-prone.

“Adopting more technology is incredibly beneficial for enterprises today, but complexity is a significant side effect of a changing technology ecosystem and workforce. There is no better example of the potential challenges it can create than with lifecycle management,” said Diya Jolly, chief product officer at Okta. “Okta’s vision of enabling any organization to use any technology goes deeper than just access; it’s about improving how organizations use technology. Okta Lifecycle Management Workflows improves the efficiency and security of enterprises through its simple user experience and broad applicability, keeping organizations secure and efficient without requiring the complexity of writing code.”

Okta, of course, had lifecycle management features before, but now it is also putting its acquisition of Azuqua to work and using that company’s graphical interface and technology for making it easier to create these automation processes. And while the focus right now is on processes like provisioning and de-provisioning accounts, the long-term plan is to expand Workflows with support for more identity processes.

As Okta also stresses, administrators can also manage very granular access across the supported third-party tools like assigning territories in Salesforce or access to specific group channels in Slack, for example. For temporary employees, admins can also set up automatic de-provisioning workflows that revoke access to some tools but maybe leave access to payroll services open for a while longer. There are also built-in tools for automatically managing conflicts when two people have the same name.

“Millions of people rely on Slack every day to make their working lives simpler, more pleasant and more productive,” said Tamar Yehoshua, chief product officer at Slack, one of the early adopters of this service. “Okta Lifecycle Management Workflows has significantly increased efficiency for us by automating the provisioning and de-provisioning of users from applications in our environment, without us ever having to write a line of code.”

This new feature is part of Okta’s new Platform Services, which the company also debuted today and which currently consists of core technologies like the Okta Identity Engine, Directories Integrations, Insights, Workflow and Devices. The core idea behind Platform Services is to give Okta users the flexibility to manage their unique identity use cases but also to give Okta itself a platform on which to innovate. One other new product that sits on top of the platform is Okta Fastpass, for example, which allows for passwordless authentication on any device.

Mar
31
2020
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Xerox drops $34B HP takeover bid amid COVID-19 uncertainty

Xerox announced today that it would be dropping its hostile takeover bid of HP. The drama began last fall with a flurry of increasingly angry letters between the two companies, and confrontational actions from Xerox, including an attempt to take over the HP board that had rejected its takeover overtures.

All that came crashing to the ground today when Xerox officially announced it was backing down amid worldwide economic uncertainty related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The company also indicated it was dropping its bid to take over the board.

“The current global health crisis and resulting macroeconomic and market turmoil caused by COVID-19 have created an environment that is not conducive to Xerox continuing to pursue an acquisition of HP Inc. (NYSE: HPQ) (‘HP’). Accordingly, we are withdrawing our tender offer to acquire HP and will no longer seek to nominate our slate of highly qualified candidates to HP’s Board of Directors,” the company said in a statement.

As for HP, it said it was strong financially and would continue to drive shareholder value, regardless of the outcome:

We remain firmly committed to driving value for HP shareholders. HP is a strong company with market leading positions across Personal Systems, Print, and 3D Printing & Digital Manufacturing. We have a healthy cash position and balance sheet that enable us to navigate unanticipated challenges such as the global pandemic now before us, while preserving strategic optionality for the future.

The bid never made a lot of sense. Xerox is a much smaller company, with a market cap of around $4 billion compared with HP with a market cap of almost $25 billion. It was truly a case of the canary trying to eat the cat.

Yet Xerox continued to insist today, even while admitting defeat, that it would have been better to combine the two companies, something HP never felt was realistic. HP questioned the ability of Xerox to come up with such a large sum of money, and, if it did, would it be financially stable enough to pull off a deal like this.

Yet even as recently as last month, Xerox increased the bid from $22 to $24 per share in an effort to entice shareholders to bite. It had previously threatened to bypass the board and go directly to shareholders before attempting to replace the board altogether.

HP didn’t like the hostility inherent in the bid or any of the subsequent moves Xerox made to try to force a deal. Last month, HP offered its investors billions in give-backs in an effort to convince them to reject the Xerox bid. As it turned out, the drama simply fizzled out in the middle of a worldwide crisis.

Mar
31
2020
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Palo Alto Networks to acquire CloudGenix for $420M

Palo Alto Networks announced today that it has an agreement in place to acquire CloudGenix for $420 million.

CloudGenix delivers a software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN) that helps customers stay secure by setting policies to enforce compliance with company security protocols across distributed locations. This is especially useful for companies with a lot of branch offices or a generally distributed workforce, something just about everyone is dealing with at the moment as we find millions suddenly working from home.

Nikesh Arora, chairman and CEO at Palo Alto Networks, says that this acquisition should contribute to Palo Alto’s “secure access service edge,” or SASE solutions, as it is known in industry parlance.

“As the enterprise becomes more distributed, customers want agile solutions that just work, and that applies to both security and networking. Upon the close of the transaction, the combined platform will provide customers with a complete SASE offering that is best-in-class, easy to deploy, cloud-managed, and delivered as a service,” Arora said in a statement.

CloudGenix was founded 2013 by Kumar Ramachandran, Mani Ramasamy and Venkataraman Anand, all of whom will be joining the company as part of the deal. It has 250 customers across a variety of verticals. The company has raised almost $100 million, according to PitchBook data.

Palo Alto Networks has been on an acquisitive streak. Going back to February 2019, this represents the sixth company it has acquired, to the tune of more than $1.6 billion overall.

The acquisition is expected to close in the fourth quarter, subject to customary regulatory approvals.

Mar
31
2020
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Amid shift to remote work, application performance monitoring is IT’s big moment

In recent weeks, millions have started working from home, putting unheard-of pressure on services like video conferencing, online learning, food delivery and e-commerce platforms. While some verticals have seen a marked reduction in traffic, others are being asked to scale to new heights.

Services that were previously nice to have are now necessities, but how do organizations track pressure points that can add up to a critical failure? There is actually a whole class of software to help in this regard.

Monitoring tools like Datadog, New Relic and Elastic are designed to help companies understand what’s happening inside their key systems and warn them when things may be going sideways. That’s absolutely essential as these services are being asked to handle unprecedented levels of activity.

At a time when performance is critical, application performance monitoring (APM) tools are helping companies stay up and running. They also help track root causes should the worst case happen and they go down, with the goal of getting going again as quickly as possible.

We spoke to a few monitoring vendor CEOs to understand better how they are helping customers navigate this demand and keep systems up and running when we need them most.

IT’s big moment

Mar
31
2020
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Axonius nabs $58M for its cybersecurity-focused network asset management platform

As companies get to grips with a wider (and, lately, more enforced) model of remote working, a startup that provides a platform to help track and manage all the devices that are accessing networked services — an essential component of cybersecurity policy — has raised a large round of growth funding. Axonius, a New York-based company that lets organizations manage and track the range of computing-based assets that are connecting to their networks — and then plug that data into some 100 different cybersecurity tools to analyse it — has picked up a Series C of $58 million, money it will use to continue investing in its technology (its R&D offices are in Tel Aviv, Israel) and expanding its business overall.

The round is being led by prolific enterprise investor Lightspeed Venture Partners, with previous backers OpenView, Bessemer Venture Partners, YL Ventures, Vertex, and WTI also participating in the round.

Dean Sysman, CEO and Co-Founder at Axonius, said in an interview that the company is not disclosing its valuation, but for some context, the company has now raised $95 million, and PitchBook noted that in its last round, a $20 million Series B in August 2019, it had a post-money valuation of $110 million.

The company has had a huge boost in business in the last year, however — especially right now, not a surprise for a company that helps enable secure remote working, at a time when many businesses have gone remote in an effort to follow government policies encouraging social distancing to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. As of this month, Axonius has seen customer growth increase 910% compared to a year ago.

Sysman said that this round had been in progress for some time ahead of the announcement being made, but the final stages of closing it were all done remotely last week, which has become something of a new normal in venture deals at the moment.

“We’ve all been staying at home for the last few weeks,” he said in an interview. “The crisis is not helping with deals. It’s making everything more complex for sure. But specifically for us there wasn’t a major difference in the process.”

Sysman said that he first thought of the idea for Axonius when at a previous organization — his experience includes several years with the Israeli Defense Forces, as well as time at a startup called Integrity Project, acquired by Mellanox — where he realised the organization itself, and all of its customers, never actually knew how many devices accessed their network, which is a crucial first step in being able to secure any network.

“Every CIO I met I would ask, do you know how many devices you have on your network? And the answer was either ‘I don’t know,’ or big range, which is just another way of saying, ‘I don’t know,’” Sysman said. “It’s not because they’re not doing their jobs but because it’s just a tough problem.”

Part of the reason, he added, is because IP addresses are not precise enough, and de-duplicating and correlating numbers is a gargantuan task, especially in the current climate of people using not just a multitude of work-provided devices, but a number of their own.

That was what prompted Sysman and his cofounders Ofri Shur and Avidor Bartov to build the algorithms that formed the basis of what Axonius is today. It’s not based on behavioural data as some cybersecurity systems are, but something that Sysman describes as “a deterministic algorithm that knows and builds a unique set of identifiers that can be based on anything, including timestamp, or cloud information. We try to use every piece of data we can.”

The resulting information becomes a very valuable asset in itself that can then be used across a number of other pieces of security software to search for inconsistencies in use (bringing in the behavioural aspect of cybersecurity) or other indicators of malicious activity — specifically following the company’s motto, “Know Your Assets, Identify Gaps, and Automate Security Policy Enforcement” — even as data itself may seem a little pedestrian on its own.

“We like to call ourselves the Toyota Camry of cybersecurity,” Sysman said. “It’s nothing exotic in a world of cutting-edge AI and advanced tech. However it’s a fundamental thing that people are struggling with, and it is what everyone needs. Just like the Camry.”

For now, Axonius is following the route of providing a platform that can interconnect with a number of other security products — currently numbering around 100 — rather than building those tools itself, or acquiring them to bring them in house. That could be one option for how potentially it might evolve over time, however.

For now, the idea of being agnostic to those specific tools and providing a platform just to identify and manage assets is a formula that has already seen a lot of traction with customers — which include companies like Schneider Electric, the New York Times, and Landmark Medical, among others — as well as investors.

“Any enterprise CISO’s top priority, with unwavering consistency, is asset discovery and management. You can’t protect a device if you don’t know it exists.” said Arsham Menarzadeh, general partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners, in a statement. “Axonius integrates into any security and management product to show customers their full asset landscape and automate policy enforcement. Their integrated approach and remediation capabilities position them to become the operating system and single source of truth for security and IT teams. We’re excited to play a part in helping them scale.”

Mar
31
2020
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DataStax launches Kubernetes operator for open source Cassandra database

Today, DataStax, the commercial company behind the open source Apache Cassandra project, announced an open source Kubernetes operator developed by the company to run a cloud native version of the database.

When Sam Ramji, chief strategy officer at DataStax, came over from Google last year, the first thing he did was take the pulse of customers, partners and community members around Kubernetes and Cassandra, and they found there was surprisingly limited support.

While some companies had built Kubernetes support themselves, DataStax lacked one to call its own. Given that Kubernetes was born inside Google, and the company has widely embraced the notion of containerization in general, Ramji wanted there to be an operator specifically designed by the company to give customers a general starting point with Kubernetes.

“What’s special about the Kube operator that we’re offering to the community as an option — one of many — is that we have done the work to generalize the operator to Cassandra wherever it might be implemented,” Ramji told TechCrunch.

Ramji says that most companies that have created their own Kubernetes operators tend to specialize for their own particular requirements, which is fine, but as the company built on top of Cassandra, they wanted to come up with a general version that could appeal broader range of use cases.

In Kubernetes, the operator is how the DevOps team packages, manages and deploys an application, giving it the instructions it needs to run correctly. DataStax has created this operator specifically to run Cassandra with a broad set of assumptions.

Cassandra is a powerful database because it stays running when many others fall down. As such it is used by companies as varied as Apple, eBay and Netflix to run their key services. This new Kubernetes implementation will enable anyone who wishes to run Cassandra as a containerized application, helping push it into a modern development realm.

The company also announced a free help service for engineers trying to cope with increased usage on their databases due to COVID-19. They are calling the program, “Keep calm and Cassandra on.” The engineers charged with keeping systems like Cassandra running are called Site Reliability Engineers or SREs.

“The new service is completely free SRE-to-SRE support calls. So our SREs are taking calls from Apache Cassandra users anywhere in the world, no matter what version they’re using if they’re trying to figure out how to keep it up to stand up to the increased demand,” Ramji explained.

DataStax was founded in 2010 and has raised over $190 million, according to PitchBook data.

Mar
30
2020
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SMB loans platform Kabbage to furlough a ‘significant’ number of staff, close office in Bangalore

Another tech unicorn is feeling the pinch of doing business during the coronavirus pandemic. Today, Kabbage, the SoftBank-backed lending startup that uses machine learning to evaluate loan applications for small and medium businesses, is furloughing a “significant number” of its U.S. team of 500 employees, according to a memo sent to staff and seen by TechCrunch, in the wake of drastically changed business conditions for the company. It is also completely closing down its office in Bangalore, India, and executive staff is taking a “considerable” pay cut.

The announcement is effective immediately and was made to staff earlier today by way of a video conference call, as the whole company is currently remote working in the current conditions.

Kabbage is not disclosing the full number of staff that are being affected by the news (if you know, you can contact us anonymously). It’s also not putting a time frame on how long the furlough will last, but it’s going to continue providing benefits to affected employees. The intention is to bring them back on when things shift again.

“We realize this is a shock to everyone. No business in the world could have prepared for what has transpired these past few weeks and everyone has been impacted,” co-founder and CEO Rob Frohwein wrote in the memo. “The economic fallout of this virus has rattled the small business community to which Kabbage is directly linked. It’s painful to say goodbye to our friends and colleagues in Bangalore and to furlough a number of U.S. team members. While the duration of the furlough remains uncertain, please bear in mind that the full intention of furloughing is temporary. We simply have no clear idea of how long quarantining or its reverberations in the economy will last.”

Kabbage’s predicament underscores the complicated and stressful calculus faced by tech companies built around providing services to SMBs, or fintech (or both, as in the case of Kabbage).

SMBs are struggling right now in the U.S.: many operate on very short terms when it comes to finances, and closing their businesses (or seeing a drastic reduction in custom) means they will not have the cash to last 10 days without revenue, “and we’re already well past that window,” Frohwein noted in his memo.

In Kabbage’s case, that means not only are SMBs not able to be evaluated and approved for normal loans at the moment, but SMBs that already have loans out are likely facing delinquencies.

The decision to furlough is hard but in relative terms it’s good news: it was made at the eleventh hour after a period when Kabbage was considering layoffs instead.

The company has raised hundreds of millions of dollars in equity and debt, and it was in a healthy state before the coronavirus outbreak. The memo notes that the “board and our top investors are aware of the challenges we are facing and have committed to helping us through this period,” although it doesn’t specify what that means in terms of financial support for the business, and whether that support would have been there for the business as-is.

The shift to furlough from layoffs came in the wake of an announcement yesterday by Steven Mnuchin, the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, who clarified that “any FDIC bank, any credit union, any fintech lender will be authorized” to make loans to small businesses as a part of the U.S. government’s CARE Act, the giant stimulus package that included nearly $350 billion in loan guarantees for small businesses.

While that provides much-needed relief for these businesses, the implementation of it — the Small Business Administration has already received nearly 1 million claims for disaster-relief loans since the crisis started — has been and is going to be a challenge.

That effectively opens up an opportunity for Kabbage and companies like it to revive and reorient some of its business. (Its USP was always that the AI it uses, which draws on a number of different sources of online data for the business, means a more creative, faster and more accurate assessment of loan applications than what traditional banks typically provide.) Kabbage said it is in “deep discussions” with the Treasury Department, the White House and the Small Business Administration to help expedite applications for aid.

While loans still make up the majority of Kabbage’s business, the company has been making a move to diversify its services, and in recent times it has made acquisitions and launched new services around market intelligence insights and payments services. While there has certainly been a jump in e-commerce, overall the tightening economy will have a chilling effect on the wider market, and it will be worth seeing what happens with other tech companies that focus on loans, as well as adjacent financial services.

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