The time Animoto almost brought AWS to its knees

Today, Amazon Web Services is a mainstay in the cloud infrastructure services market, a $60 billion juggernaut of a business. But in 2008, it was still new, working to keep its head above water and handle growing demand for its cloud servers. In fact, 15 years ago last week, the company launched Amazon EC2 in beta. From that point forward, AWS offered startups unlimited compute power, a primary selling point at the time.

EC2 was one of the first real attempts to sell elastic computing at scale — that is, server resources that would scale up as you needed them and go away when you didn’t. As Jeff Bezos said in an early sales presentation to startups back in 2008, “you want to be prepared for lightning to strike, […] because if you’re not that will really generate a big regret. If lightning strikes, and you weren’t ready for it, that’s kind of hard to live with. At the same time you don’t want to prepare your physical infrastructure, to kind of hubris levels either in case that lightning doesn’t strike. So, [AWS] kind of helps with that tough situation.”

An early test of that value proposition occurred when one of their startup customers, Animoto, scaled from 25,000 to 250,000 users in a 4-day period in 2008 shortly after launching the company’s Facebook app at South by Southwest.

At the time, Animoto was an app aimed at consumers that allowed users to upload photos and turn them into a video with a backing music track. While that product may sound tame today, it was state of the art back in those days, and it used up a fair amount of computing resources to build each video. It was an early representation of not only Web 2.0 user-generated content, but also the marriage of mobile computing with the cloud, something we take for granted today.

For Animoto, launched in 2006, choosing AWS was a risky proposition, but the company found trying to run its own infrastructure was even more of a gamble because of the dynamic nature of the demand for its service. To spin up its own servers would have involved huge capital expenditures. Animoto initially went that route before turning its attention to AWS because it was building prior to attracting initial funding, Brad Jefferson, co-founder and CEO at the company explained.

“We started building our own servers, thinking that we had to prove out the concept with something. And as we started to do that and got more traction from a proof-of-concept perspective and started to let certain people use the product, we took a step back, and were like, well it’s easy to prepare for failure, but what we need to prepare for success,” Jefferson told me.

Going with AWS may seem like an easy decision knowing what we know today, but in 2007 the company was really putting its fate in the hands of a mostly unproven concept.

“It’s pretty interesting just to see how far AWS has gone and EC2 has come, but back then it really was a gamble. I mean we were talking to an e-commerce company [about running our infrastructure]. And they’re trying to convince us that they’re going to have these servers and it’s going to be fully dynamic and so it was pretty [risky]. Now in hindsight, it seems obvious but it was a risk for a company like us to bet on them back then,” Jefferson told me.

Animoto had to not only trust that AWS could do what it claimed, but also had to spend six months rearchitecting its software to run on Amazon’s cloud. But as Jefferson crunched the numbers, the choice made sense. At the time, Animoto’s business model was for free for a 30 second video, $5 for a longer clip, or $30 for a year. As he tried to model the level of resources his company would need to make its model work, it got really difficult, so he and his co-founders decided to bet on AWS and hope it worked when and if a surge of usage arrived.

That test came the following year at South by Southwest when the company launched a Facebook app, which led to a surge in demand, in turn pushing the limits of AWS’s capabilities at the time. A couple of weeks after the startup launched its new app, interest exploded and Amazon was left scrambling to find the appropriate resources to keep Animoto up and running.

Dave Brown, who today is Amazon’s VP of EC2 and was an engineer on the team back in 2008, said that “every [Animoto] video would initiate, utilize and terminate a separate EC2 instance. For the prior month they had been using between 50 and 100 instances [per day]. On Tuesday their usage peaked at around 400, Wednesday it was 900, and then 3,400 instances as of Friday morning.” Animoto was able to keep up with the surge of demand, and AWS was able to provide the necessary resources to do so. Its usage eventually peaked at 5000 instances before it settled back down, proving in the process that elastic computing could actually work.

At that point though, Jefferson said his company wasn’t merely trusting EC2’s marketing. It was on the phone regularly with AWS executives making sure their service wouldn’t collapse under this increasing demand. “And the biggest thing was, can you get us more servers, we need more servers. To their credit, I don’t know how they did it — if they took away processing power from their own website or others — but they were able to get us where we needed to be. And then we were able to get through that spike and then sort of things naturally calmed down,” he said.

The story of keeping Animoto online became a main selling point for the company, and Amazon was actually the first company to invest in the startup besides friends and family. It raised a total of $30 million along the way, with its last funding coming in 2011. Today, the company is more of a B2B operation, helping marketing departments easily create videos.

While Jefferson didn’t discuss specifics concerning costs, he pointed out that the price of trying to maintain servers that would sit dormant much of the time was not a tenable approach for his company. Cloud computing turned out to be the perfect model and Jefferson says that his company is still an AWS customer to this day.

While the goal of cloud computing has always been to provide as much computing as you need on demand whenever you need it, this particular set of circumstances put that notion to the test in a big way.

Today the idea of having trouble generating 3,400 instances seems quaint, especially when you consider that Amazon processes 60 million instances every day now, but back then it was a huge challenge and helped show startups that the idea of elastic computing was more than theory.

#amazon, #amazon-web-services, #animoto, #apps, #cloud, #enterprise, #infrastructure-as-a-service, #tc

Extra Crunch roundup: Toast and Freshbook S-1s, pre-pitch tips, flexible funding lessons

The digital transformation currently sweeping society has likely reached your favorite local restaurant.

Since 2013, Boston-based Toast has offered bars and eateries a software platform that lets them manage orders, payments and deliveries.

Over the last year, its customers have processed more than $38 billion in gross payment volume, so Alex Wilhelm analyzed the company’s S-1 for The Exchange with great interest.

“Toast was last valued at just under $5 billion when it last raised, per Crunchbase data,” he writes. “And folks are saying that it could be worth $20 billion in its debut. Does that square with the numbers?”


Full Extra Crunch articles are only available to members.
Use discount code ECFriday to save 20% off a one- or two-year subscription.


Airbnb, DoorDash and Coinbase each debuted at past Y Combinator Demo Days; as of this writing, they employ a combined 10,000 people.

Today and tomorrow, TechCrunch reporters will cover the proceedings at YC’s Summer 20201 Demo Day. In addition to writing up founder pitches, they’ll also rank their favorites.

Even remotely, I can feel a palpable sense of excitement radiating from our team — anything can happen at YC Demo Day, so sign up for Extra Crunch to follow the action.

Thanks very much for reading; I hope you have an excellent week.

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch
@yourprotagonist

How Amazon EC2 grew from a notion into a foundational element of cloud computing

Image Credits: Ron Miller/TechCrunch

In August 2006, AWS activated its EC2 cloud-based virtual computer, a milestone in the cloud infrastructure giant’s development.

“You really can’t overstate what Amazon was able to accomplish,” writes enterprise reporter Ron Miller.

In the 15 years since, EC2 has enabled clients of any size to test and run their own applications on AWS’ virtual machines.

To learn more about a fundamental technological shift that “would help fuel a whole generation of startups,” Ron interviewed EC2 VP Dave Brown, who built and led the Amazon EC2 Frontend team.

3 ways to become a better manager in the work-from-home era

Image of a manager talking to his team via a video conference.

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

Most managers agree that OKRs foster transparency and accountability, but running a team effectively has different challenges when workers are attending all-hands meetings from their kitchen tables.

Instead of just discussing key metrics before board meetings or performance reviews, make them part of the day-to-day culture, recommends Jeremy Epstein, Gtmhub’s CMO.

“Strengthen your team by creating authentic workplace transparency using numbers as a universal language and providing meaning behind your team’s work.”

The pre-pitch: 7 ways to build relationships with VCs

A person attracts people to his side with a magnet.

Image Credits: Getty Images under an Andrii Yalanskyi (opens in a new window) license

Many founders must overcome a few emotional hurdles before they’re comfortable pitching a potential investor face-to-face.

To alleviate that pressure, Unicorn Capital founder Evan Fisher recommends that entrepreneurs use pre-pitch meetings to build and strengthen relationships before asking for a check:

“This is the ‘we actually aren’t looking for money; we just want to be friends for now’ pitch that gets you on an investor’s radar so that when it’s time to raise your next round, they’ll be far more likely to answer the phone because they actually know who you are.”

Pre-pitches are good for more than curing the jitters: These conversations help founders get a better sense of how VCs think and sometimes lead to serendipitous outcomes.

“Investors are opportunists by necessity,” says Fisher, “so if they like the cut of your business’s jib, you never know — the FOMO might start kicking hard.”

Lessons from COVID: Flexible funding is a must for alternative lenders

Flexible Multi Colored Coil Crossing Hexagon Frame on White Background.

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

FischerJordan’s Deeba Goyal and Archita Bhandari break down the pandemic’s impact on alternative lenders, specifically what they had to do to survive the crisis, taking a look at smaller lenders including Credibly, Kabbage, Kapitus and BlueVine.

“Only those who were able to find a way through the complexities of their existing capital sources were able to maintain their performance, and the rest were left to perish or find new funding avenues,” they write.

Inside Freshworks’ IPO filing

Customer engagement software company Freshworks’ S-1 filing depicts a company that’s experiencing accelerating revenue growth, “a great sign for the health of its business,” reports Alex Wilhelm in this morning’s The Exchange.

“Most companies see their growth rates decline as they scale, as larger denominators make growth in percentage terms more difficult.”

Studying the company’s SEC filing, he found that “Freshworks isn’t a company where we need to cut it lots of slack, as we might with an adjusted EBITDA number. It is going public ready for Big Kid metrics.”

#amazon-web-services, #cloud, #ec-roundup, #ec2, #enterprise, #extra-crunch-roundup, #fundings-exits, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital, #y-combinator, #y-combinator-demo-day

Octane banks $2M for flexible billing software

Software billing startup Octane announced Tuesday that it raised $2 million on a post-money valuation of $10 million to advance its pay-as-you-go billing software.

Akash Khanolkar and his co-founders met a decade ago at Carnegie Mellon University and since then went off in different directions. In Khanolkar’s case, he ran a cloud consulting business and saw how fast companies like Datadog and Snowflake were coming to market and dealing with Amazon Web Services.

He found that the commonality in all of those fast-growing companies was billing software using a pay-as-you-go business model versus the traditional flat-rate plans, Khanolkar told TechCrunch.

However, he explained that monitoring consumption means that billing becomes complicated: companies now have to track how customers are using the software per second in order to bill correctly each month.

Seeing the shift toward consumption-based billing, the co-founders came back together in June 2020 to create Octane, a metered billing system that helps vendors create a plan, monitor usage and charge in a similar way to Snowflake and AWS, Khanolkar said.

“We are API-driven, and you as a vendor will send us usage data, and on our end, we store it and then do real-time aggregations so at the end of the month, you can accordingly bill customers,” Khanolkar said. “We have seen contention between engineering and product. Engineers are there to create core plans, so we built a no-code experience for product teams to be able to create new price plans and then perform changes, like adding coupons.”

Within the global cloud billing market, which is expected to reach $6.5 billion by 2025, there are a set of Octane competitors, like Chargebee and Zuora, that Khanolkar said are tackling the subscription management side and succeeding in the past several years. Now there is a usage and consumption-based world coming and a whole new set of software businesses, like Octane, coming in to succeed there.

The new round of funding was led by Basis Set Ventures and included Dropbox co-founder Arash Ferdowsi, Github CTO Jason Warner, Fortress CTO Assunta Gaglione, Scale AI CRO Chetan Chaudhary, former Twilio executive Evan Cummack, Esteban Reyes, Abstraction Capital and Script Capital.

“With the rise of product-led growth and usage-based pricing models, usage-based billing is a critical and foundational piece of infrastructure that has been simply missing,” said Chang Xu, partner at Basis Set Ventures, via email. “At the same time, it’s something that every department cares about as it’s your revenue. Many later-stage companies we talk to that have built this in-house talk about the ongoing maintenance costs and wishes that there is a vendor they can outsource it to.”

We are super impressed with the Octane team with their dedication to building a best-in-class and robust usage-based billing solution. They’ve validated this opportunity by talking to lots of engineering teams so they can solve for all the edge cases, which is important in something as mission critical as billing. We are convinced that Octane will become an inevitable part of the tech infrastructure.”

The new funding will go primarily toward hiring engineers, as well as product, marketing and sales staff. Octane currently has seven employees, and Khanolkar expects to be around 10 by the end of the year.

The company is working with a large range of companies, primarily focused on infrastructure and the depth gauge industries. Octane is also seeing some unique use cases emerge, like a construction company using the usage meter to track the hours an employee works and companies in electric charging using the meter for those purposes.

“We didn’t envision construction guys using it, but in theory, it could be used by any company that tracks time — even legal,” Khanolkar added.

He declined to speak about the company’s revenue, but did say it now had two to three years of runway.

Up next, the company plans to roll out new features like price experimentation based on usage to help customers better make decisions on how to price their software, another problem Khanolkar sees happening. It will build ways that customers can try different plans against usage data to validate which one works the best.

“We are still in the early innings of consumption-based models, but we see more end users opting to go with an enterprise that wants to let them try out the software and then pay as they go,” he added.

#abstraction-capital, #akash-khanolkar, #amazon-web-services, #basis-set-ventures, #chang-xu, #cloud, #developer, #enterprise, #enterprise-software, #funding, #octane, #recent-funding, #saas, #script-capital, #startups, #tc

How Amazon EC2 grew from a notion into a foundational element of cloud computing

Fifteen years ago this week on August 25, 2006, AWS turned on the very first beta instance of EC2, its cloud-based virtual computers. Today cloud computing, and more specifically infrastructure as a service, is a staple of how businesses use computing, but at that moment it wasn’t a well known or widely understood concept.

The EC in EC2 stands for Elastic Compute, and that name was chosen deliberately. The idea was to provide as much compute power as you needed to do a job, then shut it down when you no longer needed it — making it flexible like an elastic band. The launch of EC2 in beta was preceded by the beta release of S3 storage six months earlier, and both services marked the starting point in AWS’ cloud infrastructure journey.

You really can’t overstate what Amazon was able to accomplish with these moves. It was able to anticipate an entirely different way of computing and create a market and a substantial side business in the process. It took vision to recognize what was coming and the courage to forge ahead and invest the resources necessary to make it happen, something that every business could learn from.

The AWS origin story is complex, but it was about bringing the IT power of the Amazon business to others. Amazon at the time was not the business it is today, but it was still rather substantial and still had to deal with massive fluctuations in traffic such as Black Friday when its website would be flooded with traffic for a short but sustained period of time. While the goal of an e-commerce site, and indeed every business, is attracting as many customers as possible, keeping the site up under such stress takes some doing and Amazon was learning how to do that well.

Those lessons and a desire to bring the company’s internal development processes under control would eventually lead to what we know today as Amazon Web Services, and that side business would help fuel a whole generation of startups. We spoke to Dave Brown, who is VP of EC2 today, and who helped build the first versions of the tech, to find out how this technological shift went down.

Sometimes you get a great notion

The genesis of the idea behind AWS started in the 2000 timeframe when the company began looking at creating a set of services to simplify how they produced software internally. Eventually, they developed a set of foundational services — compute, storage and database — that every developer could tap into.

But the idea of selling that set of services really began to take shape at an executive offsite at Jeff Bezos’ house in 2003. A 2016 TechCrunch article on the origins AWS described how that started to come together:

As the team worked, Jassy recalled, they realized they had also become quite good at running infrastructure services like compute, storage and database (due to those previously articulated internal requirements). What’s more, they had become highly skilled at running reliable, scalable, cost-effective data centers out of need. As a low-margin business like Amazon, they had to be as lean and efficient as possible.

They realized that those skills and abilities could translate into a side business that would eventually become AWS. It would take a while to put these initial ideas into action, but by December 2004, they had opened an engineering office in South Africa to begin building what would become EC2. As Brown explains it, the company was looking to expand outside of Seattle at the time, and Chris Pinkham, who was director in those days, hailed from South Africa and wanted to return home.

#amazon, #amazon-ec2, #amazon-web-services, #cloud, #cloud-computing, #enterprise, #infrastructure-as-a-service, #tc

4 key areas SaaS startups must address to scale infrastructure for the enterprise

Startups and SMBs are usually the first to adopt many SaaS products. But as these customers grow in size and complexity — and as you rope in larger organizations — scaling your infrastructure for the enterprise becomes critical for success.

Below are four tips on how to advance your company’s infrastructure to support and grow with your largest customers.

Address your customers’ security and reliability needs

If you’re building SaaS, odds are you’re holding very important customer data. Regardless of what you build, that makes you a threat vector for attacks on your customers. While security is important for all customers, the stakes certainly get higher the larger they grow.

Given the stakes, it’s paramount to build infrastructure, products and processes that address your customers’ growing security and reliability needs. That includes the ethical and moral obligation you have to make sure your systems and practices meet and exceed any claim you make about security and reliability to your customers.

Here are security and reliability requirements large customers typically ask for:

Formal SLAs around uptime: If you’re building SaaS, customers expect it to be available all the time. Large customers using your software for mission-critical applications will expect to see formal SLAs in contracts committing to 99.9% uptime or higher. As you build infrastructure and product layers, you need to be confident in your uptime and be able to measure uptime on a per customer basis so you know if you’re meeting your contractual obligations.

While it’s hard to prioritize asks from your largest customers, you’ll find that their collective feedback will pull your product roadmap in a specific direction.

Real-time status of your platform: Most larger customers will expect to see your platform’s historical uptime and have real-time visibility into events and incidents as they happen. As you mature and specialize, creating this visibility for customers also drives more collaboration between your customer operations and infrastructure teams. This collaboration is valuable to invest in, as it provides insights into how customers are experiencing a particular degradation in your service and allows for you to communicate back what you found so far and what your ETA is.

Backups: As your customers grow, be prepared for expectations around backups — not just in terms of how long it takes to recover the whole application, but also around backup periodicity, location of your backups and data retention (e.g., are you holding on to the data too long?). If you’re building your backup strategy, thinking about future flexibility around backup management will help you stay ahead of these asks.

#amazon-web-services, #api, #cloud, #cloud-infrastructure, #cloud-storage, #column, #data-center, #dlp, #ec-cloud-and-enterprise-infrastructure, #ec-column, #ec-enterprise-applications, #ec-how-to, #enterprise, #enterprise-saas, #multitenancy, #saas, #software-as-a-service, #sso, #startups, #web-services

Vantage raises $4M to help businesses understand their AWS costs

Vantage, a service that helps businesses analyze and reduce their AWS costs, today announced that it has raised a $4 million seed round led by Andreessen Horowitz. A number of angel investors, including Brianne Kimmel, Julia Lipton, Stephanie Friedman, Calvin French Owen, Ben and Moisey Uretsky, Mitch Wainer and Justin Gage, also participated in this round

Vantage started out with a focus on making the AWS console a bit easier to use — and help businesses figure out what they are spending their cloud infrastructure budgets on in the process. But as Vantage co-founder and CEO Ben Schaechter told me, it was the cost transparency features that really caught on with users.

“We were advertising ourselves as being an alternative AWS console with a focus on developer experience and cost transparency,” he said.”What was interesting is — even in the early days of early access before the formal GA launch in January — I would say more than 95% of the feedback that we were getting from customers was entirely around the cost features that we had in Vantage.”

Image Credits: Vantage

Like any good startup, the Vantage team looked at this and decided to double down on these features and highlight them in its marketing, though it kept the existing AWS Console-related tools as well. The reason the other tools didn’t quite take off, Schaechter believes, is because more and more, AWS users have become accustomed to infrastructure-as-code to do their own automatic provisioning. And with that, they spend a lot less time in the AWS Console anyway.

“But one consistent thing — across the board — was that people were having a really, really hard time twelve times a year, where they would get a shock AWS bill and had to figure out what happened. What Vantage is doing today is providing a lot of value on the transparency front there,” he said.

Over the course of the last few months, the team added a number of new features to its cost transparency tools, including machine learning-driven predictions (both on the overall account level and service level) and the ability to share reports across teams.

Image Credits: Vantage

While Vantage expects to add support for other clouds in the future, likely starting with Azure and then GCP, that’s actually not what the team is focused on right now. Instead, Schaechter noted, the team plans to add support for bringing in data from third-party cloud services instead.

“The number one line item for companies tends to be AWS, GCP, Azure,” he said. “But then, after that, it’s Datadog Cloudflare Sumo Logic, things along those lines. Right now, there’s no way to see, P&L or an ROI from a cloud usage-based perspective. Vantage can be the tool where that’s showing you essentially, all of your cloud costs in one space.”

That is likely the vision the investors bought in as well and even though Vantage is now going up against enterprise tools like Apptio’s Cloudability and VMware’s CloudHealth, Schaechter doesn’t seem to be all that worried about the competition. He argues that these are tools that were born in a time when AWS had only a handful of services and only a few ways of interacting with those. He believes that Vantage, as a modern self-service platform, will have quite a few advantages over these older services.

“You can get up and running in a few clicks. You don’t have to talk to a sales team. We’re helping a large number of startups at this stage all the way up to the enterprise, whereas Cloudability and Cloud Health are, in my mind, kind of antiquated enterprise offerings. No startup is choosing to use those at this point, as far as I know,” he said.

The team, which until now mostly consisted of Schaechter and his co-founder and CTO Brooke McKim, bootstrapped to company up to this point. Now they plan to use the new capital to build out its team (and the company is actively hiring right now), both on the development and go-to-market side.

The company offers a free starter plan for businesses that track up to $2,500 in monthly AWS cost, with paid plans starting at $30 per month for those who need to track larger accounts.

#amazon-web-services, #andreessen-horowitz, #apptio, #aws, #brianne-kimmel, #cloud, #cloud-computing, #cloud-infrastructure, #cloud-services, #cloudability, #cloudflare, #computing, #datadog, #enterprise, #information-technology, #machine-learning, #recent-funding, #startups, #sumo-logic, #tc, #technology, #vmware

Amazon’s Appstore lowers its cut of developer revenue for small businesses, adds AWS credits

Amazon is following in the footsteps of app store giants, Apple and Google, with this week’s introduction of its Amazon Appstore Small Business Accelerator Program. The new program will reduce the commissions Amazon takes on app developer revenues for qualifying smaller businesses. Previously, Amazon’s Appstore took a 30% cut of revenue, including that from in-app purchases. Now, it will take only 20% from developers who earned up to $1 million in the prior calendar year. The program will additionally offer AWS credits.

This program’s structure is similar to Apple’s App Store Small Business Program, announced in late 2020, which reduced Apple’s cut to 15% for developers who earn up to a $1 million threshold, after which they’re moved to the higher 30% standard rate. This rate then continues as they enter the following year. Google, more recently, took a slightly different course, by lowering the commissions to 15% on the first $1 million of developer revenue earned through the Play billing system each year.

Amazon’s cut remains larger at 20%, but that’s because it’s offering developers a different type of perk: AWS credits.

The company says developers with less than $1 million in Appstore revenue in a calendar year will receive 10% of their revenue as promotional credit for AWS services. This includes infrastructure technologies like compute, storage, and databases–to emerging technologies, such as machine learning and artificial intelligence, data lakes and analytics, and Internet of Things, notes Amazon. This brings total program benefits up to an equivalent of 90 percent of revenue, Amazon says.

If the developer’s revenue exceeds $1 million during the current year, they’ll revert to the standard royalty rate and no longer receive the AWS credits for the rest of the year.

And if the developer’s revenue in a future year drops below $1 million, they’ll become eligible for the Small Business program again in the next calendar year.

“By helping small businesses get started with AWS through credits, we are making it easier for them to build and grow their app businesses,” noted Amazon Appstore Director, Palanidaran Chidambaram, in an announcement. “AWS gives developers easy access to a broad range of technologies so they can innovate faster and build nearly anything they can imagine,” he added.

The changes to app store commission structures come at a time when tech giants are seeing increasing regulatory pressure over the nature of their businesses, which larger app publishers, including Basecamp, Spotify, Epic Games and others have argued are anticompetitive. Epic is also suing Apple over its app store fees, in a potentially precedent-setting case. In response, Apple and Google lowered fees for smaller businesses as a gesture of goodwill — and one that wouldn’t significantly impact their own app store platform revenues.

Amazon says the new program will launch in Q4 2021, and more details about how to participate will be provided at that time.

#amazon, #amazon-appstore, #amazon-web-services, #app-store, #apps, #developers

Alchemy raises $80M at a $505M valuation to be the ‘AWS for blockchain’

Blockchain developer platform Alchemy announced today it has raised $80 million in a Series B round of funding led by Coatue and Addition, Lee Fixel’s new fund. The company previously raised a total of $15.5 million, so the latest financing brings its total raised to $95.5 million since it launched in 2017.

The latest round caught our attention for a few reasons.

First, the company, which describes itself as the backend technology behind the blockchain industry, went from public launch to a $505 million valuation in a matter of just eight months. During that time, Alchemy says it powered over $30 billion in transactions for tens of millions of users all over the world. Second, the startup says it also already powering the majority of the NFT industry.

And finally, its investors in the round include a high-profile mix of institutions and individuals such as DFJ Growth, K5 Global, the Chainsmokers, actor Jared Leto and the Glazer family (owners of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Manchester United). They joined existing backers including Yahoo co-founder and former CEO Jerry Yang, Pantera Capital, Coinbase, SignalFire, Samsung, Stanford University, Google chairman and Stanford University President John L. Hennessy, Charles Schwab, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman and others.

Sources with inside knowledge of Alchemy’s operations tell TechCrunch that the company has already grown its business more than eightfold since it signed the Series B term sheet. They also said Alchemy had over $300 million of investor demand wanting to enter the round and is being inbounded to do another financing at “many times” the current valuation.

TechCrunch talked with Alchemy co-founders Nikil Viswanathan (CEO) and Joe Lau (CTO) about the raise and their passion for the startup’s mission was clear. As is its explosive growth.

“We realized that in order for space to thrive and build to its full potential, we needed to build a developer platform layer for blockchain,” Viswanathan told TechCrunch.

Alchemy’s goal is to be the starting place for developers considering to build a product on top of a blockchain or mainstream blockchain applications. Its developer platform aims to remove the complexity and costs of building infrastructure while improving applications through “necessary” developer tools.

The startup powers a range of transactions across nearly every blockchain vertical, including financial institutions, exchanges, billion-dollar decentralized finance projects and multinational organizations such as UNICEF. It has also quickly become the technology behind every major NFT platform, including Makersplace, OpenSea, Nifty Gateway, SuperRare and CryptoPunks.  

“Every time you open DoorDash, you’re using Amazon’s infrastructure,” Lau said. “Every time you interact with an NFT, you’re using Alchemy. It’s being powered by Alchemy underneath the hood.”

While the pair would not provide hard revenue figures, the company – which operates as a SaaS business – says it increased its revenue by 600% in 2020.

For inside players, Alchemy’s efforts are paving the way for the whole industry. 

“The cryptoeconomy is innovating faster than any technological movement that came before it, and Alchemy has been a key driver of that,” said Coinbase President and COO Emilie Choi. “Alchemy enables developers to build the rich ecosystem of applications necessary for mainstream blockchain adoption.”

Pantera Capital’s Paul Veradittakit describes Alchemy as “the Amazon Web Services (AWS) of the blockchain industry” that is “enabling the vision of a decentralized web.”

“While in Web 2.0, Microsoft, Apple and AWS are three of the most valuable companies in the world because they are the developer platform powering the computer and internet industries, Alchemy is primed to do the same for the blockchain,” he said.

The company believes the comparison to AWS is fair, noting that: “Just as AWS provides the platform that powers Uber, Netflix and much of the technology industry, Alchemy powers infrastructure for many large players in the blockchain industry.”

Alchemy plans to use its new capital to expand its developer platform to new blockchains, fuel global expansion and to open new offices in the U.S. and globally. The startup is based in San Francisco and is planning to open an office in New York.  

“We are going to use the funds to support new chains with our developer platform,” Viswanathan said. “We also expect to 5x the team this year.”

But to be clear, Alchemy prides itself on being lean and mean.

“We just went from 14 to 22 employees,” Lau said. “We have intentionally wanted to keep the team as small as possible.”

The blockchain space has been the subject of increased investor interest as of late.

In March, BlockFi, which describes itself a financial services company for crypto market investors, announced it had closed on a massive $350 million Series D funding that valued it at $3 billion. Also last month, Chainalysis, a blockchain analysis company, revealed the close of $100 million in Series D financing, which doubled its valuation to over $2 billion.

#alchemy, #amazon, #amazon-web-services, #apple, #articles, #bank, #bitcoin, #blockchain, #ceo, #chairman, #charles-schwab, #co-founder, #coinbase, #computing, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #cto, #decentralization, #dfj-growth, #doordash, #driver, #emilie-choi, #funding, #fundings-exits, #google, #jared-leto, #jerry-yang, #linkedin, #manchester-united, #microsoft, #netflix, #new-york, #nikil-viswanathan, #pantera-capital, #president, #recent-funding, #reid-hoffman, #saas, #samsung, #san-francisco, #stanford-university, #startup, #startups, #tc, #technology, #uber, #united-states, #venture-capital, #yahoo

Risk startup LogicGate confirms data breach

Risk and compliance startup LogicGate has confirmed a data breach. But unless you’re a customer, you probably didn’t hear about it.

An email sent by LogicGate to customers earlier this month said on February 23 an unauthorized third-party obtained credentials to its Amazon Web Services-hosted cloud storage servers storing customer backup files for its flagship platform Risk Cloud, which helps companies to identify and manage their risk and compliance with data protection and security standards. LogicGate says its Risk Cloud can also help find security vulnerabilities before they are exploited by malicious hackers.

The credentials “appear to have been used by an unauthorized third party to decrypt particular files stored in AWS S3 buckets in the LogicGate Risk Cloud backup environment,” the email read.

“Only data uploaded to your Risk Cloud environment on or prior to February 23, 2021, would have been included in that backup file. Further, to the extent you have stored attachments in the Risk Cloud, we did not identify decrypt events associated with such attachments,” it added.

LogicGate did not say how the AWS credentials were compromised. An email update sent by LogicGate last Friday said the company anticipates finding the root cause of the incident by this week.

But LogicGate has not made any public statement about the breach. It’s also not clear if the company contacted all of its customers or only those whose data was accessed. LogicGate counts Capco, SoFi, and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas City as customers.

We sent a list of questions, including how many customers were affected and if the company has alerted U.S. state authorities as required by state data breach notification laws. When reached, LogicGate chief executive Matt Kunkel confirmed the breach but declined to comment citing an ongoing investigation. “We believe it’s best to communicate developments directly to our customers,” he said.

Kunkel would not say, when asked, if the attacker also exfiltrated the decrypted customer data from its servers.

Data breach notification laws vary by state, but companies that fail to report security incidents can face heavy fines. Under Europe’s GDPR rules, companies can face fines of up to 4% of their annual turnover for violations.

In December, LogicGate secured $8.75 million in fresh funding, totaling more than $40 million since it launched in 2015.


Are you a LogicGate customer? Send tips securely over Signal and WhatsApp to +1 646-755-8849. You can also send files or documents using our SecureDrop. Learn more

#amazon, #amazon-web-services, #blue-cross-blue-shield, #capco, #cloud, #cloud-computing, #cloud-storage, #computer-security, #computing, #data-breach, #data-security, #europe, #health-insurance, #securedrop, #security, #security-breaches, #sofi, #united-states

The Station: Argo AI plots its fundraising course and Waymo changes leadership

The Station is a weekly newsletter dedicated to all things transportation. Sign up here — just click The Station — to receive it every weekend in your inbox.

Hi there, new and returning readers. This is The Station, a weekly newsletter dedicated to all the ways people and packages move (today and in the future) from Point A to Point B.

There is a lot to get to, so let’s dive right in.

My email inbox is always open. Email me at kirsten.korosec@techcrunch.com to share thoughts, criticisms, offer up opinions or tips. You can also send a direct message to me at Twitter — @kirstenkorosec.

Micromobbin’

the station scooter1a

Rebecca Bellan is back with some micromobbin’ insights. Let’s dig in and take a look at this roundup of news.

It was a buzzy week for ebikes news, another indication that there is still demand — or at least the perception of demand — for this form of mobility.

Take Gocycle as just one example. The UK-based company released its fourth generation of folding electric bikes, which are claimed to be lighter and more powerful. The new line is made of three models — the G4 ($3,999), G4i ($4,999) and G4i+ ($5,999) — and they all have 20-inch wheels, a sealed chain drive with a 3-speed rear hub transmission, hydraulic disc brakes, a polymer reach shock and a 500-watt front motor. This is all to say, this bike can rip.

Ebike sharing also continues to be a busy market with startups making plans and governments making orders.

Smoove, a French mobility startup. is partnering with Zoov, another mobility startup that focuses on IoT and self-diagnosis features, to try to become leaders in the European e-bike sharing market. Smoove is already well-placed in major cities like Paris, Vancouver, Lima and Moscow, and now will be joining forces with Zoov’s high quality tech and compact docking stations.

China-based EZGO announced an order of e-bikes to the Ukraine worth 1 million RMB, or about $150,000. Ukraine is also purchasing EZGO’s “Dilang” brand of e-modes, as well as some electric tricycles. The company hopes to begin distribution within the next couple of weeks.

Meanwhile, in the land of policy …

A council committee has delayed votes to make changes to e-scooter and e-bike sharing schemes in Denver.

The deal they’re working out involves allowing the two micromobility companies to get free access to operating on the city’s streets. Usually, these companies would pay the city for the right to operate, but if the Denver City Council approves their licenses, Lyft and Lime will just be making profits. The upside is that it (hopefully) gets more people out of cars and into more sustainable modes of transport. This deal also doesn’t require Denverites to contribute to funding, unlike the deal Denver had with B-cycle, the city’s original bike share nonprofit.

 — Rebecca Bellan 

Deal of the week

money the station

Lilium became the latest electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft startup to seek capital by going public via a reverse merger with a “blank check” company. In this deal, Lilium announced a merger with special purpose acquisition company Qell Acquisition Corp, in a deal valuing the combined business at $3.3 billion.

(Side note: Qell Acquisition Corp. is a SPAC led by Barry Engle, a former president of General Motors North America.) Once the merger is complete, Lilium will trade on the Nasdaq exchange under the ticker symbol LILM.

The German-based startup designs and builds eVTOLs and has aspirations to launch commercial air taxi operations in 2024. Lilium plans to launch an air taxi network in Florida with up to 14 vertiport development sites, which the company says will be built and operated by its infrastructure partners.

Other deals that got my attention …

Cazoo, the UK-based used car sales platform, announced it too will merge with a special purpose acquisition company in a deal that values it at an eye-popping $7 billion. Bloomberg reported.

Chargerhelp!, an on-demand EV charger repair startup, has raised $2.75 million from investors Trucks VC, Kapor Capital, JFF, Energy Impact Partners and The Fund. This round values the startup, which was founded in January 2020, at $11 million post-money. The startup is interesting to me because as far as my research has shown there isn’t a lot of competition; and there should be. They also have a progressive (dare I suggest sustainable approach) to hiring.

Glovo, a startup out of Spain with 10 million users that delivers restaurant takeout, groceries and other items in partnership with brick-and-mortar businesses, raised $528 million in a Series F round. The round is significant not just because of its size, but because of its proximity to Deliveroo’s raising more than $2 billion ahead of its debut on the London Stock Exchange this week.

To offset the thin (or even negative) margins that are typically associated with a lot of delivery startups, Glovo aims to become the market leader in the 20 markets in Europe where it is live today, in part by expanding its “q-commerce” service — the delivery of items to urban consumers in 30 minutes or less, TechCrunch’s Ingrid Lunden reported. It will be using the money to double down on that strategy, including hiring up to 200 more engineers to work in its headquarters in Barcelona, as well as hubs in Madrid and Warsaw, Poland to build out the technology to underpin it.

LGN, a UK-based startup focused on edge AI, raised $2 million in a round that included investors Trucks VC, Luminous Ventures, and Jaguar Land Rover.

The company, which was founded in 2018 by former Apple and BMW executive Daniel Warner, Oxbridge research fellow Dr Luke Robinson and Professor Vladimir Čeperić of MIT and the University of Zagreb, plans to use the funds to develop its product and hire more employees. Specifically, the company said it is working on low-latency inference technology that can process optical data on-chip orders faster than current technology allows, VentureBeat reported.

Wavesense, the Massachusetts-based startup that makes ground-penetrating radar (GPR) technology for self-driving cars, raised $15 million in a round led by Rhapsody Venture Partners and Impossible Ventures.

Takeaways from Biden’s plans

What will it take to get Americans to choose an electric vehicle for their next car and to get American supply chains up to the task of manufacturing them in-house? According to President Joe Biden’s ambitious infrastructure plan unveiled Wednesday, the answer is $174 billion.

The funds are just one part of the $2 trillion plan, which seeks to overhaul the lifelines that keep the country running, such as our transportation networks, electric grid and even broadband. In some ways, the plan is bipartisan genius: it combines Democrats’ concern over climate change with Republicans’ concern over Chinese dominance in manufacturing, and appeals to both parties in its promise to revitalize domestic jobs. But the plan still needs approval from Congress before it can move forward.

To spur Americans to buy electric, Biden has taken a two-pronged approach: make them cheaper (through tax credits and rebates) and make EV chargers more readily available (by building a staggeringly large network of 500,000 chargers by 2030). His administration hasn’t released details on the size of the incentives, so it’s unclear whether they will be larger than the $7,500 tax credit already available for EVs. It’s also unclear whether Tesla and GM will qualify, as the current credit isn’t available for manufacturers that have already sold more than 200,000 EVs.

For now, Biden’s administration is withholding a lot of details — how will his plan help automakers “spur domestic supply chains from raw materials to parts” and “retool factories to compete globally”? — so we’ll keep an eye out for these details in the future.

— Aria Alamalhodaei

Argo AI plots its fundraising course

the station autonomous vehicles1

I dared to take some time off, which is all well and good until news breaks in the world of autonomous vehicles. A report from The Information said that Argo AI CEO and co-founder Bryan Salesky told employees in an all-hands meeting that the autonomous vehicle startup was planning for a public listing later this year.

I connected with some sources – vacation be damned — and have more context to share with you. Salesky did indeed mention the prospect of an IPO during the company’s regular weekly all-hands meeting. There is a bit more to the story though. The comments were made as the CEO discussed upcoming important milestones in 2021 that will lead to an IPO or a significant raise of some kind. The upshot: apparently all fundraising options are on the table, including a merger with a special acquisition company or SPAC.

Argo, as one source told me, is intent on scaling. Raising capital is a key part of that plan. The company also plans to expand testing beyond the six cities it currently is in — including into Europe. (Remember, Volkswagen is a backer and a customer. )

All of that takes money. Argo has raised $2 billion to date. That’s no small sum and yet far below the war chests of Cruise and Waymo.

The fundraising effort has not started in earnest. There is no roadshow, according to folks familiar. The broad plan is to secure investors, which could turn into the PIPE (private investment in public equity) for a SPAC or a “fairly substantial private round,” according to one insider.

Waymo’s changing of the guard

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Waymo CEO John Krafcik announced on Friday that he is stepping down from the leadership position he held for five years. The CEO position will now be held by two people: Tekedra Mawakana, who was COO and Dmitri Dolgov, who was part of the original Google self-driving project and was most recently CTO.

The idea is that the co-CEOs will take their respective expertise — business and engineering — and combine them to help Waymo scale up commercially. Co-CEO models are risky, so it will be interesting to see if the pair can work together, and importantly, get their employees to buy into the idea. Dolgov and Mawakana apparently brought the co-CEO idea to the board, one source told me. (Remember Waymo is an Alphabet company, and so its leaders ultimately answer to their parent.)

In a post on LinkedIn, Krafcik described his time at the company and hinted at a few of his plans, which for now seems to be focused on settling in Austin, Texas and regrouping with family and friends. He’s also now listed as an advisor to Waymo, a contractual position that doesn’t have a specific end date.

As you might suspect, I received lots of texts and email messages from sources within the industry wanting to weigh in or provide inside information (or speculate) why Krafcik left.

Here’s what I can tell you. Krafcik could be a polarizing figure within Waymo, particularly in the early days of his employment when it was still a “project” and had not yet become an independent company under Alphabet. That transition led to the departure of some of the Google self-driving project’s key engineers and leaders, including Chris Urmson, Bryan Salesky and Dave Ferguson, who went on to found AV startups Aurora, Argo AI and Nuro.

Krafcik’s tenure was also marked by extreme growth — in terms of number of employees — as well as an aggressive push to lock up OEM and supplier partners, the launch of a ride-hailing service in the suburbs of Phoenix, expanded testing and its first external investment round of $2.25 billion. That round was extended by another $750 million, bringing the total size of the financing to $3 billion.

Dolgov and Mawakana have some decisions to make on how they want to proceed and where to place their bets. My educated forecast? Waymo Via, the company’s autonomous delivery unit, will become a bigger priority along with a more visible push into complex urban environments like San Francisco.

Notable reads and other tidbits

the-station-delivery

Here are a few other items worth mentioning.

It’s electric

Amazon Web Services is expanding its offerings and anticipating the inevitable spike in EVs by partnering with Swiss automation company ABB. The two are working on a single-view electric fleet management platform that can work with any charging infrastructure or EV.

“Not only do fleet managers have to contend with the speed of development in charging technology, but they also need real-time vehicle and charging status information, access to charging infrastructures and information for hands-on maintenance,” Frank Muehlon, president of ABB’s e-mobility division, told TechCrunch. “This new real-time EV fleet management solution will set new standards in the world of electric mobility for global fleet operators and help them realize improved operations.”

Autonomous vehicles

Cartken, the robotics startup founded by ex-Google employees, has partnered with REEF Technology to bring self-driving delivery robots to the streets of downtown Miami. REEF,  a startup that operates parking lots and tech-focused neighborhood hubs, to develop and deploy the robots. They are now delivering dinner orders from REEF’s network of delivery-only kitchens to people located within a 3/4-mile radius of its delivery hubs.’

Geodis, the global logistics company, has tapped startup Phantom Auto to help it deploy forklifts that can be controlled remotely by human operators located hundreds, and even thousands, of miles away. The aim is to use the technology to reduce operator fatigue — and the injuries that can occur as a result — as well as reduce the number of people physically inside warehouses, according to the Geodis.

Motional, which is partnering with Lyft for ride-hailing services, revealed this week that it would be integrating its tech with the Hyundai IONIQ5. Customers in certain markets will be able to book this vehicle starting in 2023.

Optimus Ride, an autonomous electric mobility company, announced a partnership with sports car manufacturer Polaris to commercialize a new breed of Polaris GEM low-speed vehicles. The vehicles will serve as microtransit for certain academic or corporate campuses, mixed-use developments and other geofenced, localized environments. Side note: 2023 seems to be a big year for upcoming electric, autonomous vehicles.

Delivery

Zipline, the drone delivery service startup, announced a partnership with Toyota Tsusho
Corporation that will focus on bringing medical and pharmaceutical supplies to healthcare facilities in Japan. Toyota Tsusho is already an investor in Zipline and so this is a deepening of that relationship.

The partnership also marks Zipline’s entrance into Japan. The company already delivers medical supplies in Ghana and Rwanda, and also operates in the United States.

#amazon, #amazon-web-services, #argo-ai, #automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #chris-urmson, #electric-vehicles, #ford, #geodis, #john-krafcik, #motional, #tc, #transportation, #waymo, #zipline

ABB and AWS team up to create an EV fleet management platform

Swiss automation and technology company ABB has announced a collaboration with Amazon Web Services (AWS) to create a cloud-based EV fleet management platform that it hopes will hasten the electrification of fleets. The platform, which the company says will help operators maintain business continuity as they switch to electric, will roll out in the second half of 2021.

This announcement comes after a wave of major delivery companies pledged to electrify their fleets. Amazon already has a number of Rivian-sourced electric delivery vans on the streets of California and plans to have 10,000 more operational by this year; UPS ordered 10,000 electric vans from Arrival for its fleet; 20% of DHL’s fleet is already electric; and FedEx plans to electrify its entire fleet by 2040. A 2020 McKinsey report predicted commercial and passenger fleets in the U.S. could include as many as eight million EVs by 2030, compared with fewer than 5,000 in 2018. That’s about 10 to 15% of all fleet vehicles.

“We want to make EV adoption easier and more scalable for fleets,” Frank Muehlon, president of ABB’s e-mobility division, told TechCrunch. “To power progress, the industry must bring together the best minds and adopt an entrepreneurial approach to product development.” 

ABB brings experience in e-mobility solutions, energy management and charging technology to the table, which will combine with AWS’s cloud and software to make a single-view platform that can be tailored to whichever company is using it. Companies will be able to monitor things like charge planning, EV maintenance status, and route optimization based on the time of day, weather and use patterns. Muehlon said they’ll work with customers to explore ways to use existing data from fleets for faster implementation.

The platform will be hosted on the AWS cloud, which means that it can scale anywhere AWS is available, which so far includes in 25 regions globally.

The platform will be hardware-agnostic, meaning any type of EV or charger can work with it. Integration of software into specific EV fleets will depend on the fleet’s level of access to third-party asset management systems and onboard EV telematics, but the platform will support a layered feature approach, wherein each layer provides more accurate vehicle data. Muehlon says this makes for a more seamless interface than existing third-party charging management software, which don’t have the technology or the flexibility to work with the total breadth of EV models and charging infrastructure. 

“Not only do fleet managers have to contend with the speed of development in charging technology, but they also need real-time vehicle and charging status information, access to charging infrastructures and information for hands-on maintenance,” said Muehlon. “This new real-time EV fleet management solution will set new standards in the world of electric mobility for global fleet operators and help them realize improved operations.”

This software is aimed at depot and commercial fleets, as well as public infrastructure fleets. Muehlon declined to specify any specific EV operators or customers lined up to use this new technology, but he did say there are “several pilots underway” which will “enable us to ensure that we are developing market-ready solutions for all kinds of fleets.” 

#abb, #amazon, #amazon-web-services, #automotive, #aws, #electric-delivery-vehicles, #electric-vehicles, #ev, #logistics, #shipping, #transportation

Jeff Bezos’ investment fund is backing a startup hoping to be the AWS for SMB accounting

One of the biggest pain points for startups and small businesses is keeping up with back office tasks such as bookkeeping and managing taxes.

QuickBooks, it seems, just doesn’t always cut it.

Three-time co-founders Waseem Daher, Jeff Arnold, and Jessica McKellar formed Pilot with the mission of affordably providing back office services to startups and SMBs. With over 1,000 customers, it has gained serious traction over the years. And Pilot has now also received validation from some big-name investors. On Friday, the company announced a $100 million Series C that doubles the company’s valuation to $1.2 billion.

Bezos Expeditions — Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ personal investment fund — and Whale Rock Capital (a $10 billion hedge fund) co-led the round, which also included participation from Sequoia Capital, Index Ventures, Authentic Ventures and others. 

Stripe and Index Ventures co-led Pilot’s $40 million Series B in April 2019. The latest financing brings the company’s total funding raised to over $158 million since its 2017 inception.

The founding team certainly has an impressive track record, having founded and sold two previous companies: Ksplice  (to Oracle) and Zupli (to Dropbox).

Pilot’s pitch is about more than just software. The company combines its software with accountants to do things such as provide “CFO Services” to SMBs without a full-stack finance team. It also provides monthly variance analysis for all its bookkeeping customers, essentially serving as a controller for those companies, so they can make better budgeting and spending decisions.

It also helps companies access small business tax credits they may not have otherwise known about. 

Last year, Pilot completed more than $3 billion in bookkeeping transactions for its customers, which range from pre-revenue startups to larger companies with more than $30M of revenue a year. Customers include Bolt, r2c and Pathrise, among others.

Pilot has also inked a number of co-marketing partnerships with companies such as American Express, Bill.com, Brex, Carta, Gusto, Rippling, Stripe, SVB, and Techstars.

Ironically, Pilot says it aspires to the “AWS of SMB backoffice.” (In fact, co-founder Waseem Daher started his career as an intern at Amazon). Put simply, Pilot wants to take care of all those back office tasks so companies can focus more on growth and winning business.

Pilot strives to offer an “exceptional customer experience,” which is reflected in the fact that over 80% of the company’s business is driven by customer referrals and organic interest, according to Daher.

Whale Rock Partner Kristov Paulus said that white-glove customer service experience and Pilot’s “carefully-engineered” software make a powerful combination.

“We look forward to supporting Pilot in their vision to make back office services as easy-to-use, scalable, and ubiquitous as AWS has with the cloud,” he said.

Pilot’s model reminds me a lot of that of ScaleFactor’s, an Austin-based startup that raised $100 million in a year before it crashed and burned. But the difference in this case is that Pilot seems to have satisfied customers.

#amazon-web-services, #bezos-expeditions, #finance, #funding, #fundings-exits, #jeff-bezos, #jessica-mckellar, #pilot, #recent-funding, #saas, #startups, #stripe, #venture-capital, #waseem-daher

A bug in a popular iPhone app exposed thousands of call recordings

A security vulnerability in a popular iPhone call recording app exposed thousands of users’ recorded conversations.

The flaw was discovered by Anand Prakash, a security researcher and founder of PingSafe AI, who found that the aptly named Call Recorder app allowed anyone to access the call recordings from other users — by knowing their phone number.

But using a readily available proxy tool like Burp Suite, Prakash could view and modify the network traffic going in and out of the app. That meant he could replace his phone number registered with the app with the phone number of another app user, and access their recordings on his phone.

TechCrunch verified Prakash’s findings using a spare phone with a dedicated account.

The app stores its user’s call recordings on a cloud storage bucket hosted on Amazon Web Services. Although the public was open and lists the files inside, the files could not be accessed or downloaded. The bucket was closed by press time.

At the time of writing, the cloud storage bucket had more than 130,000 audio recordings, amounting to some 300 gigabytes. The app says it has more than 1 million downloads to date.

TechCrunch contacted the app developer and held this story until the flaw was fixed. A new version of the app was submitted to Apple’s app store on Saturday. The release notes said the app update was to “patch a security report.”

Despite a brief response to our initial email acknowledging the security issue, the app developer Arun Nair has not returned several requests for comment.


Send tips securely over Signal and WhatsApp to +1 646-755-8849. You can also send files or documents using SecureDrop.

#amazon-web-services, #app-developer, #app-store, #files, #ios, #iphone, #itunes, #mobile-app, #operating-systems, #security, #software, #web-services

Jamaica’s JamCOVID pulled offline after third security lapse exposed travelers’ data

Jamaica’s JamCOVID app and website were taken offline late on Thursday following a third security lapse, which exposed quarantine orders on more than half a million travelers to the island.

JamCOVID was set up last year to help the government process travelers arriving on the island. Quarantine orders are issued by the Jamaican Ministry of Health and instruct travelers to stay in their accommodation for two weeks to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

These orders contain the traveler’s name and the address of where they are ordered to stay.

But a security researcher told TechCrunch that the quarantine orders were publicly accessible from the JamCOVID website but were not protected with a password. Although the files were accessible from anyone’s web browser, the researcher asked not to be named for fear of legal repercussions from the Jamaican government.

More than 500,000 quarantine orders were exposed, some dating back to March 2020.

TechCrunch shared these details with the Jamaica Gleaner, which was first to report on the security lapse after the news outlet verified the data spillage with local cybersecurity experts.

Amber Group, which was contracted to build and maintain the JamCOVID coronavirus dashboard and immigration service, pulled the service offline a short time after TechCrunch and the Jamaica Gleaner contacted the company on Thursday evening. JamCOVID’s website was replaced with a holding page that said the site was “under maintenance.” At the time of publication, the site had returned.

Amber Group’s chief executive Dushyant Savadia did not return a request for comment.

Matthew Samuda, a minister in Jamaica’s Ministry of National Security, also did not respond to a request for comment or our questions — including if the Jamaican government plans to continue its contract or relationship with Amber Group.

This is the third security lapse involving JamCOVID in the past two weeks.

Last week, Amber Group secured an exposed cloud storage server hosted on Amazon Web Services that was left open and public, despite containing more than 70,000 negative COVID-19 lab results and over 425,000 immigration documents authorizing travel to the island. Savadia said in response that there were “no further vulnerabilities” with the app. Days later, the company fixed a second security lapse after leaving a file containing private keys and passwords for the service on the JamCOVID server.

The Jamaican government has repeatedly defended Amber Group, which says it provided the JamCOVID technology to the government “for free.” Amber Group’s Savadia has previously been quoted as saying that the company built the service in “three days.”

In a statement on Thursday, Jamaica’s prime minister Andrew Holness said JamCOVID “continues to be a critical element” of the country’s immigration process and that the government was “accelerating” to migrate the JamCOVID database — though specifics were not given.

An earlier version of this report misspelled the Jamaican Gleaner newspaper. We regret the error.

#amazon-web-services, #countries, #cybersecurity, #data-leaks, #government, #law-enforcement, #privacy, #quarantine, #security, #web-browser, #web-services

Jamaica’s Amber Group fixes second JamCOVID security lapse

Amber Group has fixed a second security lapse that exposed private keys and passwords for the government’s JamCOVID app and website.

A security researcher told TechCrunch on Sunday that the Amber Group left a file on the JamCOVID website by mistake, which contained passwords that would have granted access to the backend systems, storage, and databases running the JamCOVID site and app. The researcher asked not to be named for fears of legal repercussions from the Jamaican government.

This file, known as an environment variables (.env) file, is often used to store private keys and passwords for third-party services that are necessary for cloud applications to run. But these files are sometimes inadvertently exposed or uploaded by mistake, but can be abused to gain access to data or services that the cloud application relies on if found by a malicious actor.

The exposed environmental variables file was found in an open directory on the JamCOVID website. Although the JamCOVID domain appears to be on the Ministry of Health’s website, Amber Group controls and maintains the JamCOVID dashboard, app, and website.

The exposed file contained secret credentials for the Amazon Web Services databases and storage servers for JamCOVID. The file also contained a username and password to the SMS gateway used by JamCOVID to send text messages, and credentials for its email-sending server. (TechCrunch did not test or use any of the passwords or keys as doing so would be unlawful.)

A portion of the exposed credentials found on the JamCOVID website, controlled and maintained by Amber Group. (Image: TechCrunch)

TechCrunch contacted Amber Group’s chief executive Dushyant Savadia to alert the company to the security lapse, who pulled the exposed file offline a short time later. We also asked Savadia, who did not comment, to revoke and replace the keys.

Matthew Samuda, a minister in Jamaica’s Ministry of National Security, did not respond to a request for comment or our questions — including if the Jamaican government plans to continue its contract or relationship with Amber Group, and what — if any — security requirements were agreed upon by both the Amber Group and the Jamaican government for the JamCOVID app and website?

Details of the exposure comes just days after Escala 24×7, a cybersecurity firm based in the Caribbean, claimed that it had found no vulnerabilities in the JamCOVID service following the initial security lapse.

Escala’s chief executive Alejandro Planas declined to say if his company was aware of the second security lapse prior to its comments last week, saying only that his company was under a non-disclosure agreement and “is not able to provide any additional information.”

This latest security incident comes less than a week after Amber Group secured a passwordless cloud server hosting immigration records and negative COVID-19 test results for hundreds of thousands of travelers who visited the island over the past year. Travelers visiting the island are required to upload their COVID-19 test results in order to obtain a travel authorization before their flights. Many of the victims whose information was exposed on the server are Americans.

One news report recently quoted Amber’s Savadia as saying that the company developed JamCOVID19 “within three days.”

Neither the Amber Group nor the Jamaican government have commented to TechCrunch, but Samada told local radio that it has launched a criminal investigation into the security lapse.


Send tips securely over Signal and WhatsApp to +1 646-755-8849. You can also send files or documents using our SecureDrop. Learn more

#amazon-web-services, #caribbean, #cloud-applications, #cloud-computing, #cloud-infrastructure, #cryptography, #government, #operating-systems, #password, #securedrop, #security, #signal, #sms, #software

Jamaica’s immigration website exposed thousands of travelers’ data

A security lapse by a Jamaican government contractor has exposed immigration records and COVID-19 test results for hundreds of thousands of travelers who visited the island over the past year.

The Jamaican government contracted Amber Group to build the JamCOVID19 website and app, which the government uses to publish daily coronavirus figures and allows residents to self-report their symptoms. The contractor also built the website to pre-approve travel applications to visit the island during the pandemic, a process that requires travelers to upload a negative COVID-19 test result before they board their flight if they come from high-risk countries, including the United States.

But a cloud storage server storing those uploaded documents was left unprotected and without a password, and was publicly spilling out files onto the open web.

Many of the victims whose information was found on the exposed server are Americans.

The data is now secure after TechCrunch contacted Amber Group’s chief executive Dushyant Savadia, who did not comment when reached prior to publication.

The storage server, hosted on Amazon Web Services, was set to public. It’s not known for how long the data was unprotected, but contained more than 70,000 negative COVID-19 lab results, over 425,000 immigration documents authorizing travel to the island — which included the traveler’s name, date of birth and passport numbers — and over 250,000 quarantine orders dating back to June 2020, when Jamaica reopened its borders to visitors after the pandemic’s first wave. The server also contained more than 440,000 images of travelers’ signatures.

Two U.S. travelers whose lab results were among the exposed data told TechCrunch that they uploaded their COVID-19 results through the Visit Jamaica website before their travel. Once lab results are processed, travelers receive a travel authorization that they must present before boarding their flight.

Both of these documents, as well as quarantine orders that require visitors to shelter in place and several passports, were on the exposed storage server.

Travelers who are staying outside Jamaica’s so-called “resilient corridor,” a zone that covers a large portion of the island’s population, are told to install the app built by Amber Group that tracks their location and is tracked by the Ministry of Health to ensure visitors stay within the corridor. The app also requires that travelers record short “check-in” videos with a daily code sent by the government, along with their name and any symptoms.

The server exposed more than 1.1 million of those daily updating check-in videos.

An airport information flyer given to travelers arriving in Jamaica. Travelers may be required to install the JamCOVID19 app to allow the government to monitor their location and to require video check-ins. (Image: Jamaican government)

The server also contained dozens of daily timestamped spreadsheets named “PICA,” likely for the Jamaican passport, immigration and citizenship agency, but these were restricted by access permissions. But the permissions on the storage server were set so that anyone had full control of the files inside, such as allowing them to be downloaded or deleted altogether. (TechCrunch did neither, as doing so would be unlawful.)

Stephen Davidson, a spokesperson for the Jamaican Ministry of Health, did not comment when reached, or say if the government planned to inform travelers of the security lapse.

Savadia founded Amber Group in 2015 and soon launched its vehicle-tracking system, Amber Connect.

According to one report, Amber’s Savadia said the company developed JamCOVID19 “within three days” and made it available to the Jamaican government in large part for free. The contractor is billing other countries, including Grenada and the British Virgin Islands, for similar implementations, and is said to be looking for other government customers outside the Caribbean.

Savadia would not say what measures his company put in place to protect the data of paying governments.

Jamaica has recorded at least 19,300 coronavirus cases on the island to date, and more than 370 deaths.


Send tips securely over Signal and WhatsApp to +1 646-755-8849. You can also send files or documents using our SecureDrop. Learn more.

#amazon-web-services, #caribbean, #government, #health, #mobile-applications, #operating-systems, #prevention, #privacy, #quarantine, #second-life, #securedrop, #security, #united-states, #web-services, #whatsapp

Google Cloud lost $5.6B in 2020

Google continues to bet heavily on Google Cloud and while it is seeing accelerated revenue growth, its losses are also increasing. For the first time today, Google disclosed operating income/loss for its Google Cloud business unit in its quarterly earnings today. Google Cloud lost $5.6 billion in Google’s fiscal year 2020, which ended December 31. That’s on $13 billion of revenue.

While this may look a bit dire at first glance (cloud computing should be pretty profitable, after all), there’s different ways of looking at this. On the one hand, losses are mounting, up from $4.3 billion in 2018 and $4.6 billion in 2019, but revenue is also seeing strong growth, up from $5.8 billion in 2018 and $8.9 billion in 2019. What we’re seeing here, more than anything else, is Google investing heavily in its cloud business.

Google’s Cloud unit, led by its CEO Thomas Kurian, includes all of its cloud infrastructure and platform services, as well as Google Workspace (which you probably still refer to as G Suite). And that’s exactly where Google is making a lot of investments right now. Data centers, after all, don’t come cheap and Google Cloud launched four new regions in 2020 and started work on others. That’s on top of its investment in its core services and a number of acquisitions.

Image Credits: Google

“Our strong fourth quarter performance, with revenues of $56.9 billion, was driven by Search and YouTube, as consumer and business activity recovered from earlier in the year,” Ruth Porat, CFO of Google and Alphabet, said. “Google Cloud revenues were $13.1 billion for 2020, with significant ongoing momentum, and we remain focused on delivering value across the growth opportunities we see.”

For now, though, Google’s core business, which saw a strong rebound in its advertising business in the last quarter, is subsidizing its cloud expansion.

Meanwhile, over in Seattle, AWS today reported revenue of $12.74 billion in the last quarter alone and operating income of $3.56 billion. For 2020, AWS’s operating income was $13.5 billion.

#alphabet, #amazon-web-services, #artificial-intelligence, #aws, #ceo, #cfo, #cloud-computing, #cloud-infrastructure, #companies, #computing, #diane-greene, #earnings, #google, #google-cloud, #google-cloud-platform, #ruth-porat, #seattle, #thomas-kurian, #world-wide-web

Jeff Bezos will no longer be CEO of Amazon as of later this year

Amazon founder and current CEO Jeff Bezos will be transitioning to Executive Chair of the company sometime in Q3 of this year, with current AWS CEO Andy Jassy taking over the top executive role at the commerce company. Amazon announced the news alongside its earnings results on Tuesday.

Amazon initially rose after-hours as the market digested both the company’s earnings and its CEO news. The company beat on both earnings per share, and revenues. That makes it hard to untangle the market’s response to its busy set of announcements. Update: Amazon shares have now dipped into negative territory as investors had more time to parse the company’s total collection of announcements.

Amazon crushed earnings-per-share and revenue expectations in Q4 2020. So, any investor worried about the exit of Bezos from the CEO chair were given some measure of of performance-based amelioration. Amazon’s quarter was its first to break the $100 billion mark, bringing in $125.6 billion in revenue against an anticipated $119.7 billion. And, the company’s $14.09 per share in earnings was nearly double an expected $7.23.

Jassy has been identified previously as the likely successor to Bezos, after leading Amazon Web Services (AWS) to the success it currently enjoys as a leader in the cloud computing space. AWS grew its revenues by 28% in the quarter, lower than its year-ago growth rate of 34%. AWS’s net revenues expanded from $9.95 in the year-ago Q4 to $12.74 billion during the fourth quarter of 2020. Operating income at AWS scaled as well, from $2.60 billion in Q4 2019 to $3.56 billion in the most recent quarter.

Notably Microsoft’s Azure business grew 50% in its most recent earnings period.

Bezos sent an email to Amazon employees, which the company also released publicly on its blog on Tuesday following the announcement. In the missive, he says that while he continues to “find [his] work meaningful and fun,” he wants to be able to devote proper time and attention to his “Day 1 Fund, the Bezos Earth Fund, Blue Origin, The Washington Post, and [his] other passions.”

Developing…

#amazon, #amazon-web-services, #andy-jassy, #aws, #ceo, #computing, #earnings, #executive, #jeff-bezos, #tc, #technology

Amazon says government demands for user data spiked by 800% in 2020

New transparency figures released by Amazon show the company responded to a record number of government data demands in the last six months of 2020.

The new figures land in the company’s bi-annual transparency report published to Amazon’s website over the weekend.

Amazon said it processed 27,664 government demands for user data in the last six months of 2020, up from 3,222 data demands in the first six months of the year, an increase of close to 800%. That user data includes shopping searches and data from its Echo, Fire, and Ring devices.

The new report presents the data differently from previous transparency disclosures. Amazon now breaks down the top requesting countries. U.S. authorities historically made up the bulk of the overall data demands Amazon receives, but this latest report shows Germany with 42% of all requests, followed by Spain with 18%, and Italy and the U.S. with 11% share each.

But the report also removes the breakdown by legal process, and now only differentiates between the requests it gets for user’s content and for non-content. Amazon said it handed over user content data in 52 cases.

For its Amazon Web Services cloud business, which it reports separately, Amazon said it processed 523 data demands, with 75% of all requests made by U.S. authorities, and Amazon turned over user’s content in 15 cases.

An Amazon spokesperson would not say what led to the sharp rise in data demands. (Amazon seldom comments on its transparency reports.)

Amazon’s transparency report is one of the lightest reads of all the tech giants at just three pages in length, and spends most of the report explaining how it responds to each legal demand than on the data itself. The company, known for its notorious secrecy, became the last of the major tech giants to push out a transparency report in 2015. Where most tech companies added data to their transparency reports, like takedown notices and account removals, Amazon bucked the trend by removing data from its reports, despite the company’s growing reach into millions of homes.

The Financial Times reported this weekend that Ring, the video doorbell and home security startup acquired by Amazon for $1 billion, now has 2,000 law enforcement partners across the United States, allowing police departments to access homeowners’ doorbell camera footage.

#amazon, #amazon-echo, #amazon-web-services, #articles, #computing, #germany, #italy, #ring, #security, #spain, #spokesperson, #technology, #the-financial-times, #transparency, #transparency-report, #united-states

This Week in Apps: TikTok viral hit breaks Spotify records, inauguration boosts news app installs, judge rules against Parler

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the weekly TechCrunch series that recaps the latest in mobile OS news, mobile applications and the overall app economy.

The app industry is as hot as ever, with a record 218 billion downloads and $143 billion in global consumer spend in 2020.

Consumers last year also spent 3.5 trillion minutes using apps on Android devices alone. And in the U.S., app usage surged ahead of the time spent watching live TV. Currently, the average American watches 3.7 hours of live TV per day, but now spends four hours per day on their mobile devices.

Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re also a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus. In 2020, investors poured $73 billion in capital into mobile companies — a figure that’s up 27% year-over-year.

This week, we’re looking into how President Biden’s inauguration impacted news apps, the latest in the Parler lawsuit, and how TikTok’s app continues to shape culture, among other things.

Top Stories

Judge says Amazon doesn’t have to host Parler on AWS

logos for AWS (Amazon Web Services) and Parler

Logos for AWS (Amazon Web Services) and Parler. Image Credits: TechCrunch

U.S. District Judge Barbara Rothstein in Seattle this week ruled that Amazon won’t be required to restore access to web services to Parler. As you may recall, Parler sued Amazon for booting it from AWS’ infrastructure, effectively forcing it offline. Like Apple and Google before it, Amazon had decided that the calls for violence that were being spread on Parler violated its terms of service. It also said that Parler showed an “unwillingness and inability” to remove dangerous posts that called for the rape, torture and assassination of politicians, tech executives and many others, the AP reported.

Amazon’s decision shouldn’t have been a surprise for Parler. Amazon had reported 98 examples of Parler posts that incited violence over the past several weeks before its decision. It told Parler these were clear violations of the terms of service.

Parler’s lawsuit against Amazon, however, went on to claim breach of contract and even made antitrust allegations.

The judge shot down Parler’s claims that Amazon and Twitter were colluding over the decision to kick the app off AWS. Parler’s claims over breach of contract were denied, too, as the contract had never said Amazon had to give Parler 30 days to fix things. (Not to mention the fact that Parler breached the contract on its side, too.) It also said Parler had fallen short in demonstrating the need for an injunction to restore access to Amazon’s web services.

The ruling only blocks Parler from forcing Amazon to again host it as the lawsuit proceeds, but is not the final ruling in the overall case, which is continuing.

TikTok drives another pop song to No. 1 on Billboard charts, breaks Spotify’s record

@livbedumb♬ drivers license – Olivia Rodrigo

We already knew TikTok was playing a large role in influencing music charts and listening behavior. For example, Billboard last year noted how TikTok drove hits from Sony artists like Doja Cat (“Say So”) and 24kGoldn (“Mood”), and helped Sony discover new talent. Columbia also signed viral TikTok artists like Lil Nas X, Powfu, StaySolidRocky, Jawsh 685, Arizona Zervas and 24kGoldn. Meanwhile, Nielsen has said that no other app had helped break more songs in 2020 than TikTok.

This month, we’ve witnessed yet another example of this phenomenon. Olivia Rodrigo, the 17-year-old star of Disney+’s “High School Musical: The Musical: the Series” released her latest song, “Drivers License” on January 8. The pop ballad and breakup anthem is believed to be referencing the actress’ relationship with co-star Joshua Bassett, which gave the song even more appeal to fans.

Upon its release the song was heavily streamed by TikTok users, which helped make it an overnight sensation of sorts. According to a report by The WSJ, Billboard counted 76.1 million streams and 38,000 downloads in the U.S. during the week of its release. It also made a historic debut at No. 1 on the Hot 100, becoming the first smash hit of 2021.

On January 11, “Drivers License” broke Spotify’s record for most streams per day (for a non-holiday song) with 15.17 million global streams. On TikTok, meanwhile, the number of videos featuring the song and the views they received doubled every day, The WSJ said.

Charli D’Amelio’s dance to it on the app has now generated 5 million “Likes” across nearly 33 million views, as of the time of writing.

@charlidamelio♬ drivers license – Olivia Rodrigo

Of course, other TikTok hits have broken out in the past, too — even reaching No. 1 like “Blinding Lights” (The Weeknd) and “Mood” (24kGoldn). But the success of “Drivers License” may be in part due to the way it focuses on a subject that’s more relevant to TikTok’s young, teenage user base. It talks about first loves and being dumped for the other girl. And its title and opening refer to a time many adults have forgotten: the momentous day when you get your driver’s license. It’s highly relatable to the TikTok crowd who fully embraced it and made it a hit.

Weekly News

Platforms: Apple

  • Apple stops signing iOS 12.5, making iOS 12.5.1 the only versions of iOS available to older devices.
  • A report claims Apple’s iOS 15 update will cut support for devices with an A9 chip, like the iPhone 6, iPhone 6s Plus and the original iPhone SE.
  • New analysis estimates Apple’s upcoming iOS privacy changes will cause a roughly 7% revenue hit for Facebook in Q2. The revenue hit will continue in following quarters and will be “material.”

Platforms: Google

  • Google adds “trending” icons to the Play Store. New arrow icons appeared in the Top Charts tab, which indicate whether an app’s downloads are trending up or down, in terms of popularity. This could provide an early signal about those that may still be rising in the charts or beginning to fall out of favor, despite their current high position.
  • Google appears to be working on a Restricted Networking mode for Android 12. The mode, discovered by XDA Developers digging in the Android Open Source Project, would disable network access for all third-party apps.

Gaming

  • Goama (or Go Games) introduced a way for developers to integrate social games into their apps, which was showcased at CES. The company focuses on Asia and Latin America and has more than 15 partners, including GCash and Rappi, for digital payments and communications.
  • Fortnite maker Epic Games is getting into movies. The animated feature film Gilgamesh will use Epic’s Unreal Engine technology to tell the story of the king-turned-deity. The movie is not an in-house project, but rather is financed through Epic’s $100M MegaGrants fund.

Augmented Reality

  • Patents around Apple’s AR and VR efforts describe how a system could be identified in a way that’s similar to FaceID, then either permitted or denied the ability to change their appearance in the game.
  • Pinterest launches AR try-on for eyeshadow in its mobile app using Lens technology and ModiFace data. The app already offered AR try-on for lipsticks.

Entertainment

  • The CW app became the No. 1 app on the App Store this week, topping TikTok, Instagram and YouTube, thanks to CW’s season premieres of Batwoman, All American, Riverdale and Nancy Drew.
  • Users of podcasting app Anchor, owned by Spotify, say the app isn’t bringing them any sponsorship opportunities, as promised, beyond those from Spotify and Anchor itself.
  • YouTube launches hashtag landing pages on the web and in its mobile app. The pages are accessible when you click hashtags on YouTube, not via search, and weirdly rank the “best” videos through some inscrutable algorithm.
  • Apple’s Podcasts app adds a new editorial feature, Apple Podcasts Spotlight, meant to increase podcast listening by showcasing the best podcasts as selected by Apple editors.

E-commerce

  • WeChat facilitated 1.6 trillion yuan (close to $250 billion) in annual transactions through its “mini programs” in 2020. The figure is more than double that of 2019.

Fintech

  • Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, launched an e-wallet, Douyin Pay. The wallet will supplement the existing payment options, Alipay and WeChat Pay, and will help to support the Douyin app’s growing e-commerce business.
  • Neobank Monzo founder Tom Blomfield left the startup, saying he struggled during the pandemic. “I think [for] a lot of people in the world…going through a pandemic, going through lockdown and the isolation involved in that has an impact on people’s mental health,” he told TechCrunch.
  • New estimates indicate about 50% of the iPhone user base (or 507 million users) now use Apple Pay. 
  • Samsung’s newest phones drop support for MST, which emulates a mag stripe at terminals that don’t support NFC.

Social

  • Indian messaging app, StickerChat, owned by Hike, is shutting down. Founder Kavin Bharti Mittal said India will never have a homegrown messenger unless it bars Western companies from its market. Hike pivoted this month to virtual social apps, Vibe and Rush, which it believes have more potential.
  • Instagram head Adam Mosseri, in a Verge podcast, said he’s not happy with Reels so far, and how he feels most people probably don’t understand the difference between Instagram video and IGTV. He says the social network needs to simplify and consolidate ideas.
  • Facebook and Instagram improve their accessibility features. The apps’ AI-generated image captions now offer far more details about who or what is in the photos, thanks to improvements in image recognition systems.
  • TikTok launches a Q&A feature that lets creators respond to fan questions using text or videos. The feature, rolled out to select creators with more than 10,000 followers, makes it easier to see all the questions in one place.

Health & Fitness

  • Health and fitness app spending jumped 70% last year in Europe to record $544 million, a Sensor Tower report says. The year-over-year increase is far larger than 2019, when growth was just 37.2%. COVID-19 played a large role in this shift as people turned to fitness apps instead of gyms to stay in shape.

Government & Policy

  • Biden’s inauguration boosted installs of U.S. news apps up to 170%, Sensor Tower reported. CNN was the biggest mover, climbing 530 positions to reach No. 41 on the App Store, and up 170% in terms of downloads. News Break was the second highest, climbing 13 positions to No. 65. Right-wing outlet Newsmax climbed 43 spots to reach No. 108. In 2020, the top news apps were: News Break (23.7 million installs); SmartNews (9 million); CNN (5 million); and Fox News (4 million). This month, however, News Break saw 1.2 million installs, followed by Newsmax with about 863,000 installs, the report said.
  • Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC) sent a draft decision to fellow EU Data Protection Authorities over the WhatsApp-Facebook data sharing policy. This means a decision on the matter is coming closer to a resolution in terms of what standards of transparency is required by WhatsApp.
  • German app developer Florian Mueller of FOSS Patents filed a complaint with the EU, U.S. DOJ and other antitrust watchdogs around the world over Apple and Google’s rejection of his COVID-related mobile game. Both stores had policies to only approve official COVID-19 apps from health authorities. Mueller renamed the game Viral Days and removed references to the novel coronavirus to get the app approved. However, he still feels the stores’ rules are holding back innovation.

Productivity

  • Basecamp’s Hey, which famously fought back against Apple’s App Store rules over IAP last year, has launched a business-focused platform, Hey for Work, expected to be public in Q1. The app has more App Store ratings than rival Superhuman, a report found. Currently, Hey has a 4.7-star rating across 3.3K reviews; Superhuman has 3.9 rating across only 274 reviews.

Trends

  • Baby boomers are increasingly using apps. Baby boomers/Gen Xers in the U.S. spent 30% more time year-over-year in their most used apps, App Annie reports. That’s a larger increase than either Millennials or Gen Z, at 18% and 16%, respectively.

Funding and M&A

  • Curtsy, a clothing resale app for Gen Z women, raised an $11 million Series A led by Index Ventures. The app tackles some of the problems with online resale by sending shipping supplies and labels to sellers, and by making the marketplace accessible to new and casual sellers.
  • Storytelling platform Wattpad acquired by South Korea’s Naver for $600 million. The reading apps whose stories have turned into book and Netflix hits will be incorporated into Naver’s publishing platform Webtoon.
  • On-demand delivery app Glovo partnered with Swiss-based real estate firm, Stoneweg, which is investing €100 million in building and refurbishing real estate in key markets to build out Glovo’s network of “dark stores.”
  • Pocket Casts app is up for sale. The podcast app was acquired nearly three years ago by a public radio consortium of top podcast producers (NPR, WNYC Studios, WBEZ Chicago and This American Life). The owners have now agreed to sell the app, which posted a net loss in 2020. (NPR’s share of the loss was over $800,000.)
  • Travel app Maps.me raised $50 million in a round led by Alameda Research. The funding will go toward the launch of a multi-currency wallet. Cryptocurrency lender Genesis Capital and institutional cryptocurrency firm CMS Holdings also participated in the round, Coindesk reported.
  • Bangalore-based hyperlocal delivery app Dunzo raised $40 million in a round that included investment from Google, Lightbox, Evolvence, Hana Financial Investment, LGT Lightstone Aspada and Alteria.
  • London-based food delivery app Deliveroo raised $180 million in new funding from existing investors, led by Durable Capital Partners and Fidelity Management, valuing the business at more than $7 billion.
  • Dating Group acquired Swiss startup Once, a dating app that sends one match per day, for $18 million.

Downloads

Bodyguard

Image Credits: Bodyguard

A French content moderation app called Bodyguard, detailed here by TechCrunch, has brought its service to the English-speaking market. The app allows you to choose the level of content moderation you want to see on top social networks, like Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and Twitch. You can choose to hide toxic content across a range of categories, like insults, body shaming, moral harassment, sexual harassment, racism and homophobia and indicate whether the content is a low or high priority to block.

Beeper

Image Credits: Beeper

Pebble’s founder and current YC Partner Eric Migicovsky has launched a new app, Beeper, that aims to centralize in one interface 15 different chat apps, including iMessage. The app relies on an open-source federated, encrypted messaging protocol called Matrix that uses “bridges” to connect to the various networks to move the messages. However, iMessage support is more wonky, as the company actually ships you an old iPhone to make the connection to the network. But this system allows you to access Beeper on non-Apple devices, the company says. The app is slowly onboarding new users due to initial demand. The app works across MacOS, Windows, Linux‍, iOS and Android and charges $10/mo for the service.

 

#actress, #adam-mosseri, #alipay, #alteria, #amazon, #amazon-web-services, #android, #app-developer, #app-store, #apple, #apps, #arkansas, #asia, #bangalore, #biden, #bodyguard, #columbia, #computing, #data-protection-commission, #dating-group, #disney, #doj, #driver, #durable-capital-partners, #e-commerce, #epic-games, #eric-migicovsky, #europe, #european-union, #fidelity-management, #food, #fox-news, #glovo, #google, #hana-financial-investment, #india, #instagram, #iphone, #ireland, #itunes, #judge, #latin-america, #linux, #london, #macos, #microsoft-windows, #mobile, #mobile-app, #mobile-applications, #mobile-devices, #netflix, #operating-systems, #parler, #pinterest, #play-store, #president, #real-estate, #seattle, #sensor-tower, #social-network, #social-networks, #software, #sony, #south-korea, #spotify, #stoneweg, #superhuman, #this-american-life, #tiktok, #tom-blomfield, #twitch, #twitter, #united-states, #wattpad, #web-services, #wnyc

Parler’s attempt to get back on Amazon Web Services rejected by judge

3D Amazon logo hangs from a convention center ceiling.

Enlarge / Amazon Web Services (AWS) logo displayed during the 4th edition of the Viva Technology show at Parc des Expositions Porte de Versailles on May 17, 2019, in Paris, France. (credit: Chesnot | Getty Images)

A federal judge today rejected Parler’s motion for a preliminary injunction against Amazon Web Services (AWS), scuttling the social network’s attempt to quickly get back onto Amazon’s Web-hosting platform.

Parler, which bills itself as a conservative alternative to Twitter, had asked for a court order requiring Amazon to reinstate its Web-hosting service pending a full trial. But “Parler has fallen far short… of demonstrating, as it must, that it has raised serious questions going to the merits of its claims,” and it has failed to prove “that the balance of equities tips in its favor, let alone strongly so; or that the public interests lie in granting the injunction,” said the ruling by Judge Barbara Jacobs Rothstein in US District Court for the Western District of Washington.

Parler could still prevail in the case, but it won’t be reinstated to Amazon’s service in the meantime. Parler accused Amazon of conspiracy in restraint of trade, in violation of the Sherman Act; breach of contract; and tortious interference with business expectancy.

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#amazon-web-services, #parler, #policy

Madrona promotes Anu Sharma and Daniel Li as Partners

Fresh off the announcement of more than $500 million in new capital across two new funds, Seattle-based Madrona Venture Group has announced that they’re adding Anu Sharma and Daniel Li to the team’s list of Partners.

The firm, which in recent years has paid particularly close attention to enterprise software bets, invests heavily in the early-stage Pacific Northwest startup scene.

Both Li and Sharma are stepping into the Partner role after some time at the firm. Li has been with Madrona for five years while Sharma joined the team in 2020. Prior to joining Madrona, Sharma led product management teams at Amazon Web Services, worked as a software developer at Oracle and had a stint in VC as an associate at SoftBank China & India. Li previously worked at the Boston Consulting Group.

I got the chance to catch up with Li who notes that the promotion won’t necessarily mean a big shift in his day-to-day responsibilities — “At Madrona, you’re not promoted until you’re working in the next role anyway,” he says — but that he appreciates “how much trust the firm places in junior investors.”

Asked about leveling up his venture career during a time when public and private markets seem particularly flush with cash, Li acknowledges some looming challenges.

“On one hand, it’s just been an amazing five years to join venture capital because things have just been up and to the right with lots of things that work; it’s just a super exciting time,” Li says. “On the other hand, from a macro perspective, you know that there’s more capital flowing into VC as an asset class than ever before. And just from that pure macro perspective, you know that that means returns are going to be lower in the next 10 years as valuations are higher.”

Nevertheless, Li is plenty bullish on internet companies claiming larger swaths of the global GDP and hopes to invest specifically in “low code platforms, next-gen productivity, and online communities,” Madrona notes in their announcement, while Sharma plans to continue looking at to “distributed systems, data infrastructure, machine learning, and security.”

TechCrunch recently talked to Li and his Madrona colleague Hope Cochran about some of the top trends in social gaming and how investors were approaching new opportunities across the gaming industry.

#amazon-web-services, #finance, #hope-cochran, #india, #internet, #investment, #machine-learning, #madrona-venture-group, #online-communities, #oracle, #seattle, #softbank, #softbank-group, #tc, #venture-capital, #web-services

Vantage makes managing AWS easier

Vantage, a new service that makes managing AWS resources and their associated spend easier, is coming out of stealth today. The service offers its users an alternative to the complex AWS console with support for most of the standard AWS services, including EC2 instances, S3 buckets, VPCs, ECS and Fargate and Route 53 hosted zones.

The company’s founder, Ben Schaechter, previously worked at AWS and Digital Ocean (and before that, he worked on Crunchbase, too). Yet while DigitalOcean showed him how to build a developer experience for individuals and small businesses, he argues that the underlying services and hardware simply weren’t as robust as those of the hyperclouds. AWS, on the other hand, offers everything a developer could want (and likely more), but the user experience leaves a lot to be desired.

Image Credits: Vantage

“The idea was really born out of ‘what if we could take the user experience of DigitalOcean and apply it to the three public cloud providers, AWS, GCP and Azure,” Schaechter told me. “We decided to start just with AWS because the experience there is the roughest and it’s the largest player in the market. And I really think that we can provide a lot of value there before we do GCP and Azure.”

The focus for Vantage is on the developer experience and cost transparency. Schaechter noted that some of its users describe it as being akin to a “Mint for AWS.” To get started, you give Vantage a set of read permissions to your AWS services and the tool will automatically profile everything in your account. The service refreshes this list once per hour, but users can also refresh their lists manually.

Given that it’s often hard enough to know which AWS services you are actually using, that alone is a useful feature. “That’s the number one use case,” he said. “What are we paying for and what do we have?”

At the core of Vantage is what the team calls “views,” which allows you to see which resources you are using. What is interesting here is that this is quite a flexible system and allows you to build custom views to see which resources you are using for a given application across regions, for example. Those may include Lambda, storage buckets, your subnet, code pipeline and more.

On the cost-tracking side, Vantage currently only offers point-in-time costs, but Schaechter tells me that the team plans to add historical trends as well to give users a better view of their cloud spend.

Schaechter and his co-founder bootstrapped the company and he noted that before he wants to raise any money for the service, he wants to see people paying for it. Currently, Vantage offers a free plan, as well as paid “pro” and “business” plans with additional functionality.

Image Credits: Vantage 

#amazon-web-services, #cloud, #cloud-computing, #cloud-infrastructure, #cloud-storage, #computing, #developer, #digitalocean, #gcp, #tc, #web-hosting, #world-wide-web