By Jordan Crook
October 18, 2018
By Ron Miller
October 18, 2018
By Ron Miller
October 17, 2018
By Anthony Ha
October 16, 2018
By Frederic Lardinois
October 16, 2018
By Ron Miller
October 15, 2018
By Frederic Lardinois
October 15, 2018
By Ron Miller
October 15, 2018
By Ingrid Lunden
October 15, 2018
By Ron Miller
October 12, 2018
Great startups normally come from a personal place. Byran Dai’s new company, Daivergent, is no different.
Founded in December 2017, Daivergent looks to connect enterprise clients with folks on the autism spectrum who will help complete tasks in AI/ML data management.
Dai’s younger brother, Brandon, is on the autism spectrum. Dai realized that his brother and other folks on the spectrum are perfect candidates for certain high-complexity tasks that require extraordinary attention to detail, such as data entry and enrichment, quality assurance and data validation, and content moderation.
In a landscape where just about everyone is working on AI and machine learning algorithms, organizing data is a top priority. Daivergent believes that it can put together the perfect pool of data specialists to complete any task in this space.
Daivergent partners with various agencies including the AHRC and Autism Speaks to source talent. Those folks go through a screening process, which assesses their abilities to complete these sorts of tasks. They then become Daivergent contractors, where they get further training and then start working on projects.
The company says that there are 2.5 million adults with autism in the U.S., and Autism Speaks reports an 85 percent unemployment rate among college-educated adults with autism.
Daivergent not only provides a way for these people to get into the workforce, but it offers a way for corporations and companies to employ American workers for projects they would likely otherwise employ overseas contractors.
When a new task comes in to Daivergent, the company splits that project into smaller tasks and then assigns those tasks to its workers. The company also determines the complexity of the overall project, factoring in the urgency level of the request, to decide pricing.
Daivergent takes a small cut of the earnings and passes the rest on to the workers.
Right now, Daivergent has 25 active workers performing tasks for customers, with 150 workers registered and going through the qualification process and another 400 adults with autism in the candidate pool.
The company recently graduated from the ERA accelerator.
By Jordan Crook
Seva, a New York City startup, that wants to help customers find content wherever it lives across SaaS products, announced a $2.4 million seed round today. Avalon Ventures led the round with participation from Studio VC and Datadog founder and CEO Olivier Pomel.
Company founder and CEO Sanjay Jain says that he started this company because he felt the frustration personally of having to hunt across different cloud services to find the information he was looking for. When he began researching the idea for the company, he found others who also complained about this fragmentation.
“Our fundamental vision is to change the way that knowledge workers acquire the information they need to do their jobs from one where they have to spend a ton of time actually seeking it out to one where the Seva platform can prescribe the right information at the right time when and where the knowledge worker actually needs it, regardless of where it lives.”
Seva, which is currently in Beta, certainly isn’t the first company to try and solve this issue. Jain believes that with a modern application of AI and machine learning and single sign-on, Seva can provide a much more user-centric approach than past solutions simply because the technology wasn’t there yet.
The way they do this is by looking across the different information types. Today they support a range of products including Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Drive,, Box, Dropbox, Slack and JIRA, Confluence. Jain says they will be adding additional services over time.
Customers can link Seva to these products by simply selecting one and entering the user credentials. Seva inherits all of the security and permissioning applied to each of the services, so when it begins pulling information from different sources, it doesn’t violate any internal permissioning in the process.
Jain says once connected to these services, Seva can then start making logical connections between information wherever it lives. A salesperson might have an appointment with a customer in his or her calendar, information about the customer in a CRM and a training video related to the customer visit. It can deliver all of this information as a package, which users can share with one another within the platform, giving it a collaborative element.
Seva currently has 6 employees, but with the new funding is looking to hire a couple of more engineers to add to the team. Jain hopes the money will be a bridge to a Series A round at the end of next year by which time the product will be generally available.
By Ron Miller
The big accounting firms are under pressure from digital disruption just like every industry these days, but PwC is trying a proactive approach with a digital accelerator program designed to train employees for the next generation of jobs.
To do this, PwC is not just providing some additional training resources and calling it a day. They are allowing employees to take 18 months to two years to completely immerse themselves in learning about a new area. This involves spending half their time on training for their new skill development and half putting that new knowledge to work with clients.
PwC’s Sarah McEneaney, digital talent leader at PwC was put in charge of the program. She said that as a consulting organization, it was important to really focus on the providing a new set of skills for the entire group of employees. That would take a serious commitment, concentrating on a set of emerging technologies. They decided to focus on data and analytics, automation and robotics and AI and machine learning.
Ray Wang, who is founder and principal analyst at Constellation Research says this is part of a broader trend around preparing employees inside large organizations for future skills. “Almost every organization around the world is worried about the growing skills gap inside their organizations. Reskilling, continuous learning and hand-on training are back in vogue with the improved economy and war for talent,” he said.
PwC program takes shape
About a year ago the company began designing the program and decided to open it up to everyone in the company from the consulting staff to the support staff with goal of eventually providing a new set of skills across the entire organization of 50,000 employees. As you would expect with a large organization, that started with baby steps.
The company designed the new program as a self-nomination process, rather than having management picked candidates. They wanted self starters, and about 3500 applied. McEneaney considered this a good number, especially since PwC tends to be a risk-averse culture and this was asking employees to leave the normal growth track and take a chance with this new program. Out of the 3500 who applied, they did an initial pilot with 1000 people.
She estimates if a majority of the company’s employees eventually opt in to this retraining regimen, it could cost some serious cash, around $100 million. That’s not an insignificant sum, even for a large company like PwC, but McEneaney believes it should pay for itself fairly quickly. As she put it, customers will respect the fact that the company is modernizing and looking at more efficient ways to do the work they are doing today.
Making it happen
Daniel Krogen, a risk assurance associate at PwC decided to go on the data and analytics track. While he welcomed getting new skills from his company, he admits he was nervous going this route at first because of the typical way his industry has worked in the past. “In the accounting industry you come in and have a track and everyone follows the track. I was worried doing something unique could hinder me if I wasn’t following track,” he said.
He says those fears were alleviated by senior management encouraging people to join this program and giving participants assurances that they would not be penalized. “The firm is dedicated to pushing this and having how we differentiate this against the industry, and we want to invest in all of our staff and push everyone through this,” Krogen said.
McEneaney says she’s a partner at the firm, but it took a change management sell to the executive team and really getting them to look at it as a long-term investment in the future of the business. “I would say a critical factor in the early success of the program has been having buy-in from our senior partner, our CEO and all of his team from the very start,” She reports directly to this team and sees their support and backing as critical to the early success of the program.
Members of the program are given a 3-day orientation. After that they follow a self-directed course work. They are encouraged to work together with other people in the program, and this is especially important since people will bring a range of skills to the subject matter from absolute beginners to those with more advanced understanding. People can meet in an office if they are in the same area or a coffee shop or in an online meeting as they prefer.
Each member of the program participates in a Udacity nano-degree program, learning a new set of skills related to whatever technology speciality they have chosen. “We have a pretty flexible culture here…and we trust our people to work in ways that work for them and work together in ways that work for them,” McEneaney explained.
The initial program was presented as a 12-18 month digital accelerator tour of duty, Krogen said. “In those 12-18 months, we are dedicated to this program. We could choose another stint or go back to client work and bring those skills to client services that we previously provided.”
While this program is really just getting off the ground, it’s a step toward acknowledging the changing face of business and technology. Companies like PwC need to be proactive in terms of preparing their own employees for the next generation of jobs, and that’s something every organization should be considering.
By Ron Miller
After a disappointing second quarter, Netflix is back in Wall Street’s good graces. The company just released its third quarter earnings report, and as of 5:30pm East Coast time, the stock is up 12 percent in after hours trading.
The most important number here is subscriber growth, and that’s where Netflix came in way ahead of expectations, with 6.96 net additions, compared to the 5.07 million that analysts predicted. The service now has a total of 137 million members, and 130 million paying members.
The company also reported earnings of 89 cents per share on revenue of $4 billion — analysts had predicted EPS of 68 cents.
In addition to reporting on the latest financials, Netflix’s letter to shareholders also offers an update on its original content strategy. It distinguishes between two different types of Netflix Originals — the ones like “Orange Is The New Black,” where Netflix gets the first window for distribution, and others like “Stranger Things,” where it actually owns the content.
The company says:
Today, we employ hundreds of people in physical production, working on a wide variety of owned titles spread across scripted and unscripted series, kids, international content, standup, docs and feature films from all over the world. To support our efforts, we’ll need more production capacity; we recently announced the selection of Albuquerque, New Mexico as the site of a new US production hub, where we anticipate bringing $1 billion dollars in production over the next 10 years and creating up to 1,000 production jobs per year. Our internal studio is already the single largest supplier of content to Netflix (on a cash basis).
Netflix also says romance has been big recently, thanks to its “Summer of Love” slate of original films, which have been watched by more than 80 million accounts. Apparently “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before” did particularly well, becoming one of Netflix’s most-watched original films, “with strong repeat viewing.”
The service plans to release “Gravity” director Alfonso Cuarón’s new film “Roma” in December, which has already been getting rave reviews at film festivals. While Netflix’s original movies generally have a minimal presence in theaters, the company says “Roma” (like Paul Greengrass’ “22 July”) will be released in more than 100 screens worldwide — not a blockbuster rollout, but not a perfunctory release, either.
The company is forecasting the addition of 9.4 new members in the fourth quarter.
By Anthony Ha
For the longest time, GitHub was all about storing source code and sharing it either with the rest of the world or your colleagues. Today, the company, which is in the process of being acquired by Microsoft, is taking a step in a different but related direction by launching GitHub Actions. Actions allow developers to not just host code on the platform but also run it. We’re not talking about a new cloud to rival AWS here, but instead about something more akin to a very flexible IFTTT for developers who want to automate their development workflows, whether that is sending notifications or building a full continuous integration and delivery pipeline.
This is a big deal for GitHub . Indeed, Sam Lambert, GitHub’s head of platform, described it to me as “the biggest shift we’ve had in the history of GitHub.” He likened it to shortcuts in iOS — just more flexible. “Imagine an infinitely more flexible version of shortcut, hosted on GitHub and designed to allow anyone to create an action inside a container to augment and connect their workflow.”
GitHub users can use Actions to build their continuous delivery pipelines, and the company expects that many will do so. And that’s pretty much the first thing most people will think about when they hear about this new project. GitHub’s own description of Actions in today’s announcement makes definitely fits that bill, too. “Easily build, package, release, update, and deploy your project in any language—on GitHub or any external system—without having to run code yourself,” the company writes. But it’s about more than that.
“I see CI/CD as one narrow use case of actions. It’s so, so much more,” Lambert stressed. “And I think it’s going to revolutionize DevOps because people are now going to build best in breed deployment workflows for specific applications and frameworks, and those become the de facto standard shared on GitHub. […] It’s going to do everything we did for open source again for the DevOps space and for all those different parts of that workflow ecosystem.”
That means you can use it to send a text message through Twilio every time someone uses the ‘urgent issue’ tag in your repository, for example. Or you can write a one-line command that searches your repository with a basic grep command. Or really run any other code you want to because all you have to do to turn any code in your repository into an Action is to write a Docker file for it so that GitHub can run it. “As long as there is a Docker file, we can build it, run in and connect it to your workflow,” Lambert explained. If you don’t want to write a Docker file, though, there’s also a visual editor you can use to build your workflow.
As Corey Wilkerson, GitHub’s head of product engineering also noted, many of these Actions already exist in repositories on GitHub today. And there are now over 96 million of those on GitHub, so that makes for a lot of potential actions that will be available from the start.
With Actions, which is now in limited public beta, developers can set up the workflow to build, package, release, update and deploy their code without having to run the code themselves.
Now developers could host those Actions themselves — they are just Docker containers, after all — but GitHub will also host and run the code for them. And that includes developers on the free open source plan.
Over time — and Lambert seemed to be in favor of this — GitHub could also allow developers to sell their workflows and Actions through the GitHub marketplace. For now, that’s not an option, but it it’s definitely that’s something the company has been thinking about. Lambert also noted that this could be a way for open source developers who don’t want to build an enterprise version of their tools (and the sales force that goes with that) to monetize their efforts.
While GitHub will make its own actions available to developers, this is an open platform and others in the GitHub community can contribute their own actions, too.
In addition to Actions, GitHub also announced a number of other new features on its platform. As the company stressed during today’s event, it’s mission is to make the life of developers easier — and most of the new features may be small but do indeed make it easier for developers to do their jobs.
So what else is new? GitHub Connect, which connects the silo of GitHub Enterprise with the open source repositories on its public site, is now generally available, for example. GitHub Connect enables new features like unified search, that can search through both the open source code on the site and internal code, as well as a new Unified Business Identity feature that brings together the multiple GitHub Business accounts that many businesses now manage (thanks, shadow IT) under a single umbrella to improve billing, licensing and permissions.
The company also today launched three new courses in its Learning Lab that make it easier for developers to get started with the service, as well as a business version of Learning Lab for larger organizations.
What’s maybe even more interesting for developers whose companies use GitHub Enterprise, though, is that the company will now allow admins to enable a new feature that will display those developers’ work as part of their public profile. Given that GitHub is now the de facto resume for many developers, that’s a big deal. Much of their work, after all, isn’t in open source or in building side projects, but in the day-to-day work at their companies.
The other new features the company announced today are pretty much all about security. The new GitHub Security Advisory API, for example, makes it easier for developers to find threads in their code through automatic vulnerability scans, while the new security vulnerability alerts for Java and .NET projects now extend GitHub’s existing alerts to these two languages. If your developers are prone to putting their security tokens into public code, then you can now rest easier since GitHub will now also start scanning all public repositories for known token formats. If it finds one, it’ll alert you and you can set off to create a new one.
By Frederic Lardinois
Some tech companies might have a problem taking money from the Department of Defense, but Amazon isn’t one of them, as CEO Jeff Bezos made clear today at the Wired25 conference. Just last week, Google pulled out of the running for the Pentagon’s $10 billion, 10-year JEDI cloud contract, but Bezos suggested that he was happy to take the government’s money.
Bezos has been surprisingly quiet about the contract up until now, but his company has certainly attracted plenty of attention from the companies competing for the JEDI deal. Just last week IBM filed a formal protest with the Government Accountability Office claiming that the contract was stacked in favor one vendor. And while it didn’t name it directly, the clear implication was that company was the one owned by Bezos.
Last summer Oracle also filed a protest and also complained that they believed the government had set up the contract to favor Amazon, a charge spokesperson Heather Babb denied. “The JEDI Cloud final RFP reflects the unique and critical needs of DOD, employing the best practices of competitive pricing and security. No vendors have been pre-selected,” she said last month.
While competitors are clearly worried about Amazon, which has a substantial lead in the cloud infrastructure market, the company itself has kept quiet on the deal until now. Bezos set his company’s support in patriotic terms and one of leadership.
“Sometimes one of the jobs of the senior leadership team is to make the right decision, even when it’s unpopular. And if if big tech companies are going to turn their back on the US Department of Defense, this country is going to be in trouble,” he said.
“I know everyone is conflicted about the current politics in this country, but this country is a gem,” he added.
While Google tried to frame its decision as taking a principled stand against misuse of technology by the government, Bezos chose another tack, stating that all technology can be used for good or ill. “Technologies are always two-sided. You know there are ways they can be misused as well as used, and this isn’t new,” Bezos told Wired25.
He’s not wrong of course, but it’s hard not to look at the size of the contract and see it as purely a business decision on his part. Amazon is as hot for that $10 billion contract as any of its competitors. What’s different in this talk is that Bezos made it sound like a purely patriotic decision, rather than economic one.
The Pentagon’s JEDI contract could have a value of up to $10 billion with a maximum length of 10 years. The contract is framed as a two year deal with two three-year options and a final one for two years. The DOD can opt out before exercising any of the options.
Bidding for the contract closed last Friday. The DOD is expected to choose the winning vendor next April.
By Ron Miller
Twilio, the ubiquitous communications platform, today announced its plan to acquire the API-centric email platform SendGrid for about $2 billion in an all-stock transaction. That’s Twilio’s largest acquisition to date, but also one that makes a lot of sense given that both companies aim to make building communications platforms easier for developers.
“The two companies share the same vision, the same model, and the same values,” said Twilio co-founder and CEO Jeff Lawson in today’s announcement. “We believe this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring together the two leading developer-focused communications platforms to create the unquestioned platform of choice for all companies looking to transform their customer engagement.”
SendGrid will become a wholly owned subsidiary of Twilio and its common stock will be converted into Twilio stock. The companies expect the acquisition to close in the first half of 2019, after it has been cleared by the authorities.
Twilio’s current focus is on omnichannel communication, and email is obviously a major part of that. And while it offers plenty of services around voice, video and chat, email hasn’t been on its radar in the same way. This acquisition now allows it to quickly build up expertise in this area and expand its services there.
SendGrid went public in 2017. At the time, it priced its stock at $16. Today, before the announcement, the company was trading at just under $31, though that price obviously spiked after the announcement went public. That’s still down from a high of more than $36.5 last month, but that’s in line with the overall movement of the market in recent weeks.
Today’s announcement comes shortly before Twilio’s annual developer conference, so I expect we’ll hear a lot more about its plans for SendGrid later this week.
We asked Twilio for more details about its plans for SendGrid after the acquisition closes. We’ll update this post once we hear more.
By Frederic Lardinois
Celonis has been helping companies analyze and improve their internal processes using machine learning. Today the company announced it was providing that same solution as a cloud service with a few nifty improvements you won’t find on prem.
The new approach, called Celonis Intelligent Business Cloud, allows customers to analyze a workflow, find inefficiencies and offer improvements very quickly. Companies typically follow a workflow that has developed over time and very rarely think about why it developed the way it did, or how to fix it. If they do, it usually involves bringing in consultants to help. Celonis puts software and machine learning to bear on the problem.
Co-founder and CEO Alexander Rinke says that his company deals with massive volumes of data and moving all of that to the cloud makes sense. “With Intelligent Business Cloud, we will unlock that [on prem data], bring it to the cloud in a very efficient infrastructure and provide much more value on top of it,” he told TechCrunch.
The idea is to speed up the whole ingestion process, allowing a company to see the inefficiencies in their business processes very quickly. Rinke says it starts with ingesting data from sources such as Salesforce or SAP and then creating a visual view of the process flow. There may be hundreds of variants from the main process workflow, but you can see which ones would give you the most value to change, based on the number of times the variation occurs.
By packaging the Celonis tools as a cloud service, they are reducing the complexity of running and managing it. They are also introducing an app store with over 300 pre-packaged options for popular products like Salesforce and ServiceNow and popular process like order to cash. This should also help get customers up and running much more quickly.
The cloud service also includes an Action Engine, which Rinke describes as a big step toward moving Celonis from being purely analytical to operational. “Action Engine focuses on changing and improving processes. It gives workers concrete info on what to do next. For example in process analysis, it would notice on time delivery isn’t great because order to cash is to slow. It helps accelerate changes in system configuration,” he explained.
The new cloud service is available today. Celonis was founded in 2011. It has raised over $77 million. The most recent round was a $50 million Series B on a valuation over $1 billion.
By Ron Miller
Truphone — a UK startup that provides global mobile voice and data services by way of an eSIM model for phones, tablets and IoT devices — said that it has raised another £18 million ($23.7 million) in funding; additionally securing £36 million ($47 million) more “on a conditional basis” to expand its business after signing “a number of high-value deals.”
It doesn’t specify which deals these are, but Truphone was an early partner of Apple’s to provide eSIM-based connectivity to the iPad; and it will also be offering a service for new iPhone XS and XR models, taking advantage of the dual SIM capability. Truphone says that strategic partners of the company include Apple (“which chose Truphone as the only carrier to offer global data, voice and text plans on the iPad and iPhone digital eSIM”); Synopsys, which has integrated Truphone’s eSIM technology into its chipset designs; and Workz Group, a SIM manufacturer, which has a license from Truphone for its GSMA-accredited remote SIM provisioning platform and SIM operating system.
The company said that this funding, which was made by way of a rights issue, values Truphone at £386 million ($507 million at today’s rates) post-money. Truphone told TechCrunch that the funding came from Vollin Holdings and Minden Worldwide — two investment firms with ties to Roman Abramovich, the Russian oligarch who also owns the Chelsea football club, among other things — along with unspecified minority shareholders. Collectively, Abramovich-connected entities control more than 80 percent of the company.
We have asked the company for more detail on what the conditions are for the additional £36 million in funding to be released and all it is willing to say is that “it’s KPI-driven and related to the speed of growth in the business.”
For some context, Truphone most recently raised money almost exactly a year ago, when it picked up £255 million also by way of a rights issue, and also from the same two big investors. The large amount that time was partly being raised to retire debt. That deal was done at a valuation of £370 million ($491 million at the time of the deal). Going just on sterling values, this is a slight down-round.
Truphone, however, says that business is strong right now:
“The appetite for our technology has been enormous and we are thrilled that our investors have given us the opportunity to accelerate and scale these groundbreaking products to market,” said Ralph Steffens, CEO, Truphone, in a statement. “We recognised early on that the more integrated the supply chain, the smoother the customer experience. That recognition paid off—not just for our customers, but for our business. Because we have this capability, we can move at a speed and proficiency that has never before seen in our industry. This investment is particularly important because it is testament not just to our investors’ confidence in our ambitions, but pride in our accomplishments and enthusiasm to see more of what we can do.”
Truphone is one of a handful of providers that is working with Apple to provide plans for the digital eSIM by way of the MyTruphone app. Essentially this will give users an option for international data plans while travelling — Truphone’s network covers 80 countries — without having to swap out the SIMs for their home networks.
The eSIM technology is bigger than the iPhone itself, of course: some believe it could be the future of how we connect on mobile networks. On phones and tablets, it does away with users ordering, and inserting or swapping small, fiddly chips into their devices (that ironically is also one reason that carriers have been resistant to eSIMs traditionally: it makes it much easier for their customers to churn away). And in IoT networks where you might have thousands of connected, unmanned devices, this becomes one way of scaling those networks.
“eSIM technology is the next big thing in telecommunications and the impact will be felt by everyone involved, from consumers to chipset manufacturers and all those in-between,” said Steve Alder, chief business development officer at Truphone. “We’re one of only a handful of network operators that work with the iPhone digital eSIM. Choosing Truphone means that your new iPhone works across the world—just as it was intended.” Of note, Alder was the person who brokered the first iPhone carrier deal in the UK, when he was with O2.
Truphone has not released numbers detailing how many devices are using its eSIM services at the moment — either among enterprises or consumers — but it has said that customers include more than 3,500 multinational enterprises in 196 countries. We’ll update this post as we learn more.
By Ingrid Lunden
You might think that Anaplan CEO, Frank Calderoni would have had a few sleepless nights this week. His company picked a bad week to go public as market instability rocked tech stocks. Still he wasn’t worried, and today the company had by any measure a successful debut with the stock soaring up over 42 percent. As of 4 pm ET, it hit $24.18, up from the IPO price of $17. Not a bad way to launch your company.
“I feel good because it really shows the quality of the company, the business model that we have and how we’ve been able to build a growing successful business, and I think it provides us with a tremendous amount of opportunity going forward,” Calderoni told TechCrunch.
Calderoni joined the company a couple of years ago, and seemed to emerge from Silicon Valley central casting as former CFO at Red Hat and Cisco along with stints at IBM and SanDisk. He said he has often wished that there were a tool around like Anaplan when he was in charge of a several thousand person planning operation at Cisco. He indicated that while they were successful, it could have been even more so with a tool like Anaplan.
“The planning phase has not had much change in in several decades. I’ve been part of it and I’ve dealt with a lot of the pain. And so having something like Anaplan, I see it’s really being a disrupter in the planning space because of the breadth of the platform that we have. And then it goes across organizations to sales, supply chain, HR and finance, and as we say, really connects the data, the people and the plan to make for better decision making as a result of all that,” he said.
Calderoni describes Anaplan as a planning and data analysis tool. In his previous jobs he says that he spent a ton of time just gathering data and making sure they had the right data, but precious little time on analysis. In his view Anaplan, lets companies concentrate more on the crucial analysis phase.
“Anaplan allows customers to really spend their time on what I call forward planning where they can start to run different scenarios and be much more predictive, and hopefully be able to, as we’ve seen a lot of our customers do, forecast more accurately,” he said.
Anaplan was founded in 2006 and raised almost $300 million along the way. It achieved a lofty valuation of $1.5 billion in its last round, which was $60 million in 2017. The company has just under 1000 customers including Del Monte, VMware, Box and United.
Calderoni says although the company has 40 percent of its business outside the US, there are plenty of markets left to conquer and they hope to use today’s cash infusion in part to continue to expand into a worldwide company.
By Ron Miller