Check out who’s coming to TC Sessions: SaaS 2021

On October 27, less than two fast-moving months away, we’re hosting TC Sessions: SaaS 2021, our first event focused exclusively on the software-as-a-service ecosystem. SaaS — the de facto business model for B2B and B2C startups and enterprises alike — shows no sign of slowing down.

This is a prime opportunity to hear and learn from the industry’s major players, thought leaders and, frankly, some of the coolest creators around the globe. It’s more than just listening — it’s engaging with speakers during Q&As and networking with founders, CEOs and investors from major companies.

Pro Ka-ching Tip: Want to save $100 on the price of admission? Yeah, you do. Simply buy an early-bird SaaS pass before the prices go up on October 1 at 11:59 pm (PT).

So, let’s get to it. here are just some of the leading voices and companies coming to TC Sessions: SaaS to share their insight, actionable tips and hard-won advice.

Kathy Baxter is the principal architect for the ethical AI practice at Salesforce. She also has more than 20 years under her belt as a software architect. We’re going to tap into her deep expertise for a panel discussion on AI’s growing role in software today, as well as the implications of using AI in your software service as it becomes a mainstream part of the SaaS development process.

Javier Soltero is the VP and GM in charge of Google Workspace, which has significantly more than 2 billion users. Productivity apps like Gmail, Google Calendar and Google Drive are a big part of SaaS, and Soltero joins us for an interview about the role Google Workspace plays in the Google cloud strategy.

Jared Spataro is the corporate VP in charge of Microsoft 365 — arguably one of the most successful SaaS products ever. He was part of the great shift from on prem to the cloud, and he’ll join us to talk about how Microsoft made that move and what it’s done for the company.

Casey Aylward, a principal at Costanoa Ventures, concentrates on early-stage enterprise startups. Kobie Fuller, a partner at Upfront Ventures, focuses on SaaS, AR and VR. Sarah Guo, a partner at Greylock, concentrates on AI, cybersecurity, infrastructure and the future of work. This group of prestigious VCs will panel-up to discuss what they look for when they invest in SaaS startups.

Be sure to check out the TC Sessions: SaaS 2021 agenda — we’ll add more exciting panels, interviews, speaker Q&As and breakout sessions over the next few weeks. Register here to receive updates with the latest additions to the day’s events.

TC Sessions: SaaS is a ripe networking opportunity. Consider this list of just some of the major companies that will be in the house. Whether you’re looking for potential customers, investors, partnerships or some other creative collaboration, you’ll have ample time to network with leaders from the foremost SaaS players.

  • Adobe
  • CBRE
  • FedEx
  • McKinsey & Company
  • Moody’s Analytics
  • SAP
  • Shell Ventures
  • SONY
  • Verizon Ventures

TC Sessions: SaaS 2021, takes place on October 27, and this is your chance to learn from and network with the seriously successful movers, shakers and unicorn makers of the SaaS world. Grab your early bird pass before October 1 at 11:59 pm (PT), and you’ll save $100.

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at TC Sessions: SaaS 2021? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

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Australia’s TechnologyOne acquires UK-based higher-ed platform Scientia for $16.6M

TechnologyOne, an Australian SaaS enterprise, has agreed to acquire UK-based higher education software provider Scientia for £12 million /$16.6 million in cash.
 
TechnologyOne claims to have 75% of Higher Education institutions in Australia using its software, while Scientia claims 50% market share in the UK.

The acquisition includes an initial payment of £6m and further payments.
 
Adrian Di Marco, TechnologyOne founder and Executive Chairman said: “This is our company’s first international acquisition and it demonstrates our deep commitment to serving the higher education sector and the UK market. The unique IP and market-leading functionality of Scientia’s product supports our vision of delivering enterprise software that is incredibly easy to use.”

Commenting, Michelle Gillespie, Registrar and Director of Student Administration and Library Services at Swinburne University of Technology said: “The one thing that students care most about is their timetable. Being able to fully integrate a schedule into the full student experience is very important, and an exciting step for those universities – like Swinburne – that use TechnologyOne’s student management system.”

#australia, #business-models, #cloud-applications, #computing, #enterprise-software, #europe, #scientia, #software, #software-as-a-service, #tc, #united-kingdom

Linux 5.14 set to boost future enterprise application security

Linux is set for a big release this Sunday August 29, setting the stage for enterprise and cloud applications for months to come. The 5.14 kernel update will include security and performance improvements.

A particular area of interest for both enterprise and cloud users is always security and to that end, Linux 5.14 will help with several new capabilities. Mike McGrath, vice president, Linux Engineering at Red Hat told TechCrunch that the kernel update includes a feature known as core scheduling, which is intended to help mitigate processor-level vulnerabilities like Spectre and Meltdown, which first surfaced in 2018. One of the ways that Linux users have had to mitigate those vulnerabilities is by disabling hyper-threading on CPUs and therefore taking a performance hit. 

“More specifically, the feature helps to split trusted and untrusted tasks so that they don’t share a core, limiting the overall threat surface while keeping cloud-scale performance relatively unchanged,” McGrath explained.

Another area of security innovation in Linux 5.14 is a feature that has been in development for over a year-and-a-half that will help to protect system memory in a better way than before. Attacks against Linux and other operating systems often target memory as a primary attack surface to exploit. With the new kernel, there is a capability known as memfd_secret () that will enable an application running on a Linux system to create a memory range that is inaccessible to anyone else, including the kernel.

“This means cryptographic keys, sensitive data and other secrets can be stored there to limit exposure to other users or system activities,” McGrath said.

At the heart of the open source Linux operating system that powers much of the cloud and enterprise application delivery is what is known as the Linux kernel. The kernel is the component that provides the core functionality for system operations. 

The Linux 5.14 kernel release has gone through seven release candidates over the last two months and benefits from the contributions of 1,650 different developers. Those that contribute to Linux kernel development include individual contributors, as well large vendors like Intel, AMD, IBM, Oracle and Samsung. One of the largest contributors to any given Linux kernel release is IBM’s Red Hat business unit. IBM acquired Red Hat for $34 billion in a deal that closed in 2019.

“As with pretty much every kernel release, we see some very innovative capabilities in 5.14,” McGrath said.

While Linux 5.14 will be out soon, it often takes time until it is adopted inside of enterprise releases. McGrath said that Linux 5.14 will first appear in Red Hat’s Fedora community Linux distribution and will be a part of the future Red Hat Enterprise Linux 9 release. Gerald Pfeifer, CTO for enterprise Linux vendor SUSE, told TechCrunch that his company’s openSUSE Tumbleweed community release will likely include the Linux 5.14 kernel within ‘days’ of the official release. On the enterprise side, he noted that SUSE Linux Enterprise 15 SP4, due next spring, is scheduled to come with Kernel 5.14. 

The new Linux update follows a major milestone for the open source operating system, as it was 30 years ago this past Wednesday that creator Linus Torvalds (pictured above) first publicly announced the effort. Over that time Linux has gone from being a hobbyist effort to powering the infrastructure of the internet.

McGrath commented that Linux is already the backbone for the modern cloud and Red Hat is also excited about how Linux will be the backbone for edge computing – not just within telecommunications, but broadly across all industries, from manufacturing and healthcare to entertainment and service providers, in the years to come.

The longevity and continued importance of Linux for the next 30 years is assured in Pfeifer’s view.  He noted that over the decades Linux and open source have opened up unprecedented potential for innovation, coupled with openness and independence.

“Will Linux, the kernel, still be the leader in 30 years? I don’t know. Will it be relevant? Absolutely,” he said. “Many of the approaches we have created and developed will still be pillars of technological progress 30 years from now. Of that I am certain.”

 

 

#cloud, #cloud-applications, #enterprise, #ibm, #linus-torvalds, #linux, #operating-systems, #red-hat, #security, #suse, #tc

ForgeRock files for IPO as identity and access management business grows

ForgeRock filed its form S-1 with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) this morning as the identity management provider takes the next step toward its IPO.

The company did not provide initial pricing for its shares, which will trade on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol FORG. The IPO is being led by Morgan Stanley and J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., with the company being valued as high as $4 billion, according to Bloomberg, which is a significant uplift over the $730 million post-money value that PitchBook had for the company after its last round in 2020.

With the ever-increasing volume of cybersecurity attacks against organizations of all sizes, the need to secure and manage user identities is of growing importance. Based in San Francisco, ForgeRock has raised $233 million in funding across multiple rounds. The company’s last round was a $93.5 million Series E announced in April 2020, which was led by Riverwood Capital alongside Accenture Ventures. At that time, CEO Fran Rosch told TechCrunch that the round would be the last before an IPO, which was also what former CEO Mike Ellis told us after the startup’s $88 million Series D in September 2017.

While the timing of its IPO might have been unclear over the last few years, the company has been on a positive trajectory for growth. In its S-1, ForgeRock reported that as of June 30, its annual recurring revenue (ARR) was $155 million, representing 30% year-over-year growth. 

While revenue is growing, losses are narrowing as the company reported a $20 million net loss down from $36 million a year ago. There certainly is a whole lot of room to grow, as the company estimates that the total global addressable market for identity services to be worth $71 billion. 

Among the many competitors that ForgeRock faces is Okta, which went public in 2017 and has been growing in the years since. In March, Okta acquired cloud identity startup Auth0 for $6.5 billion in a deal that raised a few eyebrows. Another competitor is Ping Identity, which went public in 2019 and is also growing, reporting on August 4 that its ARR hit $279.6 million in its quarter ended June 30, for a 19% year-over-year gain. There have also been a few big exits in the space over the years, including Duo Security, which was acquired by Cisco for $2.35 billion in 2018.

“ForgeRock has a good access management tool and they continue to be a strong player in customer identity and access management (CIAM),” commented Michael Kelley, senior research director at Gartner.

Kelley noted that in 2020, ForgeRock converted most of its core access management services to a SaaS delivery model, which helped the company catch up with the rest of the market that already offered access management as SaaS. Also last year the company expanded into identity governance, introducing a brand new identity, governance and administration (IGA) product.

“I think one of the more interesting products that ForgeRock offers is ForgeRock Trees, which is a no-code/low-code orchestration tool for building complex authentication and authorization journeys for customers, which is particularly helpful in the CIAM market,” Kelly added.

ForgeRock was founded in 2010, but its roots go back even further to an open-source single sign-on project known as OpenSSO that was created by Sun Microsystems in 2005. When Oracle acquired Sun Microsystems in early 2010, a number of its open-source efforts were left to languish, which is what led a number of former Sun employees to start ForgeRock. 

Over the last decade, ForgeRock has expanded significantly beyond just providing a single sign-on to providing an identity platform that can handle consumer, enterprise and IoT use-cases. The company’s platform today handles identity and access management as well as identity governance.

The ability to scale is a key selling point that ForgeRock makes in the S-1, noting that its platform can handle over 60,000 user-based access transactions per second per customer. 

“As of June 30, 2021, we had four customers with 100 million or more licensed identities, the company stated in the S-1. “Our ability to serve mission-critical needs in complex environments for large customers enables us to grow our base of large customers and expand within each of them. “

 

#access-management, #cloud-applications, #duo-security, #exit, #forgerock, #identity-management, #initial-public-offering, #ipo, #okta, #ping-identity, #san-francisco, #security, #startups

India’s path to SaaS leadership is clear, but challenges remain

Software as a service is one of the most important sectors in tech today. While its transformative potential was quite clear before the pandemic, the sudden pivot to distributed workforces caused interest in SaaS products to skyrocket as medium and large enterprises embraced digital and remote sales processes, significantly expanding their utility.

This phenomenon is global, but India in particular has the opportunity to take its SaaS momentum to the next level. The Indian SaaS industry is projected to generate revenue of $50 billion to $70 billion and win 4%-6% of the global SaaS market by 2030, creating as much as $1 trillion in value, according to a report by SaaSBOOMi and McKinsey.

The Indian SaaS industry is projected to generate revenue of $50 billion to $70 billion and win 4%-6% of the global SaaS market by 2030.

There are certain important long-term trends that are fueling this expansion.

The rise of Indian SaaS unicorns

The Indian SaaS community has seen a flurry of innovation and success. Entrepreneurs in India have founded about a thousand funded SaaS companies in the last few years, doubling the rate from five years ago and creating several unicorns in the process. Together, these companies generate $2 billion to $3 billion in total revenues and represent approximately 1% of the global SaaS market, according to SaaSBOOMi and McKinsey.

These firms are diverse in terms of the clients they serve and the problems they solve, but several garnered global attention during the pandemic by enabling flexibility for newly remote workers. Zoho helped streamline this pivot by providing sales teams with apps for collateral, videos and demos; Freshworks offered businesses a seamless customer experience platform, and Eka extended its cloud platform to unify workflows from procurement to payments for the CFO office.

Other SaaS firms stayed busy in other ways. Over the course of the pandemic, 10 new unicorns emerged: Postman, Zenoti, Innovacer, Highradius, Chargebee and Browserstack, Mindtickle, Byju, UpGrad and Unacademy. There were also several instances of substantial venture funding, including a $150 million deal for Postman, bringing the total amount raised by the Indian SaaS community in 2020 to around $1.5 billion, four times the investment in 2018.

India’s path to leadership

While the Indian SaaS community has made admirable progress in recent years, there are several key growth drivers that could lead to as much as $1 trillion in revenue by 2030. They include:

The global pivot to digital go-to-market

The number of enterprises that are comfortable with assessing products and making business decisions via Zoom is increasing rapidly. This embrace of digital go-to-market fundamentally levels the playing field for Indian companies in terms of access to customers and end markets.

#amazon, #as-a-service, #asia, #cloud-applications, #cloud-computing, #column, #computing, #crm, #customer-success, #ec-column, #ec-india, #ec-indian-subcontinent, #freshworks, #idc, #india, #product-management, #saas, #software, #software-as-a-service, #startups, #united-states

Reserve your demo table at TC Sessions: SaaS 2021 today

One of the most important goals for any early-stage startup venture is gaining exposure for your company and product. As much as we love the mantra, “if you build it, they will come,” it’s gonna take more than that to make your Field of Dreams come true.

Are you a founder of an early-stage SaaS startup? Then grab this opportunity to showcase your innovative tech and talent to the major movers, shakers, investors and makers around the world at TC Sessions: SaaS 2021 on October 27. Talk about a targeted audience.

Buy a Startup Exhibitor Package and spend a full day exhibiting to your exact target audience. Whether you’re searching for media coverage, investors, customers, engineers or collaborators, hang your virtual shingle to promote your brand and make the connections that can move you closer to achieving your business goals.

Your SaaS Startup Exhibitor Package costs $299 and includes a virtual booth, complete with lead-gen capabilities, four full-access event passes, breakout sessions, CrunchMatch — our AI-powered networking platform — and videos-on-demand. That last one comes in handy if you miss any of the live-stream presentations.

Sweet bonus: The four passes that come with your Exhibitor Package include a free, one-month subscription to Extra Crunch, our members-only program featuring exclusive daily articles for founders and startup teams.

You’ll receive access to the event attendee list — including media outlets —about a week before TC Sessions: SaaS begins. Fire up CrunchMatch, send out meeting invitations and get those RSVPs lined up in advance. Schedule 1:1 product demos, pitch investors, interview prospective employees or come up with your own creative ways to promote your startup.

Exhibiting at TC Sessions: SaaS might help you connect with someone like Rachael Wilcox, a creative producer at Volvo Cars. Wilcox makes it her practice to attend as many TechCrunch events in a year as she can. In 2020 alone, she attended TC Sessions: Mobility, TC Sessions: Robotics/AI and Disrupt.

“I’m never disappointed when I attend TechCrunch events. Whether from the smallest startup all the way up to a Google, I always find someone or something surprising that makes me say, ‘Oh, I didn’t know about that.’”

Our event agenda isn’t quite ready for prime time, but here are just a few of the SaaS leaders who will grace our interactive stage to share insights, actionable advice and answers to your most pressing questions.

We’re talking folks like Kathy Baxter, principal architect for the ethical AI practice at Salesforce, Monte Carlo co-founder and CEO, Barr Moses and Javier Soltero, Google’s VP and GM in charge of Workspace.

Do you know — or are you — someone who wants to share their SaaS expertise? TechCrunch editorial is accepting speaker/ demo recommendations. Submit your application here.

TC Sessions: SaaS 2021 takes place on October 27. Buy a Startup Exhibitor Package and promote your Field of Dreams to the people who can help make them come true.

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at TC Sessions: SaaS 2021? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

#artificial-intelligence, #business-models, #cloud-applications, #computing, #crunchmatch, #google, #javier-soltero, #kathy-baxter, #saas, #salesforce, #software, #software-as-a-service, #speaker, #startup-company, #tc, #tc-sessions-saas-2021, #volvo-cars, #vp

Youreka Labs spins out with $8M to provide smart mobile assistant apps to field workers

Mobile field service startup Youreka Labs Inc. raised an $8 million Series A round of funding co-led by Boulder Ventures and Grotech Ventures, with participation from Salesforce Ventures.

The Maryland-based company also officially announced its CEO — Bill Karpovich joined to lead the company after previously holding executive roles with General Motors and IBM Cloud & Watson Platform.

Youreka Labs spun out into its own company from parent company Synaptic Advisors, a cloud consulting business focused on the customer relationship management transformations using Salesforce and other artificial intelligence and automation technologies.

The company is developing robotic smart mobile assistants that enable frontline workers to perform their jobs more safely and efficiently. This includes things like guided procedures, smart forms and photo or video capture. Youreka is also embedded in existing Salesforce mobile applications like Field Service Mobile so that end-users only have to operate from one mobile app.

Youreka has identified four use cases so far: healthcare, manufacturing, energy and utilities and the public sector. Working with companies like Shell, P&G, Humana and the Transportation Security Administration, the company’s technology makes it possible for someone to share their knowledge and processes with their colleagues in the field, Karpovich told TechCrunch.

“In the case of healthcare, we are taking complex medical assessments from a doctor and pushing them out to nurses out in the field by gathering data into a simple mobile app and making it useful,” he added. “It allows nurses to do a great job without being doctors themselves.”

Karpovich said the company went after Series A dollars because it was “time for it to be on its own.” He was receiving inbound interest from investors, and the capital would enable the company to proceed more rapidly. Today, the company is focused on the Salesforce ecosystem, but that can evolve over time, he added.

The funding will be used to expand the company’s reach and products. He expects to double the team in the next six to 12 months across engineering to be able to expand the platform. Youreka boasts 100 customers today, and Karpovich would also like to invest in marketing to grow that base.

In addition to the use cases already identified, he sees additional potential in financial services and insurance, particularly for those assessing damage. The company is also concentrated in the United States, and Karpovich has plans to expand in the U.K. and Europe.

In 2020, the company grew 300%, which Karpovich attributes to the need of this kind of tool in field service. Youreka has a licensing model with charges per end user per month, along with an administrative license, for the people creating the apps, that also charges per user and per month pricing.

“There are 2.5 million jobs open today because companies can’t find people with the right skills,” he added. “We are making these jobs accessible. Some say that AI is doing away with jobs, but we are using AI to enhance jobs. If we can take 90% of the knowledge and give a digital assistant to less experienced people, you could open up so many opportunities.”

 

#apps, #artificial-intelligence, #bill-karpovich, #boulder-ventures, #cloud-applications, #computing, #crm, #digital-assistant, #enterprise, #funding, #grotech-ventures, #mobile-app, #recent-funding, #salesforce-ventures, #startups, #synaptic-advisors, #tc, #youreka-labs

Talkdesk’s valuation jumps to $10B with Series D for smart contact centers

Talkdesk, a provider of cloud-based contact center software, announced $230 million in new Series D funding that more than triples the company’s valuation to $10 billion, Talkdesk founder CEO Tiago Paiva confirmed to TechCrunch.

New investors Whale Rock Capital Management, TI Platform Management and Alpha Square Group came on board for this round and were joined by existing investors Amity Ventures, Franklin Templeton, Top Tier Capital Partners, Viking Global Investors and Willoughby Capital.

Talkdesk uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to improve customer service for midmarket and enterprise businesses. It counts over 1,800 companies as customers, including IBM, Acxiom, Trivago and Fujitsu.

“The global pandemic was a big part of how customers interact and how we interacted with our customers, all working from home,” Paiva said. “When you think about ordering things online, call, chat and email interactions became more important, and contact centers became core in every company.”

San Francisco-based Talkdesk now has $498 million in total funding since its inception in 2011. It was a Startup Battlefield contestant at TechCrunch Disrupt NY in 2012. The new funding follows a $143 million Series C raised last July that gave it a $3 billion valuation. Prior to that, Talkdesk brought in $100 million in 2018.

The 2020 round was planned to buoy the company’s growth and expansion to nearly 2,000 employees, Paiva said. For the Series D, there was much interest from investors, including a lot of inbound interest, he said.

“We were not looking for new money, and finished last year with more money in the bank that we raised in the last round, but the investors were great and wanted to make it work,” Paiva said.

Half of Talkdesk’s staff is in product and engineering, an area he intends to double down in with the new funding as well as adding to the headcount to support customers. The company also has plans to expand in areas where it is already operating — Latin America, Europe, Asia and Australia.

This year, the company unveiled new features, including Talkdesk Workspace, a customizable interface for contact center teams, and Talkdesk Builder, a set of tools for customization across workspaces, routing, reporting and integrations. It also launched contact center tools designed specifically for financial services and healthcare organizations and what it is touting as the “industry’s first human-in-the-loop tool for contact centers and continues to lower the barrier to adopting artificial intelligence solutions.”

In addition to the funding, Talkdesk appointed its first chief financial officer, Sydney Carey, giving the company an executive team of 50% women, Paiva said. Carey has a SaaS background and joins the company from Sumo Logic, where she led the organization through an initial public offering in 2020.

“We were hiring our executive team over the past couple of years, and were looking for a CFO, but with no specific timeline, just looking for the right person,” Paiva added. “Sydney was the person we wanted to hire.”

Though Paiva didn’t hint at any upcoming IPO plans, TI Platform Management co-founders Trang Nguyen and Alex Bangash have followed Paiva since he started the company and said they anticipate the company heading in that direction in the future.

“Talkdesk is an example of what can happen when a strong team is assembled behind a winning idea,” they said in a written statement. “Today, Talkdesk has become near ubiquitous as a SaaS product with adoption across a broad array of industries and integrations with the most popular enterprise cloud platforms, including Salesforce, Zendesk and Slack.”

 

#acxiom, #alpha-square-group, #artificial-intelligence, #cloud, #cloud-applications, #computing, #enterprise, #franklin-templeton, #fujitsu, #funding, #recent-funding, #salesforce, #sumo-logic, #talkdesk, #tc, #ti-platform-management, #tiago-paiva, #trivago, #viking-global-investors, #whale-rock-capital-management, #zendesk

Interview: Apple’s Head of Privacy details child abuse detection and Messages safety features

Last week, Apple announced a series of new features targeted at child safety on its devices. Though not live yet, the features will arrive later this year for users. Though the goals of these features are universally accepted to be good ones — the protection of minors and the limit of the spread of Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM), there have been some questions about the methods Apple is using.

I spoke to Erik Neuenschwander, Head of Privacy at Apple, about the new features launching for its devices. He shared detailed answers to many of the concerns that people have about the features and talked at length to some of the tactical and strategic issues that could come up once this system rolls out. 

I also asked about the rollout of the features, which come closely intertwined but are really completely separate systems that have similar goals. To be specific, Apple is announcing three different things here, some of which are being confused with one another in coverage and in the minds of the public. 

CSAM detection in iCloud Photos – A detection system called NeuralHash creates identifiers it can compare with IDs from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and other entities to detect known CSAM content in iCloud Photo libraries. Most cloud providers already scan user libraries for this information — Apple’s system is different in that it does the matching on device rather than in the cloud.

Communication Safety in Messages – A feature that a parent opts to turn on for a minor on their iCloud Family account. It will alert children when an image they are going to view has been detected to be explicit and it tells them that it will also alert the parent.

Interventions in Siri and search – A feature that will intervene when a user tries to search for CSAM-related terms through Siri and search and will inform the user of the intervention and offer resources.

For more on all of these features you can read our articles linked above or Apple’s new FAQ that it posted this weekend.

From personal experience, I know that there are people who don’t understand the difference between those first two systems, or assume that there will be some possibility that they may come under scrutiny for innocent pictures of their own children that may trigger some filter. It’s led to confusion in what is already a complex rollout of announcements. These two systems are completely separate, of course, with CSAM detection looking for precise matches with content that is already known to organizations to be abuse imagery. Communication Safety in Messages takes place entirely on the device and reports nothing externally — it’s just there to flag to a child that they are or could be about to be viewing explicit images. This feature is opt-in by the parent and transparent to both parent and child that it is enabled.

Apple’s Communication Safety in Messages feature. Image Credits: Apple

There have also been questions about the on-device hashing of photos to create identifiers that can be compared with the database. Though NeuralHash is a technology that can be used for other kinds of features like faster search in photos, it’s not currently used for anything else on iPhone aside from CSAM detection. When iCloud Photos is disabled, the feature stops working completely. This offers an opt-out for people but at an admittedly steep cost given the convenience and integration of iCloud Photos with Apple’s operating systems.

Though this interview won’t answer every possible question related to these new features, this is the most extensive on-the-record discussion by Apple’s senior privacy member. It seems clear from Apple’s willingness to provide access and its ongoing FAQ’s and press briefings (there have been at least 3 so far and likely many more to come) that it feels that it has a good solution here. 

Despite the concerns and resistance, it seems as if it is willing to take as much time as is necessary to convince everyone of that. 

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

TC: Most other cloud providers have been scanning for CSAM for some time now. Apple has not. Obviously there are no current regulations that say that you must seek it out on your servers, but there is some roiling regulation in the EU and other countries. Is that the impetus for this? Basically, why now?

Erik Neuenschwander: Why now comes down to the fact that we’ve now got the technology that can balance strong child safety and user privacy. This is an area we’ve been looking at for some time, including current state of the art techniques which mostly involves scanning through entire contents of users libraries on cloud services that — as you point out — isn’t something that we’ve ever done; to look through user’s iCloud Photos. This system doesn’t change that either, it neither looks through data on the device, nor does it look through all photos in iCloud Photos. Instead what it does is gives us a new ability to identify accounts which are starting collections of known CSAM.

So the development of this new CSAM detection technology is the watershed that makes now the time to launch this. And Apple feels that it can do it in a way that it feels comfortable with and that is ‘good’ for your users?

That’s exactly right. We have two co-equal goals here. One is to improve child safety on the platform and the second is to preserve user privacy, And what we’ve been able to do across all three of the features, is bring together technologies that let us deliver on both of those goals.

Announcing the Communications safety in Messages features and the CSAM detection in iCloud Photos system at the same time seems to have created confusion about their capabilities and goals. Was it a good idea to announce them concurrently? And why were they announced concurrently, if they are separate systems?

Well, while they are [two] systems they are also of a piece along with our increased interventions that will be coming in Siri and search. As important as it is to identify collections of known CSAM where they are stored in Apple’s iCloud Photos service, It’s also important to try to get upstream of that already horrible situation. So CSAM detection means that there’s already known CSAM that has been through the reporting process, and is being shared widely re-victimizing children on top of the abuse that had to happen to create that material in the first place. for the creator of that material in the first place. And so to do that, I think is an important step, but it is also important to do things to intervene earlier on when people are beginning to enter into this problematic and harmful area, or if there are already abusers trying to groom or to bring children into situations where abuse can take place, and Communication Safety in Messages and our interventions in Siri and search actually strike at those parts of the process. So we’re really trying to disrupt the cycles that lead to CSAM that then ultimately might get detected by our system.

The process of Apple’s CSAM detection in iCloud Photos system. Image Credits: Apple

Governments and agencies worldwide are constantly pressuring all large organizations that have any sort of end-to-end or even partial encryption enabled for their users. They often lean on CSAM and possible terrorism activities as rationale to argue for backdoors or encryption defeat measures. Is launching the feature and this capability with on-device hash matching an effort to stave off those requests and say, look, we can provide you with the information that you require to track down and prevent CSAM activity — but without compromising a user’s privacy?

So, first, you talked about the device matching so I just want to underscore that the system as designed doesn’t reveal — in the way that people might traditionally think of a match — the result of the match to the device or, even if you consider the vouchers that the device creates, to Apple. Apple is unable to process individual vouchers; instead, all the properties of our system mean that it’s only once an account has accumulated a collection of vouchers associated with illegal, known CSAM images that we are able to learn anything about the user’s account. 

Now, why to do it is because, as you said, this is something that will provide that detection capability while preserving user privacy. We’re motivated by the need to do more for child safety across the digital ecosystem, and all three of our features, I think, take very positive steps in that direction. At the same time we’re going to leave privacy undisturbed for everyone not engaged in the illegal activity.

Does this, creating a framework to allow scanning and matching of on-device content, create a framework for outside law enforcement to counter with, ‘we can give you a list, we don’t want to look at all of the user’s data but we can give you a list of content that we’d like you to match’. And if you can match it with this content you can match it with other content we want to search for. How does it not undermine Apple’s current position of ‘hey, we can’t decrypt the user’s device, it’s encrypted, we don’t hold the key?’

It doesn’t change that one iota. The device is still encrypted, we still don’t hold the key, and the system is designed to function on on-device data. What we’ve designed has a device side component — and it has the device side component by the way, for privacy improvements. The alternative of just processing by going through and trying to evaluate users data on a server is actually more amenable to changes [without user knowledge], and less protective of user privacy.

Our system involves both an on-device component where the voucher is created, but nothing is learned, and a server-side component, which is where that voucher is sent along with data coming to Apple service and processed across the account to learn if there are collections of illegal CSAM. That means that it is a service feature. I understand that it’s a complex attribute that a feature of the service has a portion where the voucher is generated on the device, but again, nothing’s learned about the content on the device. The voucher generation is actually exactly what enables us not to have to begin processing all users’ content on our servers which we’ve never done for iCloud Photos. It’s those sorts of systems that I think are more troubling when it comes to the privacy properties — or how they could be changed without any user insight or knowledge to do things other than what they were designed to do.

One of the bigger queries about this system is that Apple has said that it will just refuse action if it is asked by a government or other agency to compromise by adding things that are not CSAM to the database to check for them on-device. There are some examples where Apple has had to comply with local law at the highest levels if it wants to operate there, China being an example. So how do we trust that Apple is going to hew to this rejection of interference If pressured or asked by a government to compromise the system?

Well first, that is launching only for US, iCloud accounts, and so the hypotheticals seem to bring up generic countries or other countries that aren’t the US when they speak in that way, and the therefore it seems to be the case that people agree US law doesn’t offer these kinds of capabilities to our government. 

But even in the case where we’re talking about some attempt to change the system, it has a number of protections built in that make it not very useful for trying to identify individuals holding specifically objectionable images. The hash list is built into the operating system, we have one global operating system and don’t have the ability to target updates to individual users and so hash lists will be shared by all users when the system is enabled. And secondly, the system requires the threshold of images to be exceeded so trying to seek out even a single image from a person’s device or set of people’s devices won’t work because the system simply does not provide any knowledge to Apple for single photos stored in our service. And then, thirdly, the system has built into it a stage of manual review where, if an account is flagged with a collection of illegal CSAM material, an Apple team will review that to make sure that it is a correct match of illegal CSAM material prior to making any referral to any external entity. And so the hypothetical requires jumping over a lot of hoops, including having Apple change its internal process to refer material that is not illegal, like known CSAM and that we don’t believe that there’s a basis on which people will be able to make that request in the US. And the last point that I would just add is that it does still preserve user choice, if a user does not like this kind of functionality, they can choose not to use iCloud Photos and if iCloud Photos is not enabled no part of the system is functional.

So if iCloud Photos is disabled, the system does not work, which is the public language in the FAQ. I just wanted to ask specifically, when you disable iCloud Photos, does this system continue to create hashes of your photos on device, or is it completely inactive at that point?

If users are not using iCloud Photos, NeuralHash will not run and will not generate any vouchers. CSAM detection is a neural hash being compared against a database of the known CSAM hashes that are part of the operating system image. None of that piece, nor any of the additional parts including the creation of the safety vouchers or the uploading of vouchers to iCloud Photos is functioning if you’re not using iCloud Photos. 

In recent years, Apple has often leaned into the fact that on-device processing preserves user privacy. And in nearly every previous case and I can think of that’s true. Scanning photos to identify their content and allow me to search them, for instance. I’d rather that be done locally and never sent to a server. However, in this case, it seems like there may actually be a sort of anti-effect in that you’re scanning locally, but for external use cases, rather than scanning for personal use — creating a ‘less trust’ scenario in the minds of some users. Add to this that every other cloud provider scans it on their servers and the question becomes why should this implementation being different from most others engender more trust in the user rather than less?

I think we’re raising the bar, compared to the industry standard way to do this. Any sort of server side algorithm that’s processing all users photos is putting that data at more risk of disclosure and is, by definition, less transparent in terms of what it’s doing on top of the user’s library. So, by building this into our operating system, we gain the same properties that the integrity of the operating system provides already across so many other features, the one global operating system that’s the same for all users who download it and install it, and so it in one property is much more challenging, even how it would be targeted to an individual user. On the server side that’s actually quite easy — trivial. To be able to have some of the properties and building it into the device and ensuring it’s the same for all users with the features enable give a strong privacy property. 

Secondly, you point out how use of on device technology is privacy preserving, and in this case, that’s a representation that I would make to you, again. That it’s really the alternative to where users’ libraries have to be processed on a server that is less private.

The things that we can say with this system is that it leaves privacy completely undisturbed for every other user who’s not into this illegal behavior, Apple gain no additional knowledge about any users cloud library. No user’s iCloud Library has to be processed as a result of this feature. Instead what we’re able to do is to create these cryptographic safety vouchers. They have mathematical properties that say, Apple will only be able to decrypt the contents or learn anything about the images and users specifically that collect photos that match illegal, known CSAM hashes, and that’s just not something anyone can say about a cloud processing scanning service, where every single image has to be processed in a clear decrypted form and run by routine to determine who knows what? At that point it’s very easy to determine anything you want [about a user’s images] versus our system only what is determined to be those images that match a set of known CSAM hashes that came directly from NCMEC and and other child safety organizations. 

Can this CSAM detection feature stay holistic when the device is physically compromised? Sometimes cryptography gets bypassed locally, somebody has the device in hand — are there any additional layers there?

I think it’s important to underscore how very challenging and expensive and rare this is. It’s not a practical concern for most users though it’s one we take very seriously, because the protection of data on the device is paramount for us. And so if we engage in the hypothetical where we say that there has been an attack on someone’s device: that is such a powerful attack that there are many things that that attacker could attempt to do to that user. There’s a lot of a user’s data that they could potentially get access to. And the idea that the most valuable thing that an attacker — who’s undergone such an extremely difficult action as breaching someone’s device — was that they would want to trigger a manual review of an account doesn’t make much sense. 

Because, let’s remember, even if the threshold is met, and we have some vouchers that are decrypted by Apple. The next stage is a manual review to determine if that account should be referred to NCMEC or not, and that is something that we want to only occur in cases where it’s a legitimate high value report. We’ve designed the system in that way, but if we consider the attack scenario you brought up, I think that’s not a very compelling outcome to an attacker.

Why is there a threshold of images for reporting, isn’t one piece of CSAM content too many?

We want to ensure that the reports that we make to NCMEC are high value and actionable, and one of the notions of all systems is that there’s some uncertainty built in to whether or not that image matched, And so the threshold allows us to reach that point where we expect a false reporting rate for review of one in 1 trillion accounts per year. So, working against the idea that we do not have any interest in looking through users’ photo libraries outside those that are holding collections of known CSAM the threshold allows us to have high confidence that those accounts that we review are ones that when we refer to NCMEC, law enforcement will be able to take up and effectively investigate, prosecute and convict.

#apple, #apple-inc, #apple-photos, #china, #cloud-applications, #cloud-computing, #cloud-services, #computing, #cryptography, #encryption, #european-union, #head, #icloud, #ios, #iphone, #law-enforcement, #operating-system, #operating-systems, #privacy, #private, #siri, #software, #united-states, #webmail

Salesforce’s Kathy Baxter is coming to TC Sessions: SaaS to talk AI

As the use of AI has grown and developed over the last several years, companies like Salesforce have tried to tap into it to improve their software and help customers operate faster and more efficiently. Kathy Baxter, principal architect for the ethical AI practice at Salesforce will be joining us at TechCrunch Sessions: SaaS on October 27th to talk about the impact of AI on SaaS.

Baxter, who has more than 20 years of experience as a software architect, joined Salesforce in 2017 after more than a decade at Google in a similar role. We’re going to tap into her expertise on a panel discussing AI’s growing role in software.

Salesforce was one of the earlier SaaS adherents to AI, announcing its artificial intelligence tooling, which the company dubbed Einstein, in 2016. While the positioning makes it sound like a product, it’s actually much more than a single entity. It’s a platform component, which the various pieces of the Salesforce platform can tap into to take advantage of various types of AI to help improve the user experience.

That could involve feeding information to customer service reps on Service Cloud to make the call move along more efficiently, helping salespeople find the customers most likely to close a deal soon in the Sales Cloud or helping marketing understand the optimal time to send an email in the Marketing Cloud.

The company began building out its AI tooling early on with the help of 175 data scientists and has been expanding on that initial idea since. Other companies, both startups and established companies like SAP, Oracle and Microsoft have continued to build AI into their platforms as Salesforce has. Today, many SaaS companies have some underlying AI built into their service.

Baxter will join us to discuss the role of AI in software today and how that helps improve the operations of the service itself, and what the implications are of using AI in your software service as it becomes a mainstream part of the SaaS development process.

In addition to our discussion with Baxter, the conference will also include Databricks’ Ali Ghodsi, UiPath’s Daniel Dines, Puppet’s Abby Kearns, and investors Casey Aylward and Sarah Guo, among others. We hope you’ll join us. It’s going to be a stimulating day.

Buy your pass now to save up to $100, and use CrunchMatch to make expanding your empire quick, easy and efficient. We can’t wait to see you in October!

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at TC Sessions: SaaS 2021? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

#abby-kearns, #ali-ghodsi, #artificial-intelligence, #casey-aylward, #cloud, #cloud-applications, #computing, #daniel-dines, #databricks, #enterprise, #google, #information-technology, #kathy-baxter, #microsoft, #oracle, #salesforce, #sap, #sarah-guo, #tc, #tc-sessions-saas-2021, #uipath

Apple says it will begin scanning iCloud Photos for child abuse images

Later this year, Apple will roll out a technology that will allow the company to detect and report known child sexual abuse material to law enforcement in a way it says will preserve user privacy.

Apple told TechCrunch that the detection of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) is one of several new features aimed at better protecting the children who use its services from online harm, including filters to block potentially sexually explicit photos sent and received through a child’s iMessage account. Another feature will intervene when a user tries to search for CSAM-related terms through Siri and Search.

Most cloud services — Dropbox, Google, and Microsoft to name a few — already scan user files for content that might violate their terms of service or be potentially illegal, like CSAM. But Apple has long resisted scanning users’ files in the cloud by giving users the option to encrypt their data before it ever reaches Apple’s iCloud servers.

Apple said its new CSAM detection technology — NeuralHash — instead works on a user’s device, and can identify if a user uploads known child abuse imagery to iCloud without decrypting the images until a threshold is met and a sequence of checks to verify the content are cleared.

News of Apple’s effort leaked Wednesday when Matthew Green, a cryptography professor at Johns Hopkins University, revealed the existence of the new technology in a series of tweets. The news was met with some resistance from some security experts and privacy advocates, but also users who are accustomed to Apple’s approach to security and privacy that most other companies don’t have.

Apple is trying to calm fears by baking in privacy through multiple layers of encryption, fashioned in a way that requires multiple steps before it ever makes it into the hands of Apple’s final manual review.

NeuralHash will land in iOS 15 and macOS Monterey, slated to be released in the next month or two, and works by converting the photos on a user’s iPhone or Mac into a unique string of letters and numbers, known as a hash. Any time you modify an image slightly, it changes the hash and can prevent matching. Apple says NeuralHash tries to ensure that identical and visually similar images — such as cropped or edited images — result in the same hash.

Before an image is uploaded to iCloud Photos, those hashes are matched on the device against a database of known hashes of child abuse imagery, provided by child protection organizations like the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) and others. NeuralHash uses a cryptographic technique called private set intersection to detect a hash match without revealing what the image is or alerting the user.

The results are uploaded to Apple but cannot be read on their own. Apple uses another cryptographic principle called threshold secret sharing that allows it only to decrypt the contents if a user crosses a threshold of known child abuse imagery in their iCloud Photos. Apple would not say what that threshold was, but said — for example — that if a secret is split into a thousand pieces and the threshold is ten images of child abuse content, the secret can be reconstructed from any of those ten images.

Read more on TechCrunch

It’s at that point Apple can decrypt the matching images, manually verify the contents, disable a user’s account and report the imagery to NCMEC, which is then passed to law enforcement. Apple says this process is more privacy mindful than scanning files in the cloud as NeuralHash only searches for known and not new child abuse imagery. Apple said that there is a one in one trillion chance of a false positive, but there is an appeals process in place in the event an account is mistakenly flagged.

Apple has published technical details on its website about how NeuralHash works, which was reviewed by cryptography experts.

But despite the wide support of efforts to combat child sexual abuse, there is still a component of surveillance that many would feel uncomfortable handing over to an algorithm, and some security experts are calling for more public discussion before Apple rolls the technology out to users.

A big question is why now and not sooner. Apple said its privacy-preserving CSAM detection did not exist until now. But companies like Apple have also faced considerable pressure from the U.S. government and its allies to weaken or backdoor the encryption used to protect their users’ data to allow law enforcement to investigate serious crime.

Tech giants have refused efforts to backdoor their systems, but have faced resistance against efforts to further shut out government access. Although data stored in iCloud is encrypted in a way that even Apple cannot access it, Reuters reported last year that Apple dropped a plan for encrypting users’ full phone backups to iCloud after the FBI complained that it would harm investigations.

The news about Apple’s new CSAM detection tool, without public discussion, also sparked concerns that the technology could be abused to flood victims with child abuse imagery that could result in their account getting flagged and shuttered, but Apple downplayed the concerns and said a manual review would review the evidence for possible misuse.

Apple said NeuralHash will roll out in the U.S. at first, but would not say if, or when, it would be rolled out internationally. Until recently, companies like Facebook were forced to switch off its child abuse detection tools across the bloc after the practice was inadvertently banned. Apple said the feature is technically optional in that you don’t have to use iCloud Photos, but will be a requirement if users do. After all, your device belongs to you but Apple’s cloud does not.

#apple, #apple-inc, #cloud-applications, #cloud-services, #computing, #cryptography, #encryption, #facebook, #federal-bureau-of-investigation, #icloud, #ios, #iphone, #johns-hopkins-university, #law-enforcement, #macos, #privacy, #security, #technology, #u-s-government, #united-states, #webmail

Box unwraps its answer to the $3.8B e-signature market: Box Sign

Box released its new native e-signature product Box Sign on Monday, providing e-signature capability and unlimited signatures as part of Box’s business and enterprise plans at no additional cost.

The launch comes five months after the Redwood City, California-based company agreed to acquire e-signature startup SignRequest for $55 million.

Box CEO Aaron Levie told TechCrunch the company is already securing content management for 100,000 businesses, and Box Sign represents “a breakthrough product for the company” — a new category in which Box can help customers with business processes.

“We are building out a content cloud that powers the lifecycle of content so customers can retain and manage it,” Levie said. “Everyday, there are more transactions around onboarding a customer, closing a deal or an audit, but these are still done manually. We are moving that to digital and enabling the request of signatures around the content.”

Here’s how it works: Users can send documents for e-signature directly from Box to anyone, even those without a Box account. Places for signature requests and approvals can be created anywhere on the document. All of this integrates across popular apps like Salesforce and includes email reminders and deadline notifications. As with Box’s offerings, the signatures are also secure and compliant.

The global e-signature software market was estimated to be around $1.8 billion in 2020, according to Prescient & Strategic Intelligence, while IDC expects it to grow to $3.8 billion by 2023.

Levie considers the market still early as less than one-third of organizations use e-signature due to legacy tool limitations and cost barriers, revealing massive future opportunities. However, that may be changing: Box worked with banks during the pandemic that were still relying on mailing, scanning and faxing documents to help them adapt to digital processes. It also surveyed its customers last year around product capabilities, and the No. 1 “ask” was e-signature, he said.

He mentioned major players DocuSign and Adobe Sign — two products it will continue to integrate with — among the array of technology within the space. He said that Box is not trying to compete with any player, but saw a need from customers and wanted to proceed with an option for them.

The e-signature offering also follows the hiring of Diego Dugatkin in June as Box’s new chief product officer. Prior to joining, Dugatkin was vice president of product management for Adobe Document Cloud and led strategy and execution for Adobe’s suite of products, including Adobe Sign.

“Our strategy has been for many years to expand our portfolio and power more advanced use cases, as well as a vision to have one platform to manage everything,” Levie said. “Diego has two decades of tremendous domain experience, and he will make a massive dent in powering this for us.”

In addition to the e-signature product, Box also introduced its Enterprise Plus plan that includes all of the company’s major add-ons, as well as advanced e-signature capabilities that will be available later this summer, the company said.

 

#aaron-levie, #adobe, #box, #cloud, #cloud-applications, #content-management, #docusign, #e-signature, #enterprise, #product-management, #salesforce, #signrequest, #tc

Pink Floyd drummer invests in Disciple Media, a platform aimed at the creator economy

Much has been made of the rise of the “creator economy” in the last year. With the Pandemic biting, millions flooded online, looking for a way to make money or promote themselves. The podcasting world has exploded, and with it platforms like Patreon, Clubhouse, and many others. But the thorny problem remains: Do you really own your audience as a creator, or does the platform own you? Companies like Mighty Networks, Circle and Tribe have tried to address this, giving creators greater control than social networks do over their audiences. Now another joins the fray.

Disciple Media bills itself as a SaaS platform to enable online creators to build community-led businesses. It’s now raised $6 million in funding in what it calls a ‘large Angel round’. It already claims to have garnered 2 million members and 500 communities since launching in 2018. Investors include Nick Mason (drummer in Pink Floyd), Sir Peter Michael (CEO of Cray Computers, founder of classic FM, Quantel and Cosworth Engineering), Rob Pierre (founder and CEO of Jellyfish), and Keith Morris (ex. chairman Sabre Insurance). It’s also announced a new Chairman, Eirik Svendsen, a expert in online marketplaces, SaaS and the publishing and media industry.

On its communities so far it has American country star and American Idol judge Luke Bryan, Gor Tex, and Body by Ciara. The platform is also available on iOS and Android and comes with community management tools, a CRM, and monetization options. The company claims its creators are now “earning millions in revenue each year.”

Benji Vaughan, Founder and CEO said: “The scale and rapid growth of the creator economy is extraordinary, and today that growth is being driven by entrepreneurial creators looking to build independent businesses outside of Youtube and the social networks.”

Vaughan, a Techno DJ and artist-turned-entrepreneur, says he came up with the idea after building similar communities for clients. He says the data created on Disciple communities is owned entirely by the host who built the network, “removing third-party risk and allowing insights to be actioned immediately”.

He told me: “We are moving from a position of effectively having ‘gig economy workers for social networks’ to owners of businesses who use social networks for their needs, not the other way around. Therefore, these people are starting to leave social networks to build their businesses and using social networks as marketing channels, as the rest of the world does. Once that migration happens where they move away from social networks as their prime platform, they need a hub where their data is going to get pulled together, they have an audience, which we see as a community that connects with itself as much as they do with the host.”

He thinks the equivalent of Salesforce or HubSpot in the creative economy is going to be a community platform: “That’s where they’re going to aggregate all the information about their valuable audience or community engagement. So, we are looking to, over time, to build out something very akin to what HubSpot sites they have for tech companies or SaaS businesses: a complete package, a complete platform to manage your engagement with your users, grow your user base and then convert that into revenue.”

Rob Pierre, founder and CEO Jellyfish said: “Creating and engaging with your community digitally has never been more important. Disciple allows you to do both of those things with a fully functional, feature-rich platform which requires very little upfront capital expenditure. It also provides numerous options to monetize your community.”

#american-idol, #android, #ceo, #chairman, #cloud-applications, #computing, #crm, #europe, #founder, #hubspot, #jellyfish, #marketing, #mighty-networks, #online-creators, #online-marketplaces, #patreon, #pink-floyd, #sabre, #salesforce, #search-engine-optimization, #social-networks, #software, #software-as-a-service, #tc, #tribe, #united-states, #youtube

Google’s AirTable rival, Tables, graduates from beta test to become a Google Cloud product

Last fall, Google’s in-house incubator Area 120 introduced a new work-tracking tool called Tables, an AirTable rival that allows for tracking projects more efficiently using automation. Today, Google says Tables will officially “graduate” from Area 120 to become an official Google product by joining Google Cloud, which it expects to complete in the next year.

The Tables project was started by long-time Google employee, now Tables’ GM, Tim Gleason, who spent 10 years at the company and many more before that in the tech industry. He said he was inspired to work on Tables because he always had a difficult time tracking projects, as teams shared notes and tasks across different documents, which quickly got out of date.

Instead of tracking those sorts of notes and tasks associated with a project across various documents that have to be manually updated by team members, Tables uses bots to help take on some of the administrative duties involved in guiding team members through a project — like scheduling recurring email reminders when tasks are overdue, messaging a chat room when new forms are received, moving tasks to other people’s work queues, or updating tasks when schedules are changed.

The team saw Tables as a potential solution for a variety of use cases, including of course project management, as well as IT operations, customer service tracking, CRM, recruiting, product development and more.

Image Credits: Google

The service was launched last September to test product market fit, Google says, and quickly found traction.

According to VP/GM and Head of Platform for Google Cloud Amit Zavery, early customer feedback was positive and the team saw customers adopting the service for multiple projects — another strong signal for its potential growth. He declined to say how many customers were already using the service, however.

The pandemic also likely played a role in Tables’ adoption, Zavery noted.

“If you saw what happened with COVID, I think work-tracking became a pretty big area of interest for many customers who we’re speaking to,” he says, explaining that everyone was trying to quickly digitize.

Popular use cases included inventory management, healthcare supply tracking and use in mortgage-lending workflows. However, the team found Tables was adopted across a variety of industries beyond these, as hoped. On average, customers would use Tables in a department with around 30 to 40 people, they found.

Most customers were abandoning more manual processes to use Tables instead, not coming from a rival service.

“Things were very fragmented in different documents or with different people, so using technologies like this really seems to have resonated very well,” Zavery says. “Now you had one central place for structured information you can access and do things on top of it versus trying to have 15 different sheets and figuring out how they are related because there’s no structure behind each of them.”

Another factor that prompted Tables’ adoption was how quickly people could be productive, thanks in part to its ability to integrate with existing data warehouses and other services. Currently, Tables supports Office 365, Microsoft Access, Google Sheets, Slack, Salesforce, Box and Dropbox, for example.

Tables was one of only a few Area 120 projects to launch with a paid business model, along with ticket seller Fundo, conversational ads platform AdLingo and Google’s recently launched Orion WiFi. During its beta, an individual could use Tables for free, with support for up to 100 tables and 1,000 rows. The paid plan was supposed to cost $10 per user per month, with support for up to 1,000 tables and 10,000 rows. This plan also included support for larger attachments, more actions and advanced history, sharing, forms, automation and views.

However, Google never began charging for its paid tier during the beta, it says.

As Tables graduates into Google Cloud’s lineup, it will be integrated with Google’s no-code app building platform, AppSheet, which has a free tier, allowing the freemium model to continue. Users who want additional features will be able to upgrade to a premium plan. It will also be offered as a standalone product, for those who want that experience.

Google will leverage Workspace to get Tables in front of more users, as well.

“it’s going to be delivered through Workspace integration, because that’s a very large community of users who expect some similar kind of functionality,” Zavery says. “That will be a big differentiator, when you talk about the breadth of things we can do — because of having that community of users on Sheets, the things they do with Drive, and the data they collect — we can automatically add this and augment their experience.”

Image Credits: Google

The project taps into the growing interest in no-code, spreadsheet-powered database platforms — like AirTable, for example, which had closed on $185 million in Series D funding in the days before Tables’ release, valuing its business at $2.585 billion, post-money.

As Tables transitions to Google Cloud, the Tables beta version will remain free until a fully supported Cloud product becomes available in the next year. At that point, users will migrate to the new service.

Over time, Tables plans to add more functionality as it ties in with AppSheet, to make using the service more seamless — so people don’t have to hop around from one product to another to accomplish tasks. It will also work to provide better ease of use, mobile support and connectivity with more backend systems.

Official pricing hasn’t been finalized but shouldn’t be very different from the beta version.

#airtable, #apps, #appsheet, #area-120, #cloud-applications, #computing, #crm, #google, #google-cloud, #google-sheets, #inventory-management, #tables, #tc, #technology

For SaaS startups, differentiation is an iterative process

Software as a service has been thriving as a sector for years, but it has gone into overdrive in the past year as businesses responded to the pandemic by speeding up the migration of important functions to the cloud. We’ve all seen the news of SaaS startups raising large funding rounds, with deal sizes and valuations steadily climbing. But as tech industry watchers know only too well, large funding rounds and valuations are not foolproof indicators of sustainable growth and longevity.

To scale sustainably, grow its customer base and mature to the point of an exit, a SaaS startup needs to stand apart from the herd at every phase of development. Failure to do so means a poor outcome for founders and investors.

As a founder who pivoted from on-premise to SaaS back in 2016, I have focused on scaling my company (most recently crossing 145,000 customers) and in the process, learned quite a bit about making a mark. Here is some advice on differentiation at the various stages in the life of a SaaS startup.

Launch and early years

Differentiation is crucial early on, because it’s one of the only ways to attract customers. Customers can help lay the groundwork for everything from your product roadmap to pricing.

The more you know about your target customers’ pain points with current solutions, the easier it will be to stand out. Take every opportunity to learn about the people you are aiming to serve, and which problems they want to solve the most. Analyst reports about specific sectors may be useful, but there is no better source of information than the people who, hopefully, will pay to use your solution.

The key to success in the SaaS space is solving real problems. Take DocuSign, for example — the company found a way to simply and elegantly solve a niche problem for users with its software. This is something that sounds easy, but in reality, it means spending hours listening to the customer and tailoring your product accordingly.

#as-a-service, #cloud, #cloud-applications, #column, #docusign, #ec-cloud-and-enterprise-infrastructure, #ec-column, #ec-enterprise-applications, #product-management, #saas, #software-as-a-service, #startup-company, #startups

DealHub raises $20M Series B for its sales platform

DealHub.io, an Austin-based platform that helps businesses manage the entire process of their sales engagements, today announced that it has raised a $20 million Series B funding round. The round was led by Israel Growth Partners, with participation from existing investor Cornerstone Venture Partners. This brings DealHub’s total funding to $24.5 million.

The company describes itself as a ‘revenue amplification’ platform (or ‘RevAmp,’ as DealHub likes to call it) that represents the next generation of existing sales and revenue operations tools. It’s meant to give businesses a more complete view of buyers and their intent, and streamline the sales processes from proposal to pricing quotes, subscription management and (electronic) signatures.

“Yesterday’s siloed sales tools no longer cut it in the new Work from Anywhere era,” said Eyal Elbahary, CEO & Co-founder of DealHub.io. “Sales has undergone the largest disruption it has ever seen. Not only have sales teams needed to adapt to more sophisticated and informed buyers, but remote selling and digital transformation have compelled them to evolve the traditional sales process into a unique human-to-human interaction.”

The platform integrates with virtually all of the standard CRM tools, including Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics and Freshworks, as well as e-signature platforms like DocuSign.

The company didn’t share any revenue data, but it notes that the new funding round follows “continued multi-year hyper-growth.” In part, the company argues, demand for its platform has been driven by sales teams that need new tools, given that they — for the most part — can’t travel to meet their (potential) customers face-to-face.

“Revenue leaders need the agility to keep pace with today’s fast and ever-changing business environment. They cannot afford to be restrained by rigid and costly to implement tools to manage their sales processes,” said Uri Erde, General Partner at Israel Growth Partners. “RevAmp provides a simple to operate, intuitive, no-code solution that makes it possible for sales organizations to continuously adapt to the modern sales ecosystem. Furthermore, it provides sales leaders the visibility and insights they need to manage and consistently accelerate revenue growth. We’re excited to back the innovation DealHub is bringing to the world of revenue operations and help fuel its growth.”

#articles, #austin, #business, #cloud-applications, #crm, #distribution, #docusign, #enterprise, #freshworks, #funding, #fundings-exits, #general-partner, #israel-growth-partners, #recent-funding, #sales, #salesforce, #startups, #tc

Cybersecurity unicorn Exabeam raises $200M to fuel SecOps growth

Exabeam, a late-stage startup that helps organizations detect advanced cybersecurity threats, has landed a new $200 million funding round that values the company at $2.4 billion.

The Series F growth round was led by the Owl Rock division of Blue Owl Capital, with support from existing investors Acrew Capital, Lightspeed Venture Partners and Norwest Venture Partners.

The announcement of Exabeam’s latest funding, which the company says will help it on its mission to become “the number one trusted cloud SeCops platform in the market”, coincides with the news that CEO Nir Polak, who co-founded the company in 2013, will be replaced by former ForeScout chief executive Michael DeCesare.

DeCesare is a big name in the cybersecurity space, with more than 25 years of experience leading high-growth security companies. He joined ForeScout as CEO and president in February 2015 after four years as president of McAfee, which at the time was owned by Intel. Under his leadership, ForeScout raised nearly $117 million in an upsized IPO that valued the IoT security vendor at $800 million.

Polak, meanwhile, will shift to a chairman role at Exabeam and “will continue on as an active member of the executive team and remain at the company,” according to the funding announcement.

“Nir has built an incredibly robust, diverse and inclusive culture at Exabeam, and I am committed to helping it flourish,” said DeCesare. “I’m thrilled to join Nir and the whole leadership team to help drive the company through its next phase of growth.”

Exabeam, which has now raised $390 million in six rounds of outside funding, says it expects to use the new money to fuel scale, innovate and extend the company’s leadership. “It gives us the opportunity to triple down on our R&D efforts and continue engineering the most advanced UEBA, XDR and SIEM cloud security products available today,” commented Polak.

The company adds that it has made significant investments in its partner program over the last 12 months, which now includes more than 400 reseller, distributor, systems integrator, MSSP, MDR and consulting partners globally. Exabeam also has more than 500 technology integrations with cloud network, data lake and endpoint vendors including CrowdStrike, Okta and Snowflake.

It’s clearly expecting these investments to pay off, describing its “outcome-based approach” to external security as perfectly suited to support organizations as they manage exponential amounts of data and return to the post-COVID workplace in a variety of hybrid scenarios. After all, hackers are already beginning to target employees who have started making a return to the office, and this threat is only likely to increase as more companies begin to dial back on remote working and start welcoming staff back into workplaces.

“Exabeam is poised to be the next-gen leader in the cloud security analytics, XDR and SIEM markets,” Pravin Vazirani, Blue Owl Capital’s managing director and co-head of tech investing, said in a statement. “We led this round of funding to provide the company with the resources necessary to support its sustainable, long-term growth and value creation.”

#acrew-capital, #ceo, #chairman, #cloud, #cloud-applications, #companies, #crowdstrike, #exabeam, #executive, #forescout, #funding, #intel, #leader, #lightspeed, #lightspeed-venture-partners, #mcafee, #norwest-venture-partners, #okta, #president, #security, #software

Merge raises $4.5M to help B2B companies build customer-facing integrations

Merge, a startup that helps its users build customer-facing integrations with third-party tools, today announced that it has raised a $4.5 million seed round led by NEA. Additional angel investors include former MuleSoft CEO Greg Schott, Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince, Expanse co-founders Tim Junio and Matt Kraning, and Jumpstart CEO Ben Herman.

Launched in 2020, the core focus of Merge is to give B2B companies a unified API to access data from what is currently about 40 HR, payroll, recruiting and accounting platforms, with plans for expanding to additional areas soon. But Merge co-founders Shensi Ding and Gil Feig, who have been lifelong friends and previously worked at companies like Expanse and Jumpstart, stress that the service isn’t aiming to replace workflow tools Workato or Zapier.

Image Credits: Merge

“What we built is more similar to Plaid than MuleSoft or other things,” Feig said. “We built a unified API, so we’re fully embedded in a customer’s product and they build one integration with us and can automatically offer all these integrations to their customers. On top of that, we offer what we call integrations management, which is a suite of tools to automatically detect issues where the customer would have to get involved — automatically detect that stuff and handle it without ever having to involve engineering again.”

When Merge’s systems detect issues with an integration, maybe because a data schema in an API response has changed without notice (which happens with some regularity), Merge’s engineers can fix that within minutes, in part because the teams also built an internal no-code tool for building and managing these integrations.

Image Credits: Merge

As Ding also noted, B2B buyers today also simply expect their tools to feature integrations with the service they use. “Companies, when they purchase a vendor, they expect that vendor to have integrations with all the other vendors that they own,” she said. “They don’t want to have to purchase a vendor and then purchase a workflow product and then connect those products.”

And while Merge’s focus right now is squarely on a few verticals, the plan is to expand this to far more areas shortly, likely starting with CRM. “Salesforce has a pretty large market share, so we thought that it wasn’t going to be as interesting of a market,” Ding said. “But it turns out that their API is so complex that customers would still prefer to integrate with us instead if we simplify it for them.”

Ding and Feig tell me the company, which came out of stealth about two months ago, already has about 100 organizations on its platform, varying from seed-stage companies to publicly listed enterprises. The team credits its focus on security and reliability (and its SOC II compliance) with being able to bring on some of these larger companies despite being a seed-stage company itself.

To monetize the service, Merge offers a free tier (up to 10,000 API requests per month) and charges $0.01 per API request for additional usage. Unsurprisingly, the company also offers customized enterprise plans for its larger customers.

“The time and expense associated with building and maintaining myriad API integrations is a pain point we hear about consistently from our portfolio companies across all industries,” said NEA managing general partner Scott Sandell, who will join the company’s board. “Merge is tackling this ubiquitous problem head-on via their easy-to-use, unified API platform. Their platform has broad applicability and is a massive upgrade for any software company that needs to build, manage, and maintain multiple API integrations.”

#api, #cloud-applications, #cloudflare, #computing, #developer, #ding, #enterprise, #expanse, #jumpstart, #matt-kraning, #matthew, #matthew-prince, #merge, #mulesoft, #nea, #recent-funding, #salesforce-com, #software, #startups, #tim-junio

Mailchimp moves into e-commerce

Over the course of the last few years, Mailchimp morphed from a basic newsletter platform to a fully-fledged marketing company. And while the service already offered integrations with a number of e-commerce sites, it is now launching its own online stores for small and medium businesses, as well as a new appointment booking service.

These new services will be part of MailChimp’s new ‘Websites & Commerce’ plans, which starts with a free tier that offers most of the basic functionality. Users on the free plan will pay a 2% transaction fee. For $10/month, Mailchimp will remove its own branding and users will get access to email and chat support and only pay a 1.5% transaction fee, while those who opt for the ‘Plus’ plan at $29/month will only pay a 0.5% transaction fee per order.

All plans will let users build sites with unlimited pages and without bandwidth restrictions, and include SEO tools and integration with Google Analytics. As for the stores, users will be able to build their product catalogs and manage their orders, taxes and shipping configurations. All of this, as well as the appointments functionality, is obviously deeply integrated with the rest of the Mailchimp stack.

Image Credits: Mailchimp

These new plans are currently in beta and the new e-commerce features will become available to all Mailchimp customers in the U.S. and UK by May 18, while the appointments booking feature will go live for all users on April 27.

This addition of built-in commerce features marks a major step in Mailchimp’s evolution. But it also makes sense. The company says about 40% of its customers over fourteen million customers are in the commerce space already and many of them have been asking for more native commerce features. Almost 30% of its users are also using its existing commerce features and integrations and the company saw its revenue for e-commerce customers grow 61% from 2019 to 2020.

Since Mailchimp already offers websites, domains and other adjacent services, adding these new features feels like a natural next step, whether that’s selling directly from a Mailchimp store or taking appointment bookings for a service business.

The company stresses that while it is entering a new space, it is not walking away from its existing products and customers. “Rest assured, we’re not abandoning our smart marketing solutions,” Mailchimp CEO and co-founder Ben Chestnut writes in today’s announcement. “In fact, our goal is still to have the best email marketing in the world. We know our customers and partners demand consistency and continuity as much as they demand new features and functionality, so we’re refining and nurturing existing tools, too. We continue to work on making the process of designing emails as easy as possible, and in a few months we’re adding new beautiful email templates.”

Image Credits: Mailchimp

#cloud-applications, #computing, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #mailchimp, #online-stores, #tc, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #webs, #world-wide-web

Billion-dollar B2B: cloud-first enterprise tech behemoths have massive potential

More than half a decade ago, my Battery Ventures partner Neeraj Agrawal penned a widely read post offering advice for enterprise-software companies hoping to reach $100 million in annual recurring revenue.

His playbook, dubbed “T2D3” — for “triple, triple, double, double, double,” referring to the stages at which a software company’s revenue should multiply — helped many high-growth startups index their growth. It also highlighted the broader explosion in industry value creation stemming from the transition of on-premise software to the cloud.

Fast forward to today, and many of T2D3’s insights are still relevant. But now it’s time to update T2D3 to account for some of the tectonic changes shaping a broader universe of B2B tech — and pushing companies to grow at rates we’ve never seen before.

One of the biggest factors driving billion-dollar B2Bs is a simple but important shift in how organizations buy enterprise technology today.

I call this new paradigm “billion-dollar B2B.” It refers to the forces shaping a new class of cloud-first, enterprise-tech behemoths with the potential to reach $1 billion in ARR — and achieve market capitalizations in excess of $50 billion or even $100 billion.

In the past several years, we’ve seen a pioneering group of B2B standouts — Twilio, Shopify, Atlassian, Okta, Coupa*, MongoDB and Zscaler, for example — approach or exceed the $1 billion revenue mark and see their market capitalizations surge 10 times or more from their IPOs to the present day (as of March 31), according to CapIQ data.

More recently, iconic companies like data giant Snowflake and video-conferencing mainstay Zoom came out of the IPO gate at even higher valuations. Zoom, with 2020 revenue of just under $883 million, is now worth close to $100 billion, per CapIQ data.

Graphic showing market cap at IPO and market cap today of various companies.

Image Credits: Battery Ventures via FactSet. Note that market data is current as of April 3, 2021.

In the wings are other B2B super-unicorns like Databricks* and UiPath, which have each raised private financing rounds at valuations of more than $20 billion, per public reports, which is unprecedented in the software industry.

#b2b, #battery-ventures, #cloud-applications, #column, #ec-cloud-and-enterprise-infrastructure, #ec-column, #ec-market-map, #enterprise-software, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital

PlexTrac raises $10M Series A round for its collaboration-centric security platform

PlexTrac, a Boise, ID-based security service that aims to provide a unified workflow automation platform for red and blue teams, today announced that it has raised a $10 million Series A funding round led by Noro-Moseley Partners and Madrona Venture Group. StageDot0 ventures also participated in this round, which the company plans to use to build out its team and grow its platform.

With this new round, the company, which was founded in 2018, has now raised a total of $11 million, with StageDot0 leading its 2019 seed round.

PlexTrac CEO and President Dan DeCloss

PlexTrac CEO and President Dan DeCloss

“I have been on both sides of the fence, the specialist who comes in and does the assessment, produces that 300-page report and then comes back a year later to find that some of the critical issues had not been addressed at all.  And not because the organization didn’t want to but because it was lost in that report,” PlexTrac CEO and President Dan DeCloss said. “These are some of the most critical findings for an entity from a risk perspective. By making it collaborative, both red and blue teams are united on the same goal we all share, to protect the network and assets.”

With an extensive career in security that included time as a penetration tester for Veracode and the Mayo Clinic, as well as senior information security advisor for Anthem, among other roles, DeCloss has quite a bit of first-hand experience that led him to found PlexTrac. Specifically, he believes that it’s important to break down the wall between offense-focused red teams and defense-centric blue teams.

Image Credits: PlexTrac

 

 

“Historically there has been more of the cloak and dagger relationship but those walls are breaking down– and rightfully so, there isn’t that much of that mentality today– people recognize they are on the same mission whether they are internal security team or an external team,” he said. “With the PlexTrac platform the red and blue teams have a better view into the other teams’ tactics and techniques – and it makes the whole process into an educational exercise for everyone.”

At its core, PlexTrac makes it easier for security teams to produce their reports — and hence free them up to actually focus on ‘real’ security work. To do so, the service integrates with most of the popular scanners like Qualys, and Veracode, but also tools like ServiceNow and Jira in order to help teams coordinate their workflows. All the data flows into real-time reports that then help teams monitor their security posture. The service also features a dedicated tool, WriteupsDB, for managing reusable write-ups to help teams deliver consistent reports for a variety of audiences.

“Current tools for planning, executing, and reporting on security testing workflows are either nonexistent (manual reporting, spreadsheets, documents, etc…) or exist as largely incomplete features of legacy platforms,” Madrona’s S. Somasegar and Chris Picardo write in today’s announcement. “The pain point for security teams is real and PlexTrac is able to streamline their workflows, save time, and greatly improve output quality. These teams are on the leading edge of attempting to find and exploit vulnerabilities (red teams) and defend and/or eliminate threats (blue teams).”

 

#cloud-applications, #computer-security, #computing, #enterprise, #information-technology, #madrona-venture-group, #mayo-clinic, #noro-moseley-partners, #qualys, #recent-funding, #red-team, #security, #servicenow, #startups

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.


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

Okta launches its new open-source design system with a focus on accessibility

Identity and access management service Okta today launched its new design system, both for its own corporate and brand use, but also as an open-source project under the Apache 2.0 license. The Odyssey Design System, as the company calls it, is similar to the likes of Google’s Material Design or Microsoft’s Fluent Design. It may not have quite the same number of features, but what makes it stand out is a focus on accessibility, with every element of the design system being compliant with the W3’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.

Brian Hansen, Okta’s SVP of Design, told me that until now, the company didn’t really have a unified design system. Instead, it had what he called a “glorified pattern library.” And while the engineers loved it, because it allowed them to build new UIs quickly, it was hard for the team to add new patterns. “And so it was limited in what it could do,” Hansen said. “And what you ended up having to do sometimes is compromise — particularly as a designer — and kind of shove the square peg into the round hole.”

Image Credits: Okta

Now that Okta has moved beyond its early startup roots, though, the team decided that it was time to go back to the drawing board and build a more fully-featured design system for the company — and you may soon see it yourself in Okta’s sign-in widget, which is where most users are likely to encounter it. But it’s worth remembering that Okta, the platform, also offers a plethora of backend tools for admins that most users never see. Those admins typically want a very information-dense user experience and a design that makes it easy for them to get things done and move on. Okta’s third group of users, Hansen stressed, is developers and what matters a lot to them — in addition to all the technical details — is documentation, which has to be easily readable (from a design perspective).

As Hansen noted, though, internally, it wasn’t a realistic project to simply switch every surface area to Odyssee at once. “As a designer, you want everything to be perfect all at once. But you also have to be pragmatic and live with some things that aren’t perfect,” he acknowledged. So while the Okta brand is now getting this refresh and some of the user-facing services, it’ll take a while before every Okta service can make this move.

For the admin console, for example, Hansen’s team decided that it would take years to switch out the UI. So instead, the team opted for a bridge strategy where it created the style sheets to essentially mimic the Odyssee design. “Then we can cut over to Odyssee-native components and they’ll blend in. We can’t have a Franken app — we can’t have two different generations of UI coexisting. That to me just ruins trust. No one would be happy with that,” Hansen said.

Developers who want to give Odyssee a try for their own projects can do so and explore the different components it has to offer. And designers can try it out in Figma, too.

#cloud-applications, #designer, #developer, #identity-management, #okta, #svp

Booksy raises $70M war chest to acquire salon appointment apps, expand internationally

Beauty and wellness appointment booking apps have proliferated of the last few years, but it appears the race is still on as today one of the leaders, Booksy, raises $70 million in a Series C round led by Cat Rock Capital, with participation from Sprints Capital. 

The round was also joined by OpenOcean, Piton Capital, VNV Global, Enern, Kai Hansen, Zach Coelius and Manta Ray Ventures, and takes the total raised by the firm to $119 million. The funding will be used for expansion plans across North America, expanding to new verticals, and acquiring complementary businesses.

The Booksy app is used by customers to book and pay for beauty appointments with local businesses. Salons, nail bars and barbershops can manage the bookings, payments, and customer base via the accompanying Booksy Biz app. The platform also allows salons to sell other products via Booksy E-Commerce, which acts as a marketplace allowing customers to discover and book other local stylists, nail technicians etc.

Booksy was founded by Polish entrepreneurs Stefan Batory (CEO) and Konrad Howard. Allowing customers to schedule their best appointment time means that 38% of customers end up booking after-hours and increasing their appointment frequency by 20%, says the company. The startup launched in 2014 but is now in the US (its largest market), UK, Poland, Spain, Brazil, and South Africa. It claims to be the number-one beauty booking app in each country, with “13 million” consumers on the app.

Batory said in a statement: “Like with many sectors negatively hit by the pandemic, it’s been a turbulent time for the beauty and wellness industry but we’re confident in its ability to come back from this, so it’s fantastic to see our latest group of investors share our optimism and vision. This latest round of funding enables us to reach even more salons and service providers across the US, and in all the regions we operate, which in turn helps them reach more customers.” 

Alex Captain, founder and managing partner at Cat Rock Capital, said: “We are incredibly excited to invest in Booksy as it builds the leading global software platform for digitizing the beauty and wellness industry around the world.”

Booksy certainly seems to have cracked the international expansion game ahead of most competitors, which tend to stay more local to their countries of origin such as Treatwell, Styleseat, Vagaro and Mindbody. The opportunity for Booksy is to now use its war cast to roll-up other local players.

It has already acquired rival Lavito in 2018 and, more recently, merged with Versum in December 2020 allowing it to enter Mexico.

#brazil, #ceo, #cloud-applications, #e-commerce, #europe, #managing-partner, #manta-ray-ventures, #mexico, #mindbody, #north-america, #piton-capital, #poland, #polis, #software-platform, #south-africa, #spain, #sprints-capital, #tc, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #zach-coelius

Fylamynt raises $6.5M for its cloud workflow automation platform

Fylamynt, a new service that helps businesses automate their cloud workflows, today announced both the official launch of its platform as well as a $6.5 million seed round. The funding round was led by Google’s AI-focused Gradient Ventures fund. Mango Capital and Point72 Ventures also participated.

At first glance, the idea behind Fylamynt may sound familiar. Workflow automation has become a pretty competitive space, after all, and the service helps developers connect their various cloud tools to create repeatable workflows. We’re not talking about your standard IFTTT- or Zapier -like integrations between SaaS products, though. The focus of Fylamynt is squarely on building infrastructure workflows. And while that may sound familiar, too, with tools like Ansible and Terraform automating a lot of that already, Fylamynt sits on top of those and integrates with them.

Image Credits: Fylamynt

“Some time ago, we used to do Bash and scripting — and then […] came Chef and Puppet in 2006, 2007. SaltStack, as well. Then Terraform and Ansible,” Fylamynt co-founder and CEO Pradeep Padala told me. “They have all done an extremely good job of making it easier to simplify infrastructure operations so you don’t have to write low-level code. You can write a slightly higher-level language. We are not replacing that. What we are doing is connecting that code.”

So if you have a Terraform template, an Ansible playbook and maybe a Python script, you can now use Fylamynt to connect those. In the end, Fylamynt becomes the orchestration engine to run all of your infrastructure code — and then allows you to connect all of that to the likes of DataDog, Splunk, PagerDuty Slack and ServiceNow.

Image Credits: Fylamynt

The service currently connects to Terraform, Ansible, Datadog, Jira, Slack, Instance, CloudWatch, CloudFormation and your Kubernetes clusters. The company notes that some of the standard use cases for its service are automated remediation, governance and compliance, as well as cost and performance management.

The company is already working with a number of design partners, including Snowflake

Fylamynt CEO Padala has quite a bit of experience in the infrastructure space. He co-founded ContainerX, an early container-management platform, which later sold to Cisco. Before starting ContainerX, he was at VMWare and DOCOMO Labs. His co-founders, VP of Engineering Xiaoyun Zhu and CTO David Lee, also have deep expertise in building out cloud infrastructure and operating it.

“If you look at any company — any company building a product — let’s say a SaaS product, and they want to run their operations, infrastructure operations very efficiently,” Padala said. “But there are always challenges. You need a lot of people, it takes time. So what is the bottleneck? If you ask that question and dig deeper, you’ll find that there is one bottleneck for automation: that’s code. Someone has to write code to automate. Everything revolves around that.”

Fylamynt aims to take the effort out of that by allowing developers to either write Python and JSON to automate their workflows (think ‘infrastructure as code’ but for workflows) or to use Fylamynt’s visual no-code drag-and-drop tool. As Padala noted, this gives developers a lot of flexibility in how they want to use the service. If you never want to see the Fylamynt UI, you can go about your merry coding ways, but chances are the UI will allow you to get everything done as well.

One area the team is currently focusing on — and will use the new funding for — is building out its analytics capabilities that can help developers debug their workflows. The service already provides log and audit trails, but the plan is to expand its AI capabilities to also recommend the right workflows based on the alerts you are getting.

“The eventual goal is to help people automate any service and connect any code. That’s the holy grail. And AI is an enabler in that,” Padala said.

Gradient Ventures partner Muzzammil “MZ” Zaveri echoed this. “Fylamynt is at the intersection of applied AI and workflow automation,” he said. “We’re excited to support the Fylamynt team in this uniquely positioned product with a deep bench of integrations and a non-prescriptive builder approach. The vision of automating every part of a cloud workflow is just the beginning.”

The team, which now includes about 20 employees, plans to use the new round of funding, which closed in September, to focus on its R&D, build out its product and expand its go-to-market team. On the product side, that specifically means building more connectors.

The company offers both a free plan as well as enterprise pricing and its platform is now generally available.

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AWS updates its edge computing solutions with new hardware and Local Zones

AWS today closed out its first re:Invent keynote with a focus on edge computing. The company launched two smaller appliances for its Outpost service, which originally brought AWS as a managed service and appliance right into its customers’ existing data centers in the form of a large rack. Now, the company is launching these smaller versions so that its users can also deploy them in their stores or office locations. These appliances are fully managed by AWS and offer 64 cores of compute, 128GB of memory and 4TB of local NVMe storage.

In addition, the company expanded its set of Local Zones, which are basically small extensions of existing AWS regions that are more expensive to use but offer low-latency access in metro areas. This service launched in Los Angeles in 2019 and starting today, it’s also available in preview in Boston, Houston and Miami. Soon, it’ll expand to Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, New York, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Portland and Seattle. Google, it’s worth noting, is doing something similar with its Mobile Edge Cloud.

The general idea here — and that’s not dissimilar from what Google, Microsoft and others are now doing — is to bring AWS to the edge and to do so in a variety of form factors.

As AWS CEO Andy Jassy rightly noted, AWS always believed that the vast majority of companies, “in the fullness of time” (Jassy’s favorite phrase from this keynote), would move to the cloud. Because of this, AWS focused on cloud services over hybrid capabilities early on. He argues that AWS watched others try and fail in building their hybrid offerings, in large parts because what customers really wanted was to use the same control plane on all edge nodes and in the cloud. None of the existing solutions from other vendors, Jassy argues, got any traction (though AWSs competitors would surely deny this) because of this.

The first result of that was VMware Cloud on AWS, which allowed customers to use the same VMware software and tools on AWS they were already familiar with. But at the end of the day, that was really about moving on-premises services to the cloud.

With Outpost, AWS launched a fully managed edge solution that can run AWS infrastructure in its customers’ data centers. It’s been an interesting journey for AWS, but the fact that the company closed out its keynote with this focus on hybrid — no matter how it wants to define it — shows that it now understands that there is clearly a need for this kind of service. The AWS way is to extend AWS into the edge — and I think most of its competitors will agree with that. Microsoft tried this early on with Azure Stack and really didn’t get a lot of traction, as far as I’m aware, but it has since retooled its efforts around Azure Arc. Google, meanwhile, is betting big on Anthos.

#amazon-web-services, #atlanta, #aws-reinvent-2020, #boston, #chicago,