DREAMTECH NEWS

Wall Street needs to relax, as startups show remote work is here to stay

We are hearing that a COVID-19 vaccine could be on the way sooner than later, and that means we could be returning to normal life some time in 2021. That’s the good news. The perplexing news, however, is that each time some positive news emerges about a vaccine — and believe me I’m not complaining — Wall Street punishes stocks it thinks benefits from us being stuck at home. That would be companies like Zoom and Peloton.

While I’m not here to give investment advice, I’m confident that these companies are going to be fine even after we return to the office. While we surely pine for human contact, office brainstorming, going out to lunch with colleagues and just meeting and collaborating in the same space, it doesn’t mean we will simply return to life as it was before the pandemic and spend five days a week in the office.

One thing is clear in my discussions with startups born or growing up during the pandemic: They have learned to operate, hire and sell remotely, and many say they will continue to be remote-first when the pandemic is over. Established larger public companies like Dropbox, Facebook, Twitter, Shopify and others have announced they will continue to offer a remote-work option going forward. There are many other such examples.

It’s fair to say that we learned many lessons about working from home over this year, and we will carry them with us whenever we return to school and the office — and some percentage of us will continue to work from home at least some of the time, while a fair number of businesses could become remote-first.

Wall Street reactions

On November 9, news that the Pfizer vaccine was at least 90% effective threw the markets for a loop. The summer trade, in which investors moved capital from traditional, non-tech industries and pushed it into software shares, flipped; suddenly the stocks that had been riding a pandemic wave were losing ground while old-fashioned, even stodgy, companies shot higher.


By Ron Miller

As IBM shifts to hybrid cloud, reports have them laying off 10,000 in EU

As IBM makes a broad shift in strategy, Bloomberg reported this morning that the company would be cutting around 10,000 jobs in Europe. This comes on the heels of last month’s announcement that the organization will be spinning out its infrastructure services business next year. While IBM wouldn’t confirm the layoffs, a spokesperson suggested that there were broad structural changes ahead for the company as it concentrates fully on a hybrid cloud approach.

IBM had this to say in response to a request for comment on the Bloomberg report, “Our staffing decisions are made to provide the best support to our customers in adopting an open hybrid cloud platform and AI capabilities. We also continue to make significant investments in training and skills development for IBMers to best meet the needs of our customers.”

Unfortunately, that means basically if you don’t have the currently required skill set, chances are you might not fit with the new version of IBM. IBM CEO Arvind Krishna alluded to the changing environment in an interview with Jon Fortt at the CNBC Evolve Summit earlier this month when he said:

“The Red Hat acquisition gave us the technology base on which to build a hybrid cloud technology platform based on open-source, and based on giving choice to our clients as they embark on this journey. With the success of that acquisition now giving us the fuel, we can then take the next step, and the larger step, of taking the managed infrastructure services out. So the rest of the company can be absolutely focused on hybrid cloud and artificial intelligence.”

The story has always been the same around IBM layoffs, that as they make the transition to a new model, it requires eliminating positions that don’t fit into the new vision, and today’s report is apparently no different, says Holger Mueller, an analyst at Constellation Research.

“IBM is in the biggest transformation of the company’s history as it moves from services to software and specialized hardware with Quantum. That requires a different mix of skills in its employee base and the repercussions of that manifest itself in the layoffs that IBM has been doing, mostly quietly, for the last 5+ years,” he said.

None of this is easy for the people involved. It’s never a good time to lose your job, but the timing of this one feels worse. In the middle of a recession brought on by COVID, and as a second wave of the virus sweeps over Europe, it’s particularly difficult.

We have reported on number of IBM layoffs over the last five years. In May, it confirmed layoffs, but wouldn’t confirm numbers. In 2015, we reported on a 12,000 employee layoff.


By Ron Miller

Cast.ai nabs $7.7M seed to remove barriers between public clouds

When you launch an application in the public cloud, you usually put everything on one provider, but what if you could choose the components based on cost and technology and have your database one place and your storage another?

That’s what Cast.ai says that it can provide, and today it announced a healthy $7.7 million seed round from TA Ventures, DFX, Florida Funders and other unnamed angels to keep building on that idea. The round closed in June.

Company CEO and co-founder Yuri Frayman says that they started the company with the idea that developers should be able to get the best of each of the public clouds without being locked in. They do this by creating Kubernetes clusters that are able to span multiple clouds.

“Cast does not require you to do anything except for launching your application. You don’t need to know  […] what cloud you are using [at any given time]. You don’t need to know anything except to identify the application, identify which [public] cloud providers you would like to use, the percentage of each [cloud provider’s] use and launch the application,” Frayman explained.

This means that you could use Amazon’s RDS database and Google’s ML engine, and the solution decides how to make that work based on your requirements and price. You set the policies when you are ready to launch and Cast will take care of distributing it for you in the location and providers that you desire, or that makes most sense for your application.

The company takes advantage of cloud native technologies, containerization and Kubernetes to break the proprietary barriers that exist between clouds, says company co-founder Laurent Gil. “We break these barriers of cloud providers so that an application does not need to sit in one place anymore. It can sit in several [providers] at the same time. And this is great for the Kubernetes application because they’re kind of designed with this [flexibility] in mind,” Gil said.

Developers use the policy engine to decide how much they want to control this process. They can simply set location and let Cast optimize the application across clouds automatically, or they can select at a granular level exactly the resources they want to use on which cloud. Regardless of how they do it, Cast will continually monitor the installation and optimize based on cost to give them the cheapest options available for their configuration.

The company currently has 25 employees with four new hires in the pipeline, and plans to double to 50 by the end of 2021. As they grow, the company is trying keep diversity and inclusion front and center in its hiring approach and they currently have women in charge of HR, marketing and sales at the company.

“We have very robust processes on the continuous education inside of our organization on diversity training. And a lot of us came from organizations where this was very visible and we took a lot of those processes [and lessons] and brought them here,” Frayman said.

Frayman has been involved with multiple startups including Cujo.ai, a consumer firewall startup that participated in TechCrunch Disrupt Battlefield in New York in 2016.


By Ron Miller

Proxyclick visitor management system adapts to COVID as employee check-in platform

Proxyclick began life by providing an easy way to manage visitors in your building with an iPad-based check-in system. As the pandemic has taken hold, however, customer requirements have changed, and Proxyclick is changing with them. Today the company announced Proxyclick Flow, a new system designed to check in employees during the time of COVID.

“Basically when COVID hit our customers told us that actually our employees are the new visitors. So what you used to ask your visitors, you are now asking your employees — the usual probing question, but also when are you coming and so forth. So we evolved the offering into a wider platform,” Proxyclick co-founder and CEO Gregory Blondeau explained.

That means instead of managing a steady flow of visitors — although it can still do that — the company is focusing on the needs of customers who want to open their offices on a limited basis during the pandemic, based on local regulations. To help adapt the platform for this purpose, the company developed the Provr smartphone app, which employees can use to check in prior to going to the office, complete a health checklist, see who else will be in the office and make sure the building isn’t over capacity.

When the employee arrives at the office, they get a temperature check, and then can use the QR code issued by the Provr app to enter the building via Proxyclick’s check-in system or whatever system they have in place. Beyond the mobile app, the company has designed the system to work with a number of adjacent building management and security systems so that customers can use it in conjunction with existing tooling.

They also beefed up the workflow engine that companies can adapt based on their own unique entrance and exit requirements. The COVID workflow is simply one of those workflows, but Blondeau recognizes not everyone will want to use the exact one they have provided out of the box, so they designed a flexible system.

“So the challenge was technical on one side to integrate all the systems, and afterwards to group workflows on the employee’s smartphone, so that each organization can define its own workflow and present it on the smartphone,” Blondeau said.

Once in the building, the systems registers your presence and the information remains on the system for two weeks for contact tracing purposes should there be an exposure to COVID. You check out when you leave the building, but if you forget, it automatically checks you out at midnight.

The company was founded in 2010 and has raised $19.6 million. The most recent raise was a $15 million Series B in January.


By Ron Miller

Adobe expands customer data platform to include B2B sales

The concept of the customer data platform (CDP) is a relatively new one. Up until now, it has focused primarily on pulling data about an individual consumer from a variety of channels into a super record, where in theory you can serve more meaningful content and deliver more customized experiences based on all this detailed knowledge. Adobe announced its intention today to create such a product for business to business (B2B) customers, a key market where this kind of data consolidation had been missing.

Indeed Brian Glover, Adobe’s director of product marketing for Marketo Engage, who has been put in charge of this product, says that these kinds of sales are much more complex and B2B sales and marketing teams are clamoring for a CDP.

“We have spent the last couple of years integrating Marketo Engage across Adobe Experience Cloud, and now what we’re doing is building out the next generation of new and complimentary B2B offerings on the Experience platform, the first of which is the B2B CDP offering,” Glover told me.

He says that they face unique challenges adapting CDP for B2B sales because they typically involve buying groups, meaning you need to customize your messages for different people depending on their role in the process.

An individual consumer usually knows what they want and you can prod them to make a decision and complete the purchase, but a B2B sale is usually longer and more complex involving different levels of procurement. For example, in a technology sale, it may involve the CIO, a group, division or department who will be using the tech, the finance department, legal and others. There may be an RFP and the sales cycle may span months or even years.

Adobe believes this kind of sale should still be able to use the same customized messaging approach you use in an individual sale, perhaps even more so because of the inherent complexity in the process. Yet B2B marketers face the same issues as their B2C counterparts when it comes to having data spread across an organization.

“In B2B that complexity of buying groups and accounts just adds another level to the data management problem because ultimately you need to be able to connect to your customer people data, but you also need to be able to connect the account data too and be able to [bring] the two together,” Glover explained.

By building a more complete picture of each individual in the buying cycle, you can, as Glover puts it, begin to put the bread crumbs together for the entire account. He believes that a CRM isn’t built for this kind of complexity and it requires a specialty tool like a CDP built to support B2B sales and marketing.

Adobe is working with early customers on the product and expects to go into beta before the end of next month with GA some time in the first half of next year.


By Ron Miller

Industrial drone maker Percepto raises $45M and integrates with Boston Dynamics’ Spot

Consumer drones have over the years struggled with an image of being no more than expensive and delicate toys. But applications in industrial, military and enterprise scenarios have shown that there is indeed a market for unmanned aerial vehicles, and today, a startup that makes drones for some of those latter purposes is announcing a large round of funding and a partnership that provides a picture of how the drone industry will look in years to come.

Percepto, which makes drones — both the hardware and software — to monitor and analyze industrial sites and other physical work areas largely unattended by people, has raised $45 million in a Series B round of funding.

Alongside this, it is now working with Boston Dynamics  and has integrated its Spot robots with Percepto’s Sparrow drones, with the aim being better infrastructure assessments, and potentially more as Spot’s agility improves.

The funding is being led by a strategic backer, Koch Disruptive Technologies, the investment arm of industrial giant Koch Industries (which has interests in energy, minerals, chemicals and related areas), with participation also from new investors State of Mind Ventures, Atento Capital, Summit Peak Investments, Delek-US. Previous investors U.S. Venture Partners, Spider Capital and Arkin Holdings also participated. (It appears that Boston Dynamics and SoftBank are not part of this investment.)

Israel-based Percepto has now raised $72.5 million since it was founded in 2014, and it’s not disclosing its valuation, but CEO and founder Dor Abuhasira described as “a very good round.”

“It gives us the ability to create a category leader,” Abuhasira said in an interview. It has customers in around 10 countries, with the list including ENEL, Florida Power and Light and Verizon.

While some drone makers have focused on building hardware, and others are working specifically on the analytics, computer vision and other critical technology that needs to be in place on the software side for drones to work correctly and safely, Percepto has taken what I referred to, and Abuhasira confirmed, as the “Apple approach”: vertical integration as far as Percepto can take it on its own.

That has included hiring teams with specializations in AI, computer vision, navigation and analytics as well as those strong in industrial hardware — all strong areas in the Israel tech landscape, by virtue of it being so closely tied with its military investments. (Note: Percepto does not make its own chips: these are currently acquired from Nvidia, he confirmed to me.)

“The Apple approach is the only one that works in drones,” he said. “That’s because it is all still too complicated. For those offering an Android-style approach, there are cracks in the complete flow.”

It presents the product as a “drone-in-a-box”, which means in part that those buying it have little work to do to set it up to work, but also refers to how it works: its drones leave the box to make a flight to collect data, and then return to the box to recharge and transfer more information, alongside the data that is picked up in real time.

The drones themselves operate on an on-demand basis: they fly in part for regular monitoring, to detect changes that could point to issues; and they can also be launched to collect data as a result of engineers requesting information. The product is marketed by Percepto as “AIM”, short for autonomous site inspection and monitoring.

News broke last week that Amazon has been reorganising its Prime Air efforts — one sign of how some more consumer-facing business applications — despite many developments — may still have some turbulence ahead before they are commercially viable. Businesses like Percepto’s stand in contrast to that, with their focus specifically on flying over, and collecting data, in areas where there are precisely no people present.

It has dovetailed with a bigger focus from industries on the efficiencies (and cost savings) you can get with automation, which in turn has become the centerpiece of how industry is investing in the buzz phrase of the moment, “digital transformation.”

“We believe Percepto AIM addresses a multi-billion-dollar issue for numerous industries and will change the way manufacturing sites are managed in the IoT, Industry 4.0 era,” said Chase Koch, President of Koch Disruptive Technologies, in a statement. “Percepto’s track record in autonomous technology and data analytics is impressive, and we believe it is uniquely positioned to deliver the remote operations center of the future. We look forward to partnering with the Percepto team to make this happen.”

The partnership with Boston Dynamics is notable for a couple of reasons: it speaks to how various robotics hardware will work together in tandem in an automated, unmanned world; and it speaks to how Boston Dynamics is pulling up its socks.

On the latter front, the company has been making waves in the world of robotics for years, specifically with its agile and strong dog-like (with names like “Spot” and “Big Dog”) robots that can cover rugged terrains and handle tussles without falling apart.

That led it into the arms of Google, which acquired it as part of its own secretive moonshot efforts, in 2013. That never panned out into a business, and probably gave Google more complicated optics at a time when it was already being seen as too powerful. Then, SoftBank stepped in to pick it up, along with other robotics assets, in 2017. That hasn’t really gone anywhere either, it seems, and just this month it was reported that Boston Dynamics was reportedly facing yet another suitor, Hyundai.

All of this is to say that partnerships with third parties that are going places (quite literally) become strong signs of how Boston Dynamics’ extensive R&D investments might finally pay off with enterprising dividends.

Indeed, while Percepto has focused on its own vertical integration, longer term and more generally there is an argument to be made for more interoperability and collaboration between the various companies building “connected” and smart hardware for industrial, physical applications. It means that specific industries can focus on the special equipment and expertise they require, while at the same time complementing that with hardware and software that are recognised as best-in-class. Abuhasira said that he expects the Boston Dynamics partnership to be the first of many.

That makes this first one an interesting template. It will see Spot carrying Percepto’s payloads for high resolution imaging and thermal vision “to detect issues including hot spots on machines or electrical conductors, water and steam leaks around plants and equipment with degraded performance, with the data relayed via AIM.” It will also mean a more thorough picture, beyond what you get from the air, and potentially a point at which the data that the pairing sources results even in repairs or other work to fix issues.

“Combining Percepto’s Sparrow drone with Spot creates a unique solution for remote inspection,” said Michael Perry, VP of Business Development at Boston Dynamics, in a statement. “This partnership demonstrates the value of harnessing robotic collaborations and the insurmountable benefits to worker safety and cost savings that robotics can bring to industries that involve hazardous or remote work.”


By Ingrid Lunden

Friday app, a remote work tool, raises $2.1 million led by Bessemer

Friday, an app looking to make remote work more efficient, has announced the close of a $2.1 million seed round led by Bessemer Venture Partners. Active Capital, Underscore, El Cap Holdings, TLC Collective, and New York Venture Partners also participated in the round, among others.

Founded by Luke Thomas, Friday sits on top of the tools that teams already use — Github, Trello, Asana, Slack, etc. — to surface information that workers need when they need it and keep them on top of what others in the organization are doing.

The platform offers a Daily Planner feature, so users can roadmap their day and share it with others, as well as a Work Routines feature, giving users the ability to customize and even automate routine updates. For example, weekly updates or daily standups done via Slack or Google Hangouts can be done via Friday app, eliminating the time spent by managers, or others, jotting down these updates or copying that info over from Slack.

Friday also lets users set goals across the organization or team so that users’ daily and weekly work aligns with the broader OKRs of the company.

Plus, Friday users can track their time spent in meetings, as well as team morale and productivity, using the Analytics dashboard of the platform.

Friday has a free forever model, which allows individual users or even organizations to use the app for free for as long as they want. More advanced features like Goals, Analytics and the ability to see past three weeks of history within the app, are paywalled for a price of $6/seat/month.

Thomas says that one of the biggest challenges for Friday is that people automatically assume it’s competing with an Asana or Trello, as opposed to being a layer on top of these products that brings all that information into one place.

“The number one problem is that we’re in a noisy space,” said Thomas. “There are a lot of tools that are saying they’re a remote work tool when they’re really just a layer on top of Zoom or a video conferencing tool. There is certainly increased amount of interest in the space in a good and positive way, but it also means that we have to work harder to cut through the noise.”

The Friday team is small for now — four full-time staff members — and Thomas says that he plans to double the size of the team following the seed round. Thomas declined to share any information around the diversity breakdown of the team.

Following a beta launch at the beginning of 2020, Friday says it is used by employees at organizations such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Quizlet, Red Hat, and EA, among others.

This latest round brings the company’s total funding to $2.5 million.


By Jordan Crook

Onit acquires legal startup McCarthyFinch to inject AI into legal workflows

Onit, a workflow software company based in Houston with a legal component, announced this week that it has acquired 2018 TechCrunch Disrupt Battlefield alum McCarthyFinch.  Onit intends to use the startup’s AI skills to beef up its legal workflow software offerings.

The companies did not share the purchase price.

After evaluating a number of companies in the space, Onit focused on McCarthyFinch, which gives it an artificial intelligence component the company’s legal workflow software had been lacking. “We evaluated about a dozen companies in the AI space and dug in deep on six of them. McCarthyFinch stood out from the pack. They had the strongest technology and the strongest team,” Eric M. Elfman, CEO and co-founder of Onit told TechCrunch.

The company intends to inject that AI into its existing Aptitude workflow platform.”Part of what really got me excited about McCarthyFinch was the very first conversation I had with their CEO, Nick Whitehouse. They considered themselves an AI platform, which complemented our approach and our workflow automation platform, Aptitude,” Elfman said.

McCarthyFinch CEO and co-founder Whitehouse says the startup was considering whether to raise more money or look at being acquired earlier this year when Onit made its interest known. At first, he wasn’t really interested in being acquired and was hoping to go the partner route, but over time that changed.

“I was very much on the partner track, and was probably quite dismissive to begin with because I was quite focused on that partner strategy. But as we talked, all egos aside, it just made sense [to move to acquisition talks],” Whitehouse said.

The talks heated up in May and the deal officially closed last week. With Onit, headquartered in Houston and McCarthyFinch in New Zealand, the negotiations and meetings all happened on Zoom. The two companies’ principals have never met in person. The plan is for McCarthyFinch to stay in place, even after the pandemic ends. Whitehouse expects to make a trip to Houston whenever it is safe to do so.

Whitehouse says his experience with Battlefield has had a huge influence on him. “Just the insights that we got through Battlefield, the coaching that we got, those things have stuck with me and they’ll stick with me for the rest of my life,” he said.

The company had 45 customers and 17 employees at the time of the acquisition. It raised $5 million US dollars along the way. Now it becomes part of Onit as the journey continues.


By Ron Miller

Amazon S3 Storage Lens gives IT visibility into complex S3 usage

As your S3 storage requirements grow, it gets harder to understand exactly what you have, and this especially true when it crosses multiple regions. This could have broad implications for administrators, who are forced to build their own solutions to get that missing visibility. AWS changed that this week when it announced a new product called Amazon S3 Storage Lens, a way to understand highly complex S3 storage environments.

The tool provides analytics that help you understand what’s happening across your S3 object storage installations, and to take action when needed. As the company describes the new service in a blog post, “This is the first cloud storage analytics solution to give you organization-wide visibility into object storage, with point-in-time metrics and trend lines as well as actionable recommendations,” the company wrote in the post.

Amazon S3 Storage Lens Console

Image Credits: Amazon

The idea is to present a set of 29 metrics in a dashboard that help you “discover anomalies, identify cost efficiencies and apply data protection best practices,” according to the company. IT administrators can get a view of their storage landscape and can drill down into specific instances when necessary, such as if there is a problem that requires attention. The product comes out of the box with a default dashboard, but admins can also create their own customized dashboards, and even export S3 Lens data to other Amazon tools.

For companies with complex storage requirements, as in thousands or even tens of thousands of S3 storage instances, who have had to kludge together ways to understand what’s happening across the systems, this gives them a single view across it all.

S3 Storage Lens is now available in all AWS regions, according to the company.


By Ron Miller

Datafold raises seed from NEA to keep improving the lives of data engineers

Data engineering is one of these new disciplines that has gone from buzzword to mission critical in just a few years. Data engineers design and build all the connections between sources of raw data (your payments information or ad-tracking data or what have you) and the ultimate analytics dashboards used by business executives and data scientists to make decisions. As data has exploded, so has their challenge of doing this key work, which is why a new set of tools has arrived to make data engineering easier, faster and better than ever.

One of those tools is Datafold, a YC-backed startup I covered just a few weeks ago as it was preparing for its end-of-summer Demo Day presentation.

Well, that Demo Day presentation and the company’s trajectory clearly caught the eyes of investors, since the startup locked in $2.1 million in seed funding from NEA, the company announced this morning.

As I wrote back in August:

With Datafold, changes made by data engineers in their extractions and transformations can be compared for unintentional changes. For instance, maybe a function that formerly returned an integer now returns a text string, an accidental mistake introduced by the engineer. Rather than wait until BI tools flop and a bunch of alerts come in from managers, Datafold will indicate that there is likely some sort of problem, and identify what happened.

Definitely read our profile if you want to learn more about the product and origin story.

Not a whole heck of a lot has changed over the past few weeks (some new features, some new customers), but with more money in its billfold, Datafold is going to keep on growing, hiring and taking on the world of data engineering.


By Danny Crichton