DREAMTECH NEWS

Google’s new ‘Grab and Go’ project helps business loan Chromebooks to their employees

At Google, the company offers a ‘Grab and Go’ program that allows employees to use self-service stations to quickly borrow and return Chromebooks without having to go through a lengthy IT approval process. Now, it’s bringing this same idea to other businesses.

Chromebooks have found their place in education and a number of larger enterprise companies are also getting on board with the idea of a centrally managed device that mostly focuses on the browser. That’s maybe no surprise, given that both schools and enterprises are pretty much looking for the same thing from these devices.

At Google, the system has seen more than 30,000 users that have completed more than 100,000 loans so far.

While Google wants others to run similar programs (and use more Chromebooks in the process) it’s worth noting that this is a limited preview program and that Google isn’t building and selling racks or other infrastructure for this. As a Google spokesperson told us, Google will give companies that want to try this the open source code to build this system and advise them through the setup and deployment. It will also engage with partners to help them build the hardware or set up a ‘Grab and Go’ as a service system.

Employees who want to use one of these ‘Grab and Go’ stations simply pick up a laptop, sign in and move on with their day. When they are done, they simply return the laptop. That’s it. Easy.

That’s not quite as exciting as Google building and selling racks of Chromebooks, but this project is clearly another move to bring Chromebooks to the enterprise. Specifically, Google says that this program is meant for frontline workers who only need devices for a short period of time, as well as shift workers and remote workers.


By Frederic Lardinois

Walmart enlists Microsoft cloud in battle against Amazon

Once a seemingly unstoppable retail juggernaut, Walmart’s been scrambling to define its digitally in this Amazon-defined era. This morning, the company announced that it’s struck a five-year deal with Microsoft, Amazon’s chief cloud competitor.

These sorts of partnerships are a regular occurrence for AWS — in fact, it announced one with Fortnite maker Epic Games, just this morning. The companies involved tend to put on a big show, in return for a discount on services, but Walmart and Microsoft are happily playing into the concept of teaming up to take on Amazon.

Microsoft’s certainly not making any bones about the competition. In an interview, Satya Nadella told The Wall Street Journal that the fight against Amazon “is absolutely core to this,” adding, “How do we get more leverage as two organizations that have depth and breadth and investment to be able to outrun our respective competition?”

Of course, neither Walmart nor Microsoft can be framed as an underdog in any respect, but Amazon’s stranglehold on online retail also can’t be understated. Not even a massive outage at the height of Prime Day could do much to ruffle the company’s feathers.

Included in the deal are AI/ML technologies design to help optimize the in-store experience — one of the key factors Walmart brings to the table in a battle against Amazon, which has mostly just dabbled in brick and mortar. For its part, Walmart has been testing cashier-less stores along the lines of Amazon’s, but the company has just to officially unveil its plans in that space.


By Brian Heater

Standard Cognition raises another $5.5M to create a cashier-less checkout experience

As Amazon looks to increasingly expand its cashier-less grocery stories — called Amazon Go – across different regions, there’s at least one startup hoping to end up everywhere else beyond Amazon’s empire.

Standard Cognition aims to help businesses create that kind of checkout experience based on machine vision, using image recognition to figure out that a specific person is picking up and walking out the door with a bag of Cheetos. The company said it’s raised an additional $5.5 million in a round in what the company is calling a seed round extension from CRV. The play here is, like many startups, to create something that a massive company is going after — like image recognition for cashier-less checkouts — for the long tail businesses rather than locking them into a single ecosystem.

Standard Cognition works with security cameras that have a bit more power than typical cameras to identify people that walk into a store. Those customers use an app, and the camera identifies everything they are carrying and bills them as they exit the store. The company has said it works to anonymize that data, so there isn’t any kind of product tracking that might chase you around the Internet that you might find on other platforms.

“The platform is built at this point – we are now focused on releasing the platform to each retail partner that signs on with us,” Michael Suswal, Co-founder and COO said. “Most of the surprises coming our way come from learning about how each retailer prefers to run their operations and store experiences. They are all a little different and require us to be flexible with how we deploy.”

It’s a toolkit that makes sense for both larger and smaller retailers, especially as the actual technology to install cameras or other devices that can get high-quality video or have more processing power goes down over time. Baking that into smaller retailers or mom-and-pop stores could help them get more foot traffic or make it easier to keep tabs on what kind of inventory is most popular or selling out more quickly. It offers an opportunity to have an added layer of data about how their store works, which could be increasingly important over time as something like Amazon looks to start taking over the grocery experience with stores like Amazon Go or its massive acquisition of Whole Foods.

“While we save no personal data in the cloud, and the system is built for privacy (no facial recognition among other safety features that come with being a non-cloud solution), we do use the internet for a couple of things,” Suswal said. “One of those things is to update our models and push them fleet wide. This is not a data push. It is light and allows us to make updates to models and add new features. We refer to it as the Tesla model, inspired by the way a driver can have a new feature when they wake up in the morning. We are also able to offer cross-store analytics to the retailer using the cloud, but no personal data is ever stored there.”

It’s thanks to advances in machine learning — and the frameworks and hardware that support it — that have made this kind of technology easier to build for smaller companies. Already there are other companies that look to be third-party providers for popular applications like voice recognition (think SoundHound) or machine vision (think Clarifai). All of those aim to be an option outside of whatever options larger companies might have like Alexa. It also means there is probably going to be a land grab and that there will be other interpretations of what the cashier-less checkout experience looks like, but Standard Cognition is hoping it’ll be able to get into enough stores to be an actual challenger to Amazon Go.


By Matthew Lynley

Dialpad dials up $50M Series D led by Iconiq

Dialpad announced a $50 million Series D investment today, giving the company plenty of capital to keep expanding its business communications platform.

The round was led by Iconiq Capital with help from existing investors Andreessen Horowitz, Amasia, Scale Ventures, Section 32 and Work-Bench. With today’s round, the company has now raised $120 million.

As technology like artificial intelligence and internet of things advances, it’s giving the company an opportunity to expand its platform. Dialpad products include UberConference conferencing software and VoiceAI for voice transcription applications.

The company is competing in a crowded market that includes giants like Google and Cisco and a host of smaller companies like GoToMeeting (owned by LogMeIn), Zoom and BlueJeans. All of these companies are working to provide cloud-based meeting and communications services.

Increasingly, that involves artificial intelligence like natural language processing (NLP) to provide on the fly transcription services. While none of these services is perfect yet, they are growing increasingly accurate.

VoiceAI was launched shortly after Dialpad acquired TalkIQ in May to take this idea a step further by applying sentiment analysis and analytics to voice transcripts. The company plans to use the cash infusion to continue investing in artificial intelligence on the Dialpad platform.

Post call transcript generated by VoiceAI. Screenshot: Dialpad

CEO Craig Walker certainly sees the potential of artificial intelligence for the company moving forward. “Smart CIOs know AI isn’t just another trendy tech tool, it’s the future of work. By arming sales and support teams, and frankly everybody in the organization, with VoiceAI’s real-time artificial intelligence and insights, businesses can dramatically improve customer satisfaction and ultimately their bottom line,” Walker said in a statement.

Dialpad is also working with voice-driven devices like the Amazon Alexa and it announced Alexa integration with Dialpad in April. This allows Alexa users to make calls by saying something like, “Alexa, call Liz Green with Dialpad” and the Echo will make the phone call on your behalf using Dialpad software.

According to the company website, it has over 50,000 customers including WeWork, Stitch Fix, Uber and Reddit. The company says it has added over 10,000 new customers since its last funding round in September, 2017.


By Ron Miller

Fastly raises another $40 million before an IPO

Last round before the IPO. That’s how Fastly frames its new $40 million Series F round. It means that the company has raised $219 million over the past few years.

The funding round was led by Deutsche Telekom Capital Partners with participation from Sozo Ventures, Swisscom Ventures, and existing investors.

Fastly operates a content delivery network to speed up web requests. Let’s say you type nytimes.com in your browser. In the early days of the internet, your computer would send a request to one of The New York Times’ servers in a data center. The server would receive the request and send back the page to the reader.

But the web has grown immensely, and this kind of architecture is no longer sustainable. The New York Times use Fastly to cache its homepage, media and articles on Fastly’s servers. This way, when somebody types nytimes.com, Fastly already has the webpage on its servers and can send it directly. For some customers, it can represent as much as 90 percent of requests.

Scale and availability are one of the benefits of using a content delivery network. But speed is also another one. Even though the web is a digital platform, it’s very physical by nature. When you load a page on a server on the other side of the world, it’s going to take hundreds of milliseconds to get the page. Over time, this latency adds up and it feels like a sluggish experience.

Fastly has data centers and servers all around the world so that you can load content in less than 20 or 30 milliseconds. This is particularly important for Stripe or Ticketmaster as response time can greatly influence an e-commerce purchase.

Fastly’s platform also provides additional benefits, such as DDoS mitigation and web application firewall. One of the main challenges for the platform is being able to cache content as quickly as possible. Users upload photos and videos all the time, so it should be on Fastly’s servers within seconds.

The company has tripled its customer base over the past three years. It had a $100 million revenue run rate in 2017. Customers now include Slack, Reddit, GitHub, Stripe, Ticketmaster and Pinterest.

There are now 400 employees working for Fastly. It’s worth noting that women represent 42 percent of the executive team, and 65 percent of the engineering leads are women, people of color or LGBTQ (or the intersection of those categories). And if you haven’t read all the diversity reports from tech companies, those are great numbers.


By Romain Dillet

Chad Rigetti to talk quantum computing at Disrupt SF

Even for the long-standing giants of the tech industry, quantum computing is one of the most complicated subjects to tackle. So how does a five-year old startup compete?

Chad Rigetti, the namesake founder of Rigetti Computing, will join us at Disrupt SF 2018 to help us break it all down.

Rigetti’s approach to quantum computing is two-fold: on one front, the company is working on the design and fabrication of its own quantum chips; on the other, the company is opening up access to its early quantum computers for researchers and developers by way of its cloud computing platform, Forest.

Rigetti Computing has raised nearly $70 million to date according to Crunchbase, with investment from some of the biggest names around. Meanwhile, labs around the country are already using Forest to explore the possibilities ahead.

What’s the current state of quantum computing? How do we separate hype from reality? Which fields might quantum computing impact first — and how can those interested in quantum technology make an impact? We’ll talk all this and more at Disrupt SF 2018.

Tickets are available here.


By Jordan Crook

Emptor looks to help companies more easily find contractors in the area

For any company looking to spin up some kind of operation in a new region, one of the first steps may be finding contractors in the area that can actually get the work started — but, especially as companies drift further from cities, that can increasingly become a nightmare that’s quite familiar to Matt Velker.

That led to he and his co-founder starting Emptor, a network to connect companies with local contractors in order to get those local projects off the ground effectively. That can range from actual construction to janitorial work or landscaping. A platform like Emptor seeks to take a lot of the ambiguity or guesswork out of finding a set of local companies to work with in order to get construction projects off the ground. It also adds a robust audit trail — ratings or otherwise — to ensure that the best contractors surface up and that everyone knows which ones they should skip.

“Every time you’re building [projects in new regions] you have to find an entirely new set of suppliers,” Velker said. “Often in rural areas when there isn’t an saturation of contractors like there is in a large metro, that discovery process within a reasonable time frame was the biggest challenge. Especially within the construction industry, there’s a huge deviation in terms of the quality fo the companies you work with. We definitely had a lot of pains with unreliable contractors who weren’t getting the job done to spec or on time, or things that came close to fraud. It comes with the territory when you work with that volume of companies in a short period of time.”

Companies first go to Emptor and describe the projects they want and what kinds of pricing structure they are offering. Then, kind of like Thumbtack or other marketplaces, Emptor matches those projects up with qualified contractors and then compares those bids in order to select the best offer. It aims to be a replacement for the time spent searching around Yelp or Google, where there may be listings and pages but not a high volume of ratings — or ones that are even accurate to begin. Even after the search, getting the whole process started can take weeks, another period Emptor hopes to shrink by streamlining that process.

Right now Emptor mainly focuses on facilities and maintenance, though should something like this take off it could add other elements of contract work that companies need. The approach also aims to be more granular, giving companies more ways to identify the needs of the project that might not necessarily just be quantitative. After all, better data about a company’s actual needs that flows into some algorithm can produce better matching, and that can also go down to the actual way compensation would work on that project.

“Having just one number for what a project will cost is convenient from the supplier and buyer perspective, but it’s missing out on the ability to build structured data that you can analyze,” Velker said. “The companies are deciding, ‘what do I need to know, how many years have you done in business.’ You want to be explicit about how are we going to make this decision. If price is a factor, how much of a factor is it, so they can spec things out and there’s transparency to the buyers.”

But while it’s an attempt to try to bridge that gap between the company and a service provider, it’s one that many companies have tried to fill before. There are tools like Angie’s List and others for finding contractors, though Velker says those are primarily geared toward consumers — and some end up bending the apps in order to fill the needs they have for contractors without some kind of formal platform to use. Velker acknowledges the theory behind all these tools is pretty similar, though he hopes Emptor will be able to tackle the specific needs companies might have that he’s experienced himself.


By Matthew Lynley

Google’s Apigee teams up with Informatica to extend its API ecosystem

Google acquired API management service Apigee back in 2016 but it’s been pretty quiet around the service in recent years. Today, however, Apigee announced a number of smaller updates that introduce a few new integrations with the Google Cloud platform, as well as a major new partnership with cloud data management and integration firm Informatica that essentially makes Informatica the preferred integration partner for Google Cloud.

Like most partnerships in this space, the deal with Informatica involves some co-selling and marketing agreements, but that really wouldn’t be all that interesting. What makes this deal stand out is that Google is actually baking some of Informatica’s tools right into the Google Cloud dashboard. This will allow Apigee users to use Informatica’s wide range of integrations with third-party enterprise applications while Informatica users will be able to publish their APIs through Apigee and have that service manage them for them.

Some of Google’s competitors, including Microsoft, have built their own integration services. As Google Cloud director of product management Ed Anuff told me, that wasn’t really on Google’s roadmap. “It takes a lot of know-how to build a rich catalog of connectors,” he said. “You could go and build an integration platform but if you don’t have that, you can’t address your customers needs.” Instead, Google went to look for a partner who already has this large catalog and plenty of credibility in the enterprise space.

Similarly, Informatica’s senior VP and GM for big data, cloud and data integration Ronen Schwartz noted that many of his company’s customers are now looking to move into the cloud and this move will make it easier for Informatica’s customers to bring their services into Apigee and open them up for external applications. “With this partnership, we are bringing the best of breed of both worlds to our customers,” he said. “And we are doing it now and we are making it available in an integrated, optimized way.”


By Frederic Lardinois

Microsoft Teams gets a free version

Microsoft opened up the news floodgates this morning, in the kick off to its annual Inspire event in Vegas. One of the more compelling announcements of the bunch is the addition of a free version of Teams.

The Slack competitor has been kicking around in some form or other since late-2016, but the $60 a year fee has likely made it a bit of a nonstarter for smaller businesses. After all, it’s Slack’s free tier that helped the work chat app gain so much traction so quickly. A free version makes a lot of sense for Microsoft.

Signing users up for Teams is way to get more feet into the door of its application ecosystem, which was once ubiquitous in offices. Once they’ve download teams, workplaces will be hooked into the Microsoft 365 suite.

The free tier actually brings a fair bit of the app to up to 300 people per workplace. Here’s the full rundown of features per Microsoft,

  • Unlimited chat messages and search.
  • Built-in audio and video calling for individuals, groups, and full team meetups.
  • 10 GB of team file storage plus additional 2 GB per person for personal storage.
  • Integrated, real-time content creation with Office Online apps, including built-in Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote.
  • Unlimited app integrations with 140+ business apps to choose from—including Adobe, Evernote, and Trello.
  • Ability to communicate and collaborate with anyone inside or outside your organization, backed by Microsoft’s secure, global infrastructure.

The company’s done a good job hooking in enterprise customers, but as it notes, SMBs constitute 90+ percent of businesses globally, so that’s a whole lot more devices to tap into. The free tier is available in 40 languages starting today.


By Brian Heater

Microsoft wants to make you a better team player by nudging you into submission

Microsoft announced a number of new tools for its MyAnalytics tool for Office 365 users today that are geared toward giving employees more data about how they work, as well as ways to improve how teams work together. In today’s businesses, everybody has to be a team player, after all, and if you want to bring technology to bear on this, you first need data — and once you have data, you can go into full-on analytics mode and maybe even throw in a smidge of machine learning, too.

So today, Microsoft is launching two new products: Workplace Analytics and MyAnalytics nudges. Yes, Office 365 will now nudge you to be a better team player. “Building better teams starts with transparent, data-driven dialog—but no one is perfect and sticking to good collaboration habits can be challenging in a fast-paced job,” Microsoft’s Natalie McCullough and Noelle Beaujon, using language only an MBA could love, write in today’s announcement.

I’m not sure what exactly that means or whether I have good collaboration habits or not, but in practice, Office 365 can now nudge you when you need more focus time as your calendar fills up, for example. You can block off those times without leaving your Inbox (or, I guess, you could always ignore this and just set up a standing block of time every day where you don’t accept meetings and just do your job…). MyAnalytics can also now nudge you to delegate meetings to a co-worker when your schedule is busy (because your co-workers aren’t busy and will love you for putting more meetings on your calendar) and tell you to avoid after-hours emails as you draft them to co-workers so they don’t have to work after hours, too (that’s actually smart, but may not work well in every company).

With this new feature, Microsoft is also using some machine learning smarts, of course. MyAnalytics was already able to remind you of tasks you promised to co-workers over email, and now it’ll nudge you when you read new emails from those co-workers, too. Because the more you get nudged, the more likely you are to finish that annoying task you never intended to do but promised your co-worker you would do so he’d go away.

If you’re whole team needs some nudging, Microsoft will also allow the group to enroll in a change program and provide you with lots of data about how you are changing. And if that doesn’t work, you can always set up a few meetings to discuss what’s going wrong.

These new features will roll out this summer. Get ready to be nudged.


By Frederic Lardinois