Rockset announces $40M Series B as data analytics solution gains momentum

Rockset, a cloud-native analytics company, announced a $40 million Series B investment today led by Sequoia with help from Greylock, the same two firms that financed its Series A. The startup has now raised a total of $61.5 million, according to the company.

As co-founder and CEO Venkat Venkataramani told me at the time of the Series A in 2018, there is a lot of manual work involved in getting data ready to use and it acts as a roadblock to getting to real insight. He hoped to change that with Rockset.

“We’re building out our service with innovative architecture and unique capabilities that allows full-featured fast SQL directly on raw data. And we’re offering this as a service. So developers and data scientists can go from useful data in any shape, any form to useful applications in a matter of minutes. And it would take months today,” he told me in 2018.

In fact, “Rockset automatically builds a converged index on any data — including structured, semi-structured, geographical and time series data — for high-performance search and analytics at scale,” the company explained.

It seems to be resonating with investors and customers alike as the company raised a healthy B round and business is booming. Rockset supplied a few metrics to illustrate this. For starters, revenue grew 290% in the last quarter. While they didn’t provide any foundational numbers for that percentage growth, it is obviously substantial.

In addition, the startup reports adding hundreds of new users, again not nailing down any specific numbers, and queries on the platform are up 313%. Without specifics, it’s hard to know what that means, but that seems like healthy growth for an early stage startup, especially in this economy.

Mike Vernal, a partner at Sequoia, sees a company helping to get data to work faster than other solutions, which require a lot of handling first. “Rockset, with its innovative new approach to indexing data, has quickly emerged as a true leader for real-time analytics in the cloud. I’m thrilled to partner with the company through its next phase of growth,” Vernal said in a statement.

The company was founded in 2016 by the creators of RocksDB. The startup had previously raised a $3 million seed round when they launched the company and the $18.5 million A round in 2018.


By Ron Miller

Lightyear scores $3.7M seed to digitize networking infrastructure procurement

Lightyear, a New York City startup that wants to make it easier for large companies to procure networking infrastructure like internet and SD-WAN, announced a $3.7 million seed round today. While it was at it, the company announced that it was emerging from stealth and offering its solution in public beta.

Amplo led the round with help from Susa Ventures, Ludlow Ventures, Mark Cuban, David Adelman and Operator Partners.

Company CEO and co-founder Dennis Thankachan says that while so much technology buying has moved online, networking technology procurement still involves phone calls for price quotes that could sometimes take weeks to get. Thankachan says that when he was working at a hedge fund specializing in telecommunications he witnessed this first hand and saw an opportunity for a startup to fill the void.

“Our objective is to make the process of buying telecom infrastructure, kind of like buying socks on Amazon, providing a real consumer-like experience to the enterprise and empowering buyers with data because information asymmetry and a lack of transparent data on what things should cost, where providers are available, and even what’s existing already in your network is really at the core of the problem for why this is frustrating for enterprise buyers,” Thankachan explained.

The company offers the ability to simply select a service and find providers in your area with costs and contract terms if it’s a simple purchase, but he recognizes that not all enterprise purchases will be that simple and the startup is working to digitize the corporate buying process into the Lightyear platform.

To provide the data that he spoke of, the company has already formed relationships with over 400 networking providers worldwide. The pricing model is in flux, but could involve a monthly subscription or a percentage of the sale. That is something they are working out, but they are using the latter during Beta testing to keep the product free for now.

The company already has 10 employees and flush with the new investment, it plans to double that in the next year. Thankachan says as he builds the company, particularly as a person of color himself, he takes diversity and inclusion extremely seriously and sees it as part of the company’s core values.

“Trying to enable people from non-traditional backgrounds to succeed will be really important to us, and I think providing economic opportunity to people that traditionally would not have been afforded several aspects of economic opportunity is the biggest ways to fix the opportunity gap in this country,” he said.

The company, which launched a year ago has basically grown up during the pandemic. That means he has yet to meet any of his customers or investors in person, but he says he has learned to adapt to that approach. While he is based in NYC, his investors are are in the Bay Area and so that remote approach will remain in place for the time being.

As he makes his way from seed to a Series A, he says that it’s up to him to stay focused and execute with the goal of showing product-market fit across a variety of company types. He believes if the startup can do this, it will have the data to take to investors when it’s time to take the next step.


By Ron Miller

Vimeo introduces free video messaging with Vimeo Record

Vimeo Record is a new product that allows teams to communicate through video messages.

Vimeo CEO Anjali Sud said that while the pandemic has prompted many offices to embrace digital communication tools like Zoom, “There’s a whole host of work communication that needs asynchronous messaging.”

Besides, sometimes a video can get your message across more effectively, rather than “scheduling another call or writing a long email or Slack thread.”

Sud said that since she became CEO of the IAC-owned video platform in 2017, Vimeo has shifted its focus from being a destination site that competed with YouTube to providing video tools for businesses: “We really want to be the single corporate video solution for the modern organization.”

Vimeo Record is an extension of that strategy. During the pandemic, Vimeo’s revenue has already been growing 40% to 50% year-over-year each month, but Sud said this product been in the works since before then, reflecting the long-term trend that “more and more teams are distributed, and they need ways to communicate.”

So Vimeo created a Google Chrome extension that allows users to easily record their screen or their face, share and comment on those recordings, organize them into folders with different permissions and receive notifications when someone watches.

Sud said around 400 companies have already been beta testing the feature. Teams are using it to review design and code, to work together to resolve customer support tickets, to share messages from company leadership and more.

Asked whether there’s been a learning curve for recording effective video messages, Sud said, “The biggest barrier is just making it not feel intimidating. The easiest way [to do that] is for people to receive a video message themselves. If a colleague sends you something that’s not perfect, it lowers that intimidation factor.”

She also noted that Vimeo Record fits into the company’s freemium business model. Anyone can send unlimited messages for free, but Vimeo will charge for premium features like the ability to host videos on a third-party, custom-branded video platform.

“My team is using Vimeo Record to share product demos internally and to give our customers a preview of what’s launching soon,” said Mailchimp’s director of product marketing Trevor Wolfe in a statement. “We love it! It adds a personal touch that you just can’t replicate with email or a chatroom message.”


By Anthony Ha

AMD grabs Xilinx for $35 billion as chip industry consolidation continues

The chip industry consolidation dance continued this morning as AMD has entered into an agreement to buy Xilinx for $35 billion, giving the company access to customers requiring chips with high performance workloads like artificial intelligence.

AMD sees this deal as combining two companies that complement each other’s strengths without cannibalizing its own markets. CEO Lisa Su believes the acquisition will help make her company the high performance chip leader.

“By combining our world-class engineering teams and deep domain expertise, we will create an industry leader with the vision, talent and scale to define the future of high performance computing,” Su said in a statement.

In an article earlier this year, TechCrunch’s Darrell Etherington described Xilinx new satellite focused chips as offering a couple of industry firsts:

It’s the first 20nm process that’s rated for use in space, offering power and efficiency benefits, and it’s the first to offer specific support for high performance machine learning through neural network-based inference acceleration.

What’s more, the chips are designed to handle radiation and the rigors of launch, using a thick ceramic packaging.

In a call with analysts this morning, Su pointed to these kinds of specialized workloads as one of Xilinx’s strengths. “Xilinx has also built deep strategic partnerships across a diverse set of growing markets in 5G communications, data center, automotive, industrial, aerospace and defense. Xilinx is establishing themselves as a strategic technology partner to a broad set of industry leaders,” she said.

In a nod to shareholders of both companies, she said, “This is truly a compelling combination that will create significant value for all stakeholders, including AMD and Xilinx shareholders who will benefit from the future growth and upside potential of the combined company.”

So far stockholders aren’t impressed with AMD stock down over 4% in pre-trading, while Xilinx stock is up over 11% in pre-trading.  Xilinx has a market cap over $28 billion compared with AMD’s $96.5 billion, creating a massive combined company.

This deal comes on the heels of last month’s ARM acquisition by Nvidia for $40 billion. With two deals in less than two months totaling $75 million, the industry is looking at the bigger is better theory. Meanwhile Intel took a hit earlier this month after its earnings report showed weakness in its data center business.

While the deal has been approved by both company’s boards of directors, it still has to pass muster with shareholders and regulators, and is not expected to close until the end of next year.

When that happens Su will be chairman of the combined company, while Xilinx president and CEO, Victor Peng, will join AMD as president, where he will be in charge of the Xilinx business and strategic growth initiatives.


By Ron Miller

SimilarWeb raises $120M for its AI-based market intelligence platform for sites and apps

Israeli startup SimilarWeb has made a name for itself with an AI-based platform that lets sites and apps track and understand traffic not just on their own sites, but those of its competitors. Now, it’s taking the next step in its growth. The startup has raised $120 million, funding it will use to continue expanding its platform both through acquisitions and investing in its own R&D, with a focus on providing more analytics services to larger enterprises alongside its current base of individuals and companies of all sizes that do business on the web.

Co-led by ION Crossover Partners and Viola Growth, the round doubles the total amount that the startup has raised to date to $240 million. Or Offer, SimilarWeb’s founder and CEO, said in an interview that it was not disclosing its valuation this time around except to say that his company is now “playing in the big pool.” It counts more than half of the Fortune 100 as customers, with Walmart, P&G, Adidas and Google, among them.

For some context, it hit an $800 million valuation in its last equity round, in 2017.

SimilarWeb’s technology competes with other analytics and market intelligence providers ranging from the likes of Nielsen and ComScore through to the Apptopias of the world in that, at its most basic level, it provides a dashboard to users that provides insights into where people are going on desktop and mobile. Where it differs, Offer said, is in how it gets to its information, and what else it’s doing in the process.

For starters, it focuses not just how many people are visiting, but also a look into what is triggering the activity — the “why”, as it were — behind the activity. Using a host of AI tech such as machine learning algorithms and deep learning — like a lot of tech out of Israel, it’s being built by people with deep expertise in this area — Offer says that SimilarWeb is crunching data from a number of different sources to extrapolate its insights.

He declined to give much detail on those sources but told me that he cheered the arrival of privacy gates and cookie lists for helping ferret out, expose and sometimes eradicate some of the more nefarious “analytics” services out there, and said that SimilarWeb has not been affected at all by that swing to more data protection, since it’s not an analytics service, strictly speaking, and doesn’t sniff data on sights in the same way. It’s also exploring widening its data pool, he added:

“We are always thinking about what new signals we could use,” he said. “Maybe they will include CDNs. But it’s like Google with its rankings in search. It’s a never ending story to try to get the highest accuracy in the world.”

The global health pandemic has driven a huge amount of activity on the web this year, with people turning to sites and apps not just for leisure — something to do while staying indoors, to offset all the usual activities that have been cancelled — but for business, whether it be consumers using e-commerce services for shopping, or workers taking everything online and to the cloud to continue operating.

That has also seen a boost of business for all the various companies that help the wheels turn on that machine, SimilarWeb included.

“Consumer behavior is changing dramatically, and all companies need better visibility,” said Offer. “It started with toilet paper and hand sanitizer, then moved to desks and office chairs, but now it’s not just e-commerce but everything. Think about big banks, whose business was 70% offline and is now 70-80% online. Companies are building and undergoing a digital transformation.”

That in turn is driving more people to understand how well their web presence is working, he said, with the basic big question being: “What is my marketshare, and how does that compare to my competition? Everything is about digital visibility, especially in times of change.”

Like many other companies, SimilarWeb did see an initial dip in business, Offer said, and to that end the company has taken on some debt as part of Israel’s Paycheck Protection Program, to help safeguard some jobs that needed to be furloughed. But he added that most of its customers prior to the pandemic kicking off are now back, along with customers from new categories that hadn’t been active much before, like automotive portals.

That change in customer composition is also opening some doors of opportunity for the company. Offer noted that in recent months, a lot of large enterprises — which might have previously used SimilarWeb’s technology indirectly, via a consultancy, for example — have been coming to the company direct.

“We’ve started a new advisory service [where] our own expert works with a big customer that might have more deep and complex questions about the behaviour we are observing. They are questions all big businesses have right now.” The service sounds like a partly-educational effort, teaching companies that are not necessarily digital-first be more proactive, and partly consulting.

New customer segments, and new priorities in the world of business, are two of the things that drove this round, say investors.

“SimilarWeb was always an incredible tool for any digital professional,” said Gili Iohan of ION Crossover Partners, in a statement. “But over the last few months it has become apparent that traffic intelligence — the unparalleled data and digital insight that SimilarWeb offers — is an absolute essential for any company that wants to win in the digital world.”

As for acquisitions, SimilarWeb has historically made these to accelerate its technical march. For example, in 2015 it acquired Quettra to move deeper into mobile analytics and it acquired Swayy to move into content discovery insights (key for e-commerce intelligence). Offer would not go into too much detail about what it has identified as a further target but given that there are quite a lot of companies building tech in this area currently, that there might be a case for some consolidation around bigger platforms to combine some of the features and functionality. Offer said that it was looking at “companies with great data and digital intelligence, with a good product. There are a lot of opportunities right now on the table.”

The company will also be doing some hiring, with the plan to be to add 200 more people globally by January (it has around 600 employees today).

“Since we joined the company three years ago, SimilarWeb has executed a strategic transformation from a general-purpose measurement platform to vertical-based solutions, which has significantly expanded its market opportunity and generated immense customer value,” said Harel Beit-On, Founder and General Partner at Viola Growth, in a statement. “With a stellar management team of accomplished executives, we believe this round positions the company to own the digital intelligence category, and capitalize on the acceleration of the digital era.”


By Ingrid Lunden

DataFleets keeps private data useful, and useful data private, with federated learning and $4.5M seed

As you may already know, there’s a lot of data out there, and some of it could actually be pretty useful. But privacy and security considerations often put strict limitations on how it can be used or analyzed. DataFleets promises a new approach by which databases can be safely accessed and analyzed without the possibility of privacy breaches or abuse — and has raised a $4.5 million seed round to scale it up.

To work with data, you need to have access to it. If you’re a bank, that means transactions and accounts; if you’re a retailer, that means inventories and supply chains, and so on. There are lots of insights and actionable patterns buried in all that data, and it’s the job of data scientists and their ilk to draw them out.

But what if you can’t access the data? After all, there are many industries where it is not advised or even illegal to do so, such as in health care. You can’t exactly take a whole hospital’s medical records, give them to a data analysis firm, and say “sift through that and tell me if there’s anything good.” These, like many other data sets, are too private or sensitive to allow anyone unfettered access. The slightest mistake — let alone abuse — could have serious repercussions.

In recent years a few technologies have emerged that allow for something better, though: analyzing data without ever actually exposing it. It sounds impossible, but there are computational techniques for allowing data to be manipulated without the user ever actually having access to any of it. The most widely used one is called homomorphic encryption, which unfortunately produces an enormous, orders-of-magnitude reduction in efficiency — and big data is all about efficiency.

This is where DataFleets steps in. It hasn’t reinvented homomorphic encryption, but has sort of sidestepped it. It uses an approach called federated learning, where instead of bringing the data to the model, they bring the model to the data.

DataFleets integrates with both sides of a secure gap between a private database and people who want to access that data, acting as a trusted agent to shuttle information between them without ever disclosing a single byte of actual raw data.

Illustration showing how a model can be created without exposing data.

Image Credits: DataFleets

Here’s an example. Say a pharmaceutical company wants to develop a machine learning model that looks at a patient’s history and predicts whether they’ll have side effects with a new drug. A medical research facility’s private database of patient data is the perfect thing to train it. But access is highly restricted.

The pharma company’s analyst creates a machine learning training program and drops it into DataFleets, which contracts with both them and the facility. DataFleets translates the model to its own proprietary runtime and distributes it to the servers where the medical data resides; within that sandboxed environment, it runs grows into a strapping young ML agent, which when finished is translated back into the analyst’s preferred format or platform. The analyst never sees the actual data, but has all the benefits of it.

Screenshot of the DataFleets interface. Look, it’s the applications that are meant to be exciting.

It’s simple enough, right? DataFleets acts as a sort of trusted messenger between the platforms, undertaking the analysis on behalf of others and never retaining or transferring any sensitive data.

Plenty of folks are looking into federated learning; the hard part is building out the infrastructure for a wide-ranging enterprise-level service. You need to cover a huge amount of use cases and accept an enormous variety of languages, platforms, and techniques, and of course do it all totally securely.

“We pride ourselves on enterprise readiness, with policy management, identity access management, and our pending SOC 2 certification,” said DataFleets COO and co-founder Nick Elledge. “You can build anything on top of DataFleets and plug in your own tools, which banks and hospitals will tell you was not true of prior privacy software.”

But once federated learning is set up, all of a sudden the benefits are enormous. For instance, one of the big issues today in combating COVID-19 is that hospitals, health authorities, and other organizations around the world are having difficulty, despite their willingness, in securely sharing data relating to the virus.

Everyone wants to share, but who sends whom what, where is it kept, and under whose authority and liability? With old methods, it’s a confusing mess. With homomorphic encryption it’s useful but slow. With federated learning, theoretically, it’s as easy as toggling someone’s access.

Because the data never leaves its “home,” this approach is essentially anonoymous and thus highly compliant with regulations like HIPAA and GDPR, another big advantage. Elledge notes: “We’re being used by leading healthcare institutions who recognize that HIPAA doesn’t give them enough protection when they are making a data set available for third parties.”

Of course there are less noble, but no less viable, examples in other industries: wireless carriers could make subscriber metadata available without selling out individuals; banks could sell consumer data without violating anyone in particular’s privacy; bulky datasets like video can sit where they are instead of being duplicated and maintained at great expense.

The company’s $4.5M seed round is seemingly evidence of confidence from a variety of investors (as summarized by Elledge): AME Cloud Ventures (Jerry Yang of Yahoo!) and Morado Ventures, Lightspeed Venture Partners, Peterson Ventures, Mark Cuban, LG, Marty Chavez (President of the Board of Overseers of Harvard), Stanford-StartX fund, and three unicorn founders (Rappi, Quora, and Lucid).

With only 11 full time employees DataFleets appears to be doing a lot with very little, and the seed round should enable rapid scaling and maturation of its flagship product. “We’ve had to turn away or postpone new customer demand to focus on our work with our lighthouse customers,” Elledge said. They’ll be hiring engineers in the U.S. and Europe to help launch the planned self-service product next year.

“We’re moving from a data ownership to a data access economy, where information can be useful without transferring ownership,” said Elledge. If his company’s bet is on target, federated learning is likely to be a big part of that going forward.


By Devin Coldewey

Freshworks (re-)launches its CRM service

Freshworks, the customer and employee engagement company that offers a range of products, from call center and customer support software to HR tools and marketing automation services, today announced the launch of its newest product: Freshworks CRM. The new service, which the company built on top of its new Freshworks Neo platform, is meant to give sales and marketing teams all of the tools they need to get a better view of their customers — with a bit of machine learning thrown in for better predictions.

Freshworks CRM is essentially a rebrand of the company’s Freshsales service, combined with the company’s capabilities of its Freshmarketer marketing automation tool.

“Freshworks CRM unites Freshsales and Freshmarketer capabilities into one solution, which leverages an embedded customer data platform for an unprecedented and 360-degree view of the customer throughout their entire journey,” a company spokesperson told me.

The promise here is that this improved CRM solution is able to provide teams with a more complete view of their (potential) customers thanks to the unified view — and aggregated data — that the company’s Neo platform provides.

The company argues that the majority of CRM users quickly become disillusioned with their CRM service of choice — and the reason for that is because the data is poor. That’s where Freshworks thinks it can make a difference.

Freshworks CRM delivers upon the original promise of CRM: a single solution that combines AI-driven data, insights and intelligence and puts the customer front and center of business goals,” said Prakash Ramamurthy, the company’s chief product officer. “We built Freshworks CRM to harness the power of data and create immediate value, challenging legacy CRM solutions that have failed sales teams with clunky interfaces and incomplete data.”

The idea here is to provide teams with all of their marketing and sales data in a single dashboard and provide AI-assisted insights to them to help drive their decision making, which in turn should lead to a better customer experience — and more sales. The service offers predictive lead scoring and qualification, based on a host of signals users can customize to their needs, as well as Slack and Teams integrations, built-in telephony with call recording to reach out to prospects and more. A lot of these features were already available in Freshsales, too.

“The challenge for online education is the ‘completion rate’. To increase this, we need to understand the ‘Why’ aspect for a student to attend a course and design ‘What’ & ‘How’ to meet the personalized needs of our students so they can achieve their individual goals,” said Mamnoon Hadi Khan, the chief analytics officer at Shaw Academy. “With Freshworks CRM, Shaw Academy can track the entire student customer journey to better engage with them through our dedicated Student Success Managers and leverage AI to personalize their learning experience — meeting their objectives.”

Pricing for Freshworks CRM starts at $29 per user/month and goes up to $125 per user/month for the full enterprise plan with more advanced features.


By Frederic Lardinois

The No-Code Generation is arriving

In the distant past, there was a proverbial “digital divide” that bifurcated workers into those who knew how to use computers and those who didn’t.[1] Young Gen Xers and their later millennial companions grew up with Power Macs and Wintel boxes, and that experience made them native users on how to make these technologies do productive work. Older generations were going to be wiped out by younger workers who were more adaptable to the needs of the modern digital economy, upending our routine notion that professional experience equals value.

Of course, that was just a narrative. Facility with using computers was determined by the ability to turn it on and login, a bar so low that it can be shocking to the modern reader to think that a “divide” existed at all. Software engineering, computer science, and statistics remained quite unpopular compared to other academic programs, even in universities, let alone in primary through secondary schools. Most Gen Xers and millennials never learned to code, or frankly, even to make a pivot table or calculate basic statistical averages.

There’s a sociological change underway though, and it’s going to make the first divide look quaint in hindsight.

Over the past two or so years, we have seen the rise of a whole class of software that has been broadly (and quite inaccurately) dubbed “no-code platforms.” These tools are designed to make it much easier for users to harness the power of computing in their daily work. That could be everything from calculating the most successful digital ad campaigns given some sort of objective function, or perhaps integrating a computer vision library into a workflow that calculates the number of people entering or exiting a building.

The success and notoriety of these tools comes from the feeling that they grant superpowers to their users. Projects that once took a team of engineers some hours to build can now be stitched together in a couple of clicks through a user interface. That’s why young startups like Retool can raise at nearly a $1 billion and Airtable at $2.6 billion, while others like Bildr, Shogun, Bubble, Stacker, and dozens more are getting traction among users.

Of course, no-code tools often require code, or at least, the sort of deductive logic that is intrinsic to coding. You have to know how to design a pivot table, or understand what a machine learning capability is and what might it be useful for. You have to think in terms of data, and about inputs, transformations, and outputs.

The key here is that no-code tools aren’t successful just because they are easier to use — they are successful because they are connecting with a new generation who understands precisely the sort of logic required by these platforms to function. Today’s students don’t just see their computers and mobile devices as consumption screens and have the ability to turn them on. They are widely using them as tools of self-expression, research and analysis.

Take the popularity of platforms like Roblox and Minecraft. Easily derided as just a generation’s obsession with gaming, both platforms teach kids how to build entire worlds using their devices. Even better, as kids push the frontiers of the toolsets offered by these games, they are inspired to build their own tools. There has been a proliferation of guides and online communities to teach kids how to build their own games and plugins for these platforms (Lua has never been so popular).

These aren’t tiny changes. 150 million play Roblox games across 40 million user-created experiences, and the platform has nearly 350,000 developers. Minecraft for its part has more than 130 million active users. These are generation-defining experiences for young people today.

That excitement to harness computers is also showing up in educational data. Advanced Placement tests for Computer Science have grown from around 20,000 in 2010 to more than 70,000 this year according to the College Board, which administers the high school proficiency exams. That’s the largest increase among all of the organization’s dozens of tests. Meanwhile at top universities, computer science has emerged as the top or among the top majors, pulling in hundreds of new students per campus per year.

The specialized, almost arcane knowledge of data analysis and engineering is being widely democratized for this new generation, and that’s precisely where a new digital divide is emerging.

In business today, it’s not enough to just open a spreadsheet and make some casual observations anymore. Today’s new workers know how to dive into systems, pipe different programs together using no-code platforms, and answer problems with much more comprehensive — and real-time — answers.

It’s honestly striking to see the difference. Whereas just a few years ago, a store manager might (and strong emphasis on might) put their sales data into Excel and then let it linger there for the occasional perusal, this new generation is prepared to connect multiple online tools together to build an online storefront (through no-code tools like Shopify or Squarespace), calculate basic LTV scores using a no-code data platform, and prioritize their best customers with marketing outreach through basic email delivery services. And it’s all reproducible, since it is in technology and code and not produced by hand.

There are two important points here. First is to note the degree of fluency these new workers have for these technologies, and just how many members of this generation seem prepared to use them. They just don’t have the fear to try new programs out, and they know they can always use search engines to find answers to problems they are having.

Second, the productivity difference between basic computer literacy and a bit more advanced expertise is profound. Even basic but accurate data analysis on a business can raise performance substantially compared to gut instinct and expired spreadsheets.

This second digital divide is only going to get more intense. Consider students today in school, who are forced by circumstance to use digital technologies in order to get their education. How many more students are going to become even more capable of using these technologies? How much more adept are they going to be at remote work? While the current educational environment is a travesty and deeply unequal, the upshot is that ever more students are going to be forced to become deeply fluent in computers.[2]

Progress in many ways is about raising the bar. This generation is raising the bar on how data is used in the workplace, in business, and in entrepreneurship. They are better than ever at bringing together various individual services and cohering them into effective experiences for their customers, readers, and users. The No-Code Generation has the potential to finally fill that missing productivity gap in the global economy, making our lives better while saving time for everyone.

[1] Probably worth pointing out that the other “digital divide” at the time was describing households who had internet access and households who did not. That’s a divide that unfortunately still plagues America and many other rich, industrialized countries.

[2] Important to note that access to computing is still an issue for many students and represents one of the most easily fixable inequalities today in America. Providing equal access to computing should be an absolute imperative.


By Danny Crichton

SAP shares fall sharply after COVID-19 cuts revenue, profit forecast at software giant

SAP announced its Q3 earnings yesterday, with its aggregate results down across the board. And after missing earnings expectations, the company also revised its 2021 outlook down. The combined bad news spooked investors, crashing its shares by over 20% in pre-market trading and the stock wasn’t showing any signs of improving in early trading.

The German software giant has lost tens of billions of dollars in market cap as a result.

The overall report was gloomy, with total revenues falling 4% to €6.54 billion, cloud and software revenue down 2%, and operating profit down 12%. The only bright spot was its pure-cloud category, which grew 11% to €1.98 billion.

SAP’s revenue result was around €310 million under expectations, though its per-share profit beat both adjusted, and non-adjusted expectations.

While SAP’s big revenue miss might have been enough to send investors racing for the exits, its revised forecast doubled concerns. Even though the company said that its customers are accelerating their move to the cloud during the pandemic — something that TechCrunch has been tracking for some time now — SAP also said that the pandemic is slowing sales, and large projects.

Constellation Research anayst Holger Mueller says this is resulting in an unexpected revenue slow-down.

“What has happened at SAP is a cloud revenue delay as customers know that SAP is only investing into cloud products, and they have to migrate to those in the future. The news is that SAP customers are not migrating to the cloud during a pandemic,” Mueller told TechCrunch.

In a sign of the times, SAP spent a portion of its earnings results talking about 2025 results, a maneuver that failed to allay investor concerns that the pandemic was dramatically impacting SAP’s business today and in the coming year.

For 2020, SAP made the following cuts to its forecasts:

  • €8.0 – 8.2 billion non-IFRS cloud revenue at constant currencies (previously €8.3 – 8.7 billion
  • €23.1 – 23.6 billion non-IFRS cloud and software revenue at constant currencies (previously €23.4 – 24.0 billion)
  • €27.2 – 27.8 billion non-IFRS total revenue at constant currencies (previously €27.8 – 28.5 billion)
  • €8.1 – 8.5 billion non-IFRS operating profit at constant currencies (previously €8.1 – 8.7 billion)

So, €300 million to €500 million in cloud revenue is now gone, along with €300 million to €400 million in cloud and software revenue, and €600 to €700 million in total revenue. That cut profit expectations by up to €200 million.

The company, however, is trying to put a happy face on the future projections, believing that as the impact of COVID begins to diminish, existing customers will eventually shift to the cloud and that will drive significant new revenues over the longer term. The trade-off is short-term pain for the next year or two.

“Over the next two years, we expect to see muted growth of revenue accompanied by a flat to slightly lower operating profit. After 2022 momentum will pick up considerably though. Initial headwinds of the accelerated cloud transition will start to turn into tailwinds for revenue and profit. […] That translates to accelerated revenue growth and double digit operating profit growth from 2023 onwards,” SAP CFO Luka Mucic said in a call with analysts this morning.

The question now becomes can they meet these projections, and if the longer-term approach during a pandemic will placate investors. As of this morning, they weren’t looking happy about it.


By Ron Miller

Dropbox begins shift to high efficiency Western Digital Shingled Magnetic Recording disks

Last year, Dropbox talked about making a shift to Shingled Magnetic Recording or SMR disks for short because of the efficiency they can give a high volume storage platform like theirs. Today, Western Digital announced that Dropbox was one of the first companies to qualify their Ultrastar® DC HC650 20TB, host-managed SMR hard disks.

Dropbox’s modern infrastructure story goes back to 2017 when it decided to shift most of its business from being hosted on AWS to building their own infrastructure. As they moved through the process of making that transition in the following years, they were looking for new storage technology ideas to help drive down the cost of running their own massive storage system.

As principal engineer James Cowling told TechCrunch last year, one of the ideas that emerged was using SMR:

What emerged was SMR, which has high storage density and a lower price point. Moving to SMR gave Dropbox the ability to do more with less, increasing efficiency and lowering overall costs — an essential step for a company trying to do this on its own. “It required expertise obviously, but it was also exciting to bring a lot of efficiencies in terms of cost and storage efficiency, while pulling down boundaries between software and hardware,” Cowling said.

As it turns out, Dropbox VP of engineering Andrew Fong says that the company has been working with Western Digital for a number of years and the new SMR technology is the latest step in that partnership.

Western Digital says that these drives deliver this cost savings through increased storage density and lower power requirements. “When considering exabyte-scale needs, and associated capital and operating cost of the data center, the long-term value in terms of lower cost-per-TB, higher density, low power and high reliability can help benefit the bottom line,” the company said in a statement.

Time will tell if these disks deliver as promised, but they certainly show a lot of potential for a high volume user like Dropbox.


By Ron Miller

Extra Crunch Partner Perk: Get 6 months free of Zendesk Support and Sales CRM

We’re excited to announce an update to the Extra Crunch Partner Perk from Zendesk. Starting today, annual and two-year Extra Crunch members that are new to Zendesk, and meet their startup qualifications, can now receive six months of free access to Zendesk’s Sales CRM, in addition to Zendesk Support Suite, Zendesk Explore and Zendesk Sunshine.

Here is an overview of the program.

Zendesk is a service-first CRM company with support, sales and customer engagement products designed to improve customer relationships. This offer is only available for startups that are new to Zendesk, have fewer than 100 employees and are funded but have not raised beyond a Series B.

The Zendesk Partner Perk from Extra Crunch is inclusive of subscription fees, free for six months, after which you will be responsible for payment. Any downgrades to your Zendesk subscription will result in the forfeiture of the promotion, so please check with Zendesk first regarding any changes ([email protected]). Some add-ons such as Zendesk Talk and Zendesk Sell minutes are not included. Complete details of what’s included can be found here.


By J.M. Donaldson

Customer experience and digital transformation concepts are merging during the pandemic

Customer experience and digital transformation are two terms we’ve been hearing about for years, but have often remained nebulous in many organizations — something to aspire to perhaps, but not take completely seriously. Yet the pandemic has been a forcing event for both concepts, thrusting the ideas front and center.

Suddenly startups that help with either of these concepts are seeing rising demand, even in a year with an overall difficult economic climate. If you are fortunate enough to be helping companies digitize a process or improve how customers interact with companies, you may be seeing increased interest from customers and potential acquirers (and this was true even before this year). A case in point is Twilio acquiring Segment for $3.2 billion recently to help build data-fueled applications to interact with customers.

Even though building a positive customer experience has never been completely about digital, at a time where it’s difficult to interact with customers in person, the digital side of it has taken new urgency. As COVID-19 took hold this year, businesses, large and small, suddenly realized the only way to connect to their customers was digitally. At that point, digital transformation became customer experience’s buddy when other ways of contacting one another have been severely limited.

Pandemic brings changes

Just about every startup founder I talk to these days, along with bigger, more established companies, talk about how the pandemic has pushed companies to digitally transform much faster than they would have without COVID.

Brent Leary, founder at CRM Essentials, says that the pandemic has certainly expedited the need to bring these two big ideas together and created opportunities as that happens. “The coronavirus, as terrible as it has been in so many ways to so many people, has created opportunities for companies to build direct-to-consumer (D2C) digital pipelines that can make them stronger companies despite the current hardships,” Leary told TechCrunch.

The cloud plays a big role in the digital transformation process, and for the last decade, we have seen companies make a slow but steady shift to the cloud. When you have a situation like we’ve had with the coronavirus, it speeds everything up. As it turns out, being in the cloud helps you move faster because you don’t have to worry about all of the overhead of running a business critical application as the SaaS vendors take care of all that for you.


By Ron Miller

Harness delivers enterprise continuous integration on heels of Drone.io acquisition

In August, Harness made its first acquisition when it bought open source continuous integration startup Drone.io. The company didn’t waste any time building on that purchase, announcing a new enterprise continuous integration tool today to go alongside the open source project Drone has been building.

The Harness software development platform consists of various modules and the latest one helps with continuous integration, which is the build and test process that happens before developers start deploying their code changes.

As Brad Rydzewski, co-founder at Drone.io, explained it at the time of the acquisition:

“Drone is a continuous integration software. It helps developers to continuously build, test and deploy their code. The project was started in 2012, and it was the first cloud-native, container-native continuous integration solution on the market, and we open sourced it.”

Bansal indicated at the time of the acquisition that he wanted to build on that open source project and provide an enterprise commercial version, while continuing to support the open source project.

“This is really the first product in the industry that is bringing AI and machine learning into optimizing the build and test process,” Bansal said. That intelligence layer is what separates it from the open source version of the software, and the idea is to use machine learning to speed up the building and testing process.

The company is also announcing a new module around managing feature flags. These are elements developers leave in the code to limit the roll out of software, allowing them to see how the update is performing before rolling it out to the user base at large. The problem is these as these flags proliferate, they become difficult to manage, and the new module is designed to help developers understand and control the flags that exist in their code.

Bansal says his goal for the company has been to put the kind of automated software delivery pipeline that’s in place at the world’s largest tech companies within reach of every developer.

“[Our goal] is that every company in the world can have the same level of software delivery sophistication as a Google or Amazon or Facebook,” Bansal said.

Bansal founded AppDynamics, a company he sold to Cisco in 2017 for $3.7 billion. He launched Harness later that same year. The company has raised almost $80 million on a valuation of $500 million, according to Pitchbook data.

Bansal also started the venture capital firm Unusual Ventures in 2018 and as though he doesn’t have enough to do, he launched his third startup Traceable, a security company, in July.


By Ron Miller

Facebook adds hosting, shopping features, and pricing tiers to WhatsApp Business

Facebook has been making a big play to be a go-to partner for small and medium businesses that use the internet to interface with the wider world, and its messaging platform WhatsApp, with some 50 million businesses and 175 million people messaging them (and more than 2 billion users overall), has been a central part of that pitch.

Now, the company is making three big additions to WhatsApp to fill out that proposition.

It’s launching a way to shop for and pay for goods and services in WhatsApp chats; it’s going head to head with the hosting providers of the world with a new product called Facebook Hosting Services to host businesses’ online assets and activity; and — in line with its expanding product range — Facebook said it will finally start to charge companies using WhatsApp for Business.

Facebook announced the news in a short blog post light on details. We have reached out to the company for more information on pricing, availability of the services, and whether Facebook will provide hosting itself or work with third parties, and we will update this post as we learn more.

Here is what we know for now:

In-chat Shopping. Companies are already using WhatsApp to present product information and initiate discussions for transactions. One of the more recent developments in that area was the addition of QR codes and the ability to share catalog links in chats, added in July. At the same time, Facebook has been expanding the ways that businesses can display what they are selling on Facebook and Instagram, most recently with the launch in August of Facebook Shop, following a similar product roll out on Instagram before that.

Today’s move sounds like a new way for businesses in turn to use WhatsApp both to link through to those Facebook-native catalogs, as well as other products, and then purchase items, while still staying in the chat.

At the same time, Facebook will be making it possible for merchants to add “buy” buttons in other places that will take shoppers to WhatsApp chats to complete the purchase. “We also want to make it easier for businesses to integrate these features into their existing commerce and customer solutions,” it notes. “This will help many small businesses who have been most impacted in this time.”

Although Facebook is not calling this WhatsApp Pay, it seems that this is the next step ahead for the company’s ambitions to bring payments into the chat flow of its messaging app. That has been a long and winding road for the company, which finally launched WhatsApp Payments, using Facebook Pay, in Brazil, in June of this year only to have it shut down by regulators for failing to meet their requirements. (The plan has been to expand it to India, Indonesia and Mexico next.)

Facebook Hosting Services: Thse will be available in the coming months, but no specific date to share right now. “We’re sharing our plans now while we work with our partners to make these services available,” the company said in a statement to TechCrunch.

No! This is not about Facebook taking on AWS. Or… not yet at least? The idea here appears that it is specifically aimed at selling hosting services to the kind of SMBs who already use Facebook and WhatsApp messaging, who either already use hosting services for their online assets, whether that be their online stores or other things, or are finding themselves now needing to for the first time, now that business is all about being “online.”

“Today, all businesses using our API are using either an on-premise solution or leverage a solutions provider, both of which require costly servers to maintain,” Facebook said. “With this change, businesses will be able to choose to use Facebook’s own secure hosting infrastructure for free, which helps remove a costly item for every company that wants to use the WhatsApp Business API, including our business service providers, and will help them all save money.” It added that it will share more info about where data will be hosted closer to launch.

This is a very interesting move, since the SMB hosting market is pretty fragmented with a number of companies, including the likes of GoDaddy, Dream Host, HostGator, BlueHost and many others also offering these services. That fragmentation spells opportunity for a huge company like Facebook with a global profile, a burgeoning amount of connections through to other online services for these SMBs, and a pretty extensive network of data centers around the world that it’s built for itself and can now use to provide services to others — which is, indeed, a pretty strong parallel with how Amazon and AWS have done business.

Facebook already has an “app store” of sorts of partners it works with to provide marketing and related services to businesses using its platform. It looks like it plans to expand this, and will sell the hosting alongside all of that, with the kicker that hosting natively on Facebook will speed up how everything works.

“Providing this option will make it easier for small and medium size businesses to get started, sell products, keep their inventory up to date, and quickly respond to messages they receive – wherever their employees are,” it notes.

Charging tiers: As you would expect, to encourage more adoption, Facebook has not been charging for WhatsApp Business up to now, but it has charged for some WhatsApp business messages — for example when businesses send a boarding pass or e-commerce receipt to a customer over Facebook’s rails. (These prices vary and a list of them is published here.) Now, with more services coming into the mix, and businesses tying their fates more strongly to how well they are performing on Facebook’s platforms, it’s not surprise to see Facebook converting that into a pay to play scenario.

“What we’ve heard over the past couple years is how the conversational nature of business messaging is really valuable to people. So in the future we may look at ways to update how we charge businesses that better reflect how it’s used,” the company told us. Important to note that this will relate to how businesses send messages. “As always, it’s free for people to send a business a message,” Facebook added.

Frustratingly, there seems so far to be no detail on which services will be charged, nor how much, nor when, so this is more of a warning than a new requirement.

“We will charge business customers for some of the services we offer, which will help WhatsApp continue building a business of our own while we provide and expand free end-to-end encrypted text, video and voice calling for more than two billion people,” it notes.

For those who might find that annoying, on the plus side, for those who are concerned about an ever-encroaching data monster, it will, at the least, help WhatsApp and Facebook continue to stick to its age-old commitment to stay away from advertising as a business model.

Doubling-down on SMBs

The new services come at a time when Facebook is doubling down on providing services for businesses, spurred in no small part by the coronavirus pandemic, which has driven physical retailers and others to close their actual doors, shifting their focus to using the internet and mobile services to connect with and sell to customers.

Citing that very trend, last month the company’s COO Sheryl Sandberg announced the Facebook Business Suite, bringing together all of the tools it has been building for companies to better leverage Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp profiles both to advertise themselves as well as communicate with and sell to customers. And the fact that Sandberg was leading the announcement says something about how Facebook is prioritizing this: it’s striking while the iron is hot with companies using its platform, but it sees/hopes that business services can a key way to diversify its business model while also helping buffer it — since many businesses building Pages may also advertise.

Facebook has also been building more functionality across Facebook and Instagram specifically aimed at helping power users and businesses leverage the two in a more efficient way. Adding in more tools to WhatsApp is the natural progression of all of this.

To be sure, as we pointed out earlier this year, even while there is a lot of very informal use of WhatsApp by businesses all around the world, WhatsApp Business remains a fairly small product, most popular in India and Brazil. Facebook launching more tools for how to use it will potentially drive more business not just in those markets but help the company convert more businesses to using it in other places, too.

Smaller businesses have been on Facebook’s radar for a while now. Even before the pandemic hit, in many cases retailers or restaurants do not have websites of their own, opting for a Facebook Page or Instagram Profile as their URL and primary online interface with the world; and even when they do have standalone sites, they are more likely to update people and spread the word about what they are doing on social media than via their own URLs.

Facebook’s also made a video to help demonstrate how it sees these WhatsApp Business in action, which you can here:


By Ingrid Lunden

Secureframe raises $4.5M to help businesses speed up their compliance audits

While certifications for security management practices like SOC 2 and ISO 27001 have been around for a while, the number of companies that now request that their software vendors go through (and pass) the audits to be in compliance with these continues to increase. For a lot of companies, that’s a harrowing process, so it’s maybe no surprise that we are also seeing an increase in startups that aim to make this process easier. Earlier this month, Strike Graph, which helps automate security audits, announced its $3.9 million round and today, Secureframe, which also helps businesses get and maintain their SOC 2 and ISO 27001 certifications, is announcing a $4.5 million round.

Secureframe’s round was co-led by Base10 Partners and Google’s AI-focused Gradient Ventures fund. BoxGroup, Village Global, Soma Capital, Liquid2, Chapter One, Worklife Ventures, and Backend Capital. Current customers include Stream, Hasura and Benepass.

Image Credits: Secureframe

Shrav Mehta, the company’s co-founder and CEO, spent time at a number of different companies, but he tells me that the idea for Secureframe was mostly born during his time at direct-mail service Lob.

“When I was at Lob, we dealt with a lot of issues around security and compliance because we were sometimes dealing with very sensitive data, and we’d hop on calls with customers, had to complete thousand-line security questionnaires, do exhaustive security reviews, and this was a lot for a startup of our size at the time. But it’s just what our customers needed. So I started to see that pain,” Mehta said.

Secureframe co-founder and CEO Shrav Mehta

Secureframe co-founder and CEO Shrav Mehta

After stints at Pilot and Scale AI after he left Lob in 2017 — and informally helping other companies manage the certification process — he co-founded Secureframe together with the company’s CTO Natasja Nielsen.

“Because Secureframe is basically adding a lot of automation with our software — and making the process so much simpler and easier — we’re able to bring the cost down to a point where this is something that a lot more companies can afford,” Mehta explained. “This is something that everyone can get in place from day one, and not really have to worry that, ‘hey, this is going to take all of our time, it’s going to take a year, it’s going to cost a lot of money.’ […] We’re trying to solve that problem to make it super easy for every organization to be secure from day one.”

The main idea here is to make the arcane certification process more transparent and streamline the process by automating many of the more labor-intensive tasks of getting ready for an audit (and it’s virtually always the pre-audit process that takes up most of the time). Secureframe does so by integrating with the most-often used cloud and SaaS tools (it currently connect to about 25 services) and pulling in data from them to check up on your security posture.

“It feels a lot like a QuickBooks- or TurboTax-like experience, where we’ll essentially ask you to enter basic details about your business. We try to autofill as much of it as possible from third-party sources — then we asked you to connect up all the integrations your business uses,” Mehta explained.

The company plans to use much of the new funding to staff up and build out these integrations. Over time, it will also add support for other certifications like PCI, HITRUST and HIPAA.


By Frederic Lardinois