Tecton teams with founder of Feast open source machine learning feature store

Tecton, the company that pioneered the notion of the machine learning feature store, has teamed up with the founder of the open source feature store project called Feast. Today the company announced the release of version 0.10 of the open source tool.

The feature store is a concept that the Tecton founders came up with when they were engineers at Uber. Shortly thereafter an engineer named Willem Pienaar read the founder’s Uber blog posts on building a feature store and went to work building Feast as an open source version of the concept.

“The idea of Tecton [involved bringing] feature stores to the industry, so we build basically the best in class, enterprise feature store. […] Feast is something that Willem created, which I think was inspired by some of the early designs that we published at Uber. And he built Feast and it evolved as kind of like the standard for open source feature stores, and it’s now part of the Linux Foundation,” Tecton co-founder and CEO Mike Del Balso explained.

Tecton later hired Pienaar, who is today an engineer at the company where he leads their open source team. While the company did not originally start off with a plan to build an open source product, the two products are closely aligned, and it made sense to bring Pienaar on board.

“The products are very similar in a lot of ways. So I think there’s a similarity there that makes this somewhat symbiotic, and there is no explicit convergence necessary. The Tecton product is a superset of what Feast has. So it’s an enterprise version with a lot more advanced functionality, but at Feast we have a battle-tested feature store that’s open source,” Pienaar said.

As we wrote in a December 2020 story on the company’s $35 million Series B, it describes a feature store as “an end-to-end machine learning management system that includes the pipelines to transform the data into what are called feature values, then it stores and manages all of that feature data and finally it serves a consistent set of data.”

Del Balso says that from a business perspective, contributing to the open source feature store exposes his company to a different group of users, and the commercial and open source products can feed off one another as they build the two products.

“What we really like, and what we feel is very powerful here, is that we’re deeply in the Feast community and get to learn from all of the interesting use cases […] to improve the Tecton product. And similarly, we can use the feedback that we’re hearing from our enterprise customers to improve the open source project. That’s the kind of cross learning, and ideally that feedback loop involved there,” he said.

The plan is for Tecton to continue being a primary contributor with a team inside Tecton dedicated to working on Feast. Today, the company is releasing version 0.10 of the project.


By Ron Miller

Sendbird raises $100M at a $1B+ valuation, says 150M+ users now interact using its chat and video APIs

Messaging is the medium these days, and today a startup that has built an API to help others build text and video interactivity into their services is announcing a big round to continue scaling its business. Sendbird, a popular provider of chat, video and other interactive services to the likes of Reddit, Hinge, Paytm, Delivery Hero and hundreds of others by way of a few lines of code, has closed a round of $100 million, money that it plans to use to continue expanding the functionalities of its platform to meet our changing interactive times. Sendbird has confirmed that the funding values the company at $1.05 billion.

Today, customers collectively channel some 150 million users through Sendbird’s APIs to chat with each other and large groups of users over text and video, a figure that has seen a lot of growth in particular in the last year, where people were spending so much more time in front of screens as their primary interface to communicate with the world.

Sendbird already provides some services around that core functionality such as moderation and text search. John Kim, Sendbird’s CEO and founder, said that additional developments like moderation has seen a huge take-up, and services it plans to add into the mix include payments and logistics features, and that it is looking at adding in group audio conversations for customers to build their own Clubhouse clones.

“We are getting enquiries,” said Kim. “We will be setting it up in a personalized way. Voice chat has certainly picked up due to Clubhouse.”

The funding — oversubscribed, the company says — is being led by Steadfast Financial, with Softbank’s Vision Fund 2 also participating, along with previous backers ICONIQ Capital, Tiger Global Management, and Meritech Capital. It comes about two years after Sendbird closed its Series B at $102 million, and the startup appears to have nearly doubled its valuation since then: PitchBook estimates it was around $550 million in 2019.

That growth, in a sense, is not a surprise, given not just the climate right now for virtual interaction, but the fact that Sendbird itself has tripled the number of customers using its tools since 2019. The company, co-headquartered in Seoul, Korea and San Mateo, has now raised around $221 million.

The market that Sendbird has been pecking away at since being founded in 2013 is a hefty one.

Messaging apps have become a major digital force, with a small handful of companies overtaking (and taking on) the primary features found on the most basic of phones and finding traction with people by making them easier to use and full of more interesting features to use alongside the basic functionality. That in turn has led a wave of other companies to build in their own communications features, a way both to provide more community for their users, and to keep people on their own platforms in the process.

“It’s an arms race going on between messaging and payment apps,” Sid Suri, Sendbird’s marketing head, said to me in describing the competitive landscape. “There is a high degree of urgency among all businesses to say we don’t have to lose users to any of them. White label services like ours are powering the ability to keep up.”

Sendbird is indeed one of a wave of companies that have identified both that trend and the opportunity of building that functionality out as a commodity of sorts that can be embedded anywhere a developer chooses to place it by way of an API. It’s not the only one: others in the same space include publicly-listed Twilio, the similarly-named competitor MessageBird (which is also highly capitalised and has positioned itself as a consolidator in the space), PubNub, Sinch, Stream, Firebase and many more.

That competition is one reason why Sendbird has raised money. It gives it more capital to bring on more users, and critically to invest in building out more functionality alongside its core features, to address the needs of its existing users, and to discover new opportunities to provide them with features they perhaps didn’t know they needed in their messaging channels to keep users’ attention.

“We are doing a lot around transactions and payments, as well as logistics,” Kim said in an interview. “We are really building out the end to end experience [since that] really ties into engagement. A couple of new features will be heavily around transactions, and others will be around more engagement.”

Karan Mehandru, a partner at Steadfast, is joining the board with this round, and he believes that there remains a huge opportunity especially when you consider the many verticals that have yet to adopt solid and useful communications channels within their services, such as healthcare.

“The channel that Sendbird is leveraging is the next channel we have come to expect from all brands,” he said in an interview. “Sendbird may look the same as others but if you peel the onion, providing a scalable chat experience that is highly customized is a real problem to solve. Large customers think this is critical but not a core competence and then zoom back to Sendbird because they can’t do it. Sendbird is a clear leader. Sendbird is permeating many verticals and types of companies now. This is one of those rare companies that has been at the right place at the right time.”


By Ingrid Lunden

Testing platform Tricentis acquires performance testing service Neotys

If you develop software for a large enterprise company, chances are you’ve heard of Tricentis. If you don’t develop software for a large enterprise company, chances are you haven’t. The software testing company with a focus on modern cloud and enterprise applications was founded in Austria in 2007 and grew from a small consulting firm to a major player in this field, with customers like Allianz, BMW, Starbucks, Deutsche Bank, Toyota and UBS. In 2017, the company raised a $165 million Series B round led by Insight Venture Partners.

Today, Tricentis announced that it has acquired Neotys, a popular performance testing service with a focus on modern enterprise applications and a tests-as-code philosophy. The two companies did not disclose the price of the acquisition. France-based Neotys launched in 2005 and raised about €3 million before the acquisition. Today, it has about 600 customers for its NeoLoad platform. These include BNP Paribas, Dell, Lufthansa, McKesson and TechCrunch’s own corporate parent, Verizon.

As Tricentis CEO Sandeep Johri noted, testing tools were traditionally script-based, which also meant they were very fragile whenever an application changed. Early on, Tricentis introduced a low-code tool that made the automation process both easier and resilient. Now, as even traditional enterprises move to DevOps and release code at a faster speed than ever before, testing is becoming both more important and harder for these companies to implement.

“You have to have automation and you cannot have it be fragile, where it breaks, because then you spend as much time fixing the automation as you do testing the software,” Johri said. “Our core differentiator was the fact that we were a low-code, model-based automation engine. That’s what allowed us to go from $6 million in recurring revenue eight years ago to $200 million this year.”

Tricentis, he added, wants to be the testing platform of choice for large enterprises. “We want to make sure we do everything that a customer would need, from a testing perspective, end to end. Automation, test management, test data, test case design,” he said.

The acquisition of Neotys allows the company to expand this portfolio by adding load and performance testing as well. It’s one thing to do the standard kind of functional testing that Tricentis already did before launching an update, but once an application goes into production, load and performance testing becomes critical as well.

“Before you put it into production — or before you deploy it — you need to make sure that your application not only works as you expect it, you need to make sure that it can handle the workload and that it has acceptable performance,” Johri noted. “That’s where load and performance testing comes in and that’s why we acquired Neotys. We have some capability there, but that was primarily focused on the developers. But we needed something that would allow us to do end-to-end performance testing and load testing.”

The two companies already had an existing partnership and had integrated their tools before the acquisition — and many of its customers were already using both tools, too.

“We are looking forward to joining Tricentis, the industry leader in continuous testing,” said Thibaud Bussière, president and co-founder at Neotys. “Today’s Agile and DevOps teams are looking for ways to be more strategic and eliminate manual tasks and implement automated solutions to work more efficiently and effectively. As part of Tricentis, we’ll be able to eliminate laborious testing tasks to allow teams to focus on high-value analysis and performance engineering.”

NeoLoad will continue to exist as a stand-alone product, but users will likely see deeper integrations with Tricentis’ existing tools over time, include Tricentis Analytics, for example.

Johri tells me that he considers Tricentis one of the “best kept secrets in Silicon Valley” because the company not only started out in Europe (even though its headquarters is now in Silicon Valley) but also because it hasn’t raised a lot of venture rounds over the years. But that’s very much in line with Johri’s philosophy of building a company.

“A lot of Silicon Valley tends to pay attention only when you raise money,” he told me. “I actually think every time you raise money, you’re diluting yourself and everybody else. So if you can succeed without raising too much money, that’s the best thing. We feel pretty good that we have been very capital efficient and now we’re recognized as a leader in the category — which is a huge category with $30 billion spend in the category. So we’re feeling pretty good about it.”


By Frederic Lardinois

Seven months after Drone acquisition, Harness announces significant updates

The running line from any acquired company CEO is that the company can do so much more with resources of the company that acquired it than it could on its own. Just seven months after being acquired, Drone, co-founder Brad Rydzewski says that his company really has benefited greatly from being part of Harness, and today the company announced a significant overhaul of the open source project.

The artist formerly known as Drone is now called ‘Harness CI Community Edition’ and Rydzewski says the Harness CEO and founder Jyoti Bansal kept his word when he said he was 100% committed to continue developing the open source Drone product.

“Over the past seven months since the acquisition, a lot of community work has been around taking advantage of the resources that Harness has been able to afford us as a project — like having access to a designer, having access to professional writers — these are luxuries for most open source projects,” Rydzewski told me.

He says that having access to these additional resources has enabled him to bring a higher level of polish to the project that just wouldn’t have been possible without joining Harness. At the same time, he says the CI team, which has grown from the project’s two co-founders to 15 people, has also been able to build out the professional CI tool as it has become part of the Harness toolset.

Chief among the updates to the community edition is a new sleeker interface that has a much more professional look and feel, according to Rydzewski. In addition, developers can see how projects move along the pipeline in a visualization tool, while benefiting from real-time debugging tools and new governance and security features.

All of this is an embarrassment of riches for Rydzewski, who was used to working on a shoestring budget prior to joining Harness. “Drone came from very humble beginnings as an open source project, but now I think it can hold its own next to any product in the market today, even products that have raised hundreds of millions of dollars,” he said.


By Ron Miller

Docker nabs $23M Series B as as new developer focus takes shape

It was easy to wonder what would become of Docker after it sold its enterprise business in 2019, but it regrouped last year as a cloud native container company focused on developers, and the new approach appears to be bearing fruit. Today, the company announced a $23 million Series B investment.

Tribe Capital led the round with participation from existing investors Benchmark and Insight Partners. Docker has now raised a total of $58 million including the $35 million investment it landed the same day it announced the deal with Mirantis .

To be sure, the company had a tempestuous 2019 when they changed CEOs twice, sold the enterprise division and looked to reestablish itself with a new strategy. While the pandemic made 2020 a trying time for everyone, Docker CEO Scott Johnston says that in spite of that, the strategy has begun to take shape.

“The results we think speak volumes. Not only was the strategy strong, but the execution of that strategy was strong as well,” Johnston told me. He indicated that the company added 1.7 million new developer registrations for the free version of the product for a total of more 7.3 million registered users on the community edition.

As with any open source project, the goal is to popularize the community project and turn a small percentage of those users into paying customers, but Docker’s problem prior to 2019 had been finding ways to do that. While he didn’t share specific numbers, Johnston indicated that annual recurring revenue (ARR) grew 170% last year, suggesting that they are beginning to convert more successfully.

Johnston says that’s because they have found a way to turn a certain class of developer in spite of a free version being available. “Yes, there’s a lot of upstream open source technologies, and there are users that want to hammer together their own solutions. But we are also seeing these eight-to-ten person ‘two pizza teams’ who want to focus on building applications, and so they’re willing to pay for a service,” he said.

That open source model tends to get the attention of investors because it comes with that built-in action at the top of the sales funnel. Tribe’s Arjun Sethi, whose firm led the investment, says his company actually was a Docker customer before investing in the company and sees a lot more growth potential.

“Tribe focuses on identifying N-of-1 companies — top-decile private tech firms that are exhibiting inflection points in their growth, with the potential to scale towards outsized outcomes with long-term venture capital. Docker fits squarely into this investment thesis[…],” Sethi said in a statement.

Johnston says as they look ahead to post-pandemic, he’s learned a lot since his team move out of the office last year. After surveying employees, they were surprised to learn that most have been happier working at home, having more time to spend with family, while taking away a grueling commute. As a result, he sees going virtual first, even after it’s safe to reopen offices.

That said, he is planning to offer a way to get teams together for in-person gatherings and a full company get-together once a year.

“We’ll be virtual first, but then with the savings of the real estate that we’re no longer paying for, we’re going to bring people together and make sure we have that social glue,” he said.


By Ron Miller

Microsoft Azure expands its NoSQL portfolio with Managed Instances for Apache Cassandra

At its Ignite conference today, Microsoft announced the launch of Azure Managed Instance for Apache Cassandra, its latest NoSQL database offering and a competitor to Cassandra-centric companies like Datastax. Microsoft describes the new service as a ‘semi-managed offering that will help companies bring more of their Cassandra-based workloads into its cloud.

“Customers can easily take on-prem Cassandra workloads and add limitless cloud scale while maintaining full compatibility with the latest version of Apache Cassandra,” Microsoft explains in its press materials. “Their deployments gain improved performance and availability, while benefiting from Azure’s security and compliance capabilities.”

Like its counterpart, Azure SQL Manages Instance, the idea here is to give users access to a scalable, cloud-based database service. To use Cassandra in Azure before, businesses had to either move to Cosmos DB, its highly scalable database service which supports the Cassandra, MongoDB, SQL and Gremlin APIs, or manage their own fleet of virtual machines or on-premises infrastructure.

Cassandra was originally developed at Facebook and then open-sourced in 2008. A year later, it joined the Apache Foundation and today it’s used widely across the industry, with companies like Apple and Netflix betting on it for some of their core services, for example. AWS launched a managed Cassandra-compatible service at its re:Invent conference in 2019 (it’s called Amazon Keyspaces today), Microsoft only launched the Cassandra API for Cosmos DB last November. With today’s announcement, though, the company can now offer a full range of Cassandra-based servicer for enterprises that want to move these workloads to its cloud.


By Frederic Lardinois

DigitalOcean’s IPO filing shows a two-class cloud market

This morning DigitalOcean, a provider of cloud computing services to SMBs, filed to go public. The company intends to list on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) under the ticker symbol “DOCN.”

DigitalOcean’s offering comes amidst a hot streak for tech IPOs, and valuations that are stretched by historical norms. The cloud hosting company was joined by Coinbase in filing its numbers publicly today.

DigitalOcean’s offering comes amidst a hot streak for tech IPOs.

However, unlike the cryptocurrency exchange, DigitalOcean intends to raise capital through its offering. Its S-1 filing lists a $100 million placeholder number, a figure that will update when the company announces an IPO price range target.

This morning let’s explore the company’s financials briefly, and then ask ourselves what its results can tell us about the cloud market as a whole.

DigitalOcean’s financial results

TechCrunch has covered DigitalOcean with some frequency in recent years, including its early-2020 layoffs, its early-2020 $100 million debt raise and its $50 million investment from May of the same year that prior investors Access Industries and Andreessen Horowitz participated in.

From those pieces we knew that the company had reportedly reached $200 million in revenue during 2018, $250 million in 2019 and that DigitalOcean had expected to reach an annualized run rate of $300 million in 2020.

Those numbers held up well. Per its S-1 filing, DigitalOcean generated $203.1 million in 2018 revenue, $254.8 million in 2019 and $318.4 million in 2020. The company closed 2020 out with a self-calculated $357 million in annual run rate.

During its recent years of growth, DigitalOcean has managed to lose modestly increasing amounts of money, calculated using generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP), and non-GAAP profit (adjusted EBITDA) in rising quantities. Observe the rising disconnect:


By Alex Wilhelm

Nobl9 raises $21M Series B for its SLO management platform

SLAs, SLOs, SLIs. If there’s one thing everybody in the business of managing software development loves, it’s acronyms. And while everyone probably knows what a Service Level Agreement (SLA) is, Service Level Objectives (SLOs) and Service Level Indicators (SLIs) may not be quite as well known. The idea, though, is straightforward, with SLOs being the overall goals a team must hit to meet the promises of its SLA agreements, and SLIs being the actual measurements that back up those other two numbers. With the advent of DevOps, these ideas, which are typically part of a company’s overall Site Reliability Engineering (SRE) efforts, are becoming more mainstream, but putting them into practice isn’t always straightforward.

Noble9 aims to provide enterprises with the tools they need to build SLO-centric operations and the right feedback loops inside an organization to help it hit its SLOs without making too many trade-offs between the cost of engineering, feature development and reliability.

The company today announced that it has raised a $21 million Series B round led by its Series A investors Battery Ventures and CRV. In addition, Series A investors Bonfire Ventures and Resolute Ventures also participated, together with new investors Harmony Partners and Sorenson Ventures.

Before starting Nobl9, co-founders Marcin Kurc (CEO) and Brian Singer (CPO) spent time together at Orbitera, where Singer was the co-founder and COO and Kurc the CEO, and then at Google Cloud, after it acquired Orbitera in 2016. In the process, the team got to work with and appreciate Google’s site reliability engineering frameworks.

As they started looking into what to do next, that experience led them to look into productizing these ideas. “We came to this conclusion that if you’re going into Kubernetes, into service-based applications and modern architectures, there’s really no better way to run that than SRE,” Kurc told me. “And when we started looking at this, naturally SRE is a complete framework, there are processes. We started looking at elements of SRE and we agreed that SLO — service level objectives — is really the foundational part. You can’t do SRE without SLOs.”

As Singer noted, in order to adopt SLOs, businesses have to know how to turn the data they have about the reliability of their services, which could be measured in uptime or latency, for example, into the right objectives. That’s complicated by the fact that this data could live in a variety of databases and logs, but the real question is how to define the right SLOs for any given organization based on this data.

“When you go into the conversation with an organization about what their goals are with respect to reliability and how they start to think about understanding if there’s risks to that, they very quickly get bogged down in how are we going to get this data or that data and instrument this or instrument that,” Singer said. “What we’ve done is we’ve built a platform that essentially takes that as the problem that we’re solving. So no matter where the data lives and in what format it lives, we want to be able to reduce it to very simply an error budget and an objective that can be tracked and measured and reported on.”

The company’s platform launched into general availability last week, after a beta that started last year. Early customers include Brex and Adobe.

As Kurc told me, the team actually thinks of this new funding round as a Series A round, but because its $7.5 million Series A was pretty sizable, they decided to call it a Series A instead of a seed round. “It’s hard to define it. If you define it based on a revenue milestone, we’re pre-revenue, we just launched the GA product,” Singer told me. “But I think just in terms of the maturity of the product and the company, I would put us at the [Series] B.”

The team told me that it closed the round at the end of last November, and while it considered pitching new VCs, its existing investors were already interested in putting more money into the company and since its previous round had been oversubscribed, they decided to add to this new round some of the investors that didn’t make the cut for the Series A.

The company plans to use the new funding to advance its roadmap and expand its team, especially across sales, marketing and customer success.


By Frederic Lardinois

Atlassian stops selling on-prem licenses, adds new enteprise pricing tier

Atlassian has made it clear for some time that it’s all in on the cloud, but now it’s official. The company stopped selling new on-prem licenses as of yesterday. Perhaps to take away the sting of that move for large organizations, today it announced a new all-inclusive enterprise pricing tier.

Atlassian chief revenue officer Cameron Deatsch says that previously the company had offered a free tier and then standard and premium level paid tiers. “And now this cloud Enterprise Edition will be our highest tier, and what this will allow is for the most complex deployments, the largest customers who need unlimited scale, the customers that have all the security and regulatory requirements, data residency, you name it, — that is what we’re launching starting [today],” Deatsch told me.

What the enterprise tier delivers is unlimited instances across the Atlassian product line for each enterprise customer. That means a big company with multiple divisions could, for instance, have 20 instances of Jira and Trello deployed with one for each division and a central management console, while paying a single price regardless of how much they use.

While the company is supporting existing on-prem customers until 2024, the idea is to now move them to the cloud and this offering should help. One thing we have clearly seen is that the pandemic has accelerated the move to the cloud by companies of every size, and this should encourage the company’s largest customers to make the move.

“The reality is, the demand was there, which was great to see, but we actually had this huge pipeline of our largest customers, basically trying to build their plan over the next couple of years to get to our cloud. The general availability of our Enterprise Edition is going to accelerate that even more,” he said.

It’s a move the company has been working towards for some time, but it really began to take shape when they shifted their operations to AWS and rebuilt the entire stack as a set of microservices beginning in 2016. This was the first step towards being able to handle the increased kinds of workloads an enterprise tier would require.

The company reported earnings at the end of last month with revenue of $501.4 million up 23% YoY with over 11,000 net new subscribers, a record for the company. The new enterprise tier won’t help with new customer volume, but it should help with overall revenue as more customers look for cloud solutions and pricing that meets their needs.


By Ron Miller

Pinecone lands $10M seed for purpose-built machine learning database

Pinecone, a new startup from the folks who helped launch Amazon SageMaker, has built a vector database that generates data in a specialized format to help build machine learning applications faster, something that was previously only accessible to the largest organizations. Today the company came out of stealth with a new product and announced a $10 million seed investment led by Wing Venture Capital.

Company co-founder Edo Liberty says that he started the company because of this fundamental belief that the industry was being held back by the lack of wider access to this type of database. “The data that a machine learning model expects isn’t a JSON record, it’s a high dimensional vector that is either a list of features or what’s called an embedding that’s a numerical representation of the items or the objects in the world. This [format] is much more semantically rich and actionable for machine learning,” he explained.

He says that this is a concept that is widely understood by data scientists, and supported by research, but up until now only the biggest and technically superior companies like Google or Pinterest could take advantage of this difference. Liberty and his team created Pinecone to put that kind of technology in reach of any company.

The startup spent the last couple of years building the solution, which consists of three main components. The main piece is a vector engine to convert the data into this machine-learning ingestible format. Liberty says that this is the piece of technology that contains all the data structures and algorithms that allow them to index very large amounts of high dimensional vector data, and search through it in an efficient and accurate way.

The second is a cloud hosted system to apply all of that converted data to the machine learning model, while handling things like index lookups along with the pre- and post-processing — everything a data science team needs to run a machine learning project at scale with very large workloads and throughputs. Finally, there is a management layer to track all of this and manage data transfer between source locations.

One classic example Liberty uses is an eCommerce recommendation engine. While this has been a standard part of online selling for years, he believes using a vectorized data approach will result in much more accurate recommendations and he says the data science research data bears him out.

“It used to be that deploying [something like a recommendation engine] was actually incredibly complex, and […] if you have access to a production grade database, 90% of the difficulty and heavy lifting in creating those solutions goes away, and that’s why we’re building this. We believe it’s the new standard,” he said.

The company currently has 10 people including the founders, but the plan is to double or even triple that number, depending on how the year goes. As he builds his company as an immigrant founder — Liberty is from Israel — he says that diversity is top of mind. He adds that it’s something he worked hard on at his previous positions at Yahoo and Amazon as he was building his teams at those two organizations. One way he is doing that is in the recruitment process. “We have instructed our recruiters to be proactive [in finding more diverse applicants], making sure they don’t miss out on great candidates, and that they bring us a diverse set of candidates,” he said.

Looking ahead to post-pandemic, Liberty says he is a bit more traditional in terms of office versus home, and that he hopes to have more in-person interactions. “Maybe I’m old fashioned but I like offices and I like people and I like to see who I work with and hang out with them and laugh and enjoy each other’s company, and so I’m not jumping on the bandwagon of ‘let’s all be remote and work from home’.”


By Ron Miller

Datastax acquires Kesque as it gets into data streaming

Datastax, the company best known for commercializing the open-source Apache Cassandra database, is moving beyond databases. As the company announced today, it has acquired Kesque, a cloud messaging service.

The Kesque team built its service on top of the Apache Pulsar messaging and streaming project. Datastax has now taken that team’s knowledge in this area and, combined with its own expertise, is launching its own Pulsar-based streaming platform by the name of Datastax Luna Streaming, which is now generally available.

This move comes right as Datastax is also now, for the first time, announcing that it is cash-flow positive and profitable, as the company’s chief product officer, Ed Anuff, told me. “We are at over $150 million in [annual recurring revenue]. We are cash-flow positive and we are profitable,” he told me. This marks the first time the company is publically announcing this data. In addition, the company also today revealed that about 20 percent of its annual contract value is now for DataStax Astra, its managed multi-cloud Cassandra service and that the number of self-service Asta subscribers has more than doubled from Q3 to Q4.

The launch of Luna Streaming now gives the 10-year-old company a new area to expand into — and one that has some obvious adjacencies with its existing product portfolio.

“We looked at how a lot of developers are building on top of Cassandra,” Anuff, who joined Datastax after leaving Google Cloud last year, said. “What they’re doing is, they’re addressing what people call ‘data-in-motion’ use cases. They have huge amounts of data that are coming in, huge amounts of data that are going out — and they’re typically looking at doing something with streaming in conjunction with that. As we’ve gone in and asked, “What’s next for Datastax?,’ streaming is going to be a big part of that.”

Given Datastax’s open-source roots, it’s no surprise the team decided to build its service on another open-source project and acquire an open-source company to help it do so. Anuff noted that while there has been a lot of hype around streaming and Apache Kafka, a cloud-native solution like Pulsar seemed like the better solution for the company. Pulsar was originally developed at Yahoo! (which, full disclosure, belongs to the same Verizon Media Group family as TechCrunch) and even before acquiring Kesque, Datastax already used Pulsar to build its Astra platform. Other Pulsar users include Yahoo, Tencent, Nutanix and Splunk.

“What we saw was that when you go and look at doing streaming in a scale-out way, that Kafka isn’t the only approach. We looked at it, and we liked the Pulsar architecture, we like what’s going on, we like the community — and remember, we’re a company that grew up in the Apache open-source community — we said, ‘okay, we think that it’s got all the right underpinnings, let’s go and get involved in that,” Anuff said. And in the process of doing so, the team came across Kesque founder Chris Bartholomew and eventually decided to acquire his company.

The new Luna Streaming offering will be what Datastax calls a “subscription to success with Apache Pulsar.’ It will include a free, production-ready distribution of Pulsar and an optional, SLA-backed subscription tier with enterprise support.

Unsurprisingly, Datastax also plans to remain active in the Pulsar community. The team is already making code contributions, but Anuff also stressed that Datastax is helping out with scalability testing. “This is one of the things that we learned in our participation in the Apache Cassandra project,” Anuff said. “A lot of what these projects need is folks coming in doing testing, helping with deployments, supporting users. Our goal is to be a great participant in the community.”


By Frederic Lardinois

Vectorized announces $15.5M investment to build simpler streaming data tool

Streaming data is not new. Kafka has existed as an open source tool for a decade. Vectorized was founded on the premise that the existing tools were too complex and not designed for today’s streaming requirements. Today the company released its first product, Redpanda, an open source tool designed to make it easier for developers to build streaming data applications.

While it was at it, the startup announced a $15.5 million funding round, which is actually a combination of a previously unannounced $3 million seed round led by Lightspeed Venture Partners and a $12.5 million Series A, which was also from Lightspeed with help from Google Ventures.

Redpanda is an open source tool that is delivered as an “intelligent API” to help “turn data streams into products,” company founder and CEO Alexander Gallego explained. It’s built to be a Kafka replacement, while remaining Kafka-compatible to help deal with backwards compatibility.

At the same time, it takes a more modern approach. Gallego points out that teams building data streaming applications have been getting lost in the complexity and he recognized an opportunity to build a company to simplify that.

“People are drowning in complexity today managing Kafka, ZooKeeper (an open source configuration management tool) and the data lake,” he said, adding “We enable new things that couldn’t be done before for several reasons: one is performance, one is simplicity and the other one is this store procedures.”

He says that the key to developer adoption is making the product free through open source, and having Kafka compatibility so that developers don’t feel like they have to just dump existing projects and start from scratch. While the company is launching with an open source tool, it plans to use the funding to build a hosted version of Redpanda to put it within reach of more organizations. “This funding round in particular is to power our cloud,” he said.

Arif Janmohamed, a partner at Lightspeed Ventures who is leading the investment in Vectorized sees a company looking to improve upon an existing technology with a better approach. “With a simple, elegant solution that doesn’t require any changes to an existing application’s code, Vectorized delivers 10x better performance, a much simpler management paradigm, and new functionality that will unleash the next set of real-time applications for the next decade,” Janmohamed said.

The company has 22 employees today with plans to add another 8 in the first half of this year, mostly engineers to help build the hosted version. As a Latino founder, Gallego is acutely aware of the need for a diverse and inclusive workforce. “What I have found is that being a [Latino] CEO, it attracts more people that look like me, and so that’s been a big thing, and it’s made a difference [in attracting diverse candidates],” he said.

One concrete thing he has done is start a scholarship to encourage under represented groups to become developers. “I started a scholarship where we just give money and mentorship to communities of Latino, Black and female developers, or people that want to transition to software engineering,” he said. While he says he does it without strings attached, he does hope that some of these folks could become part of the tech industry eventually, and perhaps even work at his company.


By Ron Miller

Jam collaborative software launches Jam Genies to give small startups access to experts

As the world moves towards remote work, the collaborative tools market continues to expand. Jam, a platform for editing and improving your company’s website, is adding to the trend by introducing a new arm to its product today called Jam Genies.

Jam Genies is a network of highly experienced product experts that Jam users can tap for guidance and advice around their specific issue or challenge.

Cofounder Dani Grant explained to TechCrunch that many small and early-stage companies don’t have the deep pockets to hire a consultant when they run into a challenge, as many charge exorbitant rates and they often have a minimum time requirement. It can be incredibly difficult to get bite-sized advice at a reasonable cost.

That’s where Jam Genies comes in.

Genies hail from a variety of ‘verticals’, such as investors, designers, brand people, and growth hackers. The list includes:

  • Brianne Kimmel – Angel investor and founder of Worklife VC. Investor in Webflow, Hopin & 40+ software companies building the future of work.
  • Erik Torenberg – Partner at Village Global, a fund backed by Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg and others. Founding team at Product Hunt.
  • Sahil Lavingia – Founder & CEO of Gumroad, first engineer at Pinterest, and angel investing $10 million a year via shl.vc.
  • Iheanyi Ekechukwu – Engineer turned angel investor, and scout investor for Kleiner Perkins.
  • Soleio – Facebook’s second product designer, former head of design at Dropbox, and advisor at Figma. Invests in design-focused founders at Combine.
  • Dara Oke – Product design lead at Netflix, formerly designed and built products at Microsoft, Twitter, and Intel.
  • Katie Suskin – Designed many products you know and love like Microsoft Calendar, OkCupid, Tia, and … Jam.
  • Julius Tarng – Helped scale design at Webflow and led design tooling at Facebook.
  • Abe Vizcarra – Currently leading brand at Fast, former Global Design Director at Snap Inc.
  • Tiffany Zhong – CEO, Zebra IQ. Recognized by Forbes as one of the Top 10 Gen Z Experts.
  • Nicole Obst – Former Head of Web Growth (B2C) at Dropbox and Head of Growth at Loom
  • James Sherrett – 9th employee at Slack, led the original marketing and sales of Slack.
  • Asher King Abramson – CEO at Got Users, a growth marketing platform widely used by startups around Silicon Valley.

Users on the Jam platform can choose a Genie and set an appointment through Calendly. The sessions last half an hour and cost a flat fee of $250, all of which goes to the Genie.

Jam raised $3.5 million in October, from firms like Union Square Ventures, Version One Ventures, BoxGroup, Village Global and a variety of angel investors, to fuel growth and further build out the product. Jam Genies is, in many respects, a growth initiative for the company to better acquaint early-stage startups with the platform.

The main Jam product lets groups of developers and designers work collaboratively on a website, leaving comments, discuss changes and create and assign tasks. The platform integrates with all the usual suspects, such as Jira, Trello, Github, Slack, Figma, and more.

Since its launch in October 2020, the company has signed up 4,000 customers for its private beta waitlist, with 14,000 Jam comments created on the platform. The introduction of Jam Genies could add momentum to this growth push.


By Jordan Crook

Extra Crunch roundup: Digital health VC survey, edtech M&A, deep tech marketing, more

I had my first telehealth consultation last year, and there’s a high probability that you did, too. Since the pandemic began, consumer adoption of remote healthcare has increased 300%.

Speaking as an unvaccinated urban dweller: I’d rather speak to a nurse or doctor via my laptop than try to remain physically distanced on a bus or hailed ride traveling to/from their office.

Even after things return to (rolls eyes) normal, if I thought there was a reliable way to receive high-quality healthcare in my living room, I’d choose it.

Clearly, I’m not alone: a May 2020 McKinsey study pegged yearly domestic telehealth revenue at $3 billion before the coronavirus, but estimated that “up to $250 billion of current U.S. healthcare spend could potentially be virtualized” after the pandemic abates.

That’s a staggering number, but in a category that includes startups focused on sexual health, women’s health, pediatrics, mental health, data management and testing, it’s clear to see why digital-health funding topped more than $10 billion in the first three quarters of 2020.

Drawing from The TechCrunch List, reporter Sarah Buhr interviewed eight active health tech VCs to learn more about the companies and industry verticals that have captured their interest in 2021:

  • Bryan Roberts and Bob Kocher, partners, Venrock
  • Nan Li, managing director, Obvious Ventures
  • Elizabeth Yin, general partner, Hustle Fund
  • Christina Farr, principal investor and health tech lead, OMERS Ventures
  • Ursheet Parikh, partner, Mayfield Ventures
  • Nnamdi Okike, co-founder and managing partner, 645 Ventures
  • Emily Melton, founder and managing partner, Threshold Ventures

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Since COVID-19 has renewed Washington’s focus on healthcare, many investors said they expect a friendly regulatory environment for telehealth in 2021. Additionally, healthcare providers are looking for ways to reduce costs and lower barriers for patients seeking behavioral support.

“Remote really does work,” said Elizabeth Yin, general partner at Hustle Fund.

We’ll cover digital health in more depth this year through additional surveys, vertical reporting, founder interviews and much more.

Thanks very much for reading Extra Crunch this week; I hope you have a relaxing weekend.

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch
@yourprotagonist

8 VCs agree: Behavioral support and remote visits make digital health a strong bet for 2021

Woman having a medicine video conferencing with her doctor using digital tablet. Senior woman on a video call with a doctor using her tablet computer at home.

Image Credits: Luis Alvarez (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Lessons from Top Hat’s acquisition spree

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin

In the last year, edtech startup Top Hat acquired three publishing companies: Fountainhead Press, Bludoor and Nelson HigherEd.

Natasha Mascarenhas interviewed CEO and founder Mike Silagadze to learn more about his content acquisition strategy, but her story also discussed “some rumblings of consolidation and exits in edtech land.”

How VCs invested in Asia and Europe in 2020

Last year, U.S.-based VCs invested an average of $428 million each day in domestic startups, with much of the benefits flowing to fintech companies.

This morning, Alex Wilhelm examined Q4 VC totals for Europe, which had its lowest deal count since Q1 2019, despite a record $14.3 billion in investments.

Asia’s VC industry, which saw $25.2 billion invested across 1,398 deals is seeing “a muted recovery,” says Alex.

“Falling seed volume, lots of big rounds. That’s 2020 VC around the world in a nutshell.”

Decrypted: With more SolarWinds fallout, Biden picks his cybersecurity team

Image Credits: Treedeo (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

In this week’s Decrypted, security reporter Zack Whittaker covered the latest news in the unfolding SolarWinds espionage campaign, now revealed to have impacted the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and Malwarebytes.

In other news, the controversy regarding WhatsApp’s privacy policy change appears to be driving users to encrypted messaging app Signal, Zack reported. Facebook has put changes at WhatsApp on hold “until it could figure out how to explain the change without losing millions of users,” apparently.

Hot IPOs hang onto gains as investors keep betting on tech

A big IPO debut is a juicy topic for a few news cycles, but because there’s always another unicorn ready to break free from its corral and leap into the public markets, it doesn’t leave a lot of time to reflect.

Alex studied companies like Lemonade, Airbnb and Affirm to see how well these IPO pop stars have retained their value. Not only have most held steady, “many have actually run up the score in the ensuing weeks,” he found.

Dear Sophie: What are Biden’s immigration changes?

lone figure at entrance to maze hedge that has an American flag at the center

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch

Dear Sophie:

I work in HR for a tech firm. I understand that Biden is rolling out a new immigration plan today.

What is your sense as to how the new administration will change business, corporate and startup founder immigration to the U.S.?

—Free in Fremont

Hello, Extra Crunch community!

Hello in Different Languages

Image Credits: atakan (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

I began my career as an avid TechCrunch reader and remained one even when I joined as a writer, when I left to work on other things and now that I’ve returned to focus on better serving our community.

I’ve been chatting with some of the folks in our community and I’d love to talk to you, too. Nothing fancy, just 5-10 minutes of your time to hear more about what you want to see from us and get some feedback on what we’ve been doing so far.

If you would be so kind as to take a minute or two to fill out this form, I’ll drop you a note and hopefully we can have a chat about the future of the Extra Crunch community before we formally roll out some of the ideas we’re cooking up.

Drew Olanoff
@yoda

In 2020, VCs invested $428m into US-based startups every day

Last year was a disaster across the board thanks to a global pandemic, economic uncertainty and widespread social and political upheaval.

But if you were involved in the private markets, however, 2020 had some very clear upside — VCs flowed $156.2 billion into U.S.-based startups, “or around $428 million for each day,” reports Alex Wilhelm.

“The huge sum of money, however, was itself dwarfed by the amount of liquidity that American startups generated, some $290.1 billion.”

Using data sourced from the National Venture Capital Association and PitchBook, Alex used Monday’s column to recap last year’s seed, early-stage and late-stage rounds.

How and when to build marketing teams at deep tech companies

Pole lifting rubber duck with hook in its head

Image Credits: Andy Roberts (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Building a marketing team is one of the most opaque parts of spinning up a startup, but for a deep tech company, the stakes couldn’t be higher.

How can technical founders working on bleeding-edge technology find the right people to tell their story?

If you work at a post-revenue, early-stage deep tech startup (or know someone who does), this post explains when to hire a team, whether they’ll need prior industry experience, and how to source and evaluate talent.

Bustle CEO Bryan Goldberg explains his plans for taking the company public

Bustle Digital Group CEO Bryan Goldberg

Bustle Digital Group CEO Bryan Goldberg. Image Credits: Bustle Digital Group

Senior Writer Anthony Ha interviewed Bustle Digital Group CEO Bryan Goldberg to get his thoughts on the state of digital media.

Their conversation covered a lot of ground, but the biggest news it contained focuses on Goldberg’s short-term plans.

“Where do I want to see the company in three years? I want to see three things: I want to be public, I want to see us driving a lot of profits and I want it to be a lot bigger, because we’ve consolidated a lot of other publications,” he said.

It may not be as glamorous as D2C, but beauty tech is big money

Directly Above Shot Of Razors On Green Background

Image Credits: Laia Divols Escude/EyeEm (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission is not a huge fan of personal-care D2C brands merging with traditional consumer product companies.

This month, razor startup Billie and Proctor & Gamble announced they were calling off their planned merger after the FTC filed suit.

For similar reasons, Edgewell Personal Care dropped its plans last year to buy Harry’s for $1.37 billion.

In a harsher regulatory environment, “the path to profitability has become a more important part of the startup story versus growth at all costs,” it seems.

Twilio CEO says wisdom lies with your developers

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – SEPTEMBER 12: Founder and CEO of Twilio Jeff Lawson speaks onstage during TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2016 at Pier 48 on September 12, 2016 in San Francisco, California. Image Credits: Steve Jennings/Getty Images for TechCrunch

Companies that build their own tools “tend to win the hearts, minds and wallets of their customers,” according to Twilio CEO Jeff Lawson.

In an interview with enterprise reporter Ron Miller for his new book, “Ask Your Developer,” Lawson says founders should use developer teams as a sounding board when making build-versus-buy decisions.

“Lawson’s basic philosophy in the book is that if you can build it, you should,” says Ron.


By Walter Thompson

StackPulse announces $28M investment to help developers manage outages

When a system outage happens, chaos can ensue as the team tries to figure out what’s happening and how to fix it. StackPulse, a new startup that wants to help developers manage these crisis situations more efficiently, emerged from stealth today with a $28 million investment.

The round actually breaks down to a previously unannounced $8 million seed investment and a new $20 million Series A. GGV led the A round, while Bessemer Venture Partners led the seed and also participated in the A. Glenn Solomon at GGV and Amit Karp at Bessemer will join the StackPulse board.

Nobody is immune to these outages. We’ve seen incidents from companies as varied as Amazon and Slack in recent months. The biggest companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon employ site reliability engineers and build customized platforms to help remediate these kinds of situations. StackPulse hopes to put this kind of capability within reach of companies, whose only defense is the on-call developers.

Company co-founder and CEO Ofer Smadari says that in the midst of a crisis with signals coming at you from Slack and PagerDuty and other sources, it’s hard to figure out what’s happening. StackPulse is designed to help sort out the details to get you back to equilibrium as quickly as possible.

First off, it helps identify the severity of the incident. Is it a false alarm or something that requires your team’s immediate attention or something that can be put off for a later maintenance cycle. If there is something going wrong that needs to be fixed right now, StackPulse can not only identify the source of the problem, but also help fix it automatically, Smadari explained.

After the incident has been resolved, it can also help with a post mortem to figure out what exactly went wrong by pulling in all of the alert communications and incident data into the platform.

As the company emerges from stealth, it has some early customers and 35 employees based in Portland, Oregon and Tel Aviv. Smadari says that he hopes to have 100 employees by the end of this year. As he builds the organization, he is thinking about how to build a diverse team for a diverse customer base. He believes that people with diverse backgrounds build a better product. He adds that diversity is a top level goal for the company, which already has an HR leader in place to help.

Glenn Solomon from GGV, who will be joining the company board, saw a strong founding team solving a big problem for companies and wanted to invest. “When they described the vision for the product they wanted to build, it made sense to us,” he said.

Customers are impatient with down time and Solomon sees developers on the front line trying to solve these issues. “Performance is more important than ever. When there is downtime, it’s damaging to companies,” he said. He believes StackPulse can help.


By Ron Miller